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.


Of DVDs and late-night shopping

“When did we stop caring how we looked in public?” I asked my sister as we trudged into Best Buy at 8:15 p.m.

“I think I look fine,” she answered.

But the truth is, we were both wearing our sleep clothes because we had gotten comfortable for the night before she started trying to hook up my DVD/VCR player. When she found I didn’t have the right cords, there was a grim silence and then an agreement that we had to make a late-night run to Best Buy as she was leaving town the next day and this was the one thing I wanted her to do for my birthday.

OK, 8:15 p.m. is not considered late night by most folks. But when you’ve been hauling furniture up and down stairs for five days in order to set up shop in a new location, 8:15 p.m. feels pretty darned late.

Some $20 later, we tested the DVD player only to be greeted by a terrible buzzing noise, no normal audio, and an episode of “The Closer” in black and white.

And this was after we’d taken drill, chisel and hammer to the back of my antique ice chest to widen the hole to get all the cords through.

Then Therese did the most amazing thing — she read the manual. Having armed herself with knowledge, she punched a few buttons on the correct remote (we’d been using one for a defunct TV) and suddenly Brenda Lee Johnson was in beautiful living color and we could hear every word she was saying.

Another miracle of technology had happened in my Luddite house.

And because I am a Luddite, Therese folded down the corner of the instructions so I would know what to read in my hour of need. (There will be many hours of need.) I discarded the old remote, which had not helped us at all, and then we decided not to play a DVD after all.

That’s why I’ve cracked open a Diet Coke even though it’s after 10 p.m. If shopping in my PJs and carving up one of my antiques doesn’t merit a late-night Diet Coke, I don’t know what does.


Wimp out

We’re wimps.

Don’t try to deny it. The subzero weather has kicked out butts and we’re whining about it nonstop.

It wasn’t always this way. It seems to me that we used to be tougher. I know I was.

In my 30s and 40s I was a walker and would walk outside before work even in the worst winter weather — subzero, strong winds, blizzards. There I was, battling the elements for good health.

Nowadays, I’ve wimped out and can be most often found pedaling on the easy setting of my stationary bike.

On the nightly news, the weather people shiver and complain about the long stretch of cold. “When will it end,” they whine to the meteorologist.

In April, I think to myself.

I, too, have been whining. On my call to Mom today I opened the conversation with, “Oh, gosh, that wind. It just cuts through you.”

How do I know? Not from walking outside. I felt it scurrying it into Target to scoop on the 90 percent off Christmas bargains. Yes, that was one mighty frigid gallop across the parking lot.

So I say we quit fighting winter and succumb. Stay indoors if we must. (I think I must.) Wrap up warmly with parkas and scarves and mittens. Turn on the heated seats and let the car warm up before backing it out of the garage. (Yes, I have an attached garage so it isn’t even that bad when I do decide to leave the house.)

Let’s remember where we live. We aren’t from Alabama or Louisiana or Texas. We are Wisconsinites. We laugh at winter.

And then we take the mug of hot chocolate out of the microwave and cuddle up in a quilt to watch TV.

Take that, winter.



Turn up the heat

I have just discovered I am rich.

I know, it comes as a shock to me, too. But I have heated car seats and after experiencing their magic on a couple of these very cold days, I realize this is a luxury that crosses over into the land of boat ownership, sports cars, and vacations in Jamaica.

So I’m rich.

I didn’t even know I wanted heated seats, and in truth I never would have paid money to get them. But when I was looking to return to Subaru, I set my brother-in-law on the online hunt for the closest thing to my 1996 Subaru Impreza Outback.

What I ended up with is another Impreza, though it is no longer called an Outback. What is has that my previous Subaru did not have is heated seats.

I first discovered the heated seats when I accidentally turned them on in the summer after loading my car to return to La Crosse from the Twin Cities. I couldn’t figure out where the controls were, expecting them to be on the dashboard. I didn’t discover the button until I got home from an extremely warm 167-mile trip.

