28 May 2010

Commentary: Collection Agencies

Yesterday I mentioned all the telemarketing calls I've been dealing with, mostly at work, but sometimes at home, too. My new easy solution is to simply put them on hold and wait until they hang up. Simple, fun and a little devilish.

But how about those creditors and collection agencies, huh? Wait, wait. I pay my bills. We have $0 left at the end of the month, but the bills are all paid on time, every month.

The problem is the chick who had my phone number before. I don't think to much of her. I've had my phone number since the summer of 2003, when I bought Oliver's bungalow. In fact, my number was assigned to me before I even moved in. So that's nearly 7 years now.

At first, we didn't think much of it, new number, lots of call that weren't for me. I just had a plain phone, no caller id, no answering machine, so I probably missed a lot more than I knew.

Then one day, when I wasn't home, mom took a call from our local police looking for this woman, we'll call her AH. My mom politely explained to them that this was a new number for us and we never heard from the police again.

Many calls from random drunk-sounding guys, at all hours, asking for AH.

Eventually we got fancier phones, with caller id screens, and my upgraded long distance service came bundled with voice mail. Let the fun begin! Some days it seems we get more calls for other people than we do for ourselves.

One call came from her kid's school nurse. She left us a message. Hey AH, your kid is sick, come pick him up. At the elementary school. Okay, now I'm beginning to get disgusted. I think of some poor kid, sick, in the nurse's office (I can picture it- I went to the same elementary school, had been sick and waiting for my mommy in the same nurse's office... about two decades earlier) and now I'm mad at AH. I'm nice, so I call the school nurse back and tell her she didn't reach AH, I don't know AH, I have no way of reaching AH. School nurse thanks me and says she'll try another relative. Poor kid. What kind of mother is AH?

Around that same time I got a call from some woman whose kid was in the same class as AH. She wanted to set up a play date. I apologised and told her that she had the wrong number. I explained that I've been getting a lot of calls for AH, she wasn't the only one.

There was an early rash of calls from creditors, but that eventually stopped after Lewis barked at a couple of them.

Every year one of our local fire companies holds their annual festival. Apparently at one time AH was the vendor contact. The first year we got a couple of indecipherable messages, to which I could not respond. By the second year I had figured out what was happening, and I started calling people back. Some I reached and some I left messages for. I explained that I wasn't AH, I didn't know AH and I don't have any new contact info for AH. One poor guy couldn't understand why I wouldn't just make the arrangements for the tent rentals. I must have spent 10 minutes on the phone with him, politely explaining to him that I am in no way affiliated with the fire company, I just got a phone number that used to belong to someone who apparently doesn't update her contact information. I tried to tell him that I only returned his call because, well, the fire company's festival is a fund raising effort and I would feel bad if things didn't get sorted out. Every year since then, except this year, we have gotten calls, and I've always called them back. Fewer and fewer each year. This year none, so the fire company must have distributed a current list. Finally.

But those old lists are still out there. This winter I got a strange phone call. It was right after the big blizzard this winter, when we still had mountains of snow as tall as me. The phone rang and I saw the number was somewhat local, but not one I recognized. It was an elderly gentleman and he launched right into his question: Did I think they were still going to have the bluegrass band playing at the fire hall tonight? What? Okay, I'm too nice, because I continued this conversation. He asks me if I live near the fire hall. I'm thinking, this is weird, verging on creepy, but I wasn't getting a creepy vibe from him, just really odd questions. I'm so used to that at work that it barely fazed me. I told him, yes, but I'm a few blocks away. Well, he was wondering if they had a sign or anything, and if I could see it. I told him I was not that close, and the snow was still so high that I had not ventured out for a walk around town since before the storm. I suggested that he call the fire hall to see if it was still on for that evening. He said he had already tried that, but just got a recording saying to call 911 if it was an emergency. Makes sense. I reasoned that the fire fighters may still be very busy dealing with snow related emergencies. Cars getting stuck, roofs collapsing, that sort of thing. He agrees, then goes on to explain to me that some of the other old folks who usually go to this bluegrass thing don't want to make the long distance call, so they called him, and he in turn is calling me.

Okay. At this point, I'm thinking this man is just elderly and confused and he has randomly dialed a number. The more I though about the snow and the location of the fire hall, I didn't see how they could possibly park anything but emergency vehicles there. Besides, this is a small town, I get our local 4 page weekly newspaper delivered, I usually know about events happening about town. I hadn't heard anything about this bluegrass band playing. So, I told the elderly gentleman that while I hadn't really ventured out, and that was because our street was still virtually impassable, I also didn't see how it could be possible that they would have been able to clear parking near the fire hall and that it may be treacherous to walk around. I didn't say it, but I was picturing a bunch of elderly folks tottering around with canes and walkers on all that snow. These are the same folks who didn't want to pay for a long distance call, remember? We decided that even if they hadn't cancelled the bluegrass band, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to travel in this weather. He thanked me and hung up.

