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(c) 2014 Trina Lambert  Hummingbird Moth seen among the flowers at O'Toole's

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert
Hummingbird Moth seen among the flowers at O’Toole’s

Mother’s Day has come and gone and that makes me think of . . . planting flowers. Here in the metro Denver area of Colorado, gardening experts warn us not to put annuals in the ground until after Mother’s Day—which is really good advice. This year that day dawned with about six inches of snow blanketing my lawn. Much as I love my local garden centers, I’d rather support them by purchasing plants that live. And so I wait, but not very patiently.

For me, searching for seasonal colors in a place that only sells plants and trees and soil and the like is worth the extra pennies. I know I can usually find plants for cheaper at big box stores, but the quality and experience is nowhere near the same as that in a garden center—plus I really don’t want to contribute to the demise of this type of business so near and dear to my heart.

I most definitely work to support local businesses by patronizing them and by sharing my good encounters with others. However, I am only one person so I also love seeing that other businesses such as Good Monster—which creates engaging customer experiences through digital marketing—support the cause by helping the types of local businesses, such as those I mention here, build and maintain customer awareness. I want others to share in the joy I experience, but I also, selfishly, want to keep the businesses I enjoy in business. Yes, I have ulterior motives, but I also believe that others—small business owners and other customers—benefit from our support of  unique businesses and how those businesses add to local economies (and beyond) while fostering a more creative business climate for all.

And thus, my first plant-buying expedition of the season takes me to a small family-owned nursery that, despite all the development built-up around it, has more land than I ever imagined. Bonsai Nursery Inc. (Englewood) offers so many more plant options than the casual gardener I am needs. Other than providing my yard with two dwarf conifer trees and a (gift) rosebush, Bonsai mostly serves as the place where I go in order to bring home the splash and easy-care of annual plants for my containers and built-in beds.

But what splash those flowers have brought my yard over the years. Bonsai is a quiet sanctuary where I can arrive on a weekday and take my time moving back and forth between flats of plants while visualizing and dreaming. I do not buy the colorful pre-made hanging baskets—I come here to create for myself. Which palettes do I want to honor this year for each of my various containers and which of the available plants will work best together? If I pause too long, often one of the owners shouts across the space to find out if I need help. He can answer what conditions work for certain plants or when he will be getting another truckload of which plants and talk about how the current season’s conditions are affecting what is available and which plants are thriving. Not only do I get experienced guidance on the flowers and conditions, but also on fertilizers and soils and maintenance—all served up with humor from the various family members. They may not remember me personally but they most definitely do remember those who return season after season for larger purchases I can only covet. Though I wish I could spend even more there, I always spend more than I should.

My next stop on my plant-buying tour—usually a few days later—is at the closest of three metro Denver stores. The experience at O’Toole’s Garden Center (Littleton) could not be more different. Even early on a weekday May morning, the parking lot is full. I park as far away as I can to avoid all the crazy shoppers who just can’t seem to buy enough plants—once again I envy their budgets. In through the store and out to the plant patio and the land beyond, we shoppers negotiate our carts between aisles packed with almost-overwhelming options. The ever patient plant specialists working amongst the plants provide solid advice as we line up for their expertise on plants as well as for their knowledge of where the newest shipments are on site. Off to the side and across the back we can find more, more, more—maybe the hidden plants at the back corner will be even more vibrant than those on close display—the hunt in O’Toole’s can take me hours as I—and many others—waver between this and that option. All the while lively music (from the younger days of many of the shoppers) plays over the loud system—plant-buying at O’Toole’s is a party, not a solitary experience. We whisper admissions of guilt to one another about how we are just too tempted to behave properly with our purchases. Non-gardening family members enter into this pleasure palace at their own risk.

I admit I still pick up a plant or two at the big box centers—but only to round out what I have not found elsewhere. For pure magic and possibility, only garden centers provide. As I write this—full well knowing my schedule is too busy yet for my seasonal return to the garden (centers)—I am already seeing, smelling, and touching those beautiful plants that will fill my heart again this season—even those flowers I only visit in passing on the journey to finding those that will come home with me to brighten up our humble spaces.

Thanks to my local garden centers, paradise awaits.


