ever have one of those years?

I know the year’s not done, but in the words of the reigning Queen Elizabeth, thus far mine’s been an “annus horribilis.” I’m not complaining, well maybe a tad. It’s more that I’m amazed at being blindsided by events over which I’ve had no control. I’m sure I speak for every one of us.

For me the chain of events began in late Fall when my daughter returned home for health reasons. As her mom I naturally felt the time with us was not just about physical healing. I knew it included emotional, spiritual and mental care as well. Her inner wellness was just as crucial as her external wellness. That for me meant making the journey with her. I felt her lows, and I reveled in her ascents back to normalcy. But it was a roller coaster ride for sure. And while I made certain that she had all kinds of support, I thought I could go it alone. Of course I reached out to my husband and friends, but moms tend to take on more than they can sustain. I didn’t know I had, until my daughter left.

Illness came calling almost as soon as our daughter boarded her flight home. I was laid up for weeks battling digestive, as well as respiratory ailments. At the time my husband was away on a business trip. Not being able to get out of the house for stretches at a time, my spirits were stretched thin, very thin. Not getting to exercise class regularly didn’t help.

Deciding to have physical therapy for chronic upper back, shoulder and neck pain once I felt well enough, got the endorphins moving. The sun seemed to be smiling down upon me once again as I got outdoors, breathing deeply of fresh air and renewed hope for better days ahead. Of course Christmas needed to go back into plastic, storage bins, but I hadn’t the strength yet for that monstrous chore. It would have to wait until I returned from our trip to see our daughter perform. But I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me 3,000 miles away.

Almost from the get-go, our family was engulfed in a discussion of differing opinions. Any mother of a young adult knows we must tread lightly with our opinions. Yes, I want her to know how I feel, but I don’t want to live her life. At 61, I don’t want to live mine, AND hers. Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again. Besides, she’s very capable of living her own life. But it’s very difficult not wanting to share my decades of experience, in the hopes that she won’t make my mistakes. Needless to say our family endured a few days of tip-toeing around one another. In the midst of it all, my husband left on another business trip. And he’s usually the neutral party. After a day or so, and much discussion, my daughter and I resumed our loving, BFF status.

Throughout the ordeal, the flu was brewing in my daughter’s gut. She danced sick, endured our brouhaha, and finally succumbed. The weekend after her performance I took her to the ER with a migraine headache that included dizziness, nausea, and mild vomiting. We sat in the lobby with many, other sick people waiting our turn to be seen, first by the insurance clerk and then the nurse, and then the doctor. Our visit began at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, and didn’t end until 11 p.m. that night. The best part for my daughter was the last hour-and-a-half, when she slept like a baby because of the Benadryl she was getting intravenously. At that point, I was so light-headed, not having eaten since breakfast. Once I told the nurse about my hunger, she and the doctor wrapped things up pretty quickly. Once we got home, my daughter fell into bed, immediately dozing off again. I proceeded to raid the icebox. I know, my age is showing, but “icebox” somehow seems more apropos than “refrigerator.” Maybe because it makes me feel like a kid again, when MY mom did the worrying.

With my daughter sleeping in the next morning, I felt life was finally back on track, so I sat down to blog on my laptop at her dining table. Mindlessly writing, enjoying the moment, I surfed the internet for a picture to add to my post. As soon as I clicked on a photo of a picturesque beach on Maui, all Hell seemed to break loose. Those words blinking incessantly before me “virus, virus, virus’ will forever be emblazoned on my brain. Waking my daughter, together we wend our way through Hell, and back. Trying to buy a pop-up anti-virus security product, “system tool,” only got us more viruses. In fact, the laptop screen went entirely red with “VIRUS” glaring at us in huge, black letters. Using my daughter’s computer we sought online help. We found Tech Pros whose opening page warned of “system tool” being a scam. A half-hour’s drive away, we left my poor, inundated laptop in the hands of the experts..

At a cost of $199 plus tax, my good-as-new laptop was back home with me a couple of days later.  It’s actually better than before. Tech Pros installed a security system, in addition to zapping all those yucky viruses, “dead as door nails.” (Where’d that expression come from, I wonder?) Talk about bed-bugs, I really felt like the viruses had crawled into bed with me. As we used to say growing up on Maui as kids, those viruses gave me the “heegie-beegies!” The correct saying, according to my daughter, is “heebie-geebies.” Whichever it is, it’s exactly how I felt.

