Nubbly Luvvly

Just browsing for no reason through Pottery Barn this weekend, I found the rug I'd been coveting for some time. I hesitated before because it seemed impractical, an ivory rug that's as shaggy as an English sheepdog.
But it was on sale as a floor sample, but a floor sample that looked like it'd never hit the ground before! Impracticality is much more acceptable when it's at a discount.
It nubbly and lovely, and now underfoot in our living room.

Book Club

I recently finished reading a book brought to Chicago by Juliet. I love the tradition of sharing books, passing on a good read when you are done with it. I am also delighted when I am the unexpected beneficiary of this practice.

The Zookeeper's Wife tells the story of the Warsaw Zoo during WWII. The book provided a balance of historical fact as well as family life as the Nazis took over Warsaw. The zookeeper's family had a menagerie of odd pets, badgers, meercats, regular cats and hamsters, and an arctic hare, so the animal characters of the book are about as prominent as the humans. (There's more from a review here.)

The night I finished reading this book I had a dream about Ginger, the dog of the neighbor we grew up next to, Mrs. Urbanski. She was Polish herself and spoke with a heavy accent. When I was little she always entertained our visiting on her front porch. I remember showing her how I had first learned how to blow bubbles with my bubble gum. Ginger was a little dirty mop of a dog that would jump up on our bare knees, happy to see us. Since we had no pets, Ginger was like a little foster dog.

I wonder if, while dreaming, my brain was thinking of the book and just looking through its files for "Polish animals" and all it found was our Polish neighbor's dog. I had not thought of that dog for years and years. It's funny the little trails our dreams take us down while we sleep.

Postscript on Trip Post

For those of you following the drama (trauma) of our short vacation: Travelocity has replied and has offered a refund of the money they made off of our trip, about $300. In addition there's a credit for future hotel or hotel+flight on the table as an offer. (I was kind of hoping it could be a flight, so I could use it towards maybe a trip to visit Abby in Portland. If my flight were to go awry again, I know Abby & David wouldn't charge me for a room even if I couldn't make it... unless their guest room policies have changed!) Or maybe Jason and I could use it for a Chicago stay-cation, since sadly the CTA Red Line is probably more reliable than the airlines!

This helps me begin to reconcile at least some with Travelocity. Their letter was pretty nice and understanding. Reasonable, too.

The refund probably works out to $42.86 every time I cried that weekend.

Night Now Gone

I'm only on #3, but I already know that my night is lost to the "Definitive List of The 99 Things You Should Have Already Experienced On The Internet Unless You're a Loser or Old or Something" I apologize if there's porn or something by the time you get to #42, since as I said, I'm not very far into the list. (But so far, I have seen about 2/3 of the items listed, so I'm feeling kind of hip and informed.)

But, now my unwinding-after-work brain is torn between YouTube and the Realhousewives of New York City.

*Sigh*, I could make such contributions to society if it weren't for Tivo and the internet.

#33 Bert & Ernie Gangsta Rap (and I promise, no Sesame Street related posts in April, I guess I'm just regressing somewhere.)

Ready, Set...

I signed up for the Lincoln Park Zoo 5k again this year! Time to start "training." Training in quotes because it's really just me telling myself to go to the gym and get on the treadmill or risk being embarrassingly slow in public. (Race day is in early June.)

I found a website that lists all the charity runs in the Chicago area and contemplated signing up for others, like one that opens baseball season by running through Wrigleyville. I hesitated though because it seems like there would be more people to see you dissolve into a sweaty, tired, mess. And you are running through the streets of a neighborhood full of pretty sorority girls and clean-faced but loud-mouthed frat boys. Beautiful people. I'd rather just look a mess in front of the kangaroos and lions at the zoo.

We'll see.

Here's Why

If you've been reading, you know I've got a penchant for protest, writing letters to the companies that deserve the benefit of my feedback.

Well, they ought to know.

Where did this begin? What gave me this sense of entitlement, the expectation of justice and fairness... or at least what I paid for?

