When Did “Customer Service” Become an Oxymoron?

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I’m trapped in my own home.

I’m a prisoner of our internet provider. “Provider” is a bit of a misnomer, however, because no service is being provided, and hasn’t for a month or so. For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve waited four hours for a technician who never arrived. (Now, almost three hours past the promised appointment window, he’s allegedly on his way. I’ll let you know how that works out.)

Numerous calls, emails and online chats with the customer service department have only increased our frustration. I’m talking service reps for whom English is obviously a skill still in the works and who are apparently reading from a script (“How to Deal with Irate Customers 101,” perhaps), conflicting information and even “alternate facts” (Them: “Our records show the work was completed and technician signed the paperwork.” Us: “That’s funny because I sat here for four hours and no one came.”). I’d like to rip the whole thing out and set it afire on the company’s front doorstep — except there is no other provider where we live. So we grumble and gnash our teeth and battle on.

But why should we have to do that? Why is it so hard to get good customer service these days?

And it’s not just these guys. We all have horror stories of clothes returned from the dry cleaners with missing buttons (or missing completely), hopelessly confusing cable bills, surly store clerks and contractors who won’t return calls. I don’t think it’s asking too much for a company to do what it says it’ll do, when it says it’ll do it, or call and explain what’s going on. Give me a smile and a “thanks” and I’m over the moon. It’s why I shop at Publix and Lands End, and would rather pay more at Chick-fil-A than patronize the McCompetition.

And don’t get me started on companies that only seem to value new customers. Case in point: I’ve paid my newspaper subscription bill on time without fail for the past 20 years. My loyalty is now being rewarded by refusing me the deep discount offered to new subscribers. Is it any wonder fewer people are subscribing to the paper these days?

I really think the problem starts as the top. If excellent service isn’t a priority for a company, part of its culture and emphasized to every employee repeatedly, it’s not going to happen. If a company has a monopoly, like my internet company, it might get away with haphazard service for a while. But it’s a pretty risky business strategy in the era of Twitter and Facebook. Not to mention eager entrepreneurs looking for an edge.

It’s not my style to take to social media to vent. I’d much rather talk to a human being and try to resolve the problem. But hey, I’m getting desperate here. If the internet company isn’t listening to me, at least I can make sure plenty of other people know about it with a few clicks … that is, assuming I ever get internet service.

Penny Candy, Souse Meat, Liver Pudding & Bologna

By: Chaunte McClure

Last week I took a trip down memory lane, making a stop at the cinder block pale yellow or beige building on the corner of Highway 908 and what is now Paul Richardson Road. It was one of the mom and pop stores in Britton’s Neck where residents could conveniently buy general grocery items locally, since the nearest grocery store was almost 30 minutes away.

I spent many childhood summer days riding my bicycle to the Richardson Store, as my family affectionately called it. Grandma rarely sent me to buy anything, but I wanted to go sometimes to rack up on penny candy. I shamefully admit that I used to rob my aunt’s Maxwell House jar of the old pennies and other coins she collected in it. (I confessed my theft to her years ago, but it’s not like she hadn’t already figured out why her penny jar was dwindling.) I would take the time to count and wrap those pennies to present them to Ms. Mary or her husband, owners of the Richardson Store, to pay for my penny candy, Now & Laters and other cheap sweets that, over time, contributed to my cavities. I’d buy as much candy as I could for a dollar and share with the other grands at Grandma’s house.

I miss stores like the Richardson’s where you could go to the counter and ask for $2 dollars worth of souse meat, liver pudding or bologna. Let me tell ya, the pan fried bologna cut in the center would make for a good bologna sandwich. I remember for supper some nights we’d have just grits and bologna. It was filling and something quick and easy for Grandma to prepare.

Curious of whether my Facebook friends remember the mom and pop stores, I invited them to share in my nostalgia, posting a related question one night and surprisingly, many of them replied with places in the Columbia area where one can find fresh cut souse meat, liver pudding and bologna. Places like Conwell’s, Caughman’s and Mr. Bunky’s made the list. One day I’ll make a stop at one of those community staples and share my experience with you.

What were some of the mom and pop stores in your community?

Kids and Celiac Disease

 By: Rachel Sircy

Disclaimer: Our bloggers are not health experts. Contact your physician if you have questions about celiac disease or if you are thinking about starting a new dietary program.

