Thursday, April 8, 2010

Do You Know Me?

Do you know this young lady? Let's take a peek into the life of a struggling teenage Cardinal, as she takes a stab at caring for herself in the big, and often scary, adult world. Landing on the deck rail, she peers down at a known food source. Forgetting that her parents usually fed her from seed that had fallen on the ground from this particular feeder (or determined to do it her own way, perhaps), she perches at a feeder not normally frequented by her kind.

It feels a bit awkward, but then again, so do most things these days... Reaching into the feeder, she is able to draw sustenance at last, to keep herself from starving. {The author has to wonder if her parents are sitting on a tree branch somewhere, holding their beaks shut to keep from yelling, "No, not THAT way!! Do it the way we taught you!!}

Finally alone, she takes the opportunity to let her feathers relax and rest. Being grown up is a lot harder than she ever thought it would be, but she dare not let others see her struggles, lest they think she is not able to take care of herself. The last thing she needs is to be put back into the nest!! Yikes, what a thought!!

Suddenly, "others arrive" and her moment of respite is hurriedly forgotten. Sitting up tall and straightening her feathers, she shows just how capable she is. Indeed, she fits perfectly into this adult world, after all!

Well, at least until a big, scary squirrel shows up and scares her... Flying to a nearby pot, she breathes a sigh of relief and gathers her strength for the next foray into the adult world.

Do YOU know this young lady, or others like her? I do, and I find myself being more thankful than ever to a gracious God who shares lessons with me from His delightful world of nature. Be sure to hug your daughter today!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just Another Day on the...Laundry Room Floor?

The phrase "never a dull moment" seems, at times, to take on a life of its own in our home. Take this evening, for instance. As we were eating supper (only four of us!!), Shawn noticed a puddle of some liquid on the laundry room floor. (FYI - I have been plagued with "puddles" recently and, indeed, I have begun to think of them as "puddles of sanctification").

At first glance, it appeared that either the gallon of popcorn oil or the one of vegetable oil had leaked, but the substance was not completely oily. It was not the right color to be the disinfectant, which was next to the oil containers (I know - not a good combination). Hmmm, moving more things around, I ruled out the bottles of Gatorade, threw out the container of popcorn salt (had gotten wet), moved the case of Vienna Sausages and wiped the bottom of it, continuing to look for the source of the slightly yellow puddle. Finally, I had to do it. I stuck my finger in the liquid...and smelled it. (Ha! No, I did NOT taste it - fooled you, didn't I?) It had a slightly alcohol-ish smell to it, which confused me even further.

Sadly, I began to conclude that Charlie, our Black Lab, must have had a seizure in the laundry room, losing bladder control in the process (yes, this has become more of a problem recently). Odd that there were no signs of bowel issues, though, and the smell in the laundry room was not overwhelmingly of ammonia... Nevertheless, I set to cleaning up the mess with a roll of paper towels and a large plastic bag. (That is one way to get a floor clean, but not one that I would recommend.) My goal was to soak up the liquid with the paper towels first and then wipe the floor with a wet towel and dry thoroughly with a clean one.

Before solidifying my theory, though, I decided to investigate items on the bottom shelf, next to the floor. Wah lah!!! Success!! I was delighted (?!!) to discover that a gallon of apple cider had fermented, with gases building up to the point of causing a pin prick leak in the container! What a relief it was to know that I was only cleaning up sticky, icky, apple cider rather than...the alternative. (Yes, I did begin this by stating that we were eating supper. And, yes, the laundry room is right next to the kitchen, where we were eating. Lots of leftovers tonight...)

I guess they are pretty serious about the instructions to "keep refrigerated". Well, we can be very thankful that it busted a gut before we actually got around to drinking it, though! It is good to have opportunities such as these to put the detective skills I have honed over the years of parenting to use. :-) Now, on to solve the case of The Missing Toothpaste. Still can't figure out how a tube of toothpaste can disappear from a bathroom without a trace...'s not a job, it's an adventure!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Trey's 17th Birthday and "THE RECIPE"!

Trey enjoyed his 17th birthday celebration almost as much as he did this Reese's Cup variation of Oreo Cookie Ice Cream Dessert. Here now, for the first time ever, I share The Recipe:

Oreo Cookie Ice Cream Dessert
Here is the recipe, as it was given to me many years ago (around 1990 or so) by Terri Cole (given to her before she was married, I think by her mother-in-law-to-be):
1 regular bag Oreo cookies
1/2 gal ice cream
1 jar ice cream topping
1/2 cup nuts (Spanish peanuts)
1 8 oz. tub Cool Whip, thawed

