Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Groping Around in the dark
It has been several months now since any of my jewelry has sold on Etsy and I'm not sure what gives. I feel as though I'm groping around in the dark trying to find a foothold. Tonight I watched American Idol and noticed that a number of the singers were having the same problem. What they thought would appeal to people seemed to miss the mark with the judges in some vital way in many cases. Only one or two seemed to hit the nail on the head in enough areas to get that unhesitating "Yes!" response that all artists strive for, the kind of response in which the beholder doesn't have to think consciously about what worked, but knew unequivically that it did. Even after polishing their act taking into account all the feedback they'd been given, still several of them were told that they veered left when they should have veered right, or that they'd gone too far in one direction that they'd been told to go in the previous week and over-corrected.

I thought about how visual art is similar. It's like that game "pin the tail on the donkey where you're blindfolded and have to rely on often ambiguous cues and instructions as to when you're getting "hot" and when you're getting "cold".

As artists it seems that often we come kind of close (and someone may like something we've made enough to compliment but maybe not heart it), or at times very close (and then somebody will heart it but not buy it), then on those lucky occasions when all the conditions are right... bingo! (Somebody buys).

Those moments to an artist are like a juicy steak set down in front of you at the end of a long day, but what are they made of? Better yet; we all wonder how we can repeat them, yet the formula seems to elude us and remains a moving target.
Sometimes it seems as though an art-based business is more like trying to win the lottery than other jobs in which you can be sure your pay is going to continue week after week. Althought ironically with all the recent lay-offs the two might be more on a par with each other now more than ever.

It is alot like going fishing. You choose where you think is a good fishing spot, attach the worm (choose types and decide on your methods of promotion), then drop your line in the water and see if there are any fish around to see it, and whether they are interested (is your demographic where you're advertising and do they want what you have to offer on this day?)

Sometimes they see it but stay where they are, not making a move forward. Other times one comes close and even takes a little nibble.

I remember when I was a kid out on the pier many summers waiting patiently to catch "the big one" and it did come around. It's presence massive, an impressive creature, fins glistening like polished silver, sunlight glancing off it as its muscular body maneuvered effortlessly through the water below. My heart seemed to stop for a moment in anticipation. I was afraid to breath for fear I might scare it away.

It was these fish that were hardest to catch, as they all seemeds to have grown to this size by narrowly escaping capture any number of times. Some even had remnants of hooks in their mouths which had partially healed over. These big granddaddy fish would glide up to my hook and appear to sniff around at the juicy morsel attached, assessing whether or not to go in and chomp down. More often than not they'd nibble around the edges, avoiding the hook inside as if they knew that there was a price to be paid for not controlling their hunger. Then they'd dart off if there were any sudden moves, or seem to get distracted while staring at it and lose interest, sailing up to, then beyond my offering, eyes focused forward.

I never could figure out what the determining factor was to their deciding to bite down solidly versus the other two responses. To this day it remains a mystery.

In my jewelry design process I have alot of versatility and often challenge myself to look at trends and then create my own twist on elements that seem to appeal to a number of people. I don't want my work to look like everybody else's but at the same time I often wonder if there is such a thing is going too far off the beaten path.

I have read that certain shapes such as circles appeal to most people and afford them a kind of security. Maybe there's something to be said for predictability in an increasingly unpredictable world. Sometimes I will look at work that does not seem very unique and see that nevertheless it is selling pretty regularly.

Two questions keeps raising their heads; "How plain should I go before the work becomes boring? How complex or unusual should I go before the work is too far afield for viewers to relate to it?

It is easy to go too far in either direction, but where that line in the sand exists is not well understood.

Tomorrow between 1 and 3 pm someone is coming to look at my poor kitchen floor that the other repairman tore while moving the refrigerator and Carmella continued to peel back.

I will be relieved to have that work done so that I can mop it without worrying that it will warp. I want to wash the floor with bleach as soon as I can in case Carmella's foot microbes re-deposit onto her while she's walking in there.