Those affected by celiac disease may wonder what the risk is for our children. Here are a few things to consider:

1) According to the Center for Celiac Disease at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, children with a first degree relative (mom, dad, sibling) who have celiac disease should be tested. They recommend that a blood test for celiac disease be done after the age of three and after the child has been exposed to gluten for at least one year. Remember that if you don’t have gluten in your system, you can’t have a reaction to it. The tests for celiac disease are trying to measure an immune response to gluten. If you’ve already put your child on a gluten-free diet, your child’s test will be negative even if they have celiac disease.

2) Even if you have celiac disease, or your child has another first degree relative with CD, it does not necessarily mean that your child will have celiac disease, though they are more at risk to have the disease.  Some people (myself included) have wondered if it’s worth it to introduce gluten into the diet of an at-risk child. It’s really your call, but consider this: your child may one day want to get off of the gluten free bandwagon. It might be good to find out sooner rather than later if that is an option for them.

Also, there are other health issues that are associated with celiac disease. If your child goes undiagnosed for CD, they may still develop some of these other issues such as diabetes, lactose intolerance, or even coronary artery disease. If you choose to put your child on a gluten free diet without having them diagnosed, just keep in mind that doctors will not be looking out for any medical problems that are related to celiac disease.

3) In young children with celiac disease, you may have to watch for contamination from gluten-containing play things like play dough or chalk, etc. Normally, celiacs don’t have to worry about anything that merely touches the skin (gluten can only affect celiacs if they eat it).  However, since young children are prone to eating things they shouldn’t (like play dough, chalk, etc.), it might be a good idea to stock GF art supplies

4) Signs and symptoms of celiac disease in children (and adults) include the following: chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation; abdominal pain; vomiting; bloating/gas; fatigue; damaged or discolored tooth enamel; blistery, itchy skin rashes; iron deficiency anemia; short stature. According to everything I’ve read, irritability is the first sign that appears in young children. Consistently cranky children are often sick children. Asymptomatic children with genetic risk factors should also be tested because many celiacs do not show any signs of the disease in its early stages.

**All of the above information info was taken from the “Kid Central” page of BeyondCeliac.org, which is a pretty good resource. Also helpful is the Mayo Clinic website.

Recipe: Easiest. Cookies. Ever. (Flourless Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup peanut butter (smooth works best, but crunchy will do)
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bag Hershey’s Kisses (dark chocolate are our favorites on this, but milk chocolate is also good)

Directions:

  1. Unwrap Kisses and place in fridge, and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream peanut butter and sugar into a bowl.
  3. Beat in baking powder.
  4. Add egg and mix until well combined.
  5. Roll into balls (smaller is better), roll balls in white sugar, and place on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. Press/flatten balls with fork.
  6. Bake 10 minutes, let rest 5 minutes on baking sheet, then cool on a plate.
  7. While cookies are still warm, press a kiss in the middle of each cookie.
  8. Try not to eat them all in one sitting.

Counselors of Law

By: Stacy Thompson

I have been asked many times what drew me to the practice of law. Back in high school and college, I didn’t have any friends or family members who were lawyers, other than a distant cousin and my great-grandfather, who I was never fortunate enough to meet. I had never needed a lawyer (fortunately) for any civil or criminal matters and I wasn’t really a fan of LA Law or Ally McBeal – Judge Wapner seemed like a decent guy, but I had no real excitement for the show. I was an international studies major, Latin American studies minor, in college and as graduation approached, I was really uncertain about what I wanted to do or be in life. I knew what I liked, which was analyzing problems, writing, history and anything with people – but how to make a career and a life out of that?!? I was somewhat lost.

My last year of college I found a part-time job as a runner at a local law firm. Not good at being idle, I would make the rounds within the office asking the paralegals for any menial task that would keep me busy and teach me a little more about what a law office was about. In talking with one of the paralegals, I mentioned that I was thinking about law school, but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to take that leap. She suggested that I look into paralegal school and possibly work for some time before investing financially and emotionally in the rigors of law school. So off I went to Atlanta, and four months later I got my first paralegal job in Anderson, SC.

Other than the challenge of living that close to that school in the Upstate (for those that don’t know or haven’t followed this blog up until now, I am a huuuuge Gamecock fan), I learned a lot the year and a half I was there – first and foremost, I learned that I really needed to go on to law school, where I could eventually control the types of cases I took in, the clients I represented and the case development itself.

Next came law school itself – where, let’s be clear, you are NOT taught the practice of law, but how to best read voluminous case law, breaking down the issues and then articulating an argument on either side of the fence. It was both torture (especially the first year), a total blast (delving into the background of every Article within our Constitution is truly awesome, trust me), while giving me the base I needed to pursue a career and what I realized was a ‘vocation.’