(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Excuse me while I skip ahead to educational lessons I learned not while studying humanities, but while pursuing something totally different: an MBA. Sometimes my inner MBA rises up and pushes all that humanities knowledge to the side—though I’d like to think the analytical skills I honed in classes such as English literature led to my not only being able to analyze plots, characters, and themes, but also to do so with balance sheets, customer service philosophies, and branding decisions. Maybe that’s just why some people in the business community would rather not hear what I have to say.

So one of the big buzz words these days is branding. Branding this, branding that, branding yourself, branding your corporation, branding your non-profit, whatever. Really, it’s simply what Shakespeare brought up in Hamletto thine own self be true. And when you apply that to a business, branding is about making sure that the goodwill about your organization remains consistent with your mission and how you want those values communicated in the commercial world.

With large organizations, we, the customers, supposedly know what to expect if the company has created its brand well and protects it well. Whether I go to a Wendy’s by my home or thousands of miles away, there is this consistent feel to what it means to eat at a Wendy’s. Though menu variety and pricing fluctuates in minor ways from state-to-state, Wendy’s is still Wendy’s. If I want something else, then I go to the local Mom & Pop restaurant that does what it does—in a consistent or inconsistent manner—but knowing that that restaurant has its own way of doing things. If there’s no formula, as the consumer I take the risk that my experience will turn out better or worse than my expectations. Branded organizations such as Wendy’s are essentially making a promise that Wendy’s is what it is—nothing more or nothing less—but that I can mostly rely on a standard expectation of what going to a Wendy’s means. If that is not true, then Wendy’s brand begins to slip in the consumers’ minds.

Which is why I am flabbergasted to discover that the stand-alone Verizon store by my house is not what’s called a direct store, but an indirect store, similar to those found inside Target or Wal-Mart, according the Verizon representative.

Back story: what began as a simple online chat to discover how to access the discounts on Verizon accessories we were supposed to receive on our most recent purchase, led to my discovery that our Verizon store was in fact not a Verizon store. Now mind you, this did not come out until the representative finally figured out why she could not access my receipt, despite my giving her the invoice number and the time stamp. This is an hour of my life that I will never get back, but what I discovered about the business practice employed also makes no sense.

OK—so we can get the discounts applied through this local store. Small problem will get resolved—although I have to think it shouldn’t take me an hour to discover just why the branded representative could not resolve my problem herself. Plus, I think she should have been given some systemic way—through the receipt number or something—that indicated to her that I had in fact made the purchase at one of these so-called indirect stores.

However, the big issue comes down to trust. If I am not walking into an obvious indirect store, such as those in discount stores, why would I not think that a store that has the Verizon name on its walls is anything but a real—I mean direct—Verizon store? Frankly I don’t even know if our purchase price and the associated services are any different from what we could get in a direct store, but I do know I feel duped. We wanted to upgrade this Verizon phone through a direct store as we had done for every phone we have gotten since 2007—including the three phones we upgraded this year.

It’s not up to the customer to realize that the store he or she is visiting is a different sort of store—this information should be obvious. My experience with the brand told me a store meant one thing but apparently Verizon is using its brand for more than one kind of a store. That makes no sense to me—either as a customer or as a person who studied business. By making this issue confusing to the average customer, Verizon is muddying what its brand means and is at risk for introducing doubts about what else it might be muddying. I, for one, feel as if every time I go in such a store that I receive a different story about what costs are and what services come with what. By obfuscating what a store is or isn’t, Verizon is also leaving me to question the trustworthiness of these other practices.

I can’t say if Verizon is being true to me, but I have to say that it may not be being true to its own self—by introducing doubt into what is really included in its brand. But here’s what this one particular customer wants—that direct stores have a standardized look that is distinctly different from indirect stores. Maybe Verizon thinks the look is different enough, but if it is, it’s not so different that I knew that this local store is not the same kind of store as the ones I’ve patronized in the past.

The humanities taught me to question and analyze concepts presented to me as truths, while what I learned in business school taught me the hows and whys behind business concepts. In either case, what I gained was a deeper ability to dig beneath the surface to understand when something made sense—and when it didn’t.

To thine own brand be true—that’s just good sense—business or otherwise.

Animal Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger

Animal Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger

Haven’t a good shipping tale to tell in a few months, but here’s another one. Sometimes I think all this tracking information we receive is just designed to drive us crazy. Ordered an animal anatomy book for Christiana to take back for her final (woo hoo!) semester—she’s into doing animal art but never had a reference from her studies. Classes started today so I was excited to see that the book had arrived in our town.

