My ebooks at Amazon for Kindle-Karma House, Time Immortal, A Foreign Body, and Blood Bonds-are free downloads at Amazon until Tuesday. If you read any of these, please leave an honest review at Amazon or Goodreads. The Witch Box remains free at Smashwords for any reading device. :)
My ebooks at Amazon for kindle-Karma House, A Foreign Body, and Time Immortal-are free at Amazon for kindle until Monday, 3/31. If you read any of these, please leave an honest review at Amazon. Thanks :)
America is a wonderful country to live-just don't get old or sick, and you'll be fine. My cynicism was only compounded this week during my pursuit for health insurance.
I thought it would be easy. I'm low-income; in Obama's America, I should be the perfect candidate for The Affordable Healthcare Act. I had put off the inevitable long enough, time to get on the Marketplace website.
I was taken into the new world of subsidies and the difference between deductibles and premiums. I went to another site that steered me to some Blue Cross Blue Shield policies that were reasonable, and if I was eligible for a subsidy, my expenses would be lower. Due to my income, less than ten-thousand dollars a year, I thought I was a shoe-in for a subsidy.
I applied for a BCBS Bronze policy. The policies come in Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Other insurance companies, such as Meridian, offer the same type of policies. The Gold have the lowest deductibles, but the monthly payments are slightly higher. Silver and Bronze have higher deductibles.
My mother, a senior on Medicare along with her own supplemental insurance from Meridian, actually knows more about insurance than her daughter. She took one look at the Bronze plan I initially picked out and almost gasped over the five-thousand dollar deductible. "Laura, you will never pay this off before you can use it!" She's right, so I then went on a search for a lower deductible in The World Of Gold. I found what I thought was a decent Gold policy.
I had received a call from a Marketplace rep, but I informed him I was going with a BCBS policy, because I was sure I would get a subsidy. He didn't argue. My trip to the Marketplace had informed me, because of my low income, I would not be penalized, meaning nothing would be taken from my tax return next year. What a relief. However, my ignorance would lead to more disappointment.
I received a call from a rep from the other health insurance site. This rep wanted to help me with the whole subsidy issue. I gave her info about my age and income. She proceeded to tell me that I wasn't eligible for a subsidy, based on my income. What? I needed her to repeat that. She informed me that since I was so far below the poverty line in the state of Michigan (didn't exactly do wonders for my mood), I could apply for Medicaid. Actually, Medicaid was my only option. No subsidy for me, because I'm too poor. This leaves me wondering who the subsidy is supposed to help. I no longer have to discern between deductibles and premiums, gold, silver or bronze. The rep made pitying noises when I explained that I work only part-time in retail. The premium for the Gold policy I considered is two hundred and sixty-three dollars a month. Not bad, but I can't cover even that much while paying on my debts and other expenses with my K-Mart paycheck. Yes, I need a better job, but affordable health care and better-paying jobs don't seem to be lining up in this country, at least not yet. I haven't had health insurance since 2001, so I'm not crying about not being able to keep my doctor or losing the 'good' policy I had from work. I've had none of these for a long time, and I've survived, because my health is good. If I were to run into a serious health condition, such as cancer, I can't say what would happen; most likely, hardship applications, Medicaid, and watching the bills pile up. Bankruptcy-not just for divorce anymore.
I'm not a serious critic of President Obama, but I'm wondering if Obamacare is a case of putting the cart before the horse. If Americans were earning more, then paying for insurance would be easier, especially if insurance companies are willing to lower their deductibles and premiums. The burden, for low-income single people and families, ends up falling on Medicaid, anyway. The rep gave me the phone number for Medicaid, and I'll probably call, still searching for help. This year, I have a pap smear and mammogram to look forward to, along with paying for my prescriptions. In the meantime, I'll keep looking for a better job, so maybe I'll be able to pay that premium myself. I also continue to pray for good health. Too much worry can make you sick:)
P.S. This post is dedicated to the memory of Mackenzie Knight. RIP, Mackenzie.
Oh, I'm ready for spring. The front and back yard no longer have room for more snow. My car became stuck in the driveway on Tuesday, and the only solution available was kitty litter under the tires of my old Chevy. I managed to keep rocking the car; drive, reverse, drive, reverse, until I could get my car back to where I park it. My mother couldn't get her car out, either. I called into work at K-Mart, the second time this winter I've begged off because I can't get my car out of the driveway.
Before the kitty litter, I tried to shovel the car out, but my tires kept sinking into the cement-like snow. The day before, Muskegon was hit with what is hopefully the last bad snow for the winter. This has been a wild winter, and Michigan weather is unpredictable all by itself, so nothing is certain.
My brother has a plow on his truck and I watched him try to maneuver the huge clumps of snow that evening, but the driveway is becoming more and more narrow. I can still see our house, but it is sandwiched between the snow on the ground and the snow on the roof. Like something out of The Shining.
