The first time I met Paul Bunyan I wet my pants.
In my defense, I was only four years old — a skinny, sickly kid who was scared of most everything. That summer our family had traveled to Brainerd, Minnesota to spend the day at Paul Bunyan Land, a small amusement park that had recently opened.
Unbeknown to my older sisters and me, my dad told the person at the ticket window the name of his three young daughters.
As we walked through the park’s entrance we caught a first glimpse of the gigantic Paul perched in a sort of rustic log cabin setting high above the tourists. Mesmerized by the enormous figure in the plaid shirt, I followed my sisters to stand at Paul’s huge feet where we gazed up in awe. Babe, Paul’s trusty blue ox stood off to the side.
I remember thinking Paul’s face had a cartoonish look, but overall he appeared kind and impassive.
Suddenly Paul came alive, swiveling his huge head and raising an arm in a jerky salute. His booming voice addressed my sisters and me: “Welcome to Susan, Barbara and Nancy from Sauk Centre!”
Paul Bunyan knew my name! He knew where I lived! I felt dizzy and I’m sure my heart missed a beat. It was all too much for a little girl who rarely left her small hometown.
Wet pants ensued.
Since that sunny, summer day, I’ve seen many giant statues of Paul Bunyan (along with his trusty blue ox, Babe) and I am proud to say have never wet my pants again.
However, I’ll never forget our first meeting. That’s why when I read this Saturday, June 28th is National Paul Bunyan Day, I knew I had to write a blog post about the big guy. Why does the legend of Paul Bunyan resonate today?
For the uninitiated, here’s a little history.
The tall tale of Paul Bunyan was probably the creation of lumberjacks telling stories around the campfire. They wove tales of a giant logger with superior strengths. Over many years, Paul Bunyan stories spread steadily by word-of-mouth. Paul first appeared in print around 1916 in an advertisement for the Minnesota-based Red River Logging Co.
Suddenly, Paul and Babe were part of Americana. Paul even got his own postage stamp along the way.
Enormous statues of Paul and Babe continue today to thrill (and scare) kids all across the country from Maine to Michigan and Minnesota to California. A Google search indicates the most visited Paul statue is located in Portland. Who knew?
At least half a dozen communities — several in Minnesota — celebrate “Paul Bunyan Days” during the summer months.
Although I now recall it as an fun family outing, the grainy, black and white pictures of our long-ago trip to Paul Bunyan Land tell a different story. I’m crying in all of the snapshots and no one in my family looks as though they are having a good time.
Yet, I choose to look back with fondness and weave my own Paul Bunyan story. Don’t we all make our own family folklore and remember what we want rather than what was?
This Saturday, remember Paul and Babe, and take a minute to recall a good childhood memory — even if you have to make one up.
Sunday Morning, my favorite television news show, featured some great reporting this week. There was a profile of author and nerd-champion John Green, a segment on the flying-female WASPS of World War II and a lengthy cover story about one-room schoolhouses.
The segment on the lessons of one-room schoolhouses really caught my attention.
I grew up on stories about these miniature primary-grade schools where kids of all ages came together to learn, And, as a kid myself, I also experienced these schoolhouses.
First, my mom’s story.
Mom grew up during the depression years in rural Iowa. Their family farm was surrounded by many other farms owned by relatives of both her mother and father. Punk, as Mom was called by her family, thought everyone grew up that way.
All the kids went to ‘country school’ as it was commonly called. Their country school a one-room wooden structure named the Finnie School. Finnie was my mom’s last name and her father had donated the small chunk of land to build the school.
Unless the weather was brutal, most students made their way to the Finnie School on foot or horseback. As I’ve written about previously, Punk had a stout Shetland pony named Polly that would ferry her back-and-forth to school most days. By all accounts, Polly was a prickly, sometimes unpredictable horse that could quickly turn on a person and bite without warning. Even so, Punk could most-often keep the pony under control. Polly knew who was boss.
During its heyday, the Finnie School probably had no more than two dozen students and most of the kids were related in one way or another.
For several years during Punk’s youth Edith Miller, my mom’s aunt, was the school’s teacher. A tall, imposing woman, Edith was my grandmother’s maiden sister, and she could charitably be described as difficult and opinionated. According to my mom, Aunt Edith was especially tough on her own nieces and nephews, often holding them to higher academic standards and requiring them to arrive early and stay after school hours to clean the classroom and do menial chores.