Except it hadn’t—it arrived in the metro Denver area but not at our post office, according to the tracking records. Thought that was strange but figured it would take another day to get to our house because of that.

But, no, that’s not what the tracking information said. Instead, I noticed that tracking said it was undeliverable and that I should contact the sender. Unless the address label didn’t match the shipping records on file with the sender or had been damaged on its short trip across the Midwest, then the package simply ended up at a post office 10 miles or so away from the intended destination.

Once again, didn’t seem fair that the company sending me the package had to send me a new one because the shipper didn’t get the process right. Yet that’s how things go these days.

I tried to call the post office that had rejected my package—in hopes that my package had yet to leave the building. Was not a good sign when I looked up the location online and instant bad reviews for the office popped up with statements such as “they never answer phones” or “worst customer service ever” and that sort of thing. At my local office, there may be lines at the counter due to not having enough workers but I recognize all the clerks by face—they are pleasant and competent, plus I’ve seen them answer phones and spend time resolving problems.

I spent about 10 minutes on hold as the auto-answering system tried to find me an available clerk or a clerk’s voice mail that wasn’t full. I was just in a loop going from full mail box to full mail box. Kind of ironic, right?

After a brief conversation with my local office where the clerk was flabbergasted but had no answers for me since that office did not have the package—or it would have been delivered to me and none of this would have happened—I called back to Barnes & Noble, whose first customer support person had pretty much told me—between the lines—not to expect any results once my package was marked undeliverable. I know, I know, but I still wanted to think I could just talk to someone who could locate the package that had just received its red letter mark a few hours ago and then I could drive over to pick it up myself since it had come so close to me after leaving Illinois.

What did I expect? Do I think I’m living in TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show” and its town of Mayberry, circa 1965?

Ah no, but I’d like to think what we have lost in personal connection we have gained in efficiency—instead it seems we’re less efficient. My B&N support people were nice enough, even if I don’t know them. And though I never got to talk to anyone at that other post office, I did get to talk with the local clerk whose voice I do recognize.

We’ve got all these fancy computer scanners and distribution systems but we don’t tend to support the clerk who would say, “Well, this here package says 80110. What’s it doing in 80130? Let’s get it on over to the other side of town. Shoot, this doesn’t have to go back to the sender.” I know Barney Fife wasn’t a mail clerk, but those of you who know who Barney Fife was in that fictional Mayberry, can’t you imagine him saying that in his twangy voice? In fact, my own grandfather was a rural mail carrier (no twang) and I can’t imagine him just sending something back. No, these days we want our clerks to follow the system, even when they can see what the problem is and how easy it would be to fix. Just send it back—it keeps general production moving along.

Since the tracking said my package was undeliverable, B&N was sending another copy by express delivery—no charge to me, of course. Only now they are sending it my daughter at school in Fort Collins—let’s hope the package goes straight to the 80521 office because I don’t even want to get started about the six weeks 80525 dithered before sending an 80526 package back as undeliverable. Never mind that an 80525 apartment complex and 80526 condo complex shared the same street address—not good planning, but I’m guessing it leads to common problems—but maybe no common solutions.

But, guess what? Tracking information I received the day after the undeliverable notice arrived said 80130 had sent the package on to 80110 after all—and then our local carrier delivered the book before noon on Saturday. The book turned out to be so fantastic that we’ll pay B&N twice after all and sell the second copy to another animal artist in my daughter’s class.

Tracking and shipping news—it just keeps coming these days—more often than what’s being shipped. With any luck, the (second) book will arrive on my daughter’s doorstep before she graduates in May.

P.S. The second book did arrive as planned and we did pay to keep it. Thanks to shipping snafus, the author (and B&N) made two sales, so I guess some good came out of what seemed like extra costs to B&N.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

This I believe: do good business and your business will do well, should the conditions for what you offer be at all favorable.

What is good business? To me it’s about operating in a manner that supports all stakeholders—not just the ones that write you the biggest checks, such as the advertisers, or the shareholders, who so often are focused on the near future’s bottom line, not the long-term sustainability. Employees are more than expense—they create the value of your organization. And in today’s complex world when so often the users of your products are not the customers who write the checks, it’s still good practice to keep the users happy so that they continue to use your services.

