Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where I Will NOT Be On New Year's Eve

For those of you who enjoy a little midget
wrestling with your champagne.
(Perhaps I live in a slightly hick town?)

While driving to my second home during the holidays (Target), this banner attached to the side of a local drinking establishment caught my eye. Sorry to inform you all that I will NOT be attending any midget wrestling festivities tonight! You won't get the scoop on this blog. The question in my mind is: "Who would actually make a point of going to this bar solely for the enjoyment of watching midgets wrestle?" Please don't answer that question.

I don't know about you, but I'm happy to wish 2011 farewell. Surviving numerous rounds of the stomach flu over Christmas sealed it for me. Bring on the New Year! I'm happy to leave 2011 far off in the past.

As for resolutions . . . I've learned that I'm not really good at keeping my resolutions. Maybe my goals for the upcoming year are too lofty. But I'll go on record in this blog with my 2012 resolution. Those of you who know me well may realize this is yet another unachievable resolution but I'll give it a try.

Be 5 minutes early for appointments, meetings, and picking up the kids instead of 5 minutes late.

You can now pick yourself up off of the floor and stop laughing! I'll let you know how this works out for me. 

Until my next post . . . Wishing you a very Happy New Year!    Christianna

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is YOUR Igloo Ready?

As I stare at my computer screen bustling with cartoon penguins, I wonder to myself: "why can't my son be this productive around the house with our 'real' Christmas preparations?" This morning my 8-year old son, Jack, eagerly pulled me over to the computer. He was excited to show me the progress he's made on decorating and preparing his virtual igloo on Club Penguin where his penguin Bowman resides in his icy bubble of cyberspace. Unfamiliar with Club Penguin? I see it as Disney's answer to Facebook for kids 10 and under. Except that you are a penguin who interacts with other penguins while playing games, making new penguin friends, attending parties or concerts, shopping for accessories for your pet Puffle, or just hanging out in your fancy igloo. Just as addictive as Facebook too.

Anyway, Jack's igloo is all decked out. Twinkling lights, presents galore, Christmas music on his stereo, a skating rink with outdoor firepit, and a Christmas tree (fake as it is virtual after all). He even has a Salvation Army kettle and bell to collect donations from other penguins. He spent the other morning baking cookies on Club Penguin. Let's just say that Bowman the Penguin has it made with Jack in charge of a virtual Christmas.

My igloo isn't quite so ready. But it's getting there. I'm nearly finished baking my second round of cookies as the first round was eaten up. Most of my Christmas cards are in the mail. The house is finally decorated, which only took 8 days this year. (That tells me I have too many Christmas decorations.) Our "real" Christmas tree is up—no fake plastic trees. A couple of my amaryllis plants are ready to bloom just in time for Christmas day. My present buying binge is complete. If only I had a magic wand for all of the wrapping! The only thing missing is snow, but I have no control over that after all.

Will my son someday fondly look back and remember his Club Penguin Christmas igloo? Perhaps. I guess I'll have to tear my kids away from their "virtual" realities to experience the real Christmas season. Now only if we could get some real snow here in Minnesota to complement my festive igloo!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Miss Customer Service

Having just spent the last 2 hours on a "live chat" with a Kodak Gallery representative, I realized that I'm missing good old fashioned customer service over the phone. To make a long story short, Kodak's printing service messed up my Christmas cards, leaving off the name of my son Jack. Now I'm sure that some days Jack would rather not be a part of the family, but technically he had to have his name on the family Christmas card.

After searching the card box for a receipt or return slip, I found nothing. So I searched the website for a customer service 1-800 number. No such number that I could find. Kodak Gallery uses live chats to remedy their customer service issues. This would be fine except that Jose, my customer service guy, must have been chatting with other customers due to the 5- to 10-minute pauses between our chats. I thought it was interesting that Jose could let lots of minutes pass while I waited for his response; however, when I had to run Jack out to the bus stop to catch his school bus I was promptly dropped from the chat. Wait, that's SO not fair! Only about 1 minute of time had lapsed on my part. So the customer gets 1 minute to respond and the corporation gets as much time as necessary. I don't quite understand that.

My morning chat with Jose taught me that a problem that could be easily solved in 10 minutes over the phone took over 2 hours to resolve via "live chat." Do these "chats" save Kodak money by having Jose "chat" with multiple customers at once? I don't know about you, but I'd rather actually talk to a live person.

It does seem like I've had more than my fair share of customer service issues over the past few months. Kodak did eventually remedy the problem, but it just took far too long. Who has time for a 2 hour "live chat" when it's a mere 11 days before Christmas?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fake Plastic Christmas Trees

The bell ringers are ringing away in front of the grocery stores. The Christmas music is blaring over the loudspeakers. Poinsettias have popped up all over the place. Fake plastic Christmas trees are sprouting up, wearing their gaudy decorations. But there is no snow. It tries to snow. It doesn't stick so it doesn't count as "real" snow. Since we have only a smattering of snow and it's time to put up the Christmas tree, my son suggested getting a fake Christmas tree this year. Since it doesn't feel like Christmas without any snow, might as well go ahead and put up a fake tree.

What is the attraction to fake Christmas trees? I don't really understand. Personally I love the real thing—a beautiful pine or spruce Christmas tree. It's smells real, it's needles feel real, you have to water it every day, and it gets that real sap all over your hands when you put it into the stand.

Some people are really attached to their fake plastic trees. They don't look or feel real. You have to find a big box to store them away. You have to pack them up year after year and pull them out of their box. You have to cart them around with you if you move. 

Why get a fake Christmas tree when you can get the real thing? Maybe all those fake plastic Christmas tree lovers out there would secretly like to have a real tree but for some reason or another have to settle for a fake tree. I'll seek out a true and real tree. Life is just too short for fake plastic Christmas trees.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My LG Lemon Washing Machine Strikes Again

My daily struggles with my front-load washing machine are starting to feel like a part-time job given the amount of time I devote to this machine each day. Yes, this is the same lovely LG front loader from previous blog posts. It's still affixed in my laundry room, providing plenty of fodder for this blog. I am in no way trying to be so negative about this machine, and I'd happily write something positive about it if there was a positive angle to this story. Sadly there is not.

