Paper: Cutting to the Chase

photo paper

Good luck explaining Rock Paper Scissors to a millennial

Big A* and his cohorts looked puzzled. On a recent visit, I asked if anyone could use a file cabinet. We had an extra and thought someone might be interested. “…What do you use it for, Mrs. T? … asked one of our guests politely. As I started to explain that we keep files of all our important papers in it, I suddenly realized by their blank stares, that they had no use for this large metal contraption placed before them; millennials keep no paper. If they hold on to it at all, they scan it, take a photo of it, save it to a computer file or onto a disk.

I think they are missing out on a whole tactile experience. Technology has robbed them of such memorable experiences. There is always the excitement of choosing just the right notebook, then writing on the very first page. I’m never sure which I enjoy most; tearing open a letter that I’ve received or taking the time to send one. I can still remember how important I felt each time I would send my new European pen pal a letter on that special tissue like paper with the envelope that read “Airmail” in red and blue letters.

My prize collection of those free, small give away calendars at the Hallmark stores dates back to my teen years. Mention a year, any year and I can tell you exactly what I did each day. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent making paper airplanes or those folded puzzles that, when placed on your fingers, would tell your fortune (solely based on what you had just written on the corners). Remembering how I would while away the hours with my father and grandfather playing Hangman and Tic-tac-toe always makes me smile.

Just for fun, ask a millennial where their local library is and they will look at you quizzically. They do not know the giddiness felt when the bestselling book you are dying to read is sitting right on the shelf where it should be. Or, the feel of the book, with its shiny cover and crisp pages, as you open it to start reading, and the regret, as you finish the last page and reread the book jacket a few times, not willing to say goodbye to the characters as yet. Watching Mr. Wiz* take such pride in lining up his books from a favorite author in chronological order on our bookshelves makes me wonder if we will ever trade in our library cards for the somewhat sterile reality of online books.

Millennials are busy people. With no bookshelves to dust, no worries about running out of checks or whether they have the right wrapping paper for the occasion, they can rest on their laurels, work hard, play even harder and let their laptops do the labor. Unlike them, we may have to Band-Aid a few paper cuts once in a while, but that’s a small price to pay for the pleasure that only paper can bring.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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The Bounty Hunter of Bad Customer Service

photo customer service

Around these parts, and to family and friends, I am known as “The Bounty Hunter of Bad Customer Service”. Just as a dog will not let go of his bone (come to think of it, I also have trouble releasing a half-eaten prime rib bone), I will chase you down with all that I’ve got.

It all started back when JC* was moving into a senior residence in Chicago. Many Excel spread sheets and visits later, we had chosen what we thought to be the best of the best, but things began to down spiral quickly. Unanticipated stress replaced excitement when I had to step in and take over for the moving coordinator, who seemed to lack any training in long distance moves. The lovely gesture of a sign on the apartment front door would have been much appreciated if it hadn’t read “Welcome Home, Gloria.” Worst of all, JC did not receive an invitation to the new resident birthday surf and turf luncheon. That snub was the final straw.

I did some research and found out that this senior residence was in negotiations to link their services with the hospital that I was working for. I called and made an appointment with both the director and customer service coordinator to discuss my mom’s disappointment. Dressed for success, I carried a brief case with the hospital name on it; a handy prop.

I was angry, but decided that the best approach would be to tug at their heart strings. I presented my case; I had faith in them, put my mom in their hands and their incompetence resulted in her feeling abandoned. I was prepared when they asked how they could repair the damage done. How about three limo rides at no charge (the residence had a limo available for hire) and dinner for four (mom and family) during lobster month at The Palm Restaurant? I produced a letter that I would email to them; all they had to do was copy and paste it onto their stationery.

At that point, I unleashed my secret weapon; I stopped talking, tilted my head slightly to one side and just looked at them; no amount of words can replace the discomfort of stone-cold silence. The letter was delivered to JC later that day. She did enjoy her new home for a while, until she called a family meeting, announced that the residents were too old and moved to a nearby condo.