I get that these days it’s really common that the real customer (or at least the biggest customer) is often not the user. For example, in health care the insurance companies bring in most of the money. But without patients coming through the doors, insurance won’t be paying out for services. Same with online “free” services, such as social media and news outlets. We have always had to put up with advertising, whether it’s print advertising in our publications, which keeps subscription prices lower, or whether it’s to watch network television. Now, in order to use electronic services—paid and free—we have to consent to let all of our online activities be followed and sometimes, even when we don’t want to watch an ad, those ads keep playing anyway, using up valuable computing and server resources. Maybe we can’t opt out of necessary services, such as certain health care procedures or visits, but we can reduce using them for optional care. And with other more discretionary activities, we can stop using the service at all. With fewer users of services, the real—or the one paying the most—customer makes less money. Chasing away users of your services is bad for the bottom line.

It comes down to respect. Businesses need to respect all sides of the profit-making equation, even if not all equally contribute to the bottom line in an easily quantifiable manner. Reasonable employees and reasonable customers are why a business can provide what it provides in order to make a profit. Treat these stakeholders well, and your business should grow. Really, it’s not trickle-down, it’s trickle-up.

The hubris of scorning the “little people” is just not good business. Betting that the user will put up with almost anything is not a good long-term plan, especially in the face of an improving economy. Odds are most people remember how a business has made them feel—I know I do and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Treat me well and you might have me for life—without paying for any constantly playing videos or pop-up ads or whatever the next intrusive form of advertising is. (Visiting me in my dreams?)

You can say I’m a dreamer, but there are really no good reasons for it to be a dream for people to be treated well by corporations and other organizations.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Once upon a time a decade or two ago, I believed the tales told to me in business school. Perhaps they weren’t tales before some of the financial ravages occurred that changed how we do business. But those were days before right-sizing and outsourcing and all those great buzz words that might help the bottom line—and I’m sticking with “might” because I believe in a bottom line that reflects more than the latest quarter, but one that also looks to future earnings and growing customer goodwill—were quite so prominent.

Basically, I fell for operations management, not because I am some mathematical wizard who can analytically detail the best way to manufacture a product or provide a service, but because I believe the human decisions about the whys behind a process make a difference in how well an entity serves various stakeholders.

And part of the whys should be having a plan for how that entity responds when the goods are not delivered as promised or when promised or whatever. The manner in which a website is designed or a phone tree is built indicates something of the sort of service that is most valued by the organization. Resources, especially when limited, tend to get allocated toward what matters most.

When I access a website or a phone tree and note that my particular concern isn’t prominent, then either my current difficulty is not common or it isn’t considered as important as other problems to the organization.

This is where I find myself this week. Does a company so famous for its delivery systems not often have a problem with delivering packages to the wrong homes or does it focus more on resolving problems for the businesses that procure its services? Even though I pay the shipping fee to the original business, it’s that business that chooses which shipping provider to use—for all its shipping needs. They are the bigger stakeholder.

Of all the FAQs listed on the website, there is not one that says: Tracking says a package was delivered but the package was not received. Not sure if the “How do I determine what address my package was delivered to?” instructions work since it is their records available to me that show it was delivered to my address.

After a couple days of calling back and forth to the local hub for our neighborhood’s deliveries while waiting for the driver to tell the office if she recognized my house, I have found out she did not. Then I was told to call the original shipper to have them file the claim.

In my perfect little fairy tale world, this isn’t my responsibility. The company, recognizing that it has likely made a delivery to the wrong address, then takes charge of the mistake and does the legwork for me. The company facilitates this because it wants the problem corrected for me, the individual stakeholder, as well as for the larger stakeholder that is the business that chooses to send its deliveries to me and all its other customers through this particular shipper.

Beyond that, the company also tries to understand if something in the process led to the mistake in the first place in order to make changes that will reduce future errors. Plus, perhaps said company realizes that making the initial contact more customer-friendly and efficient in the face of delivery difficulties will improve the experience for all stakeholders—including its own employees and the productive and cost-effective use of their time—which in the end improves that ever important bottom line.

And then we would all live happily ever after.

As it stands, I left a phone message with the original business that sent out my package in good faith last week through the shipper. Any sweet dreams I expected from using the ordered little pillow to better position my oh-so-sensitive “princess and the pea” back for restful sleep will have to wait. If I were really living in a fairy tale, then all these challenges would simply be part of my hero’s journey to reach the happy ending.

