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.


I’m bored.

If you’re a kid, those are the two most dangerous words in the English language.

At least they were when I was a kid.

If I was wandering around the house, looking for something fun to do, I would unwisely whine to Mom that I was bored because there was nothing to do.

“I’ll give you something to do,” Mom would say, and hand me a broom or a dish towel, or send me out to the backyard with a heavy basket of diapers to pin to the clothesline.

I can honestly say that Mom was never bored. With 10 kids to wrangle, she was often tired, mostly understanding, and sometimes frustrated. But she didn’t have time for boredom.

Nowadays, Mom has plenty of time for boredom. With failing eyesight, her options of things to do has narrowed. Right now, she’s recovering from cataract surgery. Coupled with macular degeneration, it’s hard for her to read and do any close work. And while she’s recovering, she was told not to garden.

I think, to some extent, the pandemic has funneled us all into a corridor of boredom. There are no new shows on television, even if you’re streaming. And if they are new, you’ve already binged the whole season.

I’ve mostly quit going to auctions. I don’t meet friends for lunch. (OK, I didn’t lunch out much before the pandemic, either.) My joy was boundless when the library announced it would once again open for browsing.

I’m convinced that any day now the library is going to run out of books for me to read so I’m sampling fresh authors I’ve never read before. I unwisely chose a book about a Marine doctor who was tracking a rabies outbreak in Alaska. Yikes! I think boredom would be better and I’ve crossed that author off my list.

Since Mom mostly isn’t reading right now, my brother Tom has started going through her files and papers and has been reading cards, letters and my old columns to her. It seems like I sent along a lot of my columns back in the day when I used to write letters home instead of emailing.

But another way my family is battling through the pandemic is the family newsletter.

I started the newsletter just a month before the pandemic was a blip on the American horizon. I had come home from our Christmas gathering and had told everybody I’d be sending out occasional newsletters and everybody should feel free to add to them so we could keep in touch better.

It started out as a way to keep track of who was visiting Mom when and what she needed from us. But it soon turned into a Parlin market place. That’s how we kept up with the progress on brother Tim’s food truck, siblings’ new grandbabies and Tom’s new job.

This works especially well for us because of our large, sprawling family. Even though the majority of my siblings live in the Twin Cities area, they don’t get together often. So this is our get together. It has become so popular that a few in-laws have asked to be included in the email because they feel they aren’t getting the scoop on everything.

If you live far from family, I suggest this as a wonderful way to keep in touch and feel closer. It’s not as good as a hug, and it doesn’t replace my daily phone calls to Mom, but I look forward to every new comment.

And when I am writing it, I am never bored.


Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah — but it’s not Geri

I am a bad cook.

There, I said it.

It’s not that I don’t have some successes. I was legendary at the La Crosse Tribune for bringing in chocolate chip birthday cookies. Nobody wanted cakes anymore. They wanted my giant cookie.

After that, it was all downhill.

It’s not that I can’t cook. It’s that I just won’t pay attention.

I blame it on the books.

From the time I was able to read and choose my own books from the library, I learned to shut out everything — my dad yelling it’s time for supper, my brothers and sisters arguing right next to me, and a pan of something burning in the kitchen.

Nowadays, my most oft-burned selection is boiled potatoes, which I make often in order to later turn them into hashbrowns.

I mean, really, who is going to stand in the kitchen for half an hour and watch potatoes boil. So I do what any rational human being would do. I go off to read, thinking I’ll read a chapter or two and go back to check the potatoes.

One hundred pages later, I either smell the potatoes or hear the smoke alarm.

I just spent nearly an hour scrubbing the inside and outside of my potato pot and don’t want to do this again so I’m thinking I won’t read while the potatoes cook. Instead, I’ll go outside and garden. And in between pulling weeds I will paint something.

You see where this is going. I think I will be scrubbing a lot more pans in the future.

Luck be a lady

I’ve been thinking about luck lately.

It started with the quick repair of my air conditioning unit and then the quick installation of a new AC unit. But that’s not really the lucky part. The lucky part is that I had enough money to pay for that.

