Smile Your Way Through Christmas

Monday, November 29, 2010

I've had several Christmas books on my shelf since September, but I didn't want to read them until after Thanksgiving. Come Friday, however, I gobbled one up as if it were the traditional fare that graced my sister-in-law's table on Thursday. Both the meal and the book were satisfying to the palate.

A Door County Christmas is a collection of four novellas published by Barbour. I don't normally write book reviews, and romances aren't at the top of my reading list most days, but I figured this one would be fun because I know one of the authors and have read something by another. And all of us need a break from serious now and then.

Rachael Phillips' distinctive voice is distinctively humorous. This is her fiction debut, but when she takes her turn posting at the Hoosier Ink blog (, I can tell who is writing even before I scroll to the bottom and see her name. So I knew that reading Rachael's selection, Ride With Me Into Christmas, would keep me laughing, and I wasn't disappointed.

This is Cynthia Ruchti's second fiction book. Her debut novel, They Almost Always Come Home, kept me up late while I was attending a writers' conference in June. That book would probably be classified as Christian women's fiction (although some men might enjoy it, too), and it is a page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed. The Heart's Harbor, Cynthia's light-hearted contribution to this collection, is very different and, in my opinion, not as good, but it was still a pleasant read.

Prior to this, I knew nothing about either of the other two authors. Their contributions to this collection (My Heart Still Beats by Eileen Key and Christmas Crazy by Becky Melby) were also fun to read. In fact, the quirky but lovable characters in Christmas Crazy made it my favorite of the four novellas.

This book is overtly Christian, and you should know that going in. If you're male or don't like to smile, this book probably isn't for you. But if you're a woman looking for something light-hearted to read in December, you can't go wrong with A Door County Christmas. 

You Had to be There

Monday, November 22, 2010

I knew I should go, and I was one of the first people to sign up, but I wasn't excited about it.

My church invited Dr. Paul Maier, a well-known Christian author, to present a seminar this past Saturday. I had read one of his novels and enjoyed it, but I was lukewarm about devoting all morning and most of the afternoon to lectures that promised to make extensive use of archaeological finds and manuscripts by ancient historians. Not my idea of an interesting day.

But I was wrong. Instead of dry facts and boring academic analysis, I heard a  riveting speaker whose entertaining and informative presentation created a verbal mural worthy of Michelangelo. Okay, so nobody can compare with Michelangelo, but you get the idea.

Or maybe not. I went straight from church to my writers' critique group, where I tried to explain the experience I had just been through. The members of the group listened to me with yawns in their eyes and "whatever" in their body language. They didn't catch the fever at all.

I guess you had to have been there.

It's like that with the first Thanksgiving, too. These days, Thanksgiving is simply one more holiday. Although most of us remember to thank God for our blessings, Thanksgiving is often just another chance to get together with family and eat the table bare.

When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in December 1620, there were 102 of them. When they held their harvest festival in November 1621, there were only 53 left. Those 53 had survived a hard winter filled with hunger, cold, and diseases such as pneumonia and scurvy. They finally had sturdy homes and a plentiful harvest, but they must have grieved for the 26 men, 14 women, and 9 children who weren't there to share the celebration with them.

I can't know either the depth of their grief or the height of their joy as they contemplated a more promising future. I do know that my Thanksgiving celebrations are just a shadow of the harvest festival that we recognize as the first Thanksgiving. With a comfortable home and very little true sorrow in my life, I haven't experienced what the Pilgrims did.

You had to be there.

What Time Is It?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Saturday morning I left home at 7:00 a.m. for the almost three-hour drive to Fort Wayne and an 11:00 a.m. meeting. Traffic was good, and I didn't hit any major road construction along the way. So did I arrive an hour early? Or is my math wrong?


Indiana is one of several states that is in two time zones. Most of the state (including Fort Wayne) is in the Eastern Time Zone. The red counties are in the Central Time Zone. And no, they don't match the political map where red is Republican and blue is Democrat.

The red counties weren't the ones that changed. The entire state was originally in the Central Time Zone. According to Wikipedia, prior to 1883 towns in the U.S. set their time to noon when the sun was at its peak in that particular location, so the time was different even among neighboring towns. No big deal when people rarely traveled, but the advent of the railroads changed that and made the constantly changing time confusing. So in 1883 the major railroads decided to create four time zones in the U.S., and they placed Indiana in the Central Time Zone. When the U.S. Congress adopted official time zones in 1918, it kept Indiana in the Central Time Zone. In the years since then, however, most of Indiana crept into the Eastern Time Zone to have an extra hour of daylight in the evening.

Northwest Indiana will never join them. We have stronger ties to Chicago than to the rest of the state (at least in terms of where we work and play), and Chicago is on Central time. Being in a different time zone from Fort Wayne and Indianapolis is inconvenient, but being in a different time zone from Chicago would be much worse.

At least things aren't as bad as they used to be when most of the blue counties stayed on Standard Time all year long. In those days, we matched the rest of the state during the summer but were still off an hour in the winter, and I had trouble remembering when we matched and when we didn't. At least now I always know I have to leave an hour early if I'm going to Fort Wayne or Indianapolis.

But why should I be the one who has to adjust? Everything would have been just fine if the blue counties had stayed where the railroads and Congress put them.

Until they see the light, I guess I'll just have to get up an hour early.

The Customer is Always Wrong

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Wait," you say, "don't you mean 'the customer is always right'?" No, I don't.