Kids learned at a very early age that nothing got past Aunt Edith.
As a teacher and a person, Edith had high standards and always thought she was right. I can personally vouch for this as the indomitable Edith lived into her mid-90s. When I was a child, her twice-yearly visits to our Minnesota home were life-altering (and not in a good way).
Even writing about her causes me to sit up a little straighter in my chair.
Growing up I heard so many stories about the Finnie School that I feel as though I knew it, but I didn’t. We probably drove by the schoolhouse on trips to Iowa, but being the youngest in the family, I don’t remember.
By the time I became an adult, the Finnie School had sat empty for years. One day we got word that the Iowa township had decided to sell the school. Surprisingly, one of my mom’s bachelor brothers seriously contemplated buying it. Mom, being the unsentimental, never-look-back-only-move-forward person she was, just shook her head with disdain. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to save that rickety old building.
She told her brother, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, let them tear it down! Who cares?”
I’ve no idea if the school was saved or not, but I like to think it was.
Now, my own one-room school experiences.
Growing up in central Minnesota, these little country schools didn’t seem so special. They dotted our landscape and were just a part of life. By the late 1970s, the one-room school had become the relic of a bygone era. Public school buses now picked up country kids so they would have the larger, town-school experience.
Sadly, most of the one-room schools had simply outlived their usefulness. Most often, they were neglected and eventually torn down or sold. However, a few were preserved some became small stand-alone museums or were incorporated onto the grounds of other museums.
This is the case of the Little Red Schoolhouse that sits in a park in my rural hometown in Minnesota.
If you saw it, you’d agree it is a most charming school that has been lovingly preserved and restored. The school has the original chalk boards, old pull-down maps, framed pictures of founding fathers, an American flag, a bell on a rope and hooks along the back wall for hanging up coats and scarves. Sturdy, much-used wooden desks and chairs are bolted in neat rows lined on the creaky wood floors.
It is indeed charming.
The little red school is open only for special tours. The first time I visited it as a museum, it brought tears to my eyes.
I knew this place.
Several of my good friends attended this very same one-room school, before “coming into town” in seventh grade to attend junior high. I spent countless days and sleepovers at the farm of my good friend, Kathleen, whose father donated land so the township could build a school, just as my grandfather had done in Iowa so many years before.
I loved seeing that schoolhouse each time I visited their farm. We’d walk over to look in the windows, sit on its porch and Kathleen would tell me tales of her school days in the country.
Now, on bulletin boards at the back of the little school that is now a museum hang pictures of generations of the children who attended. There is a picture of dear Kathleen, unmistakable at age nine wearing a big grin and even bigger glasses. There are also snapshots of her sister and brothers and their many cousins.
This school is the perfect example of ‘the circle of family life’ in small town America.
Surprisingly, I learned from the Sunday Morning segment there are still about 200 of these single-room schools still operating today, down from 200,000 at their height in the early decades of the twentieth century. Today, kids attending these tiny but modern-looking schools use computers and study the very same curriculum that students learn in big schools. It’s not quite the same schooling that Punk or Kathleen experienced.
Am I glamorizing the one-room school house and farm life in the Midwest?
In reality, I couldn’t wait to leave my small town and experience the greater world.
Moving far, far away, I created a much different life for myself. However, the older I get, I more I realize that I can never really escape my upbringing. At the heart, there is a small town inside of me and a one-room schoolhouse off in the distance.
Post Update: Thanks to some helpful staff of the Minnesota State Legislature, I am happy to report I now have my MNsure health care policy in place and retroactive to the beginning of 2014. I do not like to use my blog and social media platform for this purpose, but I felt I was out of options. This saga took close to five months to resolve. While I am relieved, I will not forget all I had to go through to make this simple transaction a reality.
As a self-employed, small business owner, I had high hopes for the Affordable Care Act. I was giddy at the thought of lowering my premium costs, which now total $6,000 a year for an individual policy with a very high deductible.
Obamacare, as it is usually called, was passed in spring 2010, but didn't go into effect until this year. I couldn't wait to sign up.
If only it were that easy.
