Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How I'm Getting GREAT Health Care WITHOUT Traditional Insurance

When "affordable" healthcare went into play a couple years ago, our family of 6 quickly found that it was anything but affordable.  We really struggled to find the best fit for our family, that didn't cause us to be completely broke.  It took a while, but I've found a solution that works really well for our family.  While it may not work for every family, I wanted to share what we've found in case it COULD help out another family in our same boat.  Here's our story, and what we're doing now...

My husband has always had fabulous health care coverage at his work.  But to get me and our four children added to the same plan, we were looking at over $1000.  Not affordable.  So we started looking around.  We found some plans elsewhere for me and the kids for $750 (still not affordable).  We finally tried the health exchange.  We were looking, at the very minimum, at $350 for JUST me, not even the children (the minimum plan for us all was in the $700 range).  We didn't qualify for any government subsidies.  Now, $350 is not horrid, BUT the deductible was outrageously high (I remember thinking that I didn't even know they made deductibles that high).  I'd still have to add all 4 children, AND would have co pays in office AND a huge deductible should anything catastrophic occur.  So, we did the only sane and financially wise thing we could do in the situation, and took the medicaid/NV check-up that they offered our children (I hadn't even known we qualified prior to this).   That is virtually free (only a small quarterly fee for NV check-up).  But this still left me personally without many great options.

After lots of research, I feel that I have found the absolutely BEST solution for my healthcare needs, and I have the very BEST care I could ever have imagined.  Better, even!  To boot, I essentially have a deductible of $300, qualify for the Obamacare requirements (i.e. no penalty), have access to my doctor 24/7, and no co pays all year.  For less than the cost of the awful, crappy, no good, very bad insurance I was offered through the health exchange, I have amazing care.

I've combined two resources to accomplish all of this.

#1. Health Care Sharing Ministry-Samaritan.  While there are quite a few reputable companies out there, we settled on Samaritan Ministries as I had some personal friends who had been quite satisfied with their service.  Health care cost sharing is simple...everyone pays a certain amount every month, but instead of paying a company, we pay directly to a person who needs it for medical expenses.  If I need to go to the hospital, I cash pay and try to get my cost down as low as possible.  Then I submit the claim to Samaritan.  As long as it's a qualifying expense over $300, I will be reimbursed by other members for all but $300 of it.  Some things, including pre-existing conditions, can be denied, but hey-insurance companies deny things too anyway.

Samaritan boasts more than 50,000 participating households, with about $15 million available each month to meet health care needs.  Each month I receive a letter telling me who needs it and why (nothing too personal, just a quick "they had surgery on their knee" type note).  I send my check directly to that person.

For just myself, my monthly share is $180.   For an entire family of 3 or more people, the cost does not exceed $405.

Samaritan cost sharing ministry DOES QUALIFY for the Affordable Health Care Act laws mandating that everyone have insurance.  There is an easy exemption form available right on their website for tax purposes.

I have had no big needs, and I hope not to have any, but at least I know that if I do, I will have coverage, with essentially, a very low deductible.

While Samaritan is the one I settled on, there are others out there.  Be sure to do some research first to see if a cost-sharing ministry is right for you.

#2. Concierge Physician.  Okay, this is THE coolest thing ever.  Think old-school style doctoring, in a modern day approach.  My doctor is available by email, Facebook, text, and phone.  I have access to him 24/7, helping me avoid the need for those awful urgent care visits where you're just not sure if you should be seen or not.  When my results came back from a test, he texted me my results right away (via a HIPPA approved texting app).

My first appointment was one and a half hours long.  Just me and him.  There is no office staff to deal with, which is VERY convenient and saves time, too.  We talked about my health history, my family history, my personal life, etc.  I felt as though my doctor wanted to know ME, not just see me for 5 minutes, write me a prescription and send me a bill.  Then I had a full exam.  Heart health, EKG, joints, full skin cancer check, full gynecological exam, eyes, ears, throat, etc.  Everything all in one convenient and relaxed appointment.

