Sunday, January 30, 2011

A word on auto maintenance

Since the beginning of our marriage, hubs and I have split pretty much everything 50/50: our bills, our chores, everything. So, when my car needs maintenance, I take it to the shop myself.

Well, two years ago, I had some brake work done at a local chain car repair shop. As part of what I paid for during that round of service, I got a lifetime warranty on ceramic brake pads.

Well, I'd noticed my brakes making some noise this week, so I took the car back to the same shop on Saturday morning. I mentioned that I'd brought the car in two years ago for brake work, and they pulled up my old invoice on the computer. They told me they'd make the repair, and also replace a couple of rotors, etc. They also noted that on my previous invoice, I'd declined some additional service on my last visit, and did I want to get that done now. (I declined.)

Well, when I went to pay my bill, it seemed higher than it should have been for the work they had done. I mentioned that I had the lifetime pad warranty, and the man at the counter told me that the warranty was based on a certain period of lifetime for the brake pad itself.

I believed what he told me, paid the bill, and left. But it gnawed at me. Later that day, I told my husband that I thought I'd been overcharged. We dug through our old invoices and found the actual invoice from two years ago. There on the front, in plain English, it noted that the brake pads had a lifetime warranty. On the reverse of the invoice, "lifetime warranty" was clearly defined as the lifetime of the VEHICLE. In other words, as long as I own that vehicle, they are supposed to be providing the brake pads, gratis.

Hubs was livid. He went marching back in there with the invoices and my credit card, and he got them to refund the nearly $200 they'd charged me for brake pads.

It was a rather disillusioning experience. I mean, they sat there and viewed the digital invoice of the past work they'd done for me. I asked them point-blank about the warranty. I wonder now if they even did all of the other work they charged me for. And if someone can smile at you and then rob you like that (right to your FACE), what does that say about people? About human nature? Did they think they should swindle me just because I am female? Or because I seemed friendly and gullible? Just very disheartening.

Anyway, I've already requested (and received) some good recommendations of other places I can have my car serviced. Needless to say, I won't be darkening the door of the original shop again.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mississippi Children's Museum

I finally had the occasion to take little man to the Mississippi Children's Museum last weekend. What a hoot!! He absolutely loved the place, and I had so much fun with him while we were there!

He loved it all, but particular favorites included the interactive digestive tract (He had to go through that THREE times!) and the little kitchen (complete with TONS of plastic food). We also spent a significant amount of time scanning food at the farmer's market, dancing to country music over by the jukebox (He was dressed up in a cowboy hat and bandanna kerchief! So precious!), and racing the boats we made over by the water exhibits. I purchased a family membership on the spot, and the kind I bought ($85 per year, and worth every penny) allows you to list THREE adults on the membership. (Pawpaw can take him there, too! Yay!)

If you go on a Saturday, be sure to get there EARLY. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. (They open at 9.), and we parked right near the door. By the time we left at 11:45 a.m., cars were parked all the way down the lane to Frontage Road. And even though it was starting to get a little crowded at that time, the inside of the facility is so expansive (three floors, tons of interactive exhibits) that you hardly notice crowds until the place is really and truly packed.

If you haven't been yet, and if you have kids, you really should go. I promise that you will absolutely love it. What a wonderful treasure, and a long-needed addition to the cultural landscape in Jackson.

Book fiend

A sweet co-worker gifted me a Lemuria credit for Christmas, and I ran right out and bought two books. Ive finished reading both of them now, and I thought I'd weigh in.

Oyster by John Biguenet came highly recommended, and I absolutely loved it. The plot moved along at a nearly lightning pace, and characters were amazing. (Primarily Therese, who drives the action of the entire book. Dude, when two men are dead by page 50, you know you've got a page-turner.)

Here's the quick version: Set in Louisiana in the late 50s, Oyster tells the tale of two rival families: the Petitjeans and the Bruneaus. Both families harvest oysters for a living, and ecological changes are putting full-time oystermen out of business. Therese Petitjean, a young girl, is offered in marriage to Horse Bruneau, more than 30 years her senior. The match will unite the two largest surviving oyster families, ensuring continued success, as well as lift the Petitjeans out of mounting debt. When Horse turns up dead, well before the wedding, his three sons are sure that a Petitjean is to blame. One murder later, the real killer is still on the loose.

I thought Biguenet did a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere of Louisiana and the region's love of food. As well, Therese is one of the strongest female characters I've read in a long time.

I also just finished reading The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. The book begins a few years before the onset of World War II, following Andras Levi, a Hungarian Jew with dreams of becoming an architect, and his family. As a young man, Andras moves to Paris to attend design school. He is flourishing there, winning design awards for his academic work, meeting a woman and falling in love, and generally making a life for himself.

