Friday, December 21, 2012

Elf on the Shelf

 There is a phenomenon that has being going on for a while that I essentially knew nothing about.  And I feel so ashamed.  How can a woman who guessed correctly months ago that Channing Tatum would be named this year’s People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” be so behind the times?

I dunno; maybe I’m getting old.  But I didn’t know anything about this whole Elf on the Shelf phenomenon.  I just noticed it last year; perhaps because people started taking photos of their Elves and posting them on Facebook. 

Some of them were cute. Pictures of little elves drinking hot chocolate.  Or sitting in front of a half-eaten Christmas cookie.  Or peeking out from behind a book on a bookshelf.

But I’ve also seen some X-rated Elves. Bad Elves doing inappropriate things to Barbie. Or Drunk Elves who had too much egg nog kneeling over dollhouse-sized toilet bowls. 

Bad Elf  cleaning the toilet with your toothbrush?
Methinks this was not the original intent of the makers of Elf on the Shelf.

So I had to Google Elf on the Shelf to find out the back story.  Ah, I thought, it’s a form of parenting – a way to keep the kids in line.  

During the month of December, anyway.

How else would Santa know if a kid was naughty or nice?  He sends his tiny Elves to spy on little boys and girls and then the Elf flies back to the North Pole every night to report to Santa.  Man, that little guy must get awfully tired – he’s putting in a whole lot of frequent flyer miles.

When I pause to examine the whole concept, I find it rather creepy and I'm not sure I would've liked Elf on the Shelf  when I was a kid.  It's the sort of thing that nightmares are made of.  I mean, didn’t everyone have to peek under their bed to make sure there were no scary monsters hiding under there?  Or if we were too chicken to actually look under the bed, we’d take a flying leap onto the bed so our feet wouldn’t come within a foot of the dust ruffle and, thus, no hand could reach out to grab our ankle.

Yeah, what can I say? When I was young, I read way too many scary books and watched way too many scary movies.

But back to the Elf on the Shelf thing.  If it had been around back in the day, I cannot remotely imagine my mother participating in any such activity.  Taking the time to move an inanimate doll from spot to spot around our house in those precious few moments she had to herself after she’d finally managed to get all four kids in bed? 

Not a chance.

Besides, we didn’t need a “Santa spy” to keep us in line.  Our parents were all the spies Santa needed.  And it wasn’t even just for the month of December that we toed the line.  Back then our parents weren’t our buddies or our friends; they were our parents. We knew who was boss – and it sure wasn’t us! 

Not only that, but Santa just knew if we were on the Naughty or the Nice list because, after all, he was Santa.

Not that it stopped all of us from misbehaving.  When I was five and my brother was six, he was so concerned that Santa had gotten a bad report on him that he wrote in marker all over his stocking.  Part of it was that he wanted to assure Santa that he was a good boy. But the other part was that he didn’t want Santa mixing us up or making any goofs.  John didn’t want to find some stupid gift in his stocking like a girly hair ribbon or something.  So he wrote on his stocking, “John. Boy. Good.”  And he wrote on my stocking, “Jane. Girl.” 

You notice he didn’t add the word "Good” to my stocking. Either I was good and he didn’t want Santa examining our behaviors any too closely – or John was simply trying to fool the big guy into thinking the kid who had “Good” on his stocking MUST be good and the kid who didn’t, well, not so much. 

On the other hand, it’s probably better that I don’t overanalyze the mysterious workings of the mind of that long ago six-year-old boy.

I don’t recall how my parents reacted when they saw black marker all over the stockings that our cousin had so painstakingly crafted for us, but I don’t imagine they were calling him a “good” boy that day.

So I don’t know.  I don’t think a little Elf would’ve influenced my brother one way or the other.  He was gonna do what he was gonna do – bad reports to Santa notwithstanding. 

But, hey, who am I to knock what works for some folks.  And the Elf on the Shelf is kind of cute.  You get to name him and everything. 

