Saturday, May 22, 2010

Brief Snapshots

     Although I'm still smarting from my recent customer service crises (I didn't even mention my vacuum cleaner or dishwasher malfunctions!), a rather pleasant memory floated into my consciousness one night as I lay in bed quieting myself to sleep. Fatima - I think she was Ecuadorian or Guatemalan. She was my discharge nurse after I had Julia. She thoroughly instructed me with a mini-course on newborn care. I didn't feel I really needed it, but I did learn several new things! Wow. It just goes to show you that after 6 kids it was confirmed what I already suspected - I have a lot to learn! I will never be an expert at this "pregnancy, childbirth, baby, mommy- of- lots- of -kids" thing. (I'm often asked by incredulous-sounding people, "How do you do it with six kids?" If I'm being particularly honest that day I'll answer, "Not very well."  The look of surprise on many faces is rather, well, amusing. Not that my answer is meant to generate entertainment for my sake. But, really, some days I have "it" together, but most days I don't.)
     I listened carefully and patiently to all of her information. In her thick accent, but excellent English, she explained to me all of the reasons I would call my pediatrician regarding concern for my baby. OK. The list was frighteningly long and I'm glad I never had to make calls for any of those things she mentioned. Although I was focused on what she was saying, I was also incredibly eager to leave the hospital. By 7:00 am that morning when my doctor had arrived to check on me, my room was totally cleaned up, bags packed, and birth certificate info filled out; I was ready to go home ASAP. The day's events just 18 hours prior were such that they almost catapulted me home as soon as I could leave. Every hospital stay prior to Julia's birth was stretched out to the full amount allotted. (I wanted the rest!) Not with Julia.
     After she completed her mini-course on newborn care, we began to talk about her life. She had aspirations as a young woman to become a medical doctor in her country. She married, though, had children, and eventually emigrated to the U.S. For economic reasons, she became a cafeteria worker, then gradually became a nurse and here she was today.  The look of longing and pain on her face that her dreams had not been fulfilled was palpable. Perhaps due to my extra-sensitivity, postpartum, hormonal, and trauma-induced vulnerability, I really absorbed her sadness. She told me about her daughter who was at UCLA medical school and was studying to become an OB/GYN. I pointed out that she could enjoy her daughter's success, but I could tell that her derailed career dreams were too great to be overshadowed by her daughter's burgeoning medical career. It was rather heartbreaking to see, but I so appreciated her transparency. I remember hugging her two or three times, touched by her story and so grateful  that she cared enough to teach and instruct me about caring for my sleepy, chubby Julia. I'm not a hugger, either. In my short stay at that hospital, she is the only medical professional  who I felt genuinely cared for me as a person, and not just a patient to process and get through the system. I didn't mention her in my grievance to the hospital, however, because it was a grievance, not an evaluation of my overall care. I did mention how helpful she was to the nurse manager of labor and delivery whom I spoke with the week after Julia was born, though. "Yes, Fatima is an excellent teacher," the nurse manager responded.
     I'm pondering the idea of writing Fatima a thank you note and sending it to the postpartum unit. I want her to know how much her excellent care made such a difference in my life that, after almost two years, I would still remember her and be grateful for her professional and human touch. Perhaps, in some small way, the sadness at her "second choice" career might be lessened. I am persuaded to believe that her career course was exactly the one God had for her. I was the blessed beneficiary of "all that didn't go according to plan." Sometimes, there are those brief snapshots into others' lives, as well as our own, where we get a tiny peek at seeing how trusting God for the disappointments and "what could've/should've been" broadens and deepens our vision of how amazingly kind and wise He really is. Oh, Lord, help me to see more of you in increasing measure!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Customer Service Crises

