Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Groupon Shopping Success

I think this is the point where I admit my email in-box full of deals is like a little morning treasure trove. However, I have several friends who are extremely anti-Groupon(type offers), and I appreciate their advocacy for supporting local business.

But in my best-of-all-worlds experience yesterday, I discovered and supported two local businesses, which I plan to return to often and promote, due to their great customer service and sense of place.

I actually discovered Shoe Zoo via a coupon this winter. They have a reputation for being expensive that kept me away, but with the deal-site offer, I decided to try it out. I've since become a big convert; their shoes are the same price as anywhere else and are often on sale, the upstairs outlet is AMAZING, the staff is great, and they send Beatrix home with a free balloon. She always finds shoes there that she loves. Far more rewarding than scouring the internet for deals. This weekend I used the deal offer stacked with 20% off the outlet, so threw in a pair of shoes I would not ordinarily have purchased. Now my one-stop kids shoe store.

We then headed to Sunnyside Gardens, a new-to-us neighborhood garden center. I find plenty to overwhelm me at neighborhood garden centers, plus stellar service and personality, without having to go to huge places, thanks! (plus I love that smaller places often have more unusual plants). We bought great annuals for the planters in the backyard, and can hardly wait to go back.

So, a great family morning shopping, good deals, and a newly converted customer who will return and spend much more — I would say that everyone wins in this case!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


And here's an example of customer service issues that have gotten completely out of control.

For several years, I have had 2 properties served by Veolia, the Summit house and the Ashland house. Literally EVERY TIME I sent in payment, they would mess it up and apply the payments to the wrong account, resulting in a credit to one account and arrears to the other. Several phone calls, late charges, etc. later, they would solve it, only to make the exact same mistake in the next bill.

So I switched Ashland to e-bill. That way I could send the paper check from Summit, and pay Ashland on-line. I successfully do this for 2 billing cycles.

They forget to pick up the Christmas tree I asked them to haul, and by the time I got through to them to solve it it was too late, but at least the billing was correct.

Except then they "upgraded" the e-bill. Which apparently meant that everyone had to re-register, but they did not tell anyone that. So I didn't get an e-bill. I eventually got a paper bill, which I put aside until I realized "Hey, I have not gotten a bill in awhile" and promptly paid it.

I sent the bill on May 10, they processed it May 13, and it cleared my bank on May 16. They did not pick up the trash on the 17th or the 24th. I call today to see what is up with this, and basically they suspended service, and entered the check, so now I have a big outstanding credit.

So even though it's their fault that:
- they did not e-bill me
- that the entered the payment incorrectly

I have to pay them $30 to come out and pick up my trash. The "customer service" agent then decided it was appropriate to berate me for not opening the paper bill (you know, the one I was not supposed to get so was not looking for) and paying it earlier.

I terminated service (for which they plan to charge me $35 in a friendly touch), and immediately signed up with Allied Waste who was very helpful and happy to have my business.

I could go on in a parable about the customer service issues here, but I think you get my point. If you own a business, remember that YOUR CUSTOMERS ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE, even if you make it difficult for them to exercise that.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

More House News!

In an anecdote that will no doubt amuse those of you familiar with my house obsessions, Beatrix does NOT, as many of her friends do, have an imaginary friend. She has an imaginary house, which she refers to constantly as "my new house." Descriptions of it vary, but it appears to be brown, 2-story, sometimes very close by and sometimes far away, and have a pool with icky green water in the back. She lives there with her grandfather, who sometimes lets her watch all the TV she wants and sometimes won't let her watch it at all. It has a horsey bed. And someday, if we're good, we can visit her there.

In a solution that is perhaps nowhere as grand as her "New House," last weekend we got Beatrix a playhouse off of Craig's List (the pictures are dark because I took them in the garage before we moved it into the yard). It's pretty amazing, actually, with windowboxes (which we planted with marigolds yesterday), closing shutters that cover the windows (because faux shutters that would not actually fit over the windows are the bane of my existence), a doorbell that works, and nice sturdy construction. I can already tell it's going to be a summer of playhouse games. Which suits me just fine.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New New Moon

I've mourned the passing of Theatre de la Jeune Lune much more that I thought I would (even after spending over 12 years working there). Seeing the building sit empty and leaking, going to shows that critics called "Jeune-Lune reminiscent" but weren't quite there, even the momentos in our home.

So it's been really good for me, in the last few weeks, to see some amazing shows that perhaps begin a new era.

