Friday, August 8, 2008

5:00 Fridays

The Olympics start tonight. I've always been a big fan, perhaps so I can live vicariously, seeing that I have no athletic prowess. I toyed with taking up curling so I could make headlines as the only Indian curler. Plus I figured that sport took the least athletic prowess (no offense curlers, but how hard can a sport requiring a broom be? the exception being quidditch). One of my early dates with Mac Daddy was watching the opening ceremonies together. We oohed and aahed at the athletes, laughed at some of the outfits, ranked the countries we most wanted to visit, and tried to guess the capitals of each country. Yeah, we're dorks.

When I was a kid I wrote a letter to Jimmy Carter when he boycotted the Moscow games in 1980. As I recall, I wrote in support of his decision but told him I felt sorry for the athletes. He, rather a grunt cornered somewhere in the basement bowels of the White House, wrote back to me. Autographed picture to boot. Just like what I got when I wrote to Lucille Ball (not about the Olympics, just as an admirer).

Tonight we're going to let Bird and Deal stay up past their bed time to watch some of the Olympic opening ceremonies. I'll regale them with stories about how their uncle, my older, therefore old brother, was even in the Atlanta opening ceremony. You see, he was in the right place at the right time. Also why he has a cool networky job, worked as an online producer on Rockstar Supernova, and was on Jeopardy once. My big brother was the official country sign carrier for Palestine, historically marking the first time Palestinian athletes competed in the Games under their own country's flag. Politics and world affairs aside, it was historic.

In honor of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, I present to you a gold medal cocktail.

Lychee Marteenee (Oh, such a kick to say!)

Grab a martini glass. Swirl some ice around in it to chill. Dip the rim into edible gold powder (or go for silver or bronze if you're feeling more like Avis and less like Hertz). You can find the stuff at any bakery supply or even craft store. High end grocery stores and places like Sur La Table will carry it too.

Now get your shaker and fill it with ice. If you have a plastic shaker, use it as a vase; it's worthless as a proper cocktail shaker. Note to cross off the numskull who gifted it to you from your holiday card list. A stainless steel one will serve you better. Better yet, ask Santa for a sterling silver one. Now we're talkin'!

Into the shaker add 2 ounces of Grey Goose vodka
Pour in 1 teaspoon of lime juice (freshly squeezed only, not that junk in the plastic lime)
Add 2 ounces of lychee drink (found in the Asian section of most grocery stores these days) -OR- Add 2 ounces of pureed canned lychees with a dash of the syrup.
Add a dash (or maybe three) of Cointreau or Grenadine. I prefer Cointreau but rarely have it on hand. Looks I should grab a bottle if this 5:00 Fridays post is going to continue.

Play some Ric Ocasek and Shake It Up! Now all you've got! Woo-oo!

Garnish with a couple chunks of fresh pineapple. Prepare to be transported to Beijing, minus the crowds, price gouging, noise, and pollution. Inhale the Olympic spirit from the comfort of your own couch.
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Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's a Wrap.

We are taking a family trip to LA in a couple weeks. I'll have to pack less in my carry on bag since both boys are potty trained now (insert crazy happy dance here). I'll tuck in a change of clothes just in case...fingers crossed! No diapers and baby gear that we needed in the past. No formula. No sippy cups. Same snacks and diversions. The snacks are mostly carbs since it's not so easy to pack bananas and apples. I've tried it, and my bag smelled like mushed bananas for weeks. I swear, I would have been the pied piper of monkeys had I taken that bag to the zoo. And let's face it, carrot sticks are not a fun plane snack so I resort to things like trail mix, pretzels, plantain ships, granola bars, and fruit snacks as a treat. Oh, and lollipops. Helps with the whole air pressure thing while passing for a super treat. Diversions are now of the electronic variety: laptop with DVDs, Leapster, iPod. Does anyone make headphones that stay on a kid's head or in his ears?

Lots to consider when trying to ensure the comfort of my kids and the fellow passengers around us who drew the short stick when seats were assigned. Airplanes are notoriously cold. No need to be nipping out cold in the air, folks. Seriously, does anyone else have this problem? I'm pretty certain my headlights aren't helping the pilot see. I wear layers and pack two thin large receiving blankets for Bird and Deal (takes up way less room than a couple sweatshirts). Mac Daddy must fend for himself, and it's not my fault that he always forgets a sweater for the plane. I just have to endure the complaining.