     Look closely at the picture to the right. The writing on the package is probably too small for you to see, but it says "10 Fiber Pots." I counted, recounted, and had Camille count, and if you look closely enough to count, too, you'd notice there are just 8 peat pots. Huh? False advertising? Guy stacking the peat pots doesn't know how to count to 10? Guy puttin' stack of peat pots in plastic not payin' attention? What gives? So, this is a trip back to Target - sans receipt, a BIG NO-NO for frequent Target shoppers, to swap this crazy package of peat pots out for a package of 10 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Thank you very much!
     Ugh....the hassle, time and gas wasted. I've been trying to stay out of Target as much as possible in an attempt to stick to my budget. This last few weeks I've had multiple issues with extra trips, time, gas, and frustration due to customer service issues. Have I ever revealed that this is a real sore spot for me? Do you want to see me really blow it? Become rude, demanding, argumentative and quite obnoxious? Well, customer service issues tend to expose all that ugliness in me. Yuck! I'm usually aware of this and have gotten a little better at being polite and patient in dealing with all these various issues over the years. And I have really probed my heart and mind to extricate what is at the core of these expectations I have, this entitlement mentally that oozes from me, this sense of justice I vigorously pursue in a sinful manner. I haven't quite figured it out yet, but I'm determined to get better at handling these issues in a way that pleases God. I have a ways to go.
     A recent conversation with a friend of mine who had lived in Brazil for two years helped to enlighten my perspective. Customer service in Brazil is well, um, NON-EXISTANT. Some expensive item breaks after a month? Oh well. Too bad. There's no recourse, no one to complain to. No "I'd like to speak to your manager, please." Nada. Zip. Out of luck.
     So, here are some "lowlights" (as opposed to highlights) from the last couple of run-ins with exasperating customer service issues I've encountered:

1) An hour or so spent at Verizon kiosk with paperwork in hand to get an employee discount. A month later, no discount applied. Huh? "We have no recollection of ever getting the paperwork."
2) Escrow statement reflecting a loss of over $300. Some research yields incompetence and untruths told (or shall I just be blunt and say: the escrow officer lied to me and then denied it!).Unpleasant conversation with loan officer's manager and I squeak out of him $100 recovery for incompetence. He only yielded the $100 bucks when I told him the awesome ladies at Bank of the West had made some mistakes in the past with my account, but were always sweet, helpful, and quick to fix them. I love those ladies! They strive for excellence in their job. I'm a loyal customer because of it. The guy kind of got the idea that just getting the job done is not adequate enough to generate customer loyalty, but doing  the job well.
3) Going back to a store the next day after being over-charged for two items on a small shopping trip. After  asking for something for my trouble, being told bluntly "NO." I argued and was rather demanding. I later had to call back and apologize to the guy. He was so shocked that I apologized it was actually funny to me (although I only laughed while retelling the story later). I don't think he's used to sincere apologies where I made no excuses. I just fessed up to being rude and said "I'm sorry."
4)My Ipod Touch completely died, was totally unresponsive to any of my "touches" to get it to turn on, the day after my last post. $200 and 37 days after I bought it. A trip to Glendale later, well over an hour of my time, and about $4 in gas, I got a new IPod. I asked for something for my trouble. The 24 year old, grungy-looking manager coldly says "NO. I can't do that." I respond, knowing full well that the multi -million dollar Apple Corporation can spring a $5 ITunes card my way, by saying, "You can do that. You just choose not to. I understand. Thank you." I handled myself so much better than my last run-in and didn't feel the need to call back and apologize AT ALL. Wow! Maybe I am making some progress!
      And then of course, I must add that CVS Pharmacy on Foothill  in Pasadena totally rocks! I had a prescription I picked up and because my pharmaceutical company's computer was down I had to pay full price to get the medicine. I complained, but knew that it wasn't the pharmacy's fault. I came back the next morning to get reimbursed and the computer was still down. Ugh! So, later I send Tim to get our refund and he returns home with the refund and a $25 gift card for our trouble from CVS. Oh...thank you! And then several days later I'm picking up another prescription and the pharmacy manager sees me and comes over to apologize for all my trouble several days ago. Mind you, this whole computer fiasco was not CVS's fault in any way. I was blown away! SO impressed! I felt valued and cared for as a customer. And I'll tell everyone I know about it.I will certainly continue to shop at CVS pharmacy.
     In our American free competition, capitalist society," the land of the brave and the home of the free", that's how it works, right? Word of mouth. No better, or cheaper,  advertising than that. But I have to come back to the fact that in all my interactions with people I am an ambassador for the Gospel. I am a representative for Christ. How I respond in all of these situations matters a great deal. I believe there is a place to seek compensation for inadequacy, incompetency, or rude handling by a business, but at what cost? In what manner? These are the questions I believe God will help me with. As I return to Target to exchange those peat pots today, no doubt God will give me another opportunity to practice patience and self-control. Quite honestly, I'm not looking forward to it. C'est la vie.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What's On Your Night Stand?