You can see when you look close-up that these torn areas trap hair, and stains, and all kinds of unwanted stuff. Yuck!

Carmella's second day wearing the cone has been touch and go. She has found ways to get around the thing now and then and either stick a back foot inside the cone or slide the cone down her neck toward her shoulders and then reach her front feet. I have to keep pushing it forward. I hope this infection gets better soon because I can't watch her every second of the day and keep re-adjusting that thing or I'll go nuts! Luckily she has fallen asleep on the chair in here in the computer room. I almost hate to wake her up to bring her into my room and put her onto the bed, but I can't leave her by herself to wander around the house unsupervised. There's no telling what sort of mischief she'd get into and how much it would cost me to replace whatever in here she might destroy with that deadly micro-snout of hers.

Goodnight to you all! Keep reading and commenting, and if you see any big fish be sure to send them my way! Minnows will work if you have enough of them but it's nice to have a big meaty Salmon at least once in awhile.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Carmella Cone-head Fights Unseen Enemy
Just as my own health seemed to give me some reprieve and I thought that Carmella was on the way to total health something tiny but deadly attacked her feet with a vengeance. Getting one's butt kicked by something microscopic is not a pleasant way to start a new week and Carmella found herself compelled to lick the bottom of her paws between the pads, only making a raging infection worse.

Nothing I had on hand was any match for this miniscule, aggressive creature. It seemed her paws just got redder and redder and increasingly blistered and her face around the whiskers looked as though it had been burned in a fire.

Now I know why they refer to these things as "opportunistic" infections. The little bastards seemed to take full advantage of the fact that Carmella was licking and thus adding moisture to her sore paws. The more she licked the more it itched, and the more it itched, the more she licked. Then one of her back feet started bleeding again last night. Giving her a bath with aloe shampoo only seemed to provide temporary relief and then this morning she was back to licking between her toes every 5 seconds.

I took her to the vet this afternoon and asked him whether she might have a fungal infection since we already had her on an ointment that was a mix between an anti-bacterial and steroid and the flea drops that also are supposed to treat the mange, both of which failed to prevent this current flair-up.

Dr. Norwood thought about it a minute and then said that is a possibility, and/or it might be some sort of antibiotic-resistant bacteria she picked up from the ground outside. Oh, God, no! That's all we need.

I asked if he could culture it and he told me that there is a very good test available (although there is some costliness involved) that will identify the type of microbes she has and actually test what grows with certain antibiotics and other drugs so that we can be absolutely sure what will and will not work against these bugs. If it is bacterial, or fungal we should know what it is and how to treat it in about 10 days.

Although I was not looking forward to adding to my already towering vet bill on Care Credit, I figured this looked like a "pay kind of big now or pay HUGE later" situation, so choosing the lesser of two evils I bit the bullet and forged ahead.

Knowing that there are lots and lots of antibiotics and at least as many microbes, we could spend the next 5 years guessing and that could REALLY run into some money. Like they say, "A stitch in time saves nine".

The female vet tech was working today and remarked that Carmella looked really good (other than her feet and around the mouth). She weighed her and commented that she was down about two pounds (43) on this visit, but that it probably wasn't anything to worry about as changes in exercise could account for some small bit of weight-loss. I have been taking her for walks lately in addition to her usual running around in the back yard. I hope she hasn't picked up anything nasty from the street.

Dr. Norwood took the culture, which Carmella wasn't thrilled about, as she pulled her raw back left foot away reflexively and whined slightly as he obtained some material on a Q-tip and dropped it into a small test tube to be sent to the lab.

Then he recommended she have one of these plastic collars to keep her from licking her feet, and prescribed some more Entederm ointment, some other liquid called Conofite (an anti-fungal medication), and said to continue the Pro-Meris flea drops on an every- 2-week schedule for awhile more. He covered all bases and said that at least while we're waiting for the results of the culture she should not get any worse with all three of these medications and the collar to keep her from licking her wounds.