Since I no longer believe in such tales, I’ll just say that this whole saga is not an example of best practices—for any of the stakeholders.


But there’s more after all! In between writing and editing this piece, the doorbell rang. A man I did not recognize was standing there with my package. When he told me it was mine, I had to ask where he lives—inquiring minds want to know how all this really happened. His house is on the 3500 block while ours is on the 3800 block—no wonder I didn’t know him by sight. (And, yes, the correct address was marked on the box twice.)

So while what I said about businesses still stands, it turns out that sometimes you can depend on the kindness of strangers. In a world of people busy not taking enough responsibility for their actions, there are always those who take on more responsibility than is their due. As so often happens, just when my experiences seem to indicate that believing in others belongs in a mythical tale, then something happens that reminds me that there are plenty of people (and entities) living out the hero’s journey every day—in both big and small ways.

Don’t know if my pillow will be the magical solution for which I sought, but I’ll rest easier having remembered that some tales are true—which makes for a much happier ending for this particular tale.

When I was young, my mom stopped telling me in advance about special plans because I got so upset if they did not happen. When she told me we couldn’t do something because so-and-so was sick, I’d respond with “But you said . . .” Tired of my very vocal expressions of disappointment, she would wait before she let me know about what was supposed to happen.

She just couldn’t convince me that some things were unforeseeable. To me a plan was a plan and a commitment was a commitment.

Sadly, I still feel that way, even though I’ve lived long enough to know that stuff just happens. When a promise doesn’t come through, I just want to say, “But you said . . .” And in that same whiny voice, too. I try not to do so, really I do, because everyone—including moi—makes mistakes.

Plus, I’ve studied operations management. I know how unrealistic it is that nothing will ever go wrong, no matter how airtight the system or the human intent. There are still acts of God (FedEx was monitoring volcanic eruptions in Iceland when I first tracked my recent package delivery) as well as times the system and/or the human fails.

Our dogs in the vehicle while it shows the first temporary license.

Our dogs in the vehicle while it shows the first temporary license.

Nonetheless, yesterday was a frustrating day in our home. In the first case, I don’t think we’re wrong to believe the entity really isn’t doing its job. We still don’t have a license plate for our vehicle that we bought almost four months ago. The first sign of lack of attention was the company not charging our Discover Card (don’t worry about our financial decisions—we were ultimately using investment funds to round out our purchase the vehicle) for the 65% of the purchase price not covered by the cash we paid. And then when the charge appeared (after our notification to them), it appeared twice. Got that fixed only to not receive a title before having to pay for an extension.

With my husband’s constant reminders, the organization continued to search for the title, plus—reluctantly—agreed to provide us with another temporary license to get us through until the arrival. When the title finally came to us, it showed up with a dealer name change form. Instinct told us there still might be trouble, so we did not wait to bring in the title until the temporary’s expiration. Good thing because the name change form is not valid. So we wait again.

But they said they would sell us a vehicle. Why is it nothing has been done correctly and on time—well, except for the fact that the car itself appears to be as good as promised. Surely it is the dealer’s job to know how to do the facets of its own business, such as processing credit cards and meeting government documentation requirements?

And then there was my pillow—out on the FedEx truck at 3:44 a.m. yesterday. I was anticipating a better night’s sleep last night since the special pillow my neuromuscular massage therapist had suggested was finally arriving. I spent much of yesterday in my home office, cleaning off my desk for a project that will be on my desk later this week. Also, I wrote and posted another blog post. From my desk window I can see and hear the delivery trucks that come through my neighborhood. All afternoon I looked for the package, but it had not arrived when I left at 5:30.

Imagine my disappointment when I arrived home at 7:30 and saw that tracking stated my package had been delivered at 3:15. No one else in my house had seen the package either, despite what the records said.

“Describe your house,” the representative said.

"3 Margaritas"

Our PINK house.

“The numbers are clearly legible from the street. There’s a large Colorado Blue Spruce in front of it. It’s stucco—and it’s pink. You can’t miss it.”

Not only did they say they would deliver it, but also they said they did deliver it. So either they did deliver it and someone very quickly stole this odd-shaped pillow or they left the pillow on the porch of some not-pink house (or the driver is stockpiling packages or sleeping on the job—scenarios not very likely with FedEx’s strict operational and employment policies.)

