Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sand Between My Toes

May 29th is the 558th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, effectively ending the Byzantine Empire.  It is also the 58th anniversary of the day Sir Edmund Hillary reached the top of Mount Everest. I know these things. As do my boys. And it was traditionally celebrated with angel's food cake with chocolate icing.

This momentous confluence of anniversaries usually falls on or about Memorial Day weekend, also known as the traditional kick off to “I’m bored there’s nothing to do” season.

Any mother knows that lament. We live for it. In fact, we lie abed at night thinking up smart-ass answers to use on our kids. And I suspect our answers are all pretty similar...and have to do with “do you want me to find something for you to do?”

When they were young, the guys went to day camp for most of the summer. The purpose of day camp is to send them to the most mosquito-ridden location imaginable where they learn useful things like how to swim and less useful things like how to spit in a lake. The real purpose of day camp, however, is to run the little darlings into the ground so that when they get home, you simply hose them off, feed them, and watch them collapse in a heap. My guys loved camp. In fact, senior son loved camp so much he became a camp counselor. Junior son, on the other hand, decided he wanted be a camper for the rest of his school career, so he took up marching band...another fine activity that runs them into the ground. Let’s just say I know when and where every local parade in the State of Minnesota is held.

I did, however, manage to put my foot down on one issue: what constitutes a beach? What passes for a beach here is not what us coastal folk consider a beach. I was not going to raise pond swimmers! Only Atlantic waves for my guys! And sand between my toes for me.

Ziggy humored me...because I took the kids and the dog and left him home. Alone. Actually, I think he did the happy dance on his way home from the airport.

Taking the kids to New York was a good thing. They learned to open the combination lock on the cabana door, and they learned to boogie board...skills which continue to serve them well. They got to know their New York family, which is considerable. They improved their tennis skills at Bubbe’s office, which just happened to be a tennis club with a camp. And they got city time. As the guys got older, I was even able to send them without me, and I would do the happy dance on the way home from the airport!

If we did anything right at all as parents, it was agreeing that summer in New York was crucial. And when, on those momentous occasions Ziggy managed to join us for a bit, it was a celebration! There was nothing better than sitting on the deck with Ziggy and my dad, telling and retelling the worst jokes imaginable.

But those days are long gone. The cabana is gone. Mom retired from the tennis club and Dad from the box biz. They sold the house and moved to Flah-rida. The kids are busy being adults.
So to mark the 558th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the 58th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent, I went to the cemetery to put a little rock atop Ziggy’s headstone. There was no angel food cake.

The Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Day
When you cannot see the big picture,
focus only on putting one foot in front of the other.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Piece and Change

There is so much to write about this week that it’s almost impossible to pick one topic. But unless I want this blog to run to thousands of words, I really do need to pick just one. So I think I’ll be a bit self referential and mention a comment that was posted on the NY TIMES website the other day. In response to the editorial PEACE AND CHANGE, I wrote,

So, if the Israelis go back to the pre-1967 borders, shouldn't the US follow suit and go back to the pre-1492 borders?

You can't make much of a long time claim for Europeans conquering the Americas. At some point, don't you think the land, especially Manhattan since now it's worth so much more than the rocky little island it was, should be returned to its original owners? 

Yeah, part of me was being very flip (one of my less endearing traits ...or so I‘ve been told) but the other part of me said it in all seriousness. At what point does an old border truly disappear? I mean, think about Alsace-Lorraine. Who does it belong to or does it belong to anyone? Okay, you don’t like Alsace? How about Basque? Or Northern Ireland?  Or Scotland? 

It’s not just over there, either. A whole lot of Native Americans know that their lands were stolen. The federal government not only took the land, it marched the inhabitants to locations far away and penned them up in reservations. No real restitution has ever been made, and no, casinos don’t count. When exactly did the tribal lands take precedence over original location? There are still court cases pending about just who owns the fishing rights. And this is only 400 years worth. 