Of course, all that stops as Europe is plunged into war. Andras and his brothers are forced to work in labor battalions to support the Hungarian army, and before the end of the book, many of my favorite characters had suffered terribly.

I purchased this book because one of the clerks at the bookstore recommended it. The book is very well-written, but it can be difficult to read at times because of the heavy subject material. Not a quick or an easy read, but one worth delving into if you have an interest in history and a yen for a well-told tale.

Chinese New Year!

Last year, as you may recall, I invited my family over for dinner and celebrated the Chinese New Year. We ate dumplings and clear soup, gobbled up a delicious chicken noodle dish (with long noodles, symbolizing long life), and then had sweet almond cookies with hot tea for dessert.

It was such a smashing success that we decided to celebrate again this year. Now, the Chinese New Year isn't officially until Feb. 3 this year. However, that did make it awfully close to the Super Bowl, so we decided to push it back to late January.

We had such fun! I'd really encourage you to try celebrating yourself! Basic decorations can be purchased at most party supply stores, and you can find some really special things at Asian food markets as well. And with quick convenience foods (like the pre-made dumplings at Kroger, that you just steam and serve), it's really easy to put a meal together.

There are all kinds of traditions you can choose to observe, as well. You can check out Wikipedia for ideas. We gave each guest red envelopes stuffed with foil wrapped chocolate coins (to bring both wealth and sweetness in the new year). We also all wore red (to scare away Nien).

What I really like about celebrating Chinese New Year is that it's well past the hustle and bustle of Christmas. No one has any prior time commitments, and we're not madly juggling schedules like we are in the thick of the holiday season. Also, the food is light and healthy. What's wrong with a couple of steamed dumplings, a chicken noodle dish chock full of veggies, and a few cookies with tea? It's practically virtuous. So it just becomes an opportunity for us to get together and enjoy one another.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Birthday girl

I recently had a birthday, and it pleased me so much that I thought I'd write about it here.

First of all, you should probably know that I'm not one of those people who worries too much about turning a year older. What I like is to celebrate something, anything, and a birthday gives me a wonderful excuse to do just that. In fact, I prefer to stretch my celebrating out over several days so as to prolong the birthday halo.

On the morning of my birthday, I awoke to cards, sweet kisses, and a chorus of "Happy birthdays!" from my two men. So darling!

Later, my co-workers treated me to breakfast at Broad Street Bakery & Cafe. I LOVE this restaurant. Now, during Christmas 2009, the bakery had made a special holiday scone - a ginger apricot scone. I tried it then and fell in love. But then the holiday season ended, and the bakery stopped making it. I resigned myself to 11 months without it. However, when Christmas 2010 rolled around, did the bakery start making my scone again? NO! Aaack! I posted sweet entreaties to their Facebook account. I begged the checkout girl each time I ate there. All to no avail.

However, on the morning of my birthday, WHAT had my sweet work friends arranged to have baked up special for me? An entire baker's dozen of heavenly apricot ginger scones! It was pure bliss. I ate my fill, then froze the remainder in individual serving sizes, so I can stretch the baked yumminess out for another month or two.

All day on my actual birthday, I got sweet phone calls, e-mail messages, and texts from people wishing me a happy birthday. Lots of fun little conversations and chances to catch up with folks.

Then, in the early afternoon, a beautiful bouquet of flowers was delivered to my office. Sweet hubs. He knows just what to do, doesn't he?

The next day, I treated myself to a fun lunch with a friend in the middle of a hectic work day. (Happy birthday to me!) We met at Nagoya, I didn't rush through my meal, and we had a wonderful time, talking and laughing.

Later, hubs and I dropped little man off at my parents' house for the night while we went for a leisurely dinner at Parlor Market. We had the charcuterie platter, then I got the mussel pasta (a special - mussels with squid ink pasta, garlic, and Parmesan. OMG.), and we finished up with the apple tart. Divine!

So, with that, I *may* consider my birthday celebrating over. (If you don't count the Birmingham shopping trip I'll take with my good friend next month. It is, after all, still a little close to my birthday, right? Right?)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A modern Greek tale

I recently finished reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I'd heard wonderful things about the book, so I was excited to finally get my hands on a copy.

The plot: Young Richard Papen seems to hate his life in Plano, Texas. On a whim, he applies to a small college in Vermont - Hampden. He is thrilled when he is accepted and seizes the opportunity for escape. Once he arrives at Hampden, he falls in with a close-knit group of five classics students, and their academic and social worlds intertwine. However, a series of bloody events take their toll on the small group of friends, barreling them towards a shocking, and almost inescapable, conclusion.

