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.

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.





Like many adults, I don’t rest easy these days. With a tendency toward insomnia, it can take me a long time to drift off, especially now that my mind is busy thinking all things pandemic.

Tonight I was awakened by a smother of extra blankets, an extra couple of pillows, and a heating pad that were all piled on the side of the bed. And it reminded me of how, as a kid, I used to bring everything precious to bed with me.

I’m not talking teddy bears and dolls and other huggable things.  I’m talking important things. My box of polished agates from Lake Superior. My packet of bird cards that I chose from the drawer of treasures at the dentist. My case of trinkets.

The trinkets were most valued because they were the most difficult to come by. My sister Therese and I would take our milk money — a penny for white milk, two pennies for chocolate milk — and save it for the gumball machine at the gas station that was situated on our walk home from school. It was an illicit stop — mom didn’t approve of gas stations — and that was not how we were supposed to spend our milk money. But that’s how we got a hot dog in a bun, a fried egg, and a hamburger in a bun with little rings at the top so they could be strung on a chain. Or in my case, be toted around in a box.

It just so happened that everything I held most dear was lumpy and bumpy and I liked to drag it all with me everywhere — even to bed. I clutched that stuff so close that Dad finally took one of those square black and gold film boxes he got from working at the drug store and he punched holes and ran a rope through the top and bottom so I could store everything in there and tote it along with me.

That was even more awkward to take to bed, but I did because that was the coolest treasure of all. I’ve loved containers ever since.

But I don’t love the pandemic. I go to sleep thinking about it, I wake up thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure I dream about it.

Tonight, as I woke up thinking of the pandemic, I shoved at the soft mass of extra blankets and pillows and was reminded of all the things that comforted me most in my childhood bedtimes.

What I wouldn’t give now for a black-and-gold box on a rope full of trinkets. Thanks, Dad. Now that I’ve thought of all that, maybe I won’t dream about pandemics.





Today was a good day, despite social distancing.

A friend came to my temporary polling place (a table I set up in my front yard) to witness me filling out my absentee ballot. I also did yard work and went for a bike ride.

It was on the bike ride that I really thought about social distancing. On such a beautiful day, I didn’t see that many people out and about, but those I did see mostly waved or nodded in greeting. And that felt good, too.

It also reminded me of high school and my big brother Jim.

Of five brothers, Jim is the only one who is an older brother. Because of that, most likely, I idolized him. He might not have realized that because during his high school wrestling career he mostly concentrated on making weight and then eating like a pig after weigh in. If cookie dough or minute-boil frosting was missing from the fridge, it was a sure sign that Jim had been there.

To atone and shed the pounds to get back to 119, Jim would close all the registers in the house except for the bathroom register. Then he would run hot water in the shower and do jumping jacks. As this was the only bathroom for 12 people, we all knew when Jim was cutting weight.

Still, I thought he was the toughest, coolest brother a girl ever had. So when I made it to high school and ran into him in the hallway for the first time, I was giddy. “Hi, Jim,” I said bubbling with joy.

Jim snarled and called me an idiot or a moron and stalked off with his friends. I quit saying hi but I never gave up on the idolatry.

That paid off when Jim was a senior. I don’t know what changed for him, but he started nodding at me when we passed in the halls. “Did you see that?” I asked one of my friends. “He nodded at me.”

So those folks who nodded at me this afternoon are like social distance substitutes for Jim and the rest of my family and friends. It made all things seem possible, as if we might come through this pandemic better off than when we started out.

And as long as Jim doesn’t decide he has to cut back to 119 pounds, I’m sure we’ll all have a good time when next we gather for a family potluck.


The virus that shall remain nameless

I am so sick of the virus currently causing pandemic and pandemonium that I have decided I will stop referring to it by name. And I hate seeing that little pop art figure that is used to signify a story on the virus is about to occur.

About to occur? That is the entire news nowadays. Pandemic this, pandemic that, and how people are bad at sheltering in place and the president is a nincompoop and bring on Dr. Fauci who we all respect and believe. And why isn’t New York Governor Cuomo the president? He seems to know what he’s doing and he seems to love us all.

But enough of that virus that shall remain nameless. Instead, I’m going to talk about what’s been going on at my house since I began social distancing.

To begin with, social distancing wasn’t difficult for me because I’m somewhat of a social distancer by nature. I actually like being alone with myself. I read, watch TV, putter, check out Facebook and read some more.

That was the first week.

But we’re getting serious now. I have to put some thought into  what I want to buy at the grocery store because I don’t want to be in there that long.  And if I’m standing on the sidewalk raking leaves off the garden, I scurry back to the driveway when I see a dog walker on the horizon. And, yes, I’m going through soap like it’s water. Way to keep those hands clean.