In the Middle East, if you want to go all the way back, there’s Edom and Moab to think about. Whatever happened to them? Or Phoenicia? It ran from just south of Akko to north of Arwad in what's now Syria. The Persians conquered them around the same time they conquered Israel…but the Israelites went back to their own country after the exile. What happened to the Phoenicians? Are there any Phoenicians out there who want their country back?
Pre-1967 Borders -
8th Century B.C. E
You can’t consider Israel as outside colonization by some Yossi-Come-Lately. Jews have lived there continuously for over 3000 years. That’s a pretty respectable stretch of time in terms of residency. There’s archeological evidence to support that, as well as the liturgy to support the idea that this is a homeland and that context has never been set aside. Our dead are buried there, we built our cities there, and oddly enough, there are lots of written records from before the Common Era recording the history of Jews in that land.

We (and yes, I do mean we) are the other. Funny thing was that putting us in ghettos probably steeled us against outsiders and strengthened our resolve to survive. We became insular and protective of our own. Clannish some would call it, but whatever it was, it worked.

We survived. Can’t say that about a lot other ancient groups. Who's left to worship Kemosh, Ba'al or Astarte?

To those who say we don’t belong there, I say, “Guess again.” Our roots are as deep in that land as any water well. Do the Palestinians belong there? Yes; their roots are as deep as ours in the region. However, that does NOT give them or anyone else the right to deny the right of a Jewish state to exist in its own homeland.

The day Hamas and Fatah walk away from the platform of Israel’s destruction will be the day there can be a negotiation for peace. When the security of the state is guaranteed, Israel can inch back from the heightened stand to defend its citizenry. When everyone can agree that we ALL belong there, we will be able to live peaceably together.  Until that time, Israel has the imperative to defend itself.

TheWifely Person's Tip O'the Week
TWP's Rule # 1 for nation building: Set up a viable economy
TWP's Rule # 2 for nation building: see rule # 1
If there's no economy, there's no country.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Best Buy Redeemed

One of the things I inherited from my husband was his laptop. I’d never owned one, never saw the need for one, but this one was sitting idle on his desk, so I thought, “what the heck?” and glommed on to it. And I liked it. A lot. But about a week ago, it started having some kind of seizure. Turns out to be a video card issue and in the scheme of things, it's not fixable. Thus began a search for a new laptop.

I did my homework and even went to look at them in person ...not a good experience but that’s another story... and finally asked a friend who knows about these things to go with me last Sunday for the final analysis. The decision was made and I went to Best Buy’s website to make the purchase since they were out of the HP special at the West Saint Paul store. Well, the web was out of stock, too, but the order was accepted with a note saying the laptop would arrive around the end of the month. Not a problem; I could wait.

On Thursday, I got the email saying the computer I ordered was no longer available and here’s their idea of an equitable substitution. It was not. There was less DRMM, less memory and a lesser processor.  

I called and spoke to a guy named Zach at the Missouri call center. He called it a substitution. I called it bait’n’switch. We looked at the specs, and he agreed: this was not even close to the one I ordered.  I pointed out the machine I wanted was still out there, but way more expensive than the sale price.

He agreed that I shouldn’t settle for the substitute and opened a customer service “ticket.” I was very specific in saying I wanted to be contacted via email, NOT by phone since I actually have a job.

Best Buy Customer service called my house on Friday. 1) It was not an email. 2) It was during normal business hours when I specifically said I would not be available. 3) The woman spoke to my father-in-law who explained I was at work but would be home after 4:30. She said she would call back before 5 p.m.

At 5:15 p.m. I called the number on the original email, explained the situation, and was passed to another help person...who then passed me to someone else. That person confirmed that the ticket said the two machines were not comparable, and that I’d asked to be contacted via email, not phone. She also put me on hold to call the customer service desk, and then delivered the message that I would definitely be called that evening. 


Lo and behold! Sunday's ad had a Dell computer almost identical to the one I ordered; in fact, it's a slightly faster machine AT THE SAME PRICE as the one I ordered. Can someone explain why this wasn't offered as an option?

