Thursday, April 26, 2012

What I Learned Today

For several years now, I have been making microloans via and just made my 49th loan. I started out with $200 and that same $200 has been recycled all those times and re-lent. I can't imagine a better use for it.

In terms of choosing my loan people, I always choose women and chose today a woman who raises sheep in Azerbaijan. I've heard the country on the news, knew how to pronounce it but didn't know more than that.

So first here's where it is:

Note that the capital is Baku -- now that's a city I'd never heard of -- hoping someone reading this will win big money on Jeopardy knowing the capital of Azerbaijan. And here is downtown Baku:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Guardian Angel On Duty

I had a very weird, but nice, experience tonight. For some reason, I had a craving for baked beans and had bought a can over the weekend. Tonight I tried to open the can with a cheap can opener and couldn't get the can opener to grip the can. Very frustrating and so I decided to try something I've seen on the various competitive TV cooking shows where the chef stabs the can with a big knife and opens it that way.

Yeah, you can see how this ends... how many stitches did I get?

So I pick up a knife just as the overhead lights start to flicker. I am momentarily distracted by the lights and they continue to flicker, blink and within 5 seconds or so, I'm in the dark. However I can see the red lights of the clock on the microwave and can hear the refrigerator still going, hear the TV in the other room so I know my entire apartment isn't without electricity. I knew I hadn't blown a fuse (or whatever the modern version of that is) since the only lights I had on at that point were the overhead kitchen lights.

I have to say I took the lights going off as an urgent message from my guardian angel asking, "Are you really this stupid?" I reached over to the light switch and flipped the switch and the lights went on again. And all was normal. I turned the can upside down and tried the can opener on the bottom of the can and it worked fine.

Sprint vs Citibank

If you recall the ATM problem I had, Citibank instantly credited me, prior to researching, and on Saturday I got a printed letter in the mail saying that their research is now complete and that my "provisional" credit is now permanent. I have zero complaints about how Citibank handled this -- couldn't think of how they could have resolved it better.

But now there's Sprint.

I use Sprint for mobile WiFi and went from decent service to suddenly no service -- like three bars to zero bars. I could sometimes get on the Internet with zero bars, but then the connection would only last a rew minutes.Called repeatedly -- got a different story each time until finally my call was bumped to "problem resolution" or some such. Was told I'd get a half-month credit (which would be approximately $30) and that the problem would be solved (a cell tower broken) by February 8.

Well, it wasn't fixed by February 8 and I kept calling. I didn't receive any credit and then was told that I'd get the credit once the problem was fixed. Now the problem is fixed and got a bill over the weekend -- of course with no credit. I really believe they just want to wear you down.

So I took a deep breath, took my bill, navigated through the phone tree with a few missteps, finally got a human being and was cut off right after she said hello.

Called again, same phone tree, got a human being, went through the whole explanation and she offered me $15.  I said no; she said she'd transfer me to a supervisor.The phone to the supervisor rang once and then the call disconnected.

Called again, same phone tree, same repeating the phone number, same "to whom am I speaking?" same "last four digits of your social?" etc. This time I got Jordan who confirmed that they're only allowed to give a $15 credit and has now gone to speak to a supervisor.

And I'm being assaulted by bad jazz muzak as I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Jordan has now come back to say that they've checked my usage and I did actually use the service during the time I claimed to have no service. I said, "Yes, you can get on the Internet with no bars, and that connection lasts about 45 seconds." He said, "I understand."

Jordan is now going to a "senior resource specialist" for a resolution. Really? It's this complicated? I'm about to throw in the towel.

Jordan has now come back with an offer of $30 so I said yes. I'm watching the clock as I sit on hold, and my time is worth more than this. What a crappy customer experience.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Outdoor Dining

Every city likes to boast about its cute little sidewalk cafes, and New York is no exception. However I have to say that I do not enjoy eating outside. That's because of dirt and dust flying down the street, sitting in the hot sun on a hot day, tiny little bistro chairs are not good for big bottoms -- and the worst -- when homeless people come up and want money or part of your food. Ok, so that doesn't happen often, but it does happen and it has happened to me.