"Your Aunt Myrtle knitted you a lemon!"

In the essay that got me into Oberlin, I credited Ralph Nader's appearance on Sesame Street. A consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood. When I grew up, that's what I wanted to be.

Although I don't know what I was doing watching Sesame Street in 1988... I might have been a little old for that.

Letter from My Vacation: Last One

In addition to the letters you've seen to Marriott and Travelocity, I also wrote to United after our haphazard weekend in Arizona. The letter writing has been kind of cathartic, after such a manic-depressive vacation. But after it all, I found myself wondering if the vacation relieved stress or created more.

United. I feel like you are the bad boyfriend, and you hurt me and cheat on me. You shrug your shoulders and say, "I can't help it, babe, I'm a man, you know?" = "I can't help it, I'm an airline. I overbook." And you do it again and again. But I keep on going back... cause you're convenient. Chicago is your hub, after all.

Or as their reply to my letter actually went:
"Like most airlines, United overbooks to ensure we're filling as many seats as possible on every flight. This practice evolved because some ticketed guests don't show up for their flight. By studying past records and considering fixed
factors we can predict the number of "no shows" for a particular flight
with a high degree of accuracy. Normally, these planning procedures are
extremely effective, but there are occasions when more guests show up
than can be accommodated. Situations such as the one you describe
concern us, and we understand your frustration."

They might be refunding me the money I spent on shorts and a t-shirt, because the attire for 20 degrees in Chicago was not at all appropriate for hot Arizona. My more appropriate attire arriving a day late, in my lost luggage.

But ultimately there's no recompense for all the angst we experienced at the gate that night and their employees' bumbling. Stupid United. But sadly, they might be the best of what's around, compared to how rotten USAirways was last month!

I'll surrender to the necessity of flying you again, United. (Please don't screw up my visit to see Grandma at Easter!) But you're on notice.
I don't want to be a bitter person. Really.

Lying in the Wrong Hotel, In My Husband's Underwear

To reassure any doubters that I don't just write letters of complaint (although the balance is likely in that favor, and I think I might change that), here's my letter of gratitude to the kind folks at Marriott. I seriously wanted to go 'round the desk and hug the manager at one point, but thought that might seem inappropriate:

Dear Marriott,
I am writing to praise members of your staff in Arizona, both at the Camelback Inn and Desert Ridge JW Marriott properties, who made a tangible difference to the enjoyment of my and my husband’s recent vacation in Scottsdale, turning around what began as a miserable experience. Their attentiveness, calm and kindness are the kind of customer service that build lifelong brand loyalty. Before I can say anything more, I want to say THANK YOU.

We had an unfortunate beginning to our trip: our flight was overbooked and my husband was nearly bumped off the plane (while I had a seat assignment and debated boarding by myself, or canceling our whole trip and losing every penny.) The airline then lost my luggage. We arrived at the Camelback Inn after 1 am (3 am our local time.) Walking up to the entrance, I inhaled the sweet tender smell of the flowers lining the pathway, and felt the warmth of the fire pit and thought to myself, “At least we have arrived.”

As we approached the front desk and said, “Hi, we’d like to check in” the subtly startled look of Gary, the night desk manager, should have tipped us off that something was awry. But Gary kindly took my itinerary, even though he probably already knew his property was booked full that night. After searching for our reservation through the confirmation #, first name, last name, any way possible, it was clear that the reservation I’d made weeks earlier on Travelocity had disappeared.

I have to pause and appreciate specifically that Gary never sought to lay blame on Travelocity or Marriott, but quickly moved to trying to find a solution. This is uniquely different, but such a welcome change from other experiences I’ve had while traveling where airlines will blame each other, hotel agents shrug their shoulders... Gary even talked to Travelocity twice on my behalf - a really frustrating experience, since the operator’s first language was not English. While I was juggling talking to Gary and Travelocity at the same time I was able to compare the customer service experience from both companies, and Marriott came out far, far, far ahead - demonstrating an exceptional caliber of customer service, when it counts the most. Gary arranged to have us stay the night at the sister Desert Ridge property and invited us to come back the next day when rooms were available. He promised to make a note to fill in the the front desk in the morning and to call the Desert Ridge so they could expect us.

