Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Faith-based health-care program Samaritan Ministries has proven to work extremely well for us

For those of you reading my blog for information about our Italian living experiment, I apologize that this entry is off-topic. I had written this article for our church newsletter, but the newsletter is no longer being printed, and I wanted to get this information out to some of my friends and others who may be interested in our experiences with this alternative to traditional insurance. I am so glad someone pointed me in the direction of Samaritan Ministries, and I feel confident that this information will help others as well.

The high cost of health insurance almost scared me into postponing my retirement from teaching in 2010—until a friend told me about an inexpensive and effective alternative, a Christian health-care sharing organization called Samaritan Ministries.

Samaritan’s approach is based on Galatians 6:2, which reads, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Each month Lucy and I are committed to send $360 to another family which has a verified qualifying medical need. In return, when we have unexpected medical issues that exceed $300, Samaritan will share our need with specific other members, who respond by sending their monthly commitment checks to us. We are allowed to choose our own doctor and medical facilities; there is no such thing as a “network preferred provider.”

By participating in this program, we not only save a substantial amount of money but we feel good about paying our monthly shares because we can see they are going directly to help fellow believers. The program is well organized and administered and has a proven track records; Samaritan has been around for 23 years, has more than 30,000 households enrolled (more than 100,000 people) and is growing rapidly.
While Samaritan is quick to point out that it is a faith-based sharing program, not health insurance, Samaritan members are exempt from purchasing insurance under provisions of Obamacare—the Affordable Care Act. The monthly payments are low because Samaritan keeps administrative costs at a minimum. Also, since members make a profession of faith and pledge to adhere to certain moral standards, they generally have healthier than average lifestyles. Specifically, members must abstain from drugs or tobacco products and alcohol abuse and keep sex within the confines of marriage. No payments are made for abortions or sexually transmitted diseases contracted outside of marriage. Members must provide evidence that they attend a church regularly.

Pre-existing conditions and preventative care are not included, nor is dental care. Injuries from auto accidents are not covered because it is easily available within auto insurance policies. Members must submit proof of medical expenses. The maximum amount of sharing for a medical need is $250,000, although members can participate in an optional program that covers needs beyond this amount.

While some of these restrictions may seem undesirable, many health insurance programs also have limited coverage while still costing much more. Lucy and I also set aside another monthly amount in a savings account to cover preventative care, and the combined monthly total we pay is still less than the amount we would pay with most private insurance programs, and the additional money we set aside accumulated in an interest-bearing account until we needed it for medical expenses recently.

On the two occasions we have had a qualifying need that exceeded $300, the amount above $300 has been covered 100 percent, which was not always the case with our old health insurance policy. Not only that, we also received notes of encouragement and commitments of prayer from the members who sent us their monthly shares. It does require some additional bookkeeping on our part, because we not only have to document all of our medical expenses and mail in receipts, but we also have to keep track of which members make payments to us. On one occasion, a couple assigned to pay their monthly share to us missed a payment.  Samaritan contacted the couple to remind them of their commitment, and we received a payment the next month. A Samaritan spokesman told me that if the couple had not paid a second time, the need would have been re-assigned to another family.

Samaritan Ministries is not the only Christian healthcare sharing ministry.  Other similar organizations are Christian Healthcare Ministries and Christian Care Ministries (Medi-Share), and both of these have also been around for more than 20 years and have been positively reviewed by a number of long-standing members, as has Samaritan.

Even though I read all I could about Samaritan, after 30 years as a state employee with traditional insurance, I still had some misgivings about abandoning the traditional model. Samaritan makes it clear that it has a much different philosophy. In its ministry guidelines booklet, it says, “Samaritan Ministries is an arrangement whereby Christians share to assist one another with medical expenses through voluntary giving. We are not licensed or registered by any insurance board or department, since we are not practicing the business of insurance. We believe Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Provider for all of life’s needs. Individuals and families have the primary responsibility for their own health and decisions related to seeking health care. When they have burdens that are greater than they can bear, we firmly believe that the body of Christ, at the local church level first, and then in a broad corporate sense, should bear one another’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ.”

