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Since I was leaving for New York on Thursday, I decided, on Tuesday, to double check my card account. I was going to need my card for at least four tanks of gas and two nights in hotels. I wasn’t worried, I just like to be prepared for any contingency.

I opened my laptop, enter my user name and password and peruse the recent transactions.

“Wait! What is this?”

A debit transaction for one cent. One penny. From a firm in London (and I don’t mean the near-by city in Ohio).

A few years ago, an employee of this same bank had notified me of suspicious activity because of a one cent transaction. It was explained to me at the time that the thief would test an account for a small amount to make sure it was active and had funds.

I immediately called the 1-800 bank number and was connected with Robert.

I explained my concern to Robert who, at first, in my mind, reacted too cautiously. “You did not make this transaction?”

“First, I would not use my card for one cent. Secondly, I haven’t bought anything in London. Not even London, Ohio.”

The ending seemed to confuse Robert. Many times when I have talked to the bank through this toll-free number, the person on the other end of the phone has been in Cleveland. And although I realize not everyone in the Buckeye state might be aware of London, Ohio, something made me ask, “Where are you, Robert?”

“The Philippines.”

Okay.

Robert questions me repeatedly, “Are you sure you did not make this purchase?”

“For a penny? I would not do that with my card.”

Once I have assured him, he says to ensure there will be no more fraudulent transactions it will be necessary to cancel this card. They will send me a new one within “three to five business days.”

Quick mental calculations allow me to protest, “I’m leaving for a trip where I will need this card.” Three to five business days would be about the time I’d get home.

Robert offers, “We can expedite the cards. That will be only two to three days.”

Since I haven’t made any offerings to the gods recently, I know this means I will just miss having the cards for the trip.

Robert’s next question makes me feel uncomfortable, “Where are you going? We could send the card to where you are going to be.”

I manage to not answer that question but explain, “I will need the card for gasoline and hotels.” And again, the timing was too tight. Odds would be the card would arrive after I returned home.

“We could expedite the card.”

I notice he doesn’t mention anything about expediting costing me extra money. It’s still too tight to attempt and, “How will I pay for the gas and hotel to get where I’m going.”

“You could go to your local branch where they will make you an emergency card. However, that is only good at ATMs, not at businesses.”

I know ATMs have a limit that can be dispensed in a 24-hour period. My bank is not as local as I would like and I don’t have time to get there before I leave.

Robert puts me on hold. I assume it is to check with a supervisor to see if there are any other options.

He comes back to ask if there is anyone else on the account. Perhaps I could use that card.

“Yes, my husband. But we don’t have the same last names and I have no ID using his last name.” I’m thinking that I could make a copy of Husband’s driver license and one of our wedding pictures, but that does sound a tad far fetched.

By this point, Robert is insisting, over my protestations, that he needs to cancel this card to limit fraudulent transactions. I continue to protest. He is not going to let me off the phone without canceling my card.

I relent only to be presented with more surprises.

“There is a five dollar fee for the new card.” I knew if my card became unreadable, I had to pay the fee, but this wasn’t my fault, so why should I pay the fee? Robert continued, “I can waive that fee.” Good thing.

I’m still concerned just how I’m going to pay for gas and lodging, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge…

“Did you want to expedite the production of the card? That will cost $25.00”

“NO!”

“Okay. So I have cancelled your card and put you in for a new card that will be shipped between three and five days. Is there anything else I can do for you today, Miss Johnson?”

“Thank you, Robert.”

It took me another day before I had an idea for how I could pay for hotels. Gas wouldn’t really be a problem because, usually, I didn’t give the card to anyone. I just used self-serve pumps.

I made a second call to the bank on the 800 number. A friendly female listened to my problem and my potential solution (using my husband’s card) and said, “Yes, we can put a notice out that you are traveling. Where will you be going?”

I rattled off Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. On second thought I added New Jersey. That ended up being smart since I refilled in New Jersey on the way home and New Jersey is not a self-fill state. (Even paying for the attendant, that was the cheapest gas on the trip.)

