education-548105_1920

A-rears or Ass-inine?

Yesterday, I went to the Social Security Office unannounced. It was a big risk. You could be there 20 minutes or three hours. You never know. There was only one couple in the waiting room and one lady at the window talking to a representative. Jackpot!

My number was called in less than five minutes. Clearly, the gods were on my side.

I was in the Social Security Office to check on the missing checks that were to be sent to the children of my brother-in-law. See, there ‘s a rule in Social Security. If a bank receives a check after a recipient has died, the bank must return that check to Social Security.

Now this might make sense to you. However, what you need to know is that Social Security pays in arrears.

What that means is that if  you die in October, and you receive a check in October, you are being paid for September. So that’s still your check, alive or dead. You lived all of September. You get paid for September. Admittedly, if you don’t tell Social Security that you died ( well, okay if someone else doesn’t tell them that you died), and those checks continue to go into your bank account they should be returned to Social Security.

But here’s the rub. Almost every funeral home alerts Social Security that  you’ve died and the whopping $255 death benefit will be sent to the beneficiary. It’s a nice favor that funeral homes do.

And yet, 99 times out of 100 that monthly check that the bank returned to Social Security does indeed belong to the deceased. And it would naturally flow to the estate of the deceased and dealt with accordingly. The bank can’t help it. The bank is required by law to send that check back as soon as they are notified that someone has died.

But because of this stupid rule, I had to go to the Social Security Office, get the proper form and submit the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of the children of the deceased.

And I did that….on March 27, 2016.

By August 27, 2016. five months later, the beneficiaries contacted me to tell me they had not received their checks. Which I was grateful for, since I have no way of knowing if Social Security did their job or not.

So I went to the Social Security Office after Labor Day and asked the representative if she thought it was weird that we hadn’t heard anything, hadn’t received the checks and seemed to have fallen into the black hole of lost paperwork. Of course, I had a copy of everything I submitted. She admitted that was weird.

So she looked up the case from my paperwork and said: “Oh, that case was cleared August 29th.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

She just shook her head and shrugged her shoulders and said, “well, I would just wait another week to see if those checks are delivered. And don’t lose these copies.”

Yeah. I made those copies for just such an occasion, not because Social Security told me that would be a stellar idea.

Hmmmm.

Five months to correct a thing that never should be happening. Why is this even a thing? Who made up this stupid rule, costing deceased families time and money, costing banks time and money, and especially since Social Security knows they pay in arrears.

Imagine waiting five months in your office for someone to read a paper and take action. The checks came, my beneficiaries were happy and we all just shook our heads and shrugged our shoulders.

Think of these blogs as instructional, so you don’t lose your mind and please……

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

 

VW BUS

Cool, Super, Groovy and……Tidy!

My husband and I went to an exhibit at the Chester County Historical Society of ‘ 60’s memorabilia. In the first 10 minutes, I realized, if I opened up our basement to the public, we would have a pretty sweet ’70’s and ’80’s exhibit.

My first takeaway was nostalgic. lots of toys, telephones, fashions, album covers, LIFE magazine covers, all harkening back to my childhood. After that, it got kind of ugly.

Race riots, Vietnam, Charles Manson, the 1968 DNC, Kent State, JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, all of it gut-wrenching reminders of a child’s take on unsettled times.

And then it occurred to me that as things change, they really do stay the same. Today’s climate seems so divisive, so harsh, so ugly and yet in my 1960’s mind, I remember the same discomfort watching the news or hearing grown-ups talk while silently holding my mother’s hand.

This didn’t really restore my faith in humanity, except to say that, well we are still here. So there’s that.

And then came the fun part. The music in the background, just begging for us to dance, clap and sing out loud. The crazy clothes that looked like they stepped out of Laugh-In. The same John Romaine pocketbook that my mom used every day. The Jetson’s toys, the Princess phones, the 45 records that came inside the National Geographic magazine, that you could tear out and put on your record player! Yes, kids there really was such a thing.