Water damage is inevitable, and we have noticed the interesting, cloud-like shapes on the ceiling. Nothing paranormal here; but new spots are being found everyday, in ceiling corners and around the skylight in my bathroom. Some plaster has fallen into my shower, followed by water leaking. The kitchen light is surrounded by water stains, so we're not using that light right now. However, our damage is small compared to some other homes around town. At least our roof hasn't caved in from the weight of the snow.
I haven't been blogging as much because I've been working on another book since last month. A sequel of sorts to The Last Girl, because I always wanted to write a series with Sonya Neslund and her high school pals. Between working and writing, I'm staying preoccupied.
K-Mart hasn't changed, except I have a new general manager. I don't know about you, but whenever there is a change of the guard, other changes follow. The anxiety wrought by The Secret Shopper is only making things worse. Those people have camera phones, and they're taking pictures of the filthy restrooms and other messes we don't have time to get to because we are now understaffed and the company doesn't want to hire more people. Maybe I've been spoiled, but I don't like having new demands placed on me while I have two full racks of women's clothes to put away on the floor. People who have worked in retail know what is expected; to pack in as much work, as much result, in as little time possible. Four-hour shift, eight hours worth of work. You can never do enough. The company I work for does not have the money to update the store with self-checkouts and extra electric wheelchairs for disabled customers. Sears Holding Company, owners of K-Mart, have been struggling for years.
The customers seem depressed and exhausted by winter, unhappy with the store's depleted supplies of snow shovels, salt, and kids' snow pants(those things are like gold). Valentine's Day weekend was a mess of lingerie and women's clothing, candy in heart-shaped boxes, cologne, and jewelry. However, the store was up fifty percent in sales that weekend. I've been feeling the pressure as far as working miracles in four hour shifts, because the store closes an hour early during the winter, so less time to work. The store was still messy, things disorganized and scattered on the floor, when I worked Sunday night. Bad weather hit on Monday, so more snow. I had already called in sick last week, and there I was, begging off for another day, another precious four hours lost. (I work for minimum wage and I get paid by the minute)
I feel sorry for my mother and our animals this winter. Mom already slipped and fell in the snow once in the driveway, but she was just sore for a day or two. A small walkway has been shoveled on the back deck to the steps so Patti Page, our dachshund, can use her ramp to get on the ground to go to the bathroom. As a dachshund, her legs are short, so Mom shoveled a spot on the ground. The area around this bathroom-spot, over the winter months, looks like a snow monolith constructed by ancient peoples. A Snow-Henge. On the icy ground, urine stains and frozen feces ruins the mystic quality.
The cats, when not inside, find shelter underneath the back deck, where Patti Page sometimes follows. Mom and I have managed to keep the cats inside when the temps drop, but the two males like being outside, their sisters wanting to stay in. These two enjoy playing, banging around in the living room at two in the morning. We also have an older female cat, Grayson, who chose to move in with us over the fall. The other cats don't like her, so she stays in Mom's room most of the time. We believe she was a stray, but she's a nice cat, seems healthy. Anyway, Mom is now The Crazy Cat Lady, with Patti Page and I as her assistants. Thank God the females are spayed.
I woke up this morning and I see sunshine, the snow melting. My brother plowed out the driveway last night, so we can go to work and do our shopping. When the rain comes, flooding is expected, but the sunshine gives me hope, because winter is always followed by spring. :)
Blood Bonds, my Fu Sheng vampire scifi mystery, is 99cents at Scribd. Still at Amazon for Kindle for the same price. www.scribd.com/doc/207229513/Blood-Bonds
The Last Girl, my YA mystery ebook, is free at Amazon for Kindle until Friday, January 10. If you happen to read The Last Girl, please leave an honest review at Amazon or Goodreads. Thanks :) www.amazon.com/dp/B00AZ7YIT2
I am offering my Kindle Direct Publishing Books for free-Karma House ebook, The Last Girl, Blood Bonds, and my short stories A Foreign Body and Time Immortal: Tales of Marcus, the Blind Vampire. Free offer starting today until Tuesday. If you read any of these, please leave an honest review at Amazon. Here is my author page: www.amazon.com/Laura-Ellison/e/B0091K33H2 Consumed and Blood In Trust are at their regular prices, because these books are through a different publisher. :)
Over the last ten years, I think I have eaten enough ground beef, chicken, eggs, Ramen noodles, peanut butter and boxed macaroni and cheese to last a lifetime. However, I live with my mother, who learned many years ago about how to feed a family on a budget, which includes the above staples of a modern working poor diet, along a few other delicious recipes that will make left-overs less depressing.