I love that my doctor has joined the 21st century and uses technology, making it easy to get in touch with him.  Should I need to be seen, I can typically be seen same day (or even just chat on the phone if that is sufficient).

My yearly fee (which I'm able to break into monthly payments), covers any check-ups that I need with him all year long.  I do have to pay for any external stuff, like if he needed to refer me to a specialist or for blood work, but other than that, I don't have to pay any co pays or other fees in office.  I have no risk of losing my doctor due to insurance changes, and he has a cap on how many patients he sees (he only takes on a fraction of patients compared to that of a typical/traditional doctor).

The yearly fee is really quite reasonable.  And between this and my Samaritan coverage, I am STILL LESS per month than the crappy health exchange insurance.  I can save the extra per month for any out of pocket expenses that may pop up!

Since these doctors are becoming more and more common, you should be able to find one where you live.  If you happen to be a local follower of mine in the Reno area, and you're interested in talking with my doctor to see if he's a good fit for you, please contact Dr. Brown directly and he'd be more than happy to chat with you!

Even though my husband has great insurance through work, he will also be starting with Dr. Brown (hopefully sooner rather than later).

While these options may certainly not work for everyone, for me, it is the perfect blend.  I've got great coverage, a very low deductible, an AMAZING doctor, and a reasonable financial expense each month.  If you are looking for more options for your healthcare, be sure to think out of the box, do your research, and find something perfect for your family.  Questions?  I'm happy to answer whatever I can from our personal experience!  Just leave me a note in the comments below!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Earth Day Dirt Cups to the Rescue...Again!

It's almost Earth Day.  Want to know how I know?  It's not because it's on my calendar (because I have a plain, no holidays listed calendar).  It's not because I just remember the date (I can't remember any holiday dates).  My only heads up to Earth Day popping up just around the corner is that my Earth Day Dirt Cups recipe starts being viewed a ton each day!

I seriously love this recipe, and love that all of YOU love it too!  It is now the 4th most viewed post on my blog with almost 20,000 views, and has been pinned over 18,000 times!  And the haters-oh the haters!  Did you know I have quite a few haters because I served these dirt cups in clear, plastic cups on EARTH DAY!??!?!?!  I know, what was I thinking?  Whatever-haters gonna hate.  Winners gonna have tasty desserts.

Anywho...dirt cups.  These are an Earth Day MUST.  Not kidding.  I've been doing them yearly since I was a small child.  They're simple, easy, can be kid-made, and are SO much fun for kids.  They are totally not healthy (duh), but are a fun little treat to serve.

Want to check out the how-to for this recipe?  Head on over HERE to find it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How to White Wash a Fireplace AND Remove a Builder's Mirror

We are in the process of purchasing our home.  We've lived here nearly four years and have been renting.  Sadly, our amazing landlord passed away last year.  Just a few months ago, his family offered the house to us for purchase and we said "yes"!  We are actually supposed to close on the house tomorrow.  

This past week, my sister in law came over and we white washed the fireplace and then removed a huge builders mirror that hung over the fireplace.  The mirror has been the one thing that I've absolutely HATED about my living room (besides the awful grey striped wallpaper-notice it in the picture above on the right of the fireplace), and it was the most exciting thing to get rid of.  White washing the fireplace has given our room the most amazing change and feel, and it was so incredibly easy.

Since we did these two projects together, and I took pictures of both projects at the same time, this is a two-in-one tutorial: "How to White Wash a Fireplace" and "How to Remove a Builder's Mirror."

White washing is very simple.  You can use any white colored paint you have.  We used a latex white paint.  It is not flame retardant, however, so you'll want to stay away from the inside bricks of the fireplace.  We removed the front, brass (hideous) cover from the fireplace, and then swept and wiped down the bricks with a damp cloth before beginning. 

In a bowl or cup, add about 2 cups paint to 1 1/2 cups water.  Mix well.  Using a paintbrush, brush on the paint onto the bricks.  Be sure to wipe off the excess paint into the cup, as the watery paint will drip.  After painting on the paint, immediately blot off excess paint from the bricks.  We wore gloves and I bought Viva paper towels (super thick) to do the blotting.  Jenny painted it on, I followed and blotted.  We only did one coat and were satisfied with the results.

