Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WNW: Need Leftovers? Try Pakistani Kima!

Part of my meal-planning involves making sure we have leftovers.  It cuts back on waste and ensures that I get few nights off of making dinner (a MUST when one is pregnant and has a toddler running around).

Many of my recipes are online, but I also have a few trusty cookbooks to fall back on.  One in particular is an oldy-but-goody.  It's written by some Mennonites who collected recipes from all over -- in order to help people buy wisely (meaning saving money AND being conscientious of environmental impact).

Now, to be honest, I haven't found a TON of recipes that I LOVE in here (if you have it and have a few favorites, please comment!).  Some of the recipes are extremely bland.  But there's one that is a smash hit that I wanted to share with you (and share my own take on it).  The best part about it (besides it being super simple and DELICIOUS) is that if you're a small family, you will have TONS of leftovers.

Pakistani Kima
(Found on page 131)

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes 

3 T. butter
1 c. chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic

1 lb ground beef   
(I usually use ground turkey)

1 T. curry powder
1 1/2 t. salt
dash pepper
dash of cinnamon, ginger, tumeric

2 c. cooked tomatoes
(to save on time, I used Trader Joe's canned diced tomatoes) 
2 potatoes, diced
(I usually use sweet potatoes for a healthier meal)
2 c. frozen peas or green beans

1.  Saute the butter, onion, and garlic until slightly golden. 

2. Add beef (or turkey) and brown well.

3. Stir in the spices.

4. Add the tomatoes and potatoes and mix well.

5. Add in the frozen veggies, mix together, and cover.

6. Simmer for 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

7. Serve over brown rice or millet.

Cooking the onions/butter/garlic.

 Prepping the spices!  YUMMY!

 Starting the grain (this time, brown rice!).

Stirring in the ground turkey.

 Browning the turkey.

 Adding those delicious spices!

 Adding the diced tomatoes and stirring well. 

Stirring in the potatoes.
 The final touch: frozen greens!

 Letting the simmering do the work.

 And we're ready to eat!

  • Have you used this cookbook?  What are your favorite recipes?
  • Please link to a favorite recipe of your own that allows you to enjoy leftovers. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

hurricane sandy: the aftermath

If I didn't have access to Facebook today, I'd probably be wallowing in self-pity.

I do not do well with a change of plans.  Inconveniences really stress me out.

The short of it: we don't have power.  But we're okay.
The other side of the story: my cousin lost her house.  My friend had a tree hit her home.  They are okay physically, but I'd say they're having a lot rougher of a day than I am.

Honestly, my heart is breaking for my cousin, and all those who have suffered serious consequences of this storm.  And I'm at a loss as to what to say.  I can only pray.  But I almost don't even know how.  I just sort of mourn-pray, if that makes sense.  And I hope that the Holy Spirit will do the intercession for me, because my soul just can't muster up the words.

And I can't believe that earlier today, I was asking, "Why us??" to Elliott, when all we're dealing with is lost power, and my cousin actually doesn't have a place to live or clothes to wear, other than the ones on her back.

I am ashamed by my self-pity.
And I am heartbroken for my cousin.

Please pray.  I don't know how or in what way, just say the prayer that's on your heart for my cousin, and all those who have experienced tragedy during the storm.

the pull of parental judgment

When you become a parent, you're sort of inducted into a club that you never before knew existed.  Elliott and I realized this right away.

Some aspects of this club are amusing:
  • No one asks about YOU any more, but about the kids (unless you're pregnant, in which case, every conversation begins with, "How are you feeling?").
  • More specifically, any conversation with you (at least in the early weeks) will undoubtedly start with, "How is the baby sleeping?" or, "Getting much sleep these days?" with a knowing chuckle.
  • There seems to be a never-ending free thrift store of baby items at your disposal.  You inherit clothes/toys/other items from parents at a rapid speed.  
  • You receive constant feedback on methods to help Baby do...whatever it is you're trying to get Baby to do.
There are others, I'm sure.  But there is one aspect of "The Parent Club" of which I am not a fan.

Parental Judgment
You feel it in the way people phrase questions, or offer "advice."
You feel it creeping into your own soul as you question a parent's decision for their child.
You feel it in your heart as you witness yourself making mistake after mistake.

The judgment is real -- and even though I'm generally a very non-judgmental person, I feel its sickly pull like a bad habit that keeps coming back.

It's destructive.
It's deceptive. 


The worst part about it is how isolated the judgment makes you feel.  Personally, it's hard for me to reach out to many people when I am having problems with Gwen because I just don't know who I can trust.  Who won't judge me?  Who can I confide in?  Who do I trust?