Oh, and then there was the matter of cancelling the credit cards we’d used to try to purchase “system tool,” whose sole purpose was probably to steal our information. My daughter’s Visa was replaced in a day or so at a rushed shipping cost of $16. My Master Card arrived the following day at no extra charge to me, except that the UPS driver left the envelope on the wrong doorstep. I learned of their error after I arrived home last night. While I was still at my daughter’s trying to track down my new credit card, I ended up having to cancel it, and have another new one sent to my home address. 

As if we’d not had enough I got hit with “the bug,” or so we thought. I started feeling the nausea my daughter had experienced. We thought it might be the flu. Would those viruses ever leave us be? As it turns out, we decided I was probably experiencing gastritis or the beginnings of an ulcer. Over the past few months, heart burn symptoms have returned time and again. Getting on a regimen of Prilosec and Tums as needed, as well as a diet of whole grains, steamed veggies and selected fruits seems to have calmed my digestive system down considerably.

But just when my health ordeal was unfolding, Mother Nature decided to ratchet things up a bit with a tornado watch. With heavy rains and winds whipping about, the sirens at my daughter’s apartment complex began blaring. Turning on the TV to the news channel, we learned of a full-blown tornado watch in our area. As the newscaster followed its movement, my daughter and I emptied her bathroom of anything that could kill us if we were to hunker down, wrapped in heavy quilts in the bathtub. My husband, back home from his business trip, called while we were preparing for the worst. Needless to say, he was worried. Needless to say, I was panicked, my digestive symptoms getting worse by the minute.

As I’m sure you’ve already surmised, no tornado touched down in our area, although sightings were reported in other parts. Due to return home to Washington, I hoped my digestive symptoms would abate long enough for me to make the trip which included a stop-over. Fingers crossed, I checked in online.

When I awoke yesterday I was good to go, having taken one of my daughter’s sleeping supplements which helped me rest through most of the night. I even blogged, putting out a post, before packing away my laptop. My husband called making certain I was, in fact, traveling. Later he called back warning that my flight was delayed 45 minutes, which would affect my connecting flight. The hour wait was now shortened to half-an-hour. I wasn’t deterred. I was ready to return home and be sick in my own house, rather than “riding it out” at my daughter’s.

When I got to the airport, I called my husband to say I’d made it, and asked if he could check for other flights in case I missed my connection. He called back with great news. The connecting flight was also delayed by 45 minutes. Hallelujah! God decided to give me a break. As it turned out, I had to work for it. My flight arrived in Terminal C. I had to high-tail it to Terminal D, which I did. Panting, my feet literally flew as I rushed past anyone and everyone making sure I wouldn’t miss my flight home. So determined to make it, I wound up standing in line at the wrong gate. God intervened again when another passenger informed me of my mistake. I hoofed it out of there, making it to the right line. I needn’t have worried. The flight didn’t leave the gate until well past the delayed departure time.

The only thing that hurt by the time I landed home in Washington, was my fanny. Could they make airplane seats any harder? But I’m home, with my husband, cats and dog. And you know what else? I’m even delighted to see that Christmas is still with us. My cat-sitter left a note saying, in part, “…I love all the xmas decorations! China Rose.” Don’t you just love her name? And she’s a sweetheart to boot.

The year’s not done as I’ve said. But I’m determined that it’ll get better. So I’m rejoining my friends in exercise class, continuing with my physical therapy appointments, healthier diet, and blogging. I’ll look into starting yoga, tackling other writing projects, and an adult ed class, perhaps in French.

we can all make lemonade…out of lemons…hugmamma.  🙂

a bad bout of “virus”

Am writing this to warn you that scammers hover nearby, even at the tips of one’s fingers. Long story short, my computer alerted me to a virus attack a couple of days ago. Not sure if you’ve ever witnessed flashing icons on your screen that silently scream “viruses, viruses, viruses!!!” I immediately felt I was physically under siege. My heart began palpitating. My brain went into lock down mode. My eyes bugged out of my head. Words were roiling around inside my head, none of which I could organize into thoughts that made sense.

Running my fingers across the computer keys, I finally ran the McAfee virus scan system that came with my 17″ Acer laptop, which I purchased at a great price on QVC. The scanning completed, I was asked if I wanted to remove the viruses that were detected, or did I want to leave them be. Yeah right, I thought. That’s like asking me if I wanted to let bedbugs live in my bed forever! I tried texting my husband for advice. When none was quickly forthcoming, I took action…and have regreted it.