But, people, please. Stop making your Elf do inappropriate things to Barbie and posting the photos on Facebook. You AND the Elf are going to wind up on Santa’s Naughty List. And it’s not easy to get back on his good side. Just ask my brother. John. Boy. Bad.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pajama Zone Sunday

Wow – what a weekend we had!  No, we didn’t flit from holiday party to holiday party all weekend long.  And, no, we didn’t enter the fray of frenzied shoppers at the mall. 

Instead, we had Pajama Zone Sunday.  And it was gooooood!

 I can’t remember the last time we didn’t change out of our PJs all day – if ever.  The operative word in that sentence, by the way, is “we.”  Why?  Because when I was single I had many a Pajama Zone Day.  Hey, I was a busy girl during the week and sometimes the weekends were mine alone to relax, rejuvenate and, well, stay comfy! 

But Vince usually is a go-go-go kinda guy and wants to get a lot of stuff accomplished on his day off.  Probably it didn’t help that neither he nor I felt well this weekend.  Are sinus headaches catching?  Because he had one Saturday night and I had one on Sunday. 

We didn’t start out deciding to stay in our PJs all day.  We talked about what groceries we need to replenish the fridge and discussed the menus over the Christmas holiday when family and friends will be visiting.  We talked about the odd gift or two we still need to purchase.  And we talked about driving to CVS to pick up some more sinus headache medicine.

But none of that happened.  Instead, I took a long nap and Vince had a chance to channel surf without me giving him “the eye.”  And when I woke up, we reheated some leftovers and then watched a couple movies on cable.  Can you say la-zy?

Now, this is not to say we didn’t accomplish anything.  I mean, Vince worked long hours this weekend.  And I did approximately 9,000 loads of laundry on Saturday.  I even managed to get it all dried, folded and put away in the dresser or hung back up in the closet.  In addition, I changed cat litter (ugh).  I scrubbed sinks and toilets (double ugh). I replaced soap in soap dispensers and put new rolls of toilet paper on the spare roll spindles so no one in our home will ever have to say, “Hey!  There’s no toilet paper in here!” 

And I wrapped Christmas gifts until 2:30 in the morning.  Well, I didn’t intend to wrap gifts until the wee hours of the morning, but I don’t really enjoy this task, so I just slogged my way through it until I was done. 

Don’t get me wrong – I love pretty wrapping paper, bright bows and colorful ribbon and seeing all the gaily wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree.  But I’m simply not a very good wrapper.  I either cut the paper too short so the ends don’t meet and cover the box – or I cut the paper so long I end up having to lop off at least half a foot on either end so I can fold the paper and tape it closed.  Nothing ever matches, especially the seams, so I tend to use wide ribbon to hide all my mistakes. 

This is why I adore gift bags.

The one chore I did forget was to water the plants, as evidenced by the droopy ficus I spied in the dining room this morning before breakfast.  So I took care of that little task after gulping my morning coffee and before racing out the door to get to work. Hope the ficus forgives me.

Other than leaving the houseplants thirsty, should we have felt guilty for having a Pajama Zone Sunday?  No, I don’t thinks so. And I’ll tell you why.

We spend so much of our lives busily checking off all the things on our to-do lists or bucket lists or career lists. We feel badly if a day goes by when we haven’t accomplished all we set out to do that day.  If we’re not moving forward, it’s bad.  You can’t have a “stand still” day – or, heaven forbid, a “going backwards” kind of day.

True, forward momentum is a good thing and makes us feel as if we’re accomplishing something with our lives.  But standing still for a moment can also be important. 

All we have to do is hear about a tragedy like that in Newtown, CT, and we're stopped in our tracks. How many people heard the news and then wanted to hold their children or loved ones close and hug them and kiss them and tell them how much they are cherished? 

Sure, we do that all the time.  We kiss our loved ones goodbye and call out “Love ya!” as we head out to start our busy day – and we mean it – but sometimes it becomes rote.  Maybe we’re distracted with what lies ahead or we’re thinking about that ever-lovin’ To-Do list.  So “rote” doesn’t mean insincere.  But it should never take a tragedy to make us realize how much we truly do love our family and our friends and that they are so much more precious than ticking off little boxes on our To-Do lists.

