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Before & After (My Biggest Job Yet)

12/04/2012
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So my boss purchased the property and doublewide trailer upon it directly below him to use as a guest house, possibly rental property. When I first walked in I was struck by one, a great odor, like that out of Mordor…(or maybe the Hobbit is just on my mind these days). There were holes punched in the walls, the fire alarm was torn off the wall, there was great evidence of dirt all over the carpet, no furniture but a few pieces of seen better days about 30 years ago, and overall a general ew-ness. Of course, my boss needed it turned livable and inhabitable within 10 days. Whirlwind.

Here are the “Before” pictures….

 

Friday, appliances ordered, furniture ordered, household goods picked out. Monday, appliances delivered, Tuesday handyman, Wednesday house-cleaners and pressure washing, Thursday more house-cleaners and carpet and duct/vent cleaners, Friday furniture….yeah, it’s been a crazy couple days!

And the “After…”

 

 

 

Charleston’s Quiet Haven – Middleton Place Inn

10/02/2012

Remember the scene from The Patriot where the ship blows up? If you recall, just after that is the favorite “horse blanket” disgust portrayed by Cornwallis. He makes a derisive comment about attending a ball at Middleton Place when he should be attending balls in North Carolina… Yes, this is the Middleton Place and Cornwallis (at least as portrayed by The Patriot) was an idiot.

First of all, conveniently outside of Charleston where $400 a night is more common than not. Second, long windy driveway up to the Inn. Third, free admission to the historic house, grounds, gardens and farm area. Fourth, wooden benches and picnic tables on the edge of the bluff overlooking the Ashley River in which I saw dolphins cavorting and later saw an alligator sleepily paddling. Hiking trails, droopy Spanish moss and huge hardwoods. A pool and lodge with games. A hammock lazily swinging between two trees in the courtyard. Luxurious cabin-like rooms with huge bathrooms and tile tubs the size of my closet.

Do I really need to continue?

Plus, no one has lived til they’ve walked the streets of Charleston – particularly down by East Battery, up and down Broad and Market Streets, and yes – Rainbow Market is worth it. High Cotton was a classic must-enjoy. The Dark Side of Charleston walking tour was absorbing and (yes) dark…. I love this city.

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At $150 – $180 a night (and going up from there), it’s a very reasonable amount for the free continental breakfast, historic tour, hiking and lounging capabilities, and the nearness (yet remote) distance of Charleston. I highly recommend The Inn at Middleton Place – I look forward to going back.

Corporate Christmas Gift: FOUND!

09/12/2012
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For weeks I’ve been trying to locate that “perfect” gift for the corporate staff. You know, the one that says we care but we also didn’t forego your raise by getting you this item…or even better, yes, we thought you would really wear this silly star-shaped pin that affirms we think you’re a STAR. There’s also the diverse variety of personalities on staff, so while wine might work for one another would be offended; sales might enjoy a new luggage bag but the web team would prefer a Think Geek USB hub in the shape of R2D2.

What better idea than one that came to me as I read David Pease’s 100 ways to show appreciation for your staff paper. He was actually talking about creating personalized ornaments but me and crafts are … not happening.

So I, of course, turn to Google and located CORPORATE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS.COM! I got an instant quote on their half dozen styles of ornament. I’m able to get 50 Christmas ornaments with our company logo and appreciation phrase and our staff can have a clever gift pretty much (hopefully) no one can roll their eyes at. (No pens, no padfolios, no stupid pins, HR people.) I am actually excited about this year’s gift!

A Plug for Quidsi (Soap/Diapers/Casa/Wag/YoYo.coms)

06/10/2012
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“Quidsi” started with Diapers.com — and got me hooked within a short time. Not only could I get just about the same price on diapers/wipes as I could at Sams, I could have them delivered free to my door within 2 days….and have a vast array of options for both items and brands: Seventh Generation, Earth’s Best, Plum Baby, etc.

Then they got Soap.com going. While I PREFER Alice.com’s ability to sort BY UNIT PRICE (insanely awesome when dealing with things like toilet paper or laundry detergent), Soap.com has an easier navigation and because orders can be combined for the free shipping (which applies after $50)….well….

Soon they added Wag.com (Pets), Yo-Yo.com (Toys) and now Casa.com (Household) and I’m continually in love with the group. Here’s an example of customer service:

Item received damaged, a store credit towards my next purchase given AND the item reshipped.

