Category Archives: grumble

You know what they say about fish and guests

We had friends in town for about 4 days and it was tiring.  I could be petty and specify that they were not specifically “my” friends or “our” friends but, rather, “his” friends but I won’t.  I’ll just say that it is infinitely more exhausting to entertain people during the week (you know, when you have to get up early, work, come home and not relax, and then go out to do something) than it is just over the weekend.  I’m also extrement grateful that Cami was willing to give me some desperately needed girl time so I could get all my complaining out and not have it fester in my head, where it would most likely have exploded from my mouth at some ill-timed moment in front of T.  And then I might have to do this all over again in August.  Personally, I think it’s unfair to schedule a second visit before your first one is even over, leading me to enter a state of high anxiety for the next two months.  I’m also pretty sure you’re supposed to wait to be invited back and not assume that just because you can arrange to be in town you are automatically invited here.  Also, even if you’re told to make yourself at home and are welcome to whatever food we have, perhaps you should make yourself a little less-at-home when meeting a fairly important significant other for the very first time.

Okay.  I’m done ranting.  Probably. 

The good news is that I learned I often completely underestimate T and that he always behaves in a way to let me know that I am important to him and, if needed, he will take my side.  And he generally knows when something is bothering me and I am unhappy.  And he tries to work the situation towards a compromise, something I am working to accept instead of just fighting it out of stubborness.  I am a lucky girl.

We also picked out the exact paver stones we want to use, which was more involved than I ever imagined.  And I discovered that there is new gopher activity near my precious garden (where I harvested 2 eggplants and 2 bell peppers!) so that gopher gasser better get back out here and take care of it.  For free, since it’s only been 2 weeks since he claimed to kill the gopher in the first place.  Now, granted, it could be a brand new gopher and the original one is dead in a tunnel, but the point is that we were guaranteed a gopher-free existence for 30 days and I’m holding him to that!

I’m looking forward to a nice quiet week and a visit to the Fair next weekend.  Some fried food, grilled corn, beer tasting, bratwurst, and a Strongman competition.  As long as it’s spent with good friends, what could be any better?  And maybe my mom will come with us!  Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, we’ll have to say good-bye to one of our friends.  He’s leaving beautiful San Diego (I know, isn’t he crazy?) for Seattle, a city that, while beautiful, has something like 55 days of sunshine all year.

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Grammar, people, grammar

Okay, so I spell it “refrigerator” or “fridge” and I was going to get all up in arms when I saw people spelling it “refridgerator” because that seems like an odd combination of the word and it’s abbreviated version.  But Google brought up seemingly legitimate sites spelling it that way, too, so I’m going to let it slide.

When it comes to flavoring food, though, I am going to have to put my foot down.  People, a “marinade” is something you use.  It’s a noun.  To “marinate” is a verb.  It’s an action verb!  You “marinate” food in a “marinade”.  At no point, ever, should you be “marinading” things. 

It’s a slow day

When I’m bored, I mill around Chowhound. I’ve gotten pretty good at not reading posts with titles that I know will annoy me. I now ignore them. Sometimes I get tricked and read a post only to discover that it’s a stupid question (yes, there are stupid questions AND stupid answers in this world) or completely unrelated to the title. These days, Chowhound is most useful to me for providing insight on new restaurants in the area. Of course, I don’t trust chowhound praise outright. No, typically I’ll see a few restaurants named and I’ll read about them and try and get an idea if the reviews are balanced enough to believe. I don’t trust gushing at all. Especially if it’s accompanied by PRAISE in CAPITAL LETTERS. So, I make a mental note of these places and then if I see it pop up on a couple local blogs it triggers a “hmm..” moment. At that point, I probably write it down somewhere and tell T that I want to try it. Or Cami. And then a few months go by before we ever get to where it is we’re craving. So, I’m totally not a trendsetter when it comes to new restaurants. Except for places in Poway, I guess.

