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.




When the ringing phone woke me at 9:12 a.m. today — don’t judge, I’m retired — I was deep in a dream in which I was teaching someone to pleat.

To understand just how odd this is, you should know that I don’t think I’ve ever pleated anything myself. Pleating takes precision and measurement. I don’t do those things.

However, in my high school years, I’m guessing I ironed over a thousand pleats because part of the Pacelli High School (Austin, Minn., not Stevens Point, Wis.) uniform was a green-plaid wool skirt.

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

To this day, I don’t wear pleats, I don’t wear green plaid, and I don’t wear skirts. And don’t get me started on green blazers. Not gonna happen.

But that pleating dream did get me thinking about that uniform skirt. It was such an obvious hallmark of where I attended school that advisers told us we should wear our uniforms on job interviews because Pacelli had high academic and comportment standards.

The complete uniform consisted of the skirt, white blouse and green blazer.  Go, you Pacelli Shamrocks! We could wear knee-highs, nylons, anklets or any other kind of stockings. My memory, though, is they had to be white.

But somewhere in the middle of my high school career, the administration had a mental hiccup and proclaimed we girls could wear any kind of shirt we wanted with our uniform skirts.

We went crazy!

I fondly remember an olive green paisley shirt that was a favorite of mine. It was passed down from a far-out cousin in California and I couldn’t wait to pair it with that horrible skirt. That same cousin had gifted me with a wild Hawaiian shirt, which I thought looked quite wonderful with green plaid. (Never been a fashion guru.)

My sister Therese took it as personal style challenge and never wore the same ensemble twice during the school year. Although,  I think her variations may have included scarves and the pairing of sweaters and blouses.

Maybe it was this experience that brought me to the bit of style rabble-rousing I exhibited at the La Crosse Tribune. I was probably the first employee to occasionally wear jeans to work before we ever sponsored a Jeans Day.

At first, I would say I was going to tour a construction site and I couldn’t do that in dress pants. Or, I was going to go on a garden interview and you don’t do that in a skirt. Or, I was interviewing a musician and I should dress the way my interview subject was dressed.  Pretty soon, I wasn’t even explaining it and by the time I retired I was wearing jeans every day.

But one thing I can tell you for sure. None of those jeans had pleats.


As the trump turns

When I was in college, I got hooked on “All My Children.” How many men would Erica Kane marry? How many marriages would she destroy? How many times would characters come back from the dead, or at least from the other side of the world?

It’s been decades since I watched a soap opera. And I’d say that’s because there are hardly any of them left on television. But just when I was about to settle for game shows and talk shows, along came 24-hour news shows. And now it’s become “All My Politics.”

How many lies will Donald Trump tell? How many dictators will he fall in love with? How many foreign leaders will he betray and unfriend?

When I covered news for a living I rarely watched televised news. Why would I want to question people all day long and then go home and turn on the TV to see people being questioned? It just didn’t interest me.

But in retirement, I’ve become hooked on MSNBC. If you watch it all day long, as I sometimes do in the winter, you see the same guests on panel after panel being quizzed by host after host.

Poor Jeremy Bash. When does he get a chance to eat a meal or throw in a load of laundry? I can do both while I watch this former chief of staff for the CIA and DOD pontificate on the many sins of Donald Trump.

And if I’m to believe counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance, the world is on the brink of destruction daily. It makes it hard to enjoy munching on an ice cream bar as former CIA Chief John Brennan details all the ways in which Trump has turned himself into a Russian co-conspirator.

Never did I think I would know the names of so many cabinet members and ex-cabinet members. They seem to change out of the Trump administration more often than I change the sheets on my bed.

In the beginning, I burned with rage at all the horrible, immoral things perpetrated by Trump. Now, I’m just exhausted by watching this 6-year-old in an old man’s body insult foreign dignitaries, deny climate change, pretend to be pro-life, and expound on his own faux greatness.

Please, Robert Mueller, release your report. Please, SDNY, get him for tax evasion. Most of all, please Nancy Pelosi, just impeach him. I want to go back to watching game shows.





Crime and punishment

Part of being a good parent is preparing your child to be a good adult.

You teach your kids not to lie, not to steal, not to cheat, not to bully.

Donald Trump’s parents apparently skipped all those lessons.

Most of all, they never taught him how to say, “I’m sorry.”

Not only does he not know how to say it, he doesn’t know how to feel it.

It seems there has never been a time in his life when Trump has been able to admit to a wrongdoing, a mistake, an error. It is always someone else’s fault, someone else’s misstep, someone else’s job to take the blame.

But we’ve all seen the video timeline of his lies. Yes, let’s call them lies. Unlike the media that has tiptoed around his perfidy by calling it factual errors or misstatements, I am willing to call him out for what he is —  Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.

It was frustrating to hear the constant lies. It was infuriating to hear him call my profession “The Fake Media.” It was painful to see him cozy up to international bullies and killers.

But watching him punish government workers with a needless government shutdown is the last straw. He doesn’t care about the unjust pain he is inflicting simply because some FOX hack tells him he needs to keep fighting for the wall.

Trump needs to be taken to the woodshed and given a good political beating. I hope the Democrats, with the help of any decent Republican still holding office, will finally teach him what his parents never did.

It’s likely too late to hope for any decency out of this most indecent of presidents.  But maybe he can be forced to do the right thing when circumstances leave him with no other choice.

I hope that happens soon.