Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More to Life than Reserving Tickets


The Hunter

The Prey
Sister, Brother-in-Law and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving Dinner at the Community Hall last Thursday. No cooking, no dishes, no leftovers. No camera, no photos. So sister called me around noon today to invite me to join them for a turkey dinner tonight.


The turkey was not done when I arrived, although it should have been. Sister had been cleaning and decorating all day and the turkey breast had been cooking for a couple of hours. While she was immobilized in her chair by a snoozing cat, I monitored the pop-up thermometer on the turkey and browsed the decorations she'd just put up. (Her three kitties are amazingly good around all these things. Jean-Luc would merely eat them all.)

At long last, the red button popped.

Onto the giant platter for carving,

and plated for dinner. Whoops. Should have put on the gravy before the photo.

Now we'll return to the olden days of last week, when the feral kittens snugged under the bench on the deck for their Thanksgiving dinner. Stripes' tail looks a lot like a raccoon tail.

The raccoons come frequently in the evening, stealing any leftover cat food, muddying the water in the cat cups, and, more often than not, dumping the cups over.

Just a little while ago, I heard a thump on the deck, turned on the light, and there was a little bandit staring at me from a few feet away. I grabbed my camera and opened the screen, but that black-banded tail slipped around the corner into the dark before I could get set up.

I was surprised then to see Bootsie, watching this all from one step down from the deck. I've been afraid all along that raccoons might kill the kittens, but Bootsie showed no fear in sauntering back toward me, then giving a thorough sniff around the food area under the bench. I'll have to tell Sue at My Incredibly Unremarkable Life that I'm a lot less panicked now. . . although I have it on eye-witness/participant account that if a raccoon gets trapped in the cage which you were intending to catch the feral cat in for a trip to the vet, the human is at high risk of being torn to pieces by the raccoon as you attempt to free it.

I spent Black Friday at home, although I did phone the nearest Radio Shack to see whether they carry a battery for one of my portable phones (house kind, not cellphone). Sister and Brother-in-Law took full advantage of the day to stock up on many items for the garage-under-construction and to upgrade things in the house.

Saturday, Sister, Sister-in-Law and I hit the holiday crafts fairs around town. One has been held in the Community Hall for years and we picked up a few items for Christmas there, then went down the road where another fair was debuting. It seems spaces in the Community Hall for new vendors are wait-listed, so an alternative was found by those who wanted to get their crafts out into the community now. I took a couple of pictures at the new venue in the Odd Fellow hall.

Chris, of Sabre Design, with their old timey-style wood plaques and signs.

Sister admires Christmas arrangements and handmade jewelery.

Following our craft shopping, we had reservations at Dori's Tea Cottage for lunch. We do this annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The Saturday Specials
The Gang of Three

On Monday, Sister and I headed for the Lake Lodge to help Soroptimist set up for Tuesday's Winter Tea and Auction, proceeds of which benefit Soroptimist programs to improve the lives of women and girls throughout the world.

As we walked down toward the Lake Lodge, the geese were having a raucous discussion in the field across the playground. The uproar stopped abruptly and this group silently strolled towards the lake.

I'll bring you pictures of the glittering event next time.

See you soon.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Hip Hip Hooray!

Jumping for Joy

Is it really only Monday still? It seems like days since I faced the anticipation/anxiety about whether I would still have my free flight to France (a bit of a misnomer). Would my Monday email indicate that wheels had been turning over the weekend somehow to make it so?

Alas, when I flicked on my computer at 10 EST, there was no reassuring receipt and ticket from Air France. There was no new charge against my credit card. All 63,708 miles were intact in my Flying Blue Awards miles account.

I was told on Friday that the problem with processing the payment on this type of ticket had to be solved by Flying Blue. Flying Blue was closed for the weekend. So I had to call them this morning.