My actual point, however, was to say that I don’t actively try to annoy myself with Chowhound. I feel like I’ve been on that site long enough for the vast number of topics to actually start repeating themselves. What to make for V-Day. What to cook to impress a first date. What to do with leftover ham. What’s your favorite cheese. OMG – Greek yogurt rocks. How long do I roast a chicken. Where to eat during Comicon. No car in SD – what food is bearable. And on and on.

What I don’t understand is what people think the site is for. I see questions pop up that make me wonder if they think they’re having live conversations*. Like, there’s a chicken burning in the oven and the dinner party starts in half an hour – what should they do? If I had a dinner party in half an hour and my food was burning, my first instinct would not be to consult a message board for an answer (and then wait for said answer to eventually appear). I would turn on the vent hood, stick the food outside, and either run to Costo for a roast chicken or make a frantic call to Joey’s Smokin’ BBQ. But, I also plan my dinner parties very carefully, so the chances of this happening to me are small. Also, for small get togethers, I don’t tell people what I’m cooking. For all they know, I was planning on having take-out all along!

Or someone will pull out chicken, a pepper, cheese, and couscous and ask what they can make for dinner that night. In half an hour. Do you really think people are sitting at their computer, constantly hitting “refresh” to see what last-minute disasters they can solve?

My latest favorites, however, involve broken appliances. My oven sometimes bursts into flames – should I worry? My refrigerator is leaking water – what should I do? Weird noises, odd smells, random flames, and puddled liquids are not questions for a message board. That’s when you start calling repair people. Some problems don’t get better the longer you wait to fix them (actually, I don’t know of any problems that do that). The concept boggles my mind.

But, just so I don’t end this post on a grumpy note, I will tell you about a cookie from Trader Joe’s (I know, surprise, surprise!) that I bought and didn’t like that later grew on me to the point where I took the bin to work so I didn’t eat them all. In one sitting. They are like Nilla Wafers, if Nilla Wafers were made with butter and vanilla beans. They’re called Ultimate Vanilla Wafers. They come in the plastic tubs, like the chocolate chip cookies that are also addictive. The cookies are crisp-soft. Not as hard as Nilla Wafers, but not as soft as a chewy cookie. You can definitely taste the butter, but sometimes you can also feel the vanilla bean seeds (some people don’t like that). It’s kind of nice to know that you could use a more natural cookie in place of Nilla Wafers (remember making mini cheesecakes with the wafer as the bottom crust?), but I also take comfort know Nilla Wafer are always on grocery store shelves. For all I know, the vanilla thins are “seasonal” and will disappear once summer is over. All in all, it’s a good butter cookie, with just a hint of vanilla.

* Some message boards really are like real-time chatting. I know friends who frequent boards like this and they form their own little odd community. This comes in handy if, say, your car is stolen and you need hundreds of eyes keeping a lookout until it’s spotted, at which point they band together, block said stolen car in until police arrive, and help you get your car back. I’m just saying.

Lots of hate for Hotels.com

So, I’m back from Hawaii on what was a whirlwind trip with too little time and too much food.  Also, do you know how exhausting it is to spend all day being alert and conversational with people?  And how sad it is to realize that typical trips to Hawaii often include zero beach visits?  Another tidbit of information – it costs $150 to ship a painting from Hawaii to San Diego via UPS “Ground”.  Does anyone have a better way to ship large and/or heavy items?  I mean specifically, with company names or something.  Because there is a large, hand-carved, wooden trunk in my grandparents’ house that I would love to bring home. 

I was also going to do a full review of the Trader Joe’s frozen brownie-in-a-box, which I may do with a wrap up of other tasty foods I’ve discovered, but we’ll just sum it up and say I wasn’t impressed.  I’ll stick to their chocolate chip cookie dough.

