Saturday, December 31, 2011

I don't need no stinking free cruise*

*An homage to Stinking Badges.
Check this website for everything
you ever wanted to know
about Stinking Badges.

The phone rang just as I was flinging my feet over the side of the bed to get up this morning. I can't fault anyone for calling too early; I'd looked at the clock when I turned out the light last night and it was 3 a.m. It felt more like one or 1:30. So I hadn't been in a rush to get up and a 10 a.m. call isn't outrageous.

My bedside phone has no caller ID. It's old, but it's a speaker phone -- handy if you're making a call that requires punching a lot of buttons -- and it has a cord, which allows you to stay in touch with the power company during a power outage. Just yesterday I went to my power company's website to get my online bill and they had a survey, one question of which asked whether I use the website for info regarding power outages. Huh? Sorry, but my computer doesn't work during power outages.

Robo-Lady asked that I not hang up on this important call. She was so earnest that I let her continue, not like with "This is Rachel and I have important information about your credit card" which rates an immediate hang-up after those words. Robo-Lady said she was taking an important survey about the national debt. I was once a survey researcher back in the 50s before surveys got viewed with skepticism, and I still retain a certain sympathy for legitimate surveyors. I'm also a bit of a political junky and this sounded like potential fun if it's one of those that frame the question so that if you answer contrary to the set-up answer, you throw apple pie in the trash and stab momma in the heart. I'm onto that game and this might be a chance to stick it to the opponents or cheer for the allies.

For this 30 second survey (short, that's good), you will receive a free cruise for two to the Bahamas. All you have to pay is taxes and port charges. Nuh-no-no-no. The reward is way out of proportion to the effort. If they'd offered me the opportunity to be entered in a drawing where my chances were one-in-a-million to win a free trip to Paris, I might have gone forward. It would have been more credible. My next choice was to press one to continue to the survey or press 9 to be forever removed from their mailing list. It took no more than a heartbeat to be removed, banished forever, from their call list. (And do I believe that? Heh heh heh.)

But who the hell was making this call? Idle minds need to know. Once I was up and about, I got the phone number off a caller ID phone and Googled it. You can find lots of righteous ire on these websites that talk about "who called you" and some good speculation as to the true motives of the caller. Some people took better notes than my memory.

One caller reported: Female voice claimed to be from ESG Research Group offering a free 2-day cruise just for answering a 30-second survey. Is second or third time they've called me recently, but they never actually come back to the phone when I 'accept' the call.
Caller: Supposedly 'ESG Research Group'
Call Type: Survey

Another answer: You must press one to get the CSR. Then they offer you a free cruise to the Bahamas. Everything is included but liquor, gambling, gratuities and port tax. THE PORT TAX MUST BE SECURED WITH A DEBIT OR CREDIT CARD #!!!!!!!

WARNING. They get around the no call list by saying it is a survey which are exempt along with charities and political robo calls.

That answers the question about why repeatedly punching your phone number into the No Call List doesn't seem to have any effect. I don't know how Rachel and her credit card thing get around it. I've never stayed on the line on that call long enough to find out what the pitch is.

Someone had the good grace to look up the company (alleging) to make the call: I just looked up ESG - Results below:
'About ESG
IMPORTANT NOTE: A company using the name “ESG Research” is soliciting customers to take a phone survey to win a trip to the Bahamas. That is NOT Enterprise Strategy Group. We apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced, but ESG does NOT engage in these practices.
Message from the Founder

What amazed me in the comments was the number of people who were annoyed that they weren't put through to the survey (they apparently failed to press one), or the long waits they had to endure to give their credit card information, or why the car rental site promised never answered.

I leave it up to you to decide whether this is a scam to steal your credit card information or some kind of low budget cruise rip-off. And who is paying airfare to the port city? What? You think it might be legit? (Somebody must.)


See you soon.


Friday, December 30, 2011


The kitty-sitter, who visited with and fed my cats and medicated Chloe twice a day while we all went to Ben's house for Christmas, needs to get a check. From me. She didn't say so, but I was reminded by the fact that the end of the month is here, so I was in bill-paying mode. I ran the check to the post office so she'll get it before the long weekend. I have my rounds at the post office: Sister and Brother-in-Law's box, the computer club's box, and my box, which also gets RV club mail. I told the kitties I'd be right back.