I also lost the black plastic piece that surrounds one of my driving lights because I bumped into the curb in front of the house. My sister noticed and popped it back in place but somewhere along the way it fell off and it’s gone forever. The lucky part is that it is not crucial to the operation of my car.

And then the Olympics arrived. I think they shouldn’t have held them, but I am watching them because I love the Olympics. What I don’t love is the overblown color commentary and how they build up an athlete as the greatest and then knock them down when they lose by a tenth of a second or a tenth of a point to another talented athlete.

Swimmers and gymnasts come to mind. Especially gymnast Simone Biles, who withdrew from competition because she couldn’t get her mind right for the the expectations set for her.

Big surprise. She’s been called the GOAT (greatest of all time) so often that she must have felt real goats were head butting her. That leaves no room for mistakes and because she is human she started making mistakes. She also didn’t have her family there to support her and she’s said she feels the aches in her body every day.

It took courage to bow out and just say she couldn’t do it anymore. But all announcers and commenters want is to batter it to death.

It’s not just Simone, though. I hate when someone with a microphone goes up to the athlete who just lost the expected gold and asks them how they feel. The athlete can’t tell the truth. Instead, they say it was enough to compete and do their best. What they are really thinking is, “Get that freaking microphone away from me. I want to go somewhere and drown my sorrows.”

Not me, though. I’m lucky because I was never the GOAT. I’ve always been hard working, diligent and have achieved as much as I felt I could. Then I would pack away the day and read a good book.

That’s what I recommend for Simon Biles. Pick up a complicated Tom Clancy thriller, Simone. By book’s end, you’ll just be glad the world did not come to an end. Because your world has not come to an end. It just took a turn down a dark alley. Who knows what is waiting at the other, but I hope it is good luck.

And I hope there are no goats.


I am a worst-case scenario thinker.

I am always figuring out what I will do if the worst happens.

I’m not talking about an actual crisis. I’m talking about everyday life. And that has been made worse by the pandemic because I am spending even more time alone than usual and my imagination (which my mom thinks is weird and scary) has been leaping around and into my nightmares.

Last night, or early this morning just before waking, I dreamed I was getting a vaccination and a house fell on me and angry people were attacking me instead of helping me out of the rubble.

Needless to say, I was a bit down when I finally struggled out of bed but my first thought was how I was going to keep trying today until I found someone to give me that first vaccination shot.

And then the phone rang. Lo and behold, that shot will be put in my arm on Monday.

Just the night before, President Joe Biden was talking about hope and urging everyone to get the shot as soon as possible. I was disgruntled because I had not been able to do that.

Let that be a lesson to me.

If you have any doubts about Biden being the right guy for the job, pack them away and start preparing for a good new year. After a horrible man left us all in a pit of pandemic despair to flyoff with all the protections given to him, he was replaced by a man who truly loves America and all the people he has been charged with saving.

Please, if you can, follow Biden’s advice and get that vaccine as soon as possible. It’s time to come back together as a nation and it will be easier to come together when we can all do so by breathing the same vaccinated air.

(Yes, I know it’s the people who are vaccinated and not the air, but we’ll be puffing out more protection with each breath.)

Monday can’t come soon enough. I pray this good fortune for the rest of you.

Ashes to Ashes

I don’t have a black cross on my forehead tonight.

I tried. I went to San Damiano Chapel at Viterbo University at noon. I sat there as people came into the chapel in small groups.

And they just kept coming. By the time the priest had started the Ash Wednesday services, there were more than 100 people in the chapel.

I lasted for 35 minutes, through the Gospel reading. And then I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I left without ashes and without communion.

The week before, when I had been there for the noon service, there were only six of us, and that included the priest.

So I feel sad that I couldn’t last through the ashes. But my faith was restored this evening when I was flicking around the channels on television and landed on CNN. There was Chris Cuomo with a cross on his forehead.

I feel like Cuomo did it for all of us. Even if I had gotten my own cross, no one would have seen it because I spent the rest of the day at home. But Cuomo made sure millions saw his cross.