If you are like me, you will want to read as much as you can about Christian health sharing programs before making a decision. Each company has a web site that gives complete details. I read and re-read Samaritan’s site several times during the months before I had to make a decision. I also called the friend who recommended Samaritan to ask a few additional questions. I have been a member now for more than four years, and I am very pleased with our choice. If you have questions that I can answer, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us or give us a call.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Italian children’s tales are part of Nonno Michele Spadoni’s legacy

Nonno (Michele Spadoni) in his Shore Acres farm yard.
My sister and brother had the good fortune of living in Nonno’s house during their early childhood. Linda was seven and Roger five when Dad and Mom moved from Nonno’s house to Rosedale, and I was born a few months later, just as our family was moving to the new house. Dad had spent all but the first few months of his life in the Shore Acres neighborhood of Gig Harbor, and when he married Mom, she moved into the Spadoni family home. Linda and Roger remember waking up on cold winter mornings and crawling into bed with Nonno, who would often tell them stories with his heavy Italian accent. For me, unfortunately, Nonno was just the name of the old man who held me on his lap and gave me money when we went to his house on Christmas Eve. He died when I was six.

Nonno’s stories, however, live on. His children told them to their children, although not frequently enough for most of us to remember them today. Though I barely knew Nonno, at least I had the good fortune of having Linda and Roger for sister and brother, because they probably knew Nonno better than any of his grandchildren still alive today.

It is mostly from listening to Linda that I know the stories of Pigottino, Patuzzo and the Filli Billi Macola. The latter story, I have concluded, was concocted entirely by Nonno, as none of my Italian relatives has heard anything like it. However, last April when Linda and I visited our cousin Grazia in Italy, we asked if she had ever heard the story of Pigottino. After a little prompting, she said she did remember it. In fact, she said, it was a well-known children’s tale in the Tuscany region, but we had the name wrong: It should be Pochettino. Armed with this new information, I did a web search and located the story on several Italian websites. The sites confirmed that the story has been told for many years throughout Tuscany, and the hero of the story is usually named Pochettino, but some versions call him Buchettino, Buettino, Pezzettino or Minuzzolo. I even found one reference to the story of Pigottino, although the text was not provided, and I eventually discovered that a Pigotta is a rag doll, so Pigottino would be a diminutive form of that word. Each version is slightly different, but most all have the same key features in common, and overall I am amazed at how closely the online accounts match the story as told today by Linda.

Children’s stories—favole, in Italian—were passed from person to person, and each story-teller added his or her own personal flair. Nonno and Linda both added details that are not in the online accounts I found. Since I found only one version written in English—using the name Buchettino and in a book from the early 1900s that is out of print—I have decided to translate one of the Italian versions myself. It does not have some of the embellishments added by Nonno and Linda, but perhaps at a later date I will mix those in as well. I would be interested to hear from other Italian-Americans to see if their parents or grandparents told them a similar story. I have left a few words and phrases in Italian so as not to interrupt the rhyming.
llustration by Carolina Casali, a grade school
student in Livorno. Her class wrote a version
of the story after asking their grandparents to
recount it.

In the days that cats could fly and holidays were held every other day, there was a beautiful child whose name was Pochettino. To teach Pochettino how to work, his mother hid a coin in the house, and every day she said to him: “Pochettino, Pochettino, sweep the house well and you’ll find a soldino.”

Pochettino always swept well and made everything shine, and finally one day the broom swept out a penny, and Pochettino jumped with happiness.

“Now that I’ve finally found it,” Pochettino said, “I have to think hard about what to buy and spend it wisely. I think I will buy a bag of cherries . . . no, because I have to throw away the pit and the stem! Then I will buy nuts . . . no, because a part of the penny will be spent on the shells! And if I buy apples, I’ll be paying for the core. I know: I’ll buy a bag of figs, because we also eat the skins and don’t throw anything away!”

And so he went to buy a bag of figs, but it was a small bag because a penny wouldn’t buy very much. After returning home, he began to eat on the window ledge. As he was eating with great gusto, the last one fell below him in the lane. Pochettino began to cry, calling his papa to find the fig that had fallen. But his father said to him: “Pochettino, leave the fig where it fell, because soon a beautiful plant will be born. Fig trees grow quickly, and then branches will be here in front of the window, and you can go up to eat the figs!”