When we arrived at the Desert Ridge, Steve, the Night Manager there, came out to meet us. Since he and Gary had already spoken it was a relief not to have to reiterate our story and go through the futile search for our reservation. They gave us a room that was considerately not too far to walk to, and a toiletry kit, since mine was lost with my luggage. Steve was courteous and understanding, as were his staff, and he even also offered to take our confirmation number to see if he could figure out the problem. By 3 am that night, our heads found pillows. (5 am our local time, I’d now been awake for an exhausting 24 hours. Great start to a vacation, right?)

I was momentarily distressed when I called Camelback Inn in the morning and the woman I spoke to didn’t sound familiar with our little tale of tribulation, but when I asked she quickly handed the phone off to the manager, Ben. After driving back over to Camelback, I was encouraged when I introduced myself (again) at the desk, and both desk agents readily smiled and immediately said, “Oh yes, Mrs. Priestas, let us get Ben for you.” I cannot express how depressed I’d started the day, waking up and remembering all that had happened, and that I was lying in a bed in the wrong hotel, wearing a pair of my husband’s underwear for pajamas. But as low and discouraged as this made me, it changed when Ben took out the property map and coyly explained that our room was here [circling a room number] and the pool was here [circling the big blue box on the map] but that we wouldn’t need that because he’d upgraded us to a room with a private pool. We would be in the Presidential suite, since we’d originally booked a suite, he explained, grinning. I stopped and felt like I was going to choke with happiness, cry with happy surprise. All the frustration of the previous day turned completely around. (The Sunset Margarita at the R Bar helped too! Delicious!)

But if you’d watched us go through the Jack Rabbit Suite you’d think we were the family in an Extreme Makeover Home Edition episode. Our jaws were on the floor and we just felt so enormously relieved. Thank you also to Ben who gave us a credit to the room for the $100 we’d spent unexpectedly on the taxi to and from the Marriott properties -- I ended up needing some extra cash for shorts from the gift shop.

This level of service was consistent in our every interaction with JW Marriott employees at Camelback Inn, even those who had no idea what we’d dealt with. Rita at the R Bar, the ladies at the gift shop, the friendly security guard who stopped his cart to tell us about the trails on Mummy Mountain, and the massage therapists at the spa (but I guess you expect them to be gentle and kind!)

We probably said to each other every other hour, “We have to come back here.” Although, next time we’ll book directly through Marriott and skip Travelocity!

Thank you again particularly to Gary (who we probably have to apologize to for scaring so much!) and to Steve and Ben. When people have asked about our vacation I retell the up’s and down’s and I end by emphasizing how exceedingly wonderful Marriott was and how excellently your staff responded to our needs. As I said, it turned a really sad start to the vacation right around.


Too Awesome

Two, too awesome things:

1. From a blog I read daily, Jordan surprised her husband with a break dancer dressed in a bear costume at his office to wish him happy birthday.

2. Jason introduced me to the daft punk console. You can work it, make it, stronger, faster, harder. Guaranteed to drive your spouse crazy and make him swear never to show you anything on the internets again. Ever. (Just kidding, I think Jason is enjoying how easy I can be to entertain.)

When Travels Become Travails

My letter of complaint to Travelocity, since I can't bear retelling the story in another fashion, and this will sum it up, although in quite some length!:

Dear Travelocity,
I am writing in regard to significant problems that my husband and I experienced during a recent trip to Phoenix/Scottsdale, booked through Travelocity. One of the premises of your advertising that attracted us to booking through Travelocity was the assurance that knowing if anything came up to cause interruption or disruption to our trip, we’d be alerted. That handy traveling gnome would pop up to alert us and provide solutions. As we stood at the hotel desk, at 1 am in the morning (3 am our local time) struggling with the issues I’ll tell you about later, my husband picked up a pen and wrote “Where’s Your Gnome Now?” across the top of our Travelocity itinerary.