But!  The main point of this post is to grumble heartily about the incompetence of Hotels.com so-called Customer Care.  Hotels.com is a subsidiary of Expedia, but they have totally separate websites and customer service.  To date, I have no grudge with Expedia except that they are partnered with the lame Hotels.com. 

I actually do pay attention to my bills and my credit card statements.  About 5 years ago, I noticed that my phone bill had almost doubled.  When I looked into it, I discovered someone had, somehow, set up a voice mailbox on my account so all calls would be forward there.  Apparently, that’s why I wasn’t getting any sales calls or telemarketers on my standalone answering machine.  Now, that’s pretty tricky stuff.  So, that account got cancelled and I had to change my phone number.  It’s also part of the reason I keep a land line.  Can you imagine if you had to change your cell phone number?  Way more people have that number (personal friends, not companies) than my land line.  Someone also got hold of my Discover account and charged a lot of gas on it.  I noticed that because it was on an account that I seldom used.  So I went through the motions of closing the account, opening a new one, checking credit reports, and monitoring everything.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to really think about fraud.  Well, no, that’s not true.  T had his account information taken and someone tried to charge $500 at Wal-Mart in Seattle (or somewhere) twice.  It’s scary to think that you can have your credit card in your posession and someone can take the information and transfer it to another piece of plastic.  Because you need a physical card to buy gas and items at stores.

Anyway, when I got back from Hawaii, I went through my accounts, updating MS Money and my checkbook.  I noticed the balance on my credit card was abnormally high.  At first I thought the program was wacky and maybe it had duplicated charges in the register.  Then I saw a recent charge for $4,180.26.  Now, I had also just paid the balance of our Alaska cruise, but that was well under $4,000!  I considered that maybe Holland America had made an error, perhaps charged me twice, but the “Payee” was different.  So, I tracked down the phone number associated with the charge and called.  The company was IAN Travel Services, but they answer the phone “Hotels.com” and then the headache began.

They must use the lowest-educated people to handle their phone calls, because no one could help.  I don’t even think they know how to help.  The first guy I talked to was the worst – I had to spell my name 4 times and repeat numbers too many times to count.  But, I did get the most information out of him.  He told me the charge was for a reservation for 9 nights at the Alex Hotel in NY and that it was under my name and that it had been made over the internet.  I told him I never made that reservation.  He also said he would forward the file to some other department so they could follow up (this never happened) and that I would have to call my credit card company and file a police report.  I did both and my credit card company (Chase) was extremely helpful and informative and the police were, too, actually.

Then I called them back to make sure someone was following up on the matter and would be cancelling the reservation.  The girl I talked to was of absolutely no help.  She kept trying to tell me that the only person who could have made the reservation was me, as only I had access to my online account (it turns out even I don’t have access to it because I can’t sign in), and the reservation was under my name.  She said, why would someone make a reservation under my name when they wouldn’t be able to check in without ID?  True, it doesn’t make sense, but I know I didn’t make plans to stay in NY as the check in date was 3/5/08.  Also, if I was staying at a $500/night hotel, why would I go through Hotels.com?  If I had that much money, wouldn’t I also have people to take care of that for me?

So, after I tried signing in and couldn’t (my “profile” isn’t under any e-mail or username I use) I called “Customer Care” back.  I told the girl that I couldn’t sign in and the website said to call them.  She then proceeded to tell me to open Internet Explorer and type in hotels.com to get to their website.  Then she said in the upper right corner is a link that says “Sign in”.  Like I didn’t know how to navigate a website.  I told her I know how to get there, but their system wouldn’t let me in and there was a message that said to call them.  I then asked to be transferred to their tech support or someone who could help.  I was actually put on hold before she told me they don’t have that kind of department and all I could do was open a new account.  After I requested to talk to her supervisor, she told me he had “just stepped into a meeting” and that I could call back later.

In between all this, I had called the hotel to let them know what was going on and that I hadn’t made the reservation.  The hotel called back to let me know they still hadn’t received any notice of cancellation from Hotels.com.  No one ever checked in under the reservation, either.