In fact, since fig trees do grow fast—even faster in stories—a beautiful tree soon grew outside the window, and Pochettino climbed on the branches and went up to eat the figs. One day Pochettino was eating a fine meal when an ogre passed by and saw him there dining on the beautiful figs. He called out:
Pochettino, Pochettino,
Dammi un bel fichino
Col tuo bianco manino.

(Give me a beautiful little fig with your little white hand; some versions say “santo manino,” would could mean sainted or more figuratively, precious little hand.)

But Pochettino said to him: “No, because if I reach out my hand, you will eat me! I will throw it to you.”

Pochettino let a fig fall to the ground.

“I don’t want that; it went into the mud,” said the ogre, and he called again:

Pochettino, Pochettino,
Dammi un bel fichino
Col tuo bianco manino.

“No, you want to eat me! Take this one.”

And he threw another down, but the ogre dropped it and said:
“I can’t eat that. You see it fell into some cow poop.” And once again he called:

Pochettino, Pochettino,
Dammi un bel fichino
Col tuo bianco manino.

Pochettino was a kind-hearted boy, so he said: “I’ll give you one, but don’t eat me.”

He reached out to hand the ogre a fig, but the ogre grabbed him by the arm and put him in his sack. He threw it on his shoulders and began to run home to cook and eat Pochettino with his wife.

On the way he needed to stop and relieve himself, so he put down the bag and told Pochettino to be good.

“Go farther away, ogre. Otherwise I will smell the terrible stink,” said Pochettino from the bag.

The ogre moved away a little, but Pochettino had a good idea, and he said: “Go farther. The stink will disgust me.”

“Is this OK?” said the ogre with a voice far, far away.

“Even farther,” shouted Pochettino.

When he had sent the ogre so far away that he could not see, Pochettino took a little knife from his pocket and cut the string of the bag. He took the largest stones he could find and stuffed them in the bag. Then he re-tied it and ran away.

When the ogre had done his business, he returned to pick up the bag and put it back on his shoulders. He said, “Oh, Pochettino, how did you become so heavy: when I caught you, you seemed lighter. But that is better, because now we can eat you for several days.”

As the ogre arrived in sight of his house, he began to cry out to his ogress:
Mogliera, my mogliera,
make a fire for the caldera
I captured Pochettino!
Mogliera, my mogliera,
make a fire for the caldera
I captured Pochettino!

When he got home and found his wife, the ogre danced for joy, and said: “Did you put a fire under the caldera?”

“Yes, everything is ready,” she said.

In fact there was a fire that looked like a furnace, and the boiling water looked like a volcano. The ogre opened the bag and dumped it out into the water, but the large stones broke through the caldera and the water came out in a wave, washing over the ogress, killing her and badly burning the ogre. He was so enraged that he bit into his hands and fire spurted from his eyes. The next day, still in pain from the scalding water, he took the bag and ran to recapture Pochettino.

When he heard the ogre coming, Pochettino climbed out a window onto the roof. When the ogre saw him up there, he pretended that everything was a joke, saying, “Pochettino, how did you get on the roof? I want to come up there too.”
“Certainly not. You will eat me.”

“No, I don’t want to eat you. Just tell me.”

“No, you will eat me!”

“I won’t eat you. I promise.”

“Then I’ll tell you. I made ​​a ladder with all the pans that were in the house!”

The ogre went into the house and took all the pans, making a ladder, but when he was in the middle, the pans tumbled down, and the ogre fell and broke some bones.

“Pochettino,” he said, rising with difficulty. “Tell me the truth! How did you get up on the roof?”

“This time I’ll tell you. I made a ladder of the dishes.”

The ogre believed it and made the ladder of dishes, but it ended the same way.

“Look at how I’ve been hurt, Pochettino! Do not be evil and tell me: How did you come up?”

“This time I’ll really tell you,” said Pochettino. “I made a big ladder with the glasses.”

The ogre, with great effort and the few healthy bones he had left, made a ladder of glasses, but after arriving almost at the top, he fell like a log, and died.

Pochettino came down from the roof and climbed up the fig tree and went back to eating his figs, finally at peace . . . and if you go to his house to see, the tree may still be there.