Back in October the Sears repair doctor replaced it's disgusting drum and potentially failing internal control panel as well as the little line gauge that indicates the wrong amount of detergent to add to the machine. This machine has now developed a new little quirk—draining by hand.

The Delicate cycle is being overly sensitive for my liking.

The past 3 times I've run the Delicate cycle the machine flashes me a warning signal that something is amiss. I must stop the machine, open a little door at the foot of the washer, pull out a thin rubber hose, drain the water out of the bottom of the machine into a little pan, clean out the lint filter, put it all back together, and restart the Delicate cycle. It's probably not a big deal but is kind of annoying given the track record of this front-load washing machine. Yet another chore to add to my growing front loader care list.

I see this as another unseen maintenance that I, the customer, must take care of to keep this machine up and running properly. This is in addition to completely wiping out the new rubber drum to get rid of any water and lessen the chances of mold. Well, the mold is winning. Despite my constant wiping and cleaning out of the rubber drum, the black mold is back. It only took 6 weeks! And yes, I have been using my new tub cleaning pellet on top of it all to eliminate build-up as well as adding a fraction of the "recommended" detergent. Still the mold . . . but that is another story in itself.

Sears has closed my case citing that there is nothing more they can do. Maybe they will reopen my case given my new drainage problem. In the meantime, I believe that I have a very high maintenance lemon on my hands.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Revenge of the Blue Icee

When going to the movies with the kids, you must buy all of the extras that accompany the cinematic experience—popcorn, Milk Duds, SweetTarts. And of course, a blue Icee. Since all of these movie treats end up costing a small fortune anyway, one of the adults in your group decides to just go ahead and get the boys the Super Extreme Large Icee as opposed to the Puny Tiny Small Icee. It's only $1 more and you get a "free refill".

My 13-year old son polishes off his Icee before The Muppets even begins and continues that annoying slurping sound with his straw as he tries to suck down every last drop. My 8-year old's Icee lasts about halfway through The Muppets before he starts asking repeatedly for his "free refill".  Now my youngest son Jack is spoiled rotten, and although he is pushing 9 he can still throw a mean temper tantrum when he wants. One was brewing. Hmmm what does a mother do at this point? She's in a dark theater reliving her childhood through The Muppets. She doesn't want to cause a scene, yet she knows very well what that second blue Icee will do to an 8-year old stomach already full of blue Icee. She opts for a life lesson for young Jack. "Go ahead and get your 'free refill,' but take your brother with you."

Jack slurps down nearly all of his second Super Extreme Large Icee just as the movie ends. As we are walking out, Jack's tummy doesn't feel so good. Pit stop at the Mens Room. Afterward he's still not feeling good and turns into a surly Jack with a tummy full of blue Icee and nothing else.

Those of us who haven't had a Large Blue Icee with that killer "free refill" are starving. Despite protests from the boys, who are more than full, we head over to Culvers for an unhealthy (but SO delicious) dinner. By this point, dinner inside the restaurant wasn't an option for Jack. He just wanted to go home! By the time we get into the drive-thru line, Jack desperately needs a toilet again and is running out of the car to the Culvers bathroom with me in tow.

For some reason this Mens Room only had one toilet, which was unfortunately occupied. I offered the Ladies Room. Unthinkable for Jack. He will wait. Five minutes pass. "Jack, that Ladies Room is still open." He wisely takes this option and dashes in without anyone seeing him sneaking into the Ladies Room. Let's just say it was ugly and blue.

Later that evening Jack tells me that next time he will have the "Junior" size Icee and never have a free refill. A valuable lesson learned the hard way for young Jack.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Target" Black Friday

Target is opening it's doors for the droves of expected Black Friday shoppers at midnight on Thursday. This move has sparked a petition drive against Target with over 180,000 people signing an on-line petition against the retailer. A similar petition is gaining momentum against another Minnesota retailer also opening at midnight for Black Friday shoppers—Best Buy.

Have you noticed that every year Black Friday starts a little bit earlier? I think it was 2 am last year. Now it's midnight for 2011. Give it a couple of years and the stores will open at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Or even better, open all day for all of those hard core shoppers out there. Do you really need to spend Thanksgiving Day with family and friends? All of that warm, fuzzy family time is over-rated anyway. Wouldn't you, the thrifty consumer, rather be out trolling the mall or the aisles of Target searching for a bargain deal on "Let's Rock Elmo" or "Figit Friends" for your niece instead of spending time with her on Thanksgiving?

I blame Wal-Mart and the Mall of America. They are opening their doors at 10 pm on Thanksgiving night. But even worse, Toys R Us leads the pack with their opening slated for 9 pm. Target must follow suit. But is this all really necessary? Of course not.

The Target petition was started by a Target part-time employee in Nebraska who actually isn't working at Target on Thanksgiving Day. He's off, but he didn't think it was fair treatment for his Target friends who will have their Thanksgiving cut short. They must report to work at 11 pm. It's unfortunate, but it looks like that Black Friday wave of consumerism is powerfully pushing ahead. 

I'm proud to say that I'm a Black Friday sleeper. I sleep in after cooking and eating all day on Thanksgiving. If this issue really truly matters to you, do like I'm doing. Sleep in. Don't shop. Save your credit card for Cyber Monday. The deals will still be out there, you'll get to enjoy time with your family on Thanksgiving, and best of all sleep in on Friday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Going Postal

The vicious terrier
So imagine this for a moment. You work from home and are sitting at your computer when all of a sudden you hear someone completely laying on their horn. It takes you a second to realize that this obnoxious honking is coming from your own driveway. You're annoyed, glance out the window, and see a US Postal Service (USPS) truck in the drive with a rather obese, crabby old woman inside the truck with her elbow on that horn. 