The next morning, I called the stupid Customer Care number again and someone who spoke English-as-a-first-language (whatever, it sounds harsh, but it’s true) and sounded like he had the ability to think and reason answered so I explained the fraudulent reservation and the fact that no one I had talked to earlier had been of any help.  His immediate response was to give me the number of their Corporate office (214-361-7311), where I talked to someone in “Transactions”.  At first, this sounded promising, but I’ve since been passed around through departments and no one has, of yet, contacted the hotel to cancel the reservation. 

Update:  I was finally contacted by someone in the Corporate office and my dealings with that company was completed.  However, when I asked if they were going to notify the hotel, I was told that they don’t have to notify hotels on fraudulent charges because the hotel doesn’t receive money until the reservation is complete.  Which kind of makes sense except that 1) what happens to the charge on my credit card to IAN Travel Services after I “pay” at the hotel and 2) don’t you think they should notify the hotel so they can release the reservation?  I mean, the hotel is kind of counting on getting paid for that reservation ($4,000!!), so isn’t it just courteous to let them know that money isn’t ever showing up?

So, don’t use Hotels.com for anything.  Because if you ever have a problem, you will get no help whatsoever.  And if you have a profile, who knows what kind of reservations might get erroneously charge to you?  I can’t recall ever having made a reservation through them, although I’ve gone through Expedia and Travelocity before, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the error originated in their system.  Because, really, it doesn’t make sense for someone else to make a reservation under my name.  Hotels check ID when you check in.  And if they had added any other name to the reservation, that’s who would get investigated.  So, I blame Hotels.com.  I don’t honestly believe my identity and credit is in jeopardy, but I’ve still taken the necessary steps.

Coincidentally, I read this post on Get Rich Slowly today, too, on steps to take to prevent and deal with identity theft.  And remember, you can get a free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com once a year (1 report from all 3 reporting agencies) or you can request 1 report from 1 agency at a time (thereby spreading it out to 3 reports over the year).  You can also place temporary and permanent fraud alerts on your credit report, which means that extra steps must be taken before someone (even you) can open a new account in your name. 

Resolution for the World

Dear World:

If you have not already made your New Year’s Resolutions, may I make a suggestion?  How about knocking it off with the “McDreamy” variants?  I understand that you (World) fell head over heels with the smokin’ hot doc on Grey’s Anatomy, played by Patrick Dempsey, and nicknamed him McDreamy.  It was cute.  But then everyone else started nicknaming everything in the same fashion.  Fatty McFatso.  Shouty McWhiny.  Then!  The new hot doctors on the show got nicknamed the same way!!  This craziness has to stop; it’s been going on for way too long.  Stop it.  Just, stop.  Seriously.

Much love,

Me

ps – in order to play fair, I will post my resolutions here.  For all of the internet to see.  You may think they are weak resolutions and maybe even a cop out for hardcore, life changing resolutions and to you I say, “Tough cookies”.  They’re my resolutions and I think they’re actually doable. 

  • Brush the dogs at least once a week.  They look so good after being brushed and it really does help with the loose fur flying around.  The exception may be Lexi, who requires a muzzle and steel determination (on my part) during the grooming process.
  • Exercise at least three times a week.  Exercise counts as 30 minutes of anything.  Walking, running, hiking up a hill, hopping on the elliptical, etc.
  • Limit dinner meals to one red meat meal per week, Mon-Fri.  I think this is very doable considering I have left weekends to be open for anything.  I think the hardest part here will be when we have beef for dinner and also have a lot of leftovers.
  • Start making one meatless dinner per week.  I think this will actually be tough because we enjoy meat.  On the other hand, maybe we’ll find some good bean-based recipes.

That’s it.  I normally don’t make resolutions and I find it funny that if I had made these decisions in June they wouldn’t have the same connotations that “resolutions” do.

stupid chestnuts

See this?

wounded

My finger and thumb were casualties of The Great Chestnut Disaster of 2007. I suppose it could have been worse, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.