The long weekend presented no problems. As previously mentioned, most of the fueling stops were self-serve, no problem with the card. No hotel clerk seemed to look at the card. It went through. It was the same with the stop in New Jersey. (The bigger problem there was trying to get the “longer hose” to my fuel tank and allowing more than one dollar of gas.)

Now that I’m home, I feel as if I need to plan a vacation from planning a vacation.

If you track seasons by the school calendar, summer is over.

Yesterday was the first day of school at the university where I work in the library part-time. My schedule is back to “normal” (compared to no-student parts of summer) where I work 3 hours per night for five consecutive nights. Most Mondays, I work with the library director, but she decided extra hands would be necessary during the day for new students coming in to find textbooks, pick-up ordered books, and activate student IDs for library use.

For more than two hours last night, the library was relatively quiet. Two female students came in, requested reserved texts then moved to the lobby copier to duplicate the chapters needed. The two talked mostly to each other while I continued my work with my back to them. Some of their words filtered through to my brain – funny how my ears perked up as I was meant to be a part of their conversation.

“What is the oldest building on campus?” reached my ears just as another young lady came to the desk to pick up a book she’d requested.

She handed me her ID card. She wasn’t in my computer. I rectified that then moved to checking the book out to her. The computer program would not allow me to do that. “Do you want to override?”

Well, yes. I filled in all the appropriate boxes. “You are not authorized to override.”

That’s what I thought.

The phone rang. In fact, it didn’t just ring, it screamed, “Answer me. Answer me.”

I excused myself from the student standing in front of me, listened to the request from the student on the other end who, of course, did not realize I had others needing my attention. After a few minutes, I requested her patience while I finished with the person standing in front of me.

Before I pushed the hold button, a daily patron came in to use our computers. This would require me to physically sign him into the exact computer he wished to use. I had him sign in then asked him if he could wait until I was done with the phone caller and the other person waiting to check out her book. He waited on a lobby couch.

I went back to the person in front of me to straighten out dueling ID numbers which turned out to be the cause of the computer keeping me from checking out her book. I made sure that I understood how and why she had two numbers so that I could correctly diminish her account to one number, rather than just dealing with her in the most efficient manner for the moment.

I moved back to the phone caller who had trouble understanding that I couldn’t secure a book for her if she didn’t have an activated ID. In the middle of my explanation, my cell phone in my left hand pocket vibrated followed by the robotic voice, “Call from…” I anticipated my husband’s name who would be communicating about supper when I got home in about a half hour. When I heard my brother’s name instead, I tried not to panic. He never calls me. Something happened to mom.

Still, the job comes first (there’s nothing I can do for or about mom when I’m two and a half hours south of where she was). I pardoned myself from the caller without putting her on hold, answered my cell without a “Hello” and started explaining, “Bob, I’m at work and swamped right now. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

Back to the student on the phone. She had a few more requests before capitulating that everything might be easier if she came into the library “tomorrow.” She asked my name, as she might request my help when she arrived. I gave it to her acknowledging that I do not work during the day, only in the evening.

Before I’m off the work call, my cell rings again. Same as before – my brother’s name. “Gees. It must be really bad with mom.”

I do not answer.

I finish the student call. I move to sign the waiting patron onto a computer. As I walk into the wing where most of the computers are housed, another student walks toward me and asks, “Are you leaving now?”

“Oh, no.”

“Good, I need you to get my number so I can request books.”

“Do you have some ID? I can’t give out a number unless I know who you are.”

My cell phone makes the coloratura refrain that lets me know a voice message came in.

I sign in one patron onto a computer while continuing to discuss how I will give out a number to a student I don’t know. (“I’m the only one on campus with the name…”)

Seemingly defeated, that student leaves the library.

I pick up my cell phone to hear the voice message. I anticipate my brother’s baritone but instead hear “Crunch, crunch, crunch.”

“This is like a prank call!”

I put my phone to the ear of one student still using the copy machine (remember them?) and say, “Doesn’t sound like someone running to you?”

She agrees.

The records show that I received two calls from my brother. One from his cell, the second from his home number. “Is he in trouble? Is this a signal?”

All I can do is call him back. I leave a message – on both of his phones.