I sat down and laughed. Why did I treat a call to home like a call at work? Idiot. Too nice. Then curiosity got the better of me and I googled his phone number to see if it was a name I recognised, maybe he know my grandparents or something. Nope. I pulled up the fire company's website and looked for events. Nothing. Strange. Then I googled bluegrass and our town. Turns out the event is weekly, and held at the fire company in the next small town over! When I relayed this whole funny exchange to Lewis, he pointed out that the elderly man probably had an old contact list with AH on it. Of course!

Anyway, about two months ago we got a call from the local hospital. Where I always go. Where I was born, even. The lady from the billing department was looking for AH. I explained how long I had had this number, that I didn't know AH. She was very polite and said they wouldn't call again. Good.

The. Very. Next. Day. The collections calls started. I think the first company or two actually had a live person. I explained everything to them, they said they wouldn't call again. But as soon as we got rid of one, another collection company would take their place. Then the obnoxious recorded calls started. And they left messages when we weren't there. Eventually I started writing the numbers down and calling them back. I'm not AH, I don't know AH, but I don't like her! Please stop calling. With each call I had to return- and wait on hold upwards of 20 minutes- I got more and more aggressive.

Finally one day when I was home, trying to sleep in because I had to work late that night, I got 4 calls in one day, beginning at 9:03 AM. I had had enough. I called them back. Told the woman in no uncertain terms that these calls had to stop. I accused her company of not believing me, that I was not AH. Basically, I was the irate customer, and I knew that they would have to deal with me.

Next, I called the hospital's billing department. I explained the whole frustrating situation to a very nice gentleman there. He said he would do the best he could for me. He would contact the companies that I had written down and tell them take my number off that account. And any future companies who called me, all I needed to do was call him and give him that info. Well, that definitely a step in the right direction.

We didn't get any calls for about three weeks after that. I was just beginning to think that would be the end of it. Then one came in, with another of those obnoxious recorded messages. That's it. We did a bit of digging around and found a new, probably current address and phone number for AH. Gotcha! I called the creditor back and informed her that I was not AH, I did not know AH, but I may have a new number for AH. They were glad to have the information and... the calls seem to have stopped. Finally.

So, apparently I had to take matters into my own hands to get these calls to stop. Why should this be my responsibility?

27 May 2010

Commentary: Telemarketers

Is it just me, or are the telemarketers getting really lazy? Lately, nearly every time I get a sales call, it is a recorded message asking me to hold for an important message! Yeah, right. Um, you called me, dude.

I hate being put on hold, no matter what, but I am certainly not going to sit around and wait to be harassed by an automated message or, possibly worse, some poor sap who barely speaks English to read off a scripted message. I hate being rude to people, but I've about had it. And before you say it, yes, we've had our numbers on the do not call list for years and I've renewed it recently. And I'm aware of all the exceptions. We've gotten some at home, but mostly we get these obnoxious calls at work.

So you all know I work for a library. Our automatic response to people's inquiries is to be polite and as helpful as possible. No matter how weird the question. And believe me, I could tell you some stories!
So when we get a call from some guy calling from some company called MX Energy, asking to speak with the person in charge of our electricity services, my first response is to wrack my brain to think of what office to send them to. Then I realize that I would just be passing this jerk on to some unsuspecting colleague. I wouldn't appreciate it if someone did that to me. Besides, we are under a large umbrella, with many, many locations. Our energy and electricity must be managed centrally at our main office.
The first couple of times this happened, I tried to politely blow them off. Explained that we are just one little office in a very large organization. I insinuated that if they were a legitimate company, they should have better contact information than to call the library. One guy was really persistent and wanted me to find out who to contact. So, being a dope I wrote down his information. After I got him off the phone I realized, hey, I don't have to do this. Toss the note.

Eventually I got some good solid advice. Put them on hold. And don't come back. They will eventually hang up. And it works. Some are more persistent than others. I'm a little bit evil. I've been enjoying seeing just how long it takes them to give up.
Anyway, that's my solution now. No need to be rude to people, I'm at work, remain professional. No confrontation, no stress. Just hold please!

