Archive for the ‘Vacation’ Category

Service of Time Off to Reflect and Refresh

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Photo: halliecrawford.com

I have a hard time sitting still if I’m not at my computer. There’s always something that I feel should be done. This pressure runs in the family. I relax fully when I’m away from office or home and when I return from a break I lower the decibels of activity for a bit and feel refreshed. Surprise: The world hasn’t fallen apart.

This is why I was drawn to these two wise perspectives to taking time off. I think that the same advice applies if you’re the boss, if you’re looking for a job, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, if you’re retired—to everyone.

Father James Martin. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

“My novice director used to always say ‘You’re not a human doing, Jim. You’re a human being.’ Do you always need to be doing? Producing? Can you find time to rest, to be silent and to pray? Can you be a human being?” I read Father James Martin’s comment in a Facebook posting. A man who juggles multiple projects, he had taken off a few days after a hectic book tour. Among many other things, Father Martin is the author of “Jesus: A Pilgrimage;” “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything;” “My Life with the Saints,” and “Building a Bridge” and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America.

Judy Schuster sent me an article about a tweet heard ‘round the world—well, if not that far, almost. When Stephanie M. Bucklin covered the story on Today a while back, it had already received over 10 thousand retweets.

The subject: Taking a day off for your mental health and admitting it. Bucklin quoted the web developer whose boss, on seeing her honest note to her team, praised her for admitting the real reason she wouldn’t be at the office. The tweet: “When the CEO responds to your out of office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision.100.”

Not everyone has a boss like this, wrote the Today contributor, so if you feel burned out, what to do? For ideas she interviewed Ken Yeager, the director of the stress, trauma and resilience program at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He says that on weekends you’re not recharging your batteries, you’re filling time, by “binging on Netflix or watching HGTV marathons.”

Photo: whattoexpect.com

He suggests “getting outside, visiting friends or cooking with your family members. Things like taking your kids to the zoo, seeing a show or concert or even just fixing that leaky faucet give you more energy back, too.”If “you still feel like you’re in a rut at work” he recommends you suggest to your boss “moving projects around, switching up tasks among team members and figuring out other ways for you to move, grow and do new things.”

Yeager’s other ideas: Attend a workshop, an industry conference, eat out, and choose a different road to work, “switch up your routine and re-energize you.”

Have you admitted to taking off a mental health day? Have you left work early to catch a baseball game, matinee or to shop? What techniques do you use to short-circuit ruts and to restore your energy and creativity if you can’t disappear for a day or two to dust off your mental health?

Photo: bryanuniversity.edu

Service of Travel II

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Airport Trave

It’s vacation travel time again—three friends are leaving for trips this week.

I’ve covered the topic in countless ways: About a friend’s nightmare–literally spending the night at an airport when her flight was cancelled in “Service of Travel” and in “Service of Gagging Customers,” about the aftermath of the Costa Concordia accident. There was “Service of Good Samaritans,” about railroad travel and an amazing, caring conductor; “Service of Tourism,” about Portland, Maine that does a stupendous job and more.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Wait a Minute or 20

Customer service nowA colleague was on hold for 22 minutes Friday in response to an urgent message left by her airline about her return flight three days later. The recorded wait message repeated incessantly “we will be right with you” instead of a truthful “There are 40 people ahead of you,” or “Your wait will be approximately 20 minutes.”

Once there was a live voice she asked the customer service staffer why she’d been bumped and was told “I don’t know” and was then given an option for her return flight of the day after her original flight.

Could the airline run smoothly if its operators and crew showed up a day late for their jobs? And what if, for this phone call, she wasn’t on a landline or with access to electrical outlets but on the street or on a bus with a mobile phone that needed a charge?

All Aboard

Railroad tracksArthur and Pauline Frommer are my companions on Sundays as their weekly radio travel program coincides with house and garden work and errand time. I looked up Arthur’s early May blog post “Americans Were Recently Made Aware of How Much We Spend on Air Transportation As Compared With How Little We Spend on Rail Transportation,” because I couldn’t forget what he’d said.

As a result of reports about the Sequester’s affect on air travel, he figured out that air traffic controllers cost the Federal Government $13 billion a year, “And that’s only a fraction of the much larger amount spent each year by the federal government on air transportation,” he wrote. He continued: “By contrast, we spend about 1 billion dollars a year subsidizing Amtrak.”