Welcome to my reality! I find this behavior particularly rude and obnoxious so I ran outdoors to her truck I asked her why she does the horn thing. Her response was that it's standard operating procedure for houses that have dogs. She "toots" the horn to scare away any dogs in the vicinity. She said that she's a "trainer" and this is what postal employees do to avoid dog bites. She also said she does this when she sees that people might be at home. 

Personally I believe that she's just too fat and lazy to drag herself out of her truck and up the walk to deliver packages and this is all a farce. I did a bit of research. Nowhere can I find any USPS protocol stating that USPS drivers should lay on their horns to scare away any dogs. The last time she pulled her horn trick my dog was inside and looking out of the glass door. I could see him from her truck as I collected my package.

Inefficient federal agency truck
Will repeatedly honking your horn really scare away a dog? I doubt it. If anything it makes them curious to come and see who is in the driveway. 

FedEx, UPS, and the dry cleaner have no problem delivering packages to my house even when the dog is out. The dry cleaner hands out dog treats to distract the dogs. For some reason other USPS workers have no problem confronting my terrier when delivering packages. One Saturday a very nice elderly postal employee carried two packages up the front steps, rang the bell, and patted my dog on the head. He clearly missed that "training" session about laying on your horn in driveway of houses with dogs.

So what to do about this problem? I asked neighbors with dogs if they've received the same treatment from this woman. Yes they all have. They have complained about her and so have I but she remains, laying on her horn with contempt. I think she inadvertently gave away her scheme when she told me she honks her horn when she sees people might be at home. A truly lazy postal service bureaucrat who cannot be fired because she's been there forever. 

Why do we still have 6-days of postal service when this federal agency is recording losses in the billions? Billions! My question is how do you even lose billions of dollars? Personally I can live without the daily onslaught of junk mail, catalogs for stuff I don't need, and the nearly daily credit card offers from Chase Bank. Maybe the Postal Service should deliver mail only 3 or 4 times a week and cut out Saturday service completely. This would also save me from numerous encounters with my snarky mail lady who epitomizes this inefficient bureaucracy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Only 44 Days and Counting

My 13-year old son excitedly showed me a link he found on-line for a countdown to Christmas. Only 44 days until Christmas! (As he rattles off his short but pricey Christmas wish list.) "Are you ready Mom?" No, this Mom is not nearly ready for Christmas as I still have the rotting Halloween pumpkins displayed on the front porch steps. I'd best get rid of those before pulling out the Christmas decorations.

The snow flurries in the air this morning remind me that the unavoidable is here—the Holidays! Wasn't it just the 4th of July? How could Christmas be only 44 days off? I think I'm in denial about the whole holiday season. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas as much as anyone else but as a mother during the holiday season the busyness and stress levels rise. Although my husband and kids do help out, I think we all know that the bulk of the holiday preparation, cooking, and clean-up falls on one person. Mom.

This year I'm going to try to be prepared and ahead of the Christmas rush instead of lagging far behind. I already have the family Christmas card picture picked out, the silver will be polished by the end of the day, and I have a Christmas plan and budget. The plan is easy: Christmas at home this year. The budget always gets a bit tricky.

Have I started my Christmas shopping? No. Unlike my brother and his wife, who are the best and most dedicated Black Friday shoppers I know and who will have all of their Christmas shopping done by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, I tend to put it off. Maybe it comes from my childhood shopping trips on Christmas Eve. I remember doing a whole lot of Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve and even closing up the mall before church on Christmas Eve. 

As for this Mom, I'm not remotely ready for Christmas. Ask me in a month and I'll probably give you the same answer. However I do have my Christmas amaryllis plants started. I know what I'm making for Christmas dinner and which cookies and pies I'm baking. Hopefully that counts for something. I'll probably still be the Mom up late with a glass of red wine, frantically wrapping Christmas presents on December 23rd. But that's okay as it's part of the tradition. Keep counting down those days and prepare your roast beast!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Front-Loader Fix or On-Going Problem Machine: Case Not Closed Yet

The hopeful blogger with part of the solution 
My hellish Sears LG front-loader is supposedly fixed and performing in true angelic form. However, I'm remaining skeptical. On Friday morning, Sears sent out a very knowledgeable repairman who exchanged the old moldy rubber drum for a new, mold-free rubber drum/door seal, replaced a faulty control panel for the rinse cycle, and reinstalled a missing liquid detergent measurement insert. All free of charge which I appreciate. However, the problem of water randomly leaking out of the machine onto the floor still remains a mystery.

After having a lengthy discussion with my Friday morning Sears repairman about the mechanics and cleanliness of the new energy-efficient front-loader washing machines, he gave me some more interesting advice about my front-loader.