I believe in looking chic and being comfortable on a plane. My parents taught me and my brother that at a young age, and I'm telling you, it makes a difference. I dress my kids accordingly in something matching and adorable (not Little Lord Fauntleroyish, however). I used to travel in jeans and a cute jacket or something. You'll never, ever catch me in sweats or wind suit (on a plane or elsewhere for that matter). And sneakers? Pshaw! Not a chance (even before the whole stripping down to bare feet to walk where 76,000 people have walked barefoot before you thing started). Since having kids I've resorted to sporting jeans or a jersey dress with a machine washable black cardigan. My fave black cardigan is now more the color of a 1932 penny found in the bottom of a well. What's a girl to do? Jean jacket? Another cardigan? Pashmina?

Then I discovered Adam Peele, aka Ahpeele.

The chic little kimono wrap I ordered from Etsy arrived today. I love it, love it, love it! The design is spectacular and surprisingly versatile. The color is neutral enough without being boringly so. I'm going to wear this wrap everyday until I die. The cotton is soft yet stretchy, but not in that if-you-stretch-it-it-will-stay-stretched-out kind of way. The wrap is perfect with jeans or a strappy sundress. Oh, and the best part? Something about the cut of the wrap makes my pipes look, well, cut. Make that well-cut. (God, don't you just love language?!)I think I'm going to pair mine with a brown tank (to hide spilled coffee stains and chocolate fingerprints), jeans, and slip on flats for the plane. Don't be surprised if I'm wearing that little number in every single family photo. I'm totally packing every outfit around my new wrap.
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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bra Makers Take Note


My new bloggy friend San Diego Momma inspires me every Tuesday. 10 minutes. 250 words or fewer. One letter of complaint.

Dear Bra Manufacturers,

Must these contraptions be so f-ing uncomfortable? Seriously, wires that dig into my belly shelf, bands that squash my squishy parts, straps that slip off when the wind blows, and cups that crinkle in the wash do not a decent bra make. And don't get me started on the sizing. I worked at Victoria's Secret one summer after college. I know what shenanigans you people are up to.

A bra's intent is to support and shape breasts. Breasts of all women, regardless of age, size, or state of motherhood. Why is it that the only bras that seem to fit are the cute little microfiber ones made for the AAs out there? I'm a solid B, and nothing fits. Nothing. I've been to the German matriarch of the lingerie department to be professionaly felt up (er, fitted) at Nordstrom. I half expected her to whip me with the seamstress tape hanging around her neck. She steered me to the Wacoal section. You know, the $60 bras. Was that Boob Frau on commission?

I'm just asking for a bra that is actually as comfortable as my microfiber Calvin Klein seamless undies. Must looks, comfort, and functionality be mutually exclusive? Let's consider technology today for a moment. We can collect dirt samples from Mars and help a man give birth to a baby girl.

Why are we so rotten to our breasts? Surely we owe them more than you offer.

Uncomfortably yours,

Momma Dirt & Noise






If you want to read a real letter of complaint I wrote a while ago, take a look here. Warning: it's long.

September 29, 2006

Gerard J. Arpey
American Airlines
333 Amon Carter Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX 76155

Re: Customer Feedback

Dear Mr. Arpey,

Is American Airlines so successful that the company is ready to bid farewell to an entire segment of customers? Does the customer matter at all? If you’re trying to discourage families with children from flying on American Airlines, you’ve accomplished your goal. Just note that you might want to rethink your “Customer Service Plan.”

Customer Service Plan
American Airlines and American Eagle are in business to provide safe, dependable, and friendly air transportation to our customers, along with numerous related services. We are dedicated to making every flight you take with us something special. Your safety, comfort, and convenience are our most important concerns.

I was flying with my two sons, ages 3 and 15 months, from Chicago’s O’Hare to Raleigh/Durham on Tuesday, September 19 at 12:35 PM. Since my husband had to stay on in Chicago for business, we chose a direct flight for the sake of everyone’s sanity and comfort. It was our first time flying as a threesome, though we have traveled across the country extensively as a family. My boys are already seasoned travelers and like many children, they are fascinated with planes and pilots. They were excited, not wary, of the trip. I, on the other hand, was wary. I prayed for timeliness, good behavior, cooperation, and the kindness of strangers.

