Saturday, May 29, 2010

Transformations #12

For the last few days, we've had torrential downpours in Winnipeg.  This morning I came downstairs to find that our basement sewer drain had backed up onto our bare concrete floor a little bit.  Fortunately, it began to recede almost immediately.  More seriously though, we have water coming in from all four corners of the basement.


Last summer we did a lot of external landscaping to slope our lawn away from the house, as well as rerouting some downspouts, and it seemed to make a dramatic difference.  But this, well, this is crazy.

I'm trying to regain hope by telling myself that every house in Winnipeg is having these issues, and that the planning we've got for finishing our basement isn't shot, as this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime storm.

Anyway, the transformation I did today was getting out the ladder and cleaning our eaves-troughs.  I could only get to the lower ones on our front porch, as our house is a 2 ½ story monster and while my ladder technically reaches the top roof, it's mighty wobbly up there.  I did make the climb, but once I neared the top I figured that some jobs are best left to professionals.

Nevertheless, I do count this as progress.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Transformations #11

I tend to procrastinate with getting to bed on time, which usually makes for a difficult morning.  I'm not sure what makes me tick this way, because whether my day was stressful or not, whether my wife and I are fighting or not, whether I'm tired or not, whether I'm bored or not, all too often I stay up far later than I should.

Tonight I'm going to bed early.  Specifically, right after I post this.

Good night!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Transformations #10

Yesterday we did something I haven't done in nearly twenty years - as a family, we planted a garden.  If you've seen our yard and the constant traffic of kids we have through the only sunny portion of it, you may wonder how we're doing this.

Answer: a protestant church down the street has a community garden, and we booked a 5' x 10' plot.  It's a start; a confidence booster for us, but especially for my wife who I don't think was ever put through the gardening paces like my mom did for me.

So hopefully come the fall, we'll be able to enjoy a meager bounty of peas, carrots, beans, beets, basil, and oregano.  Better food, less cost, and a formative activity for my family to head down there every few days to deny the weeds the fruits (and vegetables) of our labour.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Transformations #9

Tonight I curled up with my wife and watched Julie and Julia, which I swear I didn't know anything about before beginning on this blogging journey (watch the movie if you don't understand why I needed to say that).

Today's transformation: instead of delaying going to bed with her in favour of spending oodles of time on the computer, I will be snuggling up with her as we tuck ourselves in.  Which is happening right about... now.

Good night!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Transformations #8

One of my coworkers is quitting today, so our boss, her, and I went to Sushi Cushi for lunch a couple days ago for a farewell meal.  I've never been to a sushi restaurant before and have never eaten sushi.  I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and while the concept of raw fish doesn't gross me out like it does some people, it simply doesn't appeal to me.

I wouldn't call it a comfort zone issue.  There's a part of me that views eating sushi as a hip & modern trend practiced by yuppies and other people who are trying to "find themselves."  Since I know exactly where I am, I have no desire to assume the label of sushi eater.

I'm not a sushiphobe.  Many of my good friends eat sushi.  I just know it's not for me.

So going to a sushi place was an opportunity for me not only to support my friend as she embarks on a new journey in her life, but also an opportunity for me to try something that I have absolutely no interest in.

I ordered a chicken stirfry.  I did use chopsticks to eat it, until my hand started to cramp.  I viewed this as a big enough triumph for me, but my lunchmates disagreed and said that I couldn't use the incident as a transformation post unless I at least tried the sushi.

Throughout my life, I've always resisted peer pressure.  This time, I gave in.

I downed a lump of the stuff and could have sworn I felt it squirm around in my stomach in protest.  I still don't care for sushi.  But ultimately, I tried it and thus did something new and transformative, even if it was in a small way.

This groundbreaking event warrants its own new type of transformation category: fullness, as in experiencing life to its fullest by opening oneself to new experiences.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Transformations #7

Today I made a point during our family supper of asking my kids what they did at school that day.  At our house, supper tends to be a constant chorus of "Stop touching me" with a descant of "Sit down and eat your food, all of you!"

By asking what happened at school, I am hoping to stimulate a higher form of conversation, to remove some of the chaos by having a focused discussion, and to let my kids know that I'm genuinely interested in them.

And so I learned about "fractured" fairy tales, where they challenge the kids to take a traditional tale like Jack and the Beanstalk and twist it around into an alternate telling.  Julie's rendition was The Bear and The Three Goldilocks.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Transformations #6

This weekend my wife is away scrapbooking with some friends of hers.  They drove 2 hours out of town to a beautiful lodge nestled in the heart of Lac Du Bonnet country.