I don't want to be too hot, too cold or in any way uncomfortable when I'm enjoying a restaurant meal. Fortunatly most of my friends feel the same way.

But today, with my monthly lunch with Barbara, we had the best of both worlds. I'm not sure what you call this, but the place where we had lunch had the normal front door, but the front of the restaurant was like French doors so the front opened to the street. Right in the middle of this opening was one table where we sat -- so it was the best of inside dining along with the feeling that you were outside, a nice breeze, great people watching, without garbage flying in your food.

The other thing about this lunch that's noteworthy is that Barbara gave an unusual compliment. We were sitting very close to a mother with her 10-month old baby -- a precious little hunk of baby named Aiden who was quite a flirt with his looks, dimples and smiles. I had gotten there first, and I was looking at the baby sitting in his stroller and he starts smiling right at me. When I said something, his mother said, "Oh he loves the ladies." He really was adorable. He did the same thing when Barbara sat down, and she was smitten with him too.

Turns out Aiden says Mama, Daddy, and No. He can shake his head no, and wave bye bye. So when the mother and Aiden were leaving, Barbara said to her, "If there were a baby store where you could choose your baby, I would pick this one off the shelf to buy." I don't think the mother was quite sure if that was a compliment, but then she realized it was -- and it is a nice compliment.

On the way home, I saw a truck driver being handcuffed and led into a police car -- funny it's an image I've seen 1000 times on TV and it's weird to see it happening for real. The poor schnook probably had some traffic violiation and then had an outstanding warrant or something. Not a good day for him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Today is the 70th anniversary of Jimmy Doolittle's raid. It reminds me of something I mentioned to Mary the other night. I remember being in 3rd grade or so, and in the school cafeteria. Some of the boys would take the salt shaker and shake salt over their food and say "Bombs over Tokyo!" as the salt fell on the food. It astounds me how old that makes me feel to have that memory.

Mary pointed out that when we were that age, WWII was recent history, but growing up it didn't seem that way to me. At my last high school reunion -- the 35th -- there was a girl who was not that popular growing up -- she always was quiet and stuck to herself and seemed uptight. Well, 35 years later, she told all of us that she could barely speak English. Her parents had left Italy and come to the United States. I don't know how clueless we were back then -- and how clueless the school was to not get that she didn't speak English. Years ago, when I worked in an office, there was a woman who was a bit older than I am and she told me that she had been a DP and I wasn't sure what that was -- but she was a "displaced person" -- and how for her first 10 years or so, they lived in displaced persons camps all over Europe. Hard to imagine.

Occam's Razor

I first heard the term "Occam's Razor" about 15 years ago. What it means is that given various explanations for an event, the simplest, least complex, explanation is probably true. Occam was a 13th century logician and the razor part comes to play in regard to "shaving" away unnecessary complications.

I thought of this today when I was discussing the caterer I use for Oshkosh. I use the downhome, local, family-owned working class caterer who have always done right by me. Always just plain delicious, homecooked food, on time, pleasant, affordable. Also available is catering services from a upper-end hotel chain. People often (mistakeningly) pick this hotel chain for their event, thinking that it will be fancy and wonderful. However the food is bad and the service is worse. Someone today, who agrees with me about my caterer, says, "That's because the hotel is a hotel; it's not a caterer."

Wow, that's a simple explanation... just like Occam said.

Later this morning I stopped for lunch and started doing some housework -- put in some laundry, sorted a bunch of papers, cleaned off a horizontal surface where mail tends to gather -- and I was on a roll. I wondered why I was so motivated until I realized the simplest explanation -- the Occam's Razor explanation -- which is that I have more energy at 1 o'clock in the afternoon than I do at 8 o'clock at night after working all day and then eating dinner.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Price of Limes

For weeks and months, my regular shopping list included three limes because I like to use them with Diet Coke. And every time, I'd get a twinge of guilt as the limes were 75 cents each. And every time, I'd do some version of "What?? I can't even have a lime slice with my soda?" and buy them.