Next was the mirror.  We removed the wood framing from around the mirror.  Then, using duck tape, and then painters tape when I ran out, we taped up the mirror forming "x's" and squares.  The tape helps hold the pieces of the mirror together when it will inevitably break. 

Because we had lots of littles around the house, we wanted to keep any and all mirror pieces contained well.  We decided to cover the top of the mirror with trash bags to catch any pieces that might have wanted to fly.  Then we grabbed our glasses and started to pry from the back of the mirror!

Our mirror popped off in three pieces.  The big one was pretty heavy, and if you are removing a large mirror like this, I suggest having a second person help you.

These types of mirror are glued to the walls, and they're made to STICK well.  You will probably find that it pulls off some of the drywall paper stuff (technical terms aren't my specialty here). 

It looked pretty sad behind the mirror, but not nearly as ugly as the mirror had been. 

Some putty to fill in the holes, sanding, and spray on texture solved our problems!  If you're holes happen to be small, you could get aways without the spray texture.  We really tried to make it work, but in the end, there were just too many big flat spots and we added texture. 

Lastly, paint!  We painted the wall above the fireplace.  You can see our awful wallpaper to the right of the fireplace.  Nearly our entire house is wallpapered, and so we are taking it bit by bit.  The wallpaper comes off amazingly easy, but then we have to sit and scrub the glue before we can paint. 

While I was teaching on Saturday, Ben scrubbed the rest of the wall to the right, and we finishedpainting on Saturday afternoon.

It already feels like a whole new room and all we've done is to remove the wallpaper and the mirror, paint one wall, and white wash the fireplace.  We are slowly chipping away at painting the other walls, and we're replacing the far-gone blinds this afternoon.  Eventually, we'll add grey laminate wood flooring throughout this room and the adjoining kitchen, as well as new thick baseboards and crown molding.  It's a lot of work, but each little bit is thrilling and makes such a big difference!

I look forward to showing you the rest of our house progress!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Life Lately...

We've had a few crazy weeks around here, hence the lack of blogging.  Here's a little peek into our life lately:

Little sickies, who then gave me sickies, have been the story of my life lately.  It seems like we've finally turned a corner, though, so there's that.  Since I'm the sole owner and teacher of a Kindermusik program, getting sick proved to be a whole lot of work as I had to last-minute cancel classes.  I REALLY need to hire someone, which has become more evident as I've been growing.  Sigh.  Good problem to have, I suppose! 

We're in the middle of buying our house.  After 4 years of renting here, we've been given the opportunity to purchase the house.  We jumped right on it!  The housing market here in Reno is insane, and houses are typically very expensive and hard to buy.  This has been a HUGE blessing for our family.  We close in about 1 week, and holding out on ripping off the wallpaper is taking some serious self control on my part.  

Homeschooling is ever-evolving, and I'm loving it.  The kids are working through and adapting to some new curriculums.  The girls just finished a 6 week theater/acting session, and although one of them said she hated it, from watching them, they both had a ton of fun and learned some self-confidence in the process.  Definitely something I'd sign them up for again.  

The girls start their third semester of choir today, which is always so much fun, but work for me as I organize the choir (totally worth it though).  They are both continuing on with gymnastics.  Ellie has moved onto the advanced gymnastics class and is determined that she wants to compete some day.  Aaron currently takes karate about 4 times a week at a studio that is conveniently down the street from our house.  He just had his first belt test and he was SO proud of himself (and oh, so cute!).  The girls continue to take piano lessons, though we've cut back to every other week in an effort to save some time from our schedule and some money as we purchase the house.  We're hoping swim lessons will work their way into our schedule and budget soon.  Our kids do not know how to swim (yikes!), and I'd really like to spend more time by the water this summer.  We've had field trips, park trips with friends, and recently had a fun Valentine's party at our house with homeschool friends.  

(To those of you who say homeschoolers aren't "socialized," I beg you to look at the active schedules of homeschoolers.  Instead of sitting at a desk with the same group of like-aged kids for 7 hours a day, they are out and about, engaging in a variety of activities with a variety of people of all ages.  I beg to differ, that it is homeschoolers who gain more "social" experiences!)