He reported that he’s reprimanded every time he suggests the government subsidize railroads with comments such as: “How horrendous!” and “How incredible to suggest that the federal government should dig into its pockets for rail transportation. How anti-American! How anti-free-enterprise!”

He wrote that he responds, “Absent from their arguments is any mention of the infinitely greater sums the federal government spends on highways and vehicular traffic, and on airports and aviation.”

CNN.com corroborated Frommer’s figures and identified the fact that many are choosing the railroad.  “In fiscal year 2012, Amtrak was approved to receive an operating subsidy of $466 million. The remainder of government help for capital improvements and debt service was estimated at $950 million,” according to CNN.

“Nearly 90 percent of the rail service’s ridership since 1997 has been on trips under 400 miles. Along with a 55 percent jump in passengers, it generated a positive operating surplus of $47 million in 2011, according to a new report released by the Brookings Institution.”

Ruining It For Others

PinnocchioIn “Service of Reviews,” in a previous post, I wrote about the self-serving, fraudulent kind, a subject also inspired by Arthur and Pauline Frommer.

In a recent program they mentioned yet another executive caught red-handed. I found, on line, the complete story in the article “TripAdvisor reviewer exposed as hotel executive: A senior executive at one of the world’s largest hotel groups has admitted breaching TripAdvisor’s rules by posting dozens of glowing reviews about the firm’s properties,” by Oliver Smith in The Telegraph.

Smith reported that Kwikchex–that he described as an “online reputation management firm”–identified the reviewer and his true stripes. TripAdvisor rules, wrote Smith, state that reviews “‘written by ownership or management; including past employees or anyone associated with/related to employees of the property in question’ will not be permitted. It adds that ‘individuals affiliated with a property may not review other properties of the same type (accommodation, restaurant, or attraction) within the same city or town, or within 10 miles of that property.’”

The executive admitted he’d written the reviews explaining that he’d visited and graded each property, had given high ones to competitors and hadn’t always been complimentary about his own. Smith quoted why the executive chose to use a pseudonym: “Because I cover such a wide range of travel experiences, it would not be appropriate to review them as a company representative….. However, it is fair to say that my professional position should have been mentioned in any reviews of hotels.”

Shop Early and Often

Booking airline tkts on line“Attention All Passengers: The Airlines’ Dangerous Descent—And How To Reclaim Our Skies,” a book published last year by a well regarded travel journalist, William J. McGee, opens eyes on a range of topics.

The disclosure that Arthur Frommer landed on in his blog is worth sharing. He wrote McGee “is claiming that numerous airlines have begun collecting data on their passengers and would-be passengers–their previous purchases, the extent of their cost-conscious attitudes, their race, income and gender, whether they make impulse purchases or else ‘shop around’–and then tailoring the prices offered to them according to those personal characteristics. Two passengers requesting the same flight at the same time are quoted different prices on the airlines’ websites!”

In Pauline Frommer’s interview with McGee it was clear that you get the best price if you don’t buy the first time you visit an airline website. Keep checking at different times.

Unrelated to this interview, Pauline Frommer has frequently advised callers planning to travel with others not to book all the tickets at once because you’ll pay more for each ticket than if you book one at a time.

Do you have tips—and/or positive/negative airline customer service experiences–to share? Do you believe online customer reviews? Should the government increase its railroad subsidies?

Modern railroad station

 

 

 

Service of Time-Outs from School

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

wish-you-were-here

Tom Brokaw, in a repeat of “In Depth” on Book TV–C-Span2–last weekend, took calls from readers about all his books, the most recent of which was “The Time of Our Lives,” [Random House Publishing Group].

In this book, and on the program, he addressed the benefits of drastically shortening two to three month student  summer vacations. He felt vacation time is wasted and detrimental especially to children in homes where both parents work and the kids hang out for months both unsupervised and uninspired. They lose the thread of what they’ve learned the prior year especially if their family doesn’t encourage them to continue to learn over the summer.

The long vacation originally came about because farmers needed their children to help with planting, farm chores and harvest. While this isn’t true anymore, think of the reaction of teachers, day and overnight camp owners and youth hostels that depend on these stretches of free time for rest or income.

tenementOne of the callers to the show said she was from the greatest generation-the title of another of Brokaw’s books. She was born to a family of seven children who lived with her parents in a one bedroom apartment in the Lower East side of Manhattan. She said she was calling from California, and a home with a view of the ocean. Education–free to her and her siblings–is what she attributed to their success.