I walked out of there with almost another $200 tacked onto my Care Credit. Gwen had put it in for 3 months same as cash but upon reflection thought maybe she could have done it as 6 months. I told her that I sure hope this works because I can't get reimbursed anymore for mange by Carmella's insurance, and the new year doesn't renew her yearly limit until July. If this turns out to be something new then it might be covered then if it is still going on, but I really hope it will be all over with by July. It seems like just when I think Carmella will have no more health problems something else happens.

She will have to go around for awhile with what looks like a satellite dish on her head, but maybe that will give the area a chance to dry out so that it doesn't continue to fuel whatever these vicious beasts are feeding off her flesh.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sowing Seeds With Recycled Materials

I started thinking last night after my last blog post about what I could do to save money on my groceries and figured that other people must be wondering how to do that right now too, especially artists who are not getting rich from their art and are having trouble making ends meet.

It occurred to me that I had some fruit and vegetables and those have seeds in them, that I have all kinds of bits and pieces of materials from planting in previous years, and it's a good thing I'm careful about throwing anything away! In my front yard were some pete pots from last year with perfectly good potting mix still in them, and I have plenty of plastic recepticles lying around in my garage, so I pulled these things out, collected the seeds in paper towels from Watermelon, Honeydew melon, and Bell Pepper and decided that in keeping with my theme of resilience and regeneration I would share this process with my readers.

What You Need:

1. Seeds from inside your fruit or vegatables (soaked overnight if melon seeds)
2. Containers with small compartments (preferably w/a top and pan)
3. Paper Towels
4. Plastic Container filled with water
5. Old pete pots or plastc pots filled with left over potting mix
6. Old plastic or wooden markers for names of items planted
7. Permanent marker

Once you have all these thing set up outside fill the containers with some of the potting mix (about 3/4 of the way full). Stick seeds in the center of each compartment.

Melon seeds (such as these Honeydew seeds below) should be planted pointier side down sticking up in the soil.

Rounder seeds can go in any old way.

If you don't have containers at home they are very inexpensive to buy at Walmart or Home Depot in the garden department. The best ones to get are the type shown here which come in three parts (a clear plastic top, thin plastic insert with holes for each seperate seed and dirt, and a bottom pan for water). You can also use plastic containers with lids that you have left over from coffee, yogurt, margerine, etc, and poke small holes in the top and bottom, then put a dish flled with pebbles underneath (in place of the plastic pan) if you can't buy the containers and don't have this type at home.

Next, cover all compartments with more potting mix. Make them alittle bit too full, as soil will settle over time.

Planting is such a soothing activity and today is the perfect sunny day for it. I plan to buy some Tomato plants and Basil next month, as those I think are harder to start from seeds, but for now I have these three delicious varieties of seeds that I can plant right out of what I have in my own refrigerator.

Next, just fill the bottom pan with about one inch of water.

This will allow the seeds sitting on top to suck up the water from the bottom as needed.

Then place the insert with dirt and seeds inside the water pan, take old leftover seed markers, and using the back blank side write the name of your fruit, vegetable, or herb seeds on it lengthwise. (I got 3 new markers out of one old marker). Cut into strips and cut a point at one end. Stick these into the dirt in the corresponding containers.

Put the clear plastic top on, and set in a sunny location.

Notice that in only a few minutes there is condensation inside the clear plastic top. This is helpful in keeping the temperature warm and the conditions moist at all times (like a mini greenhouse). It means that the soil is already drawing up some of the water from the bottom which will cultivate a nice stable root system and soon, healthy little sprouts! The time it will take to see green peeking through depends alot upon the variety you are growing, the amount of sun you get, and the climate where you live. These containers can be placed outdoors or indoors if you have a window which gets full sun for a few hours a day.

Once your seedlings grow to be about 4 inches high you should be able to replant them in the ground or in a large pot. There are even upside-down hanging systems you can buy now if you have limited space or just want to keep your fruits and veggies off the ground and away from bugs. There's nothing like fresh grown food, and for the "starving artist" it can make all the difference between starving and eating during some months of the year.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This is Your Face on Medicare and Medicaid

Imagine that you have never seen a Dermatologist because finding one in the private sector who takes your insurance is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Carmella's Mange is doing better except for her persistently red snout (and paws which she keeps trying to lick).