Apparently, where I grew up was a key player in the creation of the Space Program, all top secret, of course. John Glenn and the Mercury astronauts can thank Southeastern Pennsylvania for much of their successful program.  And Alan Sheperd, the first man in space can also thank us for his wife, Louise Brewer Sheperd who was from Kennett Square, PA! We were also a place where secret missiles were stashed during the Cold War. Yikes!

But my absolute favorite throw back a mere 50 years ago, was the instruction manual “How to be a Super Secretary!”

Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Hide your light under a bushel. Don’t take credit for any ideas you may have. Give them to your boss. If your boss does well, you move up with him. And even give  your good ideas to other men. Your reputation as a good secretary will get you where you want to go.
  2. No matter how much you ask, your boss will never tell you what your failings are. Bosses are always nice people and just can’t tell you bad things about your performance. So it’s up to you to scrutinize your work.

    She didn't get the memo to be tidy and happy.
    She didn’t get the memo to be tidy and happy.
  3. Keep your voice beautiful over the phone!
  4. Your office space is your kitchen! Keep it as tidy and clean as you would at home.
  5. Don’t be too smart, it’s overbearing.
  6. Never have a bad attitude. Keep that at home. Nobody wants to see that in the office. You always need to be pleasant and happy.

There were many more suggestions. It was a whole book kindly supplied by Remington typewriters! In the back of the book was a score sheet. You, or your boss, I’m not sure who, was supposed to rate you on a scale of 1 to 10 on all of these facets of your secretarial personality. Probably you had to do it because you know, your boss would never tell you if you were deficient.

I always thought I was born in the wrong decade. I love the clothes and movies and romantic times of the ’40’s and ’50’s. Now I’m not so sure. If my personality ( and affinity for an Oscar Madison lifestyle)  stayed just as it is today, I would be getting fired every other week.

Thank God, I work for a woman boss (myself). I tell her how great I am all the time. She, on the other hand, has no problem pointing out my deficiencies, on a daily basis.

Thank God for change…..otherwise, how could we ever be smart enough … (and yes, I know things are sadly still the same…..)

“You Just have to Laugh………..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

 

Veterans

Call Me, Maybe…..for Quality Assurance

My Publisher  Extraordinaire campaigns for everyone to just ‘Be Nice.’ I would like to take her advice and suggest we start with our Veterans and their families.

Last week the Veteran’s Administration hung up on me. Granted, I wasn’t giving the guy what he wanted….but he HUNG UP ON ME….AT THE VETERAN’S ADMINISTRATION.

Those of you kind readers who follow my blog, know that I have been in a kerfuffle with the VA since January when they unceremoniously stopped my 87-year-old mother’s health insurance. They discovered a mistake they made 15 years ago, by putting her on the wrong insurance. So they just cancelled her policy. They didn’t bother to fix their mistake. They didn’t  bother to put her on the correct insurance. They didn’t even bother to tell her that they cancelled her insurance.

So, as I told you in the past, my Congressman Representative Ryan Costello (R-PA) (well actually his amazing administrator, Lisa Reynolds) helped me quickly and efficiently fix the problem. If you’re having problems with the VA or any other governmental agency, I

Your current Congress might be more helpful.
Your current Congress might be more helpful.

highly recommend you ask your Congress person to help you. Really. Don’t waste too much time trying to fix it yourself. You will be quite surprised and, hopefully, happy that  your Representative or Senator has staff who are there to help you. Try it. That’s what we pay them for, to work for us.

All that being said…..please VA don’t hang up on us. Even if you don’t like what we are saying, don’t engage in the rudest form of behavior.

I wasn’t yelling, complaining or even causing trouble. I just wanted to refrain from filing additional paperwork with the VA, if they didn’t need it, thereby making everyone’s life easier.

This is what went down:

“Hello, this is Bob from the VA, we are returning your call as requested.”