The book reminded me in some ways of A.S. Byatt's Possession in that it read a bit like a modern classic. Because the students study the classics, and the tale is set at a college, the reader already finds him/herself in the academic frame of mind. From the very beginning of the book, the author admits that a murder has taken place. But the reader continues from page to page not to find out if this is indeed so, but to discover how the story will unfold. Such a device reminds me of Greek tragedy. The audience knew the basic plot, but they kept coming to the theatre to see a particular treatment of the plot. (ie., How will these artists interpret this story?)

Another aspect of the book that felt classic was the idea of fate. After a certain turning point in the book, I began to think that some of the characters had lost their free will. Based on what we knew about each character, and what has preceded before, it was almost unthinkable that they could/would do anything other than what they did. Once a certain point was reached, everything was already decided.

Tartt writes beautifully, and she displays a strong grasp of human nature and characterization in this book. For me, this book read quickly, and I have already passed it along to a friend. For winter reading, I prefer a book that makes me think, and this fit the bill perfectly. This is a great winter book to curl up under a blanket with. Recommended.

Remodeling

Ugh. There was a time when I would have been so excited to be remodeling my master bathroom. In my younger days, my little eyes would have fairly sparkled over such a project, and I would have had binders full of ideas, samples, and dreams.

Now, however, I just dread the mess, the expense, and the huge time sink I fear this project will be. Back in late November, when we had a contractor working on a repair at the house, we asked him to give us an estimate on tiling the floor of the master bathroom and the tub surround. We also requested that he quote us on ripping out the fiberglass shower and tiling that as well.

Now the time is here. Eeek! We've finally chosen some tile (No easy task! There are too many choices!) and ordered it. We've yet to choose new fixtures or even ORDER the shower door (though I think we at least know which one we want now). Then, we'll have the day-to-day management of the work as it's being done. I'm praying that will go smoothly.

Based on how this project goes, we'll decide whether we have the fortitude to remodel the guest bathroom. And then, looming in the distance like some hideous monster, is the kitchen.

Do I have the mettle for this? I'm about to find out.

Holidays: That's a wrap!

Our holiday celebrations for Christmas and New Year's are finally complete! We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner at my sister's house this year. Here's what we served:

Appetizers - Laura laid out some beautiful deer sausage, Mississippi State cheese with a variety of crackers, salted roasted almonds, and hummus (YAY!) with pita chips and baby carrots. Yum. I ate WAY too much of the pre-dinner nibbles, along with several glasses of champagne.

Entree - Lobster thermidor. I was a little leery about cooking this, but it turned out buttery and rich and beautiful. The classic recipe calls for killing live lobsters (one for every two people), chopping up the meat, making a cream sauce, then nestling the meat and sauce back into the halved shells for their final bake in the oven. Since I didn't feel like killing lobsters on Christmas Eve, I ordered huge, beautiful lobster tails, then took the recipe from there. It actually ended up being easier than I thought, and I think I'll be cooking with lobster more often now. We served this rich concoction over pasta, along with dad's famous salad and some Sister Schubert rolls (or hubs would divorce me).

Dessert - Key lime pie. Grace made a beautiful looking Key Lime pie, and mother spent a good amount of time making mamool, but I was honestly so stuffed from dinner that I didn't eat a single bite of dessert this year! Oh, the horror!! I will have to do a better job of pacing myself next year!!

We also visited Brian's family on New Year's Day for our Christmas celebration with them. Another delicious menu!!

Entree - We had two HUGE, succulent hams! They were so good that we were slicing off pieces well in advance of lunch to "taste test." I swear to you, one of the dogs roaming through the house jumped up and snatched some of this ham right out of my hand. THAT'S how good it was.

Sides - Brian's green bean casserole and macaroni and cheese, as well as black eyed peas and cabbage. Soooo good!

Dessert - Brian's mom made her famous banana pudding for dessert. Divine!!

I always celebrate the holiday season all-out. We go see lights, we drink hot chocolate, we cook huge meals and bake cookies and decorate and really make the most of the holidays. Perhaps that's why I'm not sorry to see them go, when the time comes.

The weekend of New Year's (after the tornadoes blew over. Sheesh.), I cheerfully took down the Christmas decorations, boxed them up, and put them away. After the excess of the holidays, I delight in the austerity of January. My mantel is swept clean, my cupboards are no longer bursting at the seams, and I'm ready for a lull in the merriment.

I've cleaned out my closet, Clay's closet, and (shudder) the toy chest. I've ordered seed catalogs for spring, and I'm ready to sip a nice cup of tea by the fire, leaf through them, and savor the anticipation of spring.

Enjoy your winter!