Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bob The Bilker

I've had numerous requests for the conclusion to my oven nightmare. Although the oven problem seems to be solved for now, the overall nightmare of dealing with ABC will be ongoing for as long as we live here, or for as long as Mr. Homeowner continues to use ABC.

If you're lost and want to read the whole story here are the links:
Part 1: I just want to heat up a frozen pizza, for Pete's sake.

Part 2: If you can't stand the heat, get your head out of the oven.
I had mentioned wanting to meet with Bob to discuss a few things on the Monday morning after the delivery men returned my still broken oven. After giving it some thought, an email seemed like the wiser thing to do since it would provide me with a written record which will reduce the chances of any misunderstandings.  

Here is the email I sent on Sunday evening, less a few things I edited out because they contained personal information:

I had intended to schedule an appointment to talk with you this week but I think an email would be a wiser choice since it provides us both with a written record to avoid any misunderstandings.

I called Mr. Homeowner on Friday evening and had a very illuminating conversation with him. I was expecting it to be challenging since you had described him as one of the most difficult homeowners you've ever had to deal with because he doesn't want to pay for anything. You told me that you weren't sure if it was because he was having financial trouble or if he just didn't care.

Imagine my surprise when Mr. Homeowner turned out to be a kind and friendly man who repeatedly said that we are excellent tenants and he wants to keep us happy so that we'll stay here. When I explained to him that I was having trouble negotiating the oven repair with you, he said he would call you and see to it that the situation is taken care of since it is your job keep his tenants happy.

He said he understood that I requested a specific type of oven and that he instructed you to get me whatever kind of oven I wanted…within reason, of course. The kind of oven I requested is very expensive and I never expected a brand new one because of that. I thought I would be getting a good used model. What I got was a broken piece of trash that fell off a truck (both literally and figuratively) and was filled with spider egg sacs. I didn't share those details with Mr. Homeowner since he trusts you and is under the impression that you are an honest businessman. It was not my intention to turn our conversation into a Bob-bashing session.

We visited some more and he brought up the sprinkler system. He said he understood that we requested an irrigation system a while back and he told me about his system that has water sensors that will detect when the yard needs to be watered which is very efficient. This is the type of system he requested that you install in our house and he asked how we were enjoying that. I told him that we didn't get a new sprinkler system so I hope he didn't pay you for one. He couldn't remember all the details but said that you always provide him with receipts for all the work that is done. And I have no doubt that you do.

What Mr. Homeowner does not know is that you hire illegals almost exclusively and you pay them cash. And I suspect the receipts you give to him do not reflect the actual amount that you pay the workers.
 Mr. Homeowner said repeatedly that if we're happy, he's happy and he pays you to make sure that happens. So from now on I would like us to work together to make sure that Mr. Homeowner is deliriously happy. I have a few requests effective immediately:

1. I would like Mr. Homeowner to actually get what he pays for. If any items in or around the house have to be replaced, I would like choose those items myself or at the very least I would like to approve the choice that you make. Of course Mr. Homeowner has the final say but there will be no more junk installed in or around this house.

2. Do not send any more illegals to my house. All service people must be licensed and bonded or insured. Each one you send to my house will have to show proper ID before I allow them onto the property. If they fail to provide it, I will write down their license plate number then call INS to report both them and you.

3. I would like this oven to be repaired immediately by a qualified service company. If it cannot be repaired back to full working order then I will choose a replacement subject to Mr. Homeowner's approval.

4. If you push back on any of my requests, I will send this letter to Mr. Homeowner along with the photographs I already have of all the repairs you've done on his house so that he can verify that what he paid for is what he actually got. I can assure you I keep meticulous records. If you push back you can expect 3 phone calls: one from the IRS, one from INS and one from Mr. Homeowner. I feel confident that you have all the necessary receipts in your files and that those receipts match the ones you gave to Mr. Homeowner. But the IRS will also subpoena the service providers that you hired to make sure that their invoices match your receipts. And there's where your trouble will begin.

This is in no way a threat. If I say I'm going to do something, I will do it. I said I was going to call the homeowner and I did. You may see these things as demands and essentially they are. They are demands that from now on you do the right thing. I can't force you to do the right thing with all your other property owners but I will see to it that you do the right thing with MY property owner. Mr. Homeowner is not what you tried to make me believe. He is a nice man and I will not sit back and watch him get cheated.

You should know that I've known the property owners name and address since before we moved in. This is public information and is available to anyone with internet access. I requested it from you twice in writing and once verbally. After the verbal request you told me that the office help couldn't legally give out that information and you weren't even sure if you had it. You should know that by law you are required to disclose that information to a tenant within 8 days of receiving the written request. If you fail to do so the tenant can sue you for a whole list of things including one month's rent, plus $100 as well as court costs and attorneys fees.

I'm not saying that because I intend to sue you. I don't. But you really should familiarize yourself with the laws pertaining to the industry you're in.

If you try to retaliate against me in any way including slandering my name, I will make those phone calls I mentioned in item #4. I have already recounted this whole experience in a public forum which includes a date-stamped record but does not include your name. If you speak negatively about me to anyone at any time I will link your name to that forum which will provide instant proof of malicious intent and you will be held liable.

I will expect a call from your office on Monday with an update as to when I can expect the appliance repairman. Mr. Homeowner has already given his approval for the repair so there is no reason for a delay. I expect to have a fully functioning oven by the end of this week.

Okay I didn't really sign it, "Love, Shannon". But I was tempted to!

I expected to get an angry phone call from Bob either denying the accusations I made or threatening to evict me or something like that. What I got was nothing. No response at all. Maybe I'm wrong about everything and Bob really is an honest businessman so he felt it was beneath him to even dignify my outrageous rant with a response. I suppose it's possible. It's also possible that purple monkeys in party hats might fly outta my butt. Things happen.

I know that if someone said those things to me, I would be on the phone in a hot minute telling them how wrong they are and how they'd better not dare make baseless accusations like that unless they're just wanting to face the unpleasant repercussions that will hail down on them like Biblical fire and brimstone.

But I got nothing. No denial. No angry response. Nothing.

Thank God! I waited for my phone call about the oven repair all day Monday. On Tuesday I sent an email requesting an update. I got a very curt reply from Office Gal saying I should expect a call from an appliance repair company to set up an appointment. She gave me the name of the company which I immediately Googled and found that they are a legitimate company. I went ahead and called them to schedule the appointment and they showed up here on Wednesday morning.

The convection fan motor needed to be replaced so when Repair Dude left I sent Office Gal an email and told her what he said and that he would be contacting her about that. I asked her to please keep me informed about what they decide to do. 

Of course I heard nothing for 2 more days. So on Friday I sent an email asking for an update because these people are incapable of responsible business behavior and must be spoon fed. Three more days passed with no response.

Finally on Monday of this week Office Gal sent an email saying she hopes I've heard from Repair Dude by now. She said he'd ordered the parts and expected to have it repaired by Thanksgiving. I told her I hadn't heard from him but I thanked her for the update...that I had to extract with forceps.

Later that day I got an email from Bob himself...first time ever. When he has something to say he usually calls. I figured he either didn't want to talk to me or he couldn't because his voice was still hoarse from all the yelling. His email said for me to call Repair Dude because he wanted to work on the oven that night. About a minute later my cell phone rang and it was Repair Dude asking if he could come by to replace the motor. Of course I said sure then I wondered why Bob had sent that email asking me to call Repair Dude when Repair Dude just called me. Then I realized it was happy hour. Nuff said.

So Repair Dude replaced the motor and got my oven back to working condition just in time for Thanksgiving. Finally!!

So that concludes the oven saga. But not the Bob saga.

Remember in my email how I said I expected a call on Monday with an update on the oven? And remember how I didn't get a call on Monday but got an email on Tuesday only after I asked for one? And remember how I said I expected to have a working oven by Friday and didn't get it? And remember how I said I don't make threats but I follow through with what I say I'm going to do? Well, I did.

I decided I would not call Mr. Homeowner again but would instead send him a letter with some information that he could digest at his leisure and then decide for himself whether or not to act on it. I explained my concerns to him and told him I have no expectations but only want him to be aware. That's really all I can do, everything else is up to him. I sent him some pictures of some of the shoddy repairs and replacements that have been done around the house and told him which ones were done by legitimate companies and which were done by illegal immigrants so he could compare with his receipts.