“Hi, Bob, I was calling for my Mom who has a complicated case that goes back 15 years.”

“Well,” said Bob. ” what do you want me to do? Look at 15 years of claims?”

“No, Bob,” I replied, “I just want to look at one provider, if you can search by that to see if you have already processed that claim,  I won’t resubmit it.”

“Okay,” replied Bob with a bit of exasperation, “What’s your address?”

“Do you mean my Mom’s address? Because she is the insured.”

“No,” replied Bob, getting a bit testy, “I want your address.”

“Well see Bob, that has caused problems before, because my Mom and I don’t live together and………….”

He said: “When you’re ready to give me your address, you can call back.”  And he hung up the phone.

I tried to call back, but there was a 13 minute wait time which is standard procedure when you call the VA.  Which is why Bob was returning my call in the first place, three days later.

Then I just thought, okay. I tried to help. I’m just gonna’ file this and make you do the work twice. And I may begin to implement my new practice where everyone I call for this kind of business I say before the representative can help me:

“This call is being recorded for quality assurance.”

I’ve tried it a few times. It brings silence and confusion. But no one has been rude or hung up on me since then. I say we all try it…….you know, for Veteran’s sake!

“You just have to Laugh…….”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

On the way to Cape May……….

This is a little naughty—ish ditty Story Slam I did this week…..you can think about it on the way to your vacation at the beach. It just may help. I don’t know, it helped me!

 

 

You just have to Laugh…………..

pudding

Hot Sausage and Mustard………………

At a lovely dinner last night, my brother-in-law was telling me about his aunt who was required to go to assisted living this week. She was not happy to leave her home of 70 years, but was accepting that she needed help. The first thing my brother-in-law said when I asked him about the facility is: “Well, the food is good!”

This is ground-breaking. This should be their premiere and perhaps only marketing tool. They would have a waiting list for years.

Why does food in practically every institution have to be abominable?  I have been witness to or eater of food at 10 facilities or more….nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and not one of them had consistently  good food. Sure, there was an occasional meal that was pretty darn good. One place I would go to had the best BLT’s I’ve ever had. But one cannot live on a great BLT.

My occasional unscientific survey of dining halls went something like this:

“So how do you like it here?”

“The food stinks.”

What you won't get in a nursing home
What you won’t get in a nursing home

If you can serve decent food at a banquet or a wedding, you can do it in a facility. Stop making this the first place to cut corners. Especially when these are the last years of your loved one’s life. For heaven’s sake, you all know how important food is.  It’s memories. It’s comfort. It’s a tiny bit of joy in your day.

Make it better. Maybe make it less. How much food waste is going on?  There is usually too much on their plate, anyway. How did humungous American portions become the definition of ‘good food’, especially in a senior center?

More is not more. Less is more. If less is more….that is, if less food is higher quality food, let’s try that.

There’s a reason Oliver sang a whole song about  “Food, glorious food……..”

If they want more pudding, give it to them, damn it. But make it the good stuff!””

“You Just have to Laugh……….”

© 2016 Cathy Sikorski

IMG_4482

Flawless French…n’est-ce pas?

What trip isn’t full of unexpected surprises?  What could be more boring than a flawless trip?

I convinced my brother to take me with him to the International Surf Film Festival in Anglet, France. It cost us a fortune. But once we put this boondoggle in motion, we couldn’t seem to stop the train.

Airfare was cheap the week before we left and cheap the week after we needed to be there. We threw caution to the wind, threw more money at the problem and eventually came home First Class! What the hell, if you’re going to break the bank, you might as well fly in style.

We landed in Spain and asked the taxi driver to take us to the train station so we could get  a cheap bus to Biarritz in France. He thought we asked him to take us to the train station in Biarritz….and this conversation was in English. When we realized our mutual mistake we just said take us to our hotel. It was a 60 Euro mistake.

