Friday, February 27, 2015

Grateful For Great Service

The other day I stopped in an unfamiliar grocery store to pick up several items I'd seen in their ad.  Most of them were easy to find, but I couldn't track the last one down.  Rather than wandering aimlessly around the store until I found what I was looking for, I got the attention of an associate who was busy stocking shelves and asked her to point me in the direction of the right department.

Instead of pointing me, she stopped what she was doing and walked me to the correct area.  While we walked she asked me about my day, and when we arrived at the department she found the item and handed it to me.  We talked about how we'd prepare it and what side dishes would go best with it.  The associate even took me to the produce department to show me some of the ingredients she was talking about.  It was the best customer service I'd had in quite some time.

When I went to check out I found out the associate at the cash register was just as friendly and helpful as the first one had been.  She also asked me how my day was going, and told me about a favorite product of hers I should try next time I was in the store.   As I left she told me to have a 'wonderful' day; I could tell by the tone of her voice that she meant it.  On my way out of the store I passed the Customer Service desk, where the store manager looked me straight in the eye and thanked me for coming in.

When I got home I decided the associates' higher ups needed to know what a good job their employees were doing, so I wrote a letter and emailed it to the store's corporate office.  I hope the message filters back down to the store level.

This is my post for Betsy's Random Acts Of Kindness Adventure 2015.

Five years ago today: E-Cycle Me

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wonder If We Will Regret This?

Over the years I've cultivated a large blog reading list, but I always enjoy adding to it. A a couple of months ago Mo from Mocadeaux introduced me to Eli, the brains behind Coach Daddy. I meandered over to his site, liked what I read and left a comment, then added him to my list.

Fast forward. Earlier this month I received an email from Eli asking me if I wanted to contribute to his monthly "6 Words" post. In his words:
Hemingway inspired it when he said any story can be told in a six-word sentence. I ask bloggers, friends, strangers, and a few strange blogger friends to respond to a prompt.

February is Friendship Month. Here's a twist: What's one thing you never want to hear from a friend, in six words? Make it serious, funny, or anything in between. Something like, "Come quick - and bring bail money!"
After trying to figure out which category I would be in (it might be fun to be someone's strange blogger friend) the perfect response popped into my head.  I let Eli know, and waited for the post to be published.  Today it showed up in my reader.

If you're so inclined stop over at Eli's.  You may run into me working my way down the list of submissions, reading and adding to the blog list.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can I Ask You A Few Questions?

After a large restaurant lunch today I decided I needed some exercise. I didn't have gym clothes with me, and it was too cold to do anything outside, but I knew there was a mall about a half-mile away where I could walk.

When I got there I was able to park close enough to the door that I could leave my coat in the car and hustle inside. I got in my 30 minutes and was on the last corridor before the door that would lead to my car when a woman holding a clip board got my attention and asked if I had time to take a survey. I warily asked for more information, and when I found out I'd get paid pretty handsomely to give them about a half hour of my time I decided to change my plans to include answering their questions.

We moved into a storefront that had been converted into the survey company's office, where I had a short screening interview. Based on that I was invited into the back section, where I ended up answering questions about the aroma and perceived effectiveness of three different liquid cleaning products. True to the screener's word, the whole process took 30 minutes.

When I was done I went out to the reception desk where they had a check waiting for me. As he handed me the check the attendant asked if I had time to take an additional survey. Sadly, I had somewhere to be and had to pass on the additional easy money. However, since I gave the company my contact information I may get a call from them down the line about additional opportunities.

Five years ago today: Do The Stroll

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stop It! Now!

I felt under the weather today, so I spent a good part of the afternoon resting on the couch and using my laptop between cat naps.  At one point I checked in to see what was going on with a couple of online forums I belong to.  The first one didn't have much, but the second one (which I joined not too long ago) was more interesting.  In this group some of the members of the group seem to go way back and have 'history' with each other.  Occasionally tempers will flare and a flame war will start.  There's never any profanity involved, but during an episode there's an awful lot of name-calling and bickering.