     So, in the last year God has returned to me my passion for reading. In 4th grade I way out- read the 2nd place winner of the "Who Can Read the Most Books" contest by far. My prize? A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I'm sad to write this, but my reaction was, after I yawned (on the inside, that is) B~O~R~I~N~G. For some reason, poetry doesn't excite or engage me like I wished it would. I've written poetry in the past, but don't enjoy reading it too much - except for children's poetry. (That's my intellectual level!). A lot of poetry is too esoteric and figurative for me. I'm a very literal, concrete kind of person. I don't get nuances very well, although I notice little details about people and can "read" them fairly accurately - sometimes. But we're talking about books, not humans.

      Anyway, from the top left down to the right in the picture here's the list of books (and general publications) I read a little or a lot from most evenings before I go to bed. Sometimes I'll read after I've read to Daisy when I  lay her down next to me to nap in the early afternoon.
- Thriving Family magazine by Focus on the Family publications
-Sovereign Grace Times church bulletin from some Sunday morning, probably the most recent.
-Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. I started this tome with the idea to work through a chapter a month. I'm not quite making that goal, at all. But I want to.
-Grace for the Moment Volume 1 by Max Lucado. Short snippets of inspiration from his many bestselling books, which have really comforted, instructed, and inspired me.
-The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
-Ten Minutes to Bedtime! by Peggy Rathmann. We loved the cover off this book!
-The Complete Perennials Book by Ortho Books. This book has cool garden plans.
-Various spiral binders with I'm not sure what is written in them.
-My IPod Touch with a hot pink protective cover. I input my calories burned at the end of the day on my Lose It! application. I also have an alarm set to wake me in the morning to take Tim to the Metro. This also has the ESV Bible application on it so I can read my daily devotional readings in the morning or before bed at night. Whenever I can!
-Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. This is my latest library treasure. This book is so well-written and interesting to read.
-The Ministry of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. I was given this book by my church on Mother's Day. I'm so glad, too, because I needed a new book about motherhood for inspiration. So far, so good.
The Pleasures of God by John Piper. This book is actually very challenging to get through, despite the title. It's theologically meaty with deep truths to be mined from it. I just need to commit a few pages a day to it.
-Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. This book was chosen for a women's book group that will hopefully be starting soon at church. I really glean so many awesome things from book groups, so I was encouraged to see one being started. This book is very intellectual and I appreciate that. I skipped ahead to the middle of the book to read about how the Industrial Revolution changed the dynamics of family structure, detrimentally. Very stimulating and thought-provoking. And that's it. 

So, what's on your night stand?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Born and Bred, Baby

    Okay, so I was looking at some Yelp Reviews and this woman claimed proudly that she was a born and bred native Pasadenan, "born and bred, baby." I thought, Is that a claim to fame? So am I. I  have noticed in my adult life that many people are transplanted to Pasadena from other states or surrounding areas. So few people I know were born in Pasadena and have lived here their whole life. But I have, baby,  I have.
     So, what about that? I remember being born at Huntington Memorial Hospital. I remember the squeezing sensation, the bright lights, those rubberized hands on my fuzzy head of hair. Oh, just kidding - I only imagined what it was like. OK - back to reality and out of the Freudian psychoanalytic take on my earliest memories. But really, my earliest memory at around age 2 is featured in this old blog post .       
     And then we moved to South Pasadena in April of 1973. About a year later I attended Calvary Pre-School. I have vivid memories of climbing the big playhouse steps to play "store." I delighted on filling my little kiddie basket with pretend food and taking it to the register. An early shopper in training! (I don't recall having any customer service issues then. How things change over the years...)
     Then there was my first grade teacher, Mrs. F. at Marengo Elementary School.  She used to bite her fingernails to the nubs. Her perfume smelled so lovely, though. Apparently, the principal thought so, too, I later found out. (Much later!) I distinctly remember my math worksheets in 1st grade; the colorful squares and triangles I added up to get a total. Early math merriment! Too bad it never really caught on....
     Skip to Mrs. Taylor in 6th grade. She was a dynamic and remarkable teacher. She would regularly take groups of students to the Norton Simon Museum. She gave us a snack of cookies and juice beforehand. Yum. The museum was cool. I haven't been back there since, but have aspirations to. One of these days.