I didn’t use the heated seats again until November and, my, what a pleasant surprise.  Especially nice is the heat that hits the small of my back. That’s obviously where all the stress and tension in my body resides and those heated seat backs are fabulous. I turn off all the other heat in the car and just let those warmers work their magic on my back.

So this is the most obvious luxury with which I live. But there are others which lead me to believe I am rich.

Growing up, my sister Therese and I tried to imagine earning $10,000 a year.

I am happy to say I exceeded that.

As kids, planning our dream bedrooms, they were always in a turret. I don’t know where we got this idea as we had never actually been in a turret, but a turret is what we wanted.

I don’t have a turret in my modest home, but I did sleep in a turret room at a bed and breakfast once, so I guess that’s a dream fulfilled, too.

As a kid, I always wanted Oreos and other store-bought cookies because we never could afford them.

I can have all of those I want now and instead I am happier with homemade chocolate chip cookies.

But it’s the heated car seats that really tipped the scales toward luxury because Therese doesn’t have them and now wishes she did.

When she was visiting this week, she insisted we go everywhere in my car because she wanted those heated seats. Usually, she likes us to travel in her van in case happenstance should send a dresser or other large piece of furniture our way. But this time around, heated car seats were more important.

So make way boat owners and visitors to Jamaica, there’s a new rich kid in town — at least until April when I won’t need those heated seats any longer.



Welcome back, students

I woke up too early today, as usual, but decided that as soon as it was light out I would go biking. The students had started pouring into town Friday and I always connect college students with my own days biking to class.

But, as usual, I fell back to sleep and woke again around 7:30 a.m. So even though the sky  looked like a giant, gray ball of lint, I got dressed and hopped on the bike.

My, it’s cold I thought, as I forced myself to pedal.

A few blocks later, I thought, gee, it’s sprinkling and that’s unpleasant.

At block seven the sprinkling turned to a downpour and I reminded myself that I was a retiree, not a college student, and I could just turn around and pedal home.

Which is what I did.

So much for nostalgia, but I never did like getting soggy. And I didn’t see any actual students on my short bike ride so there was no one to notice my short tribute ride.

So welcome back, students. Be good neighbors and citizens. Try not to over indulge in alcohol and other unwise substances. If we smile and say hi first, why not return the greetings. It’s another fresh start to the school year and let’s make this a good one.

And don’t laugh and point your finger if you see me biking by. Yes, I’m slow, but I’m out there pedaling. Just not doing it in the rain anymore.


Call the Fashion Police

On a recent visit to La Crosse, my sister Therese wandered into my bedroom closet and expressed dismay at the dearth of clothing she found there — 15 hanging items to be exact.

“I have so much stuff stacked in here,” I told her, “that I can’t really get at the hanging rack. I just wear the clothes I throw on the chair.”

That is true, though most of the stuff on my bedroom chair is not closet worthy. That’s because my uniform in retirement consists almost entirely of jeans and t-shirts.

Oh, I vary it up a little. I have gray t-shirts, black t-shirts, green t-shirts and even brown t-shirts. I even have a few long-sleeved t-shirts.

There was never a time in my life where I would have qualified as a fashionista. At best, I tried to wear colors that looked good on me and would check my clothes for food stains before donning them for work.

Nowadays, food stains are not such a concern. Those are joined by paint stains, grass stains and all manner of things I pick up in the garage and yard. I’m somewhat of a stain magnet as I tend to wipe my dirty, sticky, greasy hands on whatever t-shirt I am wearing.

For me, dressing up is putting on a clean t-shirt — when I can find one.

But shamed by Therese’s dismay at my dismal closet contents, I rooted around on the t-shirt chair and discovered two clean t-shirts I rarely wear. I put them on hangers and stuck them on the hanging bar in the closet.

Now I have 17 items of clothing hanging in the closet that I will likely not wear in the coming months.

Heck,  it’s almost time to change out those 17 summer items for my winter version of clothing I will hang in the closet, but not wear.


Idiots abound

I feel sorry for Donald Trump Jr.