Cutting through the conversations, transfers and one long wait, the upshot was that they didn't have my birthdate and passport info. When I had entered my trip information, those items had been prefilled, but she wasn't seeing it. My options were to have her fill them in for $22 or do it online myself. Aside from not wanting to pay the $22, I panicked. My passport is kept in the safe and I couldn't bring to mind where else I had its number noted.

She assured me that once I entered the information online, my email would be on its way.
Exactly as I've done year after year, I found that info was and is in my passenger profile. What the heck?

I reviewed my reservation again. All the different categories are displayed with a "modify information" button to make changes. Then I noted the new section at the bottom, "Regulation information." I remember seeing it when I reserved. It's governmental. It's mandatory. It wanted my middle name, to match my passport, plus the birthdate. I remember filling it out while I was booking. Now when I saw it at the bottom, I think it said "Regulation Information" and had an "Introduce" button. There must have been a "Save" or "confirm" that I overlooked the first time.

This was taken care of by about 8:30 AM. I began my vigil for my email receipt and ticket and/or any indication of a change. After awhile I filled out another one of their email contact forms.

The morning passed. I took a late shower before I had to run errands, but I was going to call again before I went out.

At 11:45 AM the phone rang. I hadn't put my glasses on after my shower yet, but what I could discern from caller ID looked weird.

I gave my I've-just-risen-from-my-sick-bed-to-answer-this "hello" (not hard today, given I actually have laryngitis) so I can credibly answer "Not so good" when the political or charitable solicitor gives me the falsely cheerful "And how are you today, ma'am?"

The person on the other end had a very heavy accent and it took awhile for me to understand "Flying Blue" somewhere in the flow of words. (Yippee!)

I recovered from near-death very quickly. I think she recited my entire itinerary -- at least I hope that's what she said -- and asked if I wanted to make any changes. Meanwhile I'd found my glasses and my way to the computer. No changes. Did I know I had to change airports in Paris? Yes. Did I know I'd have to claim my baggage and go through security again? Yes. (Er, I could have guessed as much.) Would I like her to check for a flight from Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Strasbourg? No, this is fine. (I'd pretty much checked that when I booked.) (There were none.)

Do you want to continue with this booking, with no changes? (Gosh, I hope she read me the correct one at first.)

Yes. Yes, I do. Can you email that to me right now?

Yes, I've just emailed it.

Don't hang up until I see the email.

It might take a moment.

Just stay there. (I found the Send/Receive button.)

. . . Receiving, receiving . . .

Hooray! Thank you. It's here!

Blessed paperwork.

My spirits lightened.

Tonight on my reservations page it's in a format I've never seen. Did they redesign the Air France website this afternoon while I was napping? My page is called "Modify Your Booking." It's kind of strange.

Then the thought came to mind that I've never had a reservation that could be modified. Life among the Premium Voyageurs!

See you soon.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Over the River and through the Woods . . . "

So familiar. I know that song.

". . . to grandfather's house we go."  But do I know the play? Has it been around as long as the song? Is this a musical? (Sorry musical fans. Not really my favorite.)

I do a little research, right now, after the fact. The song dates back to 1844, written by Sylvia Maria Child. Joe Di Pietro's play by that name debuted in 1994, and is described in a recent review as being "from the early, obscure, playwright-in-the-making part of his career."

But I didn't know anything about it when I headed for Stage 3 in Sonora, California on a gorgeous November Sunday afternoon. I left home early enough to make stops for photos along the way, for example, to overlook this creek just down the road from the theatre,

and to admire church steeple rising above the "woods."

Two steeples and an antique light fixture

Stage 3 Theatre

I was aware that no photos can be taken during a performance -- copyright stuff. That prohibition even applies to the set and the final bow the actors take. I did take pictures in the lobby, where Chuck Waldman entertained theatre-goers to the sold-out performance with banjo and banter.


Also after the fact, I read that the Lobby Gallery is presenting paintings in honor of the season by Diana Boyd, Kathleen Davids and Lynn Cornish during "Over the River and through the Woods." Central Sierra Arts Council and its volunteers curate the Lobby Gallery.

