2011: my personal #ACA (Obamacare) story

This is my personal #ACA (Obamacare) story. It happened in 2011. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) saved our family a $5000 out of pocket payment to Montgomery Regional Hospital near Virginia Tech while my son was a student.

Coverage for adult children through age 26

One of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act is (was?) that parents can keep their adult offspring on their employer-sourced health care plan until age 26. In 2011, my 22 year old son was covered by both my insurance plan through my employer and the student health plan provided through Virginia Tech.

As a full time student, my son’s health care was covered at Schiffert Health Center, the on-campus health center which was stated to be a turn key health care facility, providing everything that a student would need. All of that was covered in the student’s health care fee included in their tuition. Having read that statement, I would not have enrolled my son in additional health care insurance.

One problem: the student health plan only covered services rendered at the on-campus health care facility. Luckily, the ACA provided coverage for my son in my employer’s health care program.

An ambulance ride and a visit to the ER

When my son went to the student health center with chest pains in March of 2011, he was informed that the center did not cover treatment for chest pain. They called an ambulance and my son was transported to Montgomery Regional Hospital.

The hospital performed the usual battery of tests for coronary trouble, determined that he was not having a coronary, and released him.

Having chest pain? You’re okay. Now walk home.

I’m going to go off topic here for a minute. The way that the hospital released my son really made me angry. Having determined that my son was not having a life threatening emergency, the hospital released him with no other diagnosis, no treatment plan, and no ride home.

Really? You’re treating a patient for a stressful, painful episode and when you realize that he’s not going to die on you, you boot him out with no ride home? Stressed out young people don’t realize that there are resources for finding a ride, at least not at first when they are scared and in pain. Shame on you, Montgomery Hospital. Eventually, my son did realize he could call a cab and only walked part of the 4 mile trip.

Mama gets the bill some time later

My son did not tell me about this incident at first. He knew that mama would not have been happy.

In April of 2011, I received a letter thanking me for choosing Montgomery Regional Hospital and a bill for $5000 for the ER visit and tests. Surprise!

So I called my son, got the whole story, and sent the bill to our family health insurance. They covered everything but the deductible, saving our family the $5000 out of pocket cost.

Thank you Obamacare!

Thank you Obamacare! Thank you President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senator Tim Kaine, and Senator Mark Warner! You provided my family with a safety net when we needed it most.

And thank you American Woodmark for providing me and my family a health care plan that covered everything we needed in 2011.

To quote Vice President Joe Biden on March 23, 2010, “This is a big f—ing deal.”



1978: my personal harassment story

This is my personal sexual harassment story. It began in 1978 and continued through 1981, when I was working as an engineering co-op at the Union Carbide plant in Bound Brook, NJ. The harassment was both open and subtle and came from many sides: my coworkers, my management, the industry, and even my fellow working women.

Open harassment

Some of the harassment was out in the open and visible. None of it was aimed directly at me so at the time, I tried to just ignore it.

My coworkers: free calendars

In many of the work areas, it was common to see photos of half-naked women hanging on the wall. Calendars featuring these images were given out by tool companies for free. Here’s one from Snap-on Tools, circa 1974.


I don’t think my coworkers were out to get me or shame me. I think it was a free calendar . So what the heck, hang up the free calendar. Messages like these were common in the day and folks didn’t think much of it at the time. But as a 19 year old, working in a man’s field, I felt “other” and vulnerable. And as a 19 year old newcomer, I knew I was powerless to do anything about it so I pretended it wasn’t there.

But there it was. Every. Damn. Day.

My management: names and job scope

Harassment from management came in two forms.

The first was the simple way they referred to the other women in the office as “The Girls”. We had a fairly large staff of secretaries who did all the typing, filing, scheduling, and generally kept things running so that “The Men” could get on with the business of engineering and management.

I know it’s a simple thing to refer to grown up women as children but it did send a message of not being on the same level. And if anyone had referred to a group of males as “The Boys”, we would have known even at that time that it was racist. But in 1978, sexism was allowed even though racism was not.