How Self-Judgment Isolates
There's also a judgment of self that works its way into the brain:  If I tell this person, then my fears of being a failure will be true.  I am a bad mother, and by reaching out for help, I am revealing my ineptness at this job.

It's really rough. 

I know because I've been struggling for over a month now to get Gwen to sleep.  And I've been reading my trusty ol' sleep book -- scouring it for answers -- and yet I leave it resting on the nightstand just feeling more and more like a failure.  I'm doing everything it's asking me to do.  I understand that depriving my baby of sleep is a terrible thing.  But what am I to do when nothing works?

The mean parent inside my brain tells me it's my own fault.

To add insult to injury, most people I have asked haven't had this issue.  That's not their fault -- it's just dumb luck that the people I generally trust have never gone through a napless-child-phase and have no advice.  It's just that this made me feel more isolated -- that it really IS my fault that my baby won't nap.

Getting Passed the Destruction
Mercifully, God provided an understanding (and experienced) ear through a friend who has "nannied" for a long time and has a young baby (who isn't a good sleeper right now).  She reads that same book as me, so we have the same context.  Even though Gwen is still (and I mean -- literally -- right now as I type this) fighting every nap with every ounce of vigor she's got -- I at least have someone who "gets" where I am.  Completely.  And offers advice -- and understands that sometimes, no matter what I do, nothing will help.

She reminds me that I'm not alone.
And it's not my fault.

Friends, there's way too much judgment in the Parent Club.  I should've been able to reach out to someone right away, but my own fears of judgment (because it's real) and the judgment of myself (because that's real, too) keep me from it.

  • How do we break the cycle of judgment -- from inside ourselves and outwardly to other people?
  • Why do we do it in the first place?

Monday, October 29, 2012

a storm is coming

It seems so strange to me that in my part of the world right now, everything is on hold.

There are no cars on the street.
All of the neighbors have stayed home from work on a Monday morning.
Businesses and schools are closed.
Colleges have evacuated.

We are bracing for a hurricane.

Even yesterday, as Gwen and I went out for our last walk for the next three days, it was a ghost town.

Eerily quiet.

Except for the winds.

We are prepared (mainly), although we have a few more things to do.  And I admit -- I am fearful.  I am praying against that fear, and I have many telling me it's nothing to worry about, as long as you're safe and prepared -- but I am a hurricane novice. 

What's also new to me is this "being-on-my-own" thing.  Since we've lived in community with other families for so long, I never really fretted about storms because everyone else seemed to know what to do.  I also lived in urban settings, so trees were never an issue.  This is the first major storm that Elliott and I are braving on our own.  It's also the first storm since moving away from home where I am realizing the thing I LOVE about our home -- the many trees surrounding our property -- is now a liability.

But I am also thankful that we can stay home today.  My husband can work from home, we still (for the time being) have power and water, and ultimately, there is God who I know I can trust.

So we'll sit it out -- embrace the ghostliness of the day and take the opportunity to hunker down as a family and brave the storm.

Friday, October 26, 2012

the plight of the napless house: i am only human

I thought it was the flu shot.
I thought it was a phase.
I thought it was teething.
I thought it was the adjustment period from going down to one nap instead of two.

I thought a lot of things -- mainly things that meant "this time will pass" and our darling daughter -- the one who never had nap/sleeping problems in her life -- would fall back into napping.

Week after week passed.
And then we were passing the month mark.

And now -- a month and a half later -- she barely naps at all.  She might get in a 45 minute snooze, or maybe that's just when she's super quiet

I'll bet it's a combination of all the things above.  She DID have a flu shot that kept her up.  She WAS going through some sort of phase.  She IS teething, and her swollen gums and little teeth poking through are the proof.  She IS having to adjust from two naps to one.

So all of these things happened simultaneously, and the result is a girl who is so overtired that she just can't settle down to nap any more.

I'm working on it.  I'm trying different things.  And I'm praying something sticks.

But all of this "naplessness" has meant a shift in my house and my own well-being.  I am less productive.  I am weary.  I find myself having to rest and nap whenever she's at least contently playing in her crib.

I am at the end of my rope, so to speak.

A lot of people can relate to this feeling -- whether from a napless child or a job they hate or a bad living situation or whatever.  So many people are weary and at the end of their rope.  So many of us have to prioritize what can and can't get done.

But there are certain things that can't change.  The non-negotiables, remember?

And I have actually been comforted in remembering the following truths:

"As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more."
Psalm 103:15-16

How many people have there been before me -- mothers even -- who have felt so weary and had to let things slide?  How many before me have had to choose rest most days of the week over being productive?  I am just one of billions.   

My days are like grass.