There was an obvious Christmas card in Sister's box, so I dropped in at their house just to leave it off, making my way through a variety of family vehicles and construction trucks tending to the building of the Dream Garage. Sister's friend Laura had arrived for the weekend. We'll all be spending New Year's Eve at Sister and BIL's house for a prime rib dinner. They invited me in for some Brie and baguette, and I chose a cup of tea to go with it. Then Sister asked me if I wanted to join them going out to dinner. Tonight.

Sister had proposed that earlier in the week, but I'd declined. Several minor excuses had come to mind, not the least of which is that I'm still filled up with the burrito from last Monday. I sure couldn't go out the way I was dressed: jeans, white sox with sandals, the third day on a warm turtleneck, no makeup. And I'd promised the kitties to be back soon. But I wavered. Laura's fun to visit with, I'd only planned creamed tuna on toast, if I even got around to that much cooking, and . . . well, I caved without much resistance. A quick change of plans, a quick change of clothes and a pat for the kitties, then back to give them a ride to The Grill. (My car was warmed up, no frost on the windows, and behind everyone else's vehicles.)

The Grill, still in seasonal decorations

Laura covets a Cosmo,

and craves a hamburger.

Soup or salad? I choose the clam chowder.

Brother-in-Law chooses the linguini and clams in garlic and wine sauce.

I choose the Small Plate pan-seared salmon, finished with a wasabi orange cream sauce. I almost always choose this because it's so good. I'm dubious that it was really the Small Plate version: I have enough left over for another meal.

I regret that I neglected to take a photo of the tiramisu that Sister and I split for dessert. Or BIL's mixed berry cobbler a la mode. I also missed the West Coast  Louie with fresh crab, bay shrimp and prawns, with avocado, egg, tomato, cucumber and traditional louie dressing, which Sister didn't get until we called attention to the fact that it hadn't been served with our hot dishes.

There were flower arrangements all around.

After the meal, I dropped them all back at their house and got home to my feuding kitties (the Chloe and Jean-Luc perpetual face-off).

Not what I'd planned, so I'll be working on bills in the morning and a book review blog. No moral to this story. No exciting conclusion. But a lovely dinner, enjoyed in a leisurely fashion. Although The Grill was crowded when we arrived, it appears that tables were for the evening, one seating. The "boys" are in bed in the kitten room now, and it's time for Chloe and me to head in for nighty-night. Maybe this is the calm I wrote about last night.

See you soon.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursdays Out . . . Back to Normal

Really? What is "normal?" That's the question that has puzzled me all my life. As a kid I always felt I was rushing pell-mell through life. Mom, on the other hand, seemed the picture of serenity.

"When I grow up," I thought, "life will be calm and collected, like Mom's."

I'm still waiting to grow up, I guess. "Tempus fugit," Mom would quote.

But this week, it's about as calm as it gets. Christmas and the Christmas trip are over. My fantasy New Year's Eve, a road trip up to the summit of Tioga Pass for a midnight photo (9,945 ft. elevation) a rare possibility this year, will remain just that -- a fantasy, since it's accompanied by nightmare scenarios of getting stranded. No trips planned in my immediate future. I won't do another Soroptimist newsletter until January. (I'm sure all the ladies really missed the intended December issue, abandoned in the confusion of the season.)

It's calm. That's not normal!

It's Thursdays out, as it has been for the last 20 years. Since I finished a 13-year quilting project in late 2010, I've been at loose ends at NeedleCrafts, with only the occasional small hand-sewing project. I've sorted stacks of mail, messed around on the computer, opened more mail. I finally started a new quilt project in November. It stalled a little due to split fingertips, the needle-holding fingertips, from the dry weather.

But today they were okay and I appliquéd.

The blue and white fabrics are part of my French fabric stash. The yellows are auditioning as backgrounds.

I'll be making "tile" blocks from "Tile Quilt Revival." The pattern is called "All in a Dream."

Beginning the first block. This will be a long-term project.

We had two ladies at NeedleCrafts for the first time today. One of our new ladies knit this child's hat with the cute border.