When I logged on to the site I found out that yesterday one person posted something outrageous. Others took the bait. The argument rapidly degenerated into personal attacks, which went back and forth multiple times and turned into a free for all.  A few members took the opportunity to hijack other unrelated posts, and those meaningful discussions were temporarily replaced by personal attacks.

Finally I got tired of all the bickering. I added my two cents to a hijacked post, asking the person who was causing most of the trouble to stop. Because I've never posted anything on this site that could be remotely construed as negative, I nervously wondered if I was adding fuel to the fire. Would my post make the person turn and attack me?

I never got a chance to find out. I hit the reply button, and my words disappeared into cyberspace, never to be found.  That's probably a good thing.

Five years ago today: Balance

Friday, February 20, 2015

Small Yet Concrete Signs

Today I'm linking up with Betsy at My Five Men for her Random Acts Of Kindness Adventure 2015.

Several times a year Pope Francis delivers thoughtful messages to his main audience, the Roman Catholic church.  However, many of his topics resonate with all people. Just a couple of days ago in his Lenten message, he said:
"No matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
What do you know!  Even the Pope is suggesting we do Random Acts of Kindness.  He goes on to say that
"Lent is a favorable time for showing concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family."
I kept the Pope's words in mind when I ran into an acquaintance who looked like she was having a really bad day.  As we started talking, it became obvious it had been a bad MONTH.  I had a lot of errands to run, but instead of cutting the conversation short I took the time to listen to her.

Five years ago today: Signs Of Spring

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Open To The Public

A couple of months ago a food service distributor opened a retail store not too far from my house.  The store really caters to restaurants, non-profit organizations, party planning or catering businesses, but unlike some places that don't sell to the general public, anyone can shop at this one.  Today I stopped in to see what they had.

It was so much fun!  I felt like a kid in a candy store.  I'm used to shopping at Costco, where they sell  consumer-sized containers bundled together.  This store was the real deal for commercial vendors.  I wandered up and down the aisles, admiring the industrial-sized containers of groceries and huge bags and boxes of frozen food.  Each package conveniently listed how many servings it contained.

Half of one aisle was devoted to catering supplies (serving trays, coffee urns, and food warmers) and disposables (foam carry out containers of various sizes and shapes, pizza boxes, and Chinese take out boxes).  The beverage section started with enormous bags of ground coffee and massive boxes of tea bags.  That segued into an area devoted to bar supplies: substantial-sized bottles of non-alcoholic ingredients for mixed drinks, jumbo-sized jars of maraschino cherries, cocktail olives, and large canisters of rimming sugar and salt.

Institution-sized mops and buckets were displayed next to huge jugs of soap and other chemicals and supplies you'd use to keep a restaurant clean. This area also contained cases of hand towels and sleeves of napkins big and small.  There was a small selection of chef's clothing, pots and pans, kitchen gear, supplies, and serving utensils.

Even though most of the packages were way too large for my house, I did find a few things to buy.  On the clearance rack I snagged a package of the restaurant-burrito-sized tortillas Son Donald likes to use, and from the produce section I picked up a bag of spinach the same size I usually buy at Costco.  And, strangely enough in this land of humongous, I got a one-pound bag of barley that was located next to much larger bags of beans and grains.

Five years ago today: Not Just Cucumbers

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Happy Mardi Gras!  Tomorrow Lent begins, so today is one last partying and eating hurrah. For dinner tonight I made a Louisiana feast--chicken etouffée, red beans, Cajun greens, and rice. After dinner Hubby Tony and I went to a local ice cream parlor for a decadent treat.

