Sometimes You Just Need a Lion on Your Side…….

I called the hospital today. Well, more accurately, I called the hospital billing department. The billing department is no longer in the hospital. The hospital is in Pennsylvania, where I live, and where my loved ones go to the hospital when they have a problem, medically.

The billing department is in Tennessee, where nobody, who goes to my hospital, lives or goes to if they have a problem medically or otherwise. Okay, maybe that ‘s not true, maybe some people go to Tennessee if they have a problem with say, country music, and want to see if it’s them or the music.

By putting the ‘billing department’ in Tennessee, it prevents all of us in Pennsylvania from actually going to the billing department to talk about a problem. That way no one has to discuss these problems face-to-face. So much easier, said no one, ever.

I called Tennessee today, and although the gentlemen was very nice, the problem was apparently unsolvable.

“I want to know if this bill, which started out at $4500 and is now magically down to $500 has been paid? ” I queried, for the third time in three months.

“Well, ma’am let me see. Now before I answer that question, even though you’ve given me the account number, can you give me the address on the bill, the date of birth of the patient, the date of the bill, the services rendered, the patient’s blood type and the name of their cat?” he asked ever so politely.

Okay, he didn’t ask for the blood type or the cat, but why not? My question is, why in heaven’s name do you put an account number on the bill if it means absolutely nothing in terms of information? Do you make more money by keeping me on the phone? Are you tracing the call just to make sure I’m not in Tennessee, but that I stayed in Pennsylvania where I belong?

We do-si-do all around the information, until we’re both exhausted and wish we had taken more square-dancing lessons, and finally, he says:

“Please ignore that bill ma’am the insurance company has agreed to review it.”

“Okay, but I have an estate to settle, so can I assume that the bill will be no more than the $500 you currently are requesting?”

“No, you cannot.”

Here’s where I want to find a cat, maybe a tiger or a lion, and release it into the wilds of Tennessee with the scent of this insurance company on its nose like a barrel of catnip.

“Um……….why would that be?”

“Well, what if the insurance company decides to take back all the payments they already made? Then the bill would be more.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked, “Medicare paid this over a year ago and this has been your fault for not properly submitting the balance to the other Medigap insurance carrier.”

“Well,” he replied, “we don’t know what they will do.”

‘Cause you don’t know what you’re doing……that’s really what I wanted to say.

But since he told me to ignore the bill, I’m gonna’ do just that. Probably forever.

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016



Prequel, Shmequel…just stick to the publication date……..

Sometimes I think we forget how the generation above us made a sensible life for themselves.  We fail to give our moms and dads credit for having figured out how to well…figure it out. Life has always been complicated, the addition of technology as not only a tool, but our new best friend is  making it worse. And yes, this flummoxes people like my 88-year-old Mom. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t do the same to us too.

I was trying to explain the concept of a pre-quel to my mom the other day.  My mom and sister and I have become rabid fans of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. There are like 20 of them and I’m happy to read them in whatever order the books come into my life. Some I get from the library, some I get from my friends, and I read whichever ones I haven’t read yet. And then I pass them on to my mom and my sister.

The one thing that was bugging all of us is that all of a sudden (Spoiler Alert, but probably not really if you’re a fan) is that everyone was talking to Jack about how sorry they were because his brother died. What? When did that happen? He was just alive two books ago. And how did he die? Nobody (at least not the characters) is talking.

So my mom and sister decided  to put an end to this. They are both Virgos. They cannot abide this frivolous lack of organization. My sister finally put her foot down.  We are going to look in the newest book we have, get a list of all the titles and start from the beginning.

Okay, fine.

Turns out not one of us ever read the very first book by Lee Child with Jack Reacher as his main character, the Killing Floor.  That’s where his brother, Joe Reacher dies.

Now my mom is confused, outraged and refuses to accept this.

“I ‘ve read dozens of these books, so far,” she said, “and the brother is alive in some of them. This doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well,” I told her, “perhaps the author wanted to go back in time with Jack’s life and talk about  where he came from, his mom and his brother and their life together. So he had to create a pre-quel.”

That seemed to be the end of the conversation, until a few days later when we were going shopping.

“I need you to give that book, “The Killing Floor” back to me, ” she said.

“Okay, but I’m reading it. Can it wait?”

“Well, okay, but I wrote down the publication date as 1997, and I just want to see if that’s right because I’ve gone through all the Jack Reacher books I have at home and none of them are before 1997. I just don’t understand it. I must’ve written it down incorrectly.”

“What are you talking about, Mom?”

“It just can’t be right that that book was written in 1997 because his mother and brother are dead and they are alive in other books.”