The second form of harassment was in the type of work I was given. There were other college students at my location studying engineering and working in the co-op program. They were all males.

The males worked side by side with the engineers, doing analysis and designing studies for the company. I was sent to the library to do research. And I was great at it, finding obscure publications written in German but understandable because of the technical terms, charts, and diagrams. I found answers to problems they had been trying to solve with all that analysis and design, and saved them weeks of study and evaluation.

Eventually I earned their respect and was given other things to do. Which brings us to the subtle harassment.

Subtle harassment

Much of my feeling “other” and reinforcing my role as an outsider was subtle. It was more about the environment and the attitude than about things you could see or hear.

The industry: tools and equipment

My first job was to diagnose and repair a machine that fed fiberglass into a plasticating extruder. It was hot and itchy. Other than that, it was no problem.

One of the next jobs was to work on a crew making insulated wiring using a plasticating extruder. The machine was big and clunky. There was a 3″ screw running down the center which we installed and removed using a honking three foot long pipe-wrench. Here’s a schematic of the extruder.


This equipment and the tools we used to work on it were designed by men for men. The upper body strength, the grip strength, and even the hand size were all beyond me. Still I persevered and kept up with my coworkers, using my knowledge of physics and mechanics to get the most out of any force I was able to apply. Eventually all of that effort took its toll and I injured my wrist permanently. It still bothers me today and occasionally it swells.

My fellow working women: denial

The surprising source of harassment, and a big reason I felt vulnerable, was my fellow pioneers, the other working women.

The message was simple. Don’t screw this up. If you screw this up, they’ll kick you out and they’ll never let any of the rest of us in. The future of working women rests on your ability to tough this out. So I did.

So I couldn’t even think about the differences or speak up for myself. There was nobody to talk to about it and it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Talking and thinking were not going to solve this. So I didn’t talk or think.

We’ve come a long way, baby

So now the calendars are gone. The name calling is pretty much gone, but mostly because we don’t have secretarial pools any more. The overt symbols of harassment have disappeared. The subtle things are still around. Job assignments and salaries are still a challenge. The attitude of my fellow working women still makes me feel alone and vulnerable.

But it is better for me than it was for my mother. And much better for me than it was for my grandmother. So here’s hoping that my granddaughter will some day read this and think it’s funny and quaint.

Honey, if you’re reading this, kick some misogynist ass for your granny.

Do not feed the monster

Another fine post from a fine writer.

Hire this guy!

James Dill's Public Opinions

Hatred was a game that generated a lot of controversy. Controversial games that put the artistic merit of the entire medium into question are anything but new, this has been happening since the first Mortal Kombat, but what I thought was interesting about the controversy surrounding Hatred was an unusual amount of it came from gamers themselves.

I recently watch Total Buiscutte’s let’s play of Hatred. I have to say that I was underwhelmed about the whole affair. The game is pretty tame compared to comparible AAA M rated titles. There were lots of titles that contained a lot more gore and violence, God of War, Gears of War, Mortal Kombat, Prototype, lots of examples that were bloodier and gorier that didn’t generate nearly as much contraversy as Hatred did, in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the level of violence in Hatred was on par with…

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Legitimization through violence

Check out this thoughtful blog post by my son, Jim Dill.

James Dill's Public Opinions

I remember having a conversation with my mother where we discussed ISIS and what they were doing, specifically, them kidnapping news reporters and holding them for ransom. She asked me “should the government have ransomed those reporters?” I said no. she asked me “but what about the reporter?” I told her “to pay the ransom money would enable ISIS to go out and kidnap more reporters, ISIS wins. On the other hand, to try to break them out would be to acknowledge that ISIS is a threat worth responding to, ISIS wins. To fight them is to legitimize them so the worse thing the government could do to them is ignore them.”

