Comcast or Social Security? Pick one

OK quick – would you rather call Comcast (U.S. cable/internet company) or Social Security (U.S. government pensions). [I’m translating U.S terms for my many (two) foreign readers.] Full disclaimer: I will not hear a word of criticism against my beloved Social Security (MBSS). Retirement is not for wimps and goodness knows, definitely not for the elderly. It’s exhausting. The amount of paperwork alone is monumental. But every step of the way, we’ve had nothing but amazing customer service from MBSS. I’ve heard a few anecdotal stories and I’m not so naive as to think that things never go wrong. But for us, the Social Security angels were hovering above.

I made several exploratory calls over the last year to get details. As immigrants, the process is different. Even with auto prompts, I was lucky every time. Typically, my accent doesn’t fare well with the auto-prompt menu. I go round and round and inevitably end up back at the beginning. And when I say, “Oh for heaven’s sake, I said YES,” I definitely go right back to “Go.” They have a frustration algorithm that rates your tone and sends you back as far as possible the angrier you get.

But not with MBSS. And their call-back system really works. If the wait is going to be long, they tell you exactly how many minutes and offer to call you back. And when the call back comes, you get the option to take the call immediately or delay 10 minutes to gather your paperwork. That’s so cool. OK, maybe other places do that, too, but MBSS has it down pat. Every employee I spoke to knew the answers – and understood my accent. Cool again. And they are so polite and patient and never condescending. As for Comcast – more on that in a moment.

You know how you can learn anything on YouTube – well, you can get advice on anything on the internet so I looked up, “How to prep for your meeting with Social Security.” The advice was good. 1. Make an appointment. Check. 2. Get all your paperwork ready. Check. 3. Don’t wear torn, dirty jeans and a back-to-front baseball hat and chew gum. Check. 4. Respect them and they will respect you. Check.

We did our homework, even driving to the office to make sure we knew exactly where it was and what parking was like so we wouldn’t be late for our appointment. This makes more sense to Atlanta residents. Again, the MBSS angels were hovering and we got a parking space right outside the main door. Inside, it’s not bad – plenty of seats in the waiting area. If you have an appointment, your officer’s counter is much more private. And so we met Jonathan – after introducing himself as Mister, he asked us to call him by his first name. He liked us and we liked him. And so began the next phase of my love affair with MBSS. Wow, he knew his stuff. But be warned – every time they ask you a question, don’t be tempted to tell a fib. They know absolutely everything about you from the year dot. If you have ever filled in a form anywhere with the color of your mother’s eyes, they have that noted. Any time they ask you a question, they already know the answer and are just checking to make sure you are being honest. But he was kind. The night before, I prayed for someone kind to be assigned to us – and that prayer was answered. Wow, we were lucky. We had every piece of paper he needed; Cedric knew every date even back to the 1940s; we didn’t have to go back a second time nor send in more paperwork. Jonathan got us approval right there. What a great system – gotta love this country!

So, back to the question – Comcast or Social Security. You know my answer. And if you’re interested in our specific Comcast horror story (and we all have them) here’s why. The Mighty Comcast Saga

 

Who am I now?

When I walked out of The Home Depot’s corporate office for the last time and handed in my access badge, my identity didn’t walk out with me. It stayed firmly there – in the huge building that is known as the Store Support Center (SSC) where I worked for 17 years. For all of that time, thousands of associates have known who I am and what I do. An identity is so often connected to a job, that I feel a little stateless. But that’s not a bad thing. I’m now a free agent and the world’s my oyster. Someone dear to me used that phrase when I left Nairobi in my 20s looking for a new life in London. And my oyster made many pearls over the years. I walked into an employment agency on Oxford Street the first day and got a job, contacted friends of friends who had a room to rent and created a life for myself. When I arrived in London, I had with me a suitcase of clothes – a suitcase with a handle – rolling bags hadn’t been invented yet, unbelievable though that now seems – and I had a kikapu or woven basket full of hangers, with the handles tied up with string. I can’t imagine now what I was really thinking, but I had plenty of wooden hangers in Nairobi and I thought it was logical to bring them with me. Many of them had survived boarding school, too. Just one remains after all these years and countless moves, but I treasure it. I was 24 and completely alone in London, but I created an identity and I wasn’t afraid. I’m not afraid now. Within two weeks of arriving in London, I was sent to work as a temporary secretary for a purchasing manager in a container company. His name? Cedric Pierre Marie. No, I’m not afraid because my oyster will continue to make pearls for sure.

