Friday, April 1, 2016

Idiocracy is Alive and Well in My State

TL;DR: "But... this plan has electrolytes. It's what kids' providers crave."

I received an alarming call today from our speech therapy provider. Apparently, all of Curlytop's and Snugglebug's appointments (four per week, total) have been "suspended until further notice."

The reason? Because the insurance they receive through our state Adoption Support is being slammed into a Coordinated Care program, and our therapy provider isn't contracted with Coordinated Care. Supposedly, this change takes effect TODAY, April 1st.

But it wasn't an April Fool's joke.

"Oh, I'm sure that's not correct," I said. "If there were being changes made to the contract and plan we negotiated with the state, I'm sure we would have been notified, and had a chance to appeal."

Just to be sure, I called the Adoption Support line. I got a voicemail directing me to contact the insurance division, so I did.

I was presented with a tele-menu: Press 1 for... Press 2 for... Press 3 for... None of the options were for "freaking the fuck out," so I took my chances with option 3, which indicated it was connected to services for adopted children.

Marcia* answered and told me that their systems were down, so she wouldn't be able to give me any specific information -- only general information.

"Okay, can you generally tell me about this change to Coordinated Care, and how I can opt out of it? Because, see, my kids' service provider doesn't accept it, and that's a problem. My kids need their therapy."

"Well," said Marcia, "you will probably have to find another provider for your services, because all foster kids and adopted kids are being changed to Coordinated Care."

"Yeah, okay, except that I can't do that, because these therapists have been working with my kids for literally years, and both of my kids have anxiety disorders, and one is Autistic, and the other has severe Sensory Processing Dysfunction, and we can't just change providers without it being a massive upheaval of everything safe in their world, and why didn't I get any notice?" (Yeah, it was all one big, run-on sentence, and I didn't even breathe until it was out.)

"You should have received a letter."

"I didn't."

"You should have."

"I agree. I should have, but I didn't. So, let's fix it, okay? How do I get my kids off this Coordinated Care plan?"

"Let me transfer you..."

Press 1 for Foster Care. For all other questions, press 3... Apparently, 2 was no longer even offered. Whatever 2 connected to, in the first place.

I pressed 3.

Mary* picked up. I told her the whole story of how we adopted in 2009 and are having problems with the insurance change, and after a big long time of her trying to look up my kids (I thought the system was down?), she told me that there was a glimmer of hope, because, "Oh, my gosh... your kids are ADOPTED!"

"Yeah... I started the conversation by telling you we adopted in 2009. I know they're adopted. That's why I called Adoption Support."

"Well, they're in a our system as FOSTER KIDS, so we just have to get them switched over to reflect that they're adopted," said Mary.

"Great! So, how does the state not know they're adopted? And, that's it? We just switch them over to 'adopted' status, and they won't be affected by this Coordinated Care fiasco?"

"Well, no... It's for all foster and adopted kids."

"Then how will switching their status matter?"

"Let me transfer you..."

"WAIT! Mary, wait! When you transfer me, will there be a tele-menu? What do I push?"

"No," she said, "a person should just answer the phone. No prompts. I'll transfer you, now."

Press 1 for Foster Care. For all other questions, press 3...

(I'm telling you, it took everything I had not to throw the phone through the wall before pressing 3.)

"Foster Care. This is Darcy*." I thought 1 was for Foster Care? Who answers at 3? I wanted 3, damn it!

"Darcy, for the love of all that is good... Please tell me you will be the last person I have to speak with today," I cried. "I don't even know if you're who I'm supposed to talk to, because there wasn't supposed to be a tele-menu, but there was.

Here's the deal: My husband and I adopted our kids in 2009. Our Adoption Support covers them with open medical, but I was just informed by our therapy provider that our plan may have been changed without our knowledge to Coordinated Care, and now our therapy center can't see them, and has suspended all of their appointments. I need this change to not happen."

"Really? You should have got a letter."

"You know, Darcy, I agree. I should have got a letter, but I didn't. Anyway, can you help? Also, the last lady I talked to said the state doesn't know they're adopted, and that you can switch their status or something?" I was getting a little impatient. Not right then, but like fifteen minutes before that, so you can imagine the non-existent level of my patience by this exchange, right?

"Have you talked to Adoption Support?"

"That was the first call I made, and it directed me to talk to the insurance division, who transferred me somewhere else, where I was told that my kids were coded wrong or something, and they sent me to you. Well, to the tele-menu that got me to you."

"Well, for adopted kids, we can just take the change off."

"Really? You can really do that? Like, you can just make the change to Coordinated Care disappear? That would be great! Let's do that, please!" I was truly, remarkably relieved.

"Okay, well, our system is down today, so it will have to wait until Monday, but I can do it then. Why do you not want Coordinated Care?"

"Ummm... because my kids' service provider doesn't take it, and we need them to stay on open medical. What is the difference between the open medical they are receiving now, and Coordinated Care?" I asked out of curiosity.

"Coordinated Care is a managed care plan, so it's better."

"It's better because...?"

"It's better," Darcy sighed, "because it's MANAGED CARE."

