Can I Help You?

For the first 67 years of my life, years were just years. I mean, things happened in years. Things we will never forget. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The first men walked on the moon in 1969. In 1980, a movie star was elected president. On January 1, 2000, the world was expected to end because it was anticipated that every computer — including those controlling our nuclear weapons — might screw up, resulting in the end of the world.

However, 2020 will always be known as the year of the pandemic. An entire year where the world was held captive by a virus. A whole year. In 2021, all we heard was about the pro-vaccine people versus the anti-vaccine people. The vaxxers versus the nonvaxxers. Turn on the news, that’s what we heard. Every day. Every news hour. Inflation was the word-of-the-day for 2022. Eggs at seven bucks a dozen. Twelve dollars for a pound of bacon. Two things happened: either the price of something went through the moon or the size of the product became so minimal that you wondered why you bothered paying anything at all. Filling your tank with gas rivaling the cost of a month’s rent. It was the opening story of every news cast.

I haven’t heard this on the news, but in this humble blogger’s opinion, 2023 is going to be known as the year that customer service became nonexistent. Out the window. We stopped dealing with humans.

It’s not really that it’s anything new. It’s just being finely honed to an art form. Recently I had a reason to try and reach someone in Xcel Energy’s customer service department. I was being charged for electricity at the our home on Olive Street which we no longer own. I wasn’t worried because I had an email from Xcel telling me that they received my request to stop providing electricity to me. No problemo. Except they kept charging me.

I called, and, to no one’s surprised, got a recording. Press one if something. Press two if something else. I dutifully followed all of the prompts until I realized I was going around in circles. I kept getting back to the same original recording. I am not proud to say that at one point I was literally yelling — yelling — into the phone, “REPRESENTATIVE. REPRESENTATIVE. REPRESENATIVE. All to no avail. There I was again: Press one if you are a new customer. Press two if you are an existing customer. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.

As I write this post, I am reluctant to tell you that nothing has as yet been resolved. I’m looking for any suggestions.

The lack of human customer service is certainly not limited to Xcel Energy. The option of talking to a human is nearly nonexistent. And if you get to a human, the possibility that they will speak clear English is dubious.

As it gets more and more difficult, as well as more and more expensive, to hire humans, this problem is not going to get any better. Maybe it’s only Baby Boomers who get disgruntled by this lack of human contact. Perhaps Generation X, Y, and Zers have no expectations of talking to a human. Still, I think back with nostalgic envy at those times when you would dial a telephone number and a human voice would say, “Thank you for calling Blah, Blah Company. How can I direct your call?”

Friday Book Whimsy: The Recovery Agent

Author Janet Evanovich is a prolific author. She is perhaps best known for her Stephanie Plum novels. The first Plum book came out in the early 90s, and she has written many books since then

Evanovich’s newest character is Gabriela Rose, a hard-nosed and clever detective who is paid to find things for people, mostly billionaires. All sorts of things. In this first novel, The Recovery Agent, Rose’s task is closer to home. Her parents are about to lose everything. Based on family legend, Rose sets off to the jungles of Peru to find the Ring of Solomon which is connected to an a lost treasure.

The first problem Rose faces is obtaining the map that will lead her to the treasure. To find the map, she must go through her sexy ex-husband Rafer, who has the map. He insists on joining her on her mission to Peru, and Gabriela reluctantly agrees.

The two encounter several formidable obstacles, including a crazy man who is also on the hunt for the Ring.

I enjoyed the first book of Envanovich’s newest series. Gabriela is strong and smart and completely prepared for the adventure. The relationship between Rafer and Gabriela — which still sizzles with chemistry — is a fun side note to the story. Like her Stephanie Plum books, the side characters are quirky and likeable and add humor to the main story.