I took this shot of Phyllis' counted cross-stitch a week or two ago. The entire piece will be pretty big.

Fingerless gloves are popular this year. Our new lady is working on this yellow pair.

Rose's daughter wants a six-foot eyelash scarf (I think that's what they call this yarn). She's about halfway through. Rose had a visiting granddaughter here with her. The young lady was surfing the Net looking for used text books.

Sister is back in her Mountain House for awhile now. We rode together to NeedleCrafts, moaned about all the tax bills and homeowners fees coming up, not to mention payments on Brother-in-Law's Dream Garage which we took a leisurely walk around. The carpenter was making sure nails were 6" apart where they should be, 12" where they should be, and not poking through in places they shouldn't.

I observed that maybe they could make a squash or racquetball court in the lower garage. There's a whole lot of concrete going on.

I guess this day is as normal as they get.

See you soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Going to Grandma's House

Oh, wait! I'm Grandma. I went to the kids' house, but now I'm home. In one photo blog, I'll just do a quick tour through the holiday events of the past week.

Noël Party - Chantal's two French classes gather for Fondue Savoyarde and
other treats at her house, followed by a lively French competition.

Jean-Luc sez: If I sit on this stuff, maybe Mom can't pack it.

Mom has packed and lies down for a little rest. 
If we sleep on her maybe she can't leave.

I finally found where the miles and miles of "rock crops" grow. I remember them from the early years up here, but had only run across small fields of them in recent years. There are many even more needle-like than the ones I stopped for here.

Out across the flatness of California's Central Valley, heading into the winter sun in the southwest
I arrive at my son's house in Arroyo Grande at sunset,

his house sparkling with Christmas lights.

Sister Elaine and daughter Melissa

Grandson Chris with his lady Michele and other Grandma, Norma
Food, steaming from the oven . . . 

Granddaughter Ashley, the Chef, and son Ben, the sous-chef

Melissa lights a candle and leads a prayer for Jennifer, Ben's wife, who died just before Christmas last year.

Perfect asparagus and hollandaise sauce for Christmas Eve

Roast beef and roast lamb

Chocolate mousse


She has the cutest little goatee.

Dinner in Fresno . . .

Melissa and husband Clay each ordered their own bowl of Seven Seas last week.
This week they knew to share.

My chile verde burrito. This will provide three meals (two down, one to go).

 My daughter has just moved to Fresno for a new job, She's renting -- and hoping to buy -- a lovely old house. She has barely begun to unpack, but already these rooms show her touch in the morning light.

The breakfast room

The dining room. The drapes "walked away" but she fashions some coverings.

The living room
Out the living room window

I decide to go home from Fresno by driving into Yosemite from the south (Hwy 41) and out to the west (Hwy 120). It's probably shorter than via freeway but not faster. It's most definitely more beautiful.

I stop at the Tunnel View parking lot to take a picture of this "first view" of Half Dome.

Only a fraction of the crowds of busier times of year


Although the thermometer in my car shows outside air temperatures running from 47° to 50°, all the water you see has turned to ice. Little or no sun hits it this time of year and it doesn't feel very warm!

Ice-skating, anyone?

And that was my Christmas, gratefully spent with my family. Not everyone could be there, as grandkids are setting out on independent lives of their own, with new obligations. My step-kids spent quiet Christmases in San Diego and in Washington State where they live. But we nevertheless felt everyone's presence.

See you soon!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Potholder on Fire! . . . and other miscellany

My "daily living" lately hasn't provided much excitement to blog about. Think the cliché, "watching grass grow," or, more realistically, "watching printer printing."

On the way to the dentist last week for the check-up on my tooth extraction, I stopped at the grocery store in the city for a couple of items, and there was a tempting sale going on. Then I got the bad news on what I couldn't eat. Unclear was what I could eat, but nothing that might easily lodge in the tooth socket, where a bone graft is supposed to be healing and integrating.

I don't think this was one of the edibles.

Taunting me
All the while I felt like I was starving, I ate soft-boiled eggs and bananas for breakfast, and Jello chocolate pudding (sugar free), yogurt (fat free), and ice cream (fat free) for other meals. It felt like a diet of pure cholesterol and/or sugar.