Since then, with a combination of tenacity, a genteel manner, meticulous research and the silent treatment, I have been able to:

  • Enlist the help of the Department of Consumer Services in Chicago to track down a dead- beat contractor and obtain $12,000 in restitution.
  • Work with the University of Houston Law Center and receive free assistance in order to convince a corporation that payment in full for a storage locker was in their best interest due to an incorrect apartment floor plan.
  • Travel free with my family on the AVE, the high-speed train, from Barcelona to Madrid, Spain when our credit card concierge forgot to email the tickets to our hotel.
  • Convince the airlines why the receipts for the contents of my lost luggage were no longer available and shop for replacement belongings with the $500 they offered.
  • Enjoy a complimentary breakfast, lunch, dinner or hotel stay when the initial experience was not up to par.

Sometimes it’s important to take a stand. With a little effort, the frustration and disappointment you experienced can be resolved to your benefit. I can still see the smile on JC’s face when they tied on her lobster bib and when she told me to look out my window, then stood up and waved out the top of the limo as it cruised down Lake Shore Drive.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Lost in Culinary Crazes

photo food trends

Pasta caricatures of your dinner guests; out before it was ever in. 

“…Is there anything you don’t eat?..” That’s the question I always ask any first-time guests to my home. “…Well…,” she texted back…“I’m paleo, gluten-free, vegan, pesca-centric, tropical, raw, keto and equatorial…” I stood there, dumbfounded, when I received a second text from her. “…Only kidding, Sunshine, I eat everything!..”

My jokester friend made me realize something. When was it that I began to lose control of my culinary smarts? I always prided myself as a foodie, able to converse on all the cutting-edge trends, but lately, it seems as if I can’t keep up.

All along, I thought SCOBY was a cartoon character. The rubbery, brown amoeba like creature with bulging eyes and a mischievous grin would dart in and out of adventures in his homeland of Kombucha. Leave it to some millennials on line at Starbucks who took pity on me and explained that SCOBY is an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” which forms on top of kombucha tea, a fermented drink made of tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Known for its health benefits, it’s been around for thousands of years. It’s rich in probiotics and is said to actually fight off some diseases.

I was caught off guard when I called for a reservation at a favorite restaurant and was told they were closed for a special sold out event. Their guests would be introduced to dark dining. All around the world restaurants are turning off their lights in the hopes that the removal of vision will enhance the other senses and increase gastronomic pleasure. At the end of the evening, night goggles off, I wonder if the waiters share stories of customers accidently eating off a neighbor’s plate, bending down to pick up a fallen napkin and realizing it’s not their lap they’ve placed it back on and navigating those crazy restroom runs.

Leave it to New Jersey to conjure up a union between unicorns and bagels. Purists everywhere are dumbfounded by The Bagel Nook’s introduction of the unicorn bagel, a blue, yellow and pink colored bagel served with cotton candy cream cheese, then dusted with unicorn sparkle dust. Speaking as a Texas resident, I shudder to think what the introduction of anything unicorn like might be in the Lone Star State. Picture thick porterhouse steaks sizzling on a large barbecue grill as flames shoot into the air. A Willie Nelson song plays softly in the background, cold beers have been passed around and it’s the kind of day to put your feet up (cowboy boots on) and relax. Are you going to be the one to suggest a sprinkle of unicorn sparkle dust on the rare hunks of beef? I rest my case.

Any way you slice it, food trends will always keep thrusting themselves into the limelight, hoping at the very least, for their 15 minutes of fame until they fade away. The Jell-O salad jiggled its way onto everyone’s table until sneaky cooks started hiding yesterday’s leftovers in it. Fondue warmed our hearts until double dippers gave us concern for germs. All we can do is open our mouths, bite the bullet and swallow hard; soon we’ll be on to yet another version of good taste.

Plug Me In  

Photo Plug Me In

One thing led to another and now I am the proud owner of multiple devices that need to be plugged in, as part of my daily beauty regimen.

It all began quite innocently. Times were changing and the big move from a bubble hairdryer to a blow dryer seemed the right thing to do. The electric toothbrush was all my dentist’s idea. The Waterpik would water floss my teeth to better health, so said the dental hygienist. The ex-foliation brush was prompted by my esthetician; who doesn’t want their skin rejuvenated?