 Then there was 8th grade when I ran for some elected office. I think secretary. I remember my election speech. My Dad coached me and I realized what a great speaker and teacher my Dad was. I lost the race, but learned valuable tips from my Dad about public speaking that I still use today.
     South Pasadena Middle School has always been beautiful and historic looking. Their auditorium had the most stunning art work, too. I'll never forget the beautifully tiled ceiling. Apparently it's under construction. I vividly remember the assembly when they played music while waiting for everyone to get seated. The music they played, you might ask? Some new artist whose first hit song was "Holiday" - Madonna perhaps?
     Then there was South Pasadena High School. It's been completely renovated, but I remember how charming the old school used to be. In that  learning establishment there existed the most horrid cliques of the nastiest folks that could be found anywhere. I believe they've all grown up to be magnanimous and successful individuals at this point in their lives (one can hope at least). I didn't go to my 20th reunion, although I really wanted to. Julia had been born just 6 days prior and I was still recovering from my tubal ligation surgery. The night of my reunion had been a particularly difficult night as well. At any rate, I have fun memories of high school there. I was a B Honors and AP student. One striking memory was when I did a skit with the year book staff for a school assembly. I pretended to be "Lola" and danced along to a Barry Manilow song of the same name. I'll never forget the garish makeup and hot pink feather boa around my neck. Ever since then my nickname has been, well, you guessed it: "Lola."
     During my high school years we used to shop at the Plaza Pasadena. Anyone remember that shopping establishment? It was on the edge of the bad part of town, there had been the murder of a young girl at the mall, and in its later years, it looked like a ghost town. About half the stores were vacant and it was a scary place to be. There had been an increase in violent assaults both in the mall and the parking lot from what I recall. It was also close to Old Town Pasadena. That area 20 years ago was the seedy part of town. There were quite a few abandoned buildings, a really old Woolworth's, and XXX book shops and video stores. Nasty! Well, as the time passed, the Plaza Pasadena was ripped down, Paseo Colorado was built in its place, and Old Town has become filled  with high end shopping  stores and fancy restaurants now. How 20 years can totally revitalize an area! My mother would hardly recognize Colorado Boulevard if she could see it now..
     On Friday nights during elementary school, across from the Plaza Pasadena, we'd go ice skating at the Pasadena Ice Rink. My sisters and I would each take a friend, pile into our old blue Suburban, and my mom would take us ice skating. We would skate to "Hot Child in the City" by Foreigner. Remember that one? It was a blast. My mom loved ice skating. It was fun watching her and hearing the stories of her early skating years on frozen lakes in Illinois. On the way home, we'd stop by Shakers on Arroyo Parkway and pick up a pie for my Dad. Another yum.
     There are so many memories of the Pasadena area that I have. It's a great place to live. I'm thrilled to live right next to Pasadena, but still be in small town Sierra Madre.I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. "The boundaries have fallen in pleasant places" indeed.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring Birthday Season!

     It's that time of year again. Three birthdays in three weeks! Daisy turned 4 on April 19th and we had a small family party (although with my family "small" is not quite how I'd describe it.)
     For Leanne, who turned 9 on April 27th, we went to Griffith Park to ride the ponies and then play at the park. We went to Islands in Glendale and had an amusing and yummy lunch.

     My brother and his wife sent generous gift cards to Target so the three birthday girls had a blast shopping for their own birthday presents. Although I was a bit frenzied and exhausted at the end of this shopping trip, I feel this is a great way to give birthday presents for kids! They had a fabulous time.
     Chloe's birthday was May 8th. We went swimming at my sister's the day before and had pizza and cake. The next day Chloe had some more birthday money so she got to go shopping again after having a cinnamon roll at Bean Town. Later that day, though, her ear was bothering her considerably, despite being on antibiotics and Tylenol for a painful ear infection. Poor dear.

      My girls' aunts, uncles, and grandparents like to take them out for individual little dates for their birthdays. I cherish this practice because my girls eagerly look forward to those special one-on-one times with their relatives. They are part of such a big family that those special times are truly unique and memorable. Thank you all for that.
     Around all of my girls' birthdays I remember those moments when I first saw their face, how they were born, and what those first few days were like after I brought them home. So many intense memories course through my mind and emotions. Their births are significant markers in my life where my heart opened a little bigger, my emotions deepened,  my mind was pressed to greater problem-solving and juggling abilities, and my vision was broadened to observe all that this new little baby would need as she grew.With each child I had to grow up a little more. (I should be more mature by now, you'd think, huh?)
     And grow they have! Wow...thank you Lord for each one of them. Please continue to give me greater wisdom, patience, kindness, discipline and love for each one of them. Help me to do right by them. Please, despite my failings-and I have many of them, help them to see you in a grand way, trust you wholeheartedly, follow after you exuberantly, and love you in a very unique, lasting, and personal way. If they all come to their own special and steadfast love for you till the last days of their life, I will consider that my job as their mother was satisfactorily done. Thank you, Jesus, for such a marvelous opportunity to see your strength, power, and faithful, creative love for me and these precious daughters of mine.
     And in a similar sentimental vein, I bought small gifts for all my girls and Tim for Mother's Day. A little backwards, you might ask? I wanted to validate and celebrate that each of those special people made me a mother. Without them I wouldn't be celebrating Mother's Day. Plus, I thought I'd surprise them, too!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mother Daughter Bonding and Gourmet S'mores

