Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I’m still on a broom. Yesterday I received an email from JC Penney—specifically the CEO of JC Penney—saying that he “hears” us. I wondered so I emailed him back, or at least used the “contact us” button on the Penney’s website.

JC Penney was a part of my life until about eight years ago. I shopped at the downtown JC Penney in Seattle with my mother as a child. Theirs was the first credit card I got as a young adult. My children wore Penney’s overalls when they were babies and toddlers. They eagerly awaited the Christmas Penney’s wish-book’s arrival each fall so they could dream of what Santa was going to bring and I could calculate how much macaroni and cheese we’d have to eat to make their dreams come true. When we lived in Nachotta on Willapa Bay, and far from department stores, ordering over the phone was a treat. Penney’s saw me through babies, divorces, and remarriage. We refer to our wedding as a JC Penney wedding because my dress, the maid-of-honor’s dress, the flower girls dresses and the ring bearer’s suit all came from Penney’s sale catalogues. We should have been featured in a catalogue.

I should have realized that Penney’s was not the store of my childhood when I ordered the monogrammed sheets. When my son became engaged nine years ago I decided that I would order monogrammed sheets for him and his bride. I didn’t want the moon. I just wanted the initials in the right order. Since both of their first names begin with “J” I wanted to have the last initial “C” in the middle with a “J” on each side--JCJ. When the sheets arrived at the kids’ apartment the monogram was wrong. The bride didn’t want me disappointed so she didn’t tell me and took them back to Penney’s in Tacoma, explained the error and the sheets were reordered. Two weeks later they arrived, different, but wrong. It was at this point she decided to share the dilemma with me. This time Mama Bear took the sheets back to the store and tried explaining. The sheets were reordered again and two weeks later came back wrong a third time. This time I was irate. I took them back and drew what I wanted with a big red crayon and finally they got it right, but I remember at the time wondering where in the heck the monogramming was being done and did they understand the Latin alphabet.

That would be, not much. A month rolled around when my husband asked if I wanted to pay the Penney’s bill. Penney’s bill? I hadn’t bought anything from them in months. How could there be a bill? I looked at it to see what had been purchased. There was only the word “service.” Service? What service. I knew that Penney’s would soon straighten it out and take it off our account. I searched for a billing department number. Hmm. Nothing. Okay, customer service. I dialed the 800 number. “Hello,” said an obviously Indian voice, “this is Andrea. How may I help you?” I explained that I had a strange charge on my bill that I wanted taken off. “Are you sure you did not ask for insurance in case your account become delinquent?” No, I hadn’t used my card or done business with Penney’s in months. Take it off my bill. “We will launch investigation.” Investigation? Just take it off my bill. “We are not authorized to do that.” I hung up in disgust. I decided to dial the 800 number and get someone else. Clearly this woman didn’t understand English well enough to serve this customer. I’d just get someone else. I did. That person’s English was less good and their Indian accent even thicker. We went through this routine twice more, each time I was told that they were “launching investigation” and didn’t “Mr.” sign up for the service?, before I asked, “Are you inside any of the fifty United States?” Silence. “Okay,” I said, “I think I know how to solve the problem. Cancel my credit card and I won’t need insurance.” And that’s how Penney’s and I came to part ways.

Oh sure, I’ve shopped in the store a handful of times in eight years and used my Visa card. Then one of my student’s gave me a Penney’s gift card at the end of the school year. This fall I used it to order a comforter for my daughter off their websites clearance pages. Hence the email telling me that JC Penney’s hears me. I seriously doubt it. I emailed them and thanked them for their email. I asked if they still had their customer service in India? Today I received an email thanking ME for my email and telling me that as soon as they can process my query they will get back to me. I am annoyed by having to press anything for English. If I go to Mexico I expect customer service to be in Spanish and that I ought to count myself lucky if there’s a number to press for English, but here I expect the default to be English and for JC Penney’s to have a billing department that speaks English. That’s the view from my broom.

PS I had occasion to call AARP roadside service last week and got another “Andrea.” She got us a tow truck in jig time so I’m keeping my roadside service card…for the time being.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I'm on a broom Maybe I’m just a cranky old woman, but I cannot believe that another parent left their small children alone in a car with the motor running here in the Puget Sound Area. There’s a reason that it’s against the law to leave children under 12 alone in a car in the state of Washington. This is the second such incident in the area in a week! Where was this guy when a tearful, remorseful mother begged parents to learn from her mistake? Fortunately all the children in both incidents were returned to their frantic parents. Next time it might not end as well.