At the end of the day, The Recovery Agent has the same feel as the Stephanie Plum books, which felt a little competitive. Evanovich, however, can write a good detective story that will make you laugh out loud at times. Overall, I give the book a thumbs up, and will read the next book in the series when it is released.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

The Lemon
I tried my very best to not get sucked into the Lululemon world. True story: A few weeks ago, I picked up our grandson Cole from school. As I waited for his class to be dismissed, I watched the parents begin gathering to pick up their darlings. What struck me was that every single one of the women — except for two — was wearing leggings. It must be the new uniform for suburban moms. Anyhoo, everyone who’s anyone is buying Lululemon clothing, but I simply couldn’t get past the price tag. A hundred bucks for a pair of spandex pants? But everyone I know who owns a pair of these very expensive clothing items tells me they are worth every penny because they are so comfortable. So, I decided to use part of the gift card that Bill gave me for Christmas at Lululemon. Bec and I went shopping yesterday and I bought a pair. I immediately put them on when I got home. My verdict? Worth every penny. It’s like not having any pants on at all. They feel as soft as butter. I’m not getting paid a penny by Lulu or anyone else.

Glitchy
Yesterday morning, Bill was reading his Google news. He looked up and told me that all of the U.S. flights had been canceled the night before because of a computer problem. I looked up from my own Google news about the naughty faces that Prince Louis was making to Princess Charlotte, who couldn’t cry because she’s a princess and princesses don’t cry. And doesn’t Kate look pretty in navy blue? Anyway, I could hardly believe what he was telling me. Apparently, because of the computer error, pilots weren’t being informed about planes careening towards them in their air space or snow plows on the runway. Poor Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Prior to being named Transportation Secretary, his biggest problem was that no one could pronounce his name. Now we see his face on the news more often than our president. I suspect the first advice that he gave after hearing the news was that they should try shutting off the computer, waiting two minutes, and turning it back on.

Won’t Be Buying a Private Jet
Bill and I once again purchased tickets for the Mega Lottery drawing. We didn’t win, but at least this time I knew where our lottery ticket was. You should have seen Bill and I buying the tickets from the vending machine. We looked like aliens from a different planet trying to figure out how to order an Uber. We finally purchased our tickets, but alas, to no avail. I had to call and cancel our order for the private jet. Probably a good thing, because it seems to be more and more difficult to fly anywhere these days,

Ciao!

Sleepytime

Among all of the indignities that the more mature members of society must endure, changes in sleep habit ranks among the top 10. It’s definitely less troublesome than losing bladder control or developing bone weakness so pronounced that one can break a hip with a hearty sneeze. Still, the fact that seniors can fall asleep in their La-Z-Boys at 2 o’clock in the afternoon but lie wide awake at 2 o’clock in the morning is a tough nut to swallow.

I’ve always been a light sleeper, at least as an adult. When my son was a baby, I don’t think he ever turned over in his crib without me awakening, listening for his breathing like a cactus wren listening for the hoot of an owl, warning of impending doom. For the cactus wren, it is the danger of being the owl’s dinner. For me, it was the danger of Court’s inconsolable nighttime crying.

Bill is a sound sleeper. This, despite the fact that he has two reasons he shouldn’t sleep well: He’s 80 years old and he has PD. Nevertheless, he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. Even a before-bedtime-argument — something that will keep me awake all night — doesn’t change things. He sleeps like a baby. He wakes up somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:30 or 4 in the morning to go to the bathroom. In the same way that I would hear Court roll over in his crib, I never fail to hear Bill get up to go to the bathroom. In fact, I think I hear his eyelids opening. The trouble is that I am an early riser, so when I wake up with Bill at 4 o’clock, I’m generally down for the count.

We all know that things seem much worse at night. However, even being fully aware of that fact, I am virtually unable to stop myself from mentally latching on to every horrible possible thing that is/was/might soon be happening to me. Or maybe not to me. I awoke the other night and began thinking of just how mean Harry and Meghan are being to Will and Kate. So he’s a spare. Get a grip Harry. It’s not Will’s fault he was born first. Stop your whining.

I’m happy to say that I only spent 10 or 15 minutes worrying on behalf of Will and Megan. I spent the rest of the two hours wondering where I put the lottery ticket that I bought. True story.

Ah well. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter how well I sleep. I’m not going to be performing brain surgery the next day. In fact, if I want to (and I often do), I can return to bed after my morning coffee.

Miracles

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.

-Unknown (often misattributed to Albert Einstein)

I’ve been feeling somewhat punk from a cold the past couple of days. Though I know it’s not COVID, I still felt it was prudent to stay home from church Sunday morning given that the mean age of the parishioners of our Mesa church is probably 75 years old. A germ or two could knock someone down for the count.