Ah, the play. Even as I went in, I had no idea what to expect, except that with Maryann Curmi as director, I was sure to like it. It was not a musical. (Whew!) Cribbing again from the Phoenix review, it is "a straightforward story of the pros and cons of a fiercely close family." Premiering in the Bronx in 1994, it "very sensibly made its bones in the Italian-American community before winning the hearts of the nation."

Nick is a single young man who is the only member of the family still living near both sets of Italian-American grandparents in New Jersey. He's had dinner every Sunday with them for his entire life, but they make him a little crazy now. (He'll annoy you in return, for part of this play.)

When the grandparents hear their beloved but career-driven grandson intends to transfer to Seattle, they plot to keep him nearby in New Jersey. What ensues keeps us gasping with laughter and provides a few tears in the end. Little kids won't get this play, but otherwise, it's for all generations.

It's playing at Stage 3 through December 18. Reservations are strongly advised. Call (209)536-1778. If you've never been there, it has open seating, so get there early to stake out your space, then return to the lobby for beverages, the art exhibit and possible music. Be sure to pick up a brochure for the upcoming season.

To top off the perfection of the day, the leaves on the trees were ablaze in the late afternoon sun and the sunset was spectacular.

It became even more intense as I drove home, but my one-handed photo through the windshield at 55 mph was a bit blurred.

See you soon.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

. . . exactly according to plan. NOT!

Sometimes trip planning goes smoothly. Sometimes there are little glitches. Sometimes booking airline reservations online goes well. Other times, well . . . . But when you hear a message that you'll be charged to book with a human being, you try first to work it online, and, if worse comes to worst, speak only to free help lines.

After last year's travel season, I had a wee tad over 50,000 Award Miles in my Air France Flying Blue account. It only took about ten years to get there, disregarding that I used a few miles for a flight within France a few years ago. (That's another whole story.) Miles accumulate painstakingly, since traveling sardine class only awards ¼ of the actual miles traveled. The page on spending your awards miles says that flights between the US and Europe are 50,000 round-trip.


I'm ready for a round trip. I've been basking in the thought that my 2012 trip, whatever it may be, will be a free one.

Yesterday, a Friday, I decided to go ahead and book a trip for September, but the guideline that you cannot book any sooner than ten months before departure (I'd tried earlier in the month for my proposed departure date) also appears to mean that you cannot book any sooner than ten months before your return date either. That return date had finally passed.

I went to "Book your awards tickets" and entered all the proposed trip info. The reservations screen popped up. There were Yellow days on the schedule and Green days. Yellow days could indeed be booked for 25,000 miles per direction. Green days require 31,500 miles each way. Naturally, none of the Yellow days were anywhere near my hoped-for travel dates. I guess this is like advertising that says "Widgets from $2.98" but any Widget you could conceivably want will run you at least $4.98.

Then I saw the Buy Awards Miles button. It seemed at least worth exploring whether buying 12,492 miles would be a cheaper way to go than merely buying a ticket. With a sale on miles going on, I could get 13,200 miles for a mere 312 €. That didn't sound bad, since I have the self-deceiving habit of considering euros and dollars roughly equivalent. Roughly speaking, that really turns out to be a $414 price tag. Oh, well. Still cheaper than a flight.

Before too long, the new chunk of miles appeared in my miles balance. And the phone rang from the fraud division of my credit card company, alerted by the euro purchase without my having notified them about travel plans. I warned her that I was about to make another purchase involving taxes and airport fees and that I didn't need to be alerted.