Dog food had a recall — they auto shipped replacement food to me.

My most recent order was very large ($140) and included dog food, gluten-free cookies for the kids, diapers, toilet paper, laundry detergent, salsa, etc. It arrived in a very large giant box (which is, to UPS, a giant request to throw me as hard as you can because I’m so big). The salsa was broken open, as was the laundry detergent and the cookies were basically a nice pre-made crumb topping. I let them know (YES, I was NICE…because I’m usually on that end!).

Their response?

Not only did they refund 50% of my order to my card, they reshipped the entire order! Not just the damaged items. THE ENTIRE ORDER.

Along with a 7 paragraph email apologizing for our trouble and distress. I am again validated that the more wordy the response, the more it’s appreciated (every now and again someone tries to tell me I shouldn’t write long apologies and explanations but they really do help, otherwise customers feel brushed aside as if what they have to complain about isn’t important enough for a long answer).

Yet again, Quidsi and company have my vote for best customer service and satisfaction rate, in addition to being the most  convenient way to simplify and save time through delivery!

When they start doing produce — you’ll never see me in a grocery store again.

(FYI — they auto-apply any outstanding coupon for the item and you can also mail in coupons to use on your orders.) Want to get started on your love of delivery? ENTER COUPON CODE: LIZDARN08 for $10 off (and possibly also 20%!).

William Falk on College (The Week)

05/18/2012
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My older daughter is already off at school, and the younger, a high school junior, has taken us on a tour of exciting collegiate options from North Carolina to Massachusetts. They all have exquisite campuses, exciting academic programs, and total annual costs exceeding…I am pausing here to breathe…$50,000 a year. Four times $50,000 is — I am trying to breathe more slowly and deeply — a crazy number, especially when multiplied by two kids. It sounds even crazier when I read the other day that 53 percent of college grads under the age of 25 either have no job, or are waiting tables, manning receptionist desks, or folding sweaters at the mall. [Interjection that I recently read that the number of food stamp recipients who also have masters degrees are tripled this year.] As Frank Bruni noted in The New York Times, college used to be a “synonym for success. We only had to go. We only had to graduate.” Now a diploma — especially in the liberal arts — guarantees nothing but a lot of debt.

Yes, I know. Education is not merely a means to a good job. You don’t have to convince me. In my college years, back in the less-competitive 70′s, I took classes in whatever I found intriguing — philosophy, psychology, English lit and astronomy, with little thought to anything as crass as making money. After graduating, I found an entry-level job at a newspaper anyway. (Agreeing to working nights and weekends helped.) Today, education experts say a liberal arts degree isn’t entirely useless — as long as it’s followed by a graduate degree. Kids with a simple B. A. will still be folding sweaters at the age of 33. So do the math: 2 kids x $50,000 a year x seven years = ???!!! I’m breathing deeply, this time into a brown paper bag. – William Falk, The Week, May 11 issue

The Federal student loan program became the latest battleground in the election campaign, as a 3.4 percent interest rate subsidy, set to expire in effect doubling the rate to 6.8 percent which would saddle 7 million undergraduates with nearly $3,000 in additional interest. Jordan Weissmann, of TheAtlantic.com aptly suggested we not mistake the extension of the subsidy for college affordability since tuition fees are at all time highes with total student debt at $1 trillion, with uncertain returns. As Frank Bruni suggests, subsidies would be better spent steering students towards degrees that will actually get them jobs.

Carrabelle Beach — A Gem on Forgotten Florida’s Sugar Sand

05/15/2012
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I’m a TRIP planner — you know, the kind of “vacation” where you need a vacation when you return? The week at a destination where you know every street, landmark and building by site when you see it on TV, a movie or where a friend asks you a good place to eat in San Francisco and you rattle off 8-9 you tried?

Rabbit Trail: We had 2 weeks in Colorado when I was 9 months pregnant with our son. We started in Denver, of course; wound over to Estes Park via my cousins near Boulder; left them to see Colorado Springs, hit Grand Junction via Black Canyon of the Gunnison, spent a week in Breckenridge where we trotted about Copper Mountain and the Continental Divide, hiked 4 miles through Boreas Pass, and landed splat back in Denver for a traipse into The Tattered Cover and a Jamba Juice experience. Yeah…the only things we skipped were Durango (boohoo!) and the Royal Gorge (hubby doesn’t like swinging bridges suspended over canyon walls, whaaaat?!). I forgot to mention, we also raced to Utah in there, and saw Arches National Park and a few dead cow skulls. I say raced because yes, I finally went 110 somewhere between Colorado desert and Utah desert.