Take frosting out of cookies* and smash cookies in a plastic bag. Dump into a 13 x 9 pan. Cut ice cream into squares and place in pan, on top of cookies. Smooth. Dump jar of topping on top and smooth. Put peanuts on top, then Cool Whip. Smooth. Take reserved 1/2 cup of crushed Oreos and throw on top. Cover with foil. Freeze.
* While you are doing cookies, set out ice cream so it will be soft

OK, so here are some of our own notes, variations, and favorites:
** Be sure to feed the Oreo "guts to all of the kids in the family! Gives them a great sugar high!
** The cookies are best when crushed by a teenage boy; girls are way too wimpy at this.
** There is always a bit too much ice cream to fit into the pan. It was designed this way, so that the birthday person would have a little extra to enjoy (not really, but the kids seem to have made this rule up themselves).
** Some of our favorite ice cream toppings to use are Hot Fudge (MINE!!), caramel, butterscotch, strawberry.
** It can be fun to decorate the top with M & M's, candy sprinkles, or other items of your choice.
** You can use varieties of ice cream; however, we have found that plain French Vanilla seems to work best in most cases, as the other flavors compliment it best. Flavored ice creams may tend to be "too much", but don't be afraid to experiment!
** Some of our favorite variations are:
1) Reese's cup - cut up Reese's miniatures and add on top of the ice cream instead of peanuts. We tried caramel topping along with it and it was VERY well received. Then, cut Reese's mini's in half and lay them on top, along with the extra Oreos.
2) Hot fudge topping with M & M's on top.
3) Strawberry topping, with fresh strawberries on top, along with Oreos.
4) Chocolate Mint - Chopped York Peppermint patties instead of peanuts, chocolate topping, crushed candy on top, maybe with some crushed peppermint hard candies, too.
USE YOUR OWN IMAGINATION!!! This is lots of fun and can lend itself to grand family preparations times!

MoneyGram Warning!

When I stop and consider who MoneyGram’s target clientele is, I am particularly angry over a recent months-long struggle I had with them regarding the refund of a lost money order. Some exceptions will apply, certainly, but many of the folks who purchase money orders are in what would be easily considered a “lower income” bracket, and many of them are not native English speakers. It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the “typical” MoneyGram customer to obtain the refund that I finally received today, delivered via UPS Next Day Air service. Indeed, it was a very difficult situation for me to resolve, having been trained in such business practices.

What is all the fuss about? It took five months for MoneyGram to refund a lost money order, although all protocol was followed by me, the customer, as instructed. In the end, it appears (although the evidence is circumstantial) that they did their level best to NOT refund the money, in fact. Follow along carefully, as I share the details:

July 13, 2009 – I submitted a Money Order Claim Card for a lost money order, the value of which was $150.00. The cost of submitting this claim was $15.00. It was stated on the form, “Most requests are processed within 30 days; however, please allow up to 65 days for total processing.”

October 5, 2009 – Having allowed more than the allotted 65 days, I called to check on the refund, which had not been received. I was told that it had been returned to MoneyGram as “undeliverable” on July 21. When asked if we had problems receiving our mail at this address, I informed the MoneyGram representative that we normally had no problems at all. After verifying that they had the correct information (they apparently did), I was told that they would send another refund check, which should take around 1-2 weeks for delivery.

October 27, 2009 – Still not having received the refund, I called MoneyGram once again. This time I was told that the date the original check had been returned as undeliverable was August 11, rather than July 21. When asked what happened to the second check, the MoneyGram representative stated that it had also been returned as undeliverable, after having been mailed on October 7. I was not told what date that particular check was returned. Questioning continued from the MoneyGram representative regarding our mail delivery, but I assured the person that we had absolutely no problems receiving any other mail items. In fact, I informed them that our mail delivery personnel was quite liberal in delivering mail that did not even belong to us, as we still receive mail for the previous occupants after having lived in this house for over four years. Once again, I verified the name and address carefully, which seemed to have been correct in their records.

I was told that, at this point, I needed to fill out a “Purchaser’s Statement” and submit that form for the refund. In fact, I was told that this form was specifically for customers who had not received a refund check after two such requests. It seemed odd to me that they would need a form for this specific reason, and the fact that such a form existed, suggested that this was a common problem. Having received this form via email from a MoneyGram representative (it was not available on the internet), I filled it out and faxed it to the phone number I had been given during my phone conversation. (I was told that faxing the form would cut down on the processing time considerably.)

December 1, 2009 – Once again I called MoneyGram, as we had not received the refund. I was told by Stacy that the refund had been mailed again on October 28, the day after I faxed the purchaser’s statement. Having previously spoken with a clerk at the post office, I was informed that there were no delivery problems for our address that he was aware of. After having verified that they had the correct address one more time, I became angry and insisted that they wire the refund to me locally. I was told that they could not wire a refund, so I asked to speak to a supervisor. “Stacy” assured me that a supervisor would tell me that MoneyGram could not wire a refund, but I insisted on talking to one, anyway. (Perhaps I used an incorrect term, but MoneyGram states on their website at that money can be sent and received within ten minutes – that was at least the general idea of what I was insisting upon.)