This week, I couldn't believe my eyes. After weeks of 75 cents per, limes are now 20 cents per. I guess I should be happy the price went down, not up, but I sense we all get played with when it comes to prices.

Oh, and one more thing, and I swear this is true. When I go to a restaurant, I can instantly guage the quality of the service by ordering a diet coke with lime. If I get no lime, it will be bad service. If I get a lemon (which happens quite often), it will be average service. If I get a lime, it will be good service

One last thing: where are the seeds in limes? It's not like a lemon where they are obvious.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Yee-Haw from Branson, Missouri

A colleague of mine had to abandon his own airplane and drive the rest of the way home due to the terrible weather/tornado action in the Midwest. He found himself in Branson, Missouri, a place he'd never been. I'd heard about Branson, have never been there and we talked about whether 5 or 10 years down the road will we be the senior citizens getting off the charter buses to go to the Andy Williams Theater? And how old is Andy these days anyway? 103?

He phoned to describe the place, and then sent these photos. First is the 100-foot chicken. Am not quite sure what this is or why:

Next, how timely: it's the TITANIC! -- Branson style, complete with iceberg.

Speaking of which, today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking, and I have to say that the Titanic has been a lifelong interest of mine. In 7th or 8th grade, I read Walter Lord's Book "A Night to Remember" and was fascinated. I think as children we believe everything has a happy ending and everythingn will be OK, but this wasn't. The book took you minute by minute through the sinking. Walter Lord wrote a similar book called The Day Lincoln Was Shot -- again, a minute by minute narration.

I'll stop and watch most of the Titanic documentaries. PBS had a new one this week which I enjoyed. I am not a huge fan of the new Titanic movie although there are parts of it I'll stop and watch. I wish the entire wreck had been left alone as a sacred burial place and not dredged up for profit. There are so many hundreds of fascinating stories and anecdotes -- for example, I learned on the PBS documentary this week that the crewmembers who went down with the ship were fired "at sea" by the White Star line. It reminded me of 9/11 and the controversy about how long a company pays someone who died in the building.

So now I"m ramblling -- anyone for a bus tour to Branson? We'll need some nice stretchy polyester pants, helmet hairstyles and money for Bingo.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Random Thoughts

A friend Tweeted this photo -- think it's clear who rules the roost in his house. He wonders where he is supposed to sleep, but I guess he could never feel lonely. They all seem comfortable.

Marilyn, my helper, came yesterday. Among other things, we traded out winter clothes for summer clothes and I was pretty strict about throwing some stuff out (three shirts with stains in the front) and a nightshirt where somehow bleach got on it. The bleach one -- well, I would wear it and try to convince myself that it was decorative, but it really looked bad so out it went. I said to Marilyn it's hard to throw away something that's still "wearable" -- and she says she battles the same thing -- "Oh, I'll just wear this stained thing around the house." But I don't want to be that person.

I have been trying to live somewhat more frugally -- hadn't bought any clothes in months, but today I did. I remind myself there is a trade off between conserving money and feeling good about yourself in new, stylish (or rather more stylish) clothes. This catalog I like was having a sale on pants that I like -- if you bought two pair, you got half off the second pair. So I did that and then bought two tops. Between what I threw away and the bag I gave to the thrift store, I figure I needed some "in with the new." 

Ana came today and with my travel schedule I hadn't seen her in three weeks, even though she's been here. I asked if she had seen any mice or evidence of some -- since I hadn't. She didn't quite understand my question, although she recognized the word "mice." So I asked a different way and then made up the saying "No mice, no mas" and she got that. I hope they're gone for good, but at least they're gone as of right now.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Gwenyth in her Easter dress

Missed a part of Easter

I realized that Easter has come and gone and I didn't have any of those wonderful little speckled eggs that are actually malted milk balls. I'm quite disappointed.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter in DC

This is looking up into Mary's zelkova, and looking up into her neighbor Jill's Japanese cherry tree.