I’m sure that Mr. Wiz* can hear the strange sounds coming from behind the closed bathroom door; the hums, whirrs, buzzes and the occasional ear piercing shrills when two or more warning alarms signal that their units need recharging. Though he never comments, he does sometimes appear wide-eyed as he asks me if I am all right. And while I’m happy with my little gadgets oscillating and vibrating away, I’m sure that there are new products that are reminiscent of a day spa in space.

Imagine that your smart refrigerator takes one look at you via its touch screen and alerts your iPhone to call and make an emergency appointment with your hairdresser and cosmetologist. Sensing this would make an ideal date night, Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant that is now a member of your household, calls your husband and your favorite restaurant to schedule a reservation. When his car’s GPS notices that your husband is driving to a local florist, it contacts Siri, who intervenes to assure him that an important event has not been forgotten and flowers are not necessary.

You might as well utilize your facial mask complete with LED light therapy and thermotherapy (hot and cold settings) and your skin toning device that helps tone and firm body skin and contour the body using metal spheres to channel electric waves through the skin. You have an extra few minutes so you decide to do a quick scan, place your iPhone on your forehead and analyze your skin’s hydration, pore size and formation of fine lines.

While some of these devices are directly from Allure magazine’s beauty technology update and some are directly from my imagination, you get the point. If we let ourselves, we will become obsessed with every bell and whistle that hits the market.

And naively, all I was going to hint for was the gift that keeps on giving; a small generator so I should never experience life without my four little gadgets when all-around me, alien contraptions are infiltrating our world and stimulating our body and our economy.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 When You Just Gut to Rehab

Photo Gut to Rehab

Our elderly neighbors ran up to us and hugged us tightly. “…We heard you are moving north and we hate to see you go. Are you heading to Minnesota? …” “… No…” I said “…Just to the north side of the building…”

Back then, it was a win-win situation. Mr. Wiz* was eager to renovate and Big A* and I didn’t want to move, so we compromised. We moved three times in the same Chicago condominium building, buying and renovating units that were in their original condition.

There’s a price you pay for the privilege of transformation:

– A deep, intimate and complicated relationship with your contractor that, for the moment, takes precedence overall else. He is your lifeline to the construction-free world that you long for. You hunger for his voice, delight in his every word, sulk when he forgets to return your calls and look forward to his visits with unbridled anticipation.

– Those sleepless nights, as you review your decisions over and over again. Did I hear the salesman say, under his breath that it was just a representative sample? Do I really want my appliances to look like NASA space modules, communicate with my smartphone and plan my meals without me? Is brown the new black or is black the new brown?

– We came up with a sophisticated privacy system to counter the lack of doors (yelling “…Don’t come in! …” seemed to work), took turns vacuuming the paper protecting the wood floors (which also served as a means of communication) and washed dishes in the bathtub (still not sure why the new sink had backed up).

Even though we felt as if we had done our homework, we came up with some useful ideas that seemed to be missing from the how to books:

– Designate one person in your household to handle all communications with your contractor. This will eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

– When working on drawing up a contract, offer as much detail as you can. We prepared spreadsheets by room with the headings entitled “Demo, Construct, Electric and Cabinet and Fixtures.” Names and model numbers of any items to be purchased were also included.

– Remember that if you veer off the signed contract in any way, a change order must be written and signed by both parties.

– Affix sticky notes directly to any areas that are still in need of completion. This will bring attention to the work that is still outstanding and get it done in a timely manner.

Each time the work was completed and I had found just the right spot for my most cherished possessions, I couldn’t imagine packing them up and moving. But, pack, unpack and relocate them again we have through the years.

It’s that rush of excitement that comes with the visual culmination of all your plans and design ideas created into something new that never gets old. Funny how, at that moment, any unpleasantness is never recalled.