     Not necessarily together, that is. This last Friday, April 30th, Elena, Camille and I went to Ventura for our church's annual mother/daughter retreat. I found myself coordinating the whole thing in January. How did I get myself into this?! I pondered. It was a rocky road at first attempting to start the project and then later be informed that my ideas were different than what others wanted. So, I had to change the whole initial plan. Four months later, and with many helpful and competent ladies, the retreat went smoothly and is NOW OVER. Do I sound relieved? Excited? I am! Unfortunately, I was so busy making sure everything happened when it should have that I didn't get any pictures.However, I did come away with a renewed commitment to be more purposeful in putting aside one on one times to converse with my daughters about various "life" issues. I believe enriching fruit will come from those conversations.
     Later that night, Tim and I went to that shin-dig that I mentioned in my last post. It was at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles in Beverly Hills. That's the full name. OK. After hours of shopping and purchasing a fabulous, great-deal dress, new makeup, and jewelry, I decided that I really couldn't afford it all. We were over budget for April, so I took it all back and decided to trust God for my attire. I ended up wearing what I wore to my Dad's retirement party. When I arrived at the Gala, I didn't at all feel out of place or self-conscious about what I was wearing. And I saved $120! Whoo hoo! Lesson learned: I don't need to spend money I don't have to feel more worthy of such a fancy place, wealthy, high society folks, and an important event. Everything I really needed was already in my closet. Thank you God!
     The event was a fundraiser for a children's camp in Santa Barbara for underprivileged kids. The St. Vincent De Paul Society - a Catholic charity- sponsors the camp and also chooses two recipients every year to be honored for their work in the community. The other recipient, a popular actress from NCIS, was honored for her involvement in over two dozen charities. Her speech was a bit "all over the place," but her energy, her passion for helping those less fortunate, and her sweet heart was very inspiring. My father-in-law, Don Thomas, was honored for starting Young and Healthy twenty years ago. Young and Healthy provides free health care and counseling to underprivileged children in Pasadena schools. His program has been modeled in other cities and has been very successful. Don has also been to Malawi numerous times and has a passion for helping the poor, particularly mothers and babies  infected with HIV in Africa. His speech was very inspiring. I was so proud of him. He models exemplary philanthropy for his children.
     The food was fabulous: a delicious bed of arugula with a peeled, poached pear filled with goat cheese had a  superb blending of flavors and textures to be sure. The tomato risotto with a blue cheese organic chicken breast was moist, rich with savory flavors and absolutely delectable. The "micro greens" were a joke, though. A thin line of green syrup was placed around the chicken and rice. Micro for sure! And tasteless.  The gourmet s'more was very clever, though.  There was a round chocolate cake filled with chocolate cream -  very rich - with a crunchy graham cracker underneath a scoop of vanilla marshmallow ice cream. On top of that was a dark chocolate swirl thing. It was wonderful to the very last bite. I was so well-behaved: I didn't lick the plate once!
     And speaking of well behaved, I was fairly dignified. It was hard, but I really tried.We were seated at the front table and the hostess of the night was this beautiful anchor lady from KTLA. She had hilarious jokes throughout the evening's events. I really laughed - heartily. I couldn't help it. She was really funny. I guess I laughed louder than anybody else because I noticed that people were glancing at me from time to time. I even apologized for laughing so hard - but she tickled my funny bone. And I love a good laugh. I think of it this way: I was beneficial for her ego. And I only had half a glass of wine ( a lot for me because I NEVER drink). One line she said that I loved: "I didn't become a vegetarian because I love animals. I became a vegetarian because I hate vegetables." Get it? I guffawed at that joke quite enthusiastically. That was my favorite.
     Anyway, it was a fun-filled, memorable evening. I also met some warmly engaging, intriguing people that I had enjoyable conversations with. And I was so relieved to get out of those God-forsaken, incredibly painful heals that looked so marvelous. Ouch...the price of beauty and fashion...a great deal for me that night! (And, being only blocks from West Hollywood, I was so grateful that my trip to the lavish, luxurious bathroom was uneventful. Phew!)