One option offered was to activate the automatic removal system. The catch was that I needed a password. Hmmm… I couldn’t remember even discussing anti-viral security with my hubby. He normally buys Norton. But I didn’t recall him giving me a password. So I went for the second option, signing up for “System Tool.” Popping up on McAfee led me to believe it was part and parcel of the scan system.

Unable to reach my husband, and thinking the viruses would gain a bigger stranglehold the longer I delayed, I tried to purchase “System Tool.” Well try as I might, the transaction kept being declined. Customer service at Master Card’s 1-800 number kindly offered their assistance. But even they couldn’t complete the transaction. The whole thing was crazy. That should have signaled a “red flag.” Finally the credit card’s computer technician explained that I was probably locked out because of several failed attempts. He suggested I might want to try again later.

Thinking the viruses were gaining an increasingly greater foothold the more time I wasted, I tried a Visa credit card. Same thing, I kept being declined in trying to purchase “System Tool.” Giving up on the online option, I decided to seek technical help from someone in town. When I pulled up their website, there was an alert on the first page indicating that “System Tool” was a scam which would infiltrate with viruses, not remove them. I couldn’t drive to the computer tech’s office fast enough.

The good news is that my hardware was not affected. The bad news is my laptop had to be thoroughly cleaned and a new security system installed, all for $199. The pro also suggested emphatically that I cancel my credit cards because the scammers were probably after credit card information from the outset. Needless to say I’ve done as he recommended. 

Lesson learned? Even writers have to know something more than just banging away at the computer keyboard. And it’s true, seniors like me can learn new tricks. We might have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, by our gray hairs. But in the meantime, our brain cells are growing by leaps and bounds. This is never a bad thing, although too many growth spurts like this, and I might have a heart attack.

Something which concerned me was that QVC sold a product, Acer, which offered McAfee security, which in turn offered “System Tool” as a means of removing viruses, which is, in fact, a scam. This is probably an oversimplification, but the outcome is that I bought an Acer computer, which my husband and I’d never heard of before, because of its great deal on QVC. Like many, I consider the online retailer highly reputable. I wonder if it’s even aware of Acer’s link to McAfee, and its link to “System Tool?” That a scam could be furthered by a QVC backed product is mystifying. I’ll probably be expressing my concern to QVC in writing, unless they come calling on me via my blog, as Comcast has done in the past. We’ll see.  

What does hubby say about all this? I’ll have to wait and see when he returns from his European business trip this evening.

getting in and out of trouble…par for the course…hugmamma.  🙂

“service with a smile”

Having both worked in service-oriented jobs for many years, with my husband still in the business, we agree that customer service is a “dying art.” Shopping on the Internet has made it more convenient for consumers to surf the global market for all their needs. An appealing product, savvy marketing and a credit card completes the transaction. There’s no need to interface with a flesh-and-blood person. After all, Google can answer any of your questions. And if you’ve got a hankering for “warm and fuzzy,” click on “smiley face” or download your choice of YouTube videos, to get your endorphins moving.  

Businesses grew by leaps and bounds when consumers had quantities of disposable income. Customer service was unnecessary, so it became a thing of the past. A few retailers, like some purveyors of travel and TV’s QVC, continued their traditional practice of being solicitous towards customers. But some, like E-Bay, Amazon.com, Craig’s List, department stores, supermarkets, drugstores, fast-food chains, medical practitioners and airlines, may have opted to minimize service in favor of quick turnover, with a “get ’em in, get ’em out,” attitude.

With the downturn in the economy, companies are scrambling to win back customers who have fewer dollars to spend. Customer service may be on the rise again. I hope so. It doesn’t cost businesses more to have employees smile, offer a warm greeting, listen with patience, offer options for resolution, and express appreciation for ongoing patronage. However, a company may want to invest in customer service training. Even employees with impeccable manners and the greatest intentions, will meet their match in irate persons. I know, I’ve sat on both sides of the desk.

In my mid-20’s I worked as a customer service agent for the Hawaii Medical Service Association in Honolulu. It represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield in the islands. I had extensive training in the technical aspects of HMSA’s policies so that I could answer policyholder questions. I did so in person, and on the phone. I enjoyed helping people, especially when I could clarify or demystify the finer points of their coverage. Receiving their thanks, and seeing their smiles when they turned to leave, was extremely gratifying. Of course, there were some who were disgruntled with what I had to say. And there were a few who insisted upon speaking with my supervisor, hoping his response would be different. Sometimes a review was scheduled, but often his answer confirmed mine. One particular encounter left me “shaking” in my muumuu (long, Hawaiian dress).