So, back to the Book your awards, etc., page, where I booked my "multiple destinations" trip. (My final destination on the outbound flight is different from my departure airport back to the U.S.) It was all going smoothly. Until I pressed the button to finalize the booking. Up came this red box warning:

Your payment could not be processed. Please contact Flying Blue Customer care within 24 hours to finalize the purchase. After this time, your reservation will be cancelled. The changes made cannot be saved. If you want to modify your request, please start again. Otherwise, you can continue with your reservation using the information you originally entered.
Your reservation status: Awaiting payment details


I promptly called my credit card company back again, and was assured that my charge for Air France had been approved, and here was my approval number. Now, how the heck do I find Flying Blue Customer care? I located only two phone numbers anywhere I looked on the AF website. The first one was a French number for use only in France. The other was the website help number. I dialed it. Sorry, closed until Monday, during normal business hours. Googling yielded mostly complaint sites, although one number started to run through them. Then I found I heard of it years ago and it's still there, being useful.

Have I ever mentioned that I HATE HATE HATE making phone calls? So I postponed that chore until early this morning, using the it's-better-for-Eastern-Time excuse. I got up even earlier than early and printed out all pertinent documents and then began the series of phone calls: the credit card company to confirm the approval code, gleaning the information that both payments were still pending; the main Air France number, referring me to a number which is the website help number, closed for the weekend; back to the main number, I'm urgent here, I only have 24-hours to deal with the payment; I must go to Flying Blue, only they can handle Awards booking payments, and yes, they're open 24-7.

Boeing 777-200
 Only they're not. Did I really go back to the main number? The scribbles on my piece of paper have become incomprehensible. I convey my anxiety about my reservation being canceled in 24-hours; he says that my phone calls have been noted on my record; I ask whether that will prevent cancellation; he says he can't guarantee that.

But somewhere I got the impression that the payment in question was not my credit card but the unavailability of Flying Blue to confirm my awards miles, probably in light of the last minute purchase of the extra miles to cover the trip.

The moral of this story is that it's a bad idea to book a flight online on a Friday evening.

But if I still have a reservation after Monday, it turns out that it's in Premium Voyageur class, a pretty good upgrade from sardine class. Seat 11L (the pink spot) if it works. The Awards thing brings the price in at $1,000 less than buying a Premium Voyageur seat and $600 less than a sardine seat, which is one way to look at it.

My dream is that I will wake up Monday morning and Air France's "Trip Summary and Receipt" will be in my Inbox.

In a great piece of irony, I just checked the website to see whether my reservation is still there and a survey from Air France popped up about my most recent experience with their website. Heh, heh, heh!

See you soon.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

. . . the behinder I get.

The faster I run, the behinder I get. At least that's how it feels. What I really want to do is write a wrap-up about quilt camp, show a few photos from the Tile Quilt Revival workshop I went to before quilt camp, do a little review of Over the River and through the Woods-- the play I went to a couple of weeks ago-- and other stuff.

Instead, I came home from quilt camp with a cold . . .

 . . . and a newsletter to prepare.

I'm hard at work on the newsletter. I hope I'll get it finished sometime tonight. And then, back to blogging.

Well, after Turkey Day.

See you soonish . . .


Friday, November 18, 2011

Screwed! (and not in the good way)

First, my wake up photo for today.  No sun filtering through the leaves. No snow. Not even rain. Just dull skies and a dripping sound.

Getting up was hard to do. I had the all-over aches after having all the knots massaged out of me after tripping on Tuesday. Toxins, those things. It's apparently true.

I staggered out of the sewing room last night leaving you with the info that I had a screw loose -- no, lost -- out of my sewing machine. I titled this blog as I have because of all the witticisms made in the aftermath of my screw(ing) problem as my fellow campers left the room.

My work table is not a neat space. I'd been twisting the sewing machine around as I and others tried to peer inside the bobbin compartment, propping it on things. There was an array of sewing equipment -- scissors, spools of thread, the flashlight for going out in the dark later, stylus, Orajel, coffee mugs, power strip and a few cords, an ersatz scrap bag made from a taped up grocery bag. Just a few things to search through. But no screw. It could bounce a bit on the carpet if it had fallen off the table, but would roll in a circle, not roll away.

(I'll throw in some photos of other people's work, since I wasn't doing any, just to spice up this narrative.)

