Colliding with wonder

Our hands imbibe like roots,
so I place them on what is beautiful in this world.

And I fold them in prayer, and they
draw from the heavens

~ St. Francis of Assisi

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102: Sunday Sightseeing

Winter has returned to the Bogs.  The clouds parted, the sun came out, and everything is frozen or on its way to being frozen.  The water around the edge of the pond thawed during our brief warm-up and it is now refreezing and making crackling sounds as the water underneath gets pushed about by the wind bearing down on the ice.

It’s incredibly windy.  The temperature was hovering around 28 degrees when I went out for my daily walk with winter.  The sky is an amazing shade of blue.

With the sun lighting up the world, everything looked so beautiful that I took far too many photos.  A slideshow, methinks, will be the best way to go today.  Please join me on my walk around the pond.

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I resolve…

#1.  To take better care of myself.

Like a lot of folks, I did some overindulging over the holidays.  I have decided, beginning today, to take Garrison Keillor‘s advice.  In an essay about turning 50 he suggested that those of us who indulge should take a vacation from alcohol.  (You can read a few of the quotes, including the one on alcohol, here.)  While I do enjoy a nice glass of wine, a hoppy pint of beer, or a good bourbon (not all at once, mind you) every now and then, my body seems to prefer alcohol-free days and nights.  I sleep better, for one thing, and a good night’s sleep always brings clarity to my life.  Between the yoga, the meditation, and the daily outdoor experiences, I get enough mind-altering without the need for alcohol.  Besides, I just feel better overall when I don’t indulge in alcohol.

There are other steps I plan to take, but this is a good one to start with for now.  Over the past few days I’ve read several articles about goal-setting and resolutions. What I would like to do this year is continue habit-building, something a friend originally suggested (and started doing for herself) a few years ago.

Bearyweather recently wrote about procrastination in a post titled Deal With It, You Will Feel Better.  She included a lot of great quotes, thought-provoking ideas and suggestions, and some good links for further information.  Head on over and have a read.  It might help you with your own goals and resolutions.

Speaking of which…

Have you made made any resolutions for 2011?  I’d love to hear what you have in mind for the new year.

79: Eastward Bound

(Stone shadow.)

Greetings from State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University.  It’s a good stopping point for us as we head towards Delaware.  I am so glad to be out of the truck.

Truck, you ask?  Yes, truck.  M rented a truck to fill with the equipment he is picking up on Monday.  It’s a noisy thing.  Stinky too.  It smells like men who drive trucks and slop food all over.  There are crumbs and pieces of dried up food and candy everywhere in the cab.  The rental company needs to do a better job of cleaning these things out considering the amount of money paid to rent them.  Or I’m becoming incredibly snobby (crabby?) in my old age.  There was a time, early in my married life, when I would have been so excited by the trip that I wouldn’t have been paying much attention to the condition of the cab.  I am spoiled now.  Used to cleaner, more comfortable conditions.

I need to get over it.  Yep.  Have fun.  Enjoy the ride.

We saw a lot of that (above) not far over the Ohio border into Pennsylvania.  It must have gotten pretty rough out there during the lake-effect snows that gave us some grief during our visit to Cleveland the other day.  There were several trailers in ditches (one in a creek) and two new accidents, one of which had traffic backed up for a couple of miles (going the other way, thankfully).

We had good weather and road conditions today.  Tomorrow should be good too.  Sunday and Monday may present some problems but we’ll worry about that when we get there.

Our one stop was at a truck stop in Emlenton, PA, a place we’re familiar with, having traveled this route many times over the years.  It is an interesting place, this truck stop.  M bought a brief case there several years ago.  It’s a nice leather brief case that has all of the features he had been looking for when he spent months shopping for one.  It was about half the price of many of the other brief cases he looked at.  He still uses it, sometimes doubling as a case for the laptop when he doesn’t want to carry two bags.

They must get a good deal on leather products for the truckers.  Today we found leather driving gloves — nice leather driving gloves — for a great price.  Too bad they didn’t have any that fit me.  Truckers all have big hands, I guess.

My outdoor time today was mostly about loading our travel stuff into the truck, waiting while M moved the truck around, taking a short walk during our rest stop, and the walk to and from dinner tonight.  I really enjoyed the walk to and from dinner.  It felt great to move around after four hours or so in the truck.  We ended up eating at a chain restaurant so M wouldn’t have to drive the Behemoth (the truck) around State College.  There are some great restaurants near the campus but it would have been difficult to maneuver around town in a 15-foot truck.

I’ve been playing around a bit in Photobucket with the photos, just for the fun of it.  The top photo I uploaded before we left, thinking I’d write and not bother with trip photos this time.  But the camera wanted out of the case so there you have it — bad shots through a dirty truck window.

I’m hoping we’ll get in a hike early tomorrow while we’re still in the mountains.  I’d like to wander around in one of the old graveyards and take some photos in the snow and fog.  It’s all about atmosphere this time of year.