For those of us that can see the light at the end of those dust bunny filled tunnels, we’ll continue to move through life glancing affectionately at the Home Depot circulars, drawing up design ideas on cocktail napkins and searching for the next place to hang our hat.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

The Interview

Photo The Interview

One last chance to check for a trace
Of breakfast crumbs on your face

Remember to exude confidence
Be yourself; don’t get tense

It’s stiffer competition than I’d bargained for
I don’t think I can take much more

My pulse is racing, my hands are clammy
What must it be like for the interviewee?

My panic is soothed by a warm embrace
And the smile on my 4-year old son’s face

“…The snack was good, the playground is great
There’s a water table and a hamster named Kate…”

Relieved and exhausted, I’ve just made it through
His first kindergarten, private school interview

 

Up early and dressed for success, it’s another busy day. There’s an early morning Spanish class and a late afternoon tennis lesson. When is the piano recital? Who is your lunch date with? Will there be time for a nap? Without an iPhone, it’s hard for you to keep track, but then again, you cannot read or write yet. Thank goodness that you are able to maintain your stress levels by humming a few bars of your favorite Mozart concerto (fresh in your mind after hearing it repeatedly while still in the womb). Welcome to the life of a preschooler.

Baby boomers may have been partly responsible for originating this phenomenon. Known for their competitive and goal-centric nature, they left nothing to chance and methodically plotted out their children’s lives. As with any faction, there are always varying levels of methodology, from those that implemented a more natural and laid-back approach to those that put the “hell” in helicopter parents (a term for parents that aggressively hover over every aspect of their child’s life).

And from those seeds that were planted and meticulously tended to, the millennial was created. Born between 1980 and 2000, they are also known as the Me Generation. They have an air of confidence about them and are sometimes blamed for being a bit too self-absorbed. Given the fact that they are the first generation to have so much technology at their fingertips, they are not entirely to blame. According to Forbes Magazine“…No generation has been as publicly reviled, praised, misunderstood and analyzed as the millennials. And, with good reason. By 2025, millennials will make up the majority of the workforce…”

We’ve created a generation that works hard, plays hard and is a powerful force to reckon with. Sure, maybe our tactics may have been a bit over the top, but by the time our preschoolers hit the college campus, they learned to tolerate our unrelenting attentiveness to every aspect of their lives. And, if they could tackle that, they could handle anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Two Seniors

 

Photo My 2 Seniors

This is how I remember it happening. It was a Friday night and I couldn’t stop pacing the room. Big A* had just left me a phone message that we might be receiving a call from his Jesuit high school to report that some students were moshing at tonight’s dance. As I hurried to look up the definition of moshing (a style of dance which involves pushing or slamming into each other), JC* called to tell me she had a blind date. I quickly gave her a rundown of safety tips, but she was more interested in what dress I thought she should wear and said she would check in later.

Back when Big A was still in high school and JC was moving to Chicago to be nearer to us, their lives seemed to collide in a parallel universe for a few short months. Contrary to popular opinion, high school seniors and senior citizens seem to have more in common than most people think.

Though one goes to bed too late and one gets up too early, their main goal in life is socialization. Having completed intense research in order to track their activities during the course of one week, I discovered that these two, party animals remained neck in neck for number of hours of communal involvement.

More in-depth investigation uncovered interesting findings. While playing rugby, Big A and his teammates would scrum, which involved players packing closely together with their heads down in an attempt to gain possession of the ball. This was not too far off from a similar strategy of a group of senior women in their attempt to gain possession of 50 percent off sale items during an outlet mall visit.

Another rugby analogy presented itself in the form of the traditional sharing of food at the end of each game. The host team would stand to the side and invite the visiting team to serve themselves first, then the ravenous players would all attack the table. Again, not too distant from the sight of a group of early bird diners and an all-you-can-eat salad bar. I rest my case.

We shopped for two microwaves and settled both into their new digs; a dorm room and a senior community (which, soon gave way to a condo when JC announced that her new neighbors were too old). In my attempt to seek out some sort of a generation gap, all I actually found were grandmother and grandson shopping together at Gap Inc.

Much time has gone by, but these two still share a special bond. I can rest assured that when I am out of town, they will take care of each other, which they did recently when they enjoyed cocktails and dinner at one of the new, hot spot restaurants and took in a Gypsy Kings concert.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.