I could call her Rudolf the red snout reindeer!

She made friends with the boxer next door and I took some very cute pictures of them playing through the fence.

I have been spending most of my time trying to find the specialists I need for my own health problems. One of my doctors stopped taking Medicare altogether and it was the best doctor of all of the ones I see.

That has been a fulltime job in and of itself, and now I also need to see a Dermatologist at Emory but the soonest appointment isn't until August. They are that backed-up! I have some dark areas on the right side of my face that may be melanoma, and a number of other complexion problems that have never been evaluated that have been brewing for a number of years.

It seems less and less doctors are accepting Medicare and even fewer accepting Medicaid as coinsurance. I am already forseeing that I will probably have to see at least two more in other specialties as well and am really afraid because I wonder with these forms of insurance whether I'll really get the level of care I need. The amount of work this is requiring is taking up all my time now when I'm not in bed resting.

Apparently the repairman who tore my brand new linoleum in the kitchen, bashed into my railing in the driveway, and made the crooked and uneven gate to my front porch entrance has decided to hone a crisp sense of entitlement, so he will not be asked back. People with that kind of attitude don't deserve repeat business, and I don't want him doing anymore damage to my house. The jerk really needs a lesson in humility. In this economy nobody can afford to give customers "the finger" like that. It looks as though it will have to be done over; at least one half of the room. I hope to hear something on Monday from Lowes (a real repairman) to set up an appointment for a price-quote. At the rate things have been going the entire floor would have eventually gotten peeled like a grape by Carmella if something is not done and soon because those edges stick up. I have tripped over it a number of times and stubbed my toe, especially just after the guy tore it moving my refrigerator. A family member is going to cover it, or I'd really be out of luck, as I don't have that kind of money.

My son gained a job briefly and has been laid off again. The town he lives in is very small and he's worked at a number of places already, so I don't know what he's going to do.

More fodder for letters to Barack Obama, I guess; all of these issues.

One hopeful possibility on the horizon is that when looking on Emory Clinic's website I came across a doctor who is doing research on a new stem cell technology to regenerate bone!

Those of you who have been diligently reading my blog will remember that I had rapid bone loss in my jaw several years ago when I almost died because of an acute flair-up of my Sarcoidosis. This bone loss was very aggressive and happened within only 5 days. I had some trouble getting help with it because one periodontist didn't want to bill it as medical because the area of the bone loss is in my mouth and billed it as dental which is not covered under either Medicare or Medicaid, so of course my insurance did not cover any of that visit. That was when NIH was just beginning to prove that bone loss around teeth can be caused by autoimmune disease, but that research was very early and they were just establishing the connection. That guy I saw as a consult did not believe bone loss like that could happen that fast and said that I must just not have noticed it until then and it must be regular gum disease, but I told him that it absolutely did not happen before that. I was and still am 100% sure of it because the onset of all my symptoms was sudden, my gums turned black overnight and each day (for five days in a row) my teeth were further and further apart. It was so shocking and scary that I made sure to document it. Antibiotics given to me by a GP turned my gums back to their normal pink color within about another week, way before I was referred to the Periodontist. He didn't get to see it as it was happening, and I'm sure his rather disdainful demeanor had something to do with my being on Medicare and Medicaid. He seemed to view me as some kind of derelict who didn't take good care of my body. You'd think doctors would not have that kind of bias but you'd be surprised at how many of them stereoptype people on Medicare and Medicaid. I then received a big bill and did not know where to go for treatment from there. I knew that at some point the research would bear out what I was saying and so in addition to brushing I washed with peroxide and just tried to keep the area clean until another option presented itself. My GP was as clueless as I was as to where to refer me next.