We all know the story: Obamacare launched and the federal website was an immediate disaster. A few states fared better than the national program as they had done their homework and created well-designed exchange systems.
Sadly, this was not the case in Minnesota, where MNsure is the state-run version of Obamacare.
When MNsure launched in late October 2013, I was probably one of the very first to go on the website. Certainly I was one of the first kicked off the website. We've all read the news accounts of people attempting over-and-over to create a MNsure account, shop for insurance and then filter through the qualifying process. I had the classic bad experience. Countless times, I went on the website, only to have it freeze up or boot me off. Then, at one point, the system would no longer let me login at all and I got a "password fail" message.
I was stuck. I was frustrated. Still, I persisted.
Personally, this was an especially stressful time in my life, as my mother was dying after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. I had moved Mom to my home and she was in hospice. I remember sitting by her bed and holding her hand while also holding on the phone for a live MNsure representative to help me in my quest to obtain more affordable insurance.
This was probably the first time I cried.
After holding for hours and hours at various times of the day, I was finally able to get through to tech support. Surprisingly, getting my password changed proved to be the easiest fix.
After that, things went very wrong.
My mother died in late November, so I probably was not at my sharpest.
However, I was determined to have new insurance by the end of the year. And, since I had been a caregiver for two years, I believed I would qualify for a healthcare subsidy of some type.
News reports indicated the MNsure website was more stable and it appeared to be true. I logged on easily and sailed through the application process. Next, I started shopping for healthcare policies. To my surprise, the policy costs were about the same as the open market and there didn't seem to be any way to find out if I qualified for a reduction due to my income level.
That's when I discovered, I had clicked on the wrong tract -- the tract that was for those who wanted to purchase insurance with no financial assistance. This proved to be a mistake that would cost me, both financially and emotionally.
Back to the phone, which meant more hours calling and calling and holding and holding. Many times, I would simply have to hang up since I had a life with responsibilities and obligations. Other times, I would be holding for a long period and suddenly the call would disconnect.
That's when I cried again.
I was beaten down and I was frustrated. But I persevered.
Finally, on the last day of 2013, I held for 90 minutes until I finally reached a live person who listened dutifully to my tale of woe. She cheerfully told me to "disregard the first application" and submit a second one on the website, this time following the tract that would allow the system to determine my eligibility for health insurance assistance.
Really? It was that easy?
With high hopes, I hung up the phone and began a second application. .
This second application was my second big mistake.
The MNsure website indeed allowed me to create and complete a second application. I could even see both approved applications in my account. However, individuals may not have two applications. MNsure does not like two applications. Two applications will prevent the user (me) from doing anything further.
I was locked out.
That's probably the third time I cried.
Luckily, I had not cancelled my existing policy so it would continue into the New Year. I still had insurance but it was continuing to cost me dearly.
After my holiday visitors left in mid-January, I reluctantly opened my ever-expanding healthcare folder again. I think I deserved credit for my persistence and my patience.
I would need this patience as 2014 began.
My latest quest for affordable healthcare coverage included a long series of calls, emails and more calls to various MNsure personnel. I encountered individuals, who always sounded nice and chipper at the beginning of our calls. Yet, as my problem became more challenging for them, they would lose interest. It was never possible to talk to the same person twice and non one called back to follow up.
One day, in a fit of frustration, I even tweeted about my situation. Since I have over 9,000 followers, I thought that might get some results. Within minutes, I had a response from someone obviously in a management postion. Bryan asked me to call him. I did call Bryan. He seemed interested and promised he would help me.
After exchanging emails back and forth, it was determined that I needed to speak to a specific department. I was given a phone number. I called that department, but no one could help me in the least. More emails and phone calls to Bryan in management, but I've never heard from him again.
He lost interest.
By this time, I was also losing interest. Yet, I didn't have a choice. I had to keep going.
During my numerous phone calls, I learned that compounding my situation was the fact that the people at MNsure could only see one application in my account. On their computer screen the good application appeared. My second application -- the one I actually wanted to use -- did not even appear in their system. I was told by most everyone I spoke with that, "We need to get rid of that first "bad" application and then you will be able to apply for insurance." Yet, even though everyone promised that would be accomplished in hours/days/weeks (take your pick), it never was resolved.