As an ├╝ber-prepared mom, I packed all the essentials and tricks to keep the boys safe, fed, clean, and occupied. Now imagine this, I am a five foot tall, 100 pound woman carting a lot of gear for the flight – stroller, backpack that was stretched to the max, and a child’s backpack full of toys and books, not to mention two small kids in tow. The boys were both well dressed and well behaved – model citizens to make a mom proud.

We normally fly on Delta, where the service and help have been impeccable. Someone is there to help us get situated, fold the stroller, chat with the kids, and even hold the baby if necessary. Even from my days as a frequent business traveler, Delta was my carrier of choice. Call me spoiled, but I had grown accustomed to such stellar customer care. And yes, I choose my words wisely; I mean care.

My experience on American Airlines was quite the opposite. There was no chitchat with the kids or offers of help. Sure, not everyone likes children, I didn’t either until I had my own, but I expected some grain of care and assistance when a mother is traveling alone with two small boys who are helpless on their own. And keep in mind that my children were cooperative and well behaved.

Here’s how my American Airlines experience played out:

1) I managed to get through security with two children in tow who, like I, had to take off their shoes and be cajoled through the metal detector. As you can imagine, it was chaotic trying to get everyone’s shoes back on, setting up the stroller, repacking the laptop and bag that were opened up for screening, and reloading everything. The security personnel was incredibly patient, helpful, and friendly. They helped me set up the stroller and engaged the boys in laughter while I got things settled. Since security was my first stop on this journey, it was encouraging to get through with so much help. I commend O’Hare’s security team for being both thorough and friendly.

2) When the flight was boarding, my three year old said he had to go to the bathroom. Zone 3 was boarding, but we were in Zone 5. I asked the gate agent if we could board early so I could take my son to the bathroom on board the plane. Her curt answer was “You have 15 minutes before the gate closes.” Not quite understanding her point, I asked again if we could board. Keep in mind, time is of the essence when a recently potty trained three-year-old says he has to pee! The gate agent again, more curtly this time, said, “I told you. You have 15 minutes.” I was dumbfounded! This lady was not going to let me board early with two small children, one of whom had to use the bathroom! Luckily we rushed to the bathroom and made the flight in time. Even strangers were gasping at the gate agent’s reaction.

3) Once on board, I was offered no assistance getting my kids situated and buckled in. Note that the flight was not full, and I was the only one traveling with children. And by the way, I purchased three seats for our family to allow the most comfort for fellow passengers and us. For the wellbeing of my children and all passengers on board, I planned to travel during my baby’s nap time. He was sleeping soundly over my shoulder just before take off. I was holding him securely with both arms wrapped tightly around his back and waist. Note that a rear-facing infant is the safest position for car travel so I figured the same must hold true on a flight.

The flight attendant woke up my child and made me turn him around for take off. Needless to say, he was cranky (who wouldn’t be if you were suddenly jarred from a much need slumber?!) and could not get back to sleep. This left me with a cranky baby on my hands, and the plane got an earful of whimpering for two hours. Of course I want to honor safety first. I take no issue with doing whatever the rules dictate to follow safety guidelines. If indeed facing forward is the safest, I should have been the one to awake my son and try to reposition him. Instead, he was startled awake by a complete stranger in his face.

4) When the flight attendants brought out refreshments, I asked for a small bottle of water for the three of us to share. She gesticulated pointing to the whole plane and rudely said, “I only have a large bottle of water for the whole plane.” Every other flight I have taken provides small individual bottles of water so I didn’t think I was asking for anything special. Then I asked for one small cup with no ice. Then the flight attendant accusingly asked, “So you didn’t bring your own cups?” What ?! I did bring cups of milk for my children but was unable to load up on anything but essentials for this trip. Like I said, I’ve always had small bottles of water on every other flight. So, in the end we got one cup of water with ice.

The cart was gone before I could ask for a cup with no ice as I originally requested. Now imagine balancing this ice and water filled cup with a squirmy baby on my lap. I was trying to give my children a drink without spilling. Most importantly, I was trying to keep my laptop dry, which is the one thing that kept my three-year-old entertained, quiet, and well behaved for the duration of the flight.