26 May 2010

An Aqua Kitchen for Marc

Enamel Colanders- Martha Stewart blue, originally sold at Macy's, now available from Amazon.
Dish Towels- fun and funky dots and stripes from Crate and Barrel.
Glasses- in bright colors from Libbey.
Cake Stand- in blueberry, from Dillards.
Salt and Pepper Grinders- adorable, looks like bunny ears to me, made by Chef'n, sold by Sur la table.
Serving Tray- fun swirly pattern from Target
Stoneware Mixing Bowls- in vintage teal from Target.
Clock- fun swirly pattern from Target.
Whisk- balloon whisk in Caribbean blue from Le Creuset, sold by Amazon.
Square Plates- ceramic, teal, mix and match, from Bed Bath and Beyond.
Enamel Prep Bowls- Paula Deen, sold by Wal Mart.
Art Poster- fun teal bubble flowers art print from Amazon.
Melamine Mixing Bowls- in turquoise, from Calypso, sold from Amazon
Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer- in ice blue.
Cocktail Shaker- stainless steel with aqua top, from Wrapables.
Fish Sculpture- metal wall art from Pier 1.
Floor Rug-
Wok Serving Dish- in Caribbean blue from Le Creuset.
Knife Block- from Kapoosh.
Square Plates- 16 piece set in blue and chocolate, from Target.
Glasses- bright colors from Libbey.
Square Glass Plates- 12 piece set, sold from Target.
Cutting Board- bamboo with fun swirly pattern glass insert, from Target.
Measuring Cups- Nigella Lawson's cute little teacup measuring cups, from Amazon.
Toaster- gorgeous, all metal, sea breeze blue, discontinued from Hamilton Beach's "eclectrics" collection.
Glass Accessories- oil jars and salt and pepper shakers from Target.
Enamel Pots and Pans- 12 piece porcelain enamel cookware in speckled blue, from Paula Deen, sold at Target.
Shot Glasses- bright colors from Libbey.
Wire Utensil Holder- it spins! in vintage teal, from Target.
Cupcake Carrier- holds 3 dozen cupcakes, from the Storage Store.

19 May 2010

A Lagoon Blue Bathroom for Marc

We saw the shower curtain while shopping at Target one day a few weeks ago. I could tell Marc really liked it, so I scouted out some other pieces. As it turns out, Bed Bath & Beyond has an almost identical bathroom ensemble. I can only imagine that they were made by the same manufacturer for the two different retailers. The colors are all the same, the difference seems to be in the width of the stripes. The set from Target has same-size stripes and the set from BB&B has irregular-width stripes. I think I like that a bit better, so that is the one pictured here. But mostly I think it will come down to price.

So, the towels and shower curtains are both available from Target as well as Bed Bath & Beyond.

The brown accessories and hamper are from BB&B.

The metal wall art is from Pier 1.

17 May 2010

A Plum Kitchen for Marc

Just for fun I decided to see how far I could push Marc's adventurous design taste and I developed a whole kitchen design board around the boysenberry-color Kitchen Aid mixer.

Surprisingly, he didn't hate it. But I doubt he'll be going this direction in his kitchen. I was also surprised to see how many kitchen objects I could find in this shade of purple. Of course, I mixed in a good dose of olive green as an accent color. Did you know that the Kitchen Aid mixers come in many of the same colors as Fiesta Ware? We can probably thank the good folks at Pantone for that. After all, they are the color trendsetters. Speaking of Pantone, they led me to an absolutely adorable retailer called Typhoon, they have gorgeous kitchen items. Typhoon also sells through Amazon.

15 May 2010

An Orange Kitchen for Marc

There were a number of great elements from the citrus kitchen that I really liked, but I just couldn't pull it all together with the mix of coppers, oranges and yellows. This time I focused just on that rich, vibrant orange. Persimmon. You know, the stuff that just popped!

Once again, the tin signs are from Classic Kitchens.

The art poster of the Supertramp album Breakfast in America.

The Kik Step in copper- every kitchen should have one.

The step can from Simple Human.

The bamboo Kapoosh knife block.

Impressions Colors drinking glasses from Libbey.

Persimmon Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Flame trivet from Koziol.

Salt and Pepper grinders from Zak Designs.

The iconic Fiesta disk-shaped pitcher.

Copper canisters.

Nested mixing bowls in persimmon.

Collapsible measuring cups.

Silicone steamer basket.

Fun casseroles from the Rachel Ray collection.

Three in one slow cooker from Hamilton Beach.

Zyliss veggie peeler in orange.

Slice of orange recycled plastic clock.

Fun orange-handled utensils and kitchen tools.

(I'm not sure Marc even knows who Supertramp is, but I threw that in there anyway because it is just so darned cool. I've always secretly wanted to see that a lovely lemon or citrusy sunlit breakfast nook. I'd put one up myself, but I'm sure Lewis would hate it.)