Three months have passed and I am still stuck.
Yesterday, I called again. This time, I spoke to someone who realized my issue needed the help of someone who really knew how to get something done. He passed me along to John, who promised the first application, or as I have taken to calling it, the "Very, Very Bad Application," would be removed within 24 hours. John actually called me back this morning, which thrilled me to no end. He promised the Very-Very Bad Application would be gone by the afternoon.
It was not.
This afternoon, I called again. I was not happy. I was upset. I wanted results.
Once again, I told my story. I was put on hold for a very long time and then the first person transferred me to a youngish man. Let's call him Tim.
Tim did not ask for my story. He thought he knew what was needed (spoiler alert: He did not). After putting me on hold for an extended period of time, Tim returned to the call to give me a long-winded explanation that involved a pie queues. Huh? First time I had heard this explanation. His estimation was that this would take weeks or as much as a month to resolve my issue "because of the pie queues."
Tim insisted it was out of his hands. He was done with me.
No sir. I was getting mad. I wouldn't let him go. Why, I asked had no one told me about the pie queue and what WAS it anyway?
Obviously, Tim did not know what he was talking about. While he really didn't want to hear my story, I insisted he listen and recounted it briefly. Silence.
Tim responded that I could forget the lengthy pie queue tutorial.
Thank goodness. Although now I was hungry for pie.
On hold several more times, this phone call was now over an hour long. Yet, for the first time, I actually felt hopeful. Was Tim the Man? Could he erase the Very-Very Bad Application?
Tim came back on the phone and (very pleased with himself) announced that he had indeed deleted the Very-Very Bad Application. Problem solved, he wanted to end the call.
Not so fast, buddy.
"Wait," I said, "I need to check."
The bad application was still there. I told Tim I appreciated what he had done, but that I didn't want to hang up until I knew it was actually gone.
To bide my time, I also asked him about how to proceed once the Very-Very Bad Application was history. His response, "Just create a new application."
Wasn't this how I got into big trouble in the first place?
I brought this to Tim's attention. He did not address that issue.
I kept checking to see if the very bad application was gone, but it still appeared. Tim argued that it was deleted but just not showing up on my screen. I cleaned out my cache, cookies and more but no-go. On my screen, nothing had really changed. I had just invested another 75 minutes of my time and no progress had been made.
Tim told me it might take a day or so for the change to process through the system. Really? Perhaps, but I had heard this before, and the Very-Very Bad Application was still there.
Tim's response, "You can't be stuck in the past. You have to learn from the past. You have to move forward."
My incredulous reply, "Wait, can you say that again, I want to write it down."
Long sigh from Tim, but he repeats it.
I write it down.
Then he tells me to stop checking my account to see if the Very-Very Bad Application has indeed been deleted. He says, "If you keep checking, it won't change."
I write that down, too.
Tim is now getting antsy. He wants to hang up. "I've put in 47 minutes on this call and I have other people to help," he tells me.
After I write that down, I start to bluster. I want to keep him on the line so I know for certain deleting the Very-Very Bad Application will indeed be the big fix I need. I want to make sure the system will allow me to finish my second application, or what I was now calling the Very-Very Good Application.
Getting snippy, I change the subject and inform Tim the MNsure on-hold music is beyond horrible. Elevator music is bad enough, but elevator music that is out of sync and filled with static noise is just plain torture.
He chuckled. Tim knew exactly what I was talking about. His comeback? "We have 99,000 bigger problems than the music on hold."
Silence on my end. I am writing this down as well.
Even though I have been instructed not to check the applications, I do so and report to Tim that both applications still appear in my account. Nothing has changed.
Tim is exasperated with me. I tell him I won't hang up and he will have to hang up on me. I plead with him. Really, I am at the end of my rope.
Tim does hang up, but not before telling me, "No one can do anything more for you."
I look at my handset, hear the dial tone and start to cry.
It is March 19. I think MNsure has broke me.
About eight years ago my mom began to demonstrate personality changes and memory issues. Mummy, as we affectionately called her, was repeating herself, having difficulty communicating and had begun hoarding -- plastic bags, Kleenex, pennies and even little pats of butter.
Looking for answers, my sister took Mummy to see her family doctor, calling ahead to advise him of the memory issues and obsessive behavior.