(Apparently, my children's medical care is currently unmanageable? I really didn't understand, but, if you read on, you'll see that Darcy did everything in her power to enlighten me.)

"Ah... okay. So, the managed care plan doesn't contract with my kids' provider, so I don't think that is going to work for us. Please take them off Coordinated Care."

"But... Don't you want to talk to your provider, first? I mean, this is MANAGED CARE, so it's better," Darcy insisted.

"Right. But I've already talked to my provider, and they don't accept the managed care plan, so if we are on it, we won't get services from them. And we get several different therapies, from several different providers, so it might also affect any number of our current nine therapy appointments per week. Please take my kids off Coordinated Care."

"Okay, but do you want to talk to your other providers? Because this plan is better. It's MANAGED CARE." Gotta give Darcy credit for trying!

"Well, all of the services we currently receive from our current providers are provided through open medical, so I think we'll just keep that, and continue to get coverage that will allow my kids to maintain their current therapies. Thank you."

"Maybe I could email you a booklet about the managed care? I mean, it's a better plan." Darcy doesn't give up. I mean, I know she works for the state, but I began to wonder if she could also possibly be moonlighting as a Coordinated Care rep.

"Darcy," I said, "I don't see how it could be a better plan for US if it means we will no longer be able to access the services we NEED at the present time. How does that make sense?"

"Well, I understand, but it's MANAGED CARE, so..." I could hear her shrugging.

*awkward pause*

"Darcy, is there a little box or something you have to check to indicate that you've counseled me on managed care? Because, if there is, you can go ahead and check it. I'll make sure we get you off the hook. I'll tell them you really, truly tried to tell me I'm a fool for not wanting my kids on Coordinated Care. I've got your back, Girl... Go 'head and check the box."

*another awkward pause, during which Mr. Wright mouthed, "But it has ELECTROLYTES!" at least three times*

"No," she said, finally. "There's no box."

"Okay. Great. So, you'll call me on Monday and let me know that my kids' insurance has been unfucked? I really appreciate it. Have a great weekend!"

You can't make this shit up!

*Names have been changed to protect members of the Idiocracy

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Monday, November 9, 2015

When "Happy" People Battle Depression

Someone this disgustingly happy can't be depressed...
Or, can she?

Photo by Mary Brownlee
This is, I know, not going to be an easy post to write. For many, it won't be an easy post to read. However, it needs to be written, because it's going to force all of us to look deeper into the issue of depression, and change our ideas of how it "looks."

At least, I hope.

Most people in my world view me as a relatively happy, if not over-zealous at times, fierce mama who kicks ass, takes names, and works hard on making an impact on the world around me. I mean, just check out my Facebook feed! All sorts of rah-rah advocacy, sunny posts, occasional outrage, and "you can do it!" encouragement lives there, on a regular basis.

What you don't see is how I've battled depression since adolescence. You don't see how, after a tumultuous series of medication changes several years ago, I had a psychotic break. You don't see how, at times, I feel hopeless, ineffective, and like maybe -- just maybe -- life is too hard to live.

To many people out there, I'm among the least likely to be battling depression, either publicly or privately.

 In spite of that assumption, I told my husband this week, "I don't want to live anymore." What I meant was, I don't want to live like THIS anymore.

I told him, "Our children deserve a better mother than I can be." What I meant was, My children may not be getting the best care and advocacy I can provide, because an invisible illness is stealing me away from my family, and myself.

I told him, "I feel like I am falling apart, and I don't know how to put myself back together." What I meant was exactly that.

And then, I yelled at him for saying he felt "neglected." What I imagine he meant was, I miss you... Where are you? I need you, and I don't know how to help.

Really, I can't blame him for not knowing what's going on in my head, especially when I struggle to understand it, myself.

We might think depression looks like someone who suddenly isn't interested in their usual activities; who withdraws from the people she cares about (I know men suffer depression, as well, but women are more likely than men to do so); who maybe spends her days in bed, lethargic, and unable to accomplish the most simple self-care or other tasks; or perhaps is overly emotional, and commits a great deal of her time to crying.

Here's what depression looks like for me:

  • Ensuring my kids get to (currently) six therapy appointments per week, but dropping the ball on at-home therapy supplements
  • Having my home and office look like a demilitarized zone, but not having the energy to care
  • Dragging myself out of bed most days to do a lot of nothing, because the things which are most necessary, and bring the greatest return, seem unmanageable 
  • Neglecting my business, clients, and team, but somehow, by grace and luck, receiving awards for my "achievements" during my most massive bouts of depression
  • Mentally "rallying" before answering the phone, so I can have a conversation with someone which focuses on them, and deflects attention away from myself
  • Always answering, "Great! How are YOU?" when someone asks how I am, because I would much rather hear about and worry about someone else, rather than myself
  • Appearing and feeling numb most of the time when I'm alone or with my husband (because even tears require too much energy), but really knocking it out of the park as a "social butterfly" in public or at work
  • Ignoring deadlines for things I really do want to accomplish, because meeting that deadline will mean new, different labor or work, which I can't even begin to think about right now
  • Failing to dial the phone, but always hoping it will ring, and someone, anyone, will notice things just aren't right with me... and then assuring them I'm "fine... great, even!" when they ask
  • Feeling constantly overwhelmed, and at the same time, being unable to feel good about the things I actually am doing well ("You navigated that IEP meeting like a boss today!" is met with, "Yeah, but I didn't cure world hunger, so... what's the point of even trying?")