Weariness is a reminder to me that I am human -- that I will never be able to do everything in the world all of the time.  

It's a reminder that I must rest.
Then it hits me:  maybe resting is even more productive than the "productive" things I'm not able to do.  Maybe it's worth taking time out in order to save energy to mother the rambunctious toddler who wants to run and squeal all day.  Maybe it's worth taking the 15-minute nap in order to keep my body working properly so that Baby 2 can grow big and strong inside me.  Maybe it's worth sitting down to read the Bible and pray so that I can continue to be transformed by the Lord.


I'd say it's definitely worth it.
  • How do you react to weary situations?  Do you let yourself rest, or do you push through?
  • When was a time that you were reminded of your humanity?  How did it affect the way you live?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Waste Not Wednesday: Tips on How to NOT FAIL at Gardening


Remember when I was readying my land last year for my very first garden?

And remember when I broke my New Year's Resolution and stopped blogging so I could do more real-life garden?


Turns out I'm a terrible gardener.

That's not to say we didn't get anything from the garden.  We had a lovely "crop" of rhubarb, some spinach, beans, a surprising "I-didn't-know-I-planted-these" bunch of baby carrots, a selection of herbs, some plump tomatoes, and tiny-not-so-yummy radishes that refused to grow.

It doesn't sound too bad, right?

No really.  It was.

But that's not to say I didn't learn anything, and it's not to say I won't try-try-again.  I will, and I intend to do much better next year armed with what I know.

Here -- for your benefit as well as mine -- are a few tips on how to NOT FAIL at gardening (in order to garden better):

Tip 1:  Start Small
What I mean by this is don't plant every single vegetable you love (oh broccoli rabe??  Sure!  Argula?  Sure!  Every-other-type-of-vegetable-known-to-mankind?  SURE!!).  This did not work out for me.  I honestly forgot what I planted and had no idea what the seedlings were supposed to look like (and thus, did not know what exactly to "weed" out of my garden).

Instead, start in pots.  Next year, I plan on forgoing the plot of land in favor of pots.  This way, I will know what I'm growing and won't have very much trouble with weeds. 

I also plan to choose only a few vegetables to grow.  For me, this means starting with simple things like squash, tomatoes, and beans (NOT broccoli rabe).  And don't take advice on "easy things to grow" from seasoned gardeners.  Actually do some research and find out what grows without much help (tomatoes are awesome for this, although my tomato plant morphed into some sort of scarecrow that wanted to eat the rest of my garden, so I'd imagine it takes some pruning).

Tip 2: Choose Your Plot WISELY 
In other words, don't share your plot with the ivy. 

There were so many places in my yard that I thought were opportune spots to have a garden. But it was more of a "wouldn't that be nice," kinda thing, instead of a practical decision.

The first intended plot was full of deep roots (small trees) that were impossible to get out because they are sharing land with my neighbor (and thus, getting the roots up would be uprooting the fence as well).  My husband also pointed out the area didn't get sunlight for half of the day (that boy is so smart).

Together, we decided on a patch of land at the end of our driveway.  It would get plenty of sunlight and there was ample space -- as long as I cleared it out.  In my gardening naivety, I completely overlooked the brutal reality that ivy grows over and on anything (can we eat ivy??  Because that would make gardening so much simpler).  Since it was a newly cleared spot, I was also battling to keep the space free from weeds.  It was the opposite of fun and enjoyable.  It was strenuous and bothersome.

Tip 3: Know Thyself
In my heart, I want to be a gardener and feed my family mainly from the veggies grown on our property.  In reality, I didn't know what that would require.  I should have really sat down and asked myself: How much time am I willing to commit to this garden?  What things do I LOVE doing, and what things do I HATE doing?  How much will we be traveling?

If I had answered those questions, then I probably would have started smaller (oh hey!  That's tip #1!).

Instead, I found out:
  • I hate weeding.
  • We have terrible mosquitoes and so gardening/weeding requires bug spray and a shower.
  • I hate bug spray and taking an extra shower a day.
  • The only time available was when Gwen went to sleep at 6pm, and that's when the bugs are the worst.
  • That's also when I'm really tired and need to stop doing chores.
  • Gardening became a chore.
  • We were gone a lot of the summer so it was difficult to tend to my plants.
I seriously wish I would have considered these things before plunging into a major gardening endeavor.

Tip 4: Herb Gardens Were Meant for Windowsills
In the front of the house?  Not so much.

Dudes, I can't believe how silly I am.  I thought an herb garden would be lovely and convenient in front of our home.  Totally should have gone with mums.

