Monday, August 22, 2016

The Dreaded End of Summer

Am I the only one who hates the end of summer? Every year, no matter where I am, how old I am or what's ahead, I feel almost depressed that another summer is coming to an end.

It doesn't help that this time I'm in England and preparing to say the annual goodbye to friends and family, but even when I'm already back in Chicago, the end of summer comes too soon. Of course, this might be that two of my children are adults and I haven't spent three months dragging them to parks and museums, wearing myself out and draining the bank account to keep them amused.I remember all too well the daily "Oh my god, when does school start?" feeling. The youngest (now 13) went from one day camp to another (metal-working, tennis, archery, rock music) before we left for England and confessed that the one free week he had, wasn't quite as good as he anticipated, (ie. I didn't let him play PS4 the entire time.)

I'm not even back in Chicago and already the back-to-school e-mails are disturbing my dreams - Did I remember to submit the medical forms that were due two months ago? (Answer - yes.) Do we know who his main teacher is yet? (Answer - I don't think so, unless I've missed an e-mail.) Then there's a whole load of orthodontic stuff that needs to be scheduled, the dog needs a few vaccines, the windows are in dire need of a power wash, etc. etc.

The end of a Chicago summer is particularly distressing given the winters that we endure every year. As I've written about many times, we hardly have a shoulder season (autumn/fall) and before we know it we're wearing the usual glam parkas, shoveling snow and worrying about frostbite. Some people say they love the seasons, but me? I could live in summer all year round. 



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Oh for a Chip and Pin Card

So I'm in England for my annual pilgrimage and feeling a bit like a foreigner once again. As many expats discover, with each year you're gone, your mother country becomes less and less familiar. New fangled procedures queue up to make you look like a complete idiot in your own land, compounded by the fact that you have the same accent as the natives and yet appear clueless. 

A few year ago it was the challenge of the supermarket trolleys/carts that require a pound coin as a deposit. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out just by watching others, quite how the feat was performed. You put a coin in somewhere, pulled something, and the trolley was released. On returning the trolley, you somehow joined it back together with the other trolleys and your coin was returned to you. This, of course, assumed that I actually had a pound coin to my name. Half the time I had to buy a newspaper or a packet of chewing gum to get the desired coinage. 

This year, once again, it's the bloody credit/debit card situation. Up and down the land, Brits are equipped with chip and pin cards. The whole process of paying for goods has changed in the last few years - no signatures required. There is even something you can wave at the scanner, although purchases are limited to thirty pounds and no more than thrice a day. Meanwhile in the US, while many of us now have a card with a chip in it, only a chosen few have been designated the magical PIN.

Despite Brits in America telling me that they have never had a problem with a PINless card in the UK, (as if it's somehow a moral failure on my part) every day is a new adventure for me with my cards. Unbelievably I visited Costco on two consecutive days and proffered my Visa card (with advance warning of its PINlessness). First day was no problem; second day, it wouldn't process. How can that be? (Fortunately my PINless American Express went through). Filling the car up at a petrol/gas station on the A1, my cards were all totally rejected by the sales assistant and I had to drag the Ball & Chain out of the car to pay with his Diners card (with a PIN). I suspect however, that the sales assistant just couldn't be bothered with the fuss of a manual process.


Yesterday in Sports Direct (a large national chain of sports stuff), my PINless Visa (again, with advance warning) sparked off a security procedure that would've put Buckingham Palace to shame. Although they could process it, because of recent scams, there are now internal steps in place involving a manager, a phone call to the bank, an internal code and a long queue of people muttering under their breath. Sigh. 

The real benefit of a chip and pin card is that there is now no matching of signatures. I remember working in retail decades ago and young Americans would try to make purchases armed with a parents' credit card. We were, under no circumstances, allowed to process cards with dodgy signatures, even if they were accompanied by a letter from said parent. Now though, I can make off with the Ball & Chain's PIN'ed card, key in his PIN and no questions will be asked. 

I think. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Never Leave Packing Till the Last Minute

So I'm packing for a fairly long trip - which means major planning on my part. What (if any) parties am I going to? How much walking will I be doing? Do I have shoes to go with every pair of trousers?  Have I accounted for every type of weather I might experience? Does everything in that suitcase match at least two other garments? etc etc

I usually make lists that end up looking like Venn diagrams as I strive to ensure that the stuff that goes in will serve a multitude of purposes and will be worn. (Last year I came home with three items that never saw the light of day. A venial sin in the world of global traveling.) 

I have learnt over the years, never to wait till the last minute to physically pack the suitcase. All the lists and organization in the world can't erase the precious moments needed to fill that case. If you leave it till the day before travel (I can't even contemplate leaving it till the actual day of travel), bad things happen. 

In the past, these bad things have included - 

- idiot worker from next door causing my basement to flood and me having to spend half a day sorting that out

- child that was too sick to travel but also needed to see a doc and get a note for the airline to change our flight

- locking self out of house and having to go to husband's office to get key (a good three hours wasted)

- snapped braces and an emergency trip to the orthodontist (plus lots of begging)

- notification that equipment (ie. plane) had been changed and now me and three kids are spread out all over the cabin and no kids' meals reserved. That one took a while to resolve

This year however, it's a new one  - 

- youngest son, who's traveling with me, seems to have grown. (Well, obviously that part's not new but it did sneak up on me). His shoes and clothes are too big to fit into the small suitcase I usually use for him., Argh. Racing round house looking for alternative. Where have all the other bags gone? Ah yes, they'd be with my now-working daughter who lives far away. 

Finally found another large suitcase which no one else seems to be claiming. Not sure we really need that much space but it will come in handy when I go bonkers in the shops in the UK. I may be able to take an extra pair of "nice shoes" who knows? 

Right. Back to work! 

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