I don’t like him, but I feel sorry for him.

After all, a national newspaper called him an idiot and his actions seem to have justified that moniker.

The real reason I feel sorry for him, though, is that he is the son of a man who probably never showed him any affection. What dad, when his son is attacked, comes up with the lame praise that his son is a “quality person.”


For all the tweet rants he has posted, shouldn’t Trump have been a little more ardent in support of his bumbling son?

I’m guessing Don Jr. is feeling mighty cold in the shade of his sister and brother-in-law because daddy definitely likes them best. It would serve them right if Don Jr. implicated all of them in this filthy web of lies they’ve been handing the public.

What bothers me the most — probably because I’m a reporter — is that Trump and his merry band of prevaricators have tried to hide their wrongdoings by labeling us as “fake media.”

He may not be smart, but at least Don Jr. released the emails without  having the FBI subpoena them.

So maybe he is an idiot, but let’s wait and see what family members end up impeached or in jail. And then let the real name calling begin.


Ready, set, craft


I’m feeling crafty and that hasn’t happened in a while.

Actually, when the mood strikes, I am a prolific crafter. I’m never happier than when I am covered in glue and paint. That doesn’t mean I’m good at it. It just means I like to do it.

I was never especially gifted in art classes, but if a can-do attitude counts, I was top of my class.

Crafting really took hold after I moved to La Crosse and decided I needed to start making Christmas gifts for my large family if the holiday wasn’t going to bankrupt me.

Ever helpful, my sister Therese helped me find patterns for oven mitts, snowman door hangers and stuffed animals.

What a nightmare.

I labored over my many gifts, buying cute calico, sewing late into the night, and imagining how everyone would love my gifts.

My godson took one look at the stuffed animal I made him, threw it across the room, and yelled, “I hate it.”

When my sister-in-law unwrapped the set of connected oven mitts, she didn’t know what they were. So she laughed, put them on and said, “Oh, look, mittens.”

My parents expressed appreciation for the giant snowman door hanger I made them and I was really proud of that gift. It wasn’t until years later when I saw it hanging on their back door that I realized how terrible it was. I made it out of yellow-and-white striped material, as if it was made from snow after a dog had lifted its leg on a snowbank.

“Please, throw that away,” I pleaded with my mom.

“No. You made it for us,” she said.

“And that would be sweet if I had made it when I was 12,” I told her, “but I was 25.”

I think she finally donated it.

A few years later, I discovered stained glass in adult education classes so I decided to  make stained glass ornaments. They were so big and heavy that I’m not sure anyone put them on their trees. The sailboat I tried hanging on my tree was so heavy it threatened to capsize the tree. I ended up hanging it in a window.

My family was surely relieved when I discovered cross stitch, the one craft where I truly excelled. But even that finally dwindled away after I saw the walls of my parents’ house couldn’t hold one more original stitchery by me.

And, yet, I’m feeling an urge to craft coming over me.

Alas, the sewing machine is broken so no more dirty striped snowmen. But that leaves decoupage, clay sculpture and stenciling. Look out, family. Looks like another homemade Christmas is just six months away.


Laundry blues



I’ve become addlepated in my old age.

Suddenly, I have become obsessed with an Azure Blue Samsung washing machine and nothing blander will do.

I used to be the most practical of consumers. I would trot into Sears and before the sales person could launch into his spiel, I would say, “I want the cheapest washing machine you have. I don’t need anything fancy. I just want to get my clothes clean.” (That’s probably why my last load of wash is sporting some rust stains.)

The last time I walked into Wettstein’s, I told the sales person, “I just want a fridge that gets food cold. I don’t need double doors or an icemaker or a bottom freezer. I just want to keep food cold.”

Same thing with the stove. I just told the sales person, “Find me the cheapest appliance that gets things hot.”

But now I’ve got a fancy new laundry alcove in my office. When I look up from typing this, I can see the freshly framed but washer-less space and I am dreaming in Azure Blue.

Originally, I was hunting for a red washer. I’d seen them in commercials plenty of times, I’d just never seen them in a store.

