Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ridiculous customer service

We love our Keurig coffee maker and I have taken to making several cups of decaf coffee during the day when I'm working. I've become very partial to strong decaf -- like French roast or Dark Magic Extra Bold. It's strong/full bodied and yet it's still decaf. The problem with that is, that most retail stores only carry a limited selection of decaf Keurig K-cups and tend to stock mostly lighter blends or flavors like (yuck) hazelnut decaf. So I began ordering decaf K-cups over the web. And I discovered discounts that get the per K-cup price lower too -- lower than using Bed, Bath & Beyond 20% off coupons.

My brother-in-law Ferd (also a Keurig lover) found a good place online,, and he gave me his telephone rep's secret code for a 10% discount (code=deb).

I realized on Tuesday that I was very low on decaf K-cups and remembered when I was sitting at the computer to go out and order some. I placed my order, ordered enough to get free shipping and got my confirmation email at 11:47 am Tuesday.

The coffee arrived Wednesday before noontime. How amazing is that? I thought I was seeing things when I opened the front door and saw the box. Then I thought, maybe John ordered some for me (unlikely but possible). Seriously. Less than 24 hours from pressing Submit Order to delivery.

Ridiculous, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peacemaking in the powder room

Yes, this is gonna be about toilet paper. While both of us were working at Big Corporation, I didn't really think much about what kind of toilet paper we used at home. We picked up Northern or Charmin or Cottonelle when we went to BJs (there's no Costco here in Western New York) and that did us just fine.

When I stopped working outside the house, at the insistent request of Big Corporation in 2002, we suddenly noticed a spike in our toilet paper usage. Gee, now that I was home all day, it drained our supplies much faster than before when we were both gone 10 or so hours a day. And I began to be fussier about the toilet paper we purchased. We tried economizing and that was unsatisfying to me. We shopped around and tried every brand possible to find one that was satisfactory to the primary user (me) and that John found acceptable as well. I wanted cushy, he wanted ... well, I dunno exactly what he wanted but it wasn't the same as what I liked.

Anyway. Once he retired, his interest in toilet paper rose as well. The TP debates started and the shopping around was coupled with debates along the way evaluating our preferences. I even tried the single ply, mostly recycled paper. While it may be good for the environment, it probably isn't the best option for us given the quantities I require to keep my hand from getting soiled. This past summer on a joint trip to Aldi's, we picked up a package of Panda toilet paper to give it a try. It was inexpensive and looked like a reasonable experiment.

Eureka! We had found the toilet paper for the ages! It is cushy, thick, doesn't leave a lot of paper dust and it generally is a unanimous choice. We liked it so much that we looked for it on the next trip to Aldi's so we could stock up. Apparently, many others also liked it and there was none of the good Panda paper to be had.  When shopping at Aldi's, it's kind of a catch-as-catch-can thing: if you like something, you better stock up because they may never have it again unless it's one of their standard items. We've learned this the hard way with many of their special buy products.

John liked the Panda TP so well that he went online to find the supplier of Panda and called them to find out (a) when Aldi's might have it again and (2) where else we might find it if Aldi's wasn't carrying it. Turns out that WalMart's Great Scott toilet paper is also made by the same company. You can tell you have the right one because it has a rose embossed on the paper itself. When we ran out of Panda, we stifled our gorge (at having to shop and spend money at WalMart*) and went to WallyWorld to get some Great Scott paper. And the bottoms in our house were happy once again.

The TP supplier also told John that Aldi's had another Panda TP special coming in late September so we were on the lookout. The TP didn't hit the shelves at our local Aldi's until early October but we were ready. Over the past couple weeks, we have purchased more than 20 12 packs of toilet paper -- I've forgotten just how many I bought. We could seriously build an awesome fort with the packs of TP in our basement. I haven't yet taken the little girls downstairs to play among the TP but it's tempting and it should be a blast to build a fort. Emily doesn't yet know about using whatever building materials present themselves to build forts and playhouses but we have a playdate to do so coming up in the near future.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Poor Uncle Sam

has lost his head. This isn't a political commentary, just stating a fact. We purchased this (really cheap, made in China) statue several years ago from our favorite Cleveland store, Marc's, and have had Uncle Sam outside throughout the summers for years, proudly waving his flag and declaring our patriotism to anyone passing by.

We looked at him a few weeks ago and discovered that his arm had crumbled. That's it lying on the driveway just in front of his left foot. At that point, I unceremoniously relieved Uncle Sam of his American flag and put him down at the curb for trash pickup. I like Uncle Sam but you can tell even in the picture that his construction is, um, a bit on the shoddy side.It looks like paper mache but maybe just a little more sturdy. Each time we touch it, another piece falls off.