Vince and I spent a lot of time yesterday talking.  We held hands practically all day long (well, except for when I was napping and he was channel surfing. Oh, and any time one of us had a potty break. Yeah, yeah, I know that should go without saying, but some people are very literal.)  We didn’t just hurriedly discuss how we’re going to handle this situation or whether or not we’re going to attend that event and we didn’t spend those precious moments coordinating our schedules.  Instead, we spent the day reconnecting.

And through this experience, we once again realized how much we love each other and how fortunate we are and how abundant the gifts are that God has given us. 

So, while you don’t have to have a Pajama Zone day to come to these realizations, it can’t hurt.  Go ahead – try it one of these weekends. 

Just make sure your fridge is fully stocked and you don’t need to run to CVS for sinus headache medication.  Because, believe me, as cute as you may think you look in them, no one is interested in seeing you in your hot pink footy pajamas.  No. One.

(But, seriously, who knew you could even buy hot pink footy pajamas for grown-ups?)

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Day in the Life. Sigh.

So the other day I met a friend for lunch in a quaint little German Village restaurant just down the street from where I work.  The only negative about quaint little German Village is that the streets are paved with bricks. Sounds all old-timey and makes you want to come visit, doesn’t it?  Well, hold your horses there, Skippy, because it’s not all that and a bag o’ chips. 

In reality, it’s a pain in the you-know-what.  Because the bricks are old and uneven.  Really uneven.  They are so uneven that cars that routinely drive up and down the bricked streets require front end alignments every 23 days.  I’m not even kidding.  My last car had a permanent list to the left because one time I waited a whole month before scheduling the alignment. 

And even though I’m a veteran German Village driver after having worked here for the last ten years, I did something really stupid on my way to the restaurant.  I tried to apply lipstick.

Go ahead – shake your head and roll your eyes. I deserve it.

Instead of looking less scary and ghost-like with my natural, non-existent lip color, I looked like Ronald McDonald with the exaggerated line drawn all around his mouth. 

But at least I wasn’t wearing the baggy yellow jumpsuit, goofy shoes or the fright wig.
Didn’t matter.  The big red mouth thing alone was scary enough. 

Nevertheless, I arrived at the restaurant within moments.  Knowing I wanted to make a pit stop to remove my Ronald-like lips, I happily snagged a spot on the street right by the restaurant.  I even parallel parked like I knew what I was doing and managed to align my car relatively, well, parallel to the curb.

Score – right?

Fortunately, I was first at the restaurant so I had time to fix the scary lipstick situation and by the time I emerged from the ladies room, the hostess was looking at me a little less aghast than she had upon first seeing me enter the joint. 

My friend arrived and we proceeded to have a lovely lunch together.  By the time the meal was over, of course, my lipstick was non-existent again so, yes, it did occur to me that applying lipstick prior to eating is a wasted effort.

But the real trouble started when I returned to my carefully parallel parked car on the street.  No, it was not a victim of a hit-and-run driver.  No, I was not blocked in with the cars in front and back of me so close to my bumpers that I couldn’t maneuver out of the spot without a can opener. 

The real problem?   Two words: The. Birds.

I swear to you, every bird in the tri-state area must have flown over my car to leave a deposit.  Every single one.  I am serious. If all those droppings had been hail hitting my car, it would have been totaled. 

It looked so bad, I was embarrassed to get in it and drive it away.  On the other hand, since I was clearly standing under a flight pattern of birds that had just eaten lunch, I decided being out in the open was not a great idea. 

Getting hit by bird do-do anywhere on my person would have been grounds for a true hissy fit the likes no one has ever seen.  All I would’ve needed was the crazy Ronald-like lips and someone would’ve called 911 and the men in the white coats would’ve come to take me away.

That might’ve been bad, but at least I wouldn’t have been the one who had to clean off my car.

It was disgusting!  And crunchy. I practically had to take a sand blaster to the vehicle to get the stuff off.  So no amount of drive-thru car washing would’ve helped.

Because I was at home when I did the cleaning, I didn’t run back out to take the car through a car wash to get it uniformly clean.  So my car was half clean and half dirty.  The birds apparently missed the lower panels. 

