Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scary Things

Courtesy of
It's Halloween. It is one of my favorite holidays. In fact, it is my third favorite holiday. First is Thanksgiving, then the 4th of July, then Halloween. It used to be second but them Little Man was born on the 4th of July so I had to bump that one up. Anyway, I love to see the kids all dressed up. They are so cute! I love to see the families all dressed up together. It's fun. How wonderful to participate with your children that way. I love the left over chocolate. I never pass out sugary candy (I don't like it), just chocolate so I can eat it the left overs. There is nothing more fun than going to a costume party and having the house all decorated with Halloween stuff. On my bucket list is to host a Halloween costume party. Some day.

This year, Little Man and the Big Man will go trick-or-treating like they did last year and I will pass out candy to the kids who venture down our street. Little Man is going to be a pirate. He loves pirates. Pirates and cowboys. He has been carrying around his hook (plastic and part of his costume) and his belt which he calls his cowboy lasso. He told me he is a cowboy pirate. It works for him. Tomorrow, Little Man will be asking for his candy from the time he gets up in the morning until he goes to sleep. This will go on for days, or at least until my husband and I can eat it all so we can tell him there's no more candy. Mean? Not really. The last thing a 3-year old needs is candy. That's scary.

Courtesy of
Tomorrow is also the 1st of November. That means there are only 17 days until our anniversary (7 years), 28 days until Thanksgiving, 55 days until Christmas and 61 days until New Year's Eve. Throw in my husband's birthday for good measure too. Yikes! Menus must be planned, travel/guest arrangements made, gift lists need to be written for wishing and purchasing. All of that makes my hair stand up when I think what few days there are for making all these plans and arrangements. Can I eat chocolate now?

November is also a big deal because our literary magazine,
The Southern Tablet, launches on the 9th. That is more exciting than scary, but you never know what sort of reception it will have. The anticipation makes me chew my fingernails.

Finally, November is also National Novel Writing Month. I am partially participating in NaNo this year in that our journal staff each has chosen a day of the week to blog a round-robin "novel." I picked Tuesday and will have 4 installments to write for the whole month. Unless Allison delivers her baby early in which case I'll have Thursdays too. I'm still revising my novel and I still have a half-finished novel that needs to be completed so I don't think I'll start anything new. However, I am considering using the NaNo month to complete my revisions. Getting back to my writing schedule and discipline is what I need to do. Nothing creepier than being disciplined!

These are scary times, starting with today -- Halloween. From here on out it is a speeding roller coaster taking us up and down and around in all directions until the last champagne cork pops on New Year's Eve. Time passes too quickly and with all the things there are to do crammed into this short amount of time it seems to go faster and faster. It feels like taking that first step into a haunted house. You know your perspective will be skewed. You know that there will be things jumping out at you. You know that the passageways have been darkened and narrowed and there are sounds of banging and screaming from all directions to disorient you. Still, you take a deep breath, hold it, and run on through; stopping for nothing, and only exhaling when you've made it safely through the maze and have exited into a peaceful place.

Monday, October 28, 2013

In Search Of Pizza

Pizza by Suat Eman
Friday night is Pizza Night at the Rhoden household. There are 52 Fridays in a year so the quality of pizza is vital. I grew up in the northeast so I know quality pizza. We had Steve's Pizza, and Balzanos. We won't even talk about the pizza you could get in Providence on "Garlic Mountain" or in Boston, and of course, New York. My husband grew up in Maryland so he knows crab cakes. That being the case, the responsibility of finding a really good pizza falls on my shoulders. I haven't lived in the northeast since I was 17 when I went away to college so the task of finding pizza in the south that can compare has been a long journey.

I'm not disparaging southern cooks. Southern food is fabulous in its own right. I mean really, who doesn't love chicken and dumplings, or fried chicken? Pizza requires the right touch and the right water to make the right crust. Fortunately, I lived in Florida and saw the great in flux of Yankees of the 1980s and 90s. With the Yankees came pizza.

One of the best pizzas that came to our little town is Scorpio's Pizza. The pizza is fantastic and their other offerings are equally wonderful. If you make it to Deltona, FL for any reason, you must have one of their pizzas. I was very happy to introduce my husband to real pizza and he loved it! Scorpios Pizza established our "pizza scale" in our quest for a good pizza. I'm happy to see that they've been successful and have two locations now.