Our United flight leaving Chicago for Phoenix was significantly overbooked. Making matters worse, I received a seat assignment, but my husband had no seat assignment and was in serious jeopardy of not getting on the plane. We stood at the gate, I was in tears, deciding whether to go on our vacation by myself or stay and abandon our trip - which would no longer be refundable, nor covered by travel insurance, even if we’d purchased it. The only alternative United was offering was to bump him to a flight that’d arrive after 5 pm the next day - losing an entire half of our vacation time. If you held true to your advertising, might it be helpful to tell me while I was booking my trip that this flight was XX% full and offer itineraries where both travelers could be better assured of a seat? I will be writing to United about this, but I feel that some blame lies with Travelocity as well, based on the promises you make your customers. (As a another detail, since I waited in the gate crying and begging the United agents to find a way to get my husband on the plane, we were the very last to board and I had to check my carry-on, which United subsequently lost. I’m writing to United about this, but for you this will give context for the later frustrations we experienced.)

We arrived at the hotel, and the startled look of the Night Desk Manager soon revealed that he had absolutely no record of our reservation -- and no available rooms. Even with a confirmation number, and searching for the reservation in multiple ways, he could not find any record of our room -- which we’d already fully paid for through Travelocity.

I called Travelocity to see if the situation could be cleared up. I first spoke with Daniel, who asked for my phone number to call back if we got disconnected. We did. But he never called back. I called Travelocity again and spoke to Annie (having to reiterate everything I’d already told Daniel), and she also took my phone number. After some conversation and putting me on hold, our call again dropped. She also NEVER called me back. This angered me greatly. For all Daniel and Annie knew, my husband and I were still standing at a hotel desk in Scottsdale, past 1 am, with no luggage and nowhere to sleep for the night. What’s the point of politely and diligently taking a contact number down, “in case we get disconnected” if you will never call back? I imagined they might have been relieved, “Phew! So glad I don’t have to deal with that disaster!” Even days later, Travelocity never called us back. How can you abandon customers like that?

One of the first questions Annie asked me was, “Did you inform us that you would be checking in late?” Is this part of the Travelocity script, “#1 - Blame the customer for their predicament?” I quickly advised her that since I booked both our flights and hotel through Travelocity, your company knew what time we’d be arriving! They were on the same itinerary! Later, I looked through our Travelocity paperwork and noticed in the terms of the reservation, “Your hotel reservation is prepaid and guaranteed for late arrival.” So why was your company trying to weasel this into being my fault?

While I was on the phone with Annie, I tried to explain to her that Marriott was offering a solution to have us stay that night in their sister property and come back for the two following nights when they did have openings. After explaining this twice myself and having the Marriott front desk manager explain this to her once, Annie explained that she did not understand. This language barrier added a layer of unnecessary frustration to our experience.

Annie kept on proposing that she’d just book us to another hotel in the Scottsdale area. I explained - REPEATEDLY - that I had researched and chosen the Camelback Inn for a reason and since they were willing to accommodate us the following nights I wanted to do that. I told her we’d even made spa reservations for the following days at the Camelback, and we’d be charged for those if we had to cancel. She was refusing to allow me to take this offer! She insisted that they’d charge us. When I argued that I was standing right there at the front desk and was assured by Marriott they wouldn’t, she instead put me on hold and called the hotel. Ironically we stood there as the phone rang and the guy we were three feet away from picked up the phone, it was Annie. (She’d already spoken to him actually, when I had handed my cell phone across the desk to him.) Even he had to explain that this was the customer’s (my!) choice. I was honestly kind of offended at the thought that Annie might just rebook us arbitrarily into another hotel we knew nothing about, we didn’t have a car to get to... but this understanding of how and why people choose to travel was evidently missing.