I printed out some information I found on the internet that I thought Mr. Homeowner might be interested in. I found some reviews for ABC on various property rental websites and all of them were negative. Well, that's not exactly true. There were positive reviews for ABC published on lots of different rental websites but all of them were within a 45-day time span and all were from the same 7 people. You don't have to be an IT specialist or a hacker to figure out that those are not real reviews from real people. They're blatant damage control. Poorly done blatant damage control. I was actually embarrassed for Bob's lame efforts.

On one of the sites Bob himself responded to a negative reveiw:
Mr. Property Owner's Review:
I hired this company to manage 5 properties in October 2007. Bob was my contact. He Collected rents from November 2007 through May 2008 and remited the money to me. He claimed his computer messed up so i got no report or money fro June. For July I got a report that he had spent all June and July rents but no receipts for the money. Our Managment agreement shows Owner to approve all expenditures in excess of $300. I think this is a scam company and advise no one else deal with him.
Bob's Response: 02/23/2011
A prospective management client brought this review to my attention. The vast majority of management companies, including ABC, do their best to take care of the properties and act in the owners' best interest. Occasionally we have an owner who is not willing to make necessary repairs. But after getting permission from Mr. Property Owner, he complained (wrongfully) that I spent rental income without his approval. He terminated the contract. I found out later that ABC was the sixth property management company Mr. Property Owner has hired over the years. I hope management company number seven has better luck. Bob
Poor Bob. He must have the worst luck ever. He seems to be constantly getting stuck with property owners who are not willing to make necessary repairs. Or maybe that's his standard response for when he gets called out.

I also discovered that Bob had his broker license suspended for 3 months in 2009:
Bob established an association with a corporation that was not duly licensed as a real estate broker when it engaged in real estate brokerage services by and through Bob or salespersons sponsored by him, in violation of §1101.652(b)(26) of the Texas Occupations Code. While conducting property management services, Bob acted negligently when he rendered remodeling services as a general contractor and disbursed funds from the owner's account for the remodeling services which included an undisclosed "mark-up" fee, in violation of §1101.652(b)(1) of the Texas Occupations Code.
The ball is in Mr. Homeowner's court now, I've done my part and that's all I can do. Oh I did go ahead and file a complaint with ICE but they get hundreds of complaints every day so they may or may not look into it. That really doesn't matter to me since it's not my job to make Bob pay for all his wrongdoings. It's my job to do the right thing, alert the right people, then let them take care of it (or not) from there.

In the interest of being proactive, I did go ahead and fill out a complaint form to send to the Texas Real Estate Commission but I haven't sent it yet. I don't intend to send it until Bob screws up again. And he will. This wasn't one of the consequences I warned him about so I'm considering it a bonus consequence. I'll do it if I have to. And I'll tell him I've done it, I don't make anonymous complaints. I may be homeless the next day but I will be homeless with a clear conscience and the peace that comes with knowing I've done my best to do what I felt was right.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Meaningful Beauty Looks Shady To Me

Influenster sent me a free sample of Creme de Serum, the anti-aging serum that is part of Cindy Crawford's Meaningful Beauty product line.

My first impression wasn't good. The plastic packaging is cheap and cheesy. However, after using the product for a couple of days I thought maybe I had judged it too harshly. I haven't used it long enough to form an opinion about its anti-aging capabilities but it seemed to be a decent night cream.

I visited the Meaningful Beauty website to see how much the product cost, thinking maybe they used cheap packaging on purpose to keep the price low.

I found that you can't even buy the Creme de Serum by itself. It's just one of the 5 products in the Meaningful Beauty kit.

It doesn't do anyone any good for me to review a product that no one can buy. I can't endorse the 5-piece kit based on the performance of 1 product. I did a video review and was honest about how I felt:

I went to the Influenster website to post my review and found another one where the reviewer liked the product but felt it was too expensive. On the Meaningful Beauty website their 30-day kit costs around $40. This is very reasonable for 5 skin care products so I was confused as to why that other reviewer felt it was expensive.

A couple of Google searches later I discovered that it is possible to buy the individual components of the Meaningful  Beauty kit on Amazon. The price for the serum alone ranged from $25-$40...almost the price of the entire 5-piece kit!

Something wasn't right. On the Meaningful Beauty website you can request a live chat with a representative so I did that. Here is our conversation:

Jessica: Hello! How may I help you today?

You: Are your products available to buy individually or only in a kit?

Jessica: Thank you for visiting Meaningful Beauty! I would be happy to provide you with information regarding our products.
Jessica: Let's move this chat and make it a window of its own. That way, you'll still see this web page while we chat. Please click 'Move The Chat' to move it now.

Jessica: Thank you for moving the chat.
Jessica: Regarding on your question, our producsts are available by kit.
Jessica: They our designed to work together for best results.
Jessica: To ensure that I provide you the most accurate information, I’d like to ask you a few questions.

You: Why do you sell them individually on Amazon? I'm confused.

Jessica: I'm sorry to inform you that we don't have enough information about offers available at Amazon.
Jessica: I'm able to assist with the information about the products availbale at the Meaningful Beauty website.

You: You've answered my question, thank you.

Jessica: We have two kit options to choose from. May I ask if would you prefer the 7-piece Deluxe System or the 5-piece Advanced System?

You: Neither. I'm good. Thanks.

Jessica: I understand you'd like to make the best decision possible. May I ask what concerns do you have about ordering today?
Jessica: I’m still here for you. Can I answer any questions you have?
Jessica: Are you still with me?

You: Yes. Your kit is available for around $40 which seems to be a fairly good value. But your products are not available individually so when I run out serum I would have to buy a whole new kit...

 **I had more questions such as, how can you not have information about the offers at Amazon when they're you're products? They're either coming from you or from someone you sold them to. Why did you tell me they're not sold individually when clearly they are...just not from your website? Why is the price so much higher there? Etc. Jessica is obviously an experienced telemarketer. I failed to realize that at this point I had already given her my 3 no's so our conversation was over.**

Jessica: I completely understand. You always have the opportunity to try more products when you are ready. However, please take note that prices and promotions are subject to change anytime.
Jessica: Is there anything else I can help you with today?
Jessica: I’m still here for you. Can I answer any questions you have?

You: Uh, no, we're good. Thanks for your help.

Jessica: Thank you for visiting us today. It has been a pleasure assisting you. Have a great day. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Bottom line: I would recommend you steer clear of Meaningful Beauty products.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Goo Gone Oven & Grill Cleaner Review

Goo Gone recently contacted me and asked if I would do a review of their Oven & Grill Cleaner.

I always get excited when someone asks for my opinion because it exhausts me to keep constantly forcing it on people.

Since my oven is self-cleaning, I thought using it on my grill grate would be a better test of its performance capabilities.

I filmed the process, in all of its awkward glory, for your enjoyment.

And lest you be under the mistaken impression that I am a professional product reviewer type person, here is some unusable footage that was edited out. After filming 183 videos, I still manage to occasionally cut off my own head.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

If You Can't Stand The Heat, Get Your Head Out Of The Oven

The continuing saga of my broken oven just got real interesting. If you didn't catch the first part of the story, go here to get caught up.

Office Gal from ABC called and said the oven had been repaired and Mr. Mover was on his way here to hook it up. I asked her what work they did on it and she said she didn't know, she wasn't the one who took the call. I asked her if I would need to pay Mr. Mover again and she said yes. I told her that was fine and I would do that but in the future I don't want him to come to my house again. His cash-only business is dishonest so I don't trust him. She understood.

Office Gal said to make sure to test the oven before he leaves and I assured her that Mr. Mover would sit here and wait while I baked a casserole if I felt it was necessary. I asked her what I needed to do if the oven still wasn't working properly. If I sent it back to the appliance place with Mr. Mover, would I have to pay him another $50 in cash? She wasn't exactly sure how to handle that and wanted to confer with the owner of ABC. Let's call him....Bob.

After talking to Bob, Office Gal called me back and said we would not have to pay him twice. If we did need to send the oven back then Mr. Mover could come by their office for his payment. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "You know he's going to charge you yet another $50 for that trip, right?"

Then she said, and I'm totally NOT making this up, that Mr. Mover has been been contracted by that appliance store for several years so if there is a problem or I have any questions about the repair, he should be able to answer them.

I was stunned silent for about half a second then informed Office Gal that my oven was the very first one that Mr. Mover had ever disconnected and he had to write down instructions for himself to reconnect it. Mr. Mover is clearly not capable of answering any appliance related questions other than, "Can you move it a little to the left, please?"