14 May 2010

A Citrus Kitchen for Marc

I was going for a theme of rich, vibrant citrus colors, but I think I kind of missed the mark on this one. Still, some of these things were so great I decided to do an orange kitchen idea board, too. I'll post that tomorrow. Some favourites from this board are the salt and pepper grinders from Zak Designs, the step can by Simple Human, the tin art from Classic Kitchens, the Kik Step, the Kapoosh knife block, the collapsible measuring cups, and the silicone steamer basket.

12 May 2010

Revere Ware

Revere Ware. Copper Clad Revere Ware. It is what I learned to cook on. My mom had a full set. Both grandmothers had several pieces. It is pretty much all I've ever used. When I try to use other types of cookware, I usually burn or somehow overcook the food. See, the copper helps distribute the heat more evenly than non-clad pans. And I'm afraid of non-stick coatings, so those are out.

So when I got my house, mom gave me the set from grandma Millie (circa 1990) and she bought me a starter set. New Revere Ware. And while it is still very good cookware, it felt lighter, flimsier than the stuff mom has. And grandma's set was somewhere between mom's old stuff and my new stuff. It appears that Revere is using a slightly thinner metal these days than back in the 70s when mom got hers. But they do still honor their 25 year guarantee.

A few years ago the handle, which had been wiggly for years, finally came off mom's 12" skillet. So she called Revere and they told her they would love to replace it, but they are no longer making that exact size. She could have a 10" skillet or a 12" chicken fryer. The chicken fryer has slightly taller, straight sides as opposed to the sloping sides of the skillet. I thought this would work out better for the way she uses that skillet, but she wasn't as happy with the replacement as she had been with her original skillet.

So one day, several years later, I stumbled upon this little kitchen shop outside of York, Classic Kitchens. This place is great. I think I found it when I was looking for boomerang laminate, not pots and pans. I don't think the full inventory was online back then, just that they had old Revere for sale. So I made a trip to York to check this place out. They had a ton of Revere, some newer, some vintage, some refurbished. And a 12" skillet in great condition. With a hefty, but fair, price tag. It was slightly less than the going rate for new 12" skillets from Revere's other lines. So I got it for her for Christmas. She was very happy.

Revere didn't require her to send the old one back, even though she offered. So she eventually took the skillet and the handle to my grandfather's metal shop and asked him if he could solder the pieces back together. Well, grandpa loves tinkering with hopeless things, so he accepted the challenge. Apparently, the pieces soldered back together pretty easily with stainless steel solder. It isn't super pretty, but it works! So now mom has two 12" skillets and one 12" chicken fryer.

Silly me, I assumed she would give me one of them when I got my kitchen into working condition. At least the chicken fryer that she doesn't really like. Wrong! So, I've been making do with the two 7" skillets that came in the sets and the electric skillet. Which I think is made of aluminum (eek!) and only fits in the dishwasher exactly one way.

This is beginning to get old, so a few weeks ago I went online and checked the inventory at Classic Kitchens. They had several 12" skillets in stock, with varying price tags based on their condition. Since this is a lifetime purchase, I want the best available. I was very excited and ready to start clicking on things to buy, but I told myself that was silly since they are within driving distance, although I don't go that direction very often. Plus, shipping would be way more than the cost of fuel to drive there. And I hoped Marc would be able to find some dishes (huge collection of Corelle) but sadly, none of the patterns spoke to him. He wants square plates with crisp corners, preferably in a color. More on Marc's kitchen later.

I dragged my bff Marc down there with me a couple of Saturdays ago, but I didn't come home with a 12" round skillet. I brought this baby back to my kitchen. A 12" square skillet. A thing of shining stainless steel beauty.

The shop owner is something of an expert and he said he rarely sees the square pans, but he had three or four of them in stock. The only downside is that this is also cumbersome to get in the dishwasher and the other lids are interchangeable. Not so with the square!

I was also a wee bit worried that the corners might not get as hot as the center, but the copper did its job and the whole pan heats evenly. I am very, very happy with it. I don't think I'll buy a 12" round skillet after all. Maybe a 10" some day, but this rounds out my set nicely.

11 May 2010

A Red Kitchen for Marc

My friend Marc is about ready to take that leap and get his first apartment. We've had much discussion of how to decorate. I'm lucky- I get to design for someone and spend his money!

This is just the first of many ideas for a kitchen. I figure the red and other bold colors would perk up an all-white rental kitchen.

Most of the items are from everyone's fav, Target. The glass plates and drinkware from Libbey, casseroles from pyrex, the repro vintage tin sign from Classic Kitchens.