This brings me to what a reader of this blog wrote to me the other week. After she found what she needed at a well regarded national discounter, she stopped a clerk to ask if the store carried paperbacks. He waved her toward the electronics section. She explained that she was looking for books and he stared back at her. She observed that his English was perfect, she put on her “best version of a good face and ran off to find customer service,” and concluded, “Sing praises to the wonderful school system!”

readingpaperbackI can hardly believe that the clerk, even if he was 18, used e-books throughout his stint in school because they haven’t been around that long. I wish I could figure out where he’s been. Although this didn’t happen in New York City, the next paragraph gives a hint about where the clerk hasn’t been: At school.

In “New Ad Campaign Will Fight Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy,” on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blog, he wrote: “…far too many students are missing school. In New York City, one out of every five students missed a month or more of school last year – that’s over 200,000. And those rates are highest in our high need communities where school offers students the best chance for a brighter future.”

What do you think of shortened school summer vacations and efforts to encourage children not to miss school? Is there hope?

summervacation

Service of Gagging Customers

Monday, May 7th, 2012

gag-rules

In radio discussions after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, I heard someone say that you sign away your rights to sue when you take a cruise.

That’s not the only place a customer can lose his/her traditional rights.

According to Christopher Elliot, whom Arthur and Pauline Frommer interviewed on their Sunday radio travel show a few weeks ago, there’s a creeping trend in the vacation rental property business to require clients to sign non disparagement clauses. Break the agreement and you’ll be fined.

Arthur Frommer said that he feared the custom would leak into the hotel industry as well. And doctors have begun to ask patients to sign such forms, according to Elliot.

vacation-rentalsIn his post about vacation rental gag agreements, Elliot illustrated what happens with the Darows’ experience. They wrote a negative online review about their Scottsdale, Ariz. vacation rental that cost $3,500 for five nights. A letter from the rental agency which Elliot quoted went as follows: “It has come to our attention that you have written an unauthorized review regarding your stay at a home managed by Progressive Management Concepts,” it said. “If this review is published by VRBO.com, you will be in violation of the confidentiality clause of the rental contract you agreed to when you made your reservation.”

500Indeed, Tom Darow had signed a form that stipulated not to “discuss or disclose the occupancy of the subject property with any entity not bound by the terms of this agreement without the expressed written authorization of the homeowner and the property agent representing the homeowner.” The price of doing so: $500-precisely the amount that appeared on the Darow credit card. Eventually, the Darows removed their review from VRBO.com and got their $500 back–plus a $200 refund.

Wrote Elliot: “The vacation rental industry may be warming to rental contracts such as Progressive’s. Several property owners echoed the sentiments of [Chris] Barski, [Progressive’s attorney] saying that non-disparagement language is the only way owners can protect themselves from negative reviews. ‘Just a small comment can slide a slight negative sentiment to a disaster like, ‘Avoid this house,’ and boom! You could lose everything and go into foreclosure, simply because of that one review,’ says Ken Silverman, a principal for a land development company based in New York who owns a vacation rental property at a New Hampshire ski resort. ‘It would have to be offset by tens or hundreds of positives to not make a difference.'”

And Elliot opened the discussion to cover user-generated reviews, many of them faked and inappropriately glowing to make a property [or a product, book, experience-you name it]-appear better than it is.

He also provided a good reason for a property manager to ask to approve a review-because the writer might disclose information that might “make the rental unit vulnerable to theft,” such as a lock combination or street address.

The solution is simple: Before signing, read the small print. And before agreeing to a vacation rental property, find out whom you can call on the spot if something isn’t right. Call them in advance to make sure they’ll be there when you are coming, so if something happens, you’ll know what to do. The idea is to have zero reason to complain afterwards.

Do you know of other instances where customers can’t share their displeasure publicly without incurring fines or where their rights are restrained in other ways?

read-small-print

Service of PR vs. Acting Presidential

Monday, August 29th, 2011

hut

No question the economy is suffering but should the President of the United States vacation in a hut?

luxury-vacation-rentalThe PR side of me says this isn’t the time for any public figure to spend $50,000 a week on a vacation rental when so many are suffering financial constraints and worse. What’s so shabby about Camp David?