If you plant an herb garden in the wrong place, it can easily be mistaken for part of your lawn.  It just looks messy and unkempt.  It also becomes increasingly difficult to find herbs, figure out what the herbs are, and weed.  It's virtually impossible to weed an herb garden without uprooting the herbs.

Next year: I'm going with a boxed herb garden!

On the plus side, I somehow ended up with carrots in the herb garden.  

How did that happen?

Tip 5: Don't Give Up
I was very tempted to throw in the towel and say that I'm just not cut out for gardening, but then I realized that was the wrong attitude.  I learned something this summer, and that will help me do better next summer.  It wasn't completely a bust -- we even got to eat a couple of things!

So if at first you don't succeed, figure out where exactly the success faltered and just modify it.  

Or if you really hate gardening, find a great CSA in your area.

In the meantime...

RIP Simko Garden #1
  • Do you have any amusing gardening stories?  I'd love to hear them!
  • What are your tips for the novice gardener?
  • What was your best success with gardening? 
This post was submitted as a part of Your Green Resource.  Check it out!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

transitions, a river, and some non-negotiables

Life is all about transitions.

Some of them you know beforehand -- a transition from high school to college, from singleness to marriage, from a couple to a family.

Some of them you know are probably going to happen -- two naps become one nap, moving into a bigger space (someday),  changing jobs from time to time.

Other transitions, you're completely unprepared for -- a baby who decides they no longer want to nap, a job loss, a serious tragedy.

Life is all about transitions.
And we have to transition with it.

Sometimes it's a matter of being open -- of being flexible -- like liquid.

But it's also a matter of remaining steadfast -- of knowing the non-negotiables.

Life is a constant stream of transitions.  

Photo by aigle_dore on flickr

I much prefer a lake or a pond -- something that changes slightly, but not dramatically.  The deep end is always the deep end.  The lily pads sprout up in the same general area.  You know where you stand.

But since life is more of a river or stream, you have to know how to navigate it.  This means knowing what you need -- a canoe, a paddle, a life vest.  Or in my terms -- time with God, time with my family, exercise, alone time.  Things that must remain steady in order for me to remain sane.

And once you know the non-negotiables, you find time to fit them in.
You make time.
You remain steadfast, but not immovable.
You transition with the transitions, but you do not change your priorities.

  • What are your non-negotiables?
  • What are the things that need to be non-negotiables but haven't quite made the list yet?
  • How do you consistently keep your priorities straight despite constant transitions? 

Monday, October 22, 2012

why do we judge?

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged."
Matthew 7:1, NIV

That's fairly clear, isn't it?  
Then why are we so quick to judge others?
Why are we so judgmental? 

And I'm speaking mainly of Christians.  I understand that judgment is sort of a human-bent thing.  It's something we do.  But if we're aware of it, and if we have the Bible -- Jesus -- telling us not to judge, then why do we do it?  Why aren't we more aware of it -- more ready to correct ourselves -- quicker to ask God what we're doing wrong in our lives rather than what that person is doing wrong in theirs?

The Bible does tell us that we are to exhort other Christians (other Christians, folks).  What do you think the difference is between judging and exhorting?

Have you found that churches create a culture of judgement?  
Have you found a church that doesn't?  (I'd love to hear that story.)
How can we change the trend?  What practical steps can we take so that we do not judge?

Not many answers today -- mostly questions.

Please opine.

Friday, October 12, 2012

at my fullest capacity

"Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illuminate creation, so that men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it."
Matthew 5:16, The Voice 

I want to be creation at its fullest capacity.

What does that even mean?

...creating at my fullest capacity...
...empathizing at my fullest capacity...
...saying YES! or NO! (not maybe) at my fullest capacity...
...seeing jobs through at my fullest capacity...
...caring at my fullest capacity...
...loving at my fullest capacity...
...accepting my limitations and recognizing where I need grace at my fullest capacity...

How do YOU want to be creation at its fullest capacity?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

5 Ways to Negotiate with Customer Service

Yesterday, I wrote about my headache with Clear.  As was expected, the comments I received -- both on the blog and on Facebook -- disclosed that my headache is a common one.  It's hard to argue with company policies, employees that aren't authorized to actually help you if your problem is slightly complex, and (sometimes) not being able to reach a human being (have you tried arguing with those automated services?  I wouldn't recommend it).