A few minutes later, my cell rings again. My brother.

He had been out running and evidently he “butt dialed” me. (My first!) I immediately thought of the commercial on TV where a woman’s marriage proposal is interrupted by her brother’s butt dialing during his own proposal.

Everything is okay. Everyone is baffled how such a thing could happen (he hardly has any butt).

Ah, all’s well.

Oh, and to the young ladies copying…

“I think Barclay or Bailey.”

“Huh?”

“I think one of those is the oldest building on campus.”

“Oh! I didn’t know you heard us. I thought you were reading.”

“Well, it looked like reading, but it was research.”

It’s going to be a good school year.

 

A friend called this afternoon to ask me if I would drive her to the emergency room. I told her that I would be right there. I pulled into her drive, she got into the car and looked at me and said, “Did you bring something to read?”

I looked back at her and said, “Who do you think you’re asking?”
Then she laughed and said, “Of course you would.”
The book I’m reading is for my book discussion on Tuesday night. To her, I didn’t seem to be very far along (about 50 pages). I told her that I had read that last night before I went to sleep.
She was taken into the doctoring section while I found a quiet spot (without blaring TV) and read until I heard my name called. My friend wanted me in the room with her. She asked how much I had gotten read. I had better than doubled my count.
For the next 4-1/2 hours, my friend talked almost nonstop. I learned much about her life – stories about her late husband, her sister, our church, and people in the community I might have known. The only breaks were when she went to the restroom and when she had an x-ray taken.
It was decided she would spend the night in the hospital. Before she was taken up to her room for the night, she asked again, “How far are you now, Linda?”
I laughed and said “You’ve talked all afternoon! I haven’t been able to read much since I came back here!”
She laughed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a tough decision to make – read my book or watch the Tony’s. (Thank goodness for commercials.)

The university where I work has exchange students. Many of them are from China.

Since I started working in the school’s library, I’ve tried to make anyone walking into the library welcomed. I greet everyone who walks into the building, even those with head phones who don’t always hear me.

I prefer to call people by their given name. I was taken aback the first time I asked one of the Chinese students her name and she replied, “My American name is Peggy.” I didn’t want an “American” name. I wanted her name. I wanted her to feel welcome and didn’t think calling her a name she had newly learned was the way to do it.

Last Monday was the Chinese New Year – the year of the monkey. I decided there was another way to make the Chinese students feel welcome. Somewhere, in the back of my brain, were the words to wish them “Happy New Year!”

What were they? What were they? Ah, ha! Gung hey fah choy.

Okay, okay. how many years of dust had I just removed. I was ready.

A Chinese female came into the library. I said, “Hello,” followed quickly by “Gong hey fat choy.”

She looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language, which of course I was, but it was foreign to her, too.

In English, I tried to explain what I was attempting to wish her a Happy New Year. Our lack of a common tongue plus the unconventional circumstances proved unsolvable. (If we had been talking about school topics, I believe we would have communicated well enough to understand each other.)

She went into the wing to study. I turned to my computer. I asked Google for the Chinese words for “Happy New Year.”

Two options were presented. “Gong xi fa cai’ was Mandarin but “Gong hey fat choy” is Cantonese. Next to the English pronunciation were the Chinese characters to write. I printed the page and went to see the student whom I had puzzled.

I showed her the characters and she smiled with recognition before explaining that what I had tried to say was not “Happy New Year” but something like “I wish money come to you.” I’m not sure she got my humor when I replied, “That works.”

About a half hour later another exchange student came in who I knew better (and longer) than the first.

I explained the confusion I had caused earlier saying, “Gung hey fah choy.” Dan Dan looked puzzled. She asked, “Where did I learn that?”

I quickly dispelled any thought of explaining Stan Freburg, LaChoy (un)Chinese Chop Suey or a TV commercial. That would not be sublime, or ridiculous.

I turned my computer screen so that Dan Dan could see what I had found through Google.

For the second time that evening, I heard the translation of “wishing money comes to you.” This time we both agreed that that could be a good wish for a new year.

Dan Dan did teach me the proper way to express my good wishes, “Cing nyen kwai le.”