Traditionally etouffée (which in French means "smothered") is made with shellfish and a light roux sauce. But I'm not very traditional in my cooking. Several years ago I found an easy-to-make version that substituted cream of mushroom soup for the roux and Ro-tel tomatoes with chilies to add a kick of heat. Then I proceeded to tweak that recipe to suit my own tastes. The original called for an entire stick of butter and crawfish tails. I cut the butter in half and substitute whatever meat or protein I have on hand.  It's always good.
Easy Etouffée

2 T butter
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup beer
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 can water
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes
1 pound seafood or meat (crawfish, shrimp, chicken breast, pork roast, or ????), cut into small pieces  if necessary
salt/pepper to taste

Melt butter in large pot.  Add onions, celery, and green pepper.  Saute for 10 minutes.  Add soup, water, beer, and tomatoes.  Stir and mix well.  Add chicken.  Cover pot and cook for 20 minutes on low heat.  Stir occasionally.  Season to taste.  Serve with rice.
Quick pic before dinner was served
Five years ago today: Photograph

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Only One For Me Is You And You For Me

Hubby Tony and I went to church tonight.  Right before the end of Mass the priest asked all the married couples to stand for a special blessing.

There was a family group sitting several pews ahead of us that had Dad and Mom on the ends, with their three children between them.  When the blessing started I watched the boy closest to his dad give him a nudge, point down to where his mom was standing, then push his legs back against the pew so dad could scoot by.  His siblings got the message and also moved.  A couple of seconds later both parents were standing next to each other.

Their movement started a chain reaction.  The family in front of us was sitting in the same arrangement, so the man moved down to be next to his wife.  Even though we didn't have anyone in between us Tony took my hand and held it.

Five years ago today: "YOU AND I" Will Be A Team "FOREVER"

Friday, February 13, 2015

Car Lot Conceding

I was driving through a crowded parking lot looking for a space. I went up one row, then down a second. Every spot was filled, except for the ones on the far perimeter of the lot. Suddenly I noticed movement off to the right. Someone was getting in their vehicle to leave!

I zipped around the corner and towards the soon to be empty spot. However, I wasn't the only one who'd noticed. Another car was coming down the row from the opposite direction. I figured if I sped up I could get to the spot first and turn my blinker on to claim it.

Just before I got there, though, I decided to give the other driver a break.  In the scheme of things, it didn't matter that I would park far away from the store.  As a matter of fact, the extra walk would be good for me.  As I went past the empty spot I gave a little wave to the other driver, who looked surprised and waved back.

Today I'm linking up with Betsy at My Five Men for her 2015 version of the Random Acts Of Kindness Adventure.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Think Someone Would Buy It?

I was scrolling through the pictures on my phone today and found one I'd taken several months ago at the clearance rack of my local big box linen store.  As you can see, the clerk did a good job of detailing why the merchandise was there:

The only problem was that the tag was attached to a kitchen scale!

Five years ago today: All Of The Fun, None Of The Calories

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Two Areas Down, Dozens To Go

Last month I began cleaning out the basement by removing mildewed items from a cabinet.  This month I moved to the next room over, where I've been slowly emptying a large catch-all closet. I've spent one day each week removing things, cleaning anything that could be salvaged, and getting rid of the things we don't need any more.

Last week it was all about the board games.  Most of them hadn't been played in years.  I wiped all the cardboard down with a damp rag dipped in bleach water, made sure all the pieces were there, and taped the broken boxes back together. I took a large bag of things to the St. Vincent de Paul store and emailed a friend who volunteers at a school in the city, asking if she'd like to come look at what I had.  She would.  The next day she came and left with a banana box full of games, as well as a produce bag of small toys and trinkets that would be good for student incentives.

Yesterday I returned to the job and pulled more things out of the closet.  When I was finished I'd removed two boxes of mixed toy parts, a box of old video games, a bucket of cars and trucks, a stack of large baskets, and several sets of luggage.  This time I brought everything up to the kitchen sink to clean them, then I laid the things out to dry.  When I was done one entire corner of the kitchen floor had toys drying on top of beach towels.  A hard-sided train case (part of a matched set of luggage I got for a wedding present) was hanging upside down on the widow seat. The other two pieces of the set were standing on their sides in the laundry room.