A trip to the grocery store is a reflection of how tough it's been. Hamburger can be from two to four dollars a pound, depending on where you live. Chicken, which used to be the cheapest meat you could buy, has almost doubled in price. I haven't bought a steak at the store in years, along with beef roast, but shoppers can occasionally find a pork roast on sale. Everyone loves bacon, but the pig is more expensive than ever. Growing up, my dad kept pigs and cows in a barn on our property, and we ate the meat from these animals that we had named and treated like pets. We were carnivores, and it was okay, but I never accompanied Dad to the slaughterhouse, just putting the existence of the animal out of my mind while I ate the meat at the dinner table. To this day, pork is not really my favorite meat, but only because I had to eat so much of it, the pork packaged in white butcher's paper and kept in the big freezer in the garage. Mom would go out there and take out the pork chops, steak, sausage or roast, these cuts thawing in the kitchen sink. I grew so tired of pork chops and pork steak, I wanted to scream.
Dad got the idea of raising cows by the time I was thirteen. By then, I had stopped talking about our barnyard animals at school, knowing any animal in that barn was on Death Row. Dad treated them well, feeding and keeping the cows clean, as well as the pigs. When I was nine, I saw one of the females give birth to piglets. By middle school, my classmates were repulsed by my tales, so I stopped talking about it, many of these kids raised on food stamp grub and fast food, although WIC hadn't come along yet. Our moms worked, so the more convenient the food, the better. My family also ate frozen pot pies and the sliced meat and gravy in the little plastic bags. Mom would cook these in a boiling pot of water before we owned a microwave. She worked and didn't always want to cook a big meal, much to my dad's disapproval.
I liked the frozen stuff, but I still hate Hamburger Helper to this day, but I still eat cold cereal for breakfast. Past all of the nostalgia, my purpose is to provide some of my mother's recipes to feed a family on a limited budget. One of these gems Mom has always called 'Goulash', although there is nothing Hungarian or Eastern European about Mom's version. Some people call it Hillbilly Supper.
16 oz. box of macaroni pasta $2.00-3.00
1-2 lbs. of ground beef (or whatever kind of ground beef on sale per pound, but plain ground beef or ground round is best) $4.00-7.00 dollars, depending on where you shop
I can of stewed tomatoes $2.00-3.00
I large can of tomato juice $3.00-4.00
onion, to taste .99 cents a pound (can also used dried chopped onion)
In a big pot, cook ground beef and onion until beef is done, drain off grease. While doing this, let water come to a boil in another pot. Cook macaroni in boiling water until done, drain pasta. When both are done, combine drained pasta and drained meat/onions in one pot. Add stewed tomatoes and tomato juice (most of the can, or until meat and pasta are covered). Cook for another 15-20 minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally. If you're feeling extravagant, you can add beans, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, or corn to the pot. You can go vegetarian, without the meat. Get the bowls and bread out and enjoy. I like to add a little butter and salt to my bowl.
Mom's 'Goulash' was a staple, but also a variation on my grandma's post-Depression grub. Grandma was a good cook and baker, but when times were tight, she made her 'spaghetti'; spaghetti noodles mixed with tomato soup. Another gem was her potato soup with dried beef, otherwise known as 'shit on a shingle'. My paternal grandmother was also a good cook, but had a tendency to use the grocery money to buy booze. Like any good alcoholic, she didn't hesitate to sacrifice a variety of foods for her kids if it meant more beer, along with taking my dad's earnings from his after-school jobs, the neglect forcing him to quit high school. My mother's sisters weren't much better. Mom recalls, as a teenager, babysitting at her older sister's house and finding the fridge stocked with beer and a can of beans cooking on the stove, dinner for my cousins. The welfare check went for the beer and nights out at the bar, my aunt probably getting her boyfriend to buy her dinner. These kids were grateful for pancakes on a Sunday morning. No surprise that most them grew up to be addicts. My mom equated good cooking with taking care of the people you love. As a teenager, one of the first meals she ever cooked was a meatloaf. Ah, meatloaf. The two words together-'meat' and 'loaf'-sound sort of repulsive, but there's something about those slightly burnt edges and ketchup top that says 'home'.
2 lbs. of ground beef $4.00-6.00
1 c. of oatmeal (1 minute oats, like Quaker) $1.99 a container, depending
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 c. dried chopped onion or fresh
1 c. of tomato juice
Combine all ingredients thoroughly(don't be afraid to use your hands) and pack firmly into loaf pan, covering with a layer of ketchup. Bake at 350 for one hour.
Meatloaf doesn't have to be complicated. You can use bread crumbs instead of oatmeal. Ketchup is also optional. My paternal grandmother put green pepper in hers. Add mashed potatoes and green beans and it's dinnertime. My dad would take the left-over meatloaf for sandwiches to take to work in his big black lunchbox with the buckles in the front.