  1. Read the owner's manual. Everything you need to know about the machine is in the owner's manual. He was adamant that I the customer was at fault for not keeping my machine clean enough. In my defense, I keep my washer clean. However I do not read owner's manuals for my appliances from cover to cover. I just don't have the time. 
  2. Ignore the owner's manual! Sears and Tide have it all WRONG. Consumers are adding way too much detergent. Add only 1 tablespoon. Here is the error and where the Sears owner's manual is WRONG and so is the measurement device on my front-loader and the little measuring lines on the inside of my Tide detergent measuring cap. All are WRONG! By following the directions on the machine and in the owner's manual, I was adding double or even triple the needed amount of laundry soap. This greatly contributed to the mold build-up on the rubber door seal as well as mold and detergent build up on the actual washer door (once the rubber seal was removed I could see this). This build-up must then be scraped off of the door. So (as recommended by my latest Sears repairman) I've tried using 1 tablespoon (or 2 TBSP for really large loads), and he's right. I don't need so much detergent as a smaller amount truly gets the clothes clean. (See pictures below.)
  3. Use only liquid HE detergent. I guess powder HE would work too, but the Sears technician recommended the liquid to prevent the build-up. Okay, I'm tossing out my box of powder Tide.
  4. Run the Tub Rinse cycle monthly with a special tablet cleaner. This will supposedly prevent the mold and detergent build-up inside the machine. I didn't even know I had a Tub Rinse cycle on my machine as it's cleverly hidden in small print on the machine. Why didn't I hear about this cycle from the other two repairmen who came out to fix this very same problem? I went ahead and bought a 6-month supply of "affresh" for $23.00 in hopes if helping get rid of my streaky laundry (pictured above). I even ran one of the tablets right after Sears left. 
  5. 15-year olds should not do laundry on this machine. But I want my teenagers to learn to do their own laundry! Don't we all want that? Not on this machine. It's too complicated. Why should a washing machine be this complicated?
  6. Wipe down the rubber drum when you're done using the machine. I've heard this before but on the advice of my latest Sears repairman (sorry but I didn't catch his name), I'm keeping an old towel hanging on the laundry room sink for this very purpose: to wipe any water off of the rubber seal and inside of the seal crevices. I actually have done this since my Friday washer repairs and it looks clean.
  7. The mold and stink will ALWAYS be an issue with any front-load washing machine. No matter how often I wipe down the seal or run that tub rinse cycle, I will ALWAYS have black mold and a stinky smell. It's impossible to wipe out all of the water on the rubber drum so mold will always form and a stink will follow the mold. Lovely! This isn't a problem unique to Sears front-loaders. I'm assuming it's all front-loaders as front-load washing machines obviously need that rubber drum to keep the water inside of the machine. I really wasn't thrilled to hear this as I'm incredibly allergic to mold, and now I have to live with it in my washing machine.
  8. Top-load energy efficient washing machines do not have this problem. These new top-load washers don't have a rubber drum for the door, eliminating any mold problems. Why didn't someone tell me this?
Old detergent amount for a
normal load recommended by Sears
New detergent amount.
Noticeably less soap.

Perhaps Sears should communicate information about their LG front-loader washing machines right up-front to the customer in the showroom or at the very least when the machine is installed. This would probably save numerous service calls by very knowledgable and patient Sears technicians.
  • This front-load washing machine will emit a musty odor due to mold build-up that is impossible to clean out. If you don't want a mildewy smell or mold build-up that could leave dark streaks on your whites, buy a top-load washing machine instead.
  • Use only 1 tablespoon of liquid HE detergent for normal loads or 2 TBSP liquid HE detergent for larger loads. (Ignore what it says about detergent levels on the actual machine and in the owner's manual.)
  • Run the "Tub Rinse" cycle every month to keep your machine clean. Wipe off the rubber drum when you are finished running the washing machine for the day.
Three bullet points could have saved me (and Sears) hours of hassle that unfortunately continues. Had I known better, I would not have bought my Sears LG front-loader. I would have bought a Sears top-load washing machine and eliminated the black mold problem. 

The Sears corporate office that must house their Social Media division called me on Saturday afternoon (about 24 hours after my latest round of repairs), seeking to close out my case and file away my complaint. I've asked Sears for another month of time to evaluate this washing machine. However, this case may never be closed given the track record of my machine and the fact that the mold problem will never really go away. 

I would like my readers to know that I have managed to do laundry for myself and my family without any hassles for the past 25 years. This front-load washing machine encompasses such a wide-range of problems that I had to share my story. As a consumer, all I want is a washing machine that doesn't make my laundry dirtier than when I put it in for a wash or randomly leak water all over the floor. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Closure for Pam Am 103 Families?

At long last, Muammar Qaddafi is dead. This is, of course, good news for the people of Libya who have lived under this militant dictator since 1968—the entirety of my life. His death may bring closure to the families of the victims of Pam Am Flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie Scotland in December 1988. Qaddafi's face has long been the face of terror for me. (See the attached link to a previous article about my personal connection to Pan Am 103.)

As CNN and Fox News show celebrations of his death and the Libyan rebels cheering in the streets and shooting their machine guns skyward in jubilation, I think Libya's future hangs in the balance. Will Libya have a chance at democracy, freedom, and peace for it's people or will it implode like so many other Middle Eastern countries? Time will tell.

Will his death really bring closure? I hope that the families of the 270 people who died on December 21, 1988 will find peace and closure in Qaddafi's death. Even though I know he's dead and I've seen the footage, I still feel unsettled about the whole thing. A sick feeling in the pit of my stomach remains. I'm not feeling any closure or peace. Of course, I'm relieved that he's gone and is no longer a menace to the world. Yes he was murdered, but was he brought to justice? No. Neither have all of his accomplices. I guess that is what leaves me unnerved and restless. Innocent people died for no good reason, and I see no justice. The one person indicted in this tragedy remains free. Another is dead, but maybe death is ultimate punishment.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Washer Woes Wear On

The culprit with boxes of parts,
 waiting for a fix
Have you ever walked into your laundry room and the horrible stink being emmited from the room forced you to quickly turn around and flip on the fan before you slam the door behind you? If you own a front-loader washing machine similar to mine you know exactly the stench that I'm talking about.

My washing machine seemingly gets continuous use each and every day. I was away over the weekend and the washer sat dormant for maybe two days tops. What an unpleasant surprise I walked into! I thought that some small animal had crawled in there to die. A thorough search found no dead mouse but the door to the top loader was closed. You wouldn't think that closing the washer door for a day or two would cause such a horrible smell?!

At least I was able to rid the room of the stench by running a load of laundry. Also waiting for me upon my return were boxes of parts that the Sears repairman had ordered last week. Great! Now I just need them installed. Installation is proving a bit difficult as no one will return my calls or e-mail about getting the repairs done. I guess I'll try calling again today or maybe someone at Sears will spot this blog post and contact me.

Meanwhile the washing machine drama continues. What will happen next week? Will Christianna's front-loader ever get repaired? Stay tuned!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hellish Washing Machine Saga Continues

So it seems that Sears has a very active social media department. I was completely astonished by the comment that SearsCare posted within 24 hours of my publishing the Washing Machine From Hell story. (Check out the comment section on my last post.) Who would think that Sears was so tech savvy! Their social media support team apparently trolls websites and blogs searching for disappointed customers, like me, who are writing unsatisfactory reviews of their products and making these views public via blog. Very smart.