We have settled here in Georgia and our pursuit for pizza continues. We prefer to try the mom & pop run pizza places for good food, and cozy atmosphere. We like it when we can get to know the people there and they know us (yes, like Cheers, "where everyone knows your name"). We thought we had found that place and for the last 3 years we have been patronizing the same location every Friday night (well, most Friday nights). Little Man was still in an infant carrier when we found the place. He grew up there. and for the first two years it was great. The people knew us by name. They knew our order without needing to take it. We tipped well. Little Man had his first bite of garlic bread there. He had his first taste of pizza there. When he started talking, he knew their names. Last year our place changed ownership. The food is still good but the atmosphere has changed and all the people we knew left.

So, with a heavy heart, we have begun our search for a really good pizza and a really good atmosphere. Last week we tried a place and loved the pizza. The atmosphere wasn't bad either but it was a bigger place and not necessarily "cozy." The pizza ranked 7 on the Scorpio's scale and the atmosphere placed a 5 or 6. This Friday we will try another place to see how they rate.

In my novel, which yes, I'm still revising, Walter Martin has a regular place where he is known. What do you look for in a "regular" place to go? Good food? Good atmosphere? Friendliness? Let me know some of your stories.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Happiest Place On Earth

We recently took our Little Man to Disney World for the first time. We didn't tell him where we were going and we watched him during the hour drive from my husband's mother's home all the way into Orlando and onto the Disney Highway. It wasn't until we were in the parking lot and he saw the signs with the Disney characters marking the parking lots and the convoy of shuttle busses with Disney written on their sides until he lit up like a light bulb and shouted "We're at Disney World!" It was like Christmas.
Photo by LeeAnn  Rhoden

The day belonged to him; choosing rides he'd like, looking for characters he knows, singing along with the songs he can sing. Even down to selecting where to eat lunch and dinner so that there would be something he'd eat. He wasn't hungry. He wanted to ride and to see and to go. His favorites? It's a Small World (of course), the Flying Carpets, and the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. We stayed late for the Electric Parade but bugged out before the fireworks to avoid the million-person dash to the parking lot and because Little Man fell asleep in my arms and he was getting heavy.

It was hot. It was crowded (it's a small world). Things that only really matter to adults. He doesn't remember that. He doesn't remember waiting in 30+ minute lines. He sings the songs and asks me "Remember the flying carpet, Mama? I made it go up, up, up!" Hopefully, he will remember this trip for a while, at least until our next trip.

Photo by Mr. Rhoden
Sure, I could go on about the crowds, temperature, lines, the expense ($30 for 3 hot dogs!) and a couple of rather unpleasant encounters with other park patrons and their behavior. I might even mention that the park employees are not what they used to be. But this was not my trip. This day belonged to Little Man and to him it was all magic. Characters brought to life, images made real, dreams come true.

It's all perspective. Adults may see the unpleasant parts of things or the dangerous parts of life but children see the new, the magic. Perhaps adults need to just let go and look at life through children's eyes more often. To see the possibilities rather than the impossibilities. Then anywhere can be the Happiest Place On Earth.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Can I Help You

Courtesy of Federal Express
A man entered a Federal Express office minutes before closing time. He had a package that "absolutely, positively had to be there overnight." The last truck had already left with the last load of the day and was on the way to the airport to be sorted and loaded. Undeterred by this minor technicality, the clerk accepted the package from the man and assured him his package would arrive at its destination on time. He then called a messenger service to take the package to the airport sorting facility. His second call was to the sorting facility letting them know a last minute package was on its way. Unfortunately, the plane leaving for the package's final destination had just taken off. The clerk, made one other call; he chartered a plane to make sure that package made it to its destination on time, as promised. The next day, the package was indeed where it needed to be. What happened to the clerk? Was his boss angry by the exorbitant cost of sending this lone package? I mean really! A messenger fee, a chartered plane! No. The clerk received thanks from upper management and a promotion. Why? Because this clerk took responsibility, took initiative, took ownership of the company's motto.

Whether or not this is a true story or an urban legend, it shows what true customer service is all about. All too often companies use customer service as a means to shrug off their customers. How many times have you called for assistance and received a phone tree? A mechanical woman or man offering opportunities to press 1 or 2 or to repeat these options, press 9. En EspaƱol, marque ocho. How many times have these options not been even close to the reason you called?