During her appointment, the doctor asked a series of questions, conducted a cursory exam and within minutes had a "diagnosis."
"Don't worry," he said, patting my mother's hand, "It's not Alzheimer's disease. It's only dementia."
My mom left her doctor's office feeling relieved that day. However, by this point in our lives, my sister and I had had plenty of experience with Alzheimer's disease. We knew there was plenty to worry about.
This doctor's visit happened eight years ago, but there is still a confusion surrounding Alzheimer's and dementia. Many people use the terms interchangeably -- giving the impression they are one in the same. Others, think both Alzheimer's and dementia are diseases, with dementia being less damaging or severe than Alzheimer's disease.
These myths are widespread, even among the media some healthcare providers, and are very difficult to dispel.
First, it can be challenging to wrap your head around this complex subject. The confusion may also stem from a lack of clear reporting in the media. Additionally, Alzheimer's has become a dreaded word. It's a word many people avoid using, preferring instead the softer, less-threatening term, 'dementia.'
Whatever the reason, the all-to-common misconception is that Alzheimer's disease and dementia are one in the same.
They are not.
To understand dementia, you have to first recognize it is not a disease. Rather, it is an overall, umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect a person's mental and physical abilities.
You could compare it to the term fever, which tells you a person has an elevated temperature with perhaps other accompanying symptoms. However, fever is caused by something that is happening in the body.
The same is true of dementia -- it is result of something happening to the body.
There are many types of dementia symptoms and they can often vary from person-to-person. Some of the more common symptoms are short-term memory loss, depression, irritability and mood changes, lack of coordination and motor skills, difficulty walking, loss of communication skills, difficulty solving problems, repetitive behaviors and a change in sleep patterns.
So, what is the root cause of these dementia symptoms?
Alzheimer's, a progressive, always fatal brain disease, is the culprit in about 70 percent of the dementia cases and affects more than 5.3 million in the U.S. alone.
Yet, you can have dementia symptoms and not have Alzheimer's disease.
Other diseases that bring about dementia symptoms include dementia with Lewy Bodies, vascular dementia, fronto-temporal dementia, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, prolonged and excessive alcohol or drug use as well as several other rare types of diseases also affecting the brain. Although dementia symptoms vary widely, all of these diseases affect a person's thinking, behavior and memory. The disease steals the person's cognitive abilities and destroys their lives in the process.
Knowledge is power. The more we know and the better we can communicate about Alzheimer's, the more powerful we become. Use your power to set the record straight about the myth that Alzheimer's and dementia are one in the same.
You may open up some conversations about this disease and who knows where it might lead?
A new study about death and Alzheimer’s disease made headlines yesterday. It revealed what all of us in the Alzheimer’s community already knew: Alzheimer’s disease is a “sleeping giant” and it is dramatically under-reported as the cause of death, especially in older Americans.
The study, published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reveals that deaths are categorized and recorded by the cause listed on death certificates.
However, those numbers are deceiving as many death certificates list an immediate cause of death, such as pneumonia, while the deceased may have had Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia for many years. Alzheimer’s degrades the brain severely, leaving a person vulnerable for many other medical complications. In other words: Yes, the deceased had pneumonia, but it was not the root cause of death. At the root, there was Alzheimer’s disease.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has Alzheimer’s disease listed as the nation’s sixth leading cause of death, but this latest study would move it up to third place, just behind heart disease and cancer.
This is one more huge piece of evidence that we need in the battle against Alzheimer’s. But will it make any real difference?
Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs at the Alzheimer’s Association, said, “We would like to see a response that is commensurate with the problem.”
“Alzheimer’s disease…needs to be taken seriously, and if we have the right kind of investment as a country, then we will be able to makes strides similar to what we’ve made in heart disease, HIV and cancer,” said Fargo.
Congress recently allotted more funds for research — $122 million. That’s a start. What we actually need is more in the range of two billion. This may sound like an astronomical number. However, it is miniscule compared to the personal and government financial outlay that is anticipated if we don’t find a cure or at least effective treatments for the disease.
What are the anticipated costs? By 2050, the projected cost of Alzheimer’s will be a trillion dollars.
Let’s pay the two billion now, rather than paying so much more later.