I've become nostalgic for old tastes. Maybe it's because I'm forty-one now, and even the smallest memories(such as Dad's lunchbox or how he liked to cook his fried eggs in bacon grease) are important. The 25th anniversary of my father's death is on December thirteenth, his birthday November twenty-third. Mom will be seventy in May and, now that all of my grandparents are deceased as well as an aunt, I'm feeling everyone's mortality, everyone's life stories. Food is a thread through all of our lives, rich or poor, a reflection of our cultures, tastes, and desires. I just read a quote on Pinterest, "If chocolate is the answer, who needs the question?" The same could be said of heroin or alcohol, but let's focus on dessert. I present to you a working poor classic that requires most of the ingredients already in your cupboards. Cocoa is a bit more expensive than it used to be, but you can buy the store brand.
Salad Dressing Cake
(This recipe was from my paternal grandmother and was a favorite of my dad's)
3 c. of flour
1/2 c. of sugar
3/4 c. of cocoa
2 and 1/2 t. of baking soda
1 and 1/2 T of vanilla
1 and 1/2 c. of water
1 and 1/4 c. of salad dressing(Miracle Whip is okay, but not Hellman's, that's mayo, not salad dressing)
Mix ingredients and pour into greased cake pan. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. This cake is dense and rich, but vanilla frosting on top is good. Dad would eat it plain and warm with butter on top.
I hope to provide more working poor recipes in the future. Maybe you can think of a few of your own. If you have the time, please post your ideas at my Facebook page or the comments section here :)
Indie writers nowadays are their own Colonel Tom Parkers, in terms of promoting their own work. For those of you who don't recall singer/performer/legend Elvis Presley, Colonel Tom Parker was Elvis's manager, the person who took care of PR and other business matters so Elvis could simply entertain and be great. However, unlike the Colonel, I think most indie writers find the promotional side exhausting and nerve-wracking.
Yes, we want the sales and reviews, as much exposure as possible. Once the writer has decided to publish digitally(the fastest, cheapest way to go), the writer can choose Kindle Direct Publishing or another option like Smashwords.com, whether to charge or offer the book for free, making tedious format changes(no tab indents, single-spacing, blah, blah, blah), and buying or putting together a book cover. Let's do one more read-through! I found another bit of dialogue to fix. Let's go through the grammar and spell-check one more time. Go to the publisher website, put in your tagwords(mine always begin with horror, vampires, or ghosts), get the ISBN and other stuff, and upload the book cover. Take a deep breath and then upload the book file. Done? No errors? Good for you. Take a break. In my case, I usually have to go to work.
A few days ago, I uploaded my new ebook novel The Witch Box at Smashwords.com as a free download. When I returned from work, I did a Google search for different sites where I could promote my free books for free. There's many sites, but most only promote free Kindle books. Since I opted for Smashwords instead of Kindle Direct Publishing this time(only because I can control when my book is free at Smashwords. I had to set a price at KDP, the cheapest at 99 cents, but KDP chooses when my books at Amazon can be for free. A bit of a dictatorship, if you ask me), I have to search for sites that are willing to feature free Smashwords ebooks, not just Kindle ebooks. However, Smashwords ebooks are also offered in .MOBI format, which makes the book compatible for download on a Kindle. Smashwords has that universal appeal because of the various reader formats it offers.
I was up until past 1:00 a.m. that night, searching these sites, sharing my links where I could. I also sent out messages to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The next morning, I got out of bed to check the damage. I had forty-five downloads in less than twenty-four hours. (Let's face it, the word 'free' is magic on the internet and almost anywhere else). I am grateful, but also nervous. As The Witch Box spreads to Nook, Kobo, and the iTunes store, maybe a few reviews will pop up. Some of the promo sites won't promote an ebook for free unless the book has already received several positive reviews, although the author needs promotion in order to attract readers so these readers will read the book and leave reviews. This mean the author has to pay for promotion to get reader reviews. Some of these promo 'packages' these sites offer are reasonable, but I would suggest just making as many Facebook friends and Twitter followers as possible; finding other authors, reviewers, and bloggers in the indie community. There's help out there, but it takes patience. Colonel Tom Parker only had one client and managing Elvis Presley was a full-time job. To be the artist and the PR manager is complex, and involves taking time off from one in favor of the other. The writer needs to go to another room to write. National November Writers Month, NaNoWriMo, will be here soon. I wrote most of The Witch Box during NaNoWriMo last year, but had to slow down by Thanksgiving and Black Friday, my job at K-Mart demanding more time. However, those three weeks were very productive for me. My time spent social networking will be greatly reduced, but my inner Elvis needs to come out. The Colonel can wait backstage. :)
The Witch Box, my new ebook, is now a free download at Smashwords.com. Compatible for any reading device, including Nook and Kindle. http://www.smashwords.com/