Now, here’s the thing. Do not try and use Star Wars as an example of a pre-quel to your 88-year-old mother. I tried. She’s never seen any Star-Wars-anything.  Princess Leia sounds naughty, Yoda sounds like exercise and Obewon Kenobe sounds like sushi, all of which she detests.

Since pre-quels didn’t seem to exist before  Star Wars, well, you’re just going to have to figure it out.

I’m not finished The Killing Floor yet, but I’m thinking about ripping out the copyright page and dummying up one that says 2016. For my mom, for my sanity, for senior citizens book clubs everywhere, and for all readers born before 1983.

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016


A-rears or Ass-inine?

Yesterday, I went to the Social Security Office unannounced. It was a big risk. You could be there 20 minutes or three hours. You never know. There was only one couple in the waiting room and one lady at the window talking to a representative. Jackpot!

My number was called in less than five minutes. Clearly, the gods were on my side.

I was in the Social Security Office to check on the missing checks that were to be sent to the children of my brother-in-law. See, there ‘s a rule in Social Security. If a bank receives a check after a recipient has died, the bank must return that check to Social Security.

Now this might make sense to you. However, what you need to know is that Social Security pays in arrears.

What that means is that if  you die in October, and you receive a check in October, you are being paid for September. So that’s still your check, alive or dead. You lived all of September. You get paid for September. Admittedly, if you don’t tell Social Security that you died ( well, okay if someone else doesn’t tell them that you died), and those checks continue to go into your bank account they should be returned to Social Security.

But here’s the rub. Almost every funeral home alerts Social Security that  you’ve died and the whopping $255 death benefit will be sent to the beneficiary. It’s a nice favor that funeral homes do.

And yet, 99 times out of 100 that monthly check that the bank returned to Social Security does indeed belong to the deceased. And it would naturally flow to the estate of the deceased and dealt with accordingly. The bank can’t help it. The bank is required by law to send that check back as soon as they are notified that someone has died.

But because of this stupid rule, I had to go to the Social Security Office, get the proper form and submit the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of the children of the deceased.

And I did that….on March 27, 2016.

By August 27, 2016. five months later, the beneficiaries contacted me to tell me they had not received their checks. Which I was grateful for, since I have no way of knowing if Social Security did their job or not.

So I went to the Social Security Office after Labor Day and asked the representative if she thought it was weird that we hadn’t heard anything, hadn’t received the checks and seemed to have fallen into the black hole of lost paperwork. Of course, I had a copy of everything I submitted. She admitted that was weird.

So she looked up the case from my paperwork and said: “Oh, that case was cleared August 29th.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

She just shook her head and shrugged her shoulders and said, “well, I would just wait another week to see if those checks are delivered. And don’t lose these copies.”

Yeah. I made those copies for just such an occasion, not because Social Security told me that would be a stellar idea.


Five months to correct a thing that never should be happening. Why is this even a thing? Who made up this stupid rule, costing deceased families time and money, costing banks time and money, and especially since Social Security knows they pay in arrears.

Imagine waiting five months in your office for someone to read a paper and take action. The checks came, my beneficiaries were happy and we all just shook our heads and shrugged our shoulders.

Think of these blogs as instructional, so you don’t lose your mind and please……

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski



Cool, Super, Groovy and……Tidy!

My husband and I went to an exhibit at the Chester County Historical Society of ‘ 60’s memorabilia. In the first 10 minutes, I realized, if I opened up our basement to the public, we would have a pretty sweet ’70’s and ’80’s exhibit.

My first takeaway was nostalgic. lots of toys, telephones, fashions, album covers, LIFE magazine covers, all harkening back to my childhood. After that, it got kind of ugly.

Race riots, Vietnam, Charles Manson, the 1968 DNC, Kent State, JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, all of it gut-wrenching reminders of a child’s take on unsettled times.

And then it occurred to me that as things change, they really do stay the same. Today’s climate seems so divisive, so harsh, so ugly and yet in my 1960’s mind, I remember the same discomfort watching the news or hearing grown-ups talk while silently holding my mother’s hand.

This didn’t really restore my faith in humanity, except to say that, well we are still here. So there’s that.

And then came the fun part. The music in the background, just begging for us to dance, clap and sing out loud. The crazy clothes that looked like they stepped out of Laugh-In. The same John Romaine pocketbook that my mom used every day. The Jetson’s toys, the Princess phones, the 45 records that came inside the National Geographic magazine, that you could tear out and put on your record player! Yes, kids there really was such a thing.

Apparently, where I grew up was a key player in the creation of the Space Program, all top secret, of course. John Glenn and the Mercury astronauts can thank Southeastern Pennsylvania for much of their successful program.  And Alan Sheperd, the first man in space can also thank us for his wife, Louise Brewer Sheperd who was from Kennett Square, PA! We were also a place where secret missiles were stashed during the Cold War. Yikes!