Well, now it’s Monday.  At 10:00 a.m. central I got an email from Best Buy saying, "I am needing some more information regarding this situation, so that I can further assist you." I outlined the problem in a return email. The woman handling my “case” asked me to call her. She provided a toll-free number and her direct extension. 

Multiple calls and unpleasant attitudes (from people to whom I had no desire whatsoever to talk) later, I finally got through to the original customer service agent handling this morass. It’s amazing what happens when someone who is skilled, empathetic, and looking to solve a problem gets on the phone. Her opening salvo was an apology for the multiple calls to reach her. We explored some options, figured out which machine would make me happiest, and then she upgraded my software package. As pissed off as I was earlier, this was excellent service recovery. [Ashlee, you know who you are…again, thank you!]

Back in business!
I have walked many miles in shoes not dissimilar to Ashlee’s. I know what it’s like to deal with an irate customer. Probably the most important thing she said, right after the apology, was “Let’s see what we can do to get this fixed.” She did, it was, and I am coming to you from my new Dell laptop. 

Of course, I'm just one squeaky customer and a lot of people probably took that substitute computer. But I figure we are all getting smarter about technology or at least we should be. If enough of us consumer types catch them in the act, perhaps the buyers will be less inclined to perpetrate a bait'n'switch. Or not. Hard to say.

For now, I will go back to Best Buy. 

Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Week
Unhappy with the service you’re getting?
Vote with your feet.
PS: And Best Buy... while I'm on a roll, do something about the service in Eagan. It really does suck.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Springing Forward

Grandma and Ma
Mother’s Day is still a bit of a challenge for me. No, my own mother is just fine and busy organizing my father in Florida. It’s the widow part that throws me off just a bit. I am working through it, although I’m pretty sure there are some people that would like me to just get over myself and my ongoing trepidation. For the record, my mother-in-law passed away 27 years ago today, the day after Mother's Day. So Mother's Day ends up being fraught with assorted meanings. What can I say? It is what it is.

Last weekend, the junior son and his wife presented me with a Mother’s Day offering: a bicycle. I was thrilled, since the bicycle presented to me on Mother’s Day the first year we were here in this house now lies in pieces on the basement floor, the hapless victim of an engineering attempt gone awry. I had been asking the assorted qualified bike repair personnel (one of whom had, for a time, earned his living doing bike repair) who happen to have resided under this roof to restore said bike to a bike-able condition. In fact, I think this was the first year in a while that I didn’t wistfully remark,  “Gee, I would love it if someone fixed up my bike for Mother’s Day.”

This bike is vintage (like me) and perfect (unlike me). It’s an old fashioned English racer, but with a coaster brake (because I’m old) as well as a hand brake. Happily, it’s a three-speed since I never really got the whole ten-speed process. They even put a bell on it. Junior son adjusted the brakes and the seat, then let me try it out. I don’t know why he was so amazed I could still ride a bike. I mean, it’s like don’t forget how to do that either!

my new wheels

But he admonished about going too far too soon. “You can’t be riding around without a helmet,” he warned. And I couldn’t help myself. Really. I couldn’t. It was the perfect opening and I had to say it. So I did. I said, “You’re not the boss of me.”  

 The look he shot back was priceless.

I got myself a shiny new helmet. The nice man at the bike store was very patient as he tried to find one that fits on this thick-haired head so now, I look like a mushroom with a double chin. It’s just not all that attractive. Any of my baseball caps would look much better. Unfortunately they won’t protect me if I fall. Not that I’m planning to.

So far so good. I've been riding around the neighborhood a bit, and have to admit I’d forgotten just how hard a leather bike saddle can be. And while the ankle twisted in that pre-dawn dog-walking episode is healing, it’s still a bit tender.  I have no desire to ride in one of those en masse clubs; my goal is much simpler:  I want to ride to work. 

I'm being optimistic; that’s why I’m writing this down. If I tell all of you I’m going to do this, I’m kinda locked in here. 

