I’m singing the healthcare.gov blues

Has anyone else tried to sign up for the new mandatory health insurance in the last month?
I don’t recommend it. Not that I’ve had much choice since my COBRA coverage ran out in December.
My odyssey began the first week in December when I tried to sign up for insurance online and couldn’t do it.
Next step, an insurance agent. She guided me through the setup and then told me I needed to send in a 2013 tax return and wait to be approved.
I’m still waiting, healthcare.gov, and I’m getting impatient.
Meanwhile, you keep sending me more computer-generated letters telling me I haven’t sent you enough information. But you won’t tell me the one piece of information I could give you that would let me get all this settled.
So back to my insurance agent I went after suffering through a frustrating toll-free call in which the person “helping” me confessed she’d never seen my file and wouldn’t be seeing my file. And, no, she couldn’t transfer me to anyone who had seen my file.
I apologize, government employee, for venting my spleen because there was some semi-shouting involved by the time I hung up after 45 minutes of non-help.
So my insurance agent and I did a conference call and we got the same run around.
I went back two weeks later to my insurance agent who called again and it was the same story. Nobody could see my file.
Today, over the lunch hour. someone from the health market place called and asked if it would be a good time to talk.
“It’s great,” I cried, thinking I would finally settle this pesky problem.
Turns out, this caller was just like the computer-generated letters. She’d never seen my file but was calling me to tell me I should send more information. She didn’t know what information, just that I should send more. At least this time she told me to have my insurance agent ask for a “supervisor” who would surely be able to see my file.
What a bunch of bunk. I’d like to meet the four or five people who have successfully navigated this horrible bureaucracy. I have an insurance card — I just don’t know what I’m going to be paying for the privilege of using it.
Healthcare.gov, I think you should take the word “care” out of your title because I haven’t found anyone yet who cares enough to get this settled.


Yesterday, I went on an Odyssey of Old.

It started with a notice from the post office to pick up a letter. Turns out it was a letter about some retirement money from my early days at the Tribune and Met Life wanted to give it to me.

But before they could give it to me, I had to call them and then agree to fill out the 12-page form they were going to send to me. I hate forms, but if there is one thing I’ve discovered about OLD is that it involves lots of forms.

Next, I called my new drug provider because after filling out many forms with my insurance agent, I had discovered I could fill those prescriptions cheaper at Wal-Mart. So thinking I’d wield my new drug card with some savvy, I called to ask if they administered shingles shots so I could do two things at once.

“Yes, but we have a year’s waiting list.”

Yikes, I only had three months left to get my second in the series so I called my old pharmacy and they said they had it. So off I went to Walgreens where I had to fill out some more forms and show my drug card. I have three medical cards now that I’m on Medicare but none of these seemed right. So I went scurrying home to contact my insurance agent. (I think Jody’s going to be hearing a lot from me this year.) She assured me that I had the right drug card and if that didn’t work I was going to have to pay cash.

So back to Walgreens I went, showed my card, and ended up paying $180. (I declined the offer of a pneumonia vaccine which I was told I needed because I am OLD.) I needed to remind myself that I had been eager to get on Medicare, thinking everything would be more simple.

Continuing on this now fatiguing Odyssey of Old, I headed toward Wal-mart. Yes, they could fill my prescriptions but there would be a 10-minute delay on one of them.

“Why don’t you shop while you wait,” suggested the pharmacy guy.

Of course. Isn’t that why they put pharmacies inside department stores?

Sure enough, I wandered by a pillow display and decided to purchase a fluffy pillow, then got back in line for the pharmacy.

Three hours after all of this I made it home, took one look at that pillow, and decided it was time to take a nap.



Last night I dreamed of navy blue Asiatic lilies.

You’d think on Christmas night I’d drift off with images of angels, Santas and snowmen … or, at least sugar plums.

But, no, it was lilies, navy blues ones at that.

The lilies were so vivid in my dream that I got up and googled “navy blue Asiatic lilies” and I got a few images that looked pretty darned close to what I envisioned in my dream.

Maybe it was too much turkey and gravy or the warm weather overnight (furnace never turned on all night) but it seems I have left the holidays behind and plunged into gardening season. I’ve already got my Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog so the planning really can begin.

In the dream, I was at some kind of an event like the Ladies Day Luncheon. It was at the La Crosse Center because I spent a lot of time there as a reporter and am quite familiar with the venue so I recognized my surroundings immediately, unlike when my dreamscape includes some random parking garage. As I was standing there chatting with a group of people, a newcomer approached with a pot of navy blue Asiatics in full bloom and handed it to me, I guess because I had told someone I wanted them.

Wouldn’t it be great if real life worked that way?

In a way, it does. Many years ago, when I was the Home and Garden reporter for the La Crosse Tribune, I started a perennial exchange club. People were supposed to write to me with plants they were willing to trade and then I would match up gardeners with each other.

