Hollar— and great customer service

hollar-pic.jpeg
Mostly, I intend to write about writing, but real life does get in the way of that, and this post is about the fabulous customer service I got from an online “dollar store” known as Hollar.com. When I ordered from them for the first time, I got several items to try, and a puzzle to share with my family, who are (just like mom) big fans of Star Wars. Let me be perfectly honest— the price for the 100 piece puzzle was $1. But, when the group effort was finished, one piece was missing. Hubby laughed at me and had some disparaging remarks about my being cheap enough to order a $1 puzzle. He is right about me being cheap, however.

Slightly annoyed, I whipped out my iPad, took a picture of the 99 piece puzzle, posted it as a comment on the Hollar Facebook page. Within a few minutes, I had a couple of responses from concerned folks at Hollar. They asked for the order number, and when I replied via FB messenger with it, they assured me that I would get a new puzzle. I was expecting (maybe) a credit on my next order, but they said the item was in stock and would soon be on its way. Kudos, right?

A few days later, I got the box, which was bigger than expected and heavier, too. Curious, I opened the box and there was another boxed Star Wars puzzle. Below it, heavily cushioned, was a very nicely framed Star Wars puzzle, with a missing piece, along with a personal note explaining that they, too, didn’t like missing pieces. Hubby, who had brought the box from the post office couldn’t stop laughing, and I was so pleased with the item that I immediately hung it.

Nowadays, people love to say that almost all companies have “customer no service” rather than treating people right. Obviously, Hollar.com has a different philosophy, as well as a great sense of humor. Needless to say, I will be visiting the site again, because such great customer service deserves a second chance.

Go check out Hollar.com. Really!

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Weight loss apps— my experience

scaleI guess the subtitle is Weight Watchers vs. My Fitness Pal, as those are the only two I have used enough to review in a meaningful manner.

Quite a long time back, I went to Weight Watchers and lost a goodly amount of weight, but I didn’t reach any goal. My thought at the time was that I had learned so much that I would be able to maintain my loss, and for a time I was somewhat successful. Fast forward a decade plus, and I was shopping the big girl’s section, which wasn’t much fun. Also, I became seriously concerned about the health effects of carrying so much extra weight around.

So, I joined Weight Watchers again, and wow, had things changed. Everyone was using the “app” and the meetings were half as long as before, because things were so high-tech. But, the core principles are the same: foods are assigned points, based on both calories and how “healthy” they are, and users are assigned a point target, based on certain individual criteria. Instead of looking up point values in a book, as we did before, the app can assist, even allowing users to scan a bar code on a package. (I don’t use that feature much, because fresh foods like blackberries and tomatoes do not have bar codes.) Anyway, the program works, and I lost even more weight than I did the first time, albeit over a longer period of time. (Maturity sucks.)

As I was losing, hubby lost quite a bit, too. He and his doctor were happy with the change, so hubby decided to go “all in” on weight loss, but he was not about to pay for it. So, he decided to try the “My Fitness Pal” app, as the basic version is free, and it works quite well. Since I do most of the cooking, he was always asking me for assistance in recording his food intake, which weight loss programs call “tracking,” so I ended up doing both WW and MFP for a few months. I’m currently still at my goal weight, which means as a lifetime member, I can use the WW app for free, but instead I am using MFP.

Both apps are very good, but for losing weight and learning how to do that, I would certainly stick with the WW app. By weighting (pun intended) certain foods, the app not only tracks users, but steers them toward healthy eating habits and better portion control. One excellent feature of the WW app is the recipes, which help users come up with a healthy recipe for whatever ingredients are entered. So, if I see pork tenderloin on sale, I can open the app and summon several healthy recipes right on my phone or iPad. However, the nutrition reports offered by the MFP app does a much better job of showing excesses or deficiencies in what I’ve been eating. For instance, I’ve been using MFP to help me keep up with how much protein I am eating, as I am a serious carb lover, and I might eat too many carbs and too little protein without those handy reports.

In our high tech world, it is quite easy to eat too much and move too little, so apps such as Weight Watchers and My Fitness Pal are very helpful.