Simultaneously I think, “This is the President of the United States. He isn’t compensated for his time as men and women in corporate management are and yet he’s dealing with budgets and constituents far larger than any of them. There should be some benefits to the killing job. He can’t safely take day trips to Coney Island, Jones Beach or Tanglewood to hear a concert, for goodness sakes.”

Then the PR side of me thinks that the government owes so much money and many of its citizens are asked to tighten belts, stiff upper lip, be retrained as a scientist or grab a shovel to work on a construction project–not such fabulous options if you’re over 50.  At the same time there are earthquake size shudders when other citizens, making $1 million+, are asked to pay a fair share by deleting loopholes galore so when the collection plate passes by on April 15, they are counted.

tired-presidentShould the President vacation at all this summer? Apparently Mother Nature didn’t think so: Hurricane Irene cut it short. Should he collapse in a heap from unrelenting stress? Do you think a President really ever vacations? Did the President get bad advice on the vacation issue from his PR consultants? Would not incurring the de minimis cost of this vacation, in the scheme of government expenses, really make a whit of a difference? In the world stage would the symbolism of the President giving up a traditional vacation be construed as a sign of weakness?  Please help me sort out my contradictory thoughts.

 presidential-seal

Service of Craft Fairs

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Berkshires Arts Festival, Mass.

Berkshires Arts Festival, Mass.

I love going to craft fairs–a brisk round of all the booths, the anticipation of seeing an innovative piece of jewelry, sculpture, pottery, fine art, textile, tee-shirt, jacket or winter coat topped by a stop at hot dog, lemonade or fruit smoothie stand. It can’t be beat.

I remember some of the crafts people I’ve met as others remember meeting sports or movie stars, musicians or politicians. Some of my most whimsical, cheeriest ceramic serving bowls were crafted by one of the grouchiest, surliest women I’ve ever seen. She was an equal opportunity screamer–at her husband, mother and customers alike. Last time I saw her, some eight to 10 years ago, she was pregnant. I felt sorry for the child. It was shop at your peril in her booth, but the bowls remain my favorites. [Maybe customer service takes a back seat when you really want something and the price is right.]

 craftfairflowersmall1

Over the 4th of July weekend, at the Berkshires Arts Festival in Great Barrington, Mass., I saw something new for me: Flowers–hibiscus perhaps–in tropical colors, as large as the surface of a card table, made of basketry. They wouldn’t fit the style of my home–or would they? I can’t get them out of my mind.

 craftfairmansmall

One ceramist demonstrated how he shaped a vase on a wheel and another, how he achieved crackle on a bowl. No fancy ovens–he had well-used pots over fire and after he removed the bowl from one pot and poured water on it, he buried it in some mysterious looking natural concoction of blackened wood shavings and other natural elements.

jewelrysmall4

Several glassmakers created remarkable under water-like scenes in pendants to paperweights. A beautiful young woman with a dazzling smile sold romantic, over-the top summer hats decorated with lace and posies in juicy colors. Nobody was in her booth the few times I walked by.  Jewelry counters attracted the biggest crowds. 

My husband is not a craft fair enthusiast. He gets the same happy, “I’ve been on a vacation for a while” feeling from watching a golf tournament or football game or from hearing an opera well staged and sung. What does it for you?

The Service of Getting Away From Your Desk

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

A participant in a careers program I attended shared her secrets of success one of which was that she never, ever went on vacation. On the rare occasion her husband pulled her away for a long weekend, she boasted that she worked the whole time.

She was a woman of a certain age, as the French politely refer to someone who is no spring chicken. I got the feeling that she was afraid that someone else would be sitting in her office chair if she left it for long.

I told her, after the program, that I had a hard time pulling myself away from the office too but that I benefited from every break mentally and physically, ideas flowed more easily and nothing seemed to annoy or stress me for a blessed while. [I left out the fact that clearing a desk before and after a break isn’t fun.] She replied, “I hate vacations.” [How did she know?]

In The Wall Street Journal [June 1, 2009], “AstraZeneca, Merck to Test Cancer Drugs in ‘Cocktail,'” Ron Winslow wrote, “The collaboration, sparked by an encounter between scientists from the companies in an airport security line in Dublin, is based on laboratory evidence……” No doubt, the scientists were returning from a professional meeting, not from vacation, but even leaving the office for work helps loosen and clear mental debris.

Do you benefit from breaks from work or school? Do you think people who never take vacations are admired and those who take breaks are less worthy corporate citizens?

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