But my absolute favorite throw back a mere 50 years ago, was the instruction manual “How to be a Super Secretary!”

Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Hide your light under a bushel. Don’t take credit for any ideas you may have. Give them to your boss. If your boss does well, you move up with him. And even give  your good ideas to other men. Your reputation as a good secretary will get you where you want to go.
  2. No matter how much you ask, your boss will never tell you what your failings are. Bosses are always nice people and just can’t tell you bad things about your performance. So it’s up to you to scrutinize your work.

    She didn't get the memo to be tidy and happy.
    She didn’t get the memo to be tidy and happy.
  3. Keep your voice beautiful over the phone!
  4. Your office space is your kitchen! Keep it as tidy and clean as you would at home.
  5. Don’t be too smart, it’s overbearing.
  6. Never have a bad attitude. Keep that at home. Nobody wants to see that in the office. You always need to be pleasant and happy.

There were many more suggestions. It was a whole book kindly supplied by Remington typewriters! In the back of the book was a score sheet. You, or your boss, I’m not sure who, was supposed to rate you on a scale of 1 to 10 on all of these facets of your secretarial personality. Probably you had to do it because you know, your boss would never tell you if you were deficient.

I always thought I was born in the wrong decade. I love the clothes and movies and romantic times of the ’40’s and ’50’s. Now I’m not so sure. If my personality ( and affinity for an Oscar Madison lifestyle)  stayed just as it is today, I would be getting fired every other week.

Thank God, I work for a woman boss (myself). I tell her how great I am all the time. She, on the other hand, has no problem pointing out my deficiencies, on a daily basis.

Thank God for change…..otherwise, how could we ever be smart enough … (and yes, I know things are sadly still the same…..)

“You Just have to Laugh………..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016



Call Me, Maybe…..for Quality Assurance

My Publisher  Extraordinaire campaigns for everyone to just ‘Be Nice.’ I would like to take her advice and suggest we start with our Veterans and their families.

Last week the Veteran’s Administration hung up on me. Granted, I wasn’t giving the guy what he wanted….but he HUNG UP ON ME….AT THE VETERAN’S ADMINISTRATION.

Those of you kind readers who follow my blog, know that I have been in a kerfuffle with the VA since January when they unceremoniously stopped my 87-year-old mother’s health insurance. They discovered a mistake they made 15 years ago, by putting her on the wrong insurance. So they just cancelled her policy. They didn’t bother to fix their mistake. They didn’t  bother to put her on the correct insurance. They didn’t even bother to tell her that they cancelled her insurance.

So, as I told you in the past, my Congressman Representative Ryan Costello (R-PA) (well actually his amazing administrator, Lisa Reynolds) helped me quickly and efficiently fix the problem. If you’re having problems with the VA or any other governmental agency, I

Your current Congress might be more helpful.
Your current Congress might be more helpful.

highly recommend you ask your Congress person to help you. Really. Don’t waste too much time trying to fix it yourself. You will be quite surprised and, hopefully, happy that  your Representative or Senator has staff who are there to help you. Try it. That’s what we pay them for, to work for us.

All that being said…..please VA don’t hang up on us. Even if you don’t like what we are saying, don’t engage in the rudest form of behavior.

I wasn’t yelling, complaining or even causing trouble. I just wanted to refrain from filing additional paperwork with the VA, if they didn’t need it, thereby making everyone’s life easier.

This is what went down:

“Hello, this is Bob from the VA, we are returning your call as requested.”

“Hi, Bob, I was calling for my Mom who has a complicated case that goes back 15 years.”

“Well,” said Bob. ” what do you want me to do? Look at 15 years of claims?”

“No, Bob,” I replied, “I just want to look at one provider, if you can search by that to see if you have already processed that claim,  I won’t resubmit it.”

“Okay,” replied Bob with a bit of exasperation, “What’s your address?”

“Do you mean my Mom’s address? Because she is the insured.”

“No,” replied Bob, getting a bit testy, “I want your address.”

“Well see Bob, that has caused problems before, because my Mom and I don’t live together and………….”

He said: “When you’re ready to give me your address, you can call back.”  And he hung up the phone.

I tried to call back, but there was a 13 minute wait time which is standard procedure when you call the VA.  Which is why Bob was returning my call in the first place, three days later.

Then I just thought, okay. I tried to help. I’m just gonna’ file this and make you do the work twice. And I may begin to implement my new practice where everyone I call for this kind of business I say before the representative can help me:

“This call is being recorded for quality assurance.”

I’ve tried it a few times. It brings silence and confusion. But no one has been rude or hung up on me since then. I say we all try it…….you know, for Veteran’s sake!

“You just have to Laugh…….”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

On the way to Cape May……….