Emily and I were outside the following day decorating the little tree in our mail box post for Halloween. She spotted Uncle Sam lying expressionlessly in the gutter and retrieved him, cradling him as though he was her very most favorite doll baby. She was very upset that Uncle Sam was literally being kicked to the curb. Erin calls her Princess Tenderheart and it is so very very true. So I relented (I'm such a creampuff with these kids) and we took him into the garage to see if Grandpa could fix him.

In showing him to Grandpa, it turns out that Johnnie wanted to keep Uncle Sam too and see if he could fix him. Yeah, we need another project like this, right?

Days or possibly weeks pass......

We were leaving for breakfast one Sunday morning and the granddaughters were in the car. Grandpa retrieved the Sunday paper and flung it from the driveway into the garage. It ricocheted off the recycling bin and scored a direct hit on Uncle Sam. Sam tumbled off the step in one direction and his head went another.

I doubt there's any way to fix Uncle Sam. So far he's just languishing in the garage in three pieces, tucked away next to the recycling bins. I'm hoping that Emily and Grandpa will soon forget about Uncle Sam and I can slip him into the trash without anyone noticing.

You have ably represented your country and displayed our patriotism for many summers, good and faithful servant. Now go rest in the landfill. Your duties are completed. At ease, sir.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The auction

Our neighbors' house that I wrote about here was auctioned off on Tuesday. The auction company arrived early Tuesday morning and started putting all the neighbors' unwanted worldly goods out on the lawn and driveway for later bidding. Luckily the day was relatively sunny and no rain was forecast.

 When John arrived home from work, we walked down and by then, there was a string of cars parked along our street as far as we could see. I was astounded that so many people came out to bid on their household items and the house. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to see all your possessions laid out so matter-of-factly for others to inspect, judge and ultimately purchase. The feeling I had was of personal violation rather than garage sale.
There was a professional auctioneer and he proceeded down the rows of household items as the crowd followed him, raising their cards and bidding. He stopped at 5:15 and began the auction of the home itself.

The wife of the couple came back from their new city for the auction and, predictably, was a bundle of nerves. She had spoken to us earlier and then went into the house during the auction itself. I was glad she wasn't witnessing it firsthand.

The auction started briskly at $50,000 and then quickly climbed to $95,000. It flagged a bit and the bidding narrowed down to three parties (only five parties in total had qualified to bid for the house itself). The bidding proceeded more slowly and eventually stopped at $113,000. This is a house that was appraised for taxes at $162,700. I don't know what they paid for it but I'm sure it was more than $113K. The house was sold in less than 10 minutes tops and they covered the mortgage and home equity loan.

They had lived there 19 years and pfffffffft! -- that fast it was gone. That's what they wanted, to not have the house languish on the market. (The real estate market in our area isn't in the terrible shape as it is in other parts of the country but then again, we don't have the high real estate prices or the sudden drops. We're certainly not insulated from real estate issues but we don't have the roller coaster effect as other areas do.)

However, we feel lucky that the couple who purchased the house are young and have a baby daughter. So it's not a speculator who'll invest a minimal amount and then flip the house or rent it to potentially untenable tenants.

It was weird being there and trying to understand what the wife must be experiencing. I seriously cannot imagine what my emotions would be if all our possessions had been exposed for this type of sale. I can't help but think that it would feel a lot like failure.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Whazzat? No problem.

I'm certainly not a qualified arbiter of grammar and proper language usage. However, there are some phrases in the English language that really get under my skin. Two of the most innocuous and yet offensive, to me at least, are "Whazzat?" and "no problem."

Whazzat? seems to have replaced "Pardon me?" or "Excuse me?" when people don't hear what you've said. It is particularly noticeable (and fairly irritational to me) in people who have a hearing deficit about which they are still in denial, which they haven't yet addressed or for which they wear hearing aids some of the time (why yes, my sweet Johnnie, I am looking at you as a matter of fact).

It goes like this:
You: Would you like to watch TV?
Them: Whazzat?
You, louder and possibly more enunciated: WOULD YOU LIKE TO WATCH TV?

and so it goes.

Grrrrrrrr. If you don't hear the question, the proper response is "Pardon me?" or "Sorry, I didn't hear you, could you repeat the question?" or "Excuse me?"