So, seventeen years into the practice of law, I can truly say that I am doing what I was meant to do – I can make a living not only helping others, but making sure the rules are followed and applied to everyone equally. No two cases are identical and every day brings different challenges – some making the blood pressure rise and others bringing a tear to the eye. As attorneys, we are often called “counselors” of law, which I believe more accurately describes my profession – we counsel and guide people through somewhat difficult times and provide an ear, shoulder and helping hand. I can’t imagine any other true calling in life.

Are You Experiencing One Wild and Precious Summer?

By: Shannon Boatwright

Oprah has inspired me. There, I said it. And I know I’m not special with this ‘being inspired’ moment, as millions – probably more – are inspired by the woman on a daily basis. But I have to admit, I’ve been aching to write. I even told my husband the other day, “I want to write a book.” He responded with, “What about?”

My response, “I’m not sure.” I know I have something to share. In fact, I have a lot I could/can share. But where to start?

The other week, my Mama dropped off some magazines for me, which she occasionally will do. When she’s done scouring the pages, she’ll hand them over for me to enjoy. In this case, she left the June 2017 issue of Oprah’s O Magazine. After sitting on my kitchen island for almost two weeks, I finally had a day in which I felt relaxed enough to truly sit down and enjoy flipping through a magazine. This particular day was July 4th. My children were out of town with their father, and my husband and I had the day to enjoy together. No work, no commitments. At first we felt the pressure to go do something, go to the lake, party with friends, do something spectacular and cool on this holiday. But, we gleefully discovered we were on the same page and wanted nothing more than to just relax, do nothing, and enjoy being together. We avoided the South Carolina heat, did nothing spectacular, and loved every minute of it. As we basked in our uneventful day, I read through the pages of the magazine, consistently being pulled in by article after article. By the end of the day, I was in awe at the realization that I could not put the magazine down and had been inspired by not just one article, but so many that I had folded down more page corners than I think I ever have in any magazine. Each writer inspired me to think of things that I want to write about and share with the world in hopes that I could in turn inspire someone, fill their heart maybe, bring a smile to their face. It’s a wonderful, sometimes indescribable thing when that happens. It’s something us writers live for and absolutely love when these unexpected moments of inspiration capture our time and attention.

So what do I share now? Well, the cover of this particular O Magazine issue is all about summer and it wasn’t just the glorious beach picture with Oprah that caught my attention, but the headline that says, “Your One Wild and Precious Summer”. Something about this wording caught my eye and peeked my interest. It wasn’t until nighttime that I got to the article that belonged to this headline. Page 87 – the title page – contained a short paragraph that got me thinking. Then I noticed the asterisk – it’s an explanation, or tease if you will, about that intriguing headline…it said:

“*If you’ve never read Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day,” please do. It inspired this headline, and it will surely inspire you.”

Oprah and your fabulous peeps – Mission Accomplished!

I immediately picked up my phone, Googled Oliver’s poem, and voila! Next thing you know I’m searching for an image of the poem and posting it on my Instagram.

Yep.  I was indeed inspired.

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

As I was letting the words, phrases and meaning of the poem sink in, I started falling into that typical human trap of thinking negatively…blah, blah, blah, wah, wah, wah, …

Then, I realize, oh my gosh…Mary, Oprah, I HAVE been living a fabulous summer. What!?

Like possibly one of the first summers in which it actually does feel wild and precious.  

Yes! Quite honestly, I don’t want it to end. I worked so incredibly hard this past school year. Always on the go, always exhausted, always looking forward to better things, better times.

But this summer has been different for me. Not just a regular teacher’s break from the insanely busy school year, but I was actually blessed with the chance of a lifetime.

I’m gonna admit here that I honestly don’t know the words to describe what I hope and pray will not end up being a once in MY lifetime experience… At this point, I still feel like it was all a dream. And I promise you I am not over-exaggerating.

I was graced with an all-expense paid trip to Europe. I traveled through the South of France, all along the French Riviera – shopping in Cannes, Hollywood dream-like dining in Saint Tropez, even a dreamlike visit to Monaco, staying in Sainte-Maxime, France in one of the most gorgeous homes I’ve ever set eyes on, much less visited. I consistently pinched myself in an attempt to remind myself that the whole experience was actually real. Closing out my 9-day journey was a visit to Switzerland – a magical place that totally captured my heart, so much so that I think I will forever fantasize about retiring there. And, the bonus was that I had the privilege of enjoying this adventure with my amazing, sweet Mama – my rock, my truly forever BFF – as we were hosted by most precious, dear friends of hers.