It kind of worked out that way except everyone wanted to trade plants with me. I got some great new plants that way, but no navy blue Asiatics.

Here’s hoping everybody is enjoying the holiday season and for those of you joining me in garden reveries, I hope you find a navy blue Asiatic lily in your garden this year.




If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes all 10 of Rita Parlin’s children to wrangle our mom.

At 88, Mom is living on her own, weeding her garden, mowing her lawn, and driving to church. She’s actually pretty amazing.

But she doesn’t drive at night anymore. She doesn’t drive out of town anymore. And she doesn’t drive in bad weather.

We’ve got her on the computer with both email and Facebook, but the computer wouldn’t function at all for her if my brother Kevin didn’t fix it remotely just about every week. That way, she doesn’t have to understand what went wrong — she just has to be able to call Kevin. She doesn’t even have to call Kevin as he calls her most days.

I call her every day, too. Because I can.

When I worked, I called her a couple of times a week. But I had to wait until I got home from work. She ate early and I ate late so sometimes our schedules didn’t line up too well, especially when I worked at night.

Once I retired, I started calling her during the day. And then I started calling her every day.

Now, when someone is trying to reach Mom and they can’t, they call me because everybody knows I am the Mom Wrangler. My brother Jim, who lives in town with Mom, once called because he couldn’t reach her. I had to hang up on Mom to take Jim’s call so I could tell him she was home.

Tonight, it was Peggy calling from St. Cloud. She often calls Mom on Sundays and there was no one answering the phone. It was after dark so Peggy was worried about where she might be.

“She’s at Jim’s, celebrating Christmas with his family,” I told her. “They picked her up and they will take her home.”

I am also the family communicator — not surprising with my reporter background — so I am in charge of the family emails to coordinate family gatherings. That’s beyond Mom’s email skills and is easy for someone who dealt with emails every day at work. It’s one of the few computer-related things at which I excel.

Jim is the only sibling in town so he gets Mom to the doctor, checks in on her, and attended Mass with her this last week on the anniversary of Dad’s death.

My youngest brother Tim got her on an airplane and took her to Ireland, something she never even dreamed of doing, and they even encountered a distant relative while there.

It really does take all of us to make sure Mom has the life Dad would have wanted her to have in his absence. And we’re happy to do it.

So whether you are the wrangler or the one being wrangled, I hope you are all together this holiday season. Mom and all 10 of her children will be celebrating together this year and she will even get together with her own siblings.

That’s what I call a great holiday.


Technology to the rescue

As anyone who knows me is aware, I don’t like technology.

I guess, more than anything, I just don’t understand it. I can’t bend it to my will, I can’t coax it to be reasonable, I can’t rely on it.

But technology and my nephew, T.J. Parlin, rode to the rescue tonight when I couldn’t reach my mom on either of her phones.

I figured she had knocked the phone off the hook on her landline (which she had), but she also wasn’t answering her cell phone. I emailed her, but had not heard back. So I tried one last thing — I broadcast her plight on Facebook.

Facebook is the equalizer. It reaches out to people whose phone numbers and email addresses you don’t possess. It’s the town crier of the modern age, and it can work wonders when someone puts out a call.

Within a short time, my mom’s one grandchild who lives in town went over to her house to let her know she had a problem with the phone. Then he and his daughter took a selfie with Grandma. I’m pretty sure that was her first selfie ever and how nice it was to see them all on Facebook and to get a call from Mom to let me know the phone problem was fixed.

So, thanks, T.J., for always looking out for your Grandma. Thanks, Facebook, for sending out the call for help. And thanks, Mom, for calling back so I could hear your voice. I’m feeling a little friendlier  toward technology tonight.



Giving thanks for dinosaurs and babies

I’m late to the Thanksgiving party. I was really tired when I got home last night and dozed off around 9 p.m.

But I am thankful.

We had a small crowd at our gathering — at least, according to Parlin numbers. We had between 30 and 40 people. But the great thing is that many of those people were toddlers or younger. And if there’s one thing Parlins love, it’s babies and little kids.

And this year’s crop of babies — two fresh ones showed up this year — were mellow and cooperative. That meant their parents could hand their darlings off to cousins, aunts and uncles and even great-aunts and great-uncles and actually eat a meal without an armful of squirm. And there were many of us eager to cuddle a cutie for 10 or 20 minutes before the next welcoming adult held out his or her arms.

The toddlers are great, too. How many 2-year-olds do you know who can not only identify a stegosaurus and a pterodactyl but also pronounce them correctly? Well, we’ve got one in the family who happened to have dinosaurs romping across his winter jacket. And he was more than happy to educate his dinosaur-illiterate great aunt.