But here's what you probably see:

  • A super-active mom, who advocates for her kids daily, and tries to make the world a better place by spreading awareness
  • A creative genius, or someone too busy for housework? Actually, no... you'll still see a demilitarized zone. I'm not even going to try to kid myself.
  • A woman who enjoys her "free time," because she's designed her life to provide "self care" and "downtime"
  • A small business owner who is killing it!
  • Someone who greets each social interaction with enthusiasm and positive energy
  • The "social butterfly" you are meant to see
  • Someone who has a lot on her plate, because her talents are so varied... Surely, it's reasonable that some deadlines will need to be adjusted?
  • Someone who simply doesn't give herself enough credit for all the awesome she brings into the world
  • A woman who is -- depending on how much you like me -- either adorably or annoyingly distracted
Some days, I see that, too.

Some days, it's not so bad. Some days, I am the warrior woman, on a mission, and I succeed in conquering a lot of villainous things, and rescuing a lot of people -- metaphorically, of course. SOME days, I really am "fine... great, even!"

And then, there are the other days. The days when, as my friend Anna puts it, depression is " the boogie man hiding around the corner, ready to kick you down if you're not on guard." These days seem to come when I least expect them -- when things are going pretty well, thank you very much, and I really do feel like I have it all together.

As it turns out, I am not alone. 

I wrote the majority of this post based upon my own experiences and feelings, but I wanted to know if anyone else had similar thoughts, or even vastly different thoughts, on depression. I tossed up a couple posts, asking for folks to tell me what they wish others knew about depression. 

Overwhelmingly, I found that a lot of people had similar knowledge about how depression can strike even the "happy" people, and the deep feelings of confusion, helplessness and fear that accompany it. People shared with me their experiences, and really helped to sum up a lot of what I didn't think to say. Take a look:

Siena: It's frustrating when people ask me why I'm depressed, and then don't understand when I say, "I don't know." 
It's not as easy as "getting on something." (medication)

Lei: I hate when people think it's as simple as being sad about something. "what do you have to be sad about?" That just makes me feel more ashamed and guilty about having depression.

Audi: is real and it happens to the best of us. Especially Post partum, which is a time where you are "supposed" to be happy, by the definition of other people.

Kristin: Depression is heavy.
(NOTE: I found this simple statement so profound, I couldn't improve upon it. So much, in those three words. It goes along with the next quote.)
Anna:  It feels like having 1000 lbs of weight crushing you from every angle. And all people can say is "why don't you just take the weight off!?" I had a Bible study leader tell me that I must not have faith in God because if I did, I wouldn't have such a problem. Because God is JOY and if I don't have that then I am not "in-Christ."
(This last part hurt my heart SO MUCH! The church needs to better understand depression and other mental health disorders, and lead those suffering to hope, not condemnation over a perceived lack of faith.)
Cera: On the outside I look like I have everything together, while on the inside I'm battling years of hidden depression and making it up as I go along. 
The monsters don't live under my bed; they live in my brain. 
No matter how much sleep I get I'm still tired, no matter how tired I am I can't sleep!
Chelsie: I wish people didn't say "it could be worse." Everyone's situation is different and it is belittling to be told that "you don't have it that bad."
Kasmira: That sometimes it presents itself as anger, not sadness. Every single person is different, but it is no less real.
A parent with an adult child who battles depression: When you repeatedly feel something is wrong with your child/loved one, speak up. Don't be afraid to ask "Do you think you might be depressed" (I was afraid to ask) If you observe upbeat, 'appropriate' emotional responses when around others but experience negative emotions or worse, lack of emotions one on one, you need to pay attention.
A friend who chose to remain anonymous: Sometimes a depressed person is the funniest, happiest and most outgoing guy or girl that you know. (DING! DING! DING! We have a winner! This is what I was trying to say, at the beginning of this piece.)

So, today, I agonize over how to tell my mother that I'm not really feeling well enough, mentally and emotionally, to get together for Thanksgiving. (Mom, if you're reading, call me to discuss. I don't seem capable of picking up the phone, lately.) 

I think about the to-do list I should write (first on the list: MAKE A LIST). 

I hope my friends, my family, my team, and my clients somehow get the telepathic message that I care about them, and love them, and to please not hesitate to connect with me -- some days, it really is the fuel that keeps me going -- because I'm not always well enough to reach out and say so.

I spend all day blogging about everything I think I should say, when, really, all I want to say to those who love me is:

I'm still here. I'm surviving. I'm a little lost, a little hopeless, and a little mixed up, but I love you, even if I can't precisely show it.
Be tender with me. Understand I am rather fragile right now.
Be tough with me. Don't let me withdraw, or retreat, even when I say it's what I need. It isn't. What I need is to know I have a wall of love and safety around me -- even if I'm not brushing against it, it will be there when I try to run.
Mostly? Please... don't give up on me.