As I stated in the last post, I feel I am particularly attune to navigating the murky waters of customer service because...
  1. I worked at a customer service hotline, and I know what made me want to help or not help a person.
  2. I currently work for a business, and I know what (most credible) businesses are aiming for.  (Some businesses are not credible or simply do not have integrity.  For those businesses, there is basically no hope until you cancel your credit card and get yourself a new one.  Seriously, I HAVE done that before.)
5 Ways to Negotiate with Customer Service

 Photo by wistechcolleges on flickr
1) Be Calm/Polite
Nothing turns a person off more than having someone scream on the phone at them the second they pick up.  As a customer service rep, I was less motivated to help people who screamed at me -- and most of the time, I didn't even understand their situation because they were just yelling.  Sure, I still helped them, but not every CS rep will.  If, on the other hand, someone politely explained their situation, I was definitely more apt to help them immediately -- as well as do them the courtesy of calling back every day or so to let them know the status.

If I'm super upset about something and I call customer service, I usually start the phone call like this, "Hi, [insert customer service rep's name] - just to warn you, I am very upset.  But I know it's not your fault, so I'm going to do my best to explain my situation, and I hope you can help me."  After that, I thank them for basically everything they do to help me.  This tactic goes very, very far.  Trust me.  (And it's SO simple!) 

Another thing to keep in mind:  whatever you're upset about, the bottom line is it's not the customer service rep's fault who you will initially be talking to.  The person you need to talk to is their manager -- the person who can actually override things and help you -- so the nicer you are to the people you talk to, the more likely it is that you will reach the person you need.

2) Be Resilient
If you have a serious problem and want to see a resolution, be prepared to be in it for the long haul.  That means:
  • Utilize all tools available to you:  phone, live chat, Twitter, e-mail, etc.  That way, you reach a number of different people and your account is on the radar.  The department might be rather small, and the reps might realize that you mean business when they've all had contact with you.  Or, there might be a particular person who is especially nice and helpful, so why not use all avenues of communication to reach them?
  • Call back repeatedly:  chances are one phone call is not enough.  And honestly, I've never known a CS department to call me back (although the department I worked for was very diligent about call-backs -- I still have never experienced this on the other end).  So call them back daily.
  • Give yourself (a lot of) time:  the most productive phone calls are the ones that I have decided to just stay on the phone until I talk to the right person.  This means a lot of transfers, and a lot of time.  Just decide one day that you're going to do it, and don't let them get off the phone with you.  They may tell you their manager is on the phone with someone else and they will call you back.  Don't believe them.  Decide if you have enough time, and if you do, simply say, "Oh no, I'll just wait on the phone until your manager is available."

3) Be Clear
Know your own situation backwards and forwards, as if in bullet points.  You may have to repeat it a bunch of times to a bunch of people.  If it helps, actually make a list for yourself that you pull out every time you call.  And in order to be extra clear, refer to tip #1 -- if you're calm and polite, people are more likely to actually hear you.

Don't ramble either.  Make your case simply but effectively, and don't let your emotions get in the way of the reality of the situation.  It's important that you remain rational.

4) Be Firm
This is where a lot of people falter, because it takes so much time and energy and you can feel that you're hitting your head on a brick wall.  And sometimes, you may think that "policy is policy" and there really is "nothing they can do."  This isn't true.  There is someone in the office who can override almost anything.  Seriously -- if you have a legitimate issue and if you can explain yourself in a clear and rational way, then you should be able to win this battle.  Simply don't take no for an answer, as long as your request is reasonable.  Believe it or not, there IS someone in the office who CAN help you.  All you need to do is talk to enough people to get to that person.

5) Be Savvy
And what I mean by this is -- hit all the right buttons.  Know what makes businesses tick.

Here are a few insider insights (and again, these are related to businesses that actually have integrity):
  • Businesses want to be seen as trustworthy 
    • This was my main point with Clear.  I kept explaining to the managers that the heart of the issue was I no longer felt I could trust the company, so no matter what offer they sprang my way, I couldn't accept it because I did not trust them.  I think this made sense to the managers because whenever I said something like this, I was transferred to the next person up the chain of command.
  • Businesses have a value proposition
    • A value proposition is the essential "IT" of every company.  It's the mission statement that embodies everything they say, do, and sell.  If possible, find out what their value proposition is (and this may be tricky to find on the website, so you might have to think outside the box and come up with one that makes sense).  Or find the mission statement -- or just something on their website -- that explains their aim.  If there's a way in which your situation shows them they are not living up to their statements, then point that out (in a clear, polite way of course).
  • Businesses are afraid of bloggers
    • Ha - this was my last resort, but of course, I ended up using it (since I not only have this blog but work for a business owner/blogger with a large Twitter following).  Businesses are freaked out when you mention you're going to blog about your experience (you could also just say tweet or Facebook it).  Here's the beautiful reality of social media: the customers (that means me and you) now hold the power.  That's why Netflix went back on its terrible Qwikster idea.  It's why Bank of America decided not to charge for debit cards after all.  The social backlash online was enough to change the minds of major companies about decisions they already made.  It's unprecedented, but it's the world in which we now live.  But let's be clear here -- don't make it sound like a terrible threat, but just mention that yes, you will be telling your fans and followers on [insert name of social platform here] about your experience, and the manager can choose how that report is going to go.
Also, overall, it doesn't hurt to know a thing or two about business.  I've learned a lot about business from the following blogs (my FAVES - totally worth checking each week):
  •  Do you have any other tips for navigating customer service situations?
  • Any success stories?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Customer Service Headaches, and Why Clearwire Fails

Oh, friends.  I am livid.