Under the work table is another array of related "stuff," lots of them open, which the screw could have fallen into. And, shudder, a floor furnace register within bouncing distance. Soon there were three or four of us plowing through bags and cases and crawling on the floor under the table. One of them pulled the grate out of the register and shined the flashlight down the whatchamacallit. We did not look under my cutting mat -- it's flat. No luck.

After at least a half hour of fruitless searching, maybe more, I thanked my helpers. A few more straggled by, offering helpful suggestions. Been there, done that, to all of them. I was assured that if the stuck thread, which was no longer visible, had somehow worked loose, and the machine would run, I could ignore the missing screw and get on with quilting. I'd begun to think that the gremlin that had dropped the tiny screw on my table earlier in the day was taking back payment in kind.

Be that as it may, can you really just ignore that this beautifully machined screw can have completely walked away?  Bone-in-teeth-of-bulldog, all that stuff, I couldn't really let it go. I would organize everything that had been ripped apart (thank you, no, I think I'd better put stuff back myself so I'll know for sure where it is), and in the course of that, search again. Empty out every bag completely and put the stuff back in.


Narrow bag of written/writing materials. Bag with food-related items. Many large zip-lock bags of threads, inside a tote bag, inside a basket. Rolling back pack which holds the laptop and electronics cords and chargers (it had been unzipped and open). Walking stick and gloves, flat on the floor. Small rolling duffel for BIG electrical cords, spray cans of this and that, folding iron, plastic folders with a million miscellaneous sewing supplies. Paper bag with the quilt to be quilted (some more). A large rolling tote for sewing machine, into which I'd folded my down coat and scarf. My backpack-in-lieu of purse.

All of these had been inspected and upended by one or more of the searchers. In the approximate order above, I re-emptied, overturned and replaced all contents. The last thing left was the sewing machine bag. The down coat was out and had been shaken by several of us. The rolling bag had been upended. But I gave it one more chance and I even said aloud, "You're my last chance, so you'd better come up with it."

There's an attached pad that covers the sewing machine, cinched down by a Velcro strap inside. The black pad was folded in the black interior. I unfolded one layer of the pad, then tilted it up so I could see the bottom of the bag. It took a moment to focus on the tiny thing, but there it was! My last chance came through. I called across the room to Donna, "I found it in the last place I looked." We'd laughed at that truism earlier in the day. But sometimes the last place you look is the last place you can look.

It's a mystery how the little screw got down under the down coat, under the folds of the pad and remained there during all the shaking and inspecting.

Or did it?

Did the gremlin that took it return it, getting a good laugh at all the searching?

I screwed it back into the machine. I have yet to test whether the stuck thread has disappeared.

Now time to get at the quilting.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teaser from Leopard Lady Revival

First thing I do in the morning when I'm away from home is to look out the window to see how the world looks today, then I take its picture. This morning, Thursday, I looked out to see sun filtered through autumn leaves. With weather forecasts being iffy, will it be a white world Friday morning? Snow is traditional at quilt camp after all. Stay tuned.

Here is today's morning photo.

First thing that happened when I raced up to the sewing room a little before nine, unsure of what time breakfast would be served, Penny, a loyal reader and one of the Leopard Revival Ladies, came to reveal the first of today's leopard rollouts, her leopard manicure, to be shared with other loyal readers.

I also took a couple of pictures of her modeling a leopard bathrobe, which I promised not to publish if they weren't flattering. (If you're a woman or someone who knows a woman, you are aware of our shyness about being photographed in our bathrobes for everyone in the world to see.) This evening she withdrew all permission to publish the bathrobe photos, regardless. They're really quite cute in my opinion, but I made promises.

Barbara got all her blocks made and borders onto the quilt she was working on yesterday. Made of Australian fabrics, it's called "Aussie." I'm not sure how the photos are coming out here because my laptop screen is not rendering pictures in stunning color, but I'll tell you, this quilt is beautiful. The blocks appear to be floating, with their shadows beyond them. The whole piece itself forms a shadow, although this is not so clear with the sewing items in the way.