I bring this up because something mildly interesting has recently been brought to my attention. Yet another cartoonist has been violently attacked by Islamic extremists. the extremists attacked newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 10 of the staff and…

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Hot Flash: Rock n Roll Mama

The very first video from my mamaband, Hot Flash.

Many thanks to Steve Pendlebury for his mad production skills. Props to Brian Johnson for the audio. Applause to Patrice Moerman for creating this awesome song. And hats off to Katy Johnson for her rhythm, vocals, and set decoration.

See it on youTube at http://youtu.be/Fq9Zu5KiJ8A

Where I’m From

This is my version of the Where I’m From poem by George Ella Lyon.

Some of us are writing our own versions.

I am from years of piano lessons,
from Mel Bay easy guitar method books
and hours of complicated scales and exercises.

I am from the a cassette recorder playing me
playing the piano part to Chicago’s Colour My World
as I play along on the flute.

I am from the smooth feel of the white keys,
the bumpy awkward feel of the black sharps and flats,
the dull but painless pull of nylon strings,
and the satisfying pain of throbbing callouses on the tips of my fingers
as I finally graduated to real steel strings.

I am from mom and dad driving me to lessons
and making sure I practiced, from the sound
of my loud clumsy daily practice
mixing with the smell of dinner cooking in the next room.

I am from mom and dad attending every concert, recital, and show
and mom saving S&H Green Stamps for a real wooden metronome.

From “anything worth having is worth working for”
and “we’re so proud of you”.
From knowing three chords
and sharing each and every one with my Girl Scout troop
on the long bus trip from Houston to San Antonio in the spring of 1972.

I am from Amazing Grace, In The Garden, and Take Me Home Country Roads.

I’m from the valley beneath the Roanoke star,
climbing in and out of ancient railroad cars at the Transportation Museum,
and returning to Roanoke now only for weddings and funerals.

From visiting Virginia Tech with my dad as a child
as he said “This is where you’ll take math”,
from seeing his photograph with the class of 1960
hanging in the building where I got the highest grade in the class
in 5-hour thermo,
and from moving my own son into Eggleston dorm
just like his grandpa of the same name.

I am from sharing the music and passing on the vision.
I stood on the shoulders of some really tall men and women to reach the top shelf.
And I know that the best things are sometimes found buried in the cupboard down below.

Letter to myself in 1987

Viqui and Keith Dill September 27 1987

Viqui and Keith Dill September 27 1987

September 27, 1987

Hi honey, it’s yourself, 25 years in the future.

I’m writing you this letter on your wedding day to let you know that everything is going to be all right.

I know you’re confused and I know you’re scared. So I want to tell you a few things that will help you have courage in the coming days.

But first of all, I gotta tell you girl, you are rockin’ that dress and your hair looks perfect today. When I think about how you could go bra-less today in that backless gown, I am so envious. Enjoy that while you can because it will not last.

Now, about the next few years: they will be challenging. Your new husband will wound you deeply and it will be about relationships. I don’t want to say too much about the ways he will disappoint you in the early years, but I will say that you will work it out. You have the stuff, girlfriend. You will not be alone and you will not be abandoned. Don’t be afraid to get help wherever God provides it, because He will provide it, and in surprising places. On this road, your friends will forsake you but you will find new sources of support. Your greatest strengths will prove to be liabilities and you will have to learn to lay them aside, finding new ways of living and loving. But don’t be discouraged. You will find everything you need just at the time you need it. And hang in there, it will all be worth it.

Now before you start thinking you’re going to become some kind of passive victim, let me say this:  inasmuch as you will be disappointed, you will also be a disappointment as a wife. And it will be about money. Sorry honey, but your fear will get the best of you and you will commit your share of transgressions. When it happens, don’t be too surprised. Accept the anger and eventual forgiveness that you will be given with grace. Forgiveness is the best gift ever. And hang in there for this, too, it will all be worth it.