So I will build my new identity as a retiree. I’m not in a hurry and an undefined future means there is no pressure on me. Today, I stopped into the SSC to join a celebration with my erstwhile team. The Home Depot’s Homer Fund is funded by associates for associates in need. We had been instrumental in the annual fundraising campaign’s communications and The Homer Fund treated the team to King of Pops (if you are a foreign reader, please look them up.) Free King of Pops are worth making a journey for. It was a great excuse to make a surprise visit and so much fun to see everyone. The most common remark was that I looked so relaxed. Good! Retirement is agreeing with me. The most frequent question was, ” What’s retirement like?” I honestly don’t know the answer to that question yet. I still feel as if I’m on vacation – it’s only been five days so far. Ask me in three months. And as for the question, “Who am I now?” Ask me in a year – by then, I will be reading music (I hope); have finished Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and many more books in the pile beside the bed; have made my Gypsy Wife Quilt (more on that to come); have tidied and cleaned and downsized our stuff so much that Cedric will be job-hunting on my behalf. I might tackle Shakespeare’s sonnets, too. I don’t need to read the plays again – a couple of years ago, I read all of Shakespeare’s plays in one year. That’s what list-people do and that’s definitely going to be the subject of another post. Oh, wait, I just got it … Who am I now? A blogger! OK, I’m done, I have an identity.

Big R Day One

I’m not going to blog every day, but I wanted to capture the first day of the Big R. That leads me to the question – who am I blogging for? Myself or readers? It’s probably 50/50, but this one’s for me. So, you know the saying, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” For weeks, I had pictured myself sitting on the porch on Day One in my robe and a cup of coffee to start my retirement. God laughed out loud for sure – we got the edge of the storm that sadly took several lives and devastated several nearby states. It was absolutely pouring this morning. So I stayed in bed instead.

In typical Atlanta fashion, where if you don’t like the weather, just wait 30 minutes, it did brighten up. I went grocery shopping – doesn’t anyone work? The store and parking lot were packed. I took Savannah for a mid-afternoon walk. There were four women playing serious tennis on the court in our apartment complex. Maybe they all retired at 35. And I crossed one item off my bucket list – sort and tidy my baking pan closet. Yep, they have their own closet. I was amazed how many pans I found – not sure why I often use disposable ones when I have great quality, non-stick pans aplenty. If you’re a list-maker like me and like several of my close friends, you know what a joy it is to cross something off a list. In the grocery store, if I pick up an item that’s not on my shopping list, I scribble it down so that I can immediately cross it off. The same with to-do lists. If I complete a task that’s not on there, it gets added one second before being marked complete. Just part of my DNA.

I had a soak bath with one of those lavender bombs that explode in the water – great fun. Except you have to spend five minutes wiping off all the lavender flowers from the sides of the bath. After a bath, I always jump in the shower to get clean! I only thought of the office a few (million) times. I’d look at the time and picture the team in the morning meeting, eating lunch or in the gym. I still automatically go to pick up my office iPhone to check my email and it’s not on the counter. I remember one vacation when I buried it under a huge pile of fabric to keep from checking it. I did dream of the office last night … I was asked to do something and had to remind them I had retired. I’ve had lovely emails and texts asking how my first Big R day went. It really has been the most perfect day and hopefully I will have coffee on the porch on Day Two, and Three, and Four, and …

 

I quilt, therefore I am

I think I was born with a thimble on my finger. My earliest memories are of standing next to my mother while she sewed on her treadle Singer sewing machine, soaking up the sound of the needle as it rhythmically moved up and down, up and down, learning how to read patterns, cut fabric, make darts, match seams and wind bobbins. Even the words sing to me – French seams, bias binding, hem stitch, pinking shears, zig zag, zipper foot. I often find myself in the kitchen starting to cook with a thimble still on my finger.