I mean that with kindness and respect...or as much respect as I can muster for a tax-evader. He moves stuff. That's his skill set. Period.

Office Gal conferred with Bob some more then called me back. She said if there was a problem they wouldn't take the oven back to the appliance store where they bought it. And by 'appliance store' I mean 'shady warehouse with no address'. Instead they would send out their appliance repairman. ABC manages apartment complexes as well as houses so they have certain repair-people that they call on regularly. I was fine with that. Then she said that Bob would like to talk to Mr. Mover and asked if I would have him call when got there.

Okie dokie artichokie.

Mr. Mover and his assistant showed up and started maneuvering the oven into the foyer.

MR. MOVER: Did they tell you what happened?

ME: No.

MR. MOVER: They plugged in the oven and it worked just fine. There was nothing wrong with it.

ME: I had a feeling you were going to say that.

I could actually feel the blood vessels bursting inside my brain but I didn't have time to deal with an aneurism. I had a murder to plan. I just hadn't quite narrowed down my victim.

I don't think I explained the actual problem with the oven last time. I'll need to do that now so that the rest of the story will make sense. The original oven, which was probably installed when the house was built 20 years ago, was a white Jenn-Air wall oven that matched the white Jenn-Air stove on the kitchen island. Some kind of switch went bad on it and replacement parts were no longer available so that's why I had to get a whole new oven. When I found this out, I told Office Gal that I realize I can't really tell them what to buy or how much to spend, but if it is at all possible I would like a newer (not necessarily brand new) version of the same...a white Jenn-Air. That way all of the kitchen appliances would still match. And from past experience I know that if I don't at least try to request something appropriate, they will show up with an avocado green thrift store scratch & dent. That's what slumlords do.

Office Gal was very excited to find this white Jenn-Air wall oven. It's just the right size and even though it isn't a brand new model it had never been used. It sounded great to me until she told me she got it for $800. New ones cost several thousand dollars. I knew there had to be something wrong with it but Office Gal said it was in great shape so that's what we got.

I was out of town when the oven was installed but when I got home I could see we were going to have trouble eventually but I didn't think it would be so soon. I think it's true that the oven has never been used. I also think it's true that it fell off a truck. Both figuratively and literally. The metal frame that holds the door in place is bent and chewed up and the finish along the top of the control panel has had the enameling touched up at some point. This oven has seen some drama. Once I cleaned out all the spider egg sacs and turned it on, I was surprised that it actually appeared to be working properly.

Sort of.

It is a convection oven where you can choose to bake like in any other normal oven or you can use the convection/bake or convection/roast options. If those options are chosen, you enter in the temperature you want and the oven will automatically reduce it by 25 degrees and the convection fan will come on and run while you're cooking. The fan blows hot air around inside the oven and makes food cook faster and more evenly. If you open the oven door during the convection cycle, the fan should immediately shut off then will turn itself back on after you close the door. When you finish cooking and turn off the oven, the convection fan turns off as well.

At least that's what's supposed to happen according to the owner's manual that I downloaded because naturally the 'appliance store' didn't provide one. The convection cycles did seem to be working correctly except that the fan didn't shut off like it's supposed to when the door is opened. The main problem is that the convection fan was (and still is) blowing during the regular bake cycle. And even though it's blowing air, the fan itself is not spinning. So we're all convection, all the time which can make for some awfully dried out chocolate chip cookies. After we're finished baking and turn the oven completely off, the convection fan (which should never have been running in the first place) continues to run for sometimes up to an hour. With the oven OFF.

Do we all agree that the oven isn't working properly? Yes it's working but it's not working like it should. It comes with options for bake, broil, clean, convection/bake, convection/roast, keep warm, yadda, yadda, yadda. I expect all of those options to work like they should. The fact that you turn on the oven and it gets hot, isn't good enough. I pay enough rent to have an oven that functions properly on all its cycles.

Bob disagreed and at that point, I had narrowed down my victim.

Mr. Mover pulled out his handy dandy cheat sheet that he'd made the last time he was here and he reconnected the oven. I asked him to just sit tight while I test it out. I explained how it was supposed to work...that during the bake cycle there shouldn't be any kind of fan running. Even Mr. Mover understood that and said, "Oh well if that's the case then it still don't work right."

I turned on the regular bake cycle and set it for 350. When it hit 300 degrees the convection fan started blowing. Mr. Mover called Bob as requested and explained to him that the oven fan was still blowing when it shouldn't be. When Bob started yelling, Mr. Mover got nervous and obviously didn't know what to do so he handed me his cell phone.

ME: Bob?


ME: Well, it's not working now. The fan...


ME: What's wrong with it is that the fan came on. It's not supposed to come on during the bake cycle, only the convection cycles. Did you read my email? I was very specific about what the problem was.

BOB: I read it, I couldn't even understand all that convection nonsense!

ME: The fan isn't supposed to run during the bake cycle. Only the convection cycle. If you heard the fan running, then the oven is working right.

BOB: Well maybe they tested it on the convection cycle while I was there.

ME: Maybe so, but it still doesn't bake.



I always believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt so I'm going to assume that the cell service was to blame and that Bob didn't actually just hang up on me. I handed Mr. Mover his cell phone and told him we lost the connection. He immediately started trying to call Bob back.

A few minutes later he got through and as soon as I heard Bob's voice coming through the cell phone, Mr. Mover didn't even say a word to him he just stretched out his arm and handed me the phone.

BOB: We'll just have our appliance man come out there and take a look.

ME: Okay, so can I expect that call on Monday?

BOB: Well I don't know about that.

ME: Then just some time next week?

BOB: Whenever I can get around to it.

ME: Okay. ... By the way, I've asked Office Gal for the name and address of the property owners two different times and she still hasn't given it to me.

BOB: She can't legally give that out.

ME: Actually she's required by law to disclose it at my request.

BOB: I don't even know if I have it, I'm not sure where they're living....

ME: They're living in (insert state here) and their names are (insert names here).

BOB: Well if you already knew why did you ask for it??

ME: Mainly out of respect. I didn't want to sneak around behind your back, I wanted you to know that I intend to contact them.


ME: Okay.


I really didn't intend to contact the homeowners right away but Bob said to so I figured I might as well. I've known their name and address since we first moved in here. Property tax information is available to the public and most states have it online. And I wasn't bluffing about the information disclosure thing. If he fails to provide me with that information in 8 days, I can sue him for one month's rent plus $100 in addition to court costs and attorney's fees.

That man has no idea who he's dealing with. I'm a Googler, dammit!

I would never sue him for that, especially since I already got what I needed. What I didn't have was the homeowner's phone number and I didn't think I'd be able to find it. Strangely enough it was easily available with a simple Google search. I took that a sign that I should call them. So I did.

What an enlightening conversation we had! I was actually expecting it to be a little difficult because about 2 weeks ago Bob and I had a chat about the homeownwers while he was here taking pictures of the siding that needs to be replaced because the HOA sends us a nasty-gram about it at least once a month. Bob said that some homeowners are easier to work with than others and these homeowners are by far the most difficult he's ever had to work with. He wasn't sure if they were having financial trouble or if they just didn't care about the house but they didn't want to pay for anything. That made a lot of sense and I just assumed that was why we had been getting the bare minimum when it comes to repairs and every single service person they send out here would away run screaming like a girl if I happened to utter the words "green card". I've never trusted Bob from day 1 but after that conversation I really did think that maybe the owners sort of had him over a barrel and he was doing the best he could.

It turns out, that's not the case. Mr. Homeowner was just as nice as he could be. I apologized for calling him and assured him I would never do that unless I felt I had no other option. He was very understanding and said he didn't mind at all, he was happy to hear from me. He said he's heard nothing but good things about us, he knows we are excellent tenants and he wants to keep us for as long as he can so his goal is to just make sure we're happy.


So we talked some more. We talked about the oven. Mr. Homeowner said he understood I had requested a specific type of oven. I told him that was true. I realize I can't pick and choose these things but I felt like it would be wise to replace the oven with an updated version of the old one so that the appliances would still match. Mr. Homeowner said that was fine with him and he had instructed Bob to get whatever it takes to make me happy.

So we talked some more. We talked about some of the repairs that had been done in the past and I was very careful not to turn the conversation in to a Bob-bashing event. I could see that Mr. Homeowner relies on Bob a great deal to take care of his property and he trusts Bob. In fact he called him a 'straight-shooter'.