My favorite is when you finally reach a live human being. After you give them your vital statistics and information you hope they will now be able to help you. Isn't it disappointing when they start reading from a script? And then when they transfer you, the new person starts all over again with the same questions. Arg! I am not angry with the person I'm speaking to. He or she is simply following the guidelines and the company's policies and culture. I am frustrated with their inability to really provide customer service. And sadly, perhaps it is today's culture that has forgotten what it means to be helpful. My recent run it left me sad and disappointed with today's concepts of serving the customer.

So I asked myself, what would have happened if the first person I talked to at the USPS had taken initiative to locate my missing package? What if the customer service people at the USPS had taken ownership of the situation and worked on actually solving the problem instead of parroting the tracking information I got online already? Would my package have arrived any sooner than it did? No, probably not. But they may have been able to tell me where it was, specifically as opposed to some vague "departed destination" with no update for 12 hours. This was an overnight package for heavens sake! And perhaps, if the customer service person had placed a few calls such as, what plane was it on? when did it depart? why was an overnight package placed on a 2-day plane? Perhaps, someone may have taken initiative and gotten the package on the correct plane and it would have arrived in the evening.

Sure, the Post Office has a money back guarantee if the overnight package doesn't get there overnight. But companies that do that are missing the mark. Their customers are, yes, angry about paying for something they didn't get, but they are MORE upset about missing the original promise. Overnight means it needs to be there the next day. Thanks for my refund, but because of you, your lack of service, your lack to uphold your promise of overnight, I missed out on my promise. I can't get that back.

What have been some of your customer service run-ins? Any good stories?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Photo from
Yesterday, on the way into school, my Little Man told me that triangles are his favorite shape. I hoped he wouldn't ask me what my favorite shape is since honestly I've never given it any thought. He didn't ask, and today his favorite shapes are rectangles.

But, I started thinking about my favorite things. Of course, all things Little Man and Big Man. But aside from them, what are my favorite things? I was surprised to find that it has been so long that I thought about just me I was hard-pressed to make what should be such a simple list. But, after a second cup of coffee, I was able to make my list. So, just for kicks, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite things. Oh, these are in no particular order either.

A second cup of coffee - the first cup is necessary. The second cup is savored. It's the one I can taste (now that I'm awake). It's the one that starts my day.

Wine - I like wine. I prefer red to white, but both are nice to sit and sip at the end of a long day. Just a glass, maybe two, every so often is just wonderful.

Vacations - I like to take vacations but I need to qualify this. First, a vacation is planned with an itinerary. A spontaneous "Hey, lets go somewhere this weekend" is not a vacation. That is a stress inducer. But something scheduled where the dogs' care is arranged for, the mail is stopped, reservations made, appropriate packing has been done - that's good. Second, the itinerary should consist of only 3 things: relaxing, sightseeing, and eating. There should be no "doing" on a vacation. "Doing" is work.

Learning - I love learning new things. I used to try to learn something new everyday and I should do that again. I also like learning about what's going on in the world and my community.

Games - Who doesn't love a heated, competitive game? Better, who doesn't like to win? I love a good game of chess, backgammon, Risk, Monopoly, Balderdash, or charades.

Needlework - Of course I enjoy knitting, crocheting, embroidery, crewel work, cross stitch and needlepoint.

Writing -  Duh. Of course I love to write. Storytelling and creating worlds and people and getting lost in their lives is refreshing.

Reading - Reading is the best. I think that's why I value my book club so much. That and they challenge me to read books that I might not otherwise read. And reading in bed before going to sleep is fantastic!

Bourbon - I like bourbon, what can I say? A nice glass of Maker's Mark on the rock while watching the Crimson Tide on autumn Saturday afternoons is awesome.

Entertaining - How fun is it to have a bunch of people over for hors d'oeuvres, or a dinner party? Especially for a football game, or holiday party? The best part is the decorating and cooking. (See pet peeve list for cleaning up).

Cozy Evenings At Home - Put a fire in the fireplace, a pizza on the coffee table and a movie on the TV and who wouldn't be happy?

A Night Out On The Town - This could be a wine tasting, a piano bar, dinner theater, the opera, or any excuse to dress up and go see what there is to see and to see who all is out seeing it.

Anyway, these are a few of my favorite things. I still don't' know what my favorite shape is, I'll keep thinking about it. What are some of your favorite things?