Tickle Me Elmo Moments

This weekend I took a short trip back to the Rockford area to help my grandma with some things around her house.  The big project was to help my boyfriend paint the inside of her garage.  It was a lot of work but turned out really well.  Of course one part of the work included clearing off the garage shelves and sorting through what Grandma no longer wanted to hang on to now that my grandpa has passed away.

The garage was my grandpa’s space.  He built their house in the late 1980s and the garage was always a “man cave” for him.  Grandma didn’t know what all he had squirreled away in the garage until we sorted through everything.

Being a “neat freak” like my grandma is, she wanted to vacuum and dust every thing in and every part of the garage.  While vacuuming she came across piles of wheat, grass, acorns, and all kinds of natural things Grandpa had hoarded away because it reminded him of something.  Grandpa wasn’t the only one who loved these collections, because there were trails of mouse poop leading to the grasses and acorns.

“Most of the acorns were just shells because the mice had eaten all of them!” Grandma recollected.  “I even found a pile by the hole in the garage door that something chewed so they could come back!”

One shelf in particular was interesting.  Behind tool boxes and other boxes, not visible at all unless you moved everything in front of it, was a grey box designed to look like a steel lock box.  It was cardboard and had a Velcro flap that you lift up to hear…Elmo.  Sesame Street Elmo.

“Hahahahahaha don’t do it!  No tickle!” the box cries.

“What is this?” I asked my boyfriend, not sure if I’m amused or slightly horrified by Elmo’s voice.

“I don’t know” he said looking at it briefly.

My grandma soon came out to the garage and saw the box.

“Another one?!” she exclaimed.

She went back inside and brought out an identical box.  The one difference?  This one was in Spanish.  “Plaza Sesamo” was printed on this box; the sound didn’t work in this one though.  I can only begin to imagine the Spanish speaking exuberance that is Plaza Sesamo Elmo.

“He bought me one years ago to be silly…he must have gotten the Spanish one on accident” Grandma said, laughing incredulously.

We all had a laugh about Plaza Sesamo Elmo and how Grandpa always was secretive but rarely paid close attention to things like languages of his Tickle Me Elmo’s.  Whenever he would work on a project he would have to make multiple trips to the hardware store because he would grab the first thing that would look right, only to realize once he was home it wasn’t quite right.

I went into this past weekend simply thinking about the work that needed to be done and how long it might take.  I realized, around the time Spanish Elmo surfaced, that it was also a chance to hear some of Grandma’s memories; we found multiple car parts and big purchases squirreled away in the garage that Grandpa had never told her about.

“That asshole!” she said, somewhat kidding, when we found a $500 bill for a car stereo.

The beauty of these experiences lies in the eye of the beholder.  If I had only focused on the work to be done, I would have missed out on making some more good memories.  (My grandma told a story later about how she found a “balloon” on the side of the road when she was 4 and when they got home her sister told on her for trying to blow it up; her mouth was washed out with some pretty serious stuff).  So, if you have any experiences you may not be looking forward to this week, look for the Tickle Me Elmo moments.  You never know, there could be a Plaza Sesamo Elmo out there waiting for you to find.

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Why?

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What’s the worst (or best) experience you’ve had as a customer?

I stumbled across this prompt on The Daily Post, and can’t help but feel the irony of the location I’m posting this from. The way that my morning ride situation works out, I usually end up sitting in Starbucks for about an hour every day before heading to work myself. Sometimes the employees are friendly, but (in my mind anyways) I’ve gotten this idea that they kind of hate me because I’m here almost every day but do not necessarily buy something every day. I always use their bathroom though!

I’m not sure if it’s reasonable or not to feel like I have to buy something just because I’m sitting in Starbucks and using their Wi-Fi. I used to tell myself this is the city; people hang out places like this all the time. Being that I try to consciously keep track of days when I do or don’t spend money and what I spend money on, I choose not to get something all the time. I’ve noticed all the regulars (which I don’t include myself in because the baristas don’t know me by name or know my drink order) by now and how friendly their relationship with the employees is. I have to wonder if they genuinely like these regulars as people or just maintain good relationships because it brings business back.

Usually I try to do my best to walk in to Starbucks unnoticed but sometimes, on those days that I decide to buy a treat on my way out the door, I feel like the barista is very pointedly asking “Nothing to drink with that?” I have to wonder how much of this perceived hostility is in my head and how much of it actually exists. Why is it that I can not let things like that bother me?

I recently started working in a bakery and had an experience the other day that made me ask myself why customers choose to handle some situations the way they do. There was a man looking through the bagel selection while my manager and I were behind the counter. I was asking her a question about the cakes I had to decorate and the man suddenly stands up, bagel in hand, displaying the bagel to us like we’ve never seen one before.

“You see this?” he asks us. “Who makes these?”

Awkward pause.

“You should take a picture of this for whoever makes these so they know what this kind of bagel is supposed to look like.”

“I’m here every day and sometimes when I come in there are hardly any seeds on top” he continues.

My manager informs him: “The overnight lady is good, but she is usually off two days a week so when she isn’t here they aren’t the same. I recently had to fire some one because they weren’t cutting it so don’t worry, I am working on it.”

“Well it’s too bad they can’t be like this every day. This one right here” he says, thrusting the bagel out again, “is perfect. So keep a picture of it so you know what it’s supposed to look like”.

“Okay sir” my manager replies.

After the man walked away my manager rolled her eyes to me; I had been standing there awkwardly listening to the whole conversation, not sure what role I was supposed to play in the situation.

“Oh my God. I hate those people sometimes.”