I don’t know where the disconnect on our hotel reservation occurred, whether the fault lies with Travelocity or with Marriott, but the caliber of both companies was revealed in how you responded to the situation. Not calling the customer back, blaming the customer, assuming that any hotel in Scottsdale is interchangeable with another, and at its root not honoring the promises of your advertising that induced me book through Travelocity in the first place. (On the other hand, I will be writing a thank you note to Marriott for their thoughtfulness and problem-solving attentiveness.) At the end, we didn’t get to a bed until 3 am that night.

I’d appreciate a reply to address these issues. Without it, my mind is set that I will never use Travelocity again. I will advise my friends to do the same. You can be sure that when my friends and coworkers ask about our vacation, your company’s name will be part of the story. I’d certainly like to add a second chapter where Travelocity can redeem itself by offering a refund of our trip or another make-good based on our problems. (I am at least hoping that the trip I booked through your company next month won’t be the same disaster.)

Postcard from AZ

In just three days our vacation had its significant up's and down's. Rather than recounting the worst parts I'll just later post the 3 page letter I've drafted for Travelocity - and the thank you to Marriott. I can advise you that Marriott is very good, and Travelocity and United are VERY BAD. Once they've got your money in hand they don't care much for your time or enjoyment. BAD, so BAD!

Despite our vacation enjoyment being postponed by 24 hours, and my being awake for that same amount of time on Thursday, our heads finally found pillows by 3 am, albeit in a different hotel than planned, without my luggage.

After our struggles, things turned around dramatically when the Marriott front desk manager pulled out a map of the property, circled our room with his JW Marriott pen and explained, "You're right by the pool, but your room has a private pool. We gave you the Presidential Suite due to your troubles last night, I think you'll like it." I was stunned. When the bellman took us to the room and walked us through you'd think we were a family seeing their new home in Extreme Makeover Home Edition after Ty Pennington has yelled, "Driver, move that bus!"

The private pool worked out well since I was dying to be in the pool but only had a men's t-shirt from the gift shop to swim in. (My luggage arrived by 4 pm the day after we arrived in Arizona.) We also invented new jobs, since we wouldn't qualify for this suite on our own. If asked, we'd tell our fellow guests that Jason was an internet tycoon, and me, an author. (Kind of true, I have this blog and he does have a sports blog and works in the industry!)The room, a 'Sunset Margarita', massages, and a credit for the $100 we ended up spending getting back and forth to their sister Marriott property the first night got me caught up on vacation relaxation. The sun was extradordinary, and the warm temperatures so needed. I hiked up a trail on Mummy Mountain in the morning, we rented bikes in the afternoon. Dinner at the BLT steak restaurant was indulgent, and my tastebuds can still recall the taste of their popovers - warm bread, served with creamy butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Crafty Kitty

These adorable cat toys are DIY, from Martha Stewart. Because exactly what we need, are more cat toys.

But this fellow could benefit from some exercise.
He might be posing this way to hide his belly. I'd do the same.

As an afterthought, I don't know that any of the folks that read this blog have cats. Except Juliet. Maybe her cat, Olive, will enjoy these toys too.
The rest of you could try them as a hippie necklace.

Confirm or Ignore?

Although I'm on it, I grow increasingly wary of Facebook.

How long will I live in mild fear that someone will post a horribly embarrassing photo from grade school, --or worse, high school-- which all the new people I've met since those dark, chubby days will see? (Slate has a reflective article on this new social concern.) Or maybe people I knew in college will see me in my new older, chubby days? (Baby fat in school, slowing metabolism chub now.)

I narrow the tunnel to my private life progressively through the Facebook privacy settings. Only my Friends can see updates. Only I can see photos that others tag of me. I'm becoming like the Bush administration was with the press.

But someday I wonder if I'll just bail on the whole thing. Claim like Dick Cheney that I'm not subject to this prying. It's too much maintenance!

If I wanted to talk to people from high school, wouldn't I have found them already?

10 Privacy Setting Every Facebook User Should Know is here and might be something I'll be putting to use!

Fire Insurance for Ladybugs

James reminded me of this other Sesame Street classic, the Ladybug Picnic. Another way that I learned to count to 12! Can't decide if I like the sack race or the toasting marshmallows better.