Whew…. deep breathes and overwhelming, heart-warming joy fills me at just the thought of these amazing friends of my mother’s…

Needless to say, I could write novels, even movie screenplays, based on the beautiful things, places and people that I saw and the incredible stories that were shared with me. My heart and mind get overwhelmed just thinking about the fabulousness and preciousness of it all and the true blessing of meeting these truly incredible people.

I’ll possibly, hopefully, eventually share more about this-out of-MY-world start to my “wild and precious summer”. But for now, I thank Oprah and Mary Oliver for reminding me that it’s solely up to me how I live out my all too-short-summer. I have the power to make it fabulous. And though my summer of 2017 certainly got off to an insanely fantastic start, I plan to do my best to “squeeze every last drop of bliss and awe, out of this, my untamed summer.”

As Mary Oliver hints in her lovely poem, life is short! The way I see it, we get one chance to rock it, be our best and truly live it up!  I have a feeling she and Oprah would agree with me.

So how do YOU plan to make the best of it? Let’s start with this season currently in our midst. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious summer? 😉

Strengthening Saturday: A New Addition to My Toolbox

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

“It was great! No cleaning, no responsibilities and no guilt. Just rest and relaxation.” That’s how I described a recent overnight stay at a health facility following a vocal cord procedure to my friend/counselor/life coach, Nancy.

Recently, we talked about how I could replicate that without having to go to the hospital. Twenty minutes later, I’d devised “Strengthening Saturday,” one day each month dedicated to rest, renewal, rejuvenation and refreshment. (If only Saturday started with an R!)

Following are the terms of “Strengthening Saturday:”

  • Designate the fourth Saturday of each month as Strengthening Saturday. (That week is usually a busy one for me each month.)
  • Sleep until I wake up; maybe go back to sleep even then.
  • Have no “to do” list for that day; only do the things I want to do including, but not limited to, watching Netflix; creating something; reading; and/or catching up on my writing.  
  • Unless there is something I WANT to do outside of the house and need to be presentable, stay in my PJs or lounging clothes all day.
  • Eat foods that are low-prep and healthy. Unless I want something sinful, which I’ll totally allow during a Strengthening Saturday.
  • No social media allowed. (Lumosity and Words with Friends, yes; Facebook and Twitter, no.)
  • Tell Mom and Sister not to include me in any plans on a Strengthening Saturday.
  • Maximize my senses. Play music I love or listen to a podcast; have some flowers or other beautiful thing in my room; light a candle; take a long hot bubble bath or freshen my bed clothes; eat wonderful food; cuddle with the cats; etc.
  • Will put the guilt of not “being busy” aside, just for one day.

As I continue to grow, build and yes, even still heal a little, I think Strengthening Saturdays will be a game changer. I can’t wait for the first one!

Time to Kiss and Make Up

By: Jeanne Reynolds

The company I work for has locations in both the United States and the United Kingdom. As our communications team worked together last week deciding what kind of internal story to do for the Fourth of July, I started to feel awkward. I mean, there we were talking with our British colleagues about celebrating a holiday that says, to them, “Nyah, nyah, nyah!”

OK, it’s been more than 240 years since that ugly parting of the ways and most people on both sides of the Big Pond would agree we’re now BFFs. So I thought let’s look at it another way: the great gifts each culture has given to the other and things we love about each other.

That led to some pretty interesting research. For example, American as apple pie? Umm, not so much. We can thank the early English settlers for bringing that to our shores. And if, like me, you think everyone in England enjoys a big roast goose on Christmas (hello, Charles Dickens), then we’re both a little outdated. Brits long ago went cold (well, hot) turkey and adopted America’s native bird for their feasts.

And there’s so much more to love. The British sent us the Beatles and Cary Grant. We shared Elvis and Paul Newman. One of theirs invented the World Wide Web, one of ours created Google. We gave them the magic of Disney and they gave us the delight of Downton Abbey. We both love Jane Austen (theirs) as much as Mark Twain (ours). We’re equally dazzled by the royal family and Hollywood celebrities.

If two of the greatest powers on earth can successfully move past a tumultuous past to a shared future, I wonder if we as individuals can do the same in our own relationships. Of course, a couple hundred years and fighting side-by-side in a couple of world wars surely smoothed the way for the U.S. and the U.K. to become pals. Still, it’s hopeful to think bitter divorces, gut-wrenching breakups and long-standing family rifts could eventually evolve into more cordial relationships and mutual appreciation.

For now, hurry up and cut me a piece of that apple pie. There’s an old Cary Grant movie about to come on and I don’t want to miss it.