So for the past several days I’d been thinking I really needed to run through a car wash. Only there isn’t one close by and my schedule has been a little hectic. 

Well, as it turns out, it’s a good thing I didn’t spend my hard-earned dollars at the car wash.  Why?  Because as I was leaving the office yesterday, I noticed that my car was once again covered with bird...”stuff.”  And I had been nowhere near the restaurant I visited the other day! Instead, I was innocently parked in my own parking space at the office.  This, my friends, led me to draw the following conclusion: The birds had found me!

I shook my fist at the empty sky screaming, “WHY ME?” 

But the birds did not answer.

So what is this? Is it retribution for something I did in a past life?  Are they especially attracted to white cars? Did I not annihilate enough pigs in the Angry Birds game?  

Nah.  Probably it’s payback because I hated their movie.  You know the one?  The Birds.  Scared the snot out of me when I was a kid and I can’t stand it when more than two or three birds gather at one time.  I think they probably know this.

Interestingly, the black truck and the red car on either side of my car were guano-free.  Not one drop.  So maybe – just maybe – my paranoia is justified.

I had to do the sand-blasting thing again last night when I got home.  And I counted.  There were precisely 39 “hits” on my car.  Thirty-nine!  That’s a lot.  My car now has more clean areas than dirty, but it still needs some attention with a little soap and water.

So my plan this evening is to find a car wash – fork over the extra bucks for the deluxe wash – and then race home and hide my car in the garage all weekend.  And I will hope that the birds have decided they’ve paid me back enough and they’ll move on to another victim. Either that or the last of 'em have flown south for the winter.

But let me just tell you.  If a bird even accidentally flies into our garage in the next few days, I will be the one calling 911 and asking for the men in the white coats to come get me. 

Ronald McDonald lips won’t be necessary.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bad Customer Service and The Flinstones Lunch Box Incident

Don’t fall over, but I finally decided to write a blog today.  (What was that a big “whump” I just heard?  Didn’t I just say don’t fall over?)

But, yeah.  Since it has been so long since my last blog, I should probably make a point of writing something funny and lighthearted to make up for my lack of effort here in recent months. 

Instead, I’ve decided to write about Customer Service. The Good. The Bad.  And the Ugly.  The Reaaalllly Ugly.  And that’s not funny.

Any of you in that line of work?  Or will admit to it? 

It’s sort of a trick question anyway because we all, in one way or another, have some responsibility of providing good customer service.  The definition of “customer” changes from situation to situation – sure – but the basic premise remains the same.

There are, of course, obvious Customer Service situations.  Like when there’s a big sign over a desk in the department or grocery store that reads, “Customer Service.”  Yeah, that’s kind of a clue.  Or when you call a company to register a complaint or resolve an issue and get transferred to Customer Service. 

Most of the time, I don’t have too many problems with the level of service I get.  I try to treat people with respect and I also realize that mistakes happen.  I keep in mind that the person I’m asking for help is most likely not the person who made the error in the first place.  And I try really, really hard never to raise my voice. All these things usually help resolve the issue favorably. 

There are also not-so-obvious Customer Service representatives as well.  Like the operator at Company ABC who answers the phone graciously and directs you to the appropriate person so that you don’t spend a good portion of your day in Voicemail Hell wondering how you got stuck in an endless loop of “Listen carefully as our voicemail options have changed” and never again speaking with a live human being. 

Or it can be the runner who delivers your meal and, when you ask them to refill your water because you’re evidently part-camel and you’ve been sucking down water faster than your waiter can keep up, they do not act as though you’ve just asked them something unreasonable, like, say, cut off their big left toe or something.  Even though, technically, they’re just supposed to run your meal to you.  When they say, “Sure, it’ll be my pleasure!” You think, Wow, what great customer service! 

I’ve come away from exchanges smiling and thinking I’ve just received great customer service – and that always makes me feel good. What I’ve learned from Vince, however, is that I feel even better when I acknowledge that great customer service to a manager.  Chances are, the manager has already heard compliments about their employee because that person makes a habit of providing great customer service.  But one more “Attaboy,” or “Good Job!” never hurts.

But then there’s the flip side.  And it ain’t pretty. 