So yesterday, I finally re-potted my geraniums. I scrubbed the grease off the stove top and tried to clean the stove grates. (Anyone have a good solution for the black burned-on grease I can’t get off those grates?) I plunged the kitchen sink and then wiped down all surfaces and did the dishes. I even made some keto cornbread that tastes nowhere near as delicious as the cornbread I buy from Festival’s deli. I guess that’s because it’s keto.

Today, I braved shopping at Festival. That darned cornbread that didn’t taste that good took four eggs so I really needed to supplement. But all the eggs except for organic were sold out and the organics cost over $4 a dozen.

No thanks.

So I drove by Kwik Trip on the way home to get eggs for $1.99 a dozen and noticed that gas is selling for $1.42. Are you kidding me? Now that I’m not going anywhere, gas is a dollar cheaper than it was a month ago.

I polished off my energy supply by going for a bike ride at 2 p.m. Yes, it had started to drizzle so I only lasted out there for 10 minutes because that is uncomfortable and, as a retiree, I crave comfort.

So I’m wimping out for the rest of the day and going to the book stack on the dining room table.

So much to do, so much time in which to do it, so much social isolation. Wave if you see me in the yard, but don’t come anywhere near me. Because, you know, there’s this virus thing.





At the suggestion of Terry Rindfleisch (I didn’t see you in the audience, Terry) I went to a lecture at UW-L given by David Gergen, a political analyst for CNN. His talk was titled “A Return to Civility.”

I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I did agree with him that no matter who is president for the next four years, it’s going to be tough getting things back on course. What we need most, he said, was a return to civility and a willingness to get along. The candidate best suited to that purpose, he said, was Joe Biden.

And I find myself agreeing. I haven’t been happy with the way Biden has bumbled and stumbled through this campaign. But I also haven’t liked how the Democrats have turned on each other like a pack of wild dogs. That’s what the Republicans did last go-round and that gave us Trump. We should have learned from that.

But Gergen said something else interesting. His theory is that liberals (read Democrats) are interested and are willing to work for candidates. But conservatives (read Republicans) go to war for their beliefs and will fight to the death.

That’s not a pretty picture he paints, but it gave me a lot to think about as I left the UW-L student union along with a crowd of students and some oldsters in my age group.

The first thing I noticed as we took the stairs down is people in my age group gripped the stair railing. Students, on the other hand, touched no railings and, indeed, one guy sauntered down with his hands in his pockets. Had I done that, I would be in an ambulance on the way to the hospital instead of sitting in front of my keyboard.

Maybe that’s why I want an old, moderate guy to be our next president. I don’t want decisions made willy-nilly without good thought. I don’t want a president who trips over his lies because he won’t hold onto the handrails of facts.

But mostly, just like David Gergen, I want civility. And I want a president who won’t lie about a pandemic because he’s afraid of what the stock market is doing.

So good luck, Joe. You’re going to need it as much as I need handrails descending the stairs.


The Impeached Geri Parlin

For a few hours today, it felt like I was on the debate stage in Nevada.

As is usual for me, I had spilled out my ire against Trump on Facebook and the usual cast of those who agree showed up in the comment section.

But so did some who disagreed.

And I’m OK  with a difference of opinion as long as those who disagree deal in facts and are not disagreeable.

But they weren’t civil and they weren’t factual. One disagreeable fellow in particular was calling me out for a review I wrote in the La Crosse Tribune three decades ago.

Now I know how Michael Bloomberg feels about having to defend himself for Stop and Frisk.

I admitted the disagreeable one had a point about that review and I apologized — something the Impeached Trump has never done. But, as is often the case with those who disagree, they would not stop. They just kept pounding. So for the first time since I joined Facebook about a decade ago, I blocked two people. That was hard for me to do because I’m a big believer in the First Amendment.

But I decided I didn’t have to put up with this on my feed. I took 36 years of slings and arrows as a reporter and reviewer and for that time I swallowed all my well-written but cruel retorts to those vile letter writers and let the readers cover me in unanswered acrimony.

I didn’t even threaten to rip anyone’s head off. That was my favorite threat to my sister Therese when we were kids. It wasn’t effective in my teen-age years because Therese was stronger and probably knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t rip her head off. And in my adult years, I realized it was inappropriately violent to make that threat.

Instead, I unfriended. So I have two less friends — make that one. The other guy wasn’t even on my friends list. Let them spew venom on their own feeds if they so desire. If they do, I won’t know about it and can’t threaten to rip their heads off.

A win for both sides.



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.