When he said that I swear to you I had an out of body experience where I was projected back to the old West and Me and Bob were havin' a showdown. Turns out Bob's not such a straight shooter after all cuz in my little mini day dream I hit him right between the eyes before he had a chance to draw.

So we talked some more. Mr. Homeowner mentioned the sprinkler system and asked if we were happy with that. Before I could answer he talked about how dry it is in the area where they live and they put in a sophisticated system that has a moisture sensor that can detect when your lawn needs water and when it doesn't. He said it saves them a lot of unnecessary watering and keeps the yard perfect. He said they're really not that much more than a regular irrigation system and that's what requested that Bob install at our house. Then he asked again how we liked it.

I told him that Bob didn't install a new system at the house. There was sort of a homemade system already here and all he did was repair it so I hope he didn't pay Bob for a whole new system. Mr. Homeowner assured me that Bob provides him with receipts for everything and he couldn't remember the exact details but asked again if we were happy with it. I told him that it needs frequent repairs but overall it gets the job done.

At that moment I knew that what I had expected from the very beginning is most like what is actually going on. I believe that Bob is giving Mr. Homeowner phony receipts. He hires illegals almost exclusively and since he pays them in cash they probably don't mind at all putting any number he wants on their receipt. Or, more likely, they let him fill it out himself because none of them speak English. He gives Mr. Homeowner a receipt for $2000, the job actually cost him $800 and he pockets the difference.

I struggled with whether or not to come right out and tell Mr. Homeowner what I suspected but in the end I decided to go with my instincts. When we talked about repairs I answered honestly without blatantly throwing Bob under the bus since Mr. Homeowner was holding tight to his 'straight shooter' fantasy. I have a lot of information I could have shared with him but decided the person I need to share with is Bob.

One thing Mr. Homeowner said that I found very interesting is that from his point of view, Bob's job is to make us (the tenants) happy. He said that as long as we're happy, he's happy. I told him that at the end of the oven situation Bob was definitely not happy with me. In fact he was angry, which I didn't understand because I'm not the one who bought a broken oven. I told Mr. Homeowner that I was worried that maybe he was upset with Bob about the expense and that anger was trickling down through Bob to me. Mr. Homeowner had no idea there was a problem with the new oven and said that was absolutely NOT the case, and he was very emphatic about it. He said that naturally he expects Bob to shop for a good price when we need service but he wants us to be happy. Then he said, "I want you to have whatever kind of oven you want, within reason of course. If you're used to using a convection combo oven and that's what you want, then that's what you should have. We just want want you to be happy".

Again with the 'we just want you to be happy' thing. Over and over again. It is very obvious that one of these two men is an outright liar and my money is on Bob.

At the end of our conversation Mr. Homeowner said that he was going to call Bob right then to make sure that he did whatever it takes to make us happy because he wants to keep us as tenants. I thanked him profusely and promised to never bother him again unless it was really important and I felt like this was something that could have easily spiraled out of control. I reminded him about our time zone difference and he agreed it would be best to talk to Bob tomorrow.

Tomorrow is today. I haven't heard from Bob and I really don't expect that I will until Monday when Office Gal calls to tell me the appliance repairman is swamped and can't make it out until next week. Or something. Whatever. All I know is that first thing Monday morning I will be making an appointment to visit Bob at his office. We need to talk.

I intend to tell him that these 'difficult' homeowners seem hell bent on making us happy and I was told that it's his job to make that happen. I will tell him that I expect our oven to be completely repaired and if that's not possible I expect it to be replaced with the oven of my choice. I expect all future service calls to be handled by professionals who are licensed, bonded and/or insured. If he sends another illegal to my house I won't answer the door I will just call INS. If anything in or around the house has to be replaced, I will choose the replacement item. Of course everything is subject to Mr. Homeowner's approval but from now on we're doing things right.

I will also tell him that Mr. Homeowner asked how I was enjoying the brand new sprinkler system that I didn't get. I will let him know that from now on Mr. Homeowner gets what he pays for. Because it's his job to make me happy. And that makes me happy.

If Bob dares to even try to push back on anything I will let him know that he'll be getting 3 phone calls in the not too distant future: one from the IRS, one from INS, and one from Mr. Homeowner. I feel sure that Bob has excellent records with all the receipts he's given to Mr. Homeowner over the years. But if someone should happen to try to subpoena those service people for their records so they can verify that the receipt Bob gave to Mr. Homeowner is the same as the receipt the service person gave to Bob...they're going to have to drive to Juarez to do it.

I really hope this is the end of a 3-year long nightmare. We love our house, we treat it as if we own it and have put thousands of dollars of our own money into maintaining it over the years. All this time Bob had me under the impression that Mr. Homeowner had him over a barrel and it was his job to make him happy. And that's true. But what he didn't say is that Mr. Homeowner is happy when we're happy.

I think it's poetic justice that Bob is actually over that barrel now. So what do I intend to do with my dangling Bob? Well...Mr. Homeowner said that he's happy when we're happy so I intend to make him ecstatic!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Just Want To Heat Up A Frozen Pizza, For Pete's Sake

Our oven broke a while back and after several weeks of being ovenless our property management company (who I normally refer to as our 'slumlords' but instead let's just call them ABC) finally replaced it...with one that doesn't work right either.

After a week of nagging, today they finally called and said they spoke with the appliance company they bought it from and it's still under their warranty so they will repair it. But the company doesn't do on site repairs so ABC will send someone over to pick it up and take it to them.

After I finished laughing hysterically and confirming that I had heard her correctly I said fine, whatever it takes. I was instructed to pay the moving company whatever fee they charge and then deduct the charges from our next rent check.

The movers show up, slightly confused as to exactly why they were here, so I showed them the oven and told them they are supposed to take it to the appliance repair place.

MR. MOVER: Uh, do you know how to disconnect it?

ME: (Incredulous) No I don't know how to disconnect it!

MR. MOVER: Well who hooked it up?

ME: The appliance store that ABC bought it from.

Mr. Mover and his assistant discussed the situation and felt like they could probably handle the task. He asked if I knew where the breaker box is. I pointed him in the right direction and told him that the breaker for the oven was marked on the box.

Once the power was off he pulled the oven out of the wall, examined the connection, and conferred with his assistant:

MR. MOVER: Oh I see...This shouldn't be too hard...Let's try this...Yeah, okay, I can do this. Excuse me, ma'am, do you have a piece of paper and a pen?

I handed him the paper and pen that he used to write down the instructions for how to reconnect the oven, I presume. I told him I wasn't feeling too good about this whole thing. He just smiled and said he'd never done this before.

He asked if ABC had left payment for him and I told him that we would take care of it and I would need a receipt. He said the charge is $50.

While Mr. Mover and his assistant loaded the oven into their truck I wrote out a check payable to the company name on the side of their truck. He came back inside and handed me the receipt. I handed him the check:

MR. MOVER: Oh we normally don't take checks.

Me: Excuse me?

MR. MOVER: Yeah, if you want to write me a check you have to make it out to (insert real name here) and add $7 cuz that's what the bank will charge me to cash it.

Me: Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME??!!!???

MR. MOVER: Uh, no ma'am. I'm sorry about that but you see I don't have a bank account and Chase will charge me $7 but if I go to Wells Fargo they want $8 and blah blah blah blah.

Me: (Eyes closed, nostrils flaring and firmly holding the palm of my hand up to his face to indicate that he should immediately stop speaking, breathing, and doing anything else that I might find even remotely annoying.)

I asked Jayson if he had $50 in cash on him and between the 2 of us we were able to pay Mr. Mover's fee in cash since he doesn't have a bank account which means he doesn't pay taxes so I'm pretty sure he's not licensed, bonded or insured and I just let him into my house and showed him how to unlatch the other side of our double front doors. Fabulous.


TAYLOR: Who were you yelling at earlier?

ME: I wasn't yelling. I was just speaking firmly to the guys who picked up the oven.

TAYLOR: They sounded scared. I think you scared them.

ME: At this point...I. Don't. Care.

Friday, November 08, 2013

A Shell Of A Woman Playing Quarters With The D

**WARNING: Look away if you can't handle gross body functions, 
disgusting hospital procedures or my mother.**

Humor is my coping mechanism. If I suffer a mild trauma I can usually see the humorous side of it almost immediately but more severe traumatic experiences could take years.

I recently suffered a trauma at the hands of my mother (Who hasn't, right?) and I'm just now able to talk about it. I have shared it with some family and a few close friends who asked that I never speak of it again. I reminded them of my life's motto: If I have to live it, you have to hear about it.