As for Mother's Day itself, I got to have a bunch of high quality chuckles on the phone with the senior son, and then we went over to the junior son and spouse house for a lovely dinner. My daughter-in-law makes some wicked good coffee ice cream! I won't even mention the almond macaroons. And of course any time spent with my grandpuppy is good time.

Meanwhile, the snow is finally gone, the front garden is popping up, the grass is greening up, and the tractor is all gassed up. What more could a Mom want?

The Wifely Person Tip o'the Week 
Got a new bike and wanna be really cool? They still sell handlebar streamers!
I gotta get me some of those! 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Vorpal Sword

Is that an octopus on your head
or are you just glad to see me?
Great and serious thought was given to writing about those crimes against nature appearing on a number of heads in the Abbey on Friday. Some of the creations were the Minnesotan sense of the word, which is not a good thing... while others were just plain weird the New York sense of the word which means really, really weird. But, as I was exploring my inner fashionista, reality crashed in over the weekend and I find myself pulling out the ol’ soap box. Against the class act the Brits showed us on Friday, we had a cheesy three ring circus of our own. 

I’m not quite sure if it was Donald (the Toup) Trump and birth certificate, Michele (the brain) Bachmann’s comparison of the tax situation to the Holocaust, or POTUS at the Correspondents’ Dinner that sent me over the edge. It was like a perfect storm.  Just way too much material to settle for hats. 

Personally, it was thrilling to hear the President call Donald the Toup out on the birther baloney. It was about time. And while I think Mr. Obama has far more important things on his desk other than the establishment of Hawaii’s credentials as a state, it was almost a relief when he bluntly called this a distraction of “sideshows and carnival barkers."

But now, it seems the sideshow owners and carnivals known as carnival “talkers”... are taking exception to the remark, claiming the President has perpetrated “... the same type of stereotype that has been placed on African Americans.”

Excuse me? 

I could’ve sworn the whole purpose of a sideshow “talker” was to draw people in to see the unbelievable. You know... "SEE IT WITH YOUR OWN EYES!!!" kinda thing.  

And speaking of seeing is believing....I cannot wait for the Osama was seen in Vegas with Elvis reports. You know it's coming...unless the side shows get him first.

What? Me worry?
As for moronic Michele on the stump in New Hampshire, her “Drill, baby, drill,” mantra is just plain wrong: wrong for America’s coastal waters, wrong for the Arctic environment, and wrong for the needed reduction of dependence on fossil fuels. Drilling is not going to solve any of our problems, it will only exacerbate them. And Michele honey, there is just no comparison between our tax situation and the Holocaust, unless you’re planning some bizarre demonstration of putting 6 million pennies in a smelt furnace to make some cockamamie point.  You’ve embarrassed yourself and your district enough; it  really is  time for you to sit down and shut up.

To quote Aaron Sorkin’s  
These are serious times, and 
your fifteen minutes are up.

I was about ready to stop here, but then something else distracted me.

Over and over and over, we're being asked:  Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country today?

The pollsters are playing with us on this one. This is an inherently stupid question because it doesn't have an immediate corollary question to refine the "why."

If you take the numbers at face value, things seem pretty bleak, but not everyone thinks that for the same reason. I happen to be dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country, but it’s more of an objection to a obstructionist Congress fueled by a right wing so far out of synch with the population that large numbers of the population don’t understand what is at risk. 

I think the country is going in the wrong direction because jobs are still be exported by companies who get tax breaks for taking jobs overseas. I think the country is going in the wrong direction because the tax burden continues to be lightened, and sometimes removed, from large corporations who open single office doors in places like Switzerland to avoid paying any U.S. tax. And I think the country is going in the wrong direction when it refuses to acknowledge that the budget cannot be balanced through more tax cuts.

Do I think the president is leading us down a wrong road? No. Do I think the President and his cabinet are capable of putting together a roadmap for deficit reduction and economic recovery? Yes...and most serious economists would agree with that we are moving in the right direction.

No economy of this size can turn on a dime; we barely lumber along, but lumber forward we do.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
So, you think Osama bin Laden is dead? Give it a day or so....
 the Death-er Movement will be demanding a stuffed body.