My day contained a couple of oddities, which consumed way too much time. First, not time-eater, was the tiny screw that appeared right in front of me on my worktable. Teeny tiny Phillips-head, silver in color. I had someone else look at the hinges in my glasses. Not missing. Looked at my cell phone, my PDA, my camera. Not theirs. So I taped it to a Post-It pad and put it in a zip bag.

The day went on with my mending some pants (surely I did something else I've forgotten about), and had my first fabulous massage, desperately needed because I'd really tweaked my back when I stumbled while packing the car on Tuesday evening. Oh, yes, I did sew something else which must be kept confidential, due to the gift nature of the project.  During that project, a thread got jammed in my sewing machine which  interfered with continued stitching.

I could see the thread, stuck back behind the bobbin casing, but my tweezers weren't long enough to reach it. Shortening the saga a little, even with other people's help and tools, the thread lay out of reach and occasionally out of sight. There are two screws in the throat plate above the bobbin. I managed to loosen the front one, thought I'd loosened the back one, removed the front one, and found I hadn't loosened and couldn't loosen the back one. So my thought was to reinsert the front one to take any torque off the back one.

It will come as no surprise to you that when I went to pick up the screw from the table beside me, it was nowhere to be seen. Screwed, royally.

It's a little spooky late at night and alone here, and there is still so much more to today's story, I'm afraid I'm going to have to give up and continue tomorrow.


Kick off ...

I usually get up before dawn to be at quilt camp by the time the doors are opened to us campers at 9 a.m. Wednesday.  But it was pretty clear around 2 a.m, when I was nowhere near done packing, that it was a choice between pulling an all-nighter or arriving a little late.

Quilt camp is so near and yet so far. It's about 45 miles, but takes at least an hour and a half to traverse down one mountain and up another. I wasn't the latest arrival, but I sure wasn't the first.

Just a brief taste as I sit in the sewing room alone at 1:15 a.m., everyone else having gone to bed.

By the time I arrived, the snack table was already laden with, well, snacks.

Coffee and tea available at all times to go with the snacks.

This is a spectacular quilt being made with Australian fabrics. B made great progress on this today, but I'll wait until she finishes to bring you the full effect.

This Christmas table runner still needs its border,
but it's already charming as is. 

This appliqué is hanging at the other end of this big room (something like 37
 women working in here), so I'm not sure whose it is yet.

This looks scrumptious. Rich and scrumptious.

We have a birthday celebrant today. Interesting cake-cutting technique.


Donna (a faithful reader) and I were chatting over the ironing board. Only half-paying attention, I thought she was working on half-square triangles, but felt there was something odd about them. I just snooped around her sewing machine and the answer is (meaningful only to quilters I suppose), ta da, Flying Geese.

This is my tidy work space. I carried my French fabrics acquired several years ago in Aix-en-Provence in this little French tote bag I acquired in Saint Jean de Luz this past spring. (Have I mentioned that I like traveling to France?)

This is the part of my work space where the work is going on. I will be using the tile block technique learned in the workshop last Monday, for this French fabric. I still want to catch you up on that workshop in the near future.

Meanwhile, I've installed Internet Explorer 9 on this laptop, giving it another chance to see how it works with Blogger software after having a rather poor experience using it on a netbook earlier this year and reverting to IE 8. I have to say there's no laptop like a good old IBM ThinkPad laptop for pure tactile experience, and neither this laptop nor my netbook are IBM ThinkPads, so blogging in laptop does not please me in any case. Maybe IE 9 plays differently with a desktop computer than it does on these little guys, which has not been a particularly fun experience. I'd buy another ThinkPad but those Lenovo versions don't look the same (stupid touch pads!) and I can't lift anything but the netbook into the overhead compartment when traveling sardine class!

Good night/morning, and hope I'll see you soon.