It can be the bagger who hates his job who starts tossing your groceries in the plastic bag with little concern that the sushi that has been artistically arranged for your husband’s dinner is going to get all mangled and the hot green stuff they always include with sushi gets smooshed into one piece in a big glob.

Vince, you should know, carefully portions out his ginger and…that hot green stuff…what’s it called?? Oh, yeah – wasabi!  He portions out the wasabi in equal measures on each piece of sushi. So having a big glob of wasabi smooshed into one piece is not a good thing.  

Blaming the bagger at Kroger’s always makes me feel like I’m passing the buck, even though I certainly didn’t cause the problem. It didn't occur to me that in addition to stating my preference for paper or plastic I'd also be required to ask that my groceries be packed in a non-smooshed manner.  

For me, it’s problematic when someone won’t take responsibility for the error – or they don’t seem to care that they goofed in the first place.  I don’t understand people not taking pride in their work, whatever work it may be. 

Mistakes embarrass me and it’s a good day when I catch a mistake I’ve made and fix it before it becomes public knowledge.  This is where the term “double-checking” comes into play.  More people should try it.

Plus, I try very hard not to make the error in the first place.  So I tend to have a reputation as accurate, conscientious and reliable.  I’d far prefer being this goody-two-shoes sort of person than having someone NOT be surprised that I’ve made a mistake. Or yet another mistake.

But when someone doesn’t care that they’ve erred and won’t even try to resolve the problem, then it becomes a major issue for me and my blood pressure starts a’rising.

I’ve decided that someone, somewhere made the universal decision that providing good Customer Service is no longer required.  Yep, they just took that little rule – you know – the one that says, “The Customer Is Always Right” and crumpled it up into a tiny ball, threw it on the ground and stomped on it a little bit for good measure.

Wish I could have a little chat with that person…

When I walked into the office this morning and realized one of my vendors had made not one, but three serious errors on one order, well, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. This is par for the course with this guy and I’m told we can’t change vendors.  I also shouldn’t be surprised and yet, each time he makes an error, I am.  He’s been doing the same job for us for over 10 years.  Shouldn’t he have the process down pat by now? 

Evidently not. And it’s not like we’ve changed procedures or anything.  He’s just, well, he’s just an idiot.  (In my humble opinion.)  He gets defensive every time I point out an error. He blame shifts.  He denies any involvement.  He blames the customer.  Or UPS. Or the weather. Or me. Everyone but himself.

That’s just not right. 

Good thing for him, he lives several hundred miles away from me; otherwise, I might have to go over and bop him on the noggin’. 

Yeah, like that would work.  Besides, I don’t resort to violence to solve my problems. 

Well, except for that one time in the second grade.  I call it the “Flinstones Lunch Box Incident.”  It occurred one lovely fall day as my brother and I emerged from the school bus.  A fourth grader had been picking on my brother the entire ride home and, once he got off the bus, he threw his books down on the ground in preparation of, I don’t know, a rumble?  A major beat-down? 

To a 7-year-old, that sort of behavior can only spell trouble and I thought the thug was going to kill my brother.  And even at that tender age, I knew my mother would be a little peeved if I went home and told her my brother had gotten murdered at the school bus stop. Not wanting to be the bearer of that bad news, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  So I lifted my metal Flinstones lunch box and, even though I was quaking in my Mary Janes, I wacked that fourth grader right in the back.  I probably only stunned the kid since I’m sure he wasn’t expecting meek little ol’ me to whack him.  Nevertheless, he paused momentarily in confusion, which gave us the opportunity to flee. So my brother and I ran for our very lives all the way home. 

And that fourth grader never again picked on my brother.  In my presence, anyway.

But, still.  Just because it worked in the second grade does not guarantee it will work now.  So, no.  I can’t whack our vendor with a metal lunch box.  Even though it is VERY tempting.

Sigh. I guess I’ll just have to keep double- and triple-checking his activities to try to reduce the number of errors he makes.

But maybe I should check eBay to see if anyone is selling a vintage Flinstones metal lunch box.  It won’t help our vendor become error-free, but it sure would make me feel a little better!