Anyway, life is fun and full and a little crazy lately with the sicknesses going around, buying the house, and my business growing a TON since the new year.  I'm hoping to start waking up early again now that everyone is healthy and sleeping, which means I can blog regularly again.  Yay!  On to tackle the day!  

Monday, February 1, 2016

Silly Children's Books

My kids LOVE being silly!  Acting silly, making others laugh, watching silly shows, and of course, READING silly books.  Here are some of our favorite silly books from over the years.  Be sure to add your silly children's books recommendations at the end so we can learn of some new ones!

 1.  Cows Can't Fly.  "Cows can't fly, but I don't care.  One day I drew some in the air!"  What kid doesn't appreciate pictures of cows flying in the air?  For years, this was MY favorite book to read to my preschoolers.

 2.  Aliens Love Underpants.  Undies are the things of instant laughter and silliness for kids.  Undies + Aliens = Gold!


 3. Dinosaurs Love Underpants.  This book uses underpants to explain the extinction of dinosaurs.  Seems plausible.


 4.  Underpants Thunderpants.  Sensing a theme yet?  Okay, this is my last underwear book suggestion.  I promise.  Underpants Thunderpants is a riot and full of fun rhymes, too!

5.  Giraffe's Can't Dance.  This book is not only silly but has a great message.  Just because you're different doesn't mean you can make a lovely dance too!  My favorite line as a Kindermusik educator is, "everything makes music if you really want it to."

6.  SkippyJon Jones.  All of them.  Skippyjon Jones incorporates some Spanish into these hilarious book as this feisty siamese cat firmly believes he's a chihuahua and goes on some crazy adventures.  My children are always quite impressed and giggly about my Spanish accent when I read these books.


 7.  Pete the Cat.  All of them again.  These creative books incorporate repetitive song bits into them.  Children appreciate being able to sing part of the book with you.  AND, you can find the tunes for the songs by searching each book title on Youtube.


 8.  Pirate Pete.  Ready to talk like a pirate and make your kids giggle?  The Pirate Pete books will do just that!  You'll probably want to take some time making a pirate eye-patch after this book so your kids can practice their pirate talk around the house.


 9.  Click Clack Moo.  Winner of the Caldecott Medal, this book is definitely a gem.  When the cows demand electric blankets for Farmer Brown, you know it's going to be hilarious!  Coupled with a repetitive phrase throughout, your children will love joining in with you to "read" the book!


 10.  Giggle Giggle Quack.  A follow-up book to Click, Clack, Moo, this book will have your kids "reading along" in no time at all!  "Watch out for Duck!  He's trouble!"


 11. The Gruffalo.  A new favorite for all of my children.  The Gruffalo has been made into a short film you can find on Amazon Prime and Netflix.  Mouse is sneaky and crafty and makes up crazy stories about a "Gruffalo" to save himself from being eaten, only to find himself at the feet of...a Gruffalo!  This silly adventure ends with mouse being the king of the forest.

I'm sure there are MANY other silly or funny children's books out there.  What are your favorites?

Some of the links in this post are my referral/affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy HERE.  Thank you for supporting the continuation of this blog by using my links!)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

When Your Chosen Curriculum and Your Child Don't "Mesh"

I'm currently in my 3rd year of homeschooling my kiddos who are now ages 8, 6, 4, and 2.  We have always used the same curriculum (A Beka) as it was a fantastic program.  It was also familiar as that's what we used at the Christian school where I taught Kindergarten.  It was easy, effective, and challenging for my kiddos.

Because I loved the curriculum and it seemed to work well with our children, it never occurred to me that at some point it may cease to "mesh" well with my children.  And honestly, it took a good month or two of struggling through math each day with my just turned 8 year old before I realized that maybe it just wasn't a good fit for her learning style and personality.  My school-loving child had come to HATE math, and was beginning to look for ways to skip out of math each day.  When we did sit down to do math together, it was a long and stressful process.  I finally realized that maybe this was not the best curriculum for her to be using right now.