But they said . . . and I remain disappointed.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I continue to feel frustrated by how much crap there is to do in life.

Was already frustrated that our family vehicle licensing renewals cluster over a few months. (Hey, that almost makes me feel thankful that since the dealer still has not located the title for the vehicle we bought in May, we are on our second temporary license and get to wait another six weeks to pay for that vehicle’s license. ) To add to the financial pain, though our vehicles had been driven past the roadside emission testing vans several times, all still needed emissions tests. I suppose that could be because the cars weren’t passing those roadside tests, but that definitely wasn’t the case with the first car I took to emissions. That car passed so well that I am extremely impressed by how few emissions come from a car that is now 14 years old.

Last week I discovered a handy tool that showed me waiting times at emissions testing centers which worked really well—last week. Yesterday—not so much.

For one, the car of this week is a real time SUV—which means it gets a different emissions test. For two, the testing center only has one bay for testing SUVs—which makes little sense in a state such as Colorado. And that also means published testing times aren’t so accurate for SUVs.

As I waited in line in my car, I kept the engine off. With that hot sun beating down on me and the sweat pouring down my back, I couldn’t wait to make it to the front of the line and out of my car and into the waiting area. Except that while I watched, I saw a couple vehicles back from the bay and leave. Then the attendants blocked the bay by stretching a chain with a “closed” sign hanging from it across the entrance.

The attendant apologized to each of us in line and offered us a brochure for the other locations.
No thanks. I mean, who wants to spend precious time doing all these dull adult things anyway, let alone when they don’t work? Of course the location needs another bay for SUVs—this is Colorado—but it appears to be a budget matter—and we all know how budget matters have gone for the last several years.

I’m tired of being a grown-up, especially when the systems for doing all those time-consuming boring adult chores do not always work—and I still have more wasted time ahead of me. Don’t mind me but I started pouting just thinking about how I had been kept from checking off a task from my “to do” list.

However, while I was busy pouting, I went on the company’s website and sent notice of what happened, mentioning I thought an additional SUV bay would help every day, but especially when equipment breaks down. Lo and behold—I heard back from the company within an hour and was told another bay will be added in a couple months—and was offered an apology, along with a complimentary emissions test.

Huh—call me stunned. So I still need to do this boring and inconvenient task, but at least someone at the company acted like an adult and took some responsibility for my inconvenience. Time for me to be an adult and accept that, while frustrations happen, at least this particular wait is for something after all.

Follow-up: I received the complimentary coupon in the mail two days after I contacted the company, then got the test done the next day. Not quite painless, but that task is checked off the list for another two years, plus I only had to pay with my time.

(c) 2014. Trina Lambert

(c) 2014. Trina Lambert

Details, people, details. The devil is in the details and sometimes the devil is in me when an organization’s lack of attention to detail causes me trouble. This is when I have to take deep breaths and remind myself that I firmly believe in treating service people with respect, no matter whether or not they deserve it. This is when I am supposed to apply that grace (that they most certainly have not earned) while making certain that details do get resolved as needed. This is also when I need both grace for the uncharitable thoughts I am thinking and prayers to help me get that devil out of my head.

Suppose we are buying a car to replace the one we just sold for cash and want to access investments to cover the difference between the cash just received and the purchase price of the new car. Since we do not know the exact amount we will need to cover costs of the car, licensing fees, and any upgrades we do to the car, such as putting on a hitch or other accessories, we decide to complete the purchase using our Discover Card. We have credit on the card, so not only will we know just how much to take out of our investment when the time comes, but we will also buy time to complete the not-so-quick transaction that allows us to receive that investment money, all while earning a Cashback Bonus for the purchase.

So, you ask, how did that really work for us?

Believe it or not, the charge appeared under the pending charges immediately, but disappeared after a few weeks. I finally called Discover Card to find out what happened to the charge—the truth was nothing had happened to the charge. It was still pending but since it had not been finalized by the dealer, the transaction was moved to some inactive file visible to Discover, but not to me. The representative and I had a good laugh about my “reduced” price car, but I told her we would be contacting the dealer.

The dealership thanked my husband when he called about the problem. And then the charges still didn’t show up. By now I was starting to wonder if this would delay our ability to get the license plates by the time the temporary license expired. I mean, the expiration date is July 7, one week from today, which is also the first Monday after a holiday weekend. I know better than to expect a good time any day at the DMV, but especially now thanks to the short work week falling between today and then.