Can you ALL help me to change the way we think depression "looks?" Reach out to someone you haven't heard from in a while. Invite a friend out to coffee. Write a letter to someone you care about. Love on your loved ones a little harder. And, of course, don't forget to share this post. Let's change the world, friends. 

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I Saved $1800 and My Sanity by Switching FROM Esurance

Like many other Americans, when it came time to insure my vehicles, I hopped online to get quotes from several mega-brokers. After comparing rates and coverage, I opted for a policy with Esurance.

I have been a client with Esurance on and off since 2006, with some breaks in which I ventured elsewhere, but kept coming back for the low rates.

Even when I had an accident (well, actually, okay... two accidents) and my premiums understandably went up, I stayed right where I was, thinking I couldn't get better rates anywhere else.

It was, then, a shock when -- after years of patronage at Esurance -- the company decided I was potentially lying about what state I lived in.

Wait... what? Why would a person lie to their insurance company about what state they live in?

According to an Esurance representative:
Unfortunately, there are many situations where people are less than honest about where they live. Sometimes it's due to not wanting to pay a higher rate, sometimes it's because they didn't want to change their registration. Since we're an internet company, we use the public records to try and obtain some information to ensure we're charging the correct rates (higher or lower).
Supposedly, "public records" suggested I might be actually living in Oregon, as a person with the name "Christina Marie Wright," with "Marie" being the middle name, turned up in a public records search.

The logical conclusion, of course, is that I was living in Oregon under the name "Christina Marie Wright." Right?

Here's the problem... My first name is "Christina-Marie." My middle name is "Johnson." So, I am not Christina M. Wright, but, rather, Christina-Marie J. Wright. Not really the same, is it?

So, I simply explained that it wasn't me, and went on with my life.

Then, I received a notice informing me that my policy was scheduled to be terminated, as there was a question of where my "vehicles are being garaged."

Confession: My garage is too full of crap to actually park a car in there, but my vehicles are parked at my residence in Washington state, and I told them so.

My report wasn't good enough. They needed me to prove my vehicles weren't spending their nights at some house in the wilds of Oregon. Ummmm... okay? I invited them to come on over to my house, and visit my vehicles in their natural resting place, but they declined. Instead, they wanted documentation.

My vehicle registration? Nope... that just shows where the cars are registered. My driver's license? Nah... that just shows what address I used when I obtained my identification. Those things, according to Esurance, are not "proof" that I am not living in Oregon with my vehicles.

They wanted a phone bill. I sent one, but they rejected it, because it's in our business name, doesn't include a landline, and is mailed to my post office box.

They wanted a power bill. I sent one, showing the service address at my residence, but they rejected it, because it was mailed to my post office box.

They wanted a gas bill. I don't have gas, so I couldn't provide one.

Here's what I did provide to them:

A deed to my house -- rejected, because it only shows that I bought the place, not that I am living there.

My mortgage statement -- rejected, because although it shows my name, the property address, and is mailed to my street address at said property, they "don't have a box to check" to record it as proof that I am who I say I am, and I live where I say I live.


They don't have a box to check, so my policy was scheduled to be terminated yesterday. In a panic, Mr. Wright contacted the agent who handles our homeowner's policy. In no time, our guy, Tim, had a new policy with similar coverage for us --- at a savings of $1,800 per year.

I whined a bit about the ridiculousness of the whole fiasco on Facebook, and even shared a link to the post on the Esurance Facebook page.

Today, they got in touch with me, asking me to provide my policy number, so they could "have an underwriting supervisor give your policy a second look." Hmmmm... Okay. I'll bite. If nothing else, I thought, maybe I would at least have the vindication of having them review the details, and realize how foolish the whole thing was.


  • Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright

    My policy number is PAWA 00457****.
    Your company has already canceled my policy, since I couldn't "prove" where I live.
  • Esurance
    10/20, 11:21am

    Thank you for following up.
    Unfortunately, there are many situations where people are less than honest about where they live. Sometimes it's due to not wanting to pay a higher rate, sometimes it's because they didn't want to change their registration. Since we're an internet company, we use the public records to try and obtain some information to ensure we're charging the correct rates (higher or lower).
    We understand that not everyone is in an ideal situation to provide certain documents. However, we will ask that our underwriting supervisor contact you to discuss this in more detail and hopefully shed some light on what is/was needed and to ensure we're asking for all the correct documents.
  • Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright
    10/20, 11:31am
    Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright

    I was told I could provide ONLY one of the following three:
    1. Power bill 2. Gas bill 3. Phone bill
    My power bill goes to my post office box, so it was rejected.
    I don't get a gas bill.
    My phone service is only wireless, and it's in our business name, so it was rejected.
    I offered my mortgage statement (emailed it), which has my name, and is sent to my address. It wasn't accepted as "proof" of my residence -- only that I own the home.
    I submit to you that I could own the home, pay the power bill, have my mail sent to the street address, and STILL NOT LIVE THERE.
    In this case, I DO live at my residence, but what is most frustrating is that I am the ONLY person in the United States with MY name.
    This is a case of me having to prove I'm not someone who doesn't even have the same legal name as me.
  • Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright
    Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright

