firetruck

Where’s the fire?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a tale about my mother-in-law needing to move to assisted living because the fire department had been called one too many times when she left things on the stove.

I thought that was the end of my fireman stories. Until yesterday.

I went to visit my friend, Lisa, at her brand new Senior Living apartment. As hip young seniors we keep trying to turn this experience into a fun-loving event, rather than a crystal ball into our future as we look down the hallway at the walkers and scooters sitting outside apartment doors.

Every time I go there, Lisa has a new story that most assuredly will provide material for our sitcom about TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries) combined with Senior Housing. It’ll be a  hoot, based on our initial research!

She’s been in this newly built apartment building for about a month, as has everyone, so the glitches are still being worked out. The biggest challenge is cooking, not because these people don’t know how to cook, but as I suspect based on my mother-in-law’s experience, because the designers of senior housing were forewarned that seniors leave things on the stove.

In response to that, the smoke alarms have been set to super-very-sensitive. So that if your tea kettle steam starts to sing, off goes the smoke alarm for the entire building. If you’ve burnt your toast, because you LIKE burnt toast (yes, there are some of us out there), the smoke alarm goes off. If you have a few items on the top of the stove that are boiling, the smoke alarm will likely accompany your potatoes, carrots and green beans.

This alarm is not just in your apartment. The entire building goes off with blinking lights and shrill clanging that does not stop until the fire department arrives and shuts it off.

And remember, this is senior housing. These aren’t sprinters who live here. They have to find their keys, get their coats and purses. Don’t even think of telling them to go outside without their purse. Sometimes they are napping and are jolted out of their beds. This has danger, broken hips and fear-of-cooking written all over it.

Lisa told me this has happened at least a half a dozen times in just the first month. I, of course, think she is prone to exaggeration.

Until we come home from our shopping trip, and everyone is out in the parking lot, lights are blaring, we can hear the fire engine several blocks away, the clanging alarm is assaulting our conversation, and I notice that there are half-naked people standing in the parking lot.

aka "Silver Lining"
aka “Silver Lining”

No, they are not Seniors. Sorry, but nobody wants to see that. They are lifeguards from the YMCA, which is attached to the senior housing building. So every time the alarm goes off, they have to clear the YMCA, which includes the pool, in November, when it’s 40 degrees outside and raining. And yes, there is always a silver lining.

Lisa’s 85-year-old neighbor approaches us with:

“Why don’t they just take out all the stoves in our apartments?”

To which another replies:

“I made chili yesterday and didn’t move from the stove until it was completely done. I was afraid to even go to the bathroom, in case it set off the fire alarm. And it wasn’t even five-alarm chili.”

Yep, this sitcom is gonna’ be a hoot!

“You Just have to Laugh……”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

terrible-92

Terrible 92’s………..

I have been steeped in getting out my book…which you will see below! And, okay, I took a vacation. But boy, do we need some laughter now, right? And it’s National Caregiver’s Month…so, you know…….the life of a caregiver never disappoints.

I was thinking about my mother-in-law the other day and how she was seemingly so content, no matter what was happening. She would read any book you gave her and would comment, “oh that was a nice book.” I used to say I think I’ll give her a copy of  “Mein Kampf” and see what she thinks. The point is that she saw the good in everything and was pretty content with her life wherever she was and whatever she was doing.

Except that one time.

She had left her stove on in her apartment one too many times and the fire department started to know her by name like Norm in “CHEERS!”.  This was not a good thing.  We bit the bullet and started to look for assisted living quarters near our home, so we could go see her on a regular basis. She lived almost an hour away, so living within 10 or 15 minutes of us seemed like a dream come true for everyone.

We found a lovely place, which she approved, sold her condo, packed up all her things, and moved all her own furniture into her new assisted living apartment.  I really hoped it felt like home. Plus, now it was so convenient I could visit her every day, my mom could visit, and my mom could bring some of her friends to visit. Plus, my mother-in-law would now be around lots of people on a daily basis and not feel so isolated.

The day came to move her in, and for the first time in the 25 years I’d been her daughter-in-law, she threw a tantrum.

“I’m not going!” she said.

“Mom,” I reasoned, “you like it there. We went lots of times and you liked your apartment, the food, the people….remember?”

“Why can’t I stay here with you?” she countered.

Indeed, why can’t she?  I don’t have any bedrooms or shower facilities on the first floor and steps were becoming impossible for this 92-year-old.

“Mom, you can see, I don’t have a bedroom or bathroom down here on the first floor.”

“Well, I could go live with your mother. She has lots of room and she could use the help.”