Around the first of October my mother (let's call her...."Mom") went into the hospital to have an endoscopic procedure done on her esophagus to help with some swallowing issues. During that procedure the surgeon, who has been out of medical school for all of 10 minutes, accidentally cut a 1/4" hole in her esophagus with the laser. The esophagus is only 1" in diameter so 1/4" is comparatively huge. However, he felt sure that if she stayed NPO for 7 more days the hole would just seal up on its own and save her from having to endure another more invasive surgery.

My sister and I knew this probably wasn't going to happen but we couldn't exactly force him to do surgery on her when he felt it wasn't necessary so I drove home to stay with Mom for what I thought would be a couple of days. Since my sister lives in the same town with Mom she bears the burden of all the caregiving so I was glad to be able to give her a break. For a couple of days. That was my plan.

My home for 10 days.
My sister ended up with a nasty case of bronchitis which resulted in me sleeping on a cot in my mother's hospital room for 9 nights. I didn't leave the hospital for 10 days, 9 nights. I spent 9 NIGHTS locked in a hospital room with my mother. Don't get me wrong, I love my mom. But I was there only a matter of hours before I became a shell of a woman. Moms will do that to you.

I didn't mind getting up every 2 hours to help Mom to the bathroom since she couldn't very well lower the bed railing, unplug her IV machines, and haul herself to the potty after just having surgery. Not to mention the fact that she had an NG tube down her nose which is not only unpleasant but ended up wreaking all kinds of havoc on us both.

When I first got there I discovered that during the night she would call a nurse to help her instead of waking me up. I thought the whole reason I was there was to help her with things like this so when I woke up one night and found a nurse helping her to the bathroom I asked Mom about it:

ME: Why didn't you wake me up?

MOM: Cuz it's not your job to take me to the bathroom.

ME: But that's why I'm here.

MOM: No, I need you here just to be here now go back to sleep.

So I went back to sleep. It wasn't long before I got into her rhythm and started automatically waking up around 2 a.m. then again at 4 a.m. cuz I knew she would need to go. One night my internal alarm failed to go off and the night nurse failed to respond to Mom's call button. I woke up just in time to see Mom bolting out of bed, yanking the IV machine plugs out of the wall and sprinting to the bathroom like Florence Griffith Joyner with her hair on fire. After that I didn't worry so much about helping her to the bathroom even though she continued to lean on me and wobble as if she could barely take a step on her own. I knew better.

I learned a lot during my stay with Mom. She doesn't have a low pain tolerance, she has no pain tolerance at all. She cried and carried on as if she was having an amputation without anesthetic when the nurse had to move her IV. I discovered that I have no tolerance for people with no pain tolerance. Mom can't help it, I understand that, but...okay no I don't understand it. Pain is one of those abstract subjective things that I just can't wrap my brain around so I did my best to roll my eyes as quietly as I could while I patted and soothed her.

As expected, the hole in Mom's esophagus didn't heal on its own so Doogie Howser had to cut through her neck to fix it. When the anesthesiologist came in to talk to Mom before the surgery I realized he had gone to school with me and my sister:

ME: Oh hey, I haven't seen you since we played quarters in your dorm room freshman year.

SISTER: YOU played quarters, I would never have done such a thing. (I didn't say it out loud but we both knew that while I was drinking illegally she was getting into a lot worse trouble!)

MOM: What's quarters? You didn't take anything off did you??!!

I think Mom had her surgery after that but I can't be sure since mortification caused me to project myself into another plane of existence that I like to call my happy place.

Mom made me take a picture of her PICC line and send to my sister because Mom wanted confirmation that it was in the right place.
For the next couple of days after her surgery, Mom stayed pretty out of it (my personal thanks to the makers of Ativan and Dilaudid). They were unable to get her NG tube back in place after surgery so she had a PICC line put in for intravenous nutrition. Fortunately there wasn't any drama during that procedure since I made sure she got her meds just shortly before.  

I spent the next couple of days changing Mom's bandage every few hours because her incision had a drain tube and she couldn't tolerate it when there was neck juice on the bandage.

I would frequently ask Mom if there was anything she needed and she would frequently reply with, "My ice melted, I need some more. I need a bigger cup. My feet are cold. Can you scratch my back? Why is it so cold in here? Do my stitches look okay? Why does it still hurt? Is it time for my Dilaudid? I'm nauseous. Raise my head. No, that's too much. Now back the other way. Do I have to wear the bubbles on my legs? Do they have softer pillows? I'm freezing I need more blankets. That's too many, fold that one at my feet. Why do I need oxygen? I have to go to the bathroom. Can you brush my hair? I'm still nauseous. I need more Kleenex. I need a fresh swab. Where's the Chapstick? Will you put lotion on my legs? Why is it so hot in here? My ice melted again..." Rinse and repeat daily.

The nutrition stuff they had been giving Mom through her NG tube gave her tummy issues and when they switched to the intravenous stuff those issues just got worse. She stayed constantly nauseated and had really bad diarrhea, which at my house we call "The D" because my daughter thinks the word 'diarrhea' is more disgusting than the act itself.

So Mom had The D. And she had it bad.We've all had The D at one time or another and we all know it's unpleasant, right? And we've all experienced the uhhh....very unpleasant burning sensation which often accompanies severe cases of The D. It's not fun, it's painful, and it usually doesn't go away until The D goes away.

Mom swore that her hiney hole was on fire worse than anyone else's in history. She cried crocodile tears as she described it with words like 'scalding', 'raw', 'ruined', 'flaming', etc. I went to the nurse's station to get some barrier cream and was horrified to see that the nurse on duty was the one who moved Mom's IV which hurt so badly that she refused to let the nurse come near her again and called her "That Red Headed Devil Woman". I knew that for the nurse's own safety I would have to be the one to apply the barrier cream to my mother's scalded nether region.

I cursed my sister (who is a nurse) for having bronchitis, snapped on 2 pairs of rubber gloves (because boxing gloves wouldn't have been thick enough), then hauled my whining mother to the bathroom for the event that would scar me for life.

I told myself that my mother was in pain and she needed me to do this for her. I thought Mom might be more comfortable having me do it instead of a nurse since it's a rather personal thing. Then I thought that maybe because it's a rather personal thing she might prefer to have a nurse do it so I asked her. She informed me that she didn't care who did it. Then she dropped trou, grabbed the edge of the bathroom sink and bent over.

I put some of the barrier cream on my heavily gloved finger tip then gently patted Mom's hip and said, "Okay, I'm going in."

"Going in" wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. My mom is a big girl. I mean this with all the love and respect in the world when I say there was so much butt flesh to wade through that I'm really not sure I ever hit pay dirt. I really could have used at least 2 more sets of hands just to help corral the extra cheekage. When I moved one cheek out of the way, the other one filled the space. I couldn't separate the butt cheeks with one hand cuz all the extra flesh just closed up around it and my hand disappeared. I did my best to apply the cream to the "affected area" and it did make her feel better so I guess I got close enough.

It's bad enough to have to go through a life changing trauma like that once....but I had to do it after every single episode of The D, which lasted for several days. I tried to tell myself that nurses do this kind of thing all the time, it's no big deal. But it was a big deal for me. A big, fleshy, traumatizing deal. I actually longed to be back on neck juice maintenance if it meant not having to doctor my mom's backside anymore. When I was telling a friend about this horrific trauma that I had to endure, he suggested that next time I should use Gold Bond Powder. All you have to do is step back, aim it in the general direction, then give the bottle a firm squeeze and the stuff will shoot out towards its destination. Like fireplace bellows. Now I know.

Eventually Mom's tummy settled down but after being on IV antibiotics for almost 2 weeks she got the inevitable yeast infection. One evening I requested Diflucan for her but when the nurse came in she said that it doesn't come IV form and since Mom was still NPO her only option was a Monistat vaginal suppository, which she held up like it was Excalibur.

I told her that would be fine then I kissed Mom's forehead, told her goodnight, put in my earplugs, curled up on my cot and went to my happy place.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Many Shannons Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

It only takes one. But it takes her over an hour to do it.

I know, bad pic. I'm too lazy to take a good one.
I was cleaning Chad & Jamie's room so they can use it this weekend and noticed the bulb in the ceiling fan needed to be replaced. The only bulb I had was one of those eco-friendly twisty ones which I figured would work just fine. I put in the twisty bulb, flipped the switch, nothing. I grabbed another bulb which was a GE Reveal that I usually save for lamps but just wanted to see if I was having a bulb issue or a ceiling fan issue.