There is no title for this

My mother is dying.

It could be argued — and has been argued — that we’re all dying, from the moment we are born.  That is our lot in life:  to live and to die.  (And, apparently, to get all philosophical when your mind and body are exhausted.)

Earlier this evening I sat on the window seat outside of my mother’s hospice room and looked down the hallway.  It didn’t seem like a particularly long hall all the times I walked up and down it but there it was, suddenly larger and longer than life, stretching out into forever.

Someone brought a vase of sunflowers this morning.  During the hours I spent in the room sitting with Mom I would look up and see those bright, beautiful, happy flowers sitting in the window.

I wish Mom could see them.

She can’t, though, so I told her about them.  I told her about the trees outside the window and the leaves dancing in the wind.

I told her — many times — that I love her.

Her body is doing the things the body does when it is beginning to shut down.  I read about this sort of stuff when I was researching.  That’s what I do when I don’t know what else to do.  I research.  I read.  I absorb information.  There’s comfort in it.  No, not comfort.  Control.  Or the illusion of control, because I suspect that’s what knowledge is sometimes — an illusion.

(A sunflower from our crop of sunflowers at home, taken a day or two before we left.)

I might take my camera with me tomorrow when I go back to hospice, to capture the sunflowers and the long hallway.  Seems like there is some kind of connection between the two.  I don’t know what it might be.  It hasn’t clicked yet.

M and I are going back home sometime tomorrow.  I don’t know how much longer Mom will hold on, but we have to go back to take care of some things.  We left in the midst of stuff on Friday night.  Life is messy that way, never quite organized to suit every occasion.

Well, the exhaustion just hit me over the head and knocked my thoughts — philosophical or otherwise — right out of my head.  The only thing my head wants to do right now is relax on a pillow as I shut my eyes and try to get some sleep.

Oh, but there is one last thing.  Something my father said.  “We don’t want to lose you but it’s breaking our hearts to see you in so much pain.”

Negative campaigning in the house

I get one of these about every other day.

I suspect they’ll becoming closer and closer together as election day approaches.  In the meantime, even turning off the television doesn’t make one safe from the mudslinging or the scare tactics.

It should be noted that all negative/mudslinging phone messages have come from the McCain campaign.  None, so far, from Obama’s campaign.  Make of that what you will.

For those interested in Ohio’s place in the election, you might want to read this.  The GOP used similar tactics in Ohio in 2004.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

Or dinner, as the case may be.

Back in June, while visiting Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, I wrote a post about The Anvil Restaurant. It was not a good review as our experience wasn’t particularly good.

So it goes. Right?

Wrong. That particular post would have faded into obscurity (it had not been getting many hits) had it been left alone.

Yesterday someone stopped by and left this comment on that post. I’ll go ahead and insert it here via the magic of copy/paste, saving you the trouble of clicking on the link.

kay turner

I don’t quite understand the problems that you have mentioned. I have been going to The Anvil for over 20 years and the food and service is always good. As every place can have their problems from time to time, I have been there when they were unstaffed and still had reasonable service and always good food and plenty of it. It is family owned and operated and I take offense to anyone saying not to eat there! After 23 years in business, they must be doing something right!
It sounds like you want something for nothing and if you complain, it is free is the new thing! Bash someone and get it free!
Shame on you for bashing them after you got the meal for free!

I responded, perhaps not as nicely as I could have. I was offended by the implications, something I’ll get to in a bit. I feel no shame in having stated my opinion about our experience that night. I do wonder, however, if Kay really read the whole post or just skimmed through it. I also wonder why someone should refrain from giving a bad review just because a meal was comped. No explanations or apologies were offered at the time. We didn’t even know the meal was comped until after a long period of waiting for someone, anyone, to come back to the table. That someone turned out to be our waiter with the check. He offered no explanations or apologies, either, but I’m not sure he knew what was going on since we didn’t complain to him but asked to speak with a manager.

Then it occurred to me that this would make an excellent post for today as it fits right in with the NaBloPoMo food theme. Thinking about the post I would write, I decided to check the reviews on TripAdvisor. M and I had checked the reviews AFTER we had dinner at The Anvil. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone there for dinner that night.

Imagine my surprise when I found a response from the management on the first bad review and the name is “Kaybab the owner.”

Interesting coincidence, don’t you think? Two Kays in one day? With similar writing styles?

Anything is possible, I suppose.

I thought the Kay Turner who left a response on my blog might be a local who might know the owner or owners or some of the staff. It would stand to reason that a regular customer or someone who has a link to the owner or staff would have good experiences and more than likely get better treatment. That’s cool. That’s what friends are for. The differences in our food experiences can be accounted for by taste. That’s cool, too. We don’t all have the same tastes in food (or anything), and that’s a good thing.

But that doesn’t negate the experience M and I had.