    It's very frustrating that any public record which is being relied upon to claim I might be lying about my residence would not be accepted as proof that I am not.
    Voter registration.
    Esurance: "Ooooh... There's a person in Oregon with a different name that is similar enough for concern, registered to vote in that state."
    Christina-Marie Wright: "That's not me. Here is MY voter registration, in Washington."
    Esurance: "Ummmm... We can't accept that as proof of residence. But we CAN accept the Oregon one as proof you are lying."
    Power bills, phone bills, gas bills... None of those are public record, yet they are the only "proof" I live where I do, while at the same time, they can't possibly be the basis for the claim that I am lying.
    Why not ask this girl in Oregon for HER power bill, so YOU can prove she is not me?
    OR, here's another idea... Send her my premium billings, and see if she protests that she isn't me.
    I live in a rural area. Many people don't have street mail delivery at all.
    Many people are on solar power, and don't have landline telephones. They don't have power, gas or phone bills.
    What do you do with those people?
    I am an author and public figure. I have very little mail delivered to my street address, to protect my family. Instead, I use a post office box 35 miles away. Again, for my family's protection.
    I used to think that having a policy with Esurance was one more way to protect my family, but I was clearly wrong.
  • Esurance
    10/20, 12:55pm

    We appreciate the information, Christina-Marie. We have reviewed your posts and policy information. We do apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced during this process. We will be escalating this information up to have our process reviewed.
    Based on your policy, and your posts, it appears that you have acquired new coverage that seems to better suit your needs and budget. Therefore, we do want to see if there is anything further that we can do for you regarding your policy with us. Again, we do apologize for your experience with us. Unfortunately, we do have underwriting guidelines we have to follow.
  • Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright
    Christina-Marie GonzoMama Wright

    We obtained other coverage because our policy was scheduled to be terminated yesterday. If we had waited for Esurance to resolve this matter, we would have been without insurance, and in violation of our state law.
    You left us no choice but to look elsewhere.
    You do have underwriting guidelines to follow. Okay. As I understand it, your "underwriting guidelines" mandate that someone must endure the burden of proving they are not, in fact, someone with a different name than theirs. Why is the burden not upon your company to actually vet the information you claim to have uncovered?
    Do all of your clients have to do that?
    Does my friend, Yesenia Rodriguez in Florida, have to prove she is not Yvonne Rodriguez in Colorado? After all, they do have the same initials and last name... Maybe they could be the same person!
    In my case, as in the imaginary case above, we are talking about a person with a different name.
    My First Name: Christina-Marie Mystery Oregon Woman's: Christina
    My Middle Name: Johnson Mystery Oregon Woman's: Marie
    Our Coincidentally Mutual Last Name: Wright
    Is there more you can do for me?
    Yes. Yes, there is.
    Please... bring someone on staff who has the common sense to infer that a different name may, in fact, indicate a wholly different person.
    Please... stop bullying your clients.
    Stop making it impossible for said clients to prove who they *aren't.*
    Act like a business... One which values their clients, listens to their circumstances, and doesn't refuse to deal with them when they don't fit into a tiny little "checkbox" scenario -- one which has been created by YOUR company.
    There was a time in this country when a business would actually try to earn the patronage of clients.
    Thankfully, many small businesses still do.
    However, when a business becomes large enough to morph into an overgrown, tantrum-prone beast, it is time for Americans to snap shut their wallets and go back to basics, starting over with small businesses who still care enough to learn our names.
    Thank you for the stark reminder.

"Oh, well... looks like you already found someone else to take care of you, so... never mind."

How about you? Have you ever had the opportunity for a rude awakening, which led you back to basics? Were you grateful for it?

Would you like to join me in a mass-exodus from mega-brokers like Esurance? Ask your networks for local recommendations, then make the switch, and tell me all about it in the comments! 

Share, share, share, so others can celebrate their freedom from tantrum-prone big business beasts, as well. 

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Project 2,996: Remember Christopher Zarba

Image source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2014.

Christopher R. Zarba, Jr. was born with music in his blood. The 47-year old from Hopkinton, Massachussetts was the son of a composer/piano teacher, the nephew of a talented vocalist, and grew to be an accomplished pianist and French horn player who played with local symphonies when he was free from his work as a software engineer.

A man who never stopped learning, Christopher spoke fluent German and Italian, painted, gardened, and considered algebra and calculus books "pleasure" reading.

Image source
His wife, Sheila -- also a horn player -- and son, also named Christopher, were a source of joy for Zarba. I watched this compilation of home videos, edited by Sheila, with a smile and tears. The love Christopher shows for his family shines through. You'll see him smiling, playing with his son, and being a bit of a goofball at times. For some reason, I noticed a Band-Aid on his thumb in one of the videos, and it made him even more real to me.

Early the morning of September 11, 2001, Christopher boarded American Airlines Flight 11 for a rare business trip in California. At 8:46am EST, the plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

I'm honored to remember Christopher in life -- that husband, father, son, brother and friend who made silly faces in the mirror, occasionally injured a thumb, created beauty in his life through music, painting and gardening, and never stopped learning about the world around him.