“Current Events Day”

coachWhen my kids were kids, I often assisted with homework, but I made a tactical error and told them I’d actually do any thing we determined to be “busy work.” (At the time, I still believed in the integrity of most educators.) My daughter had a couple of coach/ social studies teachers in high school who would set aside one day a week for “current events” which basically meant the students were to bring in a news story and read it to the class. There were absolutely no criteria assigned, nor was there any grade. Since the teacher was just using this instead of doing any work himself, this qualified as a mom task, and I decided to use the weirdest items I could find.

As it is has been a while since my kids were in school, I no longer read so much weird news, but sometimes a headline just grabs my attention. So, I just read a news story which would have made the cut for current events day at JHS. What do y’all think of this one? Call 911!

Remember this?

Southbound on the Freeway

by May Swenson

A tourist came in from Orbitville,
parked in the air, and said:

The creatures of this star
are made of metal and glass.

Through the transparent parts
you can see their guts.

Their feet are round and roll
on diagrams–or long

measuring tapes–dark
with white lines.

They have four eyes.
The two in the back are red.

Sometimes you can see a 5-eyed
one, with a red eye turning

on the top of his head.
He must be special-

the others respect him,
and go slow,

when he passes, winding
among them from behind.

They all hiss as they glide,
like inches, down the marked

tapes. Those soft shapes,
shadowy inside

the hard bodies–are they
their guts or their brains?

Girl Power? Wonder Woman review and commentary

I’m not a frequent visitor to first run movies, as hubby and I enjoy our Netflix subscription (and homemade popcorn) more. Sometimes, however, a film comes out that piques my interest so we make the trek to our local multiplex and join a group of folks we’ve never met to see a movie. After reading some reviews and seeing a couple of trailers, I told hubby that I intended to see Wonder Woman, with or without him, so we went to see it.

Gal Gadot is fabulous in this film as the title character, as is Chris Pine’s side kick, Steve Trevor. Others do a good job, and Robin Wright is visually stunning as the Amazon general. Indeed, stunning is a word that comes to mind through the first half of the film. An superhero movie that is not a sequel must begin with some exposition, and that is a tricky phase. Too much detail threatens to bore the non-faithful viewer, but too little will disappoint those faithful fans who will show up regardless of what critics say. This version of Wonder Woman nails the exposition, with lots of action woven into the backstory. The costumes are simply amazing as are the settings and the action sequences. The characters do a great job of holding the viewers’ interest as the setting shifts from the island of the Amazons to WWI London. Again, the settings work well, as do the costumes, and it was easy to feel that we’d been transported back a hundred years.

(I am purposely leaving out details, as I do not want to ruin this movie for those who haven’t seen it, if there is anyone left in that category.)

Once the main mission of our heroine gets underway, the action is almost non-stop, and the villains are properly villainous. If I am totally honest, the final action sequence is a tad too long, but the overall effect is that this is a really good movie. Wonder Woman 2017 earns its fabulous score on Rotten Tomatoes.

I know nothing of director Patty Jenkins other work, nor have I seen Gadot in other films, but I have liked Chris Pine’s version of Captain Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek, and I thought he did a great job in the period action-adventure The Finest Hours (Theatrical). This super hero flick really hits on all cylinders: it is reasonably true to the comic book version, won’t disappoint fans of the old television series, and is so well made that newbies will enjoy it, too.

Please enjoy the links to these previous films available online, and consider going to see Wonder Woman.

From my Keeper Shelf — The Impossible Virgin


When I was young (alas, quite a long time ago) my mom would take us to the library every two weeks. There is no way I can express how important this was in my journey toward being a teacher and a writer. We didn’t have much money, but we had a wealth of information at hand, in the form of borrowed books. As I made the transition from young adult fiction to things written for an adult audience, mom was a valuable guide, because she was quite a good reader herself. One day, she handed me a book with a title that was a bit unusual: The Impossible Virgin. I’m sure I said something like, “Really, Mom?” She assured me that she had read it and that I would like it. OMG, was she right. I really loved that book.

Peter O’Donnell wrote an entire series of books featuring a better than James Bond heroine, Modesty Blaise, and The Impossible Virgin was my introduction to the series, although it is actually book five of thirteen books. The books generally followed a pattern, a bit like a James Bond movie of that era, wherein there is some action sequence at the beginning, then some exposition to get the reader up to speed on the characters, plus plenty of mid-level action before a dramatic series of events that leads to a climax with a very short denoument. Each book is decorated with highly eccentric characters, both the villains and the “guests” that Modesty and her friend Willie Garvin are helping with whatever dastardly doings drive the action.