I practiced several times so Dan Dan could correct me if necessary. I wrote the phrase down so I would have it for next year.

My plan is to properly greet the year of the rooster in 2017. If I get it right, I promise not to crow.

When did cooking become audible? I don’t just mean repeating to myself an ingredient that I’m searching for in overstuffed cupboards.

For a several reasons, I don’t cook often. My husband has done most of the cooking for a long time. Occasionally, a recipe or an event will prod me into action. Lately, I have been trying to replicate macaroni and cheese like I used to eat in high school.

Lunch in high school cost $1.50 and consisted of an entree, three sides and a beverage. On Fridays the menu included a creamy macaroni and cheese that I heartily endorsed by asking for an entree portion accompanied by three sides of the delectable pasta dish. If my milk could have been replaced by my favorite food, I’m sure that I would have done that, too.

I hadn’t thought about this ritual until I recently met a friend at Tim Horton’s and decided to try, what has become for me, of late, an unusual side dish. Macaroni and cheese.

I was in lust again. It seemed the perfect clone for what I’d had half a century ago during my much thinner days.

Since that fateful stop, I’ve been perusing cookbooks and the internet to find a plausible clone for the elusive recipe.

A few weeks ago, I found a candidate in a usually reliable source, a new America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.

Some of the ingredients had to be purchased fresh from the grocery, others were already found on my cupboard shelves.

Fortunately, the largest saucepan was not buried in the unending corner cupboard. I easily pulled it out, filled it with water, reached above the stove for salt, sprinkled some into the pan’s water, replaced the salt and turned on the stove.

Step two, getting a casserole dish large enough for all the macaroni. “Large enough” in our kitchen means that it is under a stack of like, but smaller, vessels. “Unh!” was audible as I thought, “When did these get so heavy?” taking a pile of casseroles out of a lower cupboard onto a stool then separating those I didn’t need to return them to the low shelf.

Step three, reaching the food processor on top of the upper cupboards. Fortunately, the device was placed up there so that it hung over the edge. It still was a stretch to balance it down. The bread-ends I needed to pulse were on the third shelf of the frig, at the back. The perfect spot to torment my back. Before I found all the slices I needed, my back said, “Enough!”  resulting in a very loud moaning from my mouth, Uh, uh, uh!” This was the first sound that resulted in an, “Are you okay, Mom?” from Son in the dining room. I assured him that I was.

It is time for a pause to let the reader know, the kitchen is very closed off from the rest of the house, only a single door opening into the dining room. Usually the person (Husband) in the kitchen talking to others in the house — Son in dining room and me in living room —cannot be understood. So it was notable that my predicaments were obvious.

The fourth step was easy, developing the roux into a creamy cheese sauce. No audibles here.

The penultimate step required Panko crumbs which were on the highest shelf over a counter. “I didn’t used to have trouble reaching that shelf. Am I shrinking?” came out as a very loud, “Unh” as I stretched to tipple the bottom of the can in my direction. Again, from the dining room, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, hon. I was just trying to reach the bread crumbs.”

“Did you get them?”

“Yes. I did. Thanks.” Although I noticed he didn’t get up from his computer to check.

The layout of the kitchen is wanting (one of the reasons I don’t cook in there.). One of the things it “wants” is space. Especially in front of the oven. One can not stand in front of the oven and open the oven door. Well, if one is paper thin, it could be done, but no one in our household meets that requirement.

This means dishes put in the oven are done so from the left side. To eliminate any more audio clues, I calmly called, “Help.”

Husband answered, “What do you need?” I could tell that he was walking towards the kitchen.

He put the macaroni and cheese in the oven and returned to remove it 20 minutes later.

The result was a creamy but anemic looking (pale yellow vs vibrant) dish. We all were disappointed with the results. The disappointment was not just because of the taste. It was also because of the quantity.

We’re going to be eating the leftovers for weeks.

“Unh!”

There is nothing as reliable as my Aunt Pat. Nothing.