Evidently I was having an idiot issue. As I was trying out the Reveal bulb it dawned on me that I didn't pull the chain on the fan to make sure the light was on. I had just flipped the wall switch which will only work if the chain is pulled to the 'on' position. Sure enough, I pulled the chain and the light came on. I dug the old bulb out of the trash thinking that maybe it wasn't burned out after all but it rattled when I shook it so I told myself I wasn't a complete idiot for changing it. I was just a partial one.

I put the twisty bulb back in the fan's fixture so I could save my Reveal bulb for a more worthy lighting source. The ceiling fan globe was all dusty and had a couple of dead bug bodies inside so I took this opportunity to wash the globe and wipe down the fan blades. After the globe was all nice and clean and dry I went to put it back on the fan and the bulb hit the bottom of the globe before the top of the globe reached the screws. I forgot that some of those twisty bulbs are longer than regular bulbs so the globe would no longer fit on the fan.

Ideally I would just go buy the right size bulb but that seemed wasteful since I already had a working bulb in place and we're not exactly in a position to be buying light bulbs all willy nilly. I dug through the basket of light fixture globes that we all have sitting in our garage, right? Don't ask. I found a lovely antique clear one that was taller than the original globe but the opening was the same size so I figured it would work. I brought it inside, washed it out, shined it up and took it upstairs to put on the fan.

My fan is similar to this but not as fancy. And with fewer blades.
I was rewarded with a "clink" as once again the bulb hit the globe before the globe reached the fixture. I went back out to the garage to reassess my options. They looked limited since most of the larger globes also had larger openings which I wasn't sure would fit the fixture. In a stroke of genius I decided to measure the diameter of the opening which would save me a lot of running up and down the stairs trying to find a fixture that fit. I was so proud of myself but my pride deflated somewhat as the tape measure reached less than half way across the opening before hitting the socket. No, I didn't consider the socket when I had the diameter-measuring-epiphany, thank you very much.

I measured from the edge of the opening to the edge of the socket, multiplied by 2, added in the estimated diameter of the socket (I could have gotten an exact measurement for that had I thought to remove the bulb but it never crossed my mind either.), then went back downstairs armed with a number that did me absolutely no good whatsoever. According to my measurement, the globe I took off the fan shouldn't have fit in the first place.

I ditched my faulty measurements, grabbed one of the longer globes, took it inside then had another stroke of genius and decided to stick one of the twisty bulbs inside the globe to make sure it fit before hauling it upstairs. I was pleased to find that it fit all the way down quite nicely. I thought it might be smart to take the globe upstairs to make sure the opening was the right size. But the globe was really dirty and I didn't want it dusting up my clean room so I took a leap of faith.

I put the globe in the sink to wash it out and heard water running upstairs so I waited for Jayson to get out of the shower so I wouldn't have to hear him whine about how I scalded him half to death. Finally I took my clean globe upstairs, put it in the ceiling fan fixture, and found that it barely fit. I don't care about the barely part, it fit and that's what matters.

I put the original globe in my basket 'o globes then sat down with a cool drink, exhausted from my light bulb changing ordeal. I do need to finish cleaning my house but I also need to put a new roll of toilet paper in the holder in the downstairs bathroom and at the rate I'm going that might eat up the rest of my day.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Agony and The Irony

I have recently discovered, much to my surprise, that I'm a city girl. I grew up in an average size town of about 100,000 people and was content to spend the rest of my days there. It never occurred to me that after I got married we might end up having to move somewhere else but that's exactly what happened.

After spending 37 years in the same town we moved to Lafayette, Louisiana where we spent the next 8 years. Lafayette is about double the size of my hometown but still not a big city. We were comfortable and content there but as fate would have it Jayson was offered a better position in his company which required us to move to Houston.

Being the 4th largest city in the U.S., Houston was completely out of my comfort zone. I had always thought I would hate living in a big city with millions of people, insane traffic, and hour long commutes. Much to my surprise, I find that I actually prefer it. Of course we live in the 'burbs but I  love having quick access to a large metropolitan area where there is always something to do or see.

Shortly before we moved to Houston, one of Jayson's coworkers (let's call him Bob) had already relocated here. About a year later Bob took a different position with the company and ended up moving his family back to Lafayette. Then a few months ago Bob was let go which is just part and parcel for this economy. Fortunately he was able to find another job and he moved his family to Snyder, Texas.

I've been to Snyder, several times in fact. Actually I've been *through* Snyder several times. I can't imagine why anyone would ever stop there on purpose. I don't mean to offend those who live in or love Snyder, it's just a very small town and not my personal preference for a place to live.

When Jayson told me about Bob's relocation I asked about his job because I couldn't imagine what kind of opportunities there would be in a town of 11,000 people. I imagined Bob might be working the drive through at the Dairy Queen. Then I thought about his family and what they would do. Would they take a family outing to the Scurry County Museum or the public library? Or would they treat themselves to a movie at Cinema Snyder which boasts TWO whole screens, and is open SIX days a week?!

For all their shopping needs Snyder has its very own Walmart. Should they require a mall, Snyder is conveniently located just 90 miles from Lubbock, Midland, San Angelo and Abilene whose malls might not have a Sephora but they all have a Radio Shack AND a Sears, by gosh.

Okay so I made fun of living in Snyder. Bob and his family may love it and I truly hope they do, but I'm fairly certain that if I had to live there I would slowly shrivel up and die. Do they have wifi there? Or are they proud of being conveniently located just 90 miles away from 4 different sources of wifi? Frightening thought.

The universe has a funny way of slapping you upside the head sometimes. Jayson was recently "let go" just like Bob was and is searching for a new job after spending the past 19 years with the same company. He's applied for over 20 different jobs in the past two weeks and talked to numerous recruiters but he's only had one interview and it was a phone interview that lasted less than 2 minutes. He was starting to feel a little discouraged until a company contacted him and asked him to come in for an interview. Do you care to guess where that company is located?

Snyder, Texas.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

AT&T Thinks I'm a Perv

I have decided that the time you spend on the phone with service people, tech support, etc. should be measured in something similar to dog years. Yesterday I spent a combined total of about an hour on the phone with AT&T but it felt like 7 years.

Jayson's previous employer let him keep his cell phone after they fired him cuz they are just generous like that. They released his number so we could add it to our personal account. I called AT&T to ask how to do that and the nice lady sent me a link for the website, told me what to do and said that if I do it online it's free but if they have to do it for us over the phone they will charge us $18. I'm all about free, especially now.

I went to the website, followed her instructions and got one error message after another. Then I decided to actually read the email that the ex-employer sent when they released the phone and saw that they gave a different AT&T number to call for the transfer.

I called that number, told the gal what I was trying to do and how important it was that I do it for free. She was able to see that I did try to do it through the website but what I need to do can't be done online so she offered to do it for free.

Apparently when you have a phone that was previously on a global corporate account you can't just transfer that number to your personal family account. This makes no sense to me, I'm just telling you what she said. She said that in order for us to keep Jayson's same phone number, I would have to close out our current AT&T account and open a new one. Nothing would change except our account number. She would transfer our current phones from the old account to the new one and then add Jayson's number to our family plan. We'd keep our rollover minutes and everything would stay the same. All I would have to do is go to the AT&T website to create a new online account if I want to access our stuff online.

It still made no sense to me why it had to be done this way but apparently it does so I sat back and let her do it. The process took 30 minutes, I kid you not. In case you don't believe me I've included unnecessary photographic proof. The gal kept saying she was waiting on the computer to open the new account, transfer one number, transfer the next number, add the new one, finish processing, etc. I really thought AT&T's computers would be faster. I wanted to ask the gal if her computer was a 286 or 386 but figured she probably wasn't old enough to even understand what I was making fun of.

I dangled that participle on purpose because sometimes proper grammar just sounds stupid.

After the excruciatingly long wait, the AT&T gal said that all 3 phones had been successfully added to the new account, there would be no charge and now all I needed to do was set up a new online account.

Great, problem solved. I went to the AT&T website and began the process of setting up a new online account. Since our old account had been closed I tried to use my old user name but apparently the account wasn't closed enough to let me do that. I always use my own name as my user name whenever possible because it's one of the few names I have a chance of actually remembering.