Over at Nimbus Theatre, Barbra Berlovitz stars in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Barbra is such a compelling performer, and the book is one of my all-time favorites, so I was a little afraid to see it on stage. But the performance is amazing — luminescent and powerful — that it reached to my inner being in the way that theatre does more than any other medium. Her performance, like the book, gains its ultimate effect from the passion of dispassion, and Barbra is spot-on. I've seen her perform since Jeune Lune, but nothing liek this.

Then, last night, we went to the opening night of Come Hell or High Water, by The Moving Company (the new Dominique Serrand and Steve Epp company, which also featured Nathan Keepers and Christina Baldwin and a large and very talented chorus. I don't even have words. The actors I know well have matured and somehow gotten even better, for incredibly stirring performances. Those new to me were a delight. The scenography was beautiful and evocative; the story all the more compelling if you listen to NPR today. I'm still thinking about the show.

I've recently seen Bob's studio; I know that Vincent is happy in France; I even caught a glimpse of a hard-hat tour Steve Richardson led down at Carleton.

For the first time, it seems like there might be a post-TJL world that incorporates the passion and poetry I had while I was there. I hope so.

See the shows.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Coming to Terms with Mother's Day

So once again I face the inherent emotional conflict that has come to be Mother's Day for me.

In some ways, it's beyond perfect. Patrick went out of his way to make me way ideal, taking care of me, an incredible gift that he knew I really wanted (more on that later), sleeping in, coffee, a haircut, a nap, relaxation. The Hanafin family has a Mother's Day Brunch tradition; for the last several years it's been at the Lake Elmo Inn, and that was delicious. Beatrix got me a board book about animal moms ("I picked it out for myself!"), which I know is Clara validating how important reading with Beatrix is to me. I'm trying really hard to even think about work and domestic tasks that are stacked up, and to just enjoy the day. Were the story to end here, it would be lovely.

But it doesn't. There's always a hole in the day where my mother should be. There's the societal expectation that I *should* probably be done grieving, when the truth is that I just grieve in a different way, a way that often sneaks up on me and strikes me unawares. I am starting to know more people who are losing parents, and even some that are losing children — an unimaginable grief — and when we talk about how we feel, I'm always struck by the fact that out experiences are so universally the same.

With others that our motherless, particularly, we discuss how it feels to have lost the person in your life who knew you the longest, with whom you always had that relationship of interwoven strength and vulnerability. With those who are moms, we talk about how we wish we had asked so many more questions of what we were like when we were young; we commiserate about how jealous we are when other people's mothers take care of the kids for the night or spoil the kids with a special holiday outfit; most of all, we feel terrible that our children don't have those grandmothers that by rights they should have.

There isn't any way to magically fix this, and in some ways, that's the hardest part. The people in my life work their hardest to try to make it better for me, by giving Beatrix grandmother-like experiences, by letting me know that they remember my mom and are thinking of me, by working really hard to make my Mother's Day lovely. In no way do I mean to seem ungrateful, because I see these things and they mean SO much to me. But I miss my mom terribly, and I want her here, and there's not a day in my life when I wonder if there wasn't something different I could have done to have her still with us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A New Era

9/11 was, literally, a different lifetime ago. I was still at Jeune Lune, still married to Chris, my mother was in perfect health...We had a Jeune Lune intern living with us, and his girlfriend was visiting from New York for the weekend, so stayed several extra days. Together, like everyone else in the country, we watched hours of footage and wondered how it would mean the world would change.

That was soon answered. Years of colored threat levels, of shoeless airports and travel containers, of subway bombs and nightclub attacks, of vilifying the Islamic other and politicizing the personal (and the idiotic) until many times I don't recognize the world. At the same time, we've developed a citizen-journalism based news network (including my Twitter feed that kept me amused, informed, and exasperated last night), and elected our first Islamic congressman.

The news of Osama's death last night was a very adult moment for me. It's the first time I can remember waiting anxiously for the whitehouse.gov broadcast, and thinking about how the world would hopefully be very different for my daughter. I'm not glad — I don't think I could ever rejoice about someone's death, no matter how evil they were. I fear for retaliation, and I fear just as much the "easy answer" of thinking that now that Bin Laden is gone, the kind of extreme hatred/fear/misunderstanding that engendered the whole situation will somehow magically be over. I certainly don't know how to go back to as it was before, and I'm not sure we want to anyway. This is a far too simplistic way (because that what blogs are for) of summing up some very complex thoughts that I still have not fully considered.

But it feels like just *maybe*, if we don't fuck it up, it could be some kind of new beginning. I hope so.