During the COVID quarantine, my family got in the habit of watching Sunday Mass on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC online. Nearly every Sunday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan says the Mass. He is an extraordinary priest, as evidenced that he has made it all the way to Cardinal. But I watch him because he is an extraordinary homilist. Every homily I have ever heard him preach has made me stop to think, or shed a tear or two, or make me so very happy to be a believer in Jesus. So it was back to St. Patrick’s I went on Sunday.

His homily, as usual, was wonderful. But my sister Jen told me suggested to me that I listen to his Christmas Day homily, and so I did. He spoke about miracles. It is a compelling topic, particularly on Christmas Day when we celebrate the miracle of Christ’s birth. After all, he was born to a virgin, announced to the world by angels, and received a visit from three kings thanks to a star that led them to the stable.

Lots of miracles.

I believe in miracles, and I lean towards the everything-is-a-miracle camp. (See quote above) I recognize that those who are in the nothing-is-a-miracle camp can explain almost everything through science. (But really? A Big Bang?) Anyhoo, for me, the very fact that I was able to watch Cardinal Dolan’s homily via YouTube several weeks after Christmas is a miracle. The fact that my cell phone, which measures somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 x 5 inches, is basically a computer is a miracle. The reality that I was able to get a couple of new pillows overnight via Amazon after ours suffered an accident involving coffee and blood (and DON’T ask me to explain that one) is a miracle. Doctors bringing Damar Hamlin back to life on a football field is a miracle. The fact that my sisters have — between them — two new hips, two new knees, and a new shoulder, and are able to take brisk walks and travel and keep up with their grandkids is a miracle. Every time I watch the sunset in my backyard here in Mesa, I think that the blue and orange sky is miraculous. Every morning when the sun reappears, I am in awe.

When Bill was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I prayed every day for a miracle. Please cure him of this incurable disease. Though he hasn’t been cured, it is a miracle to me that his progression has been slow enough that nearly 14 years after being diagnosed, he is still active. Not active like 14 years ago. But the miracle is that he has progressed slowly enough so that we both can handle the changes. My prayers were answered.

What is a miracle but the hand of God?

Stepping Up

I’m a football fan. I watch football every weekend. In fact, I was watching the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills a week ago. I actually was watching when the Cincinnati Bengals’ player gave a legal push to Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin. Without paying much attention, I watched him go down to the ground. I halfheartedly watched him get up from the hit. I will admit that it wasn’t paying much attention when he got back up, and then fell back to the ground. It wasn’t until I noticed that the medical personnel were on the field that my attention was once again back on the game.

I don’t need to rehash what happened from that moment on. It is probably a story that will make the NFL history books. After all, the guy was apparently dead on the field, and was brought back to life by some very talented medical folks. The looks on the faces of Hamlin’s teammates will stay with me for awhile. The quarterback looked as shaken up as someone facing the grim reaper.

Thank goodness, Damar Hamlin has made a remarkable recovery, and seems to be on the road to a normal life. I can’t even begin to imagine what his mother must have felt as she watched her son fall to the ground and the medical personnel surrounded him. I nearly lost my mind when my son fractured his wrist in a soccer accident.

What struck me immediately, and has stuck with me for the past week, is how the nation responded to Hamlin’s injury. You’ve all heard by now that Hamlin’s little nonprofit — a toy drive for the kids from his hometown — has been the beneficiary of his near-tragedy. Hamlin’s goal was to raise $2,500 for his GoFundMe account has raised literally millions of dollars, most donated by people he has never met in his entire life.

This reaction to Hamlin’s misfortune is so typically American that it almost makes me cry. When trouble strikes, Americans respond. I remember following the Columbine High School shooting, the Powers That Be had to finally ask people to stop donating blood because, tragically, there were no survivors needing blood. When tragedy strikes, people just want to do something. Donating bottles of water when there is a shortage. Dropping off diapers when there are parents in need. Leaving cans of food or frozen food when there is a tornado or hurricane

I don’t know the first thing about Damar Hamlin. But given the love and support the whole NFL community is showing, I hope he is a good guy. Everything I read and hear about him indicate he is. I prayed for him following the incident on the field, and my prayers — along with the prayers of thousands of others — seem to be working.