Since Shannon Green is a fairly common name it gets snatched up fast on large websites. When this happens I do have a backup name that I use: shannnongreeen. That name is always available so I typed it in then stared at my screen in stunned disbelief when a big red error message popped up saying that I was not allowed to use profanity in any part of my user name. I shrugged it off thinking it was a glitch and retyped it. Again I got chastised for trying to use profanity in my user name. I still can't figure out what part of shannnongreeen is profane but now I'm all worried that AT&T thinks I'm a perv. Anyway I chose another one that I had to write down in half a dozen places so I wouldn't forget it.

Once that was done I logged in to my new account to make sure that everything was there like it was supposed to be. I figured the computer took so long to transfer everything because it was moving all of our history from the old account to the new one. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that's not the case at all. The new account does have all 3 phones on our family plan like they should be but there is no usage history for any of the phones. There is a little message that says since this account is new it could take 3-5 days for our usage history to show up.

I was wrong to make fun of AT&T for having a 386 computer. Apparently they're still using a Commodore 64. Bless their hearts.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pocketbook Pleasing Pit Perspiration Prevention

Do you like to save money? I sure do. I like to save on my necessities as much as possible so I can use that savings on fun stuff.

Within the past year or so my family switched to the new clinical strength antiperspirant/deodorants in order to combat the massive amount of pit sweat that comes with living in a humid environment.

Two of our favorites are from Gillette and Secret. They both contain a whopping 20% of aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly, the active ingredient. At an average cost of about $9 each, depending on the size, that's a lot of pampering for our pits.

During my last shopping trip where pit wipe was on my list, I decided to do a little comparison of these products to see if the extra expense was actually worth it.

I picked at least one of every brand available at my store and looked at the ingredient label. I found that the percentage of active ingredients in regular antiperspirant/deodorants varied from around 16% to 19%, with one exception.

Mitchum Advanced Control for men and for women each contain 20% of aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly. That's the same ingredient and percentage found in our current clinical strength brands. However, the Mitchum brand cost between $3-4 each as compared to $9 for the same size container of clinical strength.

Why isn't Mitchum advertising the crap out of this?! Their product is HALF the price of the clinical strength ones but contains the exact same active ingredient. Maybe they are advertising it and I'm just not aware. I don't watch much TV.

I tossed the Mitchum brands into my cart and brought them home, already planning how I might use the almost $10 I had just saved on armpit maintenance. Jayson hasn't tried his yet but Taylor tried the women's version and is convinced it works even better than Secret Clinical.

If you're buying clinical strength pit wipe for the added protection it provides, consider trying Mitchum if you want that same protection for half the price. I don't work for Mitchum, they don't even know I exist. This is just my personal opinion based on my experience.

I should say that most clinical strength products recommend you apply it at night so that it can form its protective barrier while you sleep. Then the protection is supposed to last through the next day. We use ours in the morning and find that it works just fine.

You should also know that the aluminum in antiperspirant/deodorant products has been linked to breast cancer, Alzheimer's, and renal dysfunction which is something to consider if you freak out about that kind of thing. I really don't.

Mitchum will make your armpits happy as well as your family budget. Everybody wins.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Texas, Public Information, Telemarketers and Singing Butt Monkeys

Dear State of Texas,

You have disappointed and irritated me today. Since I am a native daughter, disappointment and irritation at my beloved state are rare and unpleasant feelings for me which could result in a lot of local stink eye. These stink eye inducing feelings are compounded by the fact that I'm not exactly sure where to direct my irritation because you were unable to tell me. Which irritates me even more.

Last week I applied for a sales tax permit so that I can peddle my wares at local craft shows. I haven't even received my official permit in the mail yet but I'm already receiving an unusually large amount of annoying automated telemarketing calls congratulating me on my new business and offering me everything from free credit card machines to discounted computers. By "unusually large amount" I mean 9 calls within the past 2 hours. I can ignore 3 calls in 2 hours but 9???

Confused as to how this could happen in such a short time, I decided to give you a call. I wasn't exactly sure who to call so I called a hotline number for questions regarding the Public Information Act. You don't actually get to speak to a person when you call that hotline, you only get to leave a message. Which doesn't really make it a hotline now does it? It's more of a luke warm line bordering on a cold line. 

I left a message and shortly thereafter a very grouchy man with the Attorney General's office returned my call. I started explaining my concern to him which I think he only half listened to since he was more focused on telling me that he didn't know anything and I needed to call the Comptroller's Office instead. Then he went on and on about how the Comptroller doesn't make their number prominent enough on the website which he speculated was so they could avoid receiving annoying calls like mine. He didn't actually say my call was "annoying" but he didn't have to. His thoughts were clear. I'm not sure who this man was since all he said was that he's "with the Attorney General's office" but I don't think Greg Abbott would be happy knowing that he's being represented in such a way. When I hung up I was left feeling like the whole Attorney General's office is just one big jerk.

I called the Comptroller's office and was redirected to the Open Records office. A nice lady in that office explained to me that my permit application is considered public information and is posted on this website which is updated weekly. She did confirm that my phone number was not a part of that website and for those companies to get my number they would have to make a written request. 

After talking to her I went to the website and saw that my application was posted today, May 6, 2013. I also saw that my phone number was not included in that information. Open Records Gal said companies had to request my phone number in writing. If that's the case, how were they able to do that and get my number in 1 day? I called her back to find out.

Open Records Gal was away from her desk so I started explaining my concerns to the gal who answered the phone. She said it was her understanding that there was a system in place where as soon as the sales tax permit information is released, it is automatically sent to certain companies, phone numbers and all, without them having to make a formal written request.

Okay, seriously?! For some reason they get to bypass the rules?? The Attorney General's website says that all requests must be submitted in writing. Section 552.223 of The Public Information Act clearly states that all requests for information will be treated uniformly regardless of who makes the request. That means there should be no exceptions, everyone makes the request in writing and pays whatever fees are associated with that request. If these telemarketing companies are abiding by government code, they are seeing my information, requesting it in writing from the Attorney General's office, receiving the requested information and calling me about it all in the same day.

And monkeys might fly outta my butt.

When I expressed my concern about this to the gal on the phone, she asked if I had been directed to the Privacy Officer who handles these situations. When I said no, she gave me the phone number which I immediately called.

The Privacy Officer gal was very nice and was, of course, not much help at all. She reconfirmed that all the information on my sales tax permit application was available as public information and was posted on a website. I told her that I have been to the website and I saw the information that was posted there and there were no phone numbers. When I told her what the last gal said about some companies automatically receiving public information as soon as it is available she said she thought that might be for marketing purposes, to see how much revenue is generated compared to the number of permits issued blah blah blah. The only "marketing" that applies to are the companies who are calling me, trying to get me to buy their junk.

When I asked the Privacy Officer who would be responsible for releasing this information or could confirm if this was actually happening, she had no idea. She's said she's just an attorney who handles privacy issues.

And monkeys wearing top hats singing "Puttin on The Ritz" might fly outta my butt. Sideways. 

Privacy Officer said I could remove my phone number from the public record. A day late and a dollar short. She took my email address and said that someone would email me with information on how exactly to go about that. I just received the email which included contact information for the people in File Maintenance who can remove my number.

Of course by now this whole thing has graduated from a bunch of annoying phone calls to a State-sanctioned violation of government code. The Chief Privacy Officer told me that my information was possibly being used for marketing purposes but the email I received from her office said this in the very first paragraph:
Our office does not sell or market taxpayer information to anyone. Under the Texas Public Information Act, however, a sales tax permit holder’s business name, address and telephone number provided on their permit application must be released to anyone who requests the information.
Liar, liar pants on fire. Or maybe not. If there is a reasonable explanation I would really like to hear it, Texas. Tell me you're not doing what I think you're doing. Call me. I'm sure you can find my number.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making Your Fruits and Veggies Happy

We've recently starting participating in Bountiful Baskets and as a result I've had to do some quick research on the best way to store fresh produce.

First of all let me say that so far I'm very happy with Bountiful Baskets. The fruits and vegetables are extremely fresh and delicious and I've estimated that we're getting about $20-$25 worth of produce for $15. I've not yet ventured out and tried some of the other things they offer but I will. If it's available in your area I recommend you give them a try.

Since we have a small family of 3, I end up with a lot more fresh produce than we can consume before it starts to go bad. I began to research the best way to store various items and discovered that everyone thinks their way is the best way. And it might be the best way...for them. So basically, you might have to try a couple of different methods to see which one you have the best luck with. I'll tell you what works for me.

I panicked a little when I saw the 2 large bunches of leaf lettuce in last week's basket. We like salad but I doubted we'd be able to choke down 2 whole heads before they went to the dark side.