Mike Wallace and me

Sad to hear that Mike Wallace passed away. I had a brief encounter with him and his wife one Thanksgiving at Grand Central Station. The lines for tickets were extremely long, so I got on line to use the automated ticket machine since there were only 4 or 5 people in front of me. Next thing I know, I hear a familiar voice behind me and I turn around and it is Mike Wallace and his wife.

He told me they'd never used the machines and asked if I minded if they watched how I did it, and I said no problem. So I got my ticket and then asked them if they wanted me to stand by while they did theirs and they did. I guided them through the process, got them their tickets, and they were very appreciative.

I remember at the time thinking how frail he looked and at the time he was probably in his late 80s so it's no wonder.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fran Will be Jealous

Those who have visited me know my favorite Greek coffee shop is Gracie's Corner -- and Friday night when I got home, I ordered dinner from there -- stuffed shrimp, baked potato and carrots. Oh, it was heavenly.

I hadn't really thought about Easter dinner as I don't celebrate Easter, but my Friday dinner included a flyer for Gracie's Corner Easter dinners, and I just may order myself one tomorrow. For $19.95, "All dinners include Fruit Cup, Soup, Salad, Potato, Vegetable, Dessert, Coffee or Tea." Mary would order the "Grilled Salmon Steak." I think I'm going for "Roast Chicken with Chestnut Stuffing." But there's also turkey, pot roast, roast loin of pork, chicken kabob, etc.

For soup, there is chicken rice, Manhattan clam chowder and vegetable. Think I'll go for the vegetable.

Potatoes are baked, mashed, sweet potatoes and French fries. Uh, Mashed.

Vegetables are spinach, green beans, broccoli.... Um... either green beans or broccoli.

And now dessert:  Jell-o, rice pudding, ice cream, apple pie, cherry pie, blueberry pie. Gotta go with the cherry pie. That's the part that will make Fran jealous although she'd go blueberry I bet.

Ripped Off By A Cab Driver!!

I got back to the rental car place, really tired, long drive, having to go to the toilet, hungry, blah blah blah, big suitcase so I decide to take a cab home. Typically I can stand in the middle of the block, not have to go to a corner and a cab will come along. But it was getting dark, getting cold when I see the kind of cab I like (Crown Victoria) coming down the block. The light on the roof that indicates the cab is available wasn't lit, but the driver flashed his lights at me, as the drivers do, to say "I see you, I got you."

I'm thinking that maybe the light really is on or maybe he's off duty as sometimes the off duty cabs will stop if you're going in the same direction. So before I get in the cab, he asks me where I'm going, which is odd, but I get in. He puts the suitcase in the trunk. I know he understood English as, during the ride, he asked me about Good Friday/First Day of Passover. I noticed when I first got in that the meter read $6.50 but after a block or so, he restarted the meter so it was right.

We pull up to my building and the fare is $4.05. I hand him a ten dollar bill and say, "I will give you this, no change, but I ask that you carry my suitcase to the top step of my building." I have done this many times before and the drivers have even said I don't have to tip them that much -- really they do it in 10 seconds where I lug it up each individual step.

He takes my suitcase out of the trunk as I'm getting out and my suitcase is between two parked cars. He's standing there saying he'll "help" me get out. I tell him I don't need help, but please take the suitcase up the steps. I get out of the cab. He hasn't moved, and he points to my suitcase and I say "Yes, please take it up the steps."

There are some cars behind us and I was thinking they couldn't get by. Again, this is very normal, and sometimes the driver will pull the car up 3 or 4 feet which may move the car 3 or 4 inches closer to the curb so the cars can pass. He got in the car, and I swear that's what I thought he was doing.

But he takes off like a shot.

I'm standing there dumbfounded. The bastard ripped me off. I was in such disbelief that I even thought he was going to back up the block and come back to carry my suitcase. When I realized he was long gone, I just started to laugh. It reminded me of some corny movie about the country bumpkin arriving in the big city and getting ripped off first thing. I'm surprised my purse wasn't snatched at the same time to complete the scene.