Livid and weary.

I have been doing battle with Clear (the internet provider) for weeks now.  And every time I think I'm winning the battle, something happens to remind me that it takes so much effort to win.  

We've all been there.

Despite your best hopes and intentions, your top-notch research, and your staunch-but-wavering patience, you have -- at one point or another -- found yourself forced to call the customer service hotline of [insert name-of-business here].

You don't want to call them, because you know what it could mean.  Hours on the phone.  An unfulfilled promise to call back.  No resolution. 

Or maybe you're in my boat and you've been promised a resolution, only to have that promise broken.  Again and again.  It astounds me that in today's social climate -- where frustrations with companies can be tweeted live, posted on Facebook, and written in a (ahem) post -- that companies still choose to be difficult and -- at least in this case -- untrustworthy.

It's frustrating.  But here's the thing.  I have a few tips up my sleeve for dealing with customer service, and here's why:
  1. I used to work at a customer service hotline.  This gives me a few "ins" to which most people are not privy.
  2. I work for a business and spend much of my business hours researching and writing about what makes companies tick.  
I'm going to share my story with you, and then I'm going to take what I've learned and share it with you.  A lot of people give up way too easily when it comes to dealing with customer service hotlines, because really -- let's face it -- it's inconveniencing YOU to be stuck on the phone all day sorting through your problem (that person on the other end of the phone?  They get PAID to do it, so the stakes are not as high for them).

These tips (in the next post) should hopefully work -- or at least get you further than before -- as long as the company has integrity and cares about their reputation.  The jury is still out for Clear -- I thought they were going to be decent but they have repeatedly gone back on promises, so I'm not so sure.

The Backstory
When we were moving into our new house, I spent a while comparing the prices and plans of the three internet providers in our area.  I found Clear to be pretty convincing -- top internet speeds, the lowest price, and (the clincher) no cancellation fees.  My salesperson told me that it was a month-to-month contract and I could cancel at any time.

"Great," I thought.  "If it doesn't work well, I'll just switch over to the bigger provider and only miss out on paying the installation cost."  It seemed like a no-brainer.  There was no risk, so why not give the little guy a shot?

The first six months were fine.  We really didn't encounter any problems of note.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the internet got really slow.  And then it got slower.  And then it stopped working (literally DID NOT WORK) when it rained or was windy outside.

It seriously got to the point where only one of us could use the internet at one time, and then it still took about 10-15 minutes for things to load.  We did all the troubleshooting required, but nothing happened.

"Oh well," I thought.  "It's a little hassle, but I'll cancel before the next month starts and we're charged."

And then something happened.

I received an e-mail from a lawyer that included this text in it.  Basically, Clear customers are suing Clear because of alleged lies they told about internet speed and cancellation fees.

The internet speed I agreed with wholeheartedly.  The cancellation fees perked my interest because I hadn't yet called to cancel.  

So I called.

The Battle
I am still so weary from this experience, so let's see if I can recap it without prolonging the agony.

I called.  They said I had a 2-year contract so was required to pay a cancellation fee; if I had signed up for the month-to-month contract, then I would have no fee.  I explained that my salesperson didn't even TELL me there were different contracts; he just told me there were no cancellation fees.  So he promised me one thing and signed me up for another.  It was not my fault, and I deserved to be cancelled without a fee.

I was then told that the salesperson was a part of a third-party sales provider, and there was no way to reach him to verify my story.  Frustrating, right?  I told them that it wasn't my fault that my salesperson was from a third party, and it just added to my distrust of the company.  A third party they can't reach, a blatant lie about contracts, and still I get to pay the penalty?  I don't think so. 

We left with a promise to have a manager call me back.

Nearly a week later -- a week later!!! -- and no call back.  Meanwhile, I've been tweeting back and forth with their customer service on Twitter (a pointless service, I might add -- they are not helpful at all, but just say things like, "I'm sorry about your experience.  That's not what we strive for."  They also promise to have someone call repeatedly, with no results), I finally ended up calling them back.  This time, I was absolutely determined not to get off the phone until it was resolved.