The other phrase, "No problem" is now a pervasive response when someone thanks you. Like this:

Them: Here's your gizmo back...
You: Oh, thank you.
Them: No problem.

The proper response is "you're welcome." As an article in this month's Reader's Digest said, responding with "No problem" implies that there actually WAS a problem or that they perceived the exchange in some way as a problem. Maybe it's a valid response when there has been a problem, but commonly the correctly response would be "you're welcome."

Minor things, I know. But they grate on me and this casual slurring of manners and polite usage of speech becomes so commonplace that eventually the right responses are forgotten and disappear.

Any phrases or words that bug you like this?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A new season, a new blow up

"You're probably gonna think I'm weird," Johnnie remarked to me last Sunday.
"Yeah?" I responded, curious.
"Yeah, I really want to get a Halloween thing for the front yard."
I had a private little smile and then said, "Works for me. As long as it's not scary."
Erin and Mike aren't big on Halloween to begin with, particularly the more occult aspects of it. Neither are we, actually. So we tend to err on the side of happy things like smiling pumpkins rather than witches, goblins and spooky things.

We both were at our computers so we started looking for the right kind of inflatable for our yard. Two years ago John fell in love with an inflatable turkey that we put up in November for Thanksgiving. Then he found an inflatable Nativity scene that he has been putting up in December for Christmas. Now we're moving out a month earlier for Halloween and he put up the new inflatable (it arrived yesterday afternoon) last night.

Well, yes they're ghosts but they're really happy ghosts and they're frolicking with the Boo letters. So we think they're pretty fun and not of the spooky variety.

Here they are at night with the smiling Great Pumpkin and the pumpkin lights around the front door.

The Great Pumpkin slips upstairs (unbeknownst to either of us) some time early in September and then is forced to wait until October 1st before he's allowed to go outside. Santa Claus has problems with patience as well, often creeping up the stairs in November and then waiting until after Thanksgiving before he's allowed to officially begin the Christmas season.

My contribution to our Halloween decorations is the little tree on the mailbox stand. Emily helped me decorate it last week.
So we have a case of creeping holidays and the inflatables to accompany them at our house. I fully expect that in the coming year we'll find something inflatable to grace the lawn for Easter. Luckily, there don't seem to be a lot of inflatable for summertime holidays. At least I hope not!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cheesecake for lunch

Our daughter Erin has been living a gluten-free life for the past two years since being diagnosed with Celiac disease. There have been many ups and downs, physically and emotionally, over the past two years culminating in three different stays in the hospital during this past April while she had severe symptoms and issues. Seriously, at one point, the girl was yellow - her eyes, her skin - all very strange.

The good part about her issues this past spring was that she found a young doctor who was willing to work closely with her to determine once and for all exactly what her physical problems may be. He wasn't convinced that she had Celiac, liver problems or whatall. They have been trying medications and diet variations since then to quell her symptoms and make her comfortable.

The latest experiment is a wheat challenge where she can eat wheat to her heart's content for two weeks, then have another endoscopy (putting a scope down her throat to check out her stomach and intestines) to see if there's any damage. She's been on wheat for about the past 10 days. With no symptoms. How awesome is THAT?!?

When they came over for dinner last week, I suddenly thought about Cheesecake Factory. Erin loves Cheesecake Factory and cheesecake in general. I've made a couple gluten-free ones for her over the past couple years and while they're not bad, they just aren't the same.

She had wanted to go to Cheesecake Factory for her birthday in September but decided not to since she couldn't have any cheesecake and it would have been too hard for her to be there and not have the forbidden fruit cheesecake.

So we made a date to go to the Cheesecake Factory last Friday. Not to have lunch, mind you, but just cheesecake. Neither of us felt as though we could or wanted to afford a full blown lunch, plus it would take away from room in the tummy that was reserved for cheesecake. We were there with Lucy when the doors opened at 11:30 am. Erin had stopped at Burger King to get Lucy a hamburger and fries since three year old little girls shouldn't eschew lunch even though their (supposedly responsible) adults were going to.

We were giddy with excitement. Erin pored over the menu and eventually chose a Kahlua Cocoa cheesecake and I got apple crisp with ice cream. I like cheesecake well enough but I'm Jonesing these days for apple crisp and while the difference probably wasn't all that large, there must be more calories in cheesecake than apple crisp. Hey, there's fruit, right?

Her first bite and every one thereafter was a private moment. I felt as though Lucy and I should leave so she could have some privacy but we didn't. I scraped the tower of whipped cream off my apple crisp and gave it to Lucy for her dessert. She was delighted. So was I.