Thank you, Christopher, for the life you lived, and for reminding all of us to truly LIVE.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Renee Newell

Image source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2014.

Have you ever had excellent customer service? The kind that brightens your day, and makes you grateful someone listens, and understands? That was the type of service Renee Newell was known to provide for her clients.

In our busy world, we often have little time to connect with cherished friends. For Renee Newell, 37, of Cranston, Rhode Island, a seminar in Las Vegas was the perfect opportunity to indulge in a girls' "getaway" with her friend, Carol Bouchard, of nearby Warwick, Rhode Island. A customer service agent with American Airlines, Renee booked a flight to Los Angeles, then on to Las Vegas, and secured a companion ticket for Carol. The women planned to stay over an extra day to see the sights of Las Vegas, hit the clubs, and tour the Strip.

At 8:46am EST, their plane -- American Airlines Flight 11 -- crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Renee is described by those close to her as having "...a sense of humor; an eagerness to laugh." She was "a great person and a great mom," and "always had a smile at work."

Renee seemed to have a natural gift for brightening the lives of others, and perhaps that is why she followed a career path of service -- including helping out at her family's restaurant, bartending, and her work for American Airlines. She touched people's lives in a way that made a difference, so much so that customers came in from out of state to honor and remember her life at her wake.

A loving daughter to Lillian and Raymond Tetreault, Renee not only helped out at her family restaurant, but also helped when her father moved into a nursing home, and was a tireless and doting mother to her son, Matthew. She was the loving wife of Paul, and sister to Michelle, James, Robert and Steven, and a special family member or friend to so many more.

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It is an honor to remember Renee Newell today. Her story inspires me to work hard to put a smile onto the faces of my clients, to love deeply, to live boldly, and to laugh as often as possible.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Christian Adams

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Christian Adams, 37, was a resident of Biebelsheim, Germany and a well-known authority in the wine industry. Christian served as the deputy director of the German Wine Institute and director of its export department. He was father to Lukas, 7 in 2001, and Theresa, 5 in 2001, and husband to Silke.

Colleagues described Christian as quiet and thoughtful; a man who thought no job was beneath him. He'd worked his way up in the wine industry, and he was known for doing whatever job needed to be done, without hesitation - whether it was hefting cases of wine or uncorking bottles. Carol Sullivan, friend and colleague, said, "One of the things that impressed us most was his depth of knowledge."

Indeed, Christian was revered as an authority on wine, and he'd worked hard to gain his knowledge, obtaining a degree in winemaking and grape-growing from a German university and going on to earn a degree in marketing at University of California, Davis. It was at a German Wine Society convention in Los Angeles that Sullivan, director of the German Wine Information Bureau in New York, met Christian in 1989. Wine Institute officials were so impressed with him, they asked him to help with a symposium on Riesling grapes later that year. He met the director of the Institute at that event, who hired Christian to work in the export division. Christian worked his way up to deputy director in 1995.

Dedicated to keeping fit, Christian enjoyed playing and watching volleyball and basketball and - while known for his quiet demeanor - he enjoyed a good laugh or joke with friends.

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Christian also ran a winery owned by his wife's family, and September was a busy time for winemaking. Still, the calendar of holidays allowed him to break away from his obligations to attend two wine events in the United States in 2001 - one in New York, which ended September 10, and the other in San Francisco, scheduled to begin on the 13th. It was the second event Christian was headed for when he boarded United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.

Flight 93 was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after an attempt by crew and passengers to reclaim control of the plane.

Today, I'm asking you join me in remembering the quiet, motivated young husband and father who was Christian Adams. Please say a prayer for his family and loved ones. Christian, you are not forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Christoffer Carstanjen

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2014.

Christoffer Carstanjen boarded United Flight 175 intending to take a vacation, headed for San Diego, where he was scheduled to attend a motorcycle rally. He was 33 years old on September 11, 2001, a culinary chef and carpenter who built his own home.

A dancer from a young age, Christoffer was a member of the Country Dance and Song Society and the Marlboro Morris Men dancers, where team members nicknamed him "Mr. Wonderful." As one fellow dancer put it, "I looked forward to dancing with Chris because I knew he'd keep me laughing the whole time, and he'd swing so fast I felt like I would fly away."

Christoffer appears to have truly lived life, throwing himself into his passions, and making far-reaching goals for the future, including building a boat and learning to sail it, and establishing a live-in college for senior citizens.

A resident of Turner Falls, Massachusetts, and a computer research specialist for the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Christoffer was part of an internet motorcycle forum, where he earned the nickname "Captain Tupperware," a reference to the brightly-colored Honda motorbike he loved.