Stem, and Root of Hope

Even I did not necessarily think that that the hope and progress would feel so tangible, so soon.
The news of Barack Obama overturning the ban on stem cell research made me satisfied, in a bittersweet manner, yesterday.

Just the other week I'd watched a Frontline episode on Parkinson's disease, where Micheal J. Fox talked about his enormous frustration sitting in a congressional hearing listening to scientists say that a cure might be found in five years and thinking it wouldn't happen for him in time. I know it's a complex ethical issue, where some feel that stem cell research destroys potential lives through the embryos it uses. But how hard is it to watch Parkinson's destroy the life of people already living, knowing science might be able to catch up to it with a remedy? Or at least give people some hope.

I guess Barack Obama delivers on that campaign promise. And it was nice to not think about the economy for a minute.

You can watch the Frontline episode online, and be prepared to spend the rest of your evening contemplating it.

I Wish Santa Came in March

I wish Santa Claus existed, that he read my wishlist and sent me these pretty things from J. Crew.

The blouse has the cheery spring colors that remind me of our easter hats. Mom would take us to the local craft store to select silk flowers to decorate our hats. Maybe the Easter Bunny will oblige?

Weekend with My Sister

I was hosting Juliet this weekend in Chicago, which had us walking and driving up and down, and all around, town. This is the good thing about out-of-town guests, they make us get out and enjoy the stuff that's right around the corner but we never get to because grocery shopping and dry cleaning takes priority.

Friday afternoon a nearly two mile stroll to enjoy welcome mild temps and then dinner at one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, Avec. That walk made me feel a little better about all the rich food I enjoyed this weekend.
Saturday touring Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House. This is really something that a usual tourist might never get to, since it's on the southside, tucked into the University of Chicago campus. Gratefully, the weekend's steady rain stopped for the exterior part of the tour.
Saturday afternoon finding the one available parking space in Lincoln Park before going to make pretty purses at 1154 Lill. I swear every time I go there I could make 2 or 3 bags. Luckily Juliet had never been, despite there being a store right in Philadelphia too.
Dinner and flights of Winter Whites (me) and Winter Reds (Juliet) at Webster's Wine Bar, then a beer in Wrigleyville.
It's no wonder this morning all we did was eat cereal on the couch and watch 'What Not to Wear.' And after she left, I kind of stayed on the couch, trying to soothe a sore throat.

Winter Snow What?

Ahead of our escape from winter to Arizona, Pink of Perfection provides a list for shrugging off the winter blues.
I like the idea of baking bread and doing something with your hands, whether that's home improvement or home decor!


This was the best Sesame Street bit, and one that comes to my head without a split-second's hesitation, even many years later. I never knew that it was the Pointer Sisters helping me learn how to count to twelve.
How crazy psychedelic years later.

Needle Knows

Sewing class was a success, and a very productive way to fill a day where the snow fell from morning to late afternoon. See my new pillow below from a swank Japanese fabric -- with jaguars! (There will be a blog post sometime soon about how many animals I keep on putting in our living room decor. There are already horses, a pig, a fish, birds, and now jaguars.)

I'm feeling like I can work this pillow magic again, possibly starting with deconstructing the pillow pictured in the background here that I did last year without the grace and exacting attention to detail I learned today.
Look how terrific my zipper looks! I seriously looked at the finished product and the voice inside my head asked, "Did I really do this?"

I'm thinking of signing up for another class soon, maybe pajama pants or a tote bag. (Guess what everyone's getting for Christmas this year?)
I might even indulge in a book from Amazon from either Amy Butler or Anna Maria Horner, both of whose fabric designs and patterns I adored in the fabric store.

At home, Jason did laundry today. Never forget the lesson not to put your fresh-from-the-dryer clothes on the bed and walk away, because they'll quickly become a nest for the smaller members of the family.Can you really blame them? (Add this to the list of ridiculous frivolities I'd demand if I had more money and staff than I knew what to do with: warm sheets every night before I come to bed!)

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