Guess what? A few hours ago I went to my Discover account and discovered (ha, ha) that the pending charge went through, still dated May 9, as well as a new charge dated June 11—which is crazy since the last time I checked the account about a week ago—long past June 11—no charges showed anywhere. Then my husband and I divided duties—he called the dealership and I called Discover.

The representative at Discover Card told me it can take 15 days for merchant-authorized credits to show up, but not to worry. When I still seemed worried, he asked, “Haven’t you had refunds before?” Yes, but not for such a large amount! Forgive me for not feeling that patient. Plus, this artificially high usage of credit will now show on my credit reports, even if all goes as planned.

When my husband called the dealership again today, he was told a credit had been issued on Friday and should show up any time, plus the title should arrive this week. That’s right—don’t hurry with that paperwork. The post office and title offices aren’t affected by the short work week either—which means that at some point this week I may have to choose to go in to get an extension on that temporary plate. It’s only my time and money—don’t sweat the details, right?

I suppose it’s just the devil in me that wants to shout, “People—just get it right the first time!” I’ll concede that we all make errors from time to time, but I don’t believe it’s too much to ask that businesses correct errors in a timely manner after an error is pointed out—and then work really hard not to add more errors to the initial mistake.

Suppose you see me at the DMV twice in the next two weeks, I would advise you to stay the devil away from me—and that’s a detail to which you will want to attend, make no mistake about that.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

On one hand, I’m still the kid who used to eat one—and only one—Lay’s potato chip every time the Lay’s ads taunted me that I couldn’t do that. Trust me, I liked potato chips but didn’t like being told what I should or should not do. Back to that other hand, I’m the kind of person who likes to get along with people. If it’s in my best interest to say “no” to you, I just want to get it done and move on. Trust me, if I’ve turned you down, I mean it, even if you think I don’t.

Sometimes I think I was given a child like my son Jackson so I would get to practice saying “no” again and again. This kid was good at advanced rhetoric from a young age—I used to say he was born a teenager, but I rather think he was born a lawyer. He instinctively knew to ask a question three different ways or how to try to destroy the opposition’s (in other words, my) logic. However, just because I don’t like conflict, doesn’t mean I was going to change my decision on the fly, especially since my decision-making style is fairly measured and consistent.

Before Jackson had reached 18 months, I realized that I had just signed up for a lifetime of practicing the “no” word. To which I thought, “Well, then so be it. Not as if I don’t need the practice”—especially since it’s so much harder for me to say “no” to real people than it is to some distant corporation on a television screen.

As a people-pleaser, despite the practice, I can still get pretty anxious about having to state my opinions, though it’s so much easier with unknown strangers who call me or arrive at my door unannounced. I’ve learned that it does me no good to argue with telemarketers. I now say, “Thank you, but I’m not interested” and hang up the phone without listening further. And when people come to my door, it is my policy to reject them as politely as possible before quickly shutting the door. I’m not going to use a rude tone, but I do not buy from cold calls. If I want something, I do research and seek out the companies with which I want to interact.

All this saying “no” business is one of the reasons traveling to Mexico can raise my frustration level. Upon arriving at a Mexican airport, visitors must first run the gauntlet of helpful people offering to show them presentations. And then there’s the upselling at the car rental counters and in lobbies of hotels, as well as the offers of not-so-free help in grocery markets, on beaches, and in restaurants—offers of free jet-skiing, car rental, or whatever else abound in exchange for “just” hearing a time-share presentation. If those promised prizes seem worthy enough to spend several hours practicing those “noes” again, hapless tourists better be really good at that nay-saying, especially since sometimes the salesperson even accuses them of taking advantage of the system.

The use of guilt techniques at the presentation is just the final technique in the arsenal for trying to convince naysayers that they really meant to say “yes” to the very expensive proposal. As if sending out all those low level people who promise something in exchange for just listening isn’t the business model they have adopted. No, people you work very hard to receive the “free” gifts at those presentations.

That being said, if an encounter with a business or even with a friend or an acquaintance in my neighborhood starts to feel like a time-share presentation or a multi-level marketing promotion where my “yes” is more important than whether or not what is offered is what I need and/or want, then that encounter has already lost me. What right do you have to try to make me feel guilty for knowing my own mind? The fact you keep pushing for a different answer than I’ve given means you are not respecting my boundaries.