The research I found the other day involves some sort of patented material that is mixed with stem cells and used as filler in the recessed bone areas. From what I understand this material allows the stem cells to take hold and grow new bone onto existing bone (I guess the same way potting soil or fertilized fortified soil does in planting seeds.)

Well, I wrote the doctor in charge of the study and told him my situation and he thinks it would work for me! He said he has never worked with bone in that area but it should be no different than long bone.

I'm thinking that I may need to first confirm whether any current bone infection still exists and if so how far it extends beyond the jaw and address that. It occurred to me that if I have ongoing bone infection that could account for the way I've been feeling lately; the all over inflammation and fatigue. With technology having advanced confirming the connection between auoimmune disease and bone loss in the jaw since I last checked, it should not be considered dental this time around. This doctor asked if I'd seen an Oromaxilarfacial surgeon and/or ENT about it and asked what they said about my bone loss, and I had not seen these specialists for that yet. That gives me some direction as to what I should do. I sent an e-mail to my GP last night. He should receive it first thing Monday. I don't know if this research doctor will want me to have been seen by one or both other specialists before I start with him or whether he can call them in as part of the process as his consultants.

The local customer never ended up sending the money for those commissioned violet leaf earrings, so I have pretty much given up hope, as it's been several weeks since she told me she was sending it.

If it wasn't for $11.00 in my bank account I would not have been able to buy any groceries this weekend.

Carmella needed her fish oil and Pet tab vitamins refilled on Friday at the vet's. She is set for about another month or so with those. I am now really broke!

My Medicare part D claim for Benicar is still up in the air. If any of you are on Medicare or Medicaid, I urge you to write President Obama and encourage him to create a healthcare system that is more equal for those who have no other insurance option. If you have about as much chance winning the lottery as finding a quality specialist, then it's almost like being uninsured. Note that if you have Medicaid as coinsurance you cannot buy another coinsurance such as AARP that more providers accept. Such a system is intrinsically flawed and should be changed. The 20% co-payment to pick up what Medicare doesn't is often more than we can afford out of pocket. About a year and a half ago I had a surgery which took me a year to pay off the co-payment (and most doctors these days won't make that flexible a payment arrangement).

Monday, March 09, 2009

What May Spring Bring?

I am getting ready to start covering some more violet leaves with fine silver slip for a local custom order. Across the street from my house these leaves grow abundantly, so I can take my pick of size and width. That is a start, but I will need more than one order to keep things going. I made these hoops and more are in the works. I've seen others' hoops sell repeatedly on Etsy, so these should also do well.

Try These Angles Fine Silver Hoops - $35.00

Blackened Chili Pepper Fine Silver Hoop Earrings - $28.00

Hand-forged Fine Silver Latch Hoop Earrings - $50.00

Fine Silver Bamboo Leaf Hoops - $25.00

Fine Silver U-shaped Hoop Earrings - $22.00

Dime-Sized Fine Silver Hoops - $20.00

Last week I ordered some more supplies for soldering. I've had a butane torch for several months but until now have not been able to get all the supplies I needed to go with them. Then the company called to say that the copper sheet and hard 75% silver solder is out of stock. I guess everybody was mobbing those two items when I ordered and then as my order was being processed they sold the last ones. Now I will have to get those two things from Rio Grande, but have little money left.

Recently I found out that Carmella's yearly insurance limit had run out and so I won't be reimbursed and further for any of her mange treatment claims. They only paid a small portion of that before her limit was reached, and now it will be July 11th before any illness can be reimbursed. If her mange re-occurs they won't cover it then because it will no longer be considered a "First Time Illness". I hope she won't get any more illnesses but I am worried about the mange coming back, as Dr. Norwood told me at the last appointment that it may be awhile before it is gone for good, and that can get expensive especially if it can never be reimbursed again. Even putting lemon on the side of her face (the area that is slowest to heal) in addition to the supplements and new flea drops which smell like heavy duty bug spray for a full day still has not returned that one area of her body to normal.

Now that she is not getting dips I am going to try putting on some other things as spot treatments and see if any of them work.