Back on Track: So this trip is not a trip, but a vacation. A beach vacation, no less. My husband thanks me in the sweetest way with his sigh of relief that I had nothing (absolutely nothing) planned.

First, I found “the town” that was more remote, less expensive and yet not ridden with holes in the roof in the old part of Florida known as the “Forgotten Coast.” Hence, the RVC Carrabelle Beach.

An ocean view loft over the convenience store at the RV/cottage sites, just across the street from a beautiful stretch of sugar sand looking out on the Gulf and St. George’s Island and Dog Island a few miles out. With a swimming pool, deck stocked with chairs and tables and a rec center with exercise equipment and a pool table, our full kitchen, launderette, dining room, living room and bedroom are quite large and comfortable for the two of us. We’ll likely be back in a few years for the kids’ first real trip to the beach. (Playground and bark park included!) 

The 2 bedroom cottages look adorable and start at just $99 a night, and while the max capacity on the RV lots is 6 people, it’s a great spot for families and those looking to get away to a quiet, clean and affordable spot without the crowds. LIKE them on Facebook to enter to win a free weekend getaway!

We enjoyed a good (though not great) pizza and (great) fried pickles at BJ’s pizza on St. George’s Island; a great beer and homemade potato chips at the Owl Tap Room in Apalachicola followed by dinner of salmon and chocolate mousse at the Owl Cafe and a cafe style breakfast at Two Al’s on the Beach. Recommend bringing own food/meal prep (also the loft did not contain pots/pans or much variety in the way of kitchen utensils).

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Staff very helpful as is the convenience store and the fellow visitors all courteous and friendly. However, it is good to note that they provide half a roll of toilet paper and if you run out on the 3rd day and have 4 more to go, they don’t typically provide anything additional. There’s also no pots/pans, or much in the way of cooking supplies despite the full kitchen.

Love the local area and the fact that you can drive down Highway 98 for miles viewing the ocean just a few feet from the roadway — cute little beach houses perched above the rocks….

 

Never Use Hilton Advance Purchase….

05/08/2012
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I made a mistake when booking and clicked the wrong date — oops, my bad. But Hilton has such great customer service, they even refund your room fee if you don’t have a good experience (though previous experience also tells me you have to fight tooth and nail while Hilton corporate turns you over to the hotel manager who pretends you never addressed the issue while onsite)….

Anyway, I called the hotel first, to ask for a change to the next night. No problem! They exclaim, but then sorrowfully informed me that I have to call the Hilton customer care line to get the change because it’s an advance purchase.

While on the phone with Hilton, the rep (who can barely speak English, of course) is having a difficult time locating my reservation. She asked for my address, phone number, name, etc. before saying “oh it was here all along.” Oooookay….

She can’t help me, I need to call the number, do I have paper handy, number is…. (I’m still trying to find paper….)

She then hangs up abruptly. I have the first 3 numbers written down, having just managed to find paper.

I go online, find the number and call only to be told “sorry, we can’t modify reservations, and we can’t refund unless you call 3 days in advance of the reservation and it’s 2 1/2 days away now.”

Really? It’s 2012 and you can’t modify the reservation, and it takes THREE days to issue a refund so I can resubmit the reservation, which according to the hotel, is perfectly acceptable to do…if only I hadn’t used Advanced Purchase?

No, it’s different billing departments and it takes three days. Technically, I know it takes 24 hours, max, but that’s ok — they don’t want your business apparently.

Unfortunately, this being my second strike against my favorite brand of inns (Hampton/Hilton), I’m rethinking my loyalty. In a day where there are hundreds of articles and webinars on the danger of losing a loyal customer simply because you’re bound and determined to state “it’s policy,” you’d think Hilton would 1) have a better system that can allow changes and modifications, where refunds don’t require 3 days and 2) when the hotel is ok with changing the date of the reservation, you’d think that corporate would be, too and 3) they would state 4 times “it’s our policy” on a call.

Just saying, and just a warning: be overly careful when dealing with Hilton. I guess Paris needs a new purse…though I THINK she prefers those that cost more than my measly hotel stay would provide. I think I’ll try Holiday Inn next time.

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