So in her absence I took the kids to the park.  Here's proof:

She'll be jealous she missed this, as she loves doing outdoorsy stuff with me and the kids.  It's not my cup of tea, but since I know she and the kids both enjoy it, I am usually willing to do it when she asks.  The thing that's different about today is that she didn't have to ask me to go.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Navigating the Call Centre Maze

As a 7-year call centre veteran survivor, I've picked up a few tricks on how to get past the front lines of incompetency designed by the evil penny pinchers who govern the support policies of most large companies.

Trick #1 is persistence.  Trick #2 is a sense of humour.  And Trick #3 is to be polite towards the person you're talking to on the phone, no matter how little he or she has actually helped you.

I put these to use every time I have to talk to a large corporation for support with one of their products.

If you don't know, I work for a moving company and wear a multitude of hats, including the claims resolution beanie.  Today, in seeking a resolution to a claim on a fridge with two scratched doors (it apparently didn't quite fit through the doorway), I got a chance to put these tricks to use again.

In my claims capacity I've had to find replacement fridge doors before, so I more or less know what to expect.  This is a Samsung fridge.  I start at the logical place: Samsung's website.  Like most firms, they have a support link in the upper right corner.  I click it, key in the fridge model number and hit Search.  It asks if I need warranty work or out-of-warranty work; I select out-of-warranty.  It also needs to know where I am, so I enter my Manitoba postal code.  I'm presented with two options for service providers:  The Brick Warehouse, and Direct Energy Marketing Ltd - both in Toronto.  My past service experiences with Direct Energy have left a bad taste in my mouth, so I try the Brick Warehouse first.  But both numbers listed beside it are out of service.

Blech.  Holding my nose, I phone Direct Energy.  A friendly, disembodied recorded voice answers the phone with a 15 second call opening, and then repeats it in French, giving me the option at the end to press 2 for French.  I press nothing and wait.  Now it asks me to enter my ten digit home telephone number.  No way am I doing that.  I wait some more, knowing that most systems will route you to an agent if you don't press anything, just in case you still have one of these and can't press buttons.  Sure enough, the phone starts ringing.  It rings five times, then I get hold music.  Why do they do that?  I mean, really, if you need to put me on hold to transfer me somewhere, can you at least make it seamless?  I shouldn't be hearing a ring unless I'm about to talk to a living breathing person.  After a few seconds of music, it rings again, and "John" answers the phone.  I know John is not his real name; his voice has the distinct sound of an Indian who has undergone accent neutralization.  As part of that process, call centre agents in India are encouraged to pick American-sounding pseudonyms.  At least this guy didn't pick "Peter Parker" like another rep I encountered once.

I explain my problem to John, and he says he can't help me and that I have to talk to Samsung.  "I got your number from their website when I clicked on support," I explain, forgetting that he probably doesn't care.  Sigh.  "Do you have their phone number?" I ask.  I take down the number, and he transfers me.

Samsung wants me to indicate if I'm a personal consumer or a business.  Well, I'm calling under the auspices of a business on behalf of a personal consumer... I guess and choose business.  The first four options in the business menu are for dealer support.  The fifth one is for all other business related inquiries; if I'm in the right place, that's my best shot.  I punch 5 and after explaining my problem to the lady who took the call, she says I needed to choose personal consumer support.  She transfers me.

Alexis picks up the call next.  From her accent, she is a black woman from the southern US.  She starts by asking for my phone number or incident number.  I give her my direct line at work, and when it doesn't pull up an active incident on her system she begins the process of information collection: do I want to provide an email for Samsung offers?  "No."  "What is your full name?"  "James Kautz, spelled K-A-U-T-zee." (I've learned that Americans get confused by the Canadian "zed" so I never use it when speaking to them).  I interrupt her information collection process at this point and explain my issue and that I'm from Canada and that I'm guessing I probably need to speak to somebody who supports Canada, right?  "That's right, sir," she confirms.  "Do you have a direct number for them?"  "Um, I have a transfer number.  Let me see if I have a direct number.  Do you mind holding?"  The rules for call centres, at least for the goods ones, usually include that you need to ask permission to put your caller on hold.  "Go ahead," I reply.  I hear hold music for about a minute, then she comes back on the line.  "Thank you for holding."  That's another rule she has to follow.  "I'm sorry, I don't have a direct number."  The token apology is another rule.  "No problem," I say.  "Go ahead and transfer me." Her training kicks in again and she applies the last of her rules before she transfers me: "Is there anything else I can help you with before I transfer you?"  Ceremonially, I respond, "There is nothing with which you can help me today."  She says goodbye and transfers me.