I find Cuomo to be bombastic often, but good hearted. On this Ash Wednesday, he was also a reminder of the journey ahead — through Lent and through the pandemic.

Yo, Joe! Cleanup on Aisle America

President Joe Biden.

I’ve been waiting a long time to say that and now we all can.

I’m not much for watching long inauguration ceremonies, but this one seemed more worthwhile. After all, we staved off an insurrection and installed a man who is both decent and smart. That’s been sadly lacking in Washington, D.C., and around the nation of late.

I’m not expecting miracles and it’s unfair for us to ask that of Joe. But, still, we kind of expect it.

Mostly, I want him to do what he wants — knuckle down and get this virus under control and get people back to school and back to work. All the other problems will wait.

I would like to say I am as forgiving and broadminded as Joe Biden. I am not. But I am working on it.

Like Joe, I went to Mass today. I don’t go to a building for Mass much anymore as I am staying away from buildings with other people in them. But I attended a noon Mass at San Damiano Chapel on the Viterbo University campus and there were only 11 of us, including the priest. We were all masked and there were hand sanitizer stations down the center aisle so we could sanitize before receiving communion.

Attending Mass today was as much a reminder of the goodness to come our way as was the inauguration. It was a reminder of what was and will be again when we get the pandemic under control.

So now I’m trying to take the high ground. No more calls for investigation and imprisonment. If it happens, so be it. Mostly, I’m hoping that the former president simply fades away and takes with him much of the acrimony he spread throughout the land.

As for Joe, let him celebrate with poet laureates and celebrities today. Tomorrow, he will be the cleanup man, tidying away the disgusting mess of a country he’s inherited. Here’s hoping he’s a really good janitor.

Rescuing Santa

I just revived Santa and he is grateful.

The real Santa is just fine, at least to the best of my knowledge.

The Santa I revived is a painted plaster Santa, the last remaining remnant of my crafting days with my youngest sister Kathy.

I have been a crafter forever, but when Kathy got into crafting and was looking for a partner, I ramped up my efforts.

Kathy was so sure that crafting was her calling that she wanted to work in big numbers and then hit the craft fair circuit. So she bought some kind of rubber mix she could pour around a figurine and make many, many copies by pouring plaster into the form she created.

Then she had all these plaster figurines that needed painting. So I got out my paintbrush and went to work with her. I wasn’t exactly one of Santa’s elves. I did, after all, have a real job as a reporter. But I got pretty sick of that Santa figurine by the time she had enough inventory. So I was glad to shovel those Santas out the door.

But as I was unpacking my Christmas decorations this year, I found my one remaining Santa. His plaster was showing in immodest amounts. So once again I got out my paintbrush and went to work. I touched him up, gave him a spray of matte clear finish, and he’s back in service.

He’s not the best of my Christmas decor, but he is definitely a reminder of Christmases past.

Don’t stand so close to me

Just as all the experts predicted, this pandemic is getting to most of us.

We want to gather with family, shop at our favorite stores, go to lunch with friends, and go to the movies.

Except for me.

I joke with my sister that I was social distancing before social distancing was cool. I like being alone. Not all of the time, but most of the time.

I like to read, putter in the garden, and watch TV. Those are not things I’ve turned to just because we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Those are things I’ve always done.

But I come from a large family and we like to get together. We especially worry about Mom being alone. At 89, the days seem long, even when she goes to bed early.

So I’ve been puzzling over how we can best spend quality time with her without endangering her.

My best, brilliant idea was garage visits. With the door open, we could visit in the garage. My sister Therese and I did this in September for Mom’s birthday. We had a firepit at the front of the garage. Yes, smoke blew in at us, but I told Mom it was like camping — something I never enjoyed but she did.

My next great idea as October arrived was to have a heater in the garage. The garage door still had to be open, but the heater would take the sting out of the cooler weather.

But it’s been windy, and at 89, Mom gets chilled much more easily than I do. (Haven’t turned my furnace on yet.)

Today she told me my sister Peg and her husband Frank were going to stop by on their way home to have a roast beef dinner with her.

“In the garage?” I asked.

“It’s so cold out,” Mom said.