The video games were piled on the kitchen table so Son Donald could go through them. He didn't want any of them, but called a friend to come get a nice big stack, and sent a text to a work associate to see if he wanted some of the others. My friend got another email asking if she wanted more trinkets.  This morning I nestled the pieces of luggage together and put them in my car, along with a box of miscellaneous items.  When I was out today I dropped them off at the thrift store.  If I keep donating things at this rate, they'll probably start calling me by name!

The only things left in the 10-foot long closet are the folding chairs we pull out at the holidays, and the luggage we use when we travel.  The rest of the area is bare.  I'm determined not to fill the closet up again, although we'll see what happens next time I have something I don't know what to do with.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

It Was A Great Day For A Parade

Today's much-higher-than-normal 70 degree weather made it a perfect day to be outside.  Hubby Tony and I decided to go to the Soulard area to watch the Beggin’ Pet Parade, part of the area's Mardi Gras festivities.

The parade bills itself as the world’s largest costumed pet parade. There were hundreds (thousands?) of dogs in the parade, and just as many on the sidelines.  We'd been to the event in 2009, so we knew a little bit about what to expect.  Just as we did back then, we parked about a mile to the west and walked in.  It was harder to find a parking space this year and I wondered if the parade had gotten more popular or if the nice weather was bringing out a bigger crowd.

We found spots on the sidewalk close to the beginning of the route, right behind a family that was sitting on the curb, and passed the time dog and people watching.  The parade started right on time.  First came a group of motorcycle police, followed by two patrol cars.  There was a corporate float (Purina Beggin' Strips was the main parade sponsor) and another one carrying Grand Marshal Tony La Russa.  Then the pets started coming.

At the beginning of the procession were the best dressed finalists that had been invited to join the Court of the Mystical Krewe of Barkus. At the end of the parade two of them would be crowned as the King and Queen.  After that there was a cavalcade of dogs and their owners that lasted for 40 minutes.  Most of the dogs were walking, but a few rode by in a decorated wagon or cart.  I saw pooches wearing strands of beads around their neck, others wearing costumes simple or elaborate, and even a few that had been spray painted.

Just like at every good Mardi Gras parade there was swag thrown.  Both Tony and I managed to get a couple of necklaces, and Tony caught a fun pair of glasses.  He also got a container of dog treats, which he gave away to the person next to him.

Some of our parade swag
When the last of the pets went by the crowd started to disperse.  We dispersed with them and headed back to the car.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Cat Hates Me!

You may remember that back in January our cat Pepper was sick and had to go to the vet  He came home with anti-nausea pills and a liquid antibiotic. Our instructions were to administer them both twice a day until they were gone.

The pills lasted eight days, but the bottle of medicine took more than two weeks to use up.  Hubby Tony, Son Donald, and I shared the duty of squirting the syringe of medicine into Pepper's mouth.  Whenever I did it, I told him I was sorry.  Pepper didn't believe me.  Soon he was running away every time I came into the room, and he took his naps under the bed in a spare bedroom where he couldn't be reached. At meal time he made me go into the room first so he couldn't be trapped, then quickly scrambled out when he'd eaten.

Yesterday we squirted out the last of the medicine.  I was hopeful Pepper would observe the bottle being tossed out and put two and two together, but he scooted out of the room before I made it over to the trash can.  Today he still ran away every time I looked in his direction, but right before I gave him his second meal of the day he licked a bit of hairball medicine (his Saturday treat) off of my finger after sniffing it to make sure I wasn't trying to trick him.

Hopefully, as his medicine-taking experience fades into the distant past Pepper will forget his trauma.  I wonder how long it will take?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Body Ideals Through The Ages

Have you seen this video that shows how beauty standards for women have changed over time?  

What do you think?  Based on these standards, is there a time period you wish you'd lived in? 