And once again, I’m proud to be an American.

Almost Done

Yesterday Bill had his final to implants inserted. The surgeon gave him the go-ahead to get the crowns placed on the existing implants. He has an appointment with the dentist who will place the crowns on January 19. A few weeks after that, the crowns will be placed and he will be able to eat a steak!

As usual, he recovered from the surgery like a champ. His only request on the ride home was for a hot fudge malt from DQ.

Have a great weekend.

Favorite Books of 2022

Every year, I set my reading goal at 100 books. I never make it. This year I reached a total of 67 books. Out of those 67 books, here are my top five, in no particular order.

  1. The Maid, by Nita Prose Molly Gray is a maid at a hotel, a job she has held for many years. Though she lacks any social skills and is clearly on the spectrum, she does her job with efficiency and, well, joy. She was brought up by her grandmother who helped guide her through life, but who passed away a few months earlier. Now Molly has to manage on her own. She gives it all she can, and is one of the best employees in the hotel. One day she enters the room of one of the hotel’s frequent visitors — a wealthy man who has a nasty way about him — and finds him dead in his bed. She knows that people are going to believe it was his wife who killed him, but Molly doesn’t think that is possible. Nonetheless, Molly is thrown right in the middle of the investigation, even being one of the suspects.
  2. Carrie Soto is Back, by Taylor Jenkins Reid Carrie Soto retired from tennis a highly successful professional player. She was well regarded, but not particularly popular given the intensity in which she approached the game. Her mother died young, and her father — a well-regarded tennis player himself — became her coach. He taught her the ins and outs, the correct way to hold her racket, the tricks of playing exceptional competitive tennis. Carrie brought a dedication to being the best, letting no one get in her way,But when she saw one of the newer players seemingly filling her retired shoes, she elected to come out of retirement to see if she could finish the season as the number one tennis player in the world once again.
  3. Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus Elizabeth Zott — the protagonist of author Bonnie Garmus’s irresistible debut novel Lessons in Chemistry — is bucking all odds and working as a chemist. She is the lone woman in a sea of men, all of whom think of her as a pretty face who simply doesn’t know her place. That is, until fellow chemist Calvin Evans falls in love with her, and oddly, it’s for her brain and not her appearance. Elizabeth isn’t trying to be a barrier breaker. She simply wants to be a chemist, and thinks being a woman shouldn’t stop her. She works away steadily, not making waves, but not backing down either. Eventually she and Calvin become a couple, and their relationship is nothing short of wonderful. Life happens, but then an unexpected opportunity comes Elizabeth’s way. She is asked to host a new television cooking show called Supper at Six. She agrees with the caveat that she can develop the show the way she wants, with all eyes on chemistry. “Combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride” she says to the women eagerly watching the show. She teaches her fans not only how to cook, but also how to think for themselves.
  4. Love & Saffron, by Kim Fay Twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sent a fan letter to 59-year-old Imogene Fortier in the book Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love, by Kim Fay. Joan is a single career woman who has just begun a career writing in the food section of a Los Angeles newspaper. She sends Ms. Fortier the letter because she has enjoyed reading the older woman’s simple missives about life on an island off the coast of Seattle in a Pacific northwest magazine. The letter captures the attention of Imogene because Joan has included in the letter a sample of the spice saffron, something completely unfamiliar to her. It is the 1960s, where women were the cooks, and foodstuffs that we take for granted now were foreign in some parts of the country. Imogene had never tasted fresh garlic, so saffron was a completely unique experience. That letter was the impetus for a relationship between two women who, despite their age difference, are drawn together by food and friendship, shared via letters.
  5. Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys It’s 1950. Teenaged Josie Moraine is the daughter of a prostitute. Her mother isn’t the kindly sex worker who does what she needs to help her daughter. Instead, she is a selfish, greedy, completely dishonest woman who cares little for Josie and doesn’t mind using her for her own selfish needs. But Josie isn’t alone. The successful female brothel owner Willie Woodley has taken Josie under her wing since she was a small girl. She, along with the other prostitutes and Willie’s faithful staff love Josie and take care of her as if she was their own family. In a way, that’s exactly what they are. Josie works at a bookstore owned by a friend, and is saving her money to leave New Orleans and attend her dream college, Smith. But an unexpected murder places Josie right in the middle, and her mother is all part of the game.