Rene picks up the call next.  She started with the same opening litany which Alexis used - phone number, do I want to give my email, what's my name (I use "zed" this time), and I finally interrupt her, explain my problem for the third time and ask if I'm in the right place.  "Actually, no," she says.  "You need to speak to one of our part suppliers."  She rattles off three company names & numbers which I note before thanking her and hanging up.

I call the first one: Regional Factory Parts & Service, in the Ottawa area.  I get John.  This guy is really John though.  He has no opening script, no rules on what he has to say to me, and he sounds like he's personally invested in the business (i.e. he seems to care).  I explain the problem and he gives me his email address, asking me to send him the model number and a description of what I need, promising me to have a quote to me by tomorrow morning.

I did it!  I successfully found my way through the first five layers of "not my problem" bureaucracy until I was on the phone with a genuinely helpful person.  That's a good feeling, and it helps me to realize that all that time in the old call centre wasn't wasted.

Transformations #5

Today for my lunch I had two delicious peanut butter and jam sandwiches which I prepared last night before going to bed.  Often when I bring lunch to work, it consists of whatever leftovers I can find in the fridge during my morning scramble out the door.

I have kicked my procrastination demon in the groin.  Oomph.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Transformations #4

If you've ever been to my home, you'll have seen the prayer poster we have in our living room.  The idea behind it is to remind us to prayer for the people in our lives.  We've got a stack of index cards, and each person takes one and prays for the person or family shown on that card.  There was a time that we did this regularly as a family for bedtime prayers, but we've slacked off a lot lately.  So for this post, my transformation, which started on May 9, is to begin this practice anew.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Transformations #3

Today's transformation (technically yesterday's; I'm up late right now) was a little something I've been meaning to make a habit of for some time.  As I groggily rolled out of bed, I said a 10 second prayer giving my day to God and asking him to bless all I was going to do.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Help Wanted

I was in Value Village the other day and saw that they are hiring.

For those of you unfamiliar with Value Village, it's a lot like the Salvation Army thrift stores, just not as classy.

Anyway, they have a huge poster on the exit door which lists all the benefits of working at Value Village.  The one that amused me the most was "employee discounts."

At a thrift store, full of used goods.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Transformations #2

The whole concept of these thrice-weekly micro-transformations is to change the course of my life a little bit at a time.  The idea is to do one thing differently, and to carry that one thing forward indefinitely.

I've been on a trend lately of grabbing a quick breakfast sandwich at A&W and going out for lunch too, or else skipping one or both altogether.  For the first time in several weeks, I both had breakfast while at home and brought a lunch to work.

My next transformations post will be on May 8.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

100 Transformations: #1

Here it is, gentle reader.  A new post!

I've written before about a concept that I call "the tyranny of self improvement."  It has occurred to me that I have never really hashed out the meaning of this phrase.

"Self improvement," should its meaning not be already obvious, is the desire to achieve the fullness of life as Christ has ordained for me.  This means submitting myself to his perfect will for me, being transformed by the renewal of my mind.

I consider my conversion to Catholicism as my chief conversion.  From an absolute point of view, of course, my initial salvation was my main conversion.  But seeing as my old Protestant perspective of the timing of that event is challenged by my Catholic perspective (the Protestant marking it with the sinner's prayer I prayed with my cousin Mary-Ruth when I was about five years old, and the Catholic perspective marking it with my baptism as an infant), it makes sense that my Catholicism would be a pivotal event with a magnitude of its own.

But change in my life cannot end with an event which happened twelve years ago.  I feel called by the Lord in recent days to set my eyes forward and to embrace the new things he has planned for me for the balance of my days on this earth.

The "tyranny" part refers to that part of my nature that is prone to "undue severity or harshness," especially when it comes to self-analysis.  Too often I halt progress down the road to improvement when I see how very long the road can be.

Therefore the point of this post: I am embarking on a new exercise in discipline, similar to my expired World On The Bus blog, where I will commit to posting here 100 entries, three per week, on some activity of micro-transformation I have done that day to further my goals of improvement in faith, family, fitness, finances, and fun.  I project this will take me into mid-December 2010. 

This post marks transformation number 1.  Join me for the journey!