When researching Christoffer's life, I found this quote, taken from his website, which I think truly defines his outlook on life:

Best of all.....
Keep healthy, wealthy and wise. Your job is important, but don't live for just your job! Keep active and an open mind. Practice random acts of kindness. Compliment someone each day. Listen to all sides of a story before making a decision. Don't be afraid to admitting on being wrong. Learn the meaning of Life. Try, please try, to live within your means. Don't worry about saving money for your kids' college costs, it means lots more if they pay their own way. Save at least 15% of what you make for retirement. Try to meet someone new everyday. Ann Landers really means well. Plan for the future. Listen and surround yourself with positive people and speakers. Don't let the turkeys get you down. Write when you get work. :-)

Take care,

We should all be so lucky to know who we are, and what we want out of life. Ride on, Christoffer. You are remembered, today and always.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Samantha Lightbourn-Allen

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2014.

Samantha Lightbourn-Allen, 36, was a Budget Analyst for the Department of the Army at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. A devoted mother to John, Jr. (born in June 1985) and Samantha Brittnie (born on Christmas Day, 1988), she'd returned to work just four days earlier following a business trip and combined family vacation to Miami, Key West, and Disney World.
Samantha and her daughter. Photo source
A devout Christian, Samantha sang in her church choir, supported her children's activities such as Girl Scouts, and looked forward to retiring from the government, as her father had done.

Samantha graduated from high school in 1982 in the top five percent of her class, and went on to major in Business Administration at Prince George's Community College.

From childhood, Samantha loved Disney World and amusement parks, and was described as full of life and telling jokes. Her twin sister, Rennea, nicknamed her "Sennea."

Samantha (front) and her twin sister,
Rennea, at 7 months of age. Photo source

Family members describe Samantha as carefree; not prone to worry. "She just felt when it was your time, it was your time and worrying about it wouldn't change things anyway," her mother, Rebecca Lightbourn said.

I remember Samantha Lightbourn-Allen, and pray for peace for her loved ones.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Shannon Lewis Adams

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2014.

Much like myself, Shannon Lewis Adams, 25, grew up in a small town (Star Lake, New York). Like mine, Shannon's graduating class was less than three dozen students. He had a longstanding dream to leave his small hometown, in search of something bigger.

That dream landed him on the 101st floor of Tower One in the World Trade Center, as a fixed-income account at Cantor Fitzgerald. His mother, Gwyn Adams, reported he was so proud of his new career in the big city, having come from a town without a single stoplight. He set up a bachelor pad with friends in Astoria, complete with a huge fish tank, a big-screen television and a wall full of music.

According to his father, Lew Adams, "He was going 100 miles an hour all the time, it seems like. The city seemed to satisfy that a lot better than the northern Adirondacks."

Classmate Seth Adam Stuart described Shannon as "...pure fun," a living life to the fullest, and trying to make everyone around him happy with his wide grin.

Perhaps, because I come from a tiny town with no stoplights, and graduated with a class of 24 students, I imagine the pride and feeling of success Shannon must have experienced when he arrived in New York City. I am glad he was able to reach for that dream, and saddened that his success was cut short. I hope, as Shannon's best friend, Brad Siskavich, suggests, family and friends are able to "...remember the positives as opposed to the fact that he's just not here anymore."

I know, for me, I picture Shannon's compassion and hard work. I imagine him playing hockey with friends. I envision how he made people smile, just by sharing his life and his heart.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember CeeCee Lyles

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

To be honest, I chose the name CeeCee Lyles because our family nickname for Snugglebug is "SeeSee." I was initially compelled to write Mrs. Lyles's story simply because of her name, but what I found in my research was the story of a mother, a wife, and a hero.

CeeCee was a 33-year-old resident of Fort Myers, Florida who'd fulfilled a lifelong dream in becoming a flight attendant after years of police work that took her from patrol officer to detective. In her law enforcement work, she was respected for "for her willingness to tackle fleeing criminals." A single mother, CeeCee provided for her two sons by working multiple jobs while still finding time to volunteer for a Christian women's shelter. In 1997, she began a relationship with police dispatcher Lorne Lyles, and the two married in 2000. It was the second marriage for both of them, and Lorne brought his own two sons to the family, making CeeCee and Lorne the proud parents of four.

People described CeeCee as an easygoing woman who loved to talk and enjoyed people. She was thoughtful, kind and caring. How natural that when United Flight 93 was overtaken by hijackers, she'd reach out to her family. CeeCee's cell phone call to her husband reveals her professional training. She is calm, explaining the situation. Still, toward the end, the heart of a wife and mother comes through clearly - her words are tinged with emotion and love.

At 10:03:11, Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after an attempt by passengers and crew to reclaim the plane. It has been presumed that the intended target of the hijacked plane was the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Shortly before the crash, CeeCee called her husband again, telling him that passengers were preparing to force their way into the cockpit.

It is unclear whether the brave passengers and crew were successful in breaching the cockpit, but it has been established that the hijackers knew of their efforts and heard the heroes coming.

I imagine CeeCee Lyles passed on to heaven as she lived - taking care of others, calming and soothing them while remaining vigilant and seeing that an attempt at rescue was made.