Soon I'm going to start approaching Science Diet about dog food endorsements using pictures from before her Mange and current ones showing the left side of her face where all the hair has grown back. Here she is on March 1st; the only day it snowed this year.
She was a little bit tentative about sticking her feet into the snow. She wrinkled her nose when flakes landed on it.
I took a picture of the purple/pink sunset and got a beautiful view of the snowflakes as they came down around my chimney.

I need to raise as much money as possible now that Carmella's insurance will not be paying any of this back to me. I'd really like to be able to have all her medical expenses paid off within the next few months.

My own insurance troubles are ongoing. Medicare Part D has continued to refuse to pay for one of my necessary medications. If I literally cannot get them to do that I don't know what I'm going to do because living without it is not an option and there is no equivalent substitute.

On Saturday, March 8, 2009, I received a denial letter in the mail dated March 2, 2009 stating the same reasons as my doctor's nurse had told me that the doctor had received last week. It said specifically;

"A prescription drug is a part D drug only if it is used for a medically accepted indication, meaning that it is prescribed for a use that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or approved for inclusion in one of the following three compendia:

1. American Hospital Service Drug Information;

2. United States Pharmacopeia-Drug Information (or its successor publications); or

3. Thomson Micromedex DrugDex"

The letter goes on to say;"Furthermore, beginning January 1, 2009, Part D will also accept anti-cancer chemotherapeutic drug uses that are approved for inclusion in the following additional compendia:

1. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Drugs and Biologics Compendium;

2. Clinical Pharmacology, or

3. Peer Reviewed Medical Literature.

Because the drug requested is not prescribed for a use approved by the FDA or in one of these references, the requested drug is not considered a Part D drug and is not covered by the plan.


You should check with your doctor for another drug that is included on your formulary and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this use."

The only one I know of that is officially FDA approved (because of the woeful lack of money devoted to research in this disease) is Prednisone which not only does nothing to cure it, but causes avascular necrosis among other serious adverse reactions and can severely compromise the immune system. The biologics and anti-cancer drugs are even worse! Some of the clinical trials on those actually had to be called off due to deaths and other serious events.

I've been on Benicar for several years with no adverse reactions whatsoever! I wonder how on earth the government allows a pharmacist to over-rule my doctor on something like this!

I don't have several hundred dollars to pay for this medication out of pocket, as I'm on Social Security Disability, and most prescription assistance programs require that you be totally uninsured before they will cover the cost. They don't pick up the slack when insurance companies choose not to cover a drug and leave the patient at risk of relapse; even death.

I could buy it cheaper from a manufacturer in India but even so, with sales not moving I don't know that I will have the money for that either.

It's possible that I may have to take this to court, but in the meantime I wrote President Obama, and sent another letter to the editor of a news blog which exposes inhumanity within the Medicare system. Apparently there have been cases that are in litigation now on this same issue.

Take a look at these interesting articles written by David Glendinning. They may help you or someone you know;

Medicare drug not covered? You can help patient appeal
For patients who need to veer from their drug plan's formulary, the assistance of their physicians will be essential.
David Glendinning, AMNews staff. March 20, 2006

Suit opposes Medicare denials of off-label, non-compendia drugs
The administration is interpreting Medicare law in a way that prevents coverage of lifesaving medications for people with rare diseases, a patient advocacy group says.
David Glendinning, AMNews staff. Jan. 21, 2008

Physicians complain Medicare Part D decisions threaten patient care
The AMA urges physicians who are encountering problems with Medicare drug plans to report them to CMS and the Association.
David Glendinning, AMNews staff. June 5, 2006.

With the new economic stimulus package allowing American citizens to keep more of their earnings each pay period I hope that some of it will be put towards buying more wonderful handcrafted items.

Those of you or with family member(s) going on interviews should consider buying your outfit and accessories from a small designer/maker instead of going to your local Walmart, mall, or department store this year.

After all, there is no better way to stimulate the economy than buying handmade! Remember that with love and action, all things are possible!