(Some spoilers follow at this point.)

The Impossible Virgin centers around Modesty’s guy friend, a doctor named Giles Pennyfeather. He gets involved with some bad guys over in Africa, and Modesty helps him out. Later, Giles and Modesty are abducted by the baddies, and friend Willie is thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Giles ends up injured by a gorilla, so he has to walk Modesty through performing an emergency appendectomy  on one of the minor characters, and all that happens before the big climax, which involves a battle with quarterstaffs and a heck of a lot of wasps.

Most of the books in this series are really good, and I have all of them. Some books spend very little time with me, as they are forgettable, but The Impossible Virgin, along with others in the series, including Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, and I Lucifer are on my keeper shelf, and I have re-read them from time to time.

Modesty Blaise was the subject of a truly horrible movie, so bad that I try to forget that it was ever made, and a really good short film still available on DVD by Quentin Tarrantino, entitled My Name Is Modesty.

Mr. O’Donnell also wrote some nifty “romantic suspense” novels as Madeline Brent, and those are memorable as well.

Jackie— a brief review and commentary


We recently ordered up the DVD version of Jackie, starring Natalie Portman. Like many baby boomers, I remember the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath. Yes, I was just a child, but I still exactly where I was when I first heard the news, and I do remember that funeral procession as it appeared on our black and white television.

The film version of those events, entitled simply Jackie, is not especially linear, as the story line has a journalist coming to the Kennedy home in Massachusetts, to interview the former first lady about that terrible day and its aftermath. The story is actually a series of flashbacks. Featured in several of those is the famous television film of Jackie leading a tour of the White House, and the filmmakers carefully recreated a number of well documented events, including the arrival at Love Field and the motorcade (which was, of course, interrupted by the assassination.)

Other scenes give viewers a fictionalized but probably accurate glimpse of the horrors of that day. These include Jackie cleaning the blood from her face on Air Force One, and her removing the bloodstained pink wool suit, washing her hair, and Kennedy’s blood flows down her back. Although only seconds long, the shooting is also amazingly accurately depicted, and this is no fuzzy 8mm film— the assassination is high def and horrifying. The film also answers some questions that I’ve had, such as why Jackie tried to get out of the car, and why she didn’t change clothes before disembarking from the plane in Washington. The costumes, the sets, the cars, and the blending of old footage with new footage is really top notch. The cast does a very good job, especially Portman, who may not look all that much like Mrs. Kennedy, but she clearly worked hard on getting the accent and mannerisms down. Before it was over, I began to forget that this wasn’t the real Jackie Kennedy on the screen.

All-in-all, this film does a really good job of adding insight for viewers already familiar with the story. Perhaps more importantly, however, it gives younger generations a chance to see exactly what price is paid when a leader such as JFK dies at the hands of an assassin. Jackie is historically accurate, as well as being emotionally gut wrenching.

Half Way Home— by Hugh Howey


This is apparently one of this author’s early works. I really enjoyed Howey’s Beacon 23, so I went back to the well looking for another space based novel and chose this one. The premise is really good and the resulting novel is entertaining, but a bit troubling, too.

Our protagonist, Porter, is part of a 500 person colonizing venture, wherein the genetically engineered people are to land on a promising planet, having absorbed all sorts of knowledge relating to some colonial speciality while in a gestation tank. When he awakens, Porter quickly learns that he and his fellow travelers awakened far too soon, on a hostile planet, and the mother ship tried to self-destruct, thus killing off 450 or so of the original colonists. Porter isn’t programed for leadership, indeed, he’s not fully educated because of the early awakening. As the action of the story moves forward, he is ultimately thrust into that role, by circumstance as well as a plot-line that seems to owe a bit to “Lord of the Flies.”

At times, this book is really fabulous, especially the survival struggles of the characters and the world building that the author does as he sets his stage and moves his players through the plot. There is quite a bit of bloodshed, as would be the case when some largely untrained humans try to survive on a hostile planet. Unfortunately, at times he goes off on odd tangents that don’t further the plot at all.

That said, this work is a worthy read, and I am glad I got a chance to go along for the ride. Half Way Home is an interesting, if not perfect, science fiction yarn. I read it via Amazon’s Kindle program for free, but there is a paperback available as well.