I still haven’t.

But then one day I stumbled across this Azure Blue Samsung at Best Buy. I must confess I did not look at the specs. I simply took down the measurements and called my sister Therese to tell her I had found a blue washing machine and it would fit nicely in my laundry alcove.

I have stopped in to visit that washer a number of times, most recently about three weeks ago. So when I got the paint slapped on the alcove, I cleaned up and went to Best Buy to lay my money down and tote home my dreamy Azure Blue.

But the washer was gone.

The salesman I talked to said Samsung had just pulled it and his guess was that there might have been complaints about the add-wash feature. So they pulled the machine and I can’t get it anymore.

The good news is that they are coming out with a new model — still in Azure — in a few weeks. It won’t have the add-wash feature, which is fine. I wasn’t really focused on all the doodads the washer had to offer — just the color.

Yes, I could get a nice charcoal gray for $50 less than Azure. Or a white one for even cheaper.

But this is the new, improved, addlepated Geri and the heart wants what the heart wants.

I still clip coupons. I still go to $5 matinee movies where I get free popcorn, and I still like two-for-one bargains.

But when I look up from this keyboard, I’m going to be looking at a washing machine as deep blue as the Azure Aegean Sea.

Yep, addlepated.

Take a Deep Breath

No politics, no turmoil, no disgruntled rant.

Tonight, I am grateful for fresh air.

Usually I drag the trash receptacles to the curb during the daylight hours. But today I forgot until almost 10 p.m.

I don’t like doing it in the dark because it could be cold, it could be rainy, it could be dangerous from things upon which to stumble. (I stumble easily.)

It was none of those things.

Instead, it was the most perfect night. The air was fresh and sweet and temperate. The night was clear and stars studded the sky and looked so close I could almost touch them.

I was happy to be dragging cans to the curb. I stopped, took a deep breath, gazed up at the stars, and was happy just to be alive.

For a moment, it was just a moment to be. A moment to appreciate.  A moment that belonged to no political party, no special interest, no colluding, corrupting influence.

Just me, the fresh air, and the stars.

I’d like to grab a few more deep breaths of nights like this if Spring will only allow and I can make myself pay attention.









In my imagination, I am an escape artist.

Some of my earliest memories are of hoarding my pennies and stale bread in the event that I would go on the run. At age 6 or 7, my desire for escape would be inspired by some perceived ill treatment at home.

I was probably misjudged. Whenever any of us got in a fight, I was somehow to blame. Yes, I was a scrapper, but, c’mon, I didn’t do battle for no reason.

So there would be week-old bread rotting beneath my bed and I would endlessly count up the money I had saved from my Sunday nickel. (Yes, the evil dad who often inspired my urge for flight also gave all his kids a nickel every Sunday specifically to be spent on candy.)

But I never ran because everywhere I went, people would say to me, “Aren’t you one of Len Parlin’s kids?”

So I knew there would be no escape for me. And I didn’t want to experience that homecoming.

But in my imagination, I was always planning the great escape.

That’s why I was pumped to watch the debut of “Hunted” on CBS. The minute I heard about it, I told my sister Therese what my first step would be.

“I’d make sure my assets were liquid. I’d have as much cash on hand as possible.”

“I knew you would say that,” she said, because she knows what a planner I am.

But after that, what would I do? I couldn’t call Therese or my Mom, the most dialed numbers on my phone. My brother John would probably be helpful because he’s a bit of a rebel and owns a motorcycle. In my family, that’s practically a Hell’s Angels.

So I wouldn’t have much of a plan, but I would surely do better than the idiots caught on the debut episode. These incredibly recognizable people — he’s 6’8″ and she’s a model — used an ATM at a bus station and went to Atlanta where their family lives. They were caught getting off the bus.

Have they never read a suspense novel? There are cameras everywhere. The feds can get you at the ATM. They’ll trace your phones and talk to your next of kin.

And, finally, someone will probably point and say, “Aren’t you one of Len Parlin’s kids?”