Use the help? Not use the ‘company.’ Use the help. What’s she going to do, be my 80-year-old Mom’s washer woman and cleaning lady?  This was not going well. Next, she may tell me she is going to get a job and her own apartment.

“Mom…..” I was stuck, I didn’t know what to say.

“I’m not going. I’m just not going, ” she pouted, and….not kidding….she stomped her foot like a toddler who doesn’t want to take a nap.

I took my only recourse.

“Get your coat. We’re leaving now. And no more shenanigans.”

Sometimes everyone responds to MOM.

The next day I went to visit. She told me I had to leave because it was lunch time and there was no room for me at her table.

“You Just Have to Laugh…..”

Cover by Dwayne Booth!!
Cover by Dwayne Booth!!

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

 

sas-shoes

Shoes, Glorious Shoes…….!!!!

I have been fighting against “old lady shoes” for quite some time now. Okay, I’ve just been fighting the ‘old lady’ thing altogether. But I love shoes…high shoes, shiny shoes, fancy shoes, boots, sandals…you name it.  I can’t get enough of all kinds of shoes. I think for two reasons. One, I like looking down at pretty things, and two, my feet are really skinny. It’s so dysfunctional, I know. And you’d think most people would hate that because all shoes don’t fit. But I like using the word skinny sometimes when I’m not ordering a Cinnamon Dolce Latte.

Yet, the gods of comfort are beckoning to me. And not in a nice way. The other thing I love to do is travel. And every shoe-loving woman will tell you that travel and shoes are like oil and water….unless you find the perfect vinaigrette…. which I think I may have at my new bff shoe store…SAS shoes.

A while ago I told you how I dutifully took my Mom to get her standard shoes at SAS, and

Pretty even without me in them!
Pretty even without me in them!

much to my surprise, I found a pair of adorable patent leather flats that seemed too good to be true…super comfy and shiny and fun! I loved them right away. Six months later I took Mom back for summer sandals and again I was chomping at the bit to go across the street to the fun, funky shoe store as soon as Mom got her feet squared away for comfy walking.

And lo and behold, there in the SAS store were these candy-apple sandals that felt as yummy as a treat at the county fair. I plunked down my credit card and decided I would

Sexy French Feet Thanks to SAS Shoes!
Sexy French Feet Thanks to SAS Shoes!

give them the ultimate test………I took them right out of the box and off to a walking trip in France.

My feet never felt so good…at least I didn’t notice they felt bad, what with all the French wine and croissants. No, it was better than that, I could walk on the beach, go shopping, see the sights and not once did my feet hurt…and they were pretty, and shiny!

I was re-thinking the ‘old lady shoe’ prejudice.

Then I got an email from some lovely gal named Taylor at SAS shoes.

“Would you like to review our new fall shoe called ‘HOPE?

Would I????©2016Cathy Sikorski

©2016CathySikorski
Happy Feet!

These beauties came just in time for a quick trip to NYC to spend time with our daughter and meet the new boyfriend. This was a big risk. I can be pretty cranky if my feet hurt. There’s no way to get around NYC without walking for blocks and blocks. So I put on my new burgundy suede HOPE shoes and off we went. I should have told the new boyfriend to HOPE for the best. Boy, did he get lucky!

I do so love SAS shoes. My arches were happy, the color is so ‘in’ this fall, and museums didn’t leave my feet hopeless. It was such a beautiful “Autumn in New York….” day that we even walked the 20 blocks home from lunch because we were enjoying the day and each other so much. I think my daughter and the new boyfriend are now a fan of SAS shoes!

In that former blog, I decided that SAS must not just mean San Antonio Shoemakers, but also Style and Sass (that’s my new name for them!). So, yes, I got the HOPE shoes for free to review them, but the other SAS shoes were on me. Now, SAS shoes will always be on me….to rest from my 4-inch heels and remind my feet, I really do love them!

“You Just Have to Laugh…..and wear comfortable cool shoes!”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

lions

Sometimes You Just Need a Lion on Your Side…….

I called the hospital today. Well, more accurately, I called the hospital billing department. The billing department is no longer in the hospital. The hospital is in Pennsylvania, where I live, and where my loved ones go to the hospital when they have a problem, medically.

The billing department is in Tennessee, where nobody, who goes to my hospital, lives or goes to if they have a problem medically or otherwise. Okay, maybe that ‘s not true, maybe some people go to Tennessee if they have a problem with say, country music, and want to see if it’s them or the music.

By putting the ‘billing department’ in Tennessee, it prevents all of us in Pennsylvania from actually going to the billing department to talk about a problem. That way no one has to discuss these problems face-to-face. So much easier, said no one, ever.