I was transferred to two managers.  The last manager I spoke with (in customer resolutions) tried to -- get this -- sell me a different type of modem for $99.99, even though he couldn't promise it would work in my area.  This baffled me beyond belief.  Why would I spend another $100 to get something that may not work at all, only to have to cancel again, and be stuck with both the modem and the cancellation fee -- not to mention, still no working internet?  The bonus of this modem, the guy said, was that I could use the internet OUTSIDE the house!  

Wow.  Are they serious?  I am paying for internet inside my home I work from home.  The whole point is to use internet in my home!  If I wanted to use internet outside the home, I would just go to Starbucks, but that defeats the whole purpose of paying for internet in my home.

This is when I went into a long monologue about how I don't trust Clear at all (still don't), that I don't understand why Clear would want to present itself as an untrustworthy company (which they are), and that it's about integrity (this is when my voice raised dramatically in pitch).  Didn't they want to have integrity?

He promised to cancel my service without the cancellation fee.

Oh, But Wait -- There's MORE!
Fast forward to today (the above happened about two weeks ago), and I am charged (surprise, surprise) the cancellation fee.  I go on Clear chat and am simultaneously on the phone with my bank to stop the charge.  Clear tells me the same old stuff -- 2 year contract, cancellation fee, etc.  This is when I lose my cool.  Like seriously.  I actually had to TELL the CS staffer to CHECK MY FILE with the notes from my previous 2-hour call (isn't that part of their job?  Why else do they access the account?  I'm sorry - but I used to work in CS, and if we saw an account with a lot of notes, we read those notes first before continuing the conversation.  Common sense, people!). 

So after reading the notes, he said he'd refund my money.

I asked for a number to call in a few days if it doesn't go through, and he avoided the question.  I had to ask him THREE TIMES before he gave me the basic customer service number -- not a real person, just a general number.  So if he doesn't refund me the money (and I doubt he will, at this point -- yes, Clear -- this is where you brought me -- this is how much I do not trust you), I have to go through the ringer again with a new customer service rep who won't read the notes in my file when I call in.


Worst company ever.


Later this week, I will share a few practical tips to help you along in customer service battles. 
  • What are your customer service horror stories?
  • Do you have any happy customer service stories?  I'd love to hear those too!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

the holiness of baby-naming

Yesterday, we saw our little baby.

We saw beautiful little hands waving, little feet kicking, a perfectly-defined spine curling and stretching, and a face formed with a tiny nose.

My breath was taken away.  Babies are nothing short of miracles

We also found out that the baby is a _____.  I will definitely share soon, but we just told our families and want to wait a little bit -- live with it a little -- before we share it with the world.

Since finding out, we decided last night to finally look at names -- a process that generally takes an incredibly long time.  We don't just want to choose names that resonate with us -- that we think are nice -- but that mean something, especially because of how Gwendolyn was named.

Naming Baby #1
Before we found out Gwenny was a girl, we had a name picked out for our girl: Shiloh.  Yet when we saw her for the first time, we were unsure.  Shiloh fit in some ways, but not in others.  So we took to the books and stressed over many names. all the while praying that God would reveal her name to us.

In the Bible, and probably throughout the time in which the Bible was written (not just those mentioned in the Bible), names were really important.  Names signified something -- usually what the child would become someday, or maybe what the child represented.  Maybe the child was a source of joy, then the name would mean joy.  If the child came from a bitter situation, the name would mean bitter.  Perhaps the child would someday become a great prophet, then the name would mean "who leads," or something like that.  Often, God would specifically tell the parents what to name their children.

So we sought God relentlessly while seeking to name Gwen.  One day, I was reading John, and came across this verse:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
John 14:27, ESV

Even as I type out that verse, I remember sitting in Starbucks late on a weekday night -- probably weary from being pregnant, going to grad school, working, and living 45 minutes from our jobs/my school.  I read this verse and immediately knew that our daughter's name needed to mean peace.  It was an internal, "YES," that echoed throughout my body.

Gwen's name needed to mean peace because of this verse, but also because I had struggled with severe anxiety that whole year.  Through the pregnancy, God was bringing me to a whole new level of peace by trusting Him with everything.  My husband was also experiencing great -- miraculous -- reconciliation in his family that we never thought possible -- giving our lives even more peace. 

Even knowing that, Elliott and I struggled to name her until one day we both woke up and just knew.  We didn't know the other one knew, but by the middle of the day, I said, "Elliott, I know what her name is."  He said, "I do, too."  "Alright," I proposed.  "Let's write the first and middle name on a piece of paper and them switch them."  We switched the papers, and there it was:

Gwendolyn Shiloh
which means, incidentally...
Beautiful Peace

Naming Baby #2
It's a pretty cool story, and of course, we'd love for all our children to have similar stories.  Yet we weren't sure lightening could strike twice.