5) After we deplaned, I was waiting for our stroller. And by the way, my three-year-old thanked the flight attendants and pilots without being prompted by me – another model citizen moment to make a mom proud. We were still waiting when the last people left the plane. The flight attendant asked me why I was just standing on the jet way so I explained we were waiting for the stroller. She shrugged and did nothing. The guy who brought out the jet way ended up going downstairs to get my stroller. He opened it up for me and apologized profusely.

Not one flight attendant or crew member was helpful from the gate at O’Hare to the jet way at RDU. In fact, I sensed hostility towards us from the beginning. My children were well behaved except for some fussiness from the baby. There were no meltdowns, screaming fits, whining, or uncontrollable crying. There was admittedly non-stop chatter from my three-year-old until we could turn on a DVD, but that is to be understood by anyone who has experienced the curiosity and wonder of a child. Fellow passengers were courteous, understanding, and even helpful. The kindness of strangers was underscored, while the rudeness of paid professionals was disappointing.

Is this the brand experience your big marketing dollars support? Are utterly poor service and rude behavior the hallmarks of American’s brand promise? Do you see no equity in your brand after all these years? Is it really just about dollars and cents; are people (customers!) out of the equation? So much for lifetime customer value (remember, my children are already frequent flyers, and their mom is a marketer).

I won’t choose or recommend American Airlines again, even if that means I forego a cheaper fare. The bulk of customer compromises just aren’t worth it. I’m going to stick with Delta, who never fails to deliver at every customer touch point. And believe me, everyone I know will hear an earful about this travel experience. Hopefully you can make amends to welcome other families traveling. “Something special in the air” takes on a whole new meaning now.


Regards,
Ilina
Mother, Seasoned Traveler, Influencer, Marketer


PS
I’ve sent this letter to Delta too so they know they’re doing something right.



cc:
Isabella D. Goren
Daniel P. Garton
Ralph L. Richardi


Jerry Grinstein
Lee Mackenczak

The Outcome:
American Airlines sent a form letter (postcard, actually). Several months later I got a $100 voucher with no letter or instructions for use. Turns out I had to redeem the damn certificate at the airport. A customer compromise even when it's an apology (lame as it was)!

Delta's president Fed Exed a handwritten note and two remote control airplanes and T-shirts to Bird and Deal. I love that the shirts were printed in retro airplane graphics instead of Delta branded merchandise. Still have those planes in the toy box. Still love Delta.
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Monday, August 4, 2008

What's Buggin'?

In light of the 136 mosquito bites I got just in the time it took to walk six blocks to Rite Aid and back, I am posting about random things that bug me.

  1. Mosquitoes, natch. I am allergic so the little bites turn into giant welts. Now I look like someone took a switch to my legs. Poor Deal has inherited this frailty from me.
  2. I bet Posh Spice has a kick-ass kitchen. The woman clearly doesn't eat so I imagine she doesn't cook either. In general, one must cook to eat, no? I see a lot of take out cartons in the Beckham household. Somehow I don't think Posh dons an apron and makes homemade cookies, flour flying everywhere, butter dripping on the hardwood floors, mixer thingees being licked. That's what I did with Bird and Deal today. A warming drawer would have helped. So would a Kitchen Aid mixer.
  3. Kids with bad manners is one thing. I have no tolerance for adults with poor manners (granted, they started as kids with bad manners). Guess what Lady in the Stationery Shop, I am not interested in the hives and red splotches on your nasty-ass scaly feet. Do not take off your sandals so I can get a better look. The absolute last thing I want is a closer look. Your feet make Mac Daddy's feet look freshly pedicured by the adorable Vietnamese ladies down the street.
  4. The sound of a cat puking. Must it sound like a waterfall of guts spewing out? I love my Casey, but the nightly throw up is putting unconditional love to the test.
  5. Nature. Why can't it just be brightly hued blossoms sitting pretty, sedating streams trickling, lazy clouds puttering, dolphin-rich waves billowing? I don't need the itchy grass, relentless weeds, creepy crawly critters, bugs whizzing, snakes slithering, rocks underfoot, or dirt of any kind.

So tell me, what's buggin' you?
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