One of the most incredible blessings of homeschooling is that you are able to follow your child's lead when it comes to their education.  You're able to switch it up, try new things, and find what works for YOU and YOUR child.  It's also incredibly challenging to do so!

When your chosen curriculum doesn't "mesh" with your child....change it up!  You are not required to stick with a curriculum forever.  But since there are SO many curriculums out there, this can be a daunting task.  Here are some things to consider and try...

1.  Talk to other homeschoolers.  Ask around!  Even if you don't have many real-life homeschooling friends, there are MANY Facebook groups that offer support and encouragement in all things homeschooling.  Ask what their favorite curriculums are and why.  Ask if anyone has a child with similar personality tendencies or a similar learning style, and ask what they use.  If you have friends near you, ask to look through their curriculums or to borrow a grade that they're not currently using so you can try it out for a few weeks.  Many of my curriculum choices came from viewing and looking through a friend's curriculum, or through feedback I received online from friends near and far.

2.  Shop around.  Homeschooling supplies can be pricey!  I typically buy student work books direct from the publishers, but all other curriculum supplies, including curriculum books, can be purchased used online.  Ebay is a great place to start.  I recommend shopping there in late fall or in winter as that's off season for school supplies and the prices are better.  Prices on eBay in late spring or summer might still offer savings, but they will certainly be more expensive than the other times.  Join local homeschool marketplaces on Facebook, as well as some of the larger homeschool marketplaces that span across America.  Also look for curriculum-specific Facebook curriculum marketplaces (i.e. "A Beka Curriculum Marketplace").  Start keeping your eyes open for deals on the curriculums you've chosen, and buy them when you find a great price.  I recently bought one of our newest curriculums at a discount of over $100, and it was almost completely new!

3.  Don't be afraid to mix and match curriculums.  When we used A Beka, we used it for all subjects.  We supplemented our lessons with other books and activities and classes, but for our sit-down book learning, it was all through A Beka.  In light of Ellie not meshing with the A Beka math, we are now breaking up our curriculums and finding a variety of sources for learning.  While Zoe (6) is still primarily all A Beka, Ellie is now in a variety of curriculums to meet her needs.

For example, Ellie (8, 3rd grade) is using:

*A Beka Language Arts, 4th grade (Except independent chapter books as she doesn't enjoy the A Beka readers)
*Teaching Textbooks for Math, 4th grade  (Computer component, which Ellie loves; TT seems to be generally behind other math curriculums, with this comparing to 3rd grade A Beka math)
*Life of Fred math books (stories for math?!?!  TOTALLY my Ellie)
*A Beka 3rd grade history & science (I actually use these to teach all three of my big kids together)
*My Father's World, Exploring Countries & Cultures for a combo of history, Bible, geography, science, literature, music and art (designed to teach multiple children together, which will save me SO much time in the coming years)

4. Sell your old stuff.  Unless you plan to still use a curriculum with another child coming up, sell those books!  Local and national marketplace boards, as well as eBay, are quick and easy ways to sell your items.  Fortunately, curriculums retain a pretty good resale value, so you can often make a good chunk of your money back to pay for other needed curriculums.

5.  Don't be afraid to scratch a choice.  So you bought a new curriculum and you happen to hate it?  Your child finds it boring?  You just can't make it work with all your other books and lessons?  Don't stress!  Not everything that works for someone else is going to work for you.  Just because it worked for your best friend does not mean it will work for your family.  And that's okay!  Again,  curriculums have great resale value, and if your curriculum is still in fabulous condition and barely used, you'll probably be able to get back most of what you spent.  Don't be afraid to try again with a different curriculum!

6.  Don't feel rushed.  You have plenty of time to figure it out.  Don't let the stress of trying to find a new curriculum cause your days with your kids to go haywire.  Find some fun resources in the meantime (Khan academy online is a fun, free math program my kids often use in "down time") or some new books from the library for them to check out while you research and hunt for curriculums.  Homeschoolers have flexibility...use it in your favor!  Take a breath, give yourself some time, and find what works.  We often work through traditional school breaks but take breaks whenever we need or want to.  If you take a break now, you can "make it up" on other traditional break days.  No big deal!