Everyone thought I was counting the days to the Big R … WRONG! It was this weekend that the results of the juried East Cobb Quilt Show entries would be announced. The acceptance or rejection emails were going to be sent out on April 29. I had entered my Baltimore Album quilt. These quilts originated in Baltimore, Maryland, in the 1840s and are a collection of intricately appliquéd blocks or squares. The appliqué, which is a piece of fabric sewn on top of the background, is often in a floral design, but birds and landmarks are also common. I finished my quilt last year after committing to finishing it every New Year for years and years. I was sidelined with my surgery, but that’s just an excuse. I just left it for years in between where it sat on a quilting frame and became part of the furniture. When I finally took it off the frame and unrolled it, I was very relieved a family of moths hadn’t made its home in the folds. When I finished it during my annual quilt retreat in Alabama last year (another post to come), my quilting friends encouraged me to submit it into the juried show – that means you send pictures and because they get more submissions than space, they choose those they want to feature in the show. Well, guess what – they accepted my quilt! I am so thrilled. The show is June 8-10 at the Cobb County Civic Center – if you want more details, send me a message. I’ve never submitted a quilt into a show and I can’t wait to see it hanging in a large space. If I can figure out how to add a picture here, I will. Tomorrow marks the first actual day of the Big R. Already this weekend, I’ve been busy – crossing things off my bucket list. On the list is another quilt … I better get my thimble out – one thing I can’t do is type with a thimble on!

Thwarted by a bug

So, we had the grand switching-off-the-alarm ceremony last night. No more will I be jolted out of a dream by that darned alarm, except if I have a plane to catch. But my plans to stay in bed most of the morning were thwarted … gosh darn it! Truth be told, I did wake up shortly after 6 a.m. – I think my body will take a while to adjust – got my coffee and got back into bed with Harry Potter – well, not exactly, but metaphorically. I bought the box set of Harry Potter to re-read over the next few months, along with Lord of the Rings. After a few minutes, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. Yep a giant bug on the ceiling. It was huge and had waggly whiskers. I think it was just a cockroach, actually, and I’d love to put up a camera and see where these darned things come in. I don’t have food in the bedroom. I found a scorpion in my shower stall a couple of years ago – did it come up through the drain?

I’m not as afraid of bugs as most Southern Belles, but this one bothered me. It was walking along the crown moulding just above the bed and doing a very bad job … it kept slithering off. I thought they had sticky feet or something. It kept yanking itself back onto the moulding, but one more slip and it would have landed in my coffee. And it was taking so long and kept hesitating right above my head. I gave up and got up. So my first retirement morning plans got cut short. If anyone wonders, I did wait until Cedric got up and then blasted the darned thing with half a can of roach spray … I felt bad – not very bad, but a bit bad as it staggered around up there for a bit – feisty thing didn’t fall immediately, and then I had to chase it on the carpet for a bit before squishing it with a paper towel – sorry, I should have given a yuk warning first for squeamish readers.

The Dalai Lama said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” And it’s amazing that a Georgia bug made such a difference to a milestone day for me. But it did mean I started my day earlier. I was going to clean out a bathroom closet but then remembered I can do that next year. I spent the day sorting out all the stuff I brought home from the office this week – tons of memorabilia, cards, pictures – 17 years of memories. There were so many farewells yesterday. It was almost overwhelming. I felt so loved. The communication team grabbed red pens and made an archway for me to walk through when I walked to the elevator. That choked me up. And they made a video for me to watch when I got home – here it is if you’d like to laugh and cry and see the amazing people I’ve worked with over the years. They are funny and silly and clever and bright and all so darned young! Copy and paste this link and it should work.

 

You still here?

Yep! But not for long. Tomorrow (4-27) is my last day at The Home Depot, BUT Friday is a vacation day and I’m retiring on 4-30. My first official Big R day is Monday, May 1. That’s a significant day – it’s never been my favorite date because it marks the anniversary of my mother’s death in 1986. That started a new chapter for me – I often said my life was tinged with sadness after she died. That’s another blog post for sure. So, it’s fitting that May 1 will mark another new chapter – and that’s a complete coincidence.