My Google research showed that although several different methods were mentioned, the majority of people had the best luck with one method and it will work on any kind of lettuce you have.

You start with the freshest lettuce you can find. If your lettuce is already wilty, it won't really come back to life. Then you separate the lettuce leaves and toss out the icky ones. After that you wash them thoroughly and dry them. That's the trick. The lettuce leaves must be dry before you put them in the fridge. You can use a salad spinner if you have one or do like me and lay them out on towels and dab at them till they dry.

Then you lay out a long strip of paper towels, lay your leaves on the towels like I did in the picture, then start at one end and roll up the paper towel, leaves and all. It's like making a jelly roll with a paper towel and lettuce leaves instead of a cake. I know...cruel analogy.

Then you pop your lettuce doobie into a large Ziploc bag, squeeze the air out, zip it up and toss it in the fridge. Rumor has it your lettuce could last up to 2 weeks. I might believe it since the lettuce in the picture above is already 5 days old and is still as fresh and crisp as it was when I first got it.

Next I dealt with the 4 pounds of bananas we got in our basket. They were just the way we like them, not too green but no brown spots yet. I knew it could be just a matter of minutes before the brown spots appeared then none of us would eat them.

I asked my Facebook friends (who are all geniuses and know everything about everything...I love them) for banana recipes or suggestions. Several people recommended freezing them and gave me some tips on how to do that. Again, everyone has their own method and I tried a couple of different ones. I read somewhere that if you freeze the banana with the peel still on it won't turn brown as badly and they will last several months longer in your freezer.

I haven't yet tried any of the peel-on frozen bananas but I feel confident they will work just fine. Of course they will be used only for cooking and smoothies since freezing changes their texture.

My basket had a bunch of fresh celery and fortunately I already knew what to do with it since I'd tried this method before and it works great. You wash the celery and trim the ends then I go ahead and cut it into snack sized sticks since that's most likely the way we'll eat it.

Dry the celery off...again this is the key to keeping it fresh. Then wrap it with foil that is lined with a dry paper towel. You can also wrap it in a paper towel and put it in a Ziploc but the foil works better for me. Using this storage method I've had celery stay fresh for 2 weeks. It also works with broccoli.

Some people suggest putting your celery in a bowl of water in the fridge to keep it fresh. I've never done that just because it takes up extra fridge space but that's another method you can try.

I was very excited about the bag full of baby yellow bell peppers in my basket! I freeze and use bell peppers all the time so I knew what to do with them. I washed and seeded them, chopped them into chunks, then spread the chunks out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and popped it in the freezer.

After they froze I transferred the chunks to a Ziploc baggie where they will stay good for months. I use this same method for onions. If you flash freeze them in a single layer before putting them in the baggie, they won't stick together which makes them much easier to use. Otherwise you end up with a brick of onion chunks and you have a chisel off a piece just to use them.

Google taught me a strawberry storage method that I am very excited about! Strawberries are easy to freeze but like bananas they're never quite the same. My Bountiful Basket included just one container which I felt was hardly worth the effort to freeze and preferred to keep them in the fridge to snack on.

When kept in their original plastic box strawberries will usually only last maybe 3 days in my fridge before they start to get mushy or grow beards. Then I heard that if you keep them in glass jars they will last longer. I'm not sure how much longer but the ones in the picture above are already 5 days old and are still firm and fresh and most importantly...not hairy.

All you have to do is take the strawberries out of their original container and pop them into glass jars with a good lid. Of course make sure they're dry and it's best to not wash them first. I had to use 2 jars since I discovered that my big empty pickle jar still smelled like pickles which I later fixed.

There is a trick for mushrooms that I forgot to take a picture of. Like the strawberries you don't want to wash them ahead of time. Just take them out of their container and put them in a paper bag. Fold the top of the bag over and put it on a shelf in the fridge. Do NOT put the bag in your veggie crisper since it's too humid in there and mushrooms like it dry. Like everything else my shrooms are 5 days old and still look brand new!

I keep citrus fruits and tomatoes at room temperature since that seems to make them happiest. Apples, depending on the variety, can last for several weeks in the fridge. I think of potatoes as the divas of the produce world. They prefer to be kept at 40-50 degrees which is warmer than my fridge and colder than my house. I don't have a cellar so there's really no place for me to store them where they'll be truly happy. The best I can do for them is to keep them in their own drawer in the fridge. Just remember one thing: taters are loners. Don't store any other fruits or veggies with them. They create some kind of gas or something that will make other stuff spoil faster.

This morning instead of my usual cup of flavored creamer with a dollop of coffee, I made myself a smoothie instead. I'm hoping that will make my thighs forget about the slice of pizza and 4 cupcakes I ate yesterday. I used a container of Chobani yogurt, a banana that I had sliced and frozen, 3 of my 5-day old delicious fresh strawberries, and a splash of milk. It was delightful. It made enough for 2 glasses of that size so I put the rest in a baggie and tossed it in the freezer to see how it would fare. Tomorrow I will put it back into the Ninja and see what happens.

So there you have it. Everything I know about making your fresh produce last longer cuz I get really irritated when I have to toss something out because it went bad before I got around to using it. And that happens a lot. I now feel the need to eat a lime which I do regularly so storage isn't an issue since they don't hang around long enough. Just doing my part in the battle against scurvy.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Baby Lock Beats A Dead Horse

Does anyone remember all the drama I went through last year while trying to get Baby Lock to stand behind their warranty on my 22 year old sewing machine? Yeah, I thought we were over that too but apparently Baby Lock can't let it go. If you need a refresher you can read about what happened in these 3 posts:

I didn't really wrap up the story because to be honest, I was sick and tired of it. In my last update I had dropped my machine off at my local Baby Lock dealer/repair center as instructed by Mr. President's assistant who assured me it would be taken care of at no charge to me.

It wasn't but maybe 3 days later when I got a call that my machine was fixed and ready to be picked up. When I got it, there was a $45 charge on the ticket for the bobbin case that they replaced, which surprised me since I didn't know there was anything wrong with the one I had. But other than that, there were no other charges on the ticket. It didn't matter to me one way or another because the bill went to Baby Lock.

So basically I spent almost a month trying to get the company to honor their 25-year warranty on my 22 year old machine and fix what amounted to less than $50 in repairs. Of course there would have been some labor charges in there if I had been paying for it, but I can't imagine it would have amounted to much since they fixed it so quickly.

Would I consider this a positive experience with Baby Lock? Well of course not! Yes, in the end they fixed my machine at no charge to me. But I spent weeks jumping through hoops just to make that happen.

I thought I was done with Baby Lock and would never have to deal with them again since I certainly will never buy another one of their machines and if something else happens to the one I've got I will toss it in the garbage and buy a new one from a company who actually knows the meaning of 'customer service'. Well, apparently Baby Lock isn't over it and requires some additional closure.

In one of my previous Baby Lock posts I talk about my experience with a Product Support Supervisor who I called "Sue". I have no idea what a Product Support Supervisor really does but if they're all like Sue they should never EVER be allowed to have any contact with customers.

Today, a good 6 months+ after all this was resolved, I got another email from Sue. It looked something, or rather exactly like this:

It has been called to our attention you still have a negative posting for Baby Lock still active.  Baby Lock has not only stood behind the warranty of your Baby Lock BL2100 but provided the service to you at no charge.  We would appreciate an update or removal of the following post:

I sent Sue a reply and included links to my other 2 follow-up posts which apparently the "attention caller" overlooked. I told her I would post again to wrap things up but that it would still not be a positive post because I did not have a positive experience!

I just can't tell you how stunned I am that Sue or anyone at Baby Lock would expect me to pat them on the back for standing behind their warranty and fixing my machine at no charge to me. Anyone who reads about what I went through to get to that point will see that it was achieved through my perseverance and had absolutely nothing to do with how awesome Baby Lock apparently thinks it is. I would have thought they'd just like to put this behind them and move on rather than dredge it up again.

But...since they insisted...I will comply. I will not remove any of my posts but I will gladly post any updates that the company requires, as long as they realize that those updates will never be positive. It was a negative experience from the git go and at this point there is nothing they can do to change that. Requests like the one I received today just serve to reinforce the negative experience I had with them. All of this is of course my opinion based on my my experiences with Baby Lock.

I have one final thought. I don't know who it was who brought my blog post to Baby Lock's attention but all I have to say to you is...thanks for reading!! I love my readers :)