“Of all the ways to approach that, that was certainly an interesting way to have that conversation” I laughed.

I try to be as accommodating as possible, knowing that customers’ business is what keeps me employed, but sometimes I just can’t believe how customer-employee interactions go. Sometimes my coworkers are the ones being difficult and unaccommodating, and sometimes the customers are making absurd requests. It’s one of the joys of customer relations. I guess that’s why I feel more self-conscious about my mornings in Starbucks now that I work in a customer service field too. I know how annoying it can be when people just hang out or make a nuisance of themselves at my job, but Starbucks culture is more centered around hanging out in the store than the culture of a bakery in a grocery store is (in my opinion). So, if you have to handle a disgruntled employee today, I apologize. But, as customers, we can all do a little more to be accommodating of employees trying to help us. I’m still pretty new to my job and there’s nothing I appreciate more than a little patience while I try to problem solve.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/daily-prompt-service/

A great customer service story:
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/09/18/this-story-of-a-19-year-old-dairy-queen-employee-standing-up-for-a-blind-man-will-touch-your-heart/

Grown Up Things

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Earlier this week I spent my morning before work budgeting.  Yes, budgeting.  Typically I try to write or read during that time, but I chose to write out an itemized list of expenses.  “Woah, that sounds like too much fun!” you might be thinking; who would have thought I would get so excited about realizing I have enough in my budget to buy a gym membership?!  Huzzah!

I’ve always been a financially conscious (all I can think of after saying that is the “fiscally responsible” Kmart commercial) person and saver, especially since I grew up in a house where money was always mismanaged and lacking.  I even started working as soon as I legally could in high school so that I could be more independent financially.

Over the last year especially I have really buckled down.  I have started breaking down my purchases into categories and using a budget sheet and monthly spending sheet.  Confession: I am a list-maker.  I make lists for everything; check-lists, to do lists, shopping lists, packing lists, you name it.  Of course tracking where my money needs to go and how much I have is another list I make.  I’ve stepped up my list-making and budgeting this past year especially; last year I budgeted well enough that I had all of my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving.  Plus, I wasn’t broke or in debt because of it.  I know, I know, I’m sure there are plenty of people that do that, but how many were college-aged?  (Just let me have my moment of pride please).

I think it is important to save and be aware of how much money you have to spend.  Those numbers let you have a solid idea how much money you’ll have left for “luxury” items and fun stuff.  Personally, I love exact numbers because then I don’t feel like I’m just looking ahead into the void of the unknown.  Will I have enough money?  Oh, a bill came and I don’t have enough to cover it because I spent my money already.  When that bill comes, the person expecting the money will not be interested in an excuse that the money is already gone because of this expense or that expense.  They just want their money.

I did some research before deciding on a specific budgeting style (yes, there are multiple ways to categorize your budget!).  I’ve read some articles and there are some people out there raising families of six on less than $28,000 a year.  If those people can make that work, I can definitely make my income work for one person.

All this being said, I feel like this is one of the “adult things” that make us realize we can’t be financially irresponsible teenagers anymore.  Whimsy and spontaneity are fun, but if you need a place to live, that reality of bills and rent will catch up to you at least once a month.  Some people might even find budgeting attractive, because it means you have your shit together and could potentially support someone besides yourself.

I read an article in Chicago’s RedEye about a dating site called datemycreditscore.com where you can list your credit score on your online dating profile.  The site is described in the article as “whoever you meet there will be financially responsible—or at least skilled at playing the labyrinthine long game that is credit scoring.”  The site doesn’t seem to be hugely successful according to the article, but it does seem like a different approach to dating, especially since it has seemed like excessive purchases and overspending have been such popular messages to society before.

So, fellow “adults”, childhood might be over, but the joy and adventure that go with it don’t have to be over; you just have to be smart about your money. I recently came across a quote that instantly reminded me of my grandpa, a financially responsible man who was also the biggest kid I know.  I’ll leave you with the quote:

“A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.”

-Aldous Huxley

Creatures of Habit

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

–Warren Buffett

Humans are creatures of habit.  Even when we describe ourselves as spontaneous or easy-going, there are still certain habits that we don’t want to change.  When I get ready in the morning, I always put in my contacts, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, and then wash my face.  Even though these smaller routines can seemingly be insignificant, it can actually be pretty upsetting when our routines are altered.

When I spent a summer in Alaska a few years ago, there was no running water readily accessible (except in a select few locations) or indoor plumbing.  To some this might seem horrible, and I will admit that it took me some time to adjust habits like my morning routine, but once I settled into a new routine I had just as much trouble readjusting when I returned to a less rustic setting.

It’s funny how we can get so wrapped up in the way things already are or the way we want them to be.  We don’t like change when it comes to things we are comfortable with.  I can’t tell you how many job postings I’ve hesitated to apply for because I don’t like the location, or don’t like the commute; I don’t know how my routine would have to change.  The funny thing is that I’m only applying for the position, it’s not that I’m even being offered the job.

I wonder how many opportunities we sell ourselves short on simply because it would be different.  In my experience, there is something to be learned from every change.  Sometimes I am so focused on how I don’t like that my routines are changing that I can’t focus on any of the positive aspects of the change.  I’m so fixated on being mad that I have to drive a different way, wake up a little earlier, or be around people I don’t know; all of these things could be seen as positives if I chose to see them that way.  Maybe you try something different and learn that you like the change; maybe your life is completely altered for the better because of this change.  Or, maybe this is an experience you never want to go through again; regardless, you learned something.  Even if the experience is negative, you can choose to learn from it, which makes the result a positive one.