Every single cab ride after that…where we went less than 3 miles cost us 25 Euro in France. We quickly learned how to take the bus for 1 Euro and returned to Spain on the bus for 7 Euro. Truly that was the kindness of the French people who taught theses crazy Americans how to save money.

Our biggest problem happened when my brother had to be at a filmmaker’s meeting at 3:00. We made it to the venue just on time. But nobody knew where Bruno, our contact was. My brother called Bruno, who told us we had to be at the lighthouse. We could see the lighthouse in the distance. We knew this would be another 25 Euro cab ride if we could get someone to call us a cab. See in these beach resort towns, there are no cabs. The only way to get one is to call…..and speak French. I’ve been practicing my French for years, and eventually, I did call…and they asked me to speak English. We managed to get to the lighthouse after realizing that the French for lighthouse is not “maison lumiere” but “phare,” which was on the map, thank God, because how the hell would we know that word?

Phare!!
Phare!!

At the phare, we still couldn’t find Bruno. I’d like to say we found cotton candy, cool rides and funnel cake, but it was just a phare.  My brother called Bruno again, and he said:

“Non, I said ze white house!” in a French accent, which is where communication broke down.

Of course, Bruno doesn’t know what a lighthouse is……it’s a phare, to him. By the way, we were standing in front of the white house when we called Bruno the first time. Seventy-five Euro later, we were too late for the meeting.

Everything else was perfect. The weather, watching a film festival on the beach in France, the surfing for aficionados like my brother, the food, the shopping, the wonderful,

French Surfing!
French Surfing!

wonderful French people.

Only two more things were unforgettable:

My brother is a vegetarian. It was a bit of a challenge to find anything without meat or seafood. But we managed and restauranteurs did their best to help us. So in a bold move, on our last night there, when the owner of the restaurant tried to make something for my brother to eat, we wanted to thank him for his kindness.

I said: ‘Mon frere adore tous les voitures francais! Il est magnifiques!

I wanted to say: “My brother adores all the French food. It is magnificent.”

If you speak French you know I said: “My brother adores all the French automobiles. They are magnificent!

Beautiful Spanish hotel with a bidet!
Beautiful Spanish hotel with a bidet!

And in Spain…… I dropped my toothbrush in the bidet.

“You Just have to Laugh….”

©CathySikorski 2016

High Heels

L—-OWWWW—-BOUTAINS?

I’m a shoe freak. The only thing Imelda Marcos had over me was more resources, like the treasury of the Philippines. This debilitating disease began in 9th grade. My Mom suggested that if I wanted those adorable spats made of burlap and burgundy patent leather, I would have to get a job. Money has never been a motivator for me…but shoes…oh yeah, I’d get three jobs for the perfect pair of shoes.

The purchase of those spats was like a first kiss. The love affair began. See, my high school girlfriends were the quintessential little 5-7-9’s of the ’70’s. I was not. But my feet, oh my feet were double A Narrow with Quad A Narrow heels. Yes, my feet were skinny!!! I could buy shoes, shoes and more shoes and they would fit. They would flatter. My feet in my shoes were the Twiggy of toes. Sometimes it felt illicit, other times just downright exhilaratingly perfect.

So on my daughter’s wedding day, when the bride presented me with a hat box the size of a turkey platter filled with a magical pair of Christian Louboutin’s, rouged underside and all, I was beyond excited. My other daughter, who inherited the shoe gene, was found in a corner sniffing the Louboutin’s like airplane glue.

But the shoes didn’t fit. Off to Neiman Marcus we journeyed to exchange those black pumps of pleasure for a pair perfect for my pedicure. Alas, Louboutins are not for every foot. My precious feet, who had served me well for so many years as the thinnest most easily fashioned part of my Italian-Slavic heritage, failed me like the ugly step-sisters of Cinderella. I  would not be undone.