Four sons, a loving husband and many co-workers, family members and friends were left behind to miss and remember CeeCee. I hope you'll remember not only this beautiful, brave woman, but her loved ones, as well, in your prayers.
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Thank you, CeeCee, for your service and sacrifice. You are not forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.
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Project 2,996: Remember Krystine C. Bordenabe

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

On September 11, 2001, Krystine C. Bordenabe was a 33-year-old resident of Old Bridge, New Jersey, working in the south tower of the World Trade Center, and - at eight months pregnant - was looking forward to leaving her job after maternity leave to become a full-time mother to her new baby and then-13-year-old son named Andrew.

Krystine and her husband, Alfredo, had been married just over a year, and were excitedly awaiting the arrival of their first child together. Prior to their marriage, Krystine had been a devoted single mother to Andrew, and was counting down the weeks until she'd resign from her job as a sales assistant at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods to stay at home with her children.

Alfredo and Krystine dated a few times during high school, but lost touch afterward. Then, years later, Krystine attended a men's soccer game, at which Alfredo was playing. The two renewed their friendship, and married in 2000.
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Krystine attended Chubb Institute in Jersey City, graduating as valedictorian. She loved helping others, being a mother, baking, cooking, and the occasional indulgence in a pair of stylish shoes.

A doting husband who looked after his wife with love and concern, Alfredo called his wife as he traveled to work the morning of September 11, 2001. He'd heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Krystine assured him she was safe in the south tower, and that workers were being told to stay in the building.

Minutes later, a second plane - United Flight 175 - smashed into the south tower.

In a moment, Alfredo lost both his beloved wife and their unborn baby, and Andrew lost his mother and sibling. Please, remember Alfredo and Andrew in your prayers, as well as those who loved and cared for Krystine, and the child she carried with her to heaven.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Norma Lang Steuerle

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2014.

Norma Lang Steuerle, of Alexandria, Virgina, drove her convertible with the top down, relished a day at the beach, and loved reading and travel. She lived with an energy and zest that others admired.

Norma was 54 years old on September 11, 2001. A clinical psychologist working with women and children suffering with depression and ADHD, she was described as "a particularly gifted therapist" who deeply connected with her clients, putting them at ease and providing undivided attention.

While she was singularly-focused in her profession, friends and family describe her as constantly busy, doing everything with enthusiasm and purpose, whether she was volunteering for causes she believed in, dedicating time and talent to Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, or attending sporting events when her daughters - Lynne and Kristin - were in school.

She attended Dayton University, then graduated at the top of her class from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in psychology. She received a master's degree from Temple University, and her PhD. in social psychology from University of Wisconsin Madison in 1975.

According to friends, Norma met her husband, Gene, while attending Dayton. The two dated for a while, but Norma broke off the relationship, "left Dayton to be closer to another guy, and to attend Carnegie-Mellon." Apparently, after realizing the error of her ways - and giving full credit for Gene's persistence - the two were married after he returned from Vietnam in 1970.

The couple's first daughter, Kristin, was born in 1973, and their second, Lynne, followed in 1977.

Norma's family brought her great joy and pride, and she was excited to board American Airlines Flight 77, which would take her through the first leg of a trip during which she planned to meet up with her daughter, Kristin, a Navy doctor in Okinawa. She'd then connect with Gene, who was traveling in Japan on business. Together, the three planned to visit Thailand, where the couple would celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary.

Flight 77 was hijacked and, at 9:37 a.m. on September 11, 2001, crashed into the Pentagon.

Please pray for Norma's family and friends, who lost a vibrant part of their lives on that tragic day.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Pendyala "Vamsi" Vamsikrishna and Prasanna Kalahasthi - a Victim of Grief

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This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Pendyala Vamsikrishna, "Vamsi" to friends, was 30 years old on September 11, 2001. A project manager for the consulting firm of DTI, he was a talented software developer.

Vamsi and his wife, Prasanna Kalahasthi, like most young couples, had dreams and plans for their future. Both from India, they'd moved to the United States to pursue education and career opportunities - Vamsi to study engineering, and Prasanna to attend USC as a grad student in the International Student Program for Foreign-Trained Dentists. Brought together by an arranged marriage, the two were lucky enough to truly find love and devotion in one another, and had been married two and a half years in September 2001. They'd planned to start a family, had received their green cards, and dove into their pursuits in the U.S.

A devoted employee known for his strong work ethic, Vamsi had been in Boston for business and ended up staying an extra day, missing his original flight. On Tuesday, September 11, he left a voicemail for Prasanna, telling her he'd be home to Los Angeles soon:

Hi, sweetie, I've just boarded the flight, and I'll see you in Los Angeles this afternoon.

Vasmi never made it. His plane, American Airlines Flight 11, was the first to strike the World Trade Center, crashing into the north tower at 08:46:26.

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On October 19, 2001, Prasanna took her own life, leaving behind notes and an audio recording for her family, stating she just couldn't go on without her husband.

All I want is for you people to understand and respect me for what I'm doing. It's a lot, I know... But I'm responding to this in the only way I can bring peace to myself.

I chose Vasmi's name blindly from a list. Within minutes, I knew I had to include his young wife - and the tragic end to both beautiful, promising lives - in this tribute. Please, pray for the families and friends of Vasmi and Prasanna. Years may have passed, but this loving couple must not be forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!