One of the most gratifying thing about retiring is that everyone suddenly asks for your advice. It makes me feel very important. Many years ago, I read somewhere that if you are trying to make a good impression on someone, ask them for their advice. That makes them feel important and they will love you for that. I’m lovin’ many people right now, because I’m dispensing lots and lots of very wise advice. One quick piece is, “Head down, mouth shut.” It makes sense – don’t raise your head above the parapet (or cube wall) or it might get knocked off. And once you say something, you can never take it back. That’s part of the advice I give new married couples. I often get asked for marriage advice (I guess Cedric and I are experts as we’ve been married nearly 39 years) – and my advice is often, “Bite your tongue.” Again, don’t say something that can’t be taken back. You can think all you like, but keep that mouth shut and that tongue still. I wish I would take my own advice sometimes!

But it’s been another day of “lasts” – last Step class in the gym – and the instructor had me at the front of the class doing the cool down … I got a few shimmies in there … yep, belly dancing shimmies (another blog post to come); last evening checking my email on my iPhone; last time doing laundry when I get home – that’s one of the things I’m going to enjoy. I’ll be doing laundry in the morning and not having to jump up from the dinner table when the cycle ends. People are also asking me what I’m going to enjoy most – I think the Big R will give me the gift of time – time to do the ironing when I want and not Sunday afternoon. Ironing? Yep, I LOVE ironing. I love it so much that I have a very expensive Italian beech ironing board permanently set up in the bedroom. I iron and starch almost everything – certainly bed linen, Cedric’s hankies, our table napkins and anything cotton. I love the repetitive movement and the smell and the way everything stacks up neatly on the rack. I’ve always loved the song, “Dashing away with the smoothing iron.” Google it. I’d love to barter ironing for, say, eggs, honey or a massage. If you live in the Vinings and keep bees or chickens, let me know.

So, tomorrow, here I come. Last time walking through the doors using my access badge – the next time I visit, I will have to sign in. The lobby of The Home Depot corporate office is very impressive – how will I feel tomorrow morning? I’ll either float or trip over my own darned feet – I’ll let you know in the next posting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another day closer

No customization on my site yet – that likely will wait until the Big R (aka retirement). But packing up a desk after 17 years, albeit a few different desks, cubes, floors, is much like moving house. I’m finding odd objects at the back of each drawer that prompt memories and laughter: the picture of a mouse taped to a binder clip that my dear friend, Dawn, made to remind me to plug my mouse into its cradle each night; pictures and more pictures, each with a story – one of me with President George W. Bush at a store in Baltimore when he shook my hand, walked on, and then came back and told me he had stayed with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace; aprons and more aprons, some hand-painted especially for me, one with the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes to commemorate my citizenship; thank-you notes, many of them for baby booties I have knitted (more on that project later); a copy of one very rude post on our social media site asking if anyone ever proofreads anything on the internal news site – wow, that one hurt; but it’s like with anything – all the millions and millions of words we write and, boom, one inaccuracy and a complaint in the HUGEST font ever. Oh well, you can’t win them all. My favorite complaint post was one accusing me of being a sock puppet because I always said nice things in the comments section. Ouch!

Today, I placed my access badge on the photocopier and made a copy of my picture because I’ll have to give up my badge on the Big R day. It’s me looking 17 years younger. I never lost my badge although it went through the washing machine a few times. My hairstyle doesn’t look too bad, except it’s blonde, highlights very straight and I have bangs. I also have a lot of thick hair – that was before chemo, so now I have wispy, thin hair that has a wave to it – my mother would be thrilled. She spent hours perming my hair when I was little, trying to get it to curl. I digress, but losing your hair during chemo is no fun (more on that whole saga later), although I did have a wig that made me look like Sophia Loren and I never had a bad-hair day. That was in 2010-2011 and you just never really forget. All the memorabilia is in a huge box and I’ll catalogue and sort it out after the Big R.

This morning was my last Monday waking up at 6 a.m. with the alarm – now, that I won’t miss. But with each passing hour, the reality that I am really leaving The Home Depot is sinking in. When you work for a company that’s part of the fabric of society, for a company whose name you don’t need to spell on the telephone, and for a company that most everyone admires, you feel proud and privileged. I only have a few days left – just three more days where the very first thing I do each morning is change my voice mail greeting giving the day’s date so a caller knows it’s current. That’s something I’ve done every morning with hardly an exception for 17 years – you do the math, that’s a lot of greetings. Yep, there will be a lot of adjustment ahead – not least not knowing what day it is!