And when not talking dinosaurs, there were lots of other topics of conversation. We talked books, British baking shows, technology, vintage Christmas and card games. And Therese put together a vacuum cleaner I had taken apart to clean and couldn’t get back together. Hey, don’t all of you bring along disassembled machines to your holiday gatherings?

That accomplished, Kathy fired up her computer and did a little online shopping for me. My new motto is, why do it myself when a willing sibling will do it for me.

This was a warm up for Christmas where we get a more complete family representation that edges toward 60 people. I don’t know if dinosaur boy will show up for that gathering, but if he does, I’m going to search for T-Rex on his dinosaur jacket.




Oh, Christmas tree

I know some of you decry the too-early celebration of all things Yuletide.

Too bad. Here’s another celebration.

Amidst all the political angst, the too-soon cold weather and the problems of the world, I rejoice in all things glittery, merry and bright.

Tonight, after finally clearing up most of the debris of my holiday sale, I started putting up my own holiday decorations, including my vintage aluminum tree. I like to do this in stages so tonight I assembled the tree and festooned it with glass bead garland. The ornaments can wait. For now, I enjoy the tree with garlands, knowing much holiday sparkle is yet to come.

So turn off the radio when you hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” It’s obnoxious and I won’t listen to it, either. But do listen to anything Amy Grant sings. She has a heavenly voice and even Yuletide complainers might enjoy her.

Go ahead and avoid all the Black Friday sales. I don’t go to them and neither should you if you hate all that commercialism. Instead, make yourself a hot chocolate and stir it with a peppermint candy cane — delicious.

And if you’re still grumpy about it, go ahead and be grumpy. But please don’t begrudge the rest of us the joy this season brings. In the dark and the cold, I’m going to enjoy my holiday decorations.

Merry Christmas and all the other holiday greetings that are appropriate for you.



I’m back

I’ve had a tough technology week.

First, my computer died an inglorious death. It had been malingering for weeks but I continued to limp by with its recalcitrance until it gasped its last and refused to wake back up.

Even when I got a new computer, and after a detailed connection tutorial, I had to struggle through actually plugging the many various cords and USB thingamabobs in all the right places.

Not pretty.

But just as I got that all done (OK, not done — no functioning printer yet), my TV modem went kaput. Foolishly, after talking to my cable provider on the phone, I decided to pick up the modem and install it myself.

Plug in one USB thingamabob and I think I’m a tech genius.

I’ve proven once again that I am not.

A phone call and much frustration later, I arranged to have a technician come and connect the cable modem for me.

Much to my chagrin — but also relief — he took care of that in three minutes. It took another hour for him to survey the mess of my cable outside and to clean it up and tack it to the house once more.

To counteract all of this technology frustration, I have been cleaning.

I scrubbed the kitchen, straightened the office, organized items for my upcoming sale, and raked leaves. I was concerned, as I always am, that the house wasn’t tidy enough for a service call.

I’m not sure what I think will happen if I don’t clean. Will the technician go home and tell his spouse about the den of dirt he visited that day?

I can’t worry about that right now, though, because I’ve got bigger problems. My phone keeps asking me to change my answering machine message. Or maybe it’s my voicemail message. Yes, I have both on one phone and sometimes both of them kick in, confusing the many telemarketers who are so fond of calling me.

Perhaps the next caller can help me hook up the printer.





It’s a wonderful life

I am having a wonderful life.

Sometimes, when I’m caught up in the horrible deeds that men do in the name of politics and power, I forget that.

So tonight, I hopped on my one-speed Schwinn and pedaled off into the twilight to explore the UW-L campus and to indulge in some reminiscing.

This is living on the edge, I thought. After all, it was almost dark and I might encounter lithe and athletic college students as I wobbled my way through the near-dark.

But, as has always been the story of my life, it didn’t happen. Instead, I encountered a pair of inept skateboarders who were even more wobbly on their boards than I was on my slow-moving bicycle.

And for that, I am grateful. Life has never turned out as I expect and that is a bonus.

When I decided to become a reporter in the fifth grade, I didn’t really understand what that would mean. I figured I would write and, even at that age, that is what I loved to do.

I certainly never expected that I would end up reviewing heavy metal bands, pop music, country and theater productions.

That was the bonus. And I was the least likely person I could have imagined to be doing that.

But when the director of the old Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium called over to the Tribune office one afternoon and said there was a free ticket waiting if someone would come over and review the Heart concert, I stood up and yelled, “Me, me, me.  I’ll do it.”

“You’ll have to do it on your own time,” I was told, because at that time I was doing mostly copy editing and the Tribune wasn’t about to pay anyone to hang out at a concert.

“No problem,” I told them.

The problem was that I had never been to the Mary E. Sawyer before. Fairly new to town and brand new to reviewing, I wasn’t familiar with the building.