This is a little naughty—ish ditty Story Slam I did this week… can think about it on the way to your vacation at the beach. It just may help. I don’t know, it helped me!



You just have to Laugh…………..


Hot Sausage and Mustard………………

At a lovely dinner last night, my brother-in-law was telling me about his aunt who was required to go to assisted living this week. She was not happy to leave her home of 70 years, but was accepting that she needed help. The first thing my brother-in-law said when I asked him about the facility is: “Well, the food is good!”

This is ground-breaking. This should be their premiere and perhaps only marketing tool. They would have a waiting list for years.

Why does food in practically every institution have to be abominable?  I have been witness to or eater of food at 10 facilities or more….nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and not one of them had consistently  good food. Sure, there was an occasional meal that was pretty darn good. One place I would go to had the best BLT’s I’ve ever had. But one cannot live on a great BLT.

My occasional unscientific survey of dining halls went something like this:

“So how do you like it here?”

“The food stinks.”

What you won't get in a nursing home
What you won’t get in a nursing home

If you can serve decent food at a banquet or a wedding, you can do it in a facility. Stop making this the first place to cut corners. Especially when these are the last years of your loved one’s life. For heaven’s sake, you all know how important food is.  It’s memories. It’s comfort. It’s a tiny bit of joy in your day.

Make it better. Maybe make it less. How much food waste is going on?  There is usually too much on their plate, anyway. How did humungous American portions become the definition of ‘good food’, especially in a senior center?

More is not more. Less is more. If less is more….that is, if less food is higher quality food, let’s try that.

There’s a reason Oliver sang a whole song about  “Food, glorious food……..”

If they want more pudding, give it to them, damn it. But make it the good stuff!””

“You Just have to Laugh……….”

© 2016 Cathy Sikorski


Flawless French…n’est-ce pas?

What trip isn’t full of unexpected surprises?  What could be more boring than a flawless trip?

I convinced my brother to take me with him to the International Surf Film Festival in Anglet, France. It cost us a fortune. But once we put this boondoggle in motion, we couldn’t seem to stop the train.

Airfare was cheap the week before we left and cheap the week after we needed to be there. We threw caution to the wind, threw more money at the problem and eventually came home First Class! What the hell, if you’re going to break the bank, you might as well fly in style.

We landed in Spain and asked the taxi driver to take us to the train station so we could get  a cheap bus to Biarritz in France. He thought we asked him to take us to the train station in Biarritz….and this conversation was in English. When we realized our mutual mistake we just said take us to our hotel. It was a 60 Euro mistake.

Every single cab ride after that…where we went less than 3 miles cost us 25 Euro in France. We quickly learned how to take the bus for 1 Euro and returned to Spain on the bus for 7 Euro. Truly that was the kindness of the French people who taught theses crazy Americans how to save money.

Our biggest problem happened when my brother had to be at a filmmaker’s meeting at 3:00. We made it to the venue just on time. But nobody knew where Bruno, our contact was. My brother called Bruno, who told us we had to be at the lighthouse. We could see the lighthouse in the distance. We knew this would be another 25 Euro cab ride if we could get someone to call us a cab. See in these beach resort towns, there are no cabs. The only way to get one is to call…..and speak French. I’ve been practicing my French for years, and eventually, I did call…and they asked me to speak English. We managed to get to the lighthouse after realizing that the French for lighthouse is not “maison lumiere” but “phare,” which was on the map, thank God, because how the hell would we know that word?


At the phare, we still couldn’t find Bruno. I’d like to say we found cotton candy, cool rides and funnel cake, but it was just a phare.  My brother called Bruno again, and he said:

“Non, I said ze white house!” in a French accent, which is where communication broke down.

Of course, Bruno doesn’t know what a lighthouse is……it’s a phare, to him. By the way, we were standing in front of the white house when we called Bruno the first time. Seventy-five Euro later, we were too late for the meeting.

Everything else was perfect. The weather, watching a film festival on the beach in France, the surfing for aficionados like my brother, the food, the shopping, the wonderful,

French Surfing!
French Surfing!

wonderful French people.

Only two more things were unforgettable:

My brother is a vegetarian. It was a bit of a challenge to find anything without meat or seafood. But we managed and restauranteurs did their best to help us. So in a bold move, on our last night there, when the owner of the restaurant tried to make something for my brother to eat, we wanted to thank him for his kindness.

I said: ‘Mon frere adore tous les voitures francais! Il est magnifiques!

I wanted to say: “My brother adores all the French food. It is magnificent.”

If you speak French you know I said: “My brother adores all the French automobiles. They are magnificent!

Beautiful Spanish hotel with a bidet!
Beautiful Spanish hotel with a bidet!

And in Spain…… I dropped my toothbrush in the bidet.

“You Just have to Laugh….”

©CathySikorski 2016