I was curious to see if Sears actually would make an attempt to help me out with this horrible washing machine so I called them up on Monday morning. It turns out that my washing machine isn't classified as a true lemon so it cannot be replaced. However it does have a "service warning flag" on it, meaning it's a repairable lemon. Knowing my luck with repairing this machine, I didn't want to put any more money into it, waste my time, or a repairman's time. Sears assured me that they will repair the machine for FREE (including parts and labor) each time it needs repairs! Awesome! That's a good compromise.

We go ahead and schedule repairs for Wednesday between 1 and 5 pm. Don't you just love those huge windows of time? Given that life gets crazy starting at 4:30 pm, I requested that the repairman arrive well before 5 pm. He arrives at 4:45 pm just as all hell is breaking lose with dinner, football practice, and a bus stop pick up time. He's a very nice repairman, and I do understand that he's on a timed schedule so I'm not purposely annoyed with him. It's just a bit ironic that he arrived at exactly the time I asked Sears not to send a repairman.

An hour later and after much discussion about who should pay, no repairs are made to the machine. I'm not at all surprised. The so-called "red flag" is for a problem that I have yet to encounter with the control panel for the rinse cycle. This part must be ordered. The black streaks and stink require replacing the rubber drum. This must also be ordered. The machine also likes to retain some of the detergent and all of the bleach that should drain out at the start of the cycle. You guessed it . . . this part must also be ordered.

Now I'm waiting for the parts to arrive at my house for installation into my machine. The Sears repairman assures me Sears will contact me to set up an appointment, so the nice repairman leaves. An hour later I open up the laundry room door to clean up the aftermath of the not repaired machine only to discover that the repairman has committed the cardinal sin of all front-loader owners. He closed the washing machine door. Never close that door! 

Until next time . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Washing Machine From Hell

I'm in my domestic goddess mode this morning given that my laundry room is overflowing out into the hallway. In my house the laundry is never ending. So I need machines that will get the job done for me. I've noticed that they just don't build washing machines like they used to. Does anyone else out there agree?

I'm a year into my second washing machine in my new house; my first one gave out after a mere 7 years of abuse. In my last house (circa early 1970s) the Whirlpool in the basement was easily 25 years old before I had to replace it. For starters I think it's absurd that I needed to replace my washing machine. It only lasted 7 years! Can you imaging how many new washing machines are sitting out there on the junk pile?!

I really wish I could have gotten a few more years out of my old top-loader because my new LG front-loader really is an expensive piece of junk. This new washer claimed it was energy efficient, water saving, and environmentally friendly. NOT! It wastes water, electricity, and it literally stinks when not in use. This washer spins so fast and so hard that my lights are shaking and the floor is rattling. Great, it's doing it's job. That's what one would like to think. No, it's actually adding lovely dark black streaks onto all of my whites from the disgusting rubber liner/sealer at the edge of the door. The same rubber sealer that creates the huge stink and still leaks water onto the floor.

My new LG washing machine is creating hours more work. You can probably guess just how much I love this! By adding fresh and nasty stains to my so-called "clean" laundry, the washer is effectively using more detergent (and bleach and stain remover), wasting more water because it takes at least two more rounds to remove the new stains, and requiring more drying time in the dryer. Isn't this machine supposed to make less work and be earth friendly? I think that whoever is designing these washing machines had better go back to the drawing board. 

I found it very odd that a new washing machine would add dark streaks to clothes and towels and leak water all over the floor. I did what anyone else would do. Call up Sears and send out the repairman while it's still under warranty. I was informed that this was normal. Normal! REALLY! Best of all, it was user error. (Me being the user.) This prompted a 20 minute lesson on how to load, clean, and use this machine. All of this instruction was thankfully at no charge. Who knew that you needed a tutorial to run a load of whites?

So if you are in the market for a new front-loader washing machine, don't buy one. Look everywhere for one of the traditional machines. As for the washing machine lessons, they helped a bit but my washer still likes to surprise me by making my laundry dirtier than when I put it in for a wash. Maybe I'm just not cut out to be a laundress.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My 8-Year Old Addict

I hate to admit it, but my son is an addict at age 8. What's his addiction? Screens. Any type of screen: computer, TV, iPod, DVD player in the car, my smart phone, Nintendo DS, camera. Nothing else quite compares to a screen in Jack's world.

I realize that I am partly to blame for this addiction. It's super easy to just let him watch one more show, finish up that video game, or play a game on my phone. He's the youngest and has spent far too much time waiting on his older sister and brother as well as waiting on parents who have gotten busy with work or chores or helping one of his sibling's with homework. To help pass the time, enter the screen. He goes to incredible lengths to find a screen. Any screen will do. I'm beginning to think that he would even watch a test pattern.

Now that he's 8 years old, he's become really sneaky about his screens. He will tell me he's reading in his room but he's secretly watching The Simpson's on his iPod. My Android phone will open up to a slew of odd, but distinctively Jack, photos that he took while I thought he was watching his brother's football game. The game Angry Birds, which mysteriously appeared on my phone one day, is Jack's other calling card. He begs to watch a Tom & Jerry DVD on a 10-minute car. When I return home from dropping one of Jack's siblings at a practice, the television in the kitchen will be blaring Phineas and Ferb, but no one is in sight. Just a trail of Goldfish cracker crumbs on the floor leading down the stairs. Hmmm...I wonder who was here?