She has known me, obviously, for my entire life. Both she and her sister Nancy have, more than once, written or stated, “I remember the night you were born…” It was during a really bad snow storm about two weeks before Christmas, so I think it was as much the weather as the birth of the first of my generation on both sides of my family.

I have become conditioned over 65 years to expect a card from Pat whenever I have a momentous occasion. I still have the holy card she sent me for my First Holy Communion in 1958. She signed and dated the back.

A few weeks ago, I did not get a birthday card from Aunt Pat. I didn’t know how to handle this. I was worried.

The lack of birthday card may not be noticed by many. I’ll bet those people were not born in December. People born in December are often short changed in the birthday department, so any observance of our entrance into the world is greatly appreciated and remembered.

Pat is an octogenarian – maybe she decided enough. Maybe she was sick. Was she getting forgetful? Pinching pennies and given up on what might be considered an extravagance – after all I was the first of 25 cousins who have given to another generation who has started the next generation. How long could she keep cards coming for so many.

Adding to my concern was the fact that she also had not commented about the past blog or two that I had sent her. I could always count on an e-mail comment once she’d read my latest.

Pat, a nun, has a very close friend, Noreen. Pre-Vatican Two, the nuns always traveled in pairs. Noreen was the one who usually traveled with Pat, to the point we consider Noreen part of our family. (I’d be willing to bet that Pat has a second family in Noreen’s.)

Noreen did respond to one of my blogs so I took the opportunity to respond to her response: “Is Pat okay?”

Within a few minutes her succinct response, “Of course.”

No questioning why I would ask. Hmmm. Should wouldn’t tell me a story. I should relax, but I was still curious.

All my concerns were calmed on Christmas Eve. I opened the mail finding a Christmas card from Aunt Pat and inside the Christmas card was a piece of mail stamped, addressed to me but with a notification at the bottom, “Return to Sender – undeliverable as addressed.”

I examined it. The address had the correct number and street but was missing the direction. There is a duplicate for our address on the west side of town. In the 20 years we have lived here, we have often gotten mail addressed for West or with no direction at all.

In fact, the week before, we had gotten mail that said WEST but used our 9-digit zip code. The opposite side of town would have a completely different 9-digit zip.

Pat’s address had the entire 9-digit zip.

I was flabbergasted. In a town of under 12,000 people, where I lived in the same house for 20 years, the post office couldn’t make two attempts to attempt delivery? If they followed the 9-digit zip code they would have gotten it correct the first time.

I ended up calling Pat on the phone to let her know how I had been worried about her, but that having received the mail that day, I now knew all was right with the world again.

(I also told her I was going to use this situation as blog fodder.)

Since I talked, to Pat, I visited with cousins and before relating this story asked, “Each year, who do you KNOW you’re going to get a birthday card from?”

No one had to think for very long – “Aunt Pat.”

So, now, Pat, the pressure is really on. We are all expecting your cards.

Have you noticed? We’re being invaded.

Originally I thought it might have had to do with the seemingly inexhaustible hot air generated by too many political candidates. But that couldn’t be true because the invaders disappear during the daylight, reappearing after dark while the presidential candidates blow hard twenty-four hours a day.

If I search during the day, I find are puddles of material on front lawns where an identifiable shape existed the night before. The misshapen forms rarely are solo. They seem to travel in groups. There must be comfort in numbers.

A flashlight is not needed to locate marauders after sunset. As if  a traveling theater company, the evening’s skirmishers know how to spotlight their conflicts.

Even without snow, the red of their uniform fails to camouflage. Perhaps they are Martians (from the Red Planet) where the hue would conceal.

This army is nondiscriminating. The troops display a variety of skin colors: white, brown, green and flesh colors. No height requirements can be observed, although the taller, seems to be the better.

They also are presenting themselves in identifiable shapes – Mickey Mouse, the Grinch, snowmen, Santa Claus, Snoopy.

We did discover a vulnerability. They all turned into limp shapes on lawns with yesterday high winds and tornado warnings. But they are back in full force today.

I’ve also just realized they are keeping their distance. They are not advancing. They are always in the same yards.

Maybe they are here to enforce peace and goodwill to humans.

It should would be wonderful if someone (or thing) could.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.