I called Tennessee today, and although the gentlemen was very nice, the problem was apparently unsolvable.

“I want to know if this bill, which started out at $4500 and is now magically down to $500 has been paid? ” I queried, for the third time in three months.

“Well, ma’am let me see. Now before I answer that question, even though you’ve given me the account number, can you give me the address on the bill, the date of birth of the patient, the date of the bill, the services rendered, the patient’s blood type and the name of their cat?” he asked ever so politely.

Okay, he didn’t ask for the blood type or the cat, but why not? My question is, why in heaven’s name do you put an account number on the bill if it means absolutely nothing in terms of information? Do you make more money by keeping me on the phone? Are you tracing the call just to make sure I’m not in Tennessee, but that I stayed in Pennsylvania where I belong?

We do-si-do all around the information, until we’re both exhausted and wish we had taken more square-dancing lessons, and finally, he says:

“Please ignore that bill ma’am the insurance company has agreed to review it.”

“Okay, but I have an estate to settle, so can I assume that the bill will be no more than the $500 you currently are requesting?”

“No, you cannot.”

Here’s where I want to find a cat, maybe a tiger or a lion, and release it into the wilds of Tennessee with the scent of this insurance company on its nose like a barrel of catnip.

“Um……….why would that be?”

“Well, what if the insurance company decides to take back all the payments they already made? Then the bill would be more.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked, “Medicare paid this over a year ago and this has been your fault for not properly submitting the balance to the other Medigap insurance carrier.”

“Well,” he replied, “we don’t know what they will do.”

‘Cause you don’t know what you’re doing……that’s really what I wanted to say.

But since he told me to ignore the bill, I’m gonna’ do just that. Probably forever.

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

 

yoda

Prequel, Shmequel…just stick to the publication date……..

Sometimes I think we forget how the generation above us made a sensible life for themselves.  We fail to give our moms and dads credit for having figured out how to well…figure it out. Life has always been complicated, the addition of technology as not only a tool, but our new best friend is  making it worse. And yes, this flummoxes people like my 88-year-old Mom. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t do the same to us too.

I was trying to explain the concept of a pre-quel to my mom the other day.  My mom and sister and I have become rabid fans of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. There are like 20 of them and I’m happy to read them in whatever order the books come into my life. Some I get from the library, some I get from my friends, and I read whichever ones I haven’t read yet. And then I pass them on to my mom and my sister.

The one thing that was bugging all of us is that all of a sudden (Spoiler Alert, but probably not really if you’re a fan) is that everyone was talking to Jack about how sorry they were because his brother died. What? When did that happen? He was just alive two books ago. And how did he die? Nobody (at least not the characters) is talking.

So my mom and sister decided  to put an end to this. They are both Virgos. They cannot abide this frivolous lack of organization. My sister finally put her foot down.  We are going to look in the newest book we have, get a list of all the titles and start from the beginning.

Okay, fine.

Turns out not one of us ever read the very first book by Lee Child with Jack Reacher as his main character, the Killing Floor.  That’s where his brother, Joe Reacher dies.

Now my mom is confused, outraged and refuses to accept this.

“I ‘ve read dozens of these books, so far,” she said, “and the brother is alive in some of them. This doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well,” I told her, “perhaps the author wanted to go back in time with Jack’s life and talk about  where he came from, his mom and his brother and their life together. So he had to create a pre-quel.”

That seemed to be the end of the conversation, until a few days later when we were going shopping.

“I need you to give that book, “The Killing Floor” back to me, ” she said.

“Okay, but I’m reading it. Can it wait?”

“Well, okay, but I wrote down the publication date as 1997, and I just want to see if that’s right because I’ve gone through all the Jack Reacher books I have at home and none of them are before 1997. I just don’t understand it. I must’ve written it down incorrectly.”

“What are you talking about, Mom?”

“It just can’t be right that that book was written in 1997 because his mother and brother are dead and they are alive in other books.”

Now, here’s the thing. Do not try and use Star Wars as an example of a pre-quel to your 88-year-old mother. I tried. She’s never seen any Star-Wars-anything.  Princess Leia sounds naughty, Yoda sounds like exercise and Obewon Kenobe sounds like sushi, all of which she detests.

Since pre-quels didn’t seem to exist before  Star Wars, well, you’re just going to have to figure it out.

I’m not finished The Killing Floor yet, but I’m thinking about ripping out the copyright page and dummying up one that says 2016. For my mom, for my sanity, for senior citizens book clubs everywhere, and for all readers born before 1983.

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

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…………..