But now that school has started, Jack has been forced to curtail his screen addiction, having to sit in his 3rd grade classroom all day. Much to Jack's disappointment, the X-Box disappears during the school week. Whatever will Jack do to fill his time? Thankfully his amazing teacher has introduced him to something better—silent reading time. It's now his favorite time of the day. Okay he is reading The Monster from the Black Lagoon series but at least he's reading, and it's holding his attention! Better than being a TV-head.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Astronomical Meds

Has anyone else out there experienced this phenomena or is it just me? The cost of my prescription drugs has skyrocketed in the past year! I'm talking blatantly unaffordable prescription drugs. I've just gotten off of the phone to order my asthma meds and promptly hung up when I heard the latest cost for a 90 day supply of Singulair. It's now $432! And that's WITH my insurance. (If you can even call it insurance.) Excuse me, but who can afford that?

I've already discovered that I don't need the full dose, so I split the pill in half. My body has adjusted, and I'm saving money. Believe me, I've tried to split it into quarters but that task is nearly impossible, and my lungs need a bit more than a quarter of a Singulair tablet each day.

I literally cannot afford my asthma anymore. Given that I'm self-employed and don't qualify for a "group" insurance pool, I pay roughly 80% of my health care costs. This is on top of a hefty premium that will bump up by 25% in the coming weeks. Excuse me, but what am I paying for? Everyone else's health care I think. I'm seriously thinking of switching to a catastrophic plan. It would be cheaper, and I could bank the savings in a medical savings account.

I could understand if my premiums were raised because I had recently had a terrible bout of something or undergone some sort of major surgery. Nope, nothing like that. I eat right and work out to help keep healthy and away from the doctor's office. What do I get in return? Massive hikes in my meds and a huge premium hit.

This unreasonable price-hike is totally unfair! Why should I be penalized for my healthy lifestyle and trying to control my asthma through exercise? I almost hate to find out what my allergy meds will run me this month. I'd rather not compromise my health to save money, but the pharmaceutical companies don't leave me much of a choice. No wonder Americans are so upset about the rising costs of health care. I think I'm joining the masses.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

U2 Magnificent!

Bono waves to the fans below
Magnificent is the only word that comes to mind when describing last night's outdoor U2 concert at the University of Minnesota's TCF stadium. Having already experienced the U2 360° Tour at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland back at the start of the tour in 2009, I thought it would be an interesting experience to get General Admission tickets and attempt to get close up to the  spaceship/claw-like stage. I had to wait over a year to use these tickets as last year's concert was postponed due to Bono's back surgery. Well, it was worth the wait and we certainly got up close—smashed into 8 sweaty, standing-room-only rows from the front of the main stage and two rows from the catwalk stage behind us. We were inside the Inner Circle!

Inside the Inner Circle stage
Storms skirted around the stadium and cooled us off with gusts of cool air while the opening band Interpol rocked the crowd. By the time U2 took the stage, 60,000 fans were crammed into the stadium; so far the storms were holding off. The massive spaceship stage lit up and the 360° screen revolved with images of U2 walking onto the stage. The place exploded when Bono strode up to his mike and belted out Even Better Than the Real Thing. And it was even better! Such an amazing encounter being so close to U2 during the performance. The lights, smoke, music, stage, Bono, and crowd all interacting together really was unforgettable.

Bono and Adam
The Claw stage includes a catwalk stage that loops around the Inner Circle audience (where I was standing), and the band accesses it by one of two bridges that are on wheels that move over the crowd. At one point during Mysterious Ways, Bono and The Edge sang and played on the catwalk stage directly behind me. I felt like I could just reach out and touch them. The moment was electrifying!

Adam in the deluge
What made this show even more memorable was the rain. It started as a sprinkle halfway into the show and grew to a deluge that soaked everyone including the band. But U2 went on without a single pause. They played their guitars and sang in the pouring rain while we screamed along with them. Adam  Clayton stripped off his soaked shirt and played his bass bare-chested. We were amazed at how they could play their guitars so perfectly in the pouring rain. The experience was amplified by the fireworks going off at the nearby Aquatennial, the constant pouring rain, and the lightening illuminating the sky. A surreal experience that I will never, ever forget. Best of all I got to live this with my husband and our next-door neighbors . . . Jen and Greg thank you for sharing this with us!
Soaked but still smiling

I've attached links to reviews of this show if you'd like more details as well as my short snippet of video. The set list is in the first link. For those of you who haven't yet experienced the U2 360° Tour, you really missed out as only two shows remain. Given the energy level of Bono and the boys, I have no doubt that they will be back with another album and spectacular tour. I intend on finding myself inside the Inner Circle for that concert as well!

Bono Singing In the Rain


Rio Girl Finally a Duran Duran VIP: Part Two

The Wild Boys

Finally the conclusion to my epic Duran Duran tale. (I've attached the link to Part One of this article if you'd like to refresh your memory: I left off, the crowd of mainly ladies-of-a-certain-age and gay men are going wild with anticipation of seeing the Fab Five.   
The John Taylor smirk

Then Nick Rhodes sneaks onto the tiny stage and hides out behind his keyboards, synthesizers, and Mac laptop where he remains for the entirety of the show, randomly snapping pictures of the crowd with his Canon camera. His personality, very much sly and catlike, came across as he started the first strands of Planet Earth. Then Roger Taylor strides across the stage and takes his place with his head and drumsticks peeking out from behind his drum kit. Dom the lead guitarist slides into his place as John Taylor glides onto the stage right in front of my sister and I. We are screaming out how much we love him along with everyone else. He just smirks his trademark John Taylor Smirk right back at us. He knows he is loved and he LOVES it! Finally Simon LeBon is in his spot, also directly in front of me, at his mike, belting out Planet Earth as only Simon can. Completely UNBELIEVABLE!

For a lifetime and true die-hard Duran Duranie like myself and my sister, Linda, we are in Duran Duran heaven for the next 90 minutes. This is the band that we grew up with, whose life-sized posters were plastered all over our bedroom walls, and whose songs we've memorized for life. If you don't have a band like Duran Duran in your life, you may never relate to this epic experience.

Simon LeBon never sounded better at this concert. A crystal clear and beautiful voice with an amazing range. Simon was just mesmerizing to watch as he's so animated and truly lives these songs. I just stood there watching him while his drops of sweat rained down on me. Yes, Simon sweat!  That's how close we were to the band. His black sequined shirt started off buttoned up but as the show progress those buttons came undone. Hot!