Thursday evening I kicked off my slippers and sat back in my recliner to watch new episodes of "Househunters" and "Househunters International" on HGTV, which was part of our AT&T U-verse subscription. When they were over, I went to bed happy.

Friday morning I wanted something to watch while exercising, so I turned on HGTV. Did I get it? No. I got TLC instead. I like some TLC shows, but others are rubbish, and this was one of the latter. (I think the title was, "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant.") A news feed scrolling across the bottom stated that Scripps (the owner of the HGTV channel) was denying us our HGTV. The news feed also provided information on contacting Scripps through AT&T U-verse.

I don't know who's at fault, and I don't care. I realize there are more important things in life than TV, but HGTV and some of the other Scripps channels involved in the dispute (including DIY Network, Food Network, and the Cooking Channel) are among the few wholesome offerings out there.

Unlike the news feed suggested, I didn't want to contact Scripps. Nor did I want to use a cookie-cutter complaint. I wanted to send AT&T an individual message that said something like, "If you think Scripps is engaging in unfair practices, file a complaint with the FCC. If you think Scripps' conduct is anti-competitive, file a complaint with the FTC. But if you want to keep me as a customer, get HGTV back."

The problem? No matter how much I searched the AT&T website, I couldn't find an e-mail address. I couldn't even find a contact form or an online chat room. When I thought I was filling out a contact form or an online chat inquiry, I received an automated response that no FAQs matched my search. Even my computer-savvy son couldn't find what I wanted.

Yes, I know that AT&T is running a business and times are tough. I understand that customer service representatives cost money and that many questions can be answered as FAQs. I also understand the efficiency in making customers check online FAQs before sending an unnecessary e-mail that someone must sort through and respond to. But AT&T seems to have forgotten who's generating the company's income. If it can't keep its customers happy, it won't have a business to worry about.

AT&T does provide a telephone number to call, and the number does reach a real person eventually. And maybe a customer service representative could have provided me with an e-mail address. But why should I have to go through all that trouble? Especially since the frustrating process could (and surely often does) lead callers to take out their frustration on a customer service representative who is doing the best he or she can.

I sympathize with the people who answer customer service calls, and my complaint isn't about them. Once I reach a live customer service representative (at AT&T and most places), I'm usually satisfied with the response. No, my argument is with the companies that think efficiency and cost-savings are more important than customer service.

If customers are even sometimes right, companies should want to hear from them. The men and women who panned for gold in California and Alaska were willing to sift through tons of gravel and sand and pyrite to find an ounce of gold because they knew the result was worth the effort. By making it so hard to contact them, companies like AT&T are saying all customer input is fool's gold. Or, to phrase it differently, their actions have coined a new slogan: The customer is always wrong.

Someday they'll discover how short-sighted that is.

Postscript: Sometimes companies do get it right. I use Verizon Wireless for my family's cell phone service, and my husband and I recently upgraded our phones. Each phone was supposed to come with a $50 rebate, which I sent in right away. One of the rebates went smoothly, but today I got a card in the mail saying there was a problem with the other one. The card gave me a telephone number to call, and although I had to go through a menu to get there, it did give me the option of talking to a real person. The wait time was just a minute or two, and the person looked up my file, put me on hold for another minute or two, and returned to tell me the problem had been fixed and I would receive the rebate in the mail in about 15 days. I wish I could remember the woman's name (she did give it), but Verizon gets five stars for its customer service.

Ewoks and Cowboys

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween costumes are getting more elaborate. No, they're getting more expensive. More expensive and less creative.

Some of the children who came to our door this year wore costumes they (or their parents) put together. But many wore something their parents purchased off the rack. And where is the fun in that?

When I was a child, my brothers and I always dressed up and went trick-or-treating, but spending money on a costume was never an option. Instead, we looked at what we had lying around to see what we could create.

That's what my children experienced, too. Caroline was four months old on her first Halloween, so we passed that one up. But when she was a year old, she went as an Ewok from one of the Star Wars movies. The costume was very simple. Caroline had a stuffed Ewok toy, and we simply took the hood from the animal and put it on her. I made ears out of cardboard, and we dressed her in tan and brown clothing. That's my charming Ewok in the first picture.

The next year Caroline went as a policewoman. Wearing blue clothes, we decked her out with a whistle and handcuffs we already had, a cheap hat (probably cardboard) that we got from somewhere, and a tin sheriff's star.

Then there were two. Kids, I mean. Unlike Caroline, John "dressed up" and went trick-or-treating his first year. He got the short end of the deal, however, as we simply put him in a blue outfit and called him a sailor. (And no candy went into his toothless mouth.) I put most of my effort into Caroline's red hood, which I made from material I already had. Add a dress and an Easter basket, and she was the perfect Little Red Ridinghood.

Okay, I admit it. I did spend a little money on occasion. The last picture shows Caroline in a dragon costume I bought. But it wasn't a plastic costume off the rack. I went to a fabric store and purchased material with the pattern stamped on it. I still had to cut it out and sew it, though. And John's cowboy costume was our typical use-what-you-already-have-type, taking advantage of accessories (the horse and the hat) that we already owned.

I guess I can understand busy parents who rush out and buy something at the store, but half of the fun of Halloween is coming up with an idea and making it work. Creating a costume is a lot more time-consuming, but it's also a lot more fun (not to mention cheaper).

Don't you agree?