As I write this letter, you will be happy to know that 25 years from now, my biggest problems are trying to find money for putting your kid through college and trying to deal with the sadness of having an empty nest. See? That’s not such a bad problem set to have. There’s a happy ending in your future.

So smile, pretty girl. Enjoy this day surrounded by the love of your friends and family. There will be time enough to deal with tomorrow’s problems tomorrow. And when troubles come, you can say “Bring it on.” You’re up to it.

Love you,



Blessed Are the Poor

I did not grow up poor. We were an upper middle class family. My dad, our primary bread-winner, was an engineer in the chemical industry and we never went without anything.

Once when I asked my dad, “Daddy, are we rich?” he told me “Yes, because we are rich in LOVE.” And that was that. We were indeed rich, rich in love, and pretty much rich in material things, too.

The Talent Show

Fast forward to 1973. I am sitting in the dark multi-purpose room of my junior high school, watching the spring talent show.

On stage is a girl with a guitar. I don’t remember her name but I knew her to be one of my classmates and the daughter of our school janitor. She sang a beautiful song she had written herself, set in a minor key, and with a simple message: don’t judge based on appearances.

I remember as I sat there, I could feel her own personal pain being poured out into the words and music of the song. She must have had a tough road, attending the school at which her dad was employed. We weren’t overtly cruel to her, at least I don’t remember being cruel, but we must have been distant and judgmental. I could hear that in her song.

Even now, 40 years later, I remember every word of that song. I remember her pain, and how she turned it into beauty which she lavished on all of us that day in the darkened auditorium. Here is what I remember:

Hey Hey Simpson 

  1. When I was just eleven, there was a fat boy on our block.
    His name was Leonard Simpson, and we laughed at him a lot.

    Singin’ “Hey, hey, Simpson. Fatty, fatty, two by four.
    Hey, hey, Simpson. Saw you hug the ugly girl next door.”

  2. He wore torn and tattered clothes. His old man cut his hair.
    He wore high-topped army boots, and sleeveless underwear.

    Singin’ “Hey, hey, Simpson. Fatty, fatty, two by four.
    Hey, hey, Simpson. Saw you hug the ugly girl next door.”

  3. That was eighteen years ago. Now I’m twenty-nine.
    Simpson died a while ago, a hero of some kind.
    They say a small young colored boy was pestered by a gang.
    Simpson helped him get away and was beat to death by chains.

    Singin’ “Hey, hey, Simpson. Fatty, fatty, two by four.
    Hey, hey, Simpson. Saw you hug the ugly girl next door.”

  4. Funny  how the years go by, success so lit by loss
    Reminds me oh so long ago of a man, some blood, and a cross.

    Singin’ “Hey, hey, Simpson. Fatty, fatty, two by four.
    Hey, hey, Simpson. Saw you hug the ugly girl next door.”

Blessed are the Poor

So thank you to that long-ago singer/songwriter. Your song still echos in my memory.

More than that, thank you for showing me the truth about who was really poor, who was really rich, and who was truly blessed.

I like wearing your clothes when you’re not around

Jim stands outside West Eggleston dorm

Today I dropped my only son off at Virginia Tech for his last year of college. These are the times when I feel so very happy and so very sad all at the same time and I wonder how my heart can hold this much emotion and not burst from the weight.

Before I left town, we did a little shopping. In addition to making the usual Walmart run of microwavable coffee, cleaning products, and a few odds and ends we forgot to pack, we made a stop at the t-shirt store near campus to buy him a new hooded jacket. See, I had a clever plan to buy him a new hoodie so I can have his old one.

And now I’m wearing his old jacket, wrapping myself in it like a hug.

I own hand-me-down clothing from other folks I love: a sweater that once belonged to my father, a shirt from my mom, jeans from my sister, and other bits and pieces of loved ones living and dead. I always feel close to the original owner when I wear them. The clothes even smell better than my regular clothes. These clothes feel like love to me.

And I definitely feel the hug.