They played all of the favorites: Hungry Like the Wolf, Notorious, The Reflex,  Ordinary World as well as a bunch of new songs off their latest album that is now their number two bestseller after 1982's Rio album. A friend asked me if I thought they ever tired of playing all of their old hits. Duran Duran showed no signs of boredom with any of their material. They showed no signs of fatigue either. Like the rest of us, they shed layers of clothing as the club heated up. Duran Duran concluded their set with an inspiring and heartfelt Reach Up for the Sunrise that had the entire club reaching and dancing!

After a very brief break, the emerged for their encore and the club nearly imploded with Rio, which just happens to be my FAVORITE Duran Duran song EVER. I had to just  stop dancing and snapping pictures to take in the moment. To have Simon sing a line from Rio as I gazed into his eyes . . . something about "I see you on the beach and I see you on tv". A moment to watch and listen to John Taylor as he expertly played his Rio bass solo or to flirt with the incredibly flirty and suggestive Dom the guitar player who replaced Andy Taylor. (That's ok. Linda and I really didn't like Andy anyway. Sorry Andy.) Unfortunately A View to a Kill was a bit disappointing, but they more than made up for it with their classic closer Girls on Film.

That was it. Suddenly the show was over. The band always meets at the middle of the stage for a wave and a bow. Nick came out from behind his wall of synthesizers and Roger Taylor emerged from his drums with his drumsticks in hand, meeting up with Simon, Dom, and John. They are smiling and waving to the crowd while I'm screaming out ROGER,  ROGER, obviously at Roger Taylor, at the top of my lungs. Guess what? He heard me. Roger turns, looks me in the eye with a sweet smile on his face, and hands me his drumsticks. Thank you I mouth while he smiles back and leaves the stage. I'm left holding Roger's drumsticks triumphantly over my head. Does it get any better than this? Not for me as a true Duran Duran fan. An unbelievable ending to an epic concert. I don't think I can ever see Duran Duran live again unless I'm in the front row between Simon and John. 
Elated!!! Moments after receiving THE drumsticks

About a week after this Minneapolis show, Simon LeBon went up for a high note in All You Need Is Now and that note wasn't there. He lost his entire upper range. Duran Duran has canceled the summer leg of their European tour and hope to resume sometime in August. After visits to many doctors and not really know what went wrong, Simon is undergoing physical therapy on his vocal cords.

I keep my drumsticks alongside of my printer by my Mac. All I need to do is look up and remember that Roger Taylor gave me his drumsticks and all is right with the world.

I still listen to Duran Duran nearly every day much to the annoyance of my children.

Thanks to you Linda, my beloved sister for joining me on this crazy lifelong ride of epic proportions. A dream come true. 

Concerts As Different as Night and Day: The Black Keys and Elvis Costello

One thing I love about living in the Twin Cities is the incredibly diverse musical acts and bands that come through Minneapolis and St. Paul. Case in point . . . two other concerts I attended nearly back-to-back this summer: the alternative band out of Akron, Ohio The Black Keys and the eclectic Elvis Costello.

The Black Keys: Live On Stage
The Black Keys

On a hot July night, I dragged a friend along with me to see The Black Keys at the Roy Wilkins Arena in St. Paul. Just the venue sight should have given me a clue about this band and the warm-up band Cage the Elephant. We went out for wine and appetizers before the concert which proved to be our civilized start to a wild musical evening. As we walked over to the Wilkens, we noticed more and more kids decked out in ripped jeans and leather, sporting multiple tattoos and piercings all over their body. We wondered if they could possibly be going to the same show as us. They were. Talk about an incredibly diverse crowd. Punkers with mohawks, middle-aged yuppies, gothic teens decked out in black, college kids, and a few women of a certain age like us. However, watching the crowd in no way prepared us for Cage the Elephant.

Lucky for us, we had missed most of this opening act. My poor friend Leslee was probably wondering what I had talked her into! It was like walking into a black sound tunnel with a cacophony of loud electronic noises and screaming vocals bouncing off of the walls and reverberating inside my skull. By the time we found our seats in the dark arena, we were treated to a couple of clearly headbanging tunes by Cage the Elephant. Loud doesn't even begin to describe the sound. At the end of the set, the lead singer finished off by jumping backward into the crowd and surfing around on the outstretched arms of the fans. I'd never seen or heard anything quite like Cage the Elephant

Everlasting Light
The Black Keys were quite different and down-right refined in comparison to the Elephant. This crowd clearly loved The Black Keys and most were on their feet for the entire show. This bluesy duo started off with their older favorites then launched into their most recent album Brothers, adding a couple more musicians to back them up. Everlasting Light featured a massive strobe light that pierced the darkness and Howlin' For You drove the crowd wild! The Black Keys play an intense show, and I really was most impressed with drummer, Patrick Carney, and guitarist, Dan Auerbach. The gave it everything and put on a spectacular show!

For more about The Black Keys July 3rd show in St. Paul, take a look at this link:

Elvis Costello: An Icon For the Ages

Let me start off by saying that no one except Elvis Costello can carry off wearing a shiny gold jacket and a fake leopard fur hat with his large black-framed glasses of course! As you can imagine, this crowd was quite a bit different than those attending The Black Keys concert. Still diverse but I felt much younger at this show.

Elvis Costello's Big Spinning Wheel
On the way to the State Theater in downtown Minneapolis (the venue for Elvis Costello), I was trying to remember how many times I'd seen him perform live. I think it was four times with the best show being at an outdoor amphitheater in Dallas, Texas back in 1994. This fifth show was still pretty good, but a bit long. I guess when you're Elvis Costello and you have a ton of songs stretching from the 1970s to 2011 you can play a long gig. Also if you're Elvis Costello, you can create a huge spinning wheel with songs and song themes written on it. Members of the audience were invited up to give it a spin, have a glass of champagne on stage while Elvis crooned, and could even take a turn dancing in the cage. This made for a somewhat comical and interesting show as you never really knew what would happen next.