We were wrong.

Without going into too many details (the name will be a surprise!), we spent a couple hours last night listing out our favorite names -- first by what we just liked, and then by definitions.  After the list was up, we started writing out important life circumstances currently happening in our lives.  We wanted to see if any of the names matched up with our circumstances.

There was one name that fit perfectly for a first name.  And it was actually a name with a fairly obscure meaning -- one that we almost discounted.  Actually, when I heard the definition, my actual words were, "Well, that's unfortunate."  Yet there it was, staring us in the face, as if God just said to us, "This is your child's name."

And there was one middle name that made sense -- that made the meaning complete.  And in many ways, it parallels Gwendolyn's name rather nicely.
We were in complete shock.  I couldn't believe it had come together so soon -- so seamlessly.  To add to it, there was a verse in John that came to Elliott -- one that we recently looked at in church -- to make the meaning fully from the Lord.

To put it simply, I was completely giddy last night.  I already loved this little baby, but I am fully head-over-heels in love right now.

To find out what the name is and the full story, you'll have to check back around March 7.  I promise I'll share the sex of the baby sooner than that -- probably in the next couple of weeks.

  • How were you named?  What does your name mean?
  • How did you name your children?
  • What's the best naming story you've ever heard?

Friday, October 5, 2012

second babies

They say no pregnancy is the same, and no child is alike. 

It seems like such an obvious thing to say, but somehow, you always expect things to be the same.  "I've done this before," you think.  "I know what to expect."

In a similar way, it's sort of like running.  No two runs are the same, even if it's the same route and the same time of day.  Your body is different -- you're running on different amounts of sleep or different food intakes or whatever.  Some runs are great, some runs are awful.  Part of being a runner is accepting the good with the bad, and pushing forward.

And so it is with parenthood; accepting the great moments ("I accomplished so much today!") and the not-so-great ones ("All I did was nap and watch Sesame Street!").

I've written recently about how this pregnancy is different, and how mentally it's easier but physically it's not, and I'm still learning that every day.

With this second baby, I never really got the second trimester boost of energy that I did with Gwen.  I totally remember when I hit week 12 or so with Gwen, I was SUPERDUPER energized.  I ran five miles every day, I was really excited about everything, and I was uber productive.  Currently, I'm still in the needs-at-least-one-nap-a-day on top of sleeping a lot at night.  I get at least 9 hours of sleep each night, but if I didn't get up to go to the gym or didn't have to wake up to the Gwen-alarm, I would totally sleep more like 12 hours.

With this second baby, I have to eat like crazy.  I remember being hungry with Gwen on occasion, but it wasn't really crazy ridiculous.  Last night, I ate a large helping of chicken, rice, and veggies at 5, then was absolutely ravenous for the next hour until I finally ate rice cakes, peanut butter, a banana, and yogurt, and then was still absolutely distracted by hunger until 7pm when I ate a large bowl of cereal with milk.  Then I woke up this morning with a rumbling in my tummy.

It's all just different.  Not ideal, not not ideal -- just different.

And so -- as with running -- I just take each day in its own.  Some days, I can push through and get a lot done; other days, I have to sleep in and nap later on for two hours.  It is what it is.

There are no real poignant thoughts here -- just sort of where I am.  I'd love to hear from you...

  • What things do you have to accept day-to-day that are less-than-ideal in your mind?
  • If you've been in this boat, how were your pregnancies different?  What did each one teach you? 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Where am I?

I realize that a few days of silence in the blogging world can seem like months.  I also realize that probably many of you haven't given a thought to where I am.

Here's the thing: we (uggggh) don't have internet in our house.  I have a brief hour graciously given to me by my husband every morning to do my *actual* job of writing for a business.  That's all I got.  So reading/commenting on other blogs and writing my own blog takes second place, and honestly is not happening.

Why don't I have internet?  That's a great story.  I WILL tell it because it's partly ridiculous and partly educational (as someone who used to work in a customer service hotline and with a slight savvy for business, I know how to negotiate with the customer service people -- even if it does take over an hour -- and I think everyone should know how to do this).

So I'm praying we get internet today.  For some reason, Verizon is having a lot of trouble hooking up our house, so hopefully something will happen today.  It's really hard to cook when all your recipes are saved in your e-mail or on Pinterest. :)

Please leave some encouragement and share a story when you had to do without a (semi-needed?) service for a while.  I'd love to hear it.
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