Five years ago today: Stop Thinking, Start Doing!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I Got Out Just In Time

For the past week the various forms we need to do our taxes have been showing in the mailbox.  However, the one from my mall Customer Service Desk job wasn't one of them.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, W-2 forms have to be mailed out by no later than January 31.  It wasn't here after Monday's delivery, so yesterday morning I sent an email to the Desk boss asking if he'd received his.

I got a quick response.  First he started off by saying the tax forms had been sent and I should be receiving it any day.  (It did show up that afternoon.)  He went on to tell me that the company that owns the mall had closed about a dozen Customer Service desks throughout the country.  The one I worked at was one of them!  If I'd not given notice back in October I would be out of job now. 

Next time I go to that mall it will be strange to walk past the dark desk area.  I wonder if I'll ever see any of my co-workers again.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Evaluator Times Two

One of the hardest things about my independent contractor job is the lack of day-to-day interaction with other people that do the same thing.  Several months ago I joined an online forum devoted to the field.  It's nice to be able to 'discuss' things with other people, and I've learned valuable information from the posters, but typing on a keyboard isn't the same as talking with someone in person.  Shortly after I joined the forum I found out that there's another member who lives not too far from my house.  In the past few months we've exchanged private messages several times, and finally we set a time to meet for coffee.

Yesterday afternoon I entered a local Starbucks for our meeting.  As I waited at the counter to pick up my coffee, I realized I had no idea what the woman looked like.  Fortunately, I saw someone who looked just as lost as me.  I said her name, she said mine, and just like that we were connected.

The woman is about my age, and has been doing the job on a full time basis for almost eight years.  She's a real professional.  Compared to me, she's taken things to a whole new level. However, I was surprised to learn that I've done a couple of jobs that she's never tried.   At the end of our chat I realized I'd had a lot of fun and got some good tips that I can use going forward.  Now when I see her screen name on the forum I'll be able to put a face to it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Chocolate Hummus Experiment

Last week, just a couple of days after I'd enjoyed a meal that included hummus at an Israeli restaurant, Stefani at Cupcake Project posted a recipe for a more unusual bean spread.  Her Chocolate Hummus (which used garbanzo beans, chocolate nut butter spread, honey, and brown sugar) promised that it was "so decadent that you can use it in place of chocolate frosting". 

I sent the link to several people in the family asking what they thought.  Responses ranged from 'interesting' to 'I dunno'.  One person suggested it might be better with a white bean, thinking the milder taste wouldn't overwhelm the chocolate flavor.  Based on the responses, it sounded to me like some experimentation was in order.  Last night Hubby Tony and I went to an event that asked us to bring a table snack.  I volunteered to make a plate of bite-sized cupcakes.  Guess what they'd be frosted with?

Saturday afternoon Operation Chocolate Hummus commenced.  First I made the recipe a la Stefani.  I pulsed the garbanzo beans in the food processor, added the rest of the ingredients, and processed it some more. The finished product was good, and properly chocolatey, but (even though I pureed it for several minutes) still a little grainy.  It also didn't have the same mouth feel of a frosting that contained fat. 

Next I made the same recipe with white beans.  Because they're naturally softer and less starchy,  I realized putting in the honey would made the hummus too soft to use as frosting, so I left it out and added additional brown sugar.   The result was still too runny to put in a piping bag.  However, it made a wonderful dip for fruit.

I arranged my mini vanilla and red velvet cupcakes on a serving plate, piped a large swirl of hummus on top of each, then put it in the refrigerator to help the hummus set.  After dinner I covered the plate and carefully carried it out and set it on the floor of Tony's car for the drive.

I didn't tell anyone at my  table what the secret cupcake ingredient was.  When the plate was passed around everyone took one or two.  Not many went back for seconds.  I don't know if it was because there was so much food on the table or they didn't care for mine.  No worries, though; it allowed me to take home a half-plate of cupcakes for tonight's dessert.