He played a lot of unconventional old songs and just a bunch of long songs that he really liked to play. I particularly loved his bluesy version of Pump It Up as well as Veronica. You had to stay well into the second hour to hear all of the favorites. As I fan, I got my money's worth for the show and spectacle all wrapped up in Elvis Costello.
For an additional review on the June 29th Elvis Costello show and his set list for the show:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

America—Home of the Free, the Brave, and the Sometimes Stupid

Now that it's finally summer here in the American Upper Midwest that means one thing—motorcycles and lots of them. Summer for me means spending extra time driving around on the roads, encountering single riders or packs of motorcyclers.

I realize that you motorcycle enthusiasts will correct me that technically motorcycle season starts as soon as the snow melts but you are all out in full force this July. I'm not blindly writing this article because I do have some (very limited) experience with motorcycles. My uncle not only repairs motorcycles but also races them. Yes, I have ridden on a motorcycle while wearing a helmet. Like the majority of us who drive cars, our major experience with motorcycles is while we're out driving.

Now who hasn't been passed by the aggressive young motorcyclist, driving his racing bike at about 100 mph in traffic. Zigging and zagging around cars as if they were standing still. Of course he's not wearing a helmet. Then there are the gangs of Harley Davidson riders clad in leather or sometimes bare chested, doing their staggered speedy drive along the highway as they roar by in a pack of 20 fearsome riders. Usually most of these riders are also not wearing a helmet.

While they were in medical school at the University of Virginia, I remember my sister and brother-in-law coining a term for motorcyclists who choose not the wear a helmet—organ donors. True enough. I don't see the thrill and enjoyment of riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Do you like bugs in your teeth or butterflies smeared across your sunglasses? Is it the thrill of cheating death that prompts one to leave the helmet at home? I realize that in some states, motorcycle riders do have the choice NOT to wear a helmet, and it seems like a whole lot of people here in Minnesota exercise that choice.

I guess I don't see the joy in riding a motorcycle at 70 mph, knowing that if I crash or a car doesn't see me I'm probably dead. And at times motorcycles are very difficult to see. Especially the ones cruising along who sneak up behind you, pass you on the right, and then cut across another two lanes of traffic at lightening speed. If you drive a motorcycle like this with or without protecting your head, how to you expect to live? To me, it would be an easy choice. Helmet = life.

I applaud those motorcycle riders who opt to wear a helmet and their full leather gear even in the throes of summer heat. Perhaps a blurb I spotted in the newspaper a few weeks ago sums it up best. A motorcyclist was killed during a road rally in support of not wearing helmets in Wisconsin. While exercising his freedom of choice to not wear his helmet, he was thrown over his handlebars and landed on his head. The state trooper at the accident scene was quoted saying, "he would have survived if he was wearing a helmet."

Door County Favorites

Ephraim Beach
Having just returned from an extended stay in Door County, Wisconsin and since this is peak tourist season up there, I've compiled a little list of my favorites. Just in case you happen upon a visit to the Door.

Ephraim Beach. My perennial favorite. This sandy, shallow beach located along Highway 42 on the south side of Ephraim is perfect for kids. Lots of beach for sand castles and you can nearly walk right out to the boats anchored outside of the swimming area. With views of the village of Ephraim and Eagle bluff, this beach is the perfect place for hanging out on a hot summer afternoon.

The Red Putter. Home to the cheapest and best round of mini-golf in Door County. This challenging and fun course is fun for the whole family. If you get a hole-in-one on holes 3 or 6, you get a free round of golf!

American Folklore Theater. I've been going to this Peninsula State Park theater since it was 3 guys and a guitar back in the late 1970s. It's grown and improved since then with 2 of the 3 guys still involved in productions. For nightly original musicals performed under the stars in an outdoor amphitheater, you cannot beat AFT. I took my parents and the kids to a performance of Lumberjacks in Love last week. My boys, who were convinced they would hate it, laughed throughout the whole hilarious show and gave it a standing ovation. The outdoor season runs from Memorial Day through mid-October.

View from the top
Eagle Tower. As long as we're already in Peninsula State Park, don't miss a climb up the Eagle Tower. This 75-foot tower soars above Eagle Bluff and gives you a birds-eye view of the peninsula, Green Bay, and Ephraim.

Cana Island Lighthouse. As a child, I remember having to nearly swim out to this Lake Michigan lighthouse. Not anymore. Thanks to receding waters, you can now walk out to the Cana Island Lighthouse. This is a great little morning trip or you can make it a day trip by biking out to the island along quiet County Road Q outside of Bailey's Harbor. There is a slight fee but worth it to explore the lighthouse and walk around the island. My kids love climbing around on the rocks and throwing an obscene amount of rocks back into Lake Michigan.

Crystal clear waters on Rock Island
Rock Island State Park. This little island is my favorite place in all of Door County. It's beautiful, historical, and remote with the most beautiful sandy beach that is usually deserted. This 912 acre state park is located off the tip of Washington Island. Only foot traffic is allowed on the island. Getting to this park is half of the fun. First you must take the ferry from Northport to Washington Island, make your way to Jackson Harbor on Washington Island, and board the tiny ferry named "Karfi" out to Rock Island. If you have your own boat, there is a dock. You can explore the stone boathouse, the lighthouse overlooking Lake Michigan, the sandy beach, or stay the night in the campground. This park is a true gem.

Dining on the bay at Fred and Fuzzy's
There is so much more to see and do in Door County, which is loaded with shops, galleries, fishing excursions, and restaurants. Here are just a few of my favorite restaurants:

Ephraim: Good Egg, Leroy's Coffeehouse, Wilson's
Sister Bay: Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant (of course), The Inn at Kristofer's, Fred and Fuzzy's, The Waterfront Restaurant
Fish Creek: The Cookery
Egg Harbor: PC Junction