The salesman, Walter, dressed in a pin-striped suit with perfectly matching lavender tie and pocket square, was very careful to bring me the size I requested. It felt like my banker was kneeling at my feet. I know it was absurd, but the two teenagers next to me with 20 boxes of Louboutins opened around them, made me shove those tight ass shoes onto what were now my apparent barge feet, even harder.  It occurred to me that perhaps I needed a larger size. This wasn’t like the mother-of-the-bride dress. I had no problem asking for a bigger pair of shoes. Apparently, this is a refreshing concept to Walter. In this hallowed shoe boutique, a salesman would never suggest to the lady that she may need a (gasp) larger size! The look of relief on Walter’s face when I said perhaps a 9, rather than my usual 8 and a half would do better, was like giving him early parole.

Hmmm. I guess I’m  not the only one who likes to think my skinny feet are the most alluring part of me.

We chose a pair, a beautiful pair. But not without suffering. These shoes hurt. The chosen pair hurt less than every other pair. But still. Walter assured me that if I don’t wear them, I can return the shoes 10 years from now.

I called my genetic shoe clone daughter. Her advice was that there are legions of blog posts dedicated to how to tape my toes and wear Louboutins in spite of themselves. I adopted the Louboutins but they may go back to the orphanage.

Today the bride and I went to the SAS shoe outlet. (Senior’s Attire Sucks). Okay, it stands for San Antonio Shoes. And they’re ridiculously comfortable and ugly. My Mom made me take her there last year. She ‘bribed’ me by telling me she would buy me a pair of shoes. Ha! Ugly expensive shoes? Who would wear those? I am not eighty yet. I am still capable of making a fashion statement. And there they were, black patent leather loafers with a red penny holder and red soles. Oh….my…..God…. They were adorable and super comfortable. Well, I”m not 20 anymore either. Yeah, I got those shoes last year. But I didn’t want to fall into the black whole of old lady shoes, did I?

Louboutin 2But my Louboutins?!?!?!?

The red patent leather sandals from SAS (Style and Sass…that’s my new name for them) are going to France with me next week. The Louboutins, which say “Paris” right on the inside of the shoe are still waiting to see if they are Orphan Annie or Oliver Twist……to be continued….

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

Ice Cream

You might be a Caregiver….Part One

Just as I was sitting down to bring you the next installment of caregiving comedy, my computer decided the last laugh would be on me. Done, died, dead. With no warning, no goodbyes, no fond farewells, just dead.

These two weeks provided lots of time to come up with all the joys that caregivers experience. So in a huge nod to Jeff Foxworthy, I bring you the first installment of:

“You might be a Caregiver……”

  1. If you know Medicare’s phone number and website without Googling….You might be a Caregiver….
  2. If your search for an Assisted Living Community for your Mom starts to look like a nice vacation spot for you and your spouse….You might be a Caregiver
  3. If you cancel your dentist appointment to attend Ice Cream Social Wednesday at your Dad’s nursing home, because you want the ice cream….You might be a Caregiver
  4. If you know your parents’ Medicare number, AARP number, United Healthcare number but not your own cell phone number…You might be a Caregiver
  5. If you feel the need to correct WebMD about all the missed additional symptoms of a urinary tract infection….You might be a Caregiver
  6. If your iPhone calendar has words on it like ‘catheters’, ‘hearing aid’, ‘urologist’, or ‘dentures’…..You might be a Caregiver
  7. If going to the Emergency Room is like Cheers where they know your first name and how you take your coffee…..You might be a Caregiver
  8. If you took the black Sharpie to your husband’s underwear to mark it for the wash instead of your Mom’s for the nursing home…..You might be a Caregiver
  9. If you’ve had more knock-down, drag-out fights with Insurance Companies, Hospitals and Doctor’s office than Muhammad Ali…..You might be a Caregiver
  10. If everyone around you thinks you are speaking in tongues because you are constantly saying, PT, OT, UTI, or DME….You might be a Caregiver

And this is only the beginning, my friends. After all, this is a new computer, so there’s lots of room for humor here now!

“You Just have to Laugh……”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016