I sat on my front steps for a while and thought of the hundreds of cab rides I've had. I couldn't remember one instance of a driver ripping me off, or trying to. Drivers have been uniformly kind, generous, waiting for me to get inside the building if it's been late at night. One day when I overslept for a flight and was nervously trying to get to LGA, a driver actually gave me his second cup of coffee. When my ankle was broken and I had a cast, the drivers were so kind and patient and helpful. This guy's behavior made me mad on behalf of the 99.9% of honest drivers. Sure, some of them are curt, don't say thank you for the tip, but at least they are honest.

Of all the guiding principles, I believe in "what goes round comes round" even though I will likely never know what the universe has in store for this guy. Really? For five bucks?

Easter Kitties

Fran writes: Easter Cat Valentino sleeping on a Saturday afternoon...a tough life

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Citibank's Response

I have to give credit where credit is due (as did Citibank!) Here's the response wherein they have already credited me. I have to say I liked that they see I have been a customer for 36 years -- that's as long as I have lived in NY -- in the olden days, you got an account that was close to where you worked, and Citibank -- then First National City Bank -- was in the lobby of my building. And I never changed banks.

Here's the response:

Dear Ms. Luebke,

Welcome to Citibank, my name is Margo. I will be happy to assist you today regarding your attempted ATM withdrawal for $200.

I can certainly understand your concern and frustration. I have placed an investigation into your request. Reference number [deleted by Pat]. A provisional credit of $202.50 has been added to checking account ending in xx25. You will not receive a response unless we need additional information, the credit is reversed or the item being credited is an Electronic Funds Transfer in which case you will receive a response no later than April 23, 2012 to your account address.

Ms. Luebke, thank you for your loyal business to Citibank for over 36 years, we certainly do appreciate it. Have a wonderful day!

Pat again: then it goes on asking me to do a survey, then "if there's anything else..." so I think Citibank handled this well.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bad Travel Karma

My bad travel karma continues. I did OK getting the four blocks to the rental car company -- I had decided to drive to DC based on traveling on Good Friday and thinking the train could be a mob scene... so it was a long wait for my car, during which time this irate customer left over from Saturday came to speak with a manager and he got no car and was still pissed off.

The rental car woman sort of blew him off in a way that would have angered me, saying he had to call customer service. Then she says to him that you should always make two reservations, one with Dollar and one with another company. I know she was trying to be helpful and it's probably good advice, but come on, folks. She said especially if you rent on a summer weekend. Something to think about. She was saying it trying to be helpful.

So off I went only to be stopped dead on the NJ Turnpike... ALL LANES CLOSED... due to an accident. I sat with the car in Park and actually took a nap... put my head back and closed my eyes, thinking somebody will honk if the traffic starts moving. That was about two hours.

When I stopped to get something to eat, I saw an ATM and I had about $80 but I was trying to de-stress and decided to get more money so I wouldn't have to think about it. Used the ATM to get $200.

All I got was a receipt, no money, and the machine went out of order. No one could help me, until finally they called the manager of the whole place (rest stop on the turnpike) who just off-handedly told me he could do nothing, it's not their machine, take it up with my bank. I hate that. Clearly the turnpike authority gets something from this ATM machine, but I didn't argue. And rather than calling Citibank right then and there, I'm going to send a email message from Citibank's electronic banking website tonight.

It was a long trip -- and this place is a strange location -- National Harbor so I wasn't really sure where I was going -- kept alternating between wanting to stop to go to the toilet and thinking just get to the hotel. When I pulled up to the hotel, I hate the way they attack the that I mean the doormen and luggage carriers. This is a huge place, checked in, nice room... and I was in my room for about 45 minutes when there was a knock on the door. My client sent me a fruit and cheese platter, some soda, a bottle of wine, two bottles of fancy water. Very nice. So I just had that for dinner. The platter came with this dipping sauce of honey. I'm not sure if it was for the fruit or the cheese, but I dipped the cheese in it. It came with this really lovely note so as I'm sitting there enjoying it, I had that feeling of "return to feeling like a human" come over me. So all's well that ends well. Now it's on to Citibank. That's happened to me once before -- about 30 years ago.