Parents, I know that unbuckling the complicated harnesses and seatbelts on child seats takes a college education and is a pain in the butt. I’ve gotten mine wet plenty of times getting a small one into or out of the car in the rain or worked up a sweat on a hot day, but I love them too much to leave them alone in a locked car much less one with the motor running for heaven’s sake! I know that once you get those sweet children out of the car, keeping them corralled long enough to buy the milk or juice or bread or whatever it is that you need to “just run in and get” can be a challenge so take them home, leave them with someone else and go do your shopping if you can’t handle them in the store. Otherwise get a clue and get the children out of the car. That's the view from my broom.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Remembering Something I'd Forgotten

In these economic times it’s easy to become focused on your own problems and fear for the future. I remembered something today that I’d forgotten. The first weekend of the month the FISH Food Bank accepts donations at Gig Harbor Safeway. Back when Safeway was the cheapest place in Gig Harbor for groceries I used to give to FISH every month. When they raised their prices and I started shopping at Fred Meyer all the time I got out of the habit of being sure to put something into the basket for FISH. Today I happened to only need a few things and since I was at Goodwill anyway and it was a lovely afternoon I decided to stroll down to Safeway to get my things and save the gas driving to Fred Meyer. That’s when I remembered about FISH. I always get toiletries. I know what it’s like to be without a tooth brush so I bought four and some toothpaste.

We can’t expect President Obama to wave a magic wand and put this country back together. I’m finding the Right Wing Rhetoric tiring so I’m taking a break from the news, but not from the notion that it’s going to take all of us to make the country successful again. Anyone who wishes President Obama to be unsuccessful is not an American because if he’s not successful we aren’t going to be either. If he fails we all fail. We are one nation.

The need at food banks and other charities is greater than ever, just when you and I are feeling less able to give. There’s a greater blessing to give when there’s less ability to do so. I’m going to remember to go to Safeway the first weekend of the month and give a little of what I’ve got with a prayer that fewer people will need the help the next month. This is a long row we have to hoe, but if we stop sniping at one another and concentrate on caring for one another instead, things will get better quicker. We are all in the same lifeboat.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More Making Do in Hard Times

I always believe that if I’ve figured something out that everyone else must figured it out long ago. Based on what I’m seeing in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet I’m old. The current economic crisis has made all the things I learned through experience “news.” I find myself preaching to my children who are having difficulty making ends meet. I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it again, food is one of the few expenses somewhat within our control.

If you don’t want to be reduced to a steady diet of macaroni and cheese and the accompanying fat here are some shopping strategies.
  • Eliminate processed foods/cook from scratch:
One thing that I’d never paid attention to before is that all the good food in a grocery store is on the perimeter. The middle of the store is reserved for all the processed and packaged food. For the most part, all the fresh, whole and bulk food is located around the edges of the store so start there. Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to consume a huge amount of time and staying away from Hamburger Helper and high fructose corn syrup laden packaged food will save your money and your health. Cooking from scratch allows you to control the ingredients. If you succumb to packaged food, check the health food section of your super market and read labels.
  • Choose whole chickens.

I buy whole chickens when they are on sale. If you are fit enough to be eating fried chicken you can cut it up yourself and save a lot of money. I find cooking whole chickens, in the oven or crock-pot, easier than frying chicken anyway. We have a big family so I buy the largest chickens I can find and generally cook two at a time so that there’s plenty of chicken leftover to make sandwiches, soups and casseroles. Actually, buying large amounts of anything leads to the next tip.

  • Buy in bulk.

I like shopping at Costco for large amounts of things like rice, sugar, and flour. Fred Meyer sells bulk organic products as do health food store such as Marlene’s. The larger amount you have room to store the cheaper per unit is. Back in the 1970s, before the Pacific Co-op, a play group I belonged to with the babies decided to form a co-op. Each month we made lists of things we needed and took turns going to the industrial section of Seattle to buy in BULK and then divvied up the booty at someone’s house or a community hall. Obtaining bulk food is much easier today and ought to be on everyone’s shopping list.

  • Eat in season.

Buying out of season produce is not only costly, it hurts the environment since it has to be transported from other parts of the world where the seasons are the opposite of ours. Besides, eating locally is supposed to be more healthful. I suppose a case could be made for the fact that few of us live in our tribe or area, but there are some experts that contend that we become habituated to the food of the area where we do live. Personally, my favorite foods are Pacific Northwest fare.

  • Use coupons

Even if you don’t take a daily paper, buy the Sunday edition. You get a TV guide, a lot of news and entertainment, and most of all, coupons. Last week ,while I was shopping at red Meyer, I discovered that someone had left a handful of coupons on a table near the floral department. They were carefully clipped from the Sunday coupons and I thought, “Hey, what good karma.” Normally I cut out only what I know are products that I would buy and put the rest into recycle, but today I think I will cut them all out, keep what I want and take the rest to the store to leave for someone who might be able to use them. Coupon use goes with the next tip for eating well in a down economy.

  • Plan meals based on what’s on sale and what’s in the pantry.

I use those coupons when items are on sale unless it is an emergency. I peruse the food ads and cruise the aisles with my coupon folder in hand. Keeping a well stocked pantry of food purchased at rock-bottom prices is the best way to stretch food dollars. Both my mother and my daughter-in-law are easily swayed by recipes they find in magazines or see on the Food Network. They want to run out and purchase the ingredients right then and there. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve put my mother’s groceries away for her, only to discover that she already had multiples of the items in her pantry. She has no idea what she has. You don’t have to keep a running inventory of what’s in the pantry. We tried that and it was too much work. But occasionally looking to see what you have will keep a little inventory in your head and giving it a real study when planning meals will save you money.