The problem, as I see it, is that both Kays (if there are, in fact, two Kays) missed the point. In my case, the point was that the service was poor. I pointed out in that post, at least twice, that M and I were not looking for a free meal. We asked to speak with the manager thinking they might want to know that the dish was not as described, and that it might be possible the chef used the wrong broth. If it had been a case of our tastes not matching the chef’s dish, well, so be it. It happens. We don’t expect a free meal just because our tastes differ or because we tried something new and didn’t like it.

We were looking for good customer service, something that has been quickly declining over the past decade or so. We wanted some kind of acknowledgment of our experience, be it an explanation or an apology or both.

There’s a saying that the customer is always right. Having worked in the service industry, I know better. The customer is not always right. Good business practice says to suck it up anyhow so the customer won’t go off and complain to everyone they know. I don’t necessarily agree with this either, but can see why some businesses go this route.

I know there are people who complain just for the sake of complaining. It’s their thing or they’re only happy when they’re stirring up trouble. I know there are people who are less than scrupulous who complain not because they have a legitimate complaint but because they know they’re likely to be rewarded with something free.

Someone who is good at business, and has been at it for a while, should probably be able to read people well enough to tell the difference between a real complaint, and one that’s made for other reasons be it just for the sake of complaining or to try to get something for nothing other than being obnoxious.

I was offended at Kay Turner’s implication that M and are I either of those types, particularly the last. We rarely complain about meals at restaurants. When you eat at an unknown place, without benefit of reviews from people you trust or who have tastes similar to yours, then you take your chances. The same is true if you try something new. You may or may not like it.

I’ve had one other free meal from a restaurant. It was a high-end restaurant where the wait staff were courteous, friendly, and trained to be there when you need them. I had ordered a flat iron steak, not having had one before. I didn’t like it. There was nothing wrong with the steak. It was prepared beautifully, with a wonderful sauce, cooked as I had ordered it. But, as will happen, it turns out flat iron steak doesn’t suit my palate. The waitress noticed I wasn’t eating my steak. She came back with the owner/chef who asked if I was unhappy with it. I insisted that the steak was fine, but that it turned out to be something I just didn’t like. The owner/chef insisted on making me something else, even after I refused several times. He insisted, he said, because he wanted our experience in his restaurant to be a good one. A short while later I had a nicely cooked and seasoned salmon fillet, and we weren’t charged for the steak even though the chef boxed it up for us to take home so M could have it for breakfast the next morning.

THAT is good customer service. Well above and beyond my expectations, that’s for sure. I would go back to that restaurant, whereas I will never go back to The Anvil. Not willingly, at any rate.

Even the major corporations are trying to practice better customer relations. I recently saw a story on the news about how some of the big companies are monitoring Twitter for complaints so they can rectify the situation before too many people decide not to utilize a particular company because they’ve heard so many bad things about them. Twitter is good for spreading the news, good or bad, and big companies such as Kodak and Comcast are aware of that fact.

That’s the funny thing about my review. I wrote it here, at my little blog that barely gets more than about 50-60 hits a day. I could have written a review at TripAdvisor. I’m registered and have written reviews there in the past. Good reviews. I don’t really like writing bad reviews as I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt in most cases. But treat me badly, and I’ll write it.

So, yeah, Kay. I dared to complain even after getting the free meal, because it wasn’t about the meal. It wasn’t even about the staff. It was about the management, and the way we were treated. I’m glad I found that response from the management at TripAdvisor. It appears to make my point for me — that the management doesn’t care. But that’s just my view. Your view may vary.

Window-washing storm

We had quite a storm move through yesterday evening. It didn’t last long, but did wreak a little havoc while it was here.

This is why I don’t usually have to get on a ladder to wash the windows at the back of the house:

I didn’t grab my camera in time to get the exciting part. The storm blew in so quickly that I missed capturing the tent being torn from its stakes and thrown up against the windows and back of the house. It hit so hard I was afraid it would break the windows. Thankfully, it didn’t.

(The tent after the storm. © Robin. 2008.)

Poor tent. We’ve had it a few years and it was getting more than a little rough around the edges.  M couldn’t even find parts for it anymore when it needed repaired or a piece went missing.  We used the tent for our Party By the Pond. We would leave it up for the rest of the summer as it provided us with shelter from the mosquitoes and deerflies and shade from the sun.

The motion detector sensors and the light were torn down when the tent hit the back of the house.  Our homeowners insurance deductible is so high that there’s no point in filing a claim.

We’re having a screen porch built out back in a few weeks time. That will make an excellent replacement for the tent.  Once the porch is built, M and I will be building a deck to go with it.

The cold rain caused some fog to form over the warm water of the pond. Everything was wet, shiny, and green after the storm.

I had just started to cook dinner when the storm hit. (See how I worked food into this post?) Otherwise I would have gotten the clothes off the clothesline. I’ll have to rewash and hang them out again today. They were so heavy with rain water that they’d have been stretched beyond all recognition if I’d left them out overnight to dry today.

I’m going to out to the garden today to see what the storm did to the vegetables. Hopefully they enjoyed the rain without much damage from the wind or hail.