Sometimes a curriculum and a child don't mesh.  That's okay.  As homeschooling parents, we have so many options and choices at our fingertips, that there's bound to be the perfect fit out there for your child.

Friday, January 22, 2016

7 Kitchen Items I Couldn't Live Without

Everyone's got their list...their items they use frequently in the kitchen and couldn't live without.  I've got mine!  Okay, maybe I'm being dramatic.  I COULD live without them, but I certainly don't want to.  Some of these are clearly convenience items, but still, they are things that significantly improve my time in the kitchen, and on top of that, they are used quite often in my kitchen.

Here's my kitchen "loves" list...

1. Crock Pot.  I am the proud owner of three well-loved crock pots.  I use them for everything from dinners, to homemade yogurt, to keeping foods warm away from the home, to making chicken stocks.    I often have more than one going at the same time!  Crock pots are easy, but do have a learning curve.  Every crock pot cooks differently, some running hotter than others or cooking foods faster.  THIS is my favorite and most used.

2. Mason Jars.  I LOVE mason jars.  I use them for storing dried beans, rice, homemade granola, tea bags, homemade coffee syrups, leftovers, yogurts, and more.  I HATE storage containers (where'd that dang lid go?!?!).  Mason jars are the perfect storage containers.  The lids are all the same (two sizes only-regular or wide), so I always have some available.  Plus, you can buy JUST the lids in a pack if you somehow manage to lose them anyway.  If you have a Winco near you, they regularly have the best prices on Ball canning jars.  I use them in all different sizes, and I especially love my half gallon ones.

 3. Ball Canning Funnel.  This gets used at least 5 times every week.  Long gone are the days where I spill half my contents on the counter while trying to fill a jar.  This funnel is definitely a good friend in my kitchen.  It just sits right on top of the jar and I can pour my contents right in.  The above pictured one is blue, but mine is green.

 4.  Chemex. Alright, so technically I'd file this under "husband's favorite kitchen items," but I have to admit I've become a coffee snob since the introduction of this to our kitchen.  This makes the BEST coffee.  I don't even know how to use it, though.  So that poses a mid-day "I need coffee" problem.  But after having coffee from the Chemex every day for a couple months, coffee in our espresso machine tasted "metal-y."  No thanks.  It does require special filters.    Love this little machine and the coffee it makes!

 5.  Cheesecloth.  Ever tried straining homemade yogurts or chicken stocks without good cheesecloth?  It can take forever and you can end up with not great results.  Invest in some good, washable and reusable cheesecloth, and you will be SO glad you did.  I love THIS cheesecloth.  Time saver, and money saver in the long run.

6.  Garlic Press.  I don't know how I survived the first 6 years of my marriage without a garlic press.  Oh yes, that's right, I just didn't cook with garlic.  I use my garlic press approximately 3-5 times every week.  I'm REALLY hoping for a good garlic harvest this spring!  Garlic is so yummy, and a garlic press makes it so easy to incorporate into your meals.  I have THIS one from Pampered Chef, but I'm certain there are other great garlic presses out there for cheaper!

 7.  Silicone Pastry Mat.  In our kitchen, we have a kitchen island that we built ourselves.  The top is rustic and not a totally smooth surface.  I make our own breads, rolls, and tortillas often and need a nice smooth surface to roll them out on.  After trying a more firm pastry mat that cracked and broke within a few months, I found this silicone one and am pleasantly pleased with it.  It is also oven safe up to 450 degrees as a non-stick baking liner.  This is used multiple times a week, and it's in great condition still.

Well there you have it!  Seven of my most favorite and well-used kitchen items!  Of course, there are many other "regulars" in my kitchen that are assumed necessities (pot & pans, an abundance of coffee mugs, etc.), but these are more so the "not your average" kitchen items.  What are your favorite kitchen items?

(Some of the links in this post are my referral/affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy HERE.  Thank you for supporting the continuation of this blog by using my links!)


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