“Get the heater, plug it in an hour before they get there, and open the garage door when they arrive.”

“I’d have to back the car out,” she countered.

“Yes, and that would take 2 minutes.”

We both hung up the phone somewhat disgruntled.

But Mom called back an hour later to tell me that her company was arriving in an hour and she had already gone out to plug in the heater.

“Thank you for trying, Mom,” I said, hoping this would work.

I also suggested she put a fan at the front of the garage pointing out, to counteract the windy day.

I don’t know if any of that will work. I hope it does. I’m trying to do the hard tings Dr. Fauci says we must do in order to make it through this pandemic — even if those hard things have to be done by my 89-year-old mom.

Organically my Dad

Dad was an organic farmer before most people even knew what that was.

He could have sold his great organic produce at a farmers market if he wanted to be a merchant — but, he didn’t.

He could have been a master gardener if he’d taken the classes to get certified — but, he wouldn’t.

But point him at a pile of decomposing leaves and he was in heaven. Even though our yard features one of the biggest maple trees I’ve ever seen, that wasn’t enough leaf accumulation for Dad. He used to drive around and pick up other people’s bagged leaves. Because of that, more than 20 years later, his garden — now Mom’s garden — has the best soil I have ever experienced.

I can plant something in my garden and something in hers. Mine might fail but hers will flourish.

Dad was happiest when he was firmly planted in his garden. From tea roses to potatoes and rhubarb, Dad grew the best of everything. There were cut flowers on the dining room table and fresh-from-the-garden salads for supper.

I didn’t inherit Dad’s love of vegetables, but I did get the gardening bug. My style is a bit more free form — let those volunteer daisies, violets and coreopsis grow where they want to grow. This year, I had to curb the daisies a bit as there were more daisies than grass blades in the lawn. Dad would not have approved because he also kept a meticulous lawn.

I tugged the daisies but I let my spreading crop of creeping thyme take over one section of lawn. I have no love of grass and one day figure it will all be gone from yard.

What won’t be gone is Dad’s spirit. I’ve got one rose bush he planted still struggling to pop open a few buds 30 years after he planted it. And my lilac hedge is a testament to the saplings that came from his yard.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Mom and the kids miss you, but we’re still enjoying the fruits of your labors.




Ford Fairlane

On misty, drizzly nights like this, I think of the first car I ever owned — a 1968 Ford Fairlane.

Well, I kind of owned it.

Because my oldest sister Peggy needed a car to get to college, but couldn’t afford one, Dad looked around at the bank accounts of his other kids and realized I was the only one with money in the bank. So, by his decree, we bought the car together.

Did I want that car? No. I didn’t even have a driver’s license yet. But Dad decided that was the only way Peggy could afford a car so he told me to hand over my hard-earned babysitting money. The deal was that Peggy would own it the first few years and I would inherit it when she graduated.

Another really bad deal — I had to pay half the bills on car repair while Peggy was in possession of it. Of course, when I got the car, I had to pay for all the car repairs.

Not only did I not want this car, it did not want me. When I finally did gain possession of it, I couldn’t afford to drive it so I was mostly riding my bike the three miles to community college. I figured I would just use the car when it rained.

Bad plan.

That car would start at 20 degrees below zero, but not in the rain.

At the first hint of moisture, the car would refuse to start. Somehow (Dad probably decided), the fault was a cracked distributor cap. So I bought distributor caps, one after the other. Nothing worked. So I endured many soggy pedal-fests in pursuit of a higher education.

Because Therese was only a year younger than me, she really wanted to drive that car and I let her use it once to go out with her friends. She came home later that night and confessed to me that somehow she had sprung the passenger side door.

“OK,” I said, and went back to reading.

“You don’t understand,” she yelled, upset at me because I was not upset at her.

But I did understand because before I had taken over possession of my own devil car, I had backed into a tree in my dad’s station wagon and he never let me forget it.

Luckily, my brother-in-law and Dad were able to pop the door back into place and the devil car lasted long enough for me to pass down to Therese. It died shortly after, I’m sure in mourning because I was no longer around to pay the bills.