In 2023, I’m going to read 100 books!

Stay Awake

Yesterday afternoon, my stomach started hurting. No, this isn’t one of my I-went-into-the-hospital stories. I laid down to rest, as I have learned to do, and the pain went away, thank heavens. But I fell into such a deep sleep that I began to dream.

Dreams are funny business, aren’t they? They frequently combine subconscious thinking with what’s happening in real life, and then react in you like you took Ambien with a glass full of Wild Turkey combined with an Ecstasy tablet you found under the cushion of your sofa. (Does Ecstasy come in tablets? Having never taken Ecstasy, I pulled that one out of my You Know What.)

Afternoon nap dreams are the worst. I rarely dream in the afternoon because I usually sleep pretty lightly and then only for 45 minutes or so. But yesterday, fueled by a pain pill I took to ease my aching abdomen, I slept soundly for a couple of hours. I woke up in the middle of a dream that was something like a Salvador Dali painting….

The Face of War, by Salvador Dali

It involved my former next door neighbor, a light rail ride that went on forever, and a light rail conductor who eventually came to us and admitted she had no clue how to get to the location. The ride went on for hours, and when I looked over at my neighbor (who had suggested we take light rail to a restaurant she wanted me to try), she was sound asleep. On her feet. When I awoke her, she explained that she wasn’t sure where the restaurant was located and had just randomly suggested we take that specific light rail line. And went back to sleep, still standing up.

All of this was a combination of my guilt that I didn’t call that particular neighbor/friend over the holidays, a recent Next Door post I read about a situation where the writer had to wait an hour in the cold for a light rail train that didn’t appear, and my own recent real-life experience with a Lyft driver who had to ask me how to get on the highway that would take us to Denver International Airport. Coupled with a pain pill (but no Wild Turkey or any alcohol whatsoever).

I woke up in the sweat that I always thought was myth. I didn’t scream or pop up in horror like they do on television, but the dream definitely shook me up.

I’m calling my friend and taking Uber or Lyft from here on out!

‘Tis the Sneezin’

As usual, we had a wonderful time at Bec’s annual New Year’s party. The prime rib tradition started with my mother, who prepared the delicious roasted beef every year. After she gave up entertaining, I took over the tradition, found a wonderful recipe on Epicurious, and prepared a prime rib roast for my parents, my siblings (when they were in town), our children, my nieces and nephews, and any strays that showed up at my table.

After we bought our AZ house, Jen and I continued the tradition for a few years. After three or four years, Bec began preparing the meal every other year. Eventually, she did such a fine job that, when she volunteered to host every year, Jen and I enthusiastically accepted.Every year, the family gathers, contributing food and beverages. It is a wonderful family tradition, and a great way to start the new year.

Sunday night, as we were driving home, I suddenly noticed that Bill sounded like Barry White. He had been somewhat quiet during the party, but He Who Never Complains didn’t say a word about feeling punk.

“Are you not feeling good? I asked him.

“I don’t feel too bad,” he replied.

Well, I thought, you sound like hell.

He coughed all night, and croaked the next morning, “I don’t feel too bad.”

What’s interesting to me is that my knee-jerk reaction was IT’S COVID. No thinking that it might be a chest cold or fatigue. So as soon as CVS opened, I was there buying a COVID test.

…which was negative. Thank heavens. Because I had seen All Of The Commercials that say if you get COVID and have any conditions that could exacerbate the illness, you should call your doctor and take (fill in the blank because I can’t remember the name of the medication).

So Bill only has a common cold, something about which he kept assuring me throughout my panic. My takeaway: how times have changed since COVID rocked our world. A single sneeze or a couple of coughs can cause immediate panic instead of reaching for the bottle of Ibuprofen.

As for Bill, he slept yesterday, and ate the homemade chicken noodle soup I made him. I expect a full recovery,