I rediscovered Campbells' Cream of Tomato soup. The first sip sent me into a nostalgia flashback. I had tomato soup and a PB & J sandwich nearly every day of my childhood. I was a picky eater and the soup was one of the few ways Mom cold get me to ingest milk. Blech!

Then one day many years ago, Campbells put their soups in stupid pop-top cans (or tab pulls or whatever they're called). They hurt my finger, splatter food all over, and a sharp dangerous piece of metal springs back at me.

I complained to Campbells that I would not eat their soup as long as they had the stupid tops. (If I recall, they sent me some free soup with pop-top cans.) And I haven't, until now. I love Cream of Tomato soup, yet will soon give it up again.

As the days went by, I finally began to leave the pan of water sitting on the stove so I could just drop the eggs into it to boil each morning.

Yesterday morning, as I glanced back at the stove from tasks at the sink, I saw a flare of flame at the bottom of the pan. It was a lot like the flare when I'd dumped macaroni into boiling water, which caused a flare when it overflowed, before completely dousing the flame.

Only this flame was getting bigger. Yikes! Potholder on fire! I grabbed it -- and doused it under the faucet. It's a favorite potholder. I'll cut off the charred corner and re-hem the edge, but it's a lesson to be learned on how easily and inadvertently fire can start in a kitchen.

Opening today, or maybe it's tomorrow, is the English-language version of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson. The other day I saw the question raised somewhere online: "Do you plan to see the new "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?" Responses ran the gamut of opinions, comparing the three-film Swedish version (and lead actress) with projected negative expectations of the ability of an American film to truly portray the darkness.

Naturally, my reaction is that I want to see both Swedish and English-language versions. I have in my hot little hand the Swedish version of GWTDT, but as uneventful as my life has been, I haven't had an available 2½ hours to concentrate on the film. I was given pause when the American actress playing Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara, said she hasn't seen her film yet because she doesn't want to watch it in such a public venue as a premier, yet she is afraid to watch it alone. (Film clips and interviews look great to me.)

Unfortunately, watching grass gr... er, the printer printing does require periodic attention (that long Christmas letter I mentioned in my last post). My new printer, although doing an excellent job, is slow, slow, slow, even after lowering print quality from "fine" to "standard." The ink cartridges are smaller than in my old printer, and this full-color printing just sucks down the ink.

I got the last of my Christmas cards printed late last night and mailed today.

You can see the printer, quite incidentally, crawling along in this picture, which I took when I noticed Chloe on top of the buffet, keeping an eagle-eye on Jean-Luc down on the carpet.

Setting the scene
 The scenario plays out.
Chloe: Jean-Luc is going to attack . . .

Henley: I'm staying out of it.

Jean-Luc: Who, me??? I'm innocent.
I wasn't fast enough with the camera to capture the attack. Which occurred immediately.

After being scolded,
Jean-Luc: Let's get in the bag with the computer cartridges.
(Mama had to rescue me.)

Last week, I cleared out my coat closet and washed several jackets for donation. It seemed the appropriate time, as the weather has turned bitingly cold ... not super-low temperatures, but oddly penetrating.

I came across a membership jacket I'd had in an RV club, all logo'd up with group and sponsor ... and my first name. It's the kind of thing you wear at the group's events, not years afterward and far away. I emailed a contact in the current group -- with photos of the jacket -- to see whether anyone might want a "vintage" club jacket (lightly worn).

Why, yes, came the answer. They even have a "Lee" it will fit. I love finding a good placement for something like this, so much better than ripping out embroidered words and tearing off organizational patches, just to salvage a shell.

For an update I haven't done in awhile, on the way home from the big Christmas card mailing, I stopped by to see progress on Brother-in-Law's dream garage. It's shaping up and may be finished ahead of schedule.

Progress on Brother-in-Law's Dream Garage - The Back

Entrance to the Lower Garage

Street view of Lower Garage

Entrance to the Upper Garage

It will resemble a house from the outside, rather than a big "car barn," as my Grandma used to call it.

I'm going to spend Christmas with family at my son's house. My daughter has just moved back to California, so if the timing works out right with her work schedule and her trip to her brother's, I'll be able to stop by see the house she moved into.

See you soon.