While I may have said “no” to extra potato chips because I was stubborn, over the years—especially thanks to my once toddler and now grown son—I have had many more opportunities to practice saying “no” for the right reasons. When I have made it clear that “no” is still my final answer, if you keep pushing me, I will likely go all Lay’s potato chips on you—and you’ll be lucky to get me to say “yes” to even one chip, no matter which hand you want to put it in.

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

Yesterday while running around in circles on the track at my local recreation center (Baby, it’s cold outside!), I finished listening to the audio book mentioned in my most recent post. Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Most From Your People by Edward M. Hallowell, MD, continues to spark my thinking. And, yes, though I still don’t have my “own” people to manage, the truth is we all have our own people. Hallowell had a book to write about motivating people, but when he met the shoe-shiner he calls Dr. Shine, that’s when he figured out how he really wanted to direct the book.

Dr. Shine told Hallowell he worked for him—just as he works for anyone whose shoes he is shining. Here’s a man who believes in trying to find the spark in everyone he serves in that job. Not sure if he knows anything about yoga, but that sounds a whole lot like the phrase that ends most yoga classes: Namaste or I bow to the divine in you. In yoga classes, this is a reciprocal phrase spoken between teachers and students. But do most people whose shoes are being shined think to reach out to the people, such as Dr. Shine, who are serving them? Do they see the spark in him or tell him they do?

Come to think of it, do I do that? No, I don’t get my shoes shined, but there are many people in my world—personal and otherwise—who help me along my way.

Sure, I thank my servers and try to respond to their well wishes with a hearty “you too”, but do I actually express my gratitude to the people who “serve” me more frequently—my exercise instructors, my physical therapist, my minister, my choir director, and other people working with me from a specific role in my life. And beyond that, do I let my loved ones know what I especially appreciate about who they are and what they do for me?

No, I don’t. I am quietly grateful for all these people, but rarely show anything more than polite appreciation, if that.

My mother was a great encourager to those who gave to her. In her last years she kept busy baking dinner rolls for the pharmacy or the doctor’s office staffs to show her gratitude. She really did let people know she appreciated what they did, even if they were just performing their paid jobs. Plus, she would give compliments to the young people she knew at her church, pointing out their strengths and applauding their learning and growth.

Nonetheless, for me she kept her approval more silent. I always knew she appreciated me, but I mostly heard that when she sang out my praises to other people in my hearing. In those last years she would tell people, “She takes care of me.” Of course I did—she was my mother—but it was still really nice to hear that she valued what I did for her.

Thinking about Dr. Shine made me realize just how stingy I am with words of praise for those who are frequently in my life.

I tell my husband I love him, but forget to let him know how much I appreciate the meals he makes for me and the income he earns to provide for our family. I tell others how much he does for me, but remain silent more often than not to him. It would be easy for him to think I don’t notice that his efforts, as well as his belief in me, are a big part of why I have the time and strength to do what I do.

The same is true for my kids. They don’t expect false words of praise from me, but would it be so hard for me to share with them what really impresses me about them?

So yesterday, inspired by Dr. Shine, I told my son, “You know, I think it’s great that you look for what is good in each person and you often keep looking.” He’s no Pollyanna, which is what makes that even more impressive—he has this mission to bring hope into this world even while being pragmatic about the high odds that the world and people will still disappoint.

My daughter has had so many health challenges to face and she gets so weary. However, through all that, she works hard at school and in jobs. So many people in her shoes would not even try, but she is compelled to do her best, even when that comes with a big personal cost. And still, she feels kindness matters, even when she doesn’t experience it in great doses.

My yoga teacher? She changed my life and outlook and helps me through difficulties—physical and otherwise. My physical therapist moves me back to wellness. My minister reaches my soul and strengthens my faith, even when I want to turn away. My choir director challenges me to learn in new ways and in so doing reminds me of what I already know and that I might yet discover more. Those are just some of the people who improve my journey and who I never give more than a quiet “thank you”, if that.

You don’t have to be a manager to make a difference in people’s lives and that’s what Dr. Shine already knows. Treat people as people who were each created with a unique spark and thank them for how that spark helps you. That’s the real meaning of all those Namastes and Peace be with yous and Also with yous that we mouth back and forth to one another.

Namaste—I bow to the divine in you—and may I yet learn to tell all my people that.

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