Shortly, the same representative (Stacy) returned to the phone line and told me that she had spoken to a supervisor. Although they could not wire the refund, they could send a check via overnight service. I agreed to that option, pending receipt of a tracking number for the package. I was assured that a check would be sent via overnight delivery the next day and I would be called with a tracking number. All I needed to do was fax yet another Purchaser’s Statement with the information to them. This time, I called after sending the fax, to ensure that they did receive the faxed information.

December 2, 2009 – I called MoneyGram at around 2:00pm, to check on the refund. I was told that it was being processed and I would be called after 4:00 with the tracking number, which did indeed happen.

December 3, 2009 – Received refund from MoneyGram via UPS Next Day Service, almost five months from the date I first submitted the refund request. The address on the envelope was correct; only the first name on the package was misspelled, which should not have hindered any mail from being delivered. There was no apparent reason that an envelope, similarly addressed, would have been returned to MoneyGram as undeliverable, much less be returned multiple times, as was claimed.

I am concerned that the checks which were supposedly “returned as undeliverable” may never have, in fact, been mailed by MoneyGram. My particular situation was eventually resolved; however, considering that many customers who purchase money orders may not have the resources, time, and business experience to pursue a refund request for five months as I did, it appears that MoneyGram may be taking advantage of a great number of people by not providing refunds according to their stated protocol. Such business practices are particularly heinous when they have the potential of targeting a segment of the population such as those who would purchase money orders (lower income, less educated, many non-native English speakers).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful for ...Giblet Soup?!

Over the years, we have enjoyed inviting many friends to our Thanksgiving gatherings. However, this year, despite many invitations being given out, it was "just" our family for the Thanksgiving meal. I assured the kids that all the folks God wanted to be here would be in attendance, and we had a sweet time of togetherness, indeed. When we stop and realize that our family Thanksgivings will likely be changing dramatically over the next few years as the kids begin to make lives of their own, our remaining times together are just that much more meaningful.

A few highlights of this year's time of thankfulness:

* Most of the girls helped prepare at least one of the traditional "comfort" foods that they enjoy. Kathryn helped me with the Green Bean Casserole and Grandma with the Cornbread Dressing, and she took notes as Anna helped prepare the Sweet Potato Casserole, just like my own Mama used to make it.
* Naomi made her famous Vietnamese Spring Rolls, with Irina's help. Many of the kids named those during our meal, when asked what their favorite food on the table was!
* Irina helped me make traditional Pumpkin Pies and we also decided to whip up a Pumpkin Cheesecake, since we had all of the necessary ingredients. It ended up being one of the favorite desserts!
* Shawn helped Grandma make traditional Pecan Pies, which turned out very well.
* Vanya helped Grandma make her much loved Hashbrown Casserole.

A couple of our girls, whose names I won't mention in order to avoid potential embarrassment, continued their line of thankfulness from years past. Last Thanksgiving (I think - maybe the year before), one of them came rushing into the dining room while everyone was eating, asking the other, "Hey, ______, do you wanna' neck?" Everyone cracked up, much to her confusion, and we quickly explained the alternate meaning of what she had blurted out so loudly in front of everyone. In their native countries, eating the chicken or turkey neck was something looked forward to, so it was a once-a-year delicacy for them!

This year, much to Grandma's chagrin, they insisted on putting bowls out next to her Giblet Gravy. Although Grandma told them numerous times that gravy was meant to go on top of items such as meat and dressing, they relished the thought of eating the gravy like a soup!! Ahhhh, what does it matter, truly? If they get so much enjoyment from eating a gravy, made out of parts of the turkey which are often discarded in our culture, but considered a delicacy in their native cultures, then perhaps next year she will make a larger batch of it and give it a new name - Grandma's Giblet Soup! Sounds like a new tradition in the making to me!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jennifer and Annalia!

Irina and Tessa took a trip to Michigan in October to visit Jennifer, Micah, and Annalia. Here are a few photos that Irina took while they were there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Delightful Photo Op

Shawn saw this little guy land in one of my flowers on the deck while he was doing school, and he was afraid that the bird had died, as it was lying on its side at the time. We rushed outside to perform CPR or something like it, and I was able to help him/her get back on his/her feet. I would like to think that he/she was grateful enough for that boost to pose for some awesome photos. However, I presume that it was more likely that he/she had flown into a window and was stunned for a moment. I am thankful to report that the story had a good ending, as he/she flew into a nearby tree after his photo shoot. Be sure to click on the photo so that you can see the intricate detail we were able to capture from being so close to him/her!