See these?

chestnut

Those are the prisoners of war. They may very well stay in their little netting bag for the rest of their shelled little lives for all I care.

And these?

dogs3

Those are the faces of happy dogs who ate most of the chestnuts that I could pry open with my injured fingers.  You can also tell which dogs go outside to play in the rain and which one is too prissy for such activities.

See, every year I look forward to roasting chestnuts, peeling them open, and eating a warm nutty soft chestnut. One year I read about the Chestnutter, a little device that pokes an “X” into the chestnuts, allowing them to release steam and not explode in your oven (or fireplace, or wherever you roast your chestnuts). I pooh-poohed it because, ha, who needs an actual device to make an “X”? Two moves with a knife and you’re good to go! What a silly waste of money! But, when I make an “X” in my chestnuts, either I have bad chestnuts, or the cut doesn’t go deep enough, or I’m just really bad at the whole chestnut thing because I have the hardest time getting the chestnut out of the shell and that funny paper skin that clings so fervently. I end up pulling it in half and scraping the soft meat off with my teeth. It’s not very fun or festive.

This year, I found bags of chestnuts at Ranch 99 for such a good price, I vowed to do it properly, even without a Chestnutter. I read up on various cooking techniques. I perused the conflicting recommendations on how to cut, how to cook, how to cool. I made my “X” deeper than usual. Then the knife slipped and I freaked out.

I don’t do well with injuries, especially if they involve bleeding. Immediately (after cursing the chestnuts), I wrapped my finger in a paper towel and held it above my head. I willed my finger not to bleed, but then worried the willing would cause my heart rate to go up, which would pump more blood out of the wound. I gave up and sat on the couch to watch my DVR-ed House. I ate a chocolate bon-bon, justified that my pain and suffering deserved a treat. Then I got tired of holding my arm up and decided to maybe bandage up properly. Is it bad that I don’t have a real first aid kit for people, but my dog first aid kit is fully stocked with sterile gauze and bandages? With my finger gauzed and taped, with pressure to staunch bleeding, I resumed my tv viewing. Periodically I would look at my poor finger, trying to determine what to do next. When it started throbbing and looked purple, I determined the next thing to do should probably involve loosening the tape.

After a while, I got bored with the whole injured-person thing (I mean, the dogs certainly weren’t sympathetic). Then I got mad at the stupid chestnuts. But not the knife. You shouldn’t get mad at sharp objects… they’ll haunt your dreams and you’ll fear retaliation. So, I lightly scored a couple more chestnuts to fill the pan and threw them in the already heated oven. After 20 minutes, the dogs started barking at some banging noises, but I figured T had come home and was fiddling in the garage. It then occurred to me that perhaps my lightly scored chestnuts were too lightly scored. Sure enough, the dogs were barking at exploding chestnuts, also an indication that perhaps they were done!

Have you ever tried opening chestnuts with one good hand, a wounded finger and a just-noticed cut thumb? It’s hard. Especially when the chestnut shells are hard and not splitting open and you still have to peel away the annoying paper skin. After a few, I just started sulking and feeding the dogs the chestnuts I could get open. Then I went and ate tapioca. And watched ER.

I’m still not convinced a Chestnutter would have helped. I think my underlying problem is with peeling the dumb things afterwards.  I’m so over the chestnuts.  I’m ready to move on to a different cold weather snack.  Like maybe the peppermint Jo-Jo cheesecake I just read about in the Trader Joe’s flyer.

Y’all are weird

Does it bother anyone else that there are so many Chowhounds talking in the third person?  Is there a reason for it?  It’s bad enough when people talk about themselves in the third person, but it’s ever more annoying when it’s done using a screen name.  I would rather you use the “royal We” than refer to yourself in the third person. 

Just stop it.  Seriously.