A gentleman from the island of Molokai had called, unhappy with a bill payment. I think it was a hospital claim, probably of a sizeable amount. I explained how the insurance carrier had determined his coverage. Unhappy with the information, I can only imagine how the man’s eyes bulged, his belly heaved, and how difficult it might have been to breathe, as he screamed profanities through the telephone. The tirade continued when I handed the call over to my boss. We were mistaken to think we’d heard the last of the policyholder. Not long after, the huge Hawaiian man  arrived at our offices, having made the flight specifically to address us in person. I gladly introduced him to my supervisor, who withdrew to the privacy of his office, with the angry islander in tow. I think someone from upper management eventually joined the conversation, but I don’t remember the outcome. Needless to say, the experience left me wary.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been the irate customer. However I’ve certainly done my fair share of yelling, I’m sorry to say. But it’s always been when I felt inconsequential, the company having already snagged my business. There was the time we’d refinanced with a bank at a low-interest rate. Because the appraiser hadn’t submitted his report on time, our rate was due to be increased. Not until I spoke with the President’s secretary, shedding tears of frustration, did she resolve the matter in our favor. 

When my 19-year-old daughter’s VISA bill showed an annual $85 fee for fraud protection on a credit limit of $500, I went ballistic! If she didn’t pay the fee, she’d be slapped with a finance charge. And if that kept up, she’d reach her allowed max in no time.  It was ludicrous that a billion dollar corporation would take advantage of a teenager. Unfamiliar with marketing schemes, my daughter thought VISA’s $2 rebate check was a reward for opening a bank account. Cashing the check actually signed her up for credit card protection, as indicated on the back, in fine print. My nonstop tirade failed to move the customer rep until I asked how she’d feel if her teenager had been scammed. The rep agreed to remove the fee, without requesting repayment of the rebate.

Purchasing a used sofa back table in Atlanta for $300, I agreed to pay the dealer another $265 to ship it to my home in Washington state. He shipped with a small, regional carrier because of its comparatively low-cost. When the merchandise arrived in Tacoma, my husband was told that the price had escalated to $600. In speaking with the seller, I learned that the price change had occurred within the shipper’s bureaucracy. The clerk with whom the transaction originated, wrote up the piece as a “sofa bed,” not a “sofa back table.” Sight unseen, the receiving office modified the price accordingly. When we asked that they open the crate to verify that it was a table, not a sofa bed, we were aghast when the amount shot up to $800+. No reason was given, but I surmised the decision was made that the piece was an antique. If I refused to pay the exorbitant price to retrieve my belonging, it could be sold locally for a hefty sum. After phone calls to 3 different offices, I was directed to the company’s corporate offices in Alabama. I wrote a letter describing, in great detail, the events leading up to my outrage. I addressed it to the President of the freight company, copying the President of its parent company, and express mailed both. It was sent on a Saturday, and I followed up with a call on Tuesday. Long story short, the Tacoma branch delivered the table to my husband for the originally quoted price of $261. That didn’t include door-to-door transportation, but it did in my case.

Who wants the grief that accompanies confrontation? Not me, that’s for certain. I’d just as soon turn my back, leaving it to those with hardier constitutions. But as I’ve indicated in my earlier posting, “put a ‘face’ on the ‘unknown,’ ” sometimes I’m integrity gone amuck! As with most people, there’s a “line” which when crossed, Mr. Jekyl steps in for Dr. Hyde. At that point, I become “warrior mom,” battling until my opponent is “face down,” eating dust from under my high-heeled stiletto, specifically removed from moth balls for the occasion. 

In my travel experiences from one end of the country to the other, southerners and Hawaiians exude genuine warmth and hospitality. The tellers at my mother-in-law’s bank welcome her with sunny smiles, and assist patiently with any questions she may raise. I find Southern wait staff gracious in their greetings, and their drawls hold my attention as they enticingly describe the “specials of the day.” What both ethnicities share is a slower paced lifestyle. That seems to translate to great customer service. Of course, as with anything else, there are exceptions to the rule. But I enjoy spending time in those locales, where “getting to know you” and “service with a smile” are more than fanciful sayings. They’re a way of life. 

for amazing customer service, huge hugs…hugmamma.