I soon found out that management did not police the use of marijuana and joints were passed around freely, even to strangers. Though I can truthfully say I never smoked one of those joints, I must admit I inhaled because the old Mary E. had a dreadful ventilation system.

I was so sick by the time I got back to the Tribune, I could barely write. Luckily, back then we were an afternoon paper so I could take an hour to write that review.

I never looked back from that first review. When they built the La Crosse Center, the Tribune decided they needed an entertainment reporter and because I was already doing it on my own time, I got the gig.

I also covered, art, poetry, books, theater, folk music and sheep shearing. Yes, there were a few rodeos, historic home renovations, interviews with jet pilots, aerial artists, clowns and some WWF heavyweights.

And, yes, I got paid for all of this.

That’s why it felt just right to be pedaling through the UW-L campus because of all the theater, music and art I had encountered there. And because I am now older and aware of the dangers of the dark, I managed to make it home in time to watch part of the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC.

Yes, now I watch 24-hour news channels.  Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow have some pretty peppy political repartee on any given night.  Talk about a walk on the wild side. It’s not Metallica, but it’s still a pretty wonderful life.


Where have all the writers gone?

It seems my Facebook feed has been inundated this week with slash-and-burn cuts at a variety of newspapers. And the La Crosse Tribune announced new deadlines as the printing of the paper moves out of town.

It’s dismaying and disappointing, but not at all surprising.

If ever an industry did not see the writing on the wall, it is the newspaper industry. For an industry of communication, we did a poor job of communicating the importance of what was happening to news as Facebook and other online platforms came roaring into the news mix. (See how I used those new-fangled technology terms there?)

Management ignored the obvious for many years and then started cutting all their best people in an attempt to save money. That gutted operations and left newspapers with little content to attract the people who were already reading the paper, and certainly not luring in new readers.

Though I have been “retired” for six years now (forced out with no notice on a sunny Tuesday in June), I still feel like a newspaper reporter. So all of this is extremely painful to witness.

And beyond the ink that runs in my veins (my dad was a hot-metal printer so this is my personal history), I just love to hold a newspaper in my hands and peruse the news.

I don’t do that much anymore and it makes me sad.

The more practical of my acquaintances have told me to get over it and just enjoy reading online.

I’ve got news for you guys — ain’t gonna’ happen.

Nobody gets to tell me how I absorb the news. You can make it more difficult for me, but you can’t make me like it.

I was the dinosaur that was dragged kicking and screaming from my Remington toward computers and technology. I was convinced onto Facebook before my ouster from the Tribune but never did jump on to Twitter. In evaluation after evaluation where I was criticized for my lack of technological expertise, I told my bosses they needed at least one reporter who still wrote honest-to-goodness stories, not two-line tweets. They finally gave in and just let me write.

I know a few other old dinosaurs who missed the vigorous pounding on a manual typewriter keyboard. It made deadline seem more urgent. The keyboard clacking mixed with shouts across the newsroom and the ringing of telephones as City Editor Larry Olson would yell, “Give birth, give birth, we have a paper to get out!”

Call me crazy, but I loved that.


One of my arts sources was standing by desk one day at deadline and I must have yelled, which rattled him. Yelling happened a lot in the newsroom so I didn’t even notice when it was coming from me. But he called me later that day and told me he found it very upsetting.

“But wasn’t it exciting to be in the newsroom at deadline?” I asked him, after apologizing.

“No,” he said. “You scared me.”

I don’t get to scare anybody much these days. No deadlines loom, the telephone rarely rings, and there’s no clacking sound as I pound on my computer keyboard in the quiet of my home office.

I feel like we should be having a funeral for all the daily newspapers that are dying off. I’ve written the eulogy; now, it’s time for a drink.


I’m cleaning the basement with dad

Facebook is full of touching tributes to dads everywhere — both present and past.

Every piece of praise I read makes me want to talk to my own dad. But since he’s been gone more than 20 years now, it sounds a lot like talking to myself.

So I went down to the basement and started cleaning. That seems like a really Dad thing to do, only his cleaning usually happened in the garage. Right now, my garage is too jam-packed to straighten up, so I decided to descend to the equally messy depths of the house where gems are waiting for judgment — do I polish it up or send it to Goodwill. Right now, the polishing is winning, but there are plenty of Goodwill items waiting on the steps to finish the journey to the car.

I remember once, as a teenager, deciding to clean out the garage for Dad. Boy, was he mad. I didn’t realize then that he knew where everything was and what appeared junky and messy to me, was just right to him. I had invaded his kingdom and I didn’t make that mistake again.

Still,  it is amidst the junk and mess that I feel right at home and close to Dad. The only other places we had in common were the garden (which I didn’t discover until my 30s) and under a good light with a good book.

Now that I have dirt smudges everywhere, I’m going back to the thriller by Barry Eisler I was reading earlier. I think Dad would approve.