Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I'm stumped

I can't figure out how to Google this.

Alex and the girls got me some unusual chocolates for my birthday. The lemon-pepper one was quite good - more lemon than pepper, and good chocolate wrapped around it all.

But the chili pepper one is too spicy. I like hot food, but this is a little too much to be enjoyable. So I figured maybe there was something I could do with it - use it in a recipe or combine it with something or something.

But when I try to Google it I get chili recipes that call for chocolate, or gourmet places selling chili chocolates, which I don't need any more of (right now).

The closest I've seen to a suggestion was grating some on top of a mug of hot chocolate, which I can definitely try (they got me gourmet hot chocolate mix too). On my own, all I came up with was maybe combining it with some bread, but all I have on hand is regular sandwich bread from the grocery store, which I don't think will do it justice.

Any suggestions?

E.T.A. Writing that made me curious, and the upshot of that curiosity is that we can confidently add "get over myself and try again" as a viable option.

(Oh, and too? Five minutes short of 24 hours after yesterday's post, we have our first "lawn shrimp" Googler stopping by. Don't worry! They're harmless!)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Not much news, but all frickin' KINDS of arthropods

So I had a few minutes to kill yesterday and I thought to myself, "Self, how can I use these few minutes to the greater benefit of my blog-reading public?"

Okay, I didn't think that at all. I thought, "Hey, I know. Let's learn more about those dead bugs we keep finding by the dog's water dish."

Happily, their very name makes them suitable blog fodder. We have lawn shrimp. Terrestrial crustaceans that look very much like shrimp (but wee). They jump out of their usual habitat (the porch drain) when it gets too wet. Of course, they then find themselves on the sidewalk, where it is too dry, and promptly die. And when they die? They turn pink like little cooked shrimp.

Now, I was trying to find a picture of one for you, but the Wiki let me down. I looked up "lawn shrimp" and not only was it not in there, the top suggested result was "Forrest Gump." Then I looked up "Crustacean," which of course is in there, but in the course of scanning for my particular breed of crustacean I came across the phrase "tongue worms." You know I love you and I'd do about anything for you, but I just don't think providing a photo of the lawn shrimp means that much to me.

In other news, Alex asked me for a favor that involved looking out for scorpions today (I didn't find any), my sister had a run-in with chiggers, and Robin has lice, or did until I spent all afternoon getting rid of them. Julia doesn't have any but I think I'm going to give myself a treatment. I showed Alex what they looked like on Robin and asked him to check my hair, but somehow I remain unconvinced by his "Well, hmmm [Groom Groom Groom] Ummm, well [Poke Prod] No, I think it's just dandruff. Here, turn toward the light some more. [Riffle Peer Tug] Yeah, it's probably just dandruff."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Making up for the fact that the pottery story below attracted NOT ONE Harry Potter Googler...

...We have this week's most excellent search phrase:

"Signs of the Acropolis"

(With special recognition to Phydeaux Speaks, who wondered if said signs were perhaps being read by four hoarse men.)

The best balloon figures EVAR

Have you ever seen balloon figures as cool as these?

No. You have not.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


So it's time to tell you a story from Greece.

When we left Turkey to return to Greece near the end of our trip, we took a ferry from Kusadasi (near Ephesus) to Samos.

I didn't know anything about Samos except that, like the town of Ayvalik in Turkey, it was a place we needed to go through on our way from Point A to Point B. If I had had enough faith in the ferry schedules, I probably would have arranged for us to just spend a few hours at the port, and get the ferry to Athens that same evening.

Boy, I'm glad I didn't trust the ferry schedules. Samos was fantastic.

Not having any major sights lined up to see, we were free to just hang around, and I figured that was all we would do. And, in a way, that's all we did do, but wow. We really did it well.

We arrived late morning one day and left late afternoon the next. The afternoon and evening of the first day were very nice, but the part I want to talk about right now was the morning of the second day. We had rented a car, and the owner of our hotel told us to drive 15 or 20 minutes up the coast to a place called the Valley of the Nightingales, then follow the winding road up the valley to the little village of Manolates, where we could get out and walk around.

The town was not only at the top of the valley, I felt like it was at the top of Greece. It was another one of those villages where you park your car at the edge of town and wander through the maze of roads and stairs, stopping at every turn to take in the quaint.

The town is known for its pottery, and one of the first things we came to was a little cabinet of pottery mounted on the outside wall of a house. The place was closed when we got there, but it was early so we hoped we would find a shop or two open later on. In the meantime, we continued uphill, admiring all the different varieties of quaint.

As we approached what we thought was the top of the village, we started seeing numerous signs for Loukas' Taverna. Admiring Loukas' persistence, we went ahead and followed his signs a little ways out of town, until we found ourselves at the very top of Greece.

The taverna was open and our companion for the morning - a fellow guest at the hotel - treated us to a mid-morning snack.

We did our usual thing of ordering an assortment of things and sharing them. I'm pretty sure the cake and baklava were good, but to be honest I can barely remember them. What I will never forget was the yogurt.

We had heard good things about Greek yogurt, but all we had had up to that point were little store-bought tubs of fruit-flavored yogurt that wasn't really all that different from what we get in Costa Rica or the States. Our friend ordered yogurt with honey and made sure we did too.

We were halfway through it before we remembered about photographing the food.

When Julia was a baby, I remember I bought special full-fat yogurt for her because children aren't supposed to be on a low-fat diet before a certain age. The first time I bought it, I didn't realize that the full-fat part tended to rise to the top and needed to be stirred back in. Boy, that was a good first bite.

But it tasted like skim next to the Yogurt at the Top of the World. Loukas' yogurt was so thick and creamy it was like...what was it like? I can't even tell you. It was like nothing I've ever tasted. And the big, big spoonful of honey on top. Well. All I can say is, if you go to Samos, rent a car, drive up through the Valley of the Nightingales, park at the edge of town and hike through Manolates and out the other side to reach Loukas' Taverna in order to try this yogurt, you will not be disappointed.

And that's without even considering the panoramic view of coastline, with the ferries coming and going. Remember the photo of the flower poking out between some whitewashed boards? That was at Loukas' too - on the way down some steps to the ladies' room in fact.

Unfortunately, I don't have any good pictures of the actual view, but here's a little more Quaint to make up for it.

On the way back down, we did find several shops open, including the pottery place we saw first. Remember the big gray cat by the whitewashed stone wall? That was the potter's cat.

I picked just the right little pot (the one on the top left) and the artist graciously agreed to pose with it. I think he was amused, although I doubt we were the first tourists to ask him for that particular favor.

When he saw that we were going to buy something, he walked outside the little studio and picked four roses and a little sprig of mint. He wrapped the pot in bubble wrap and then in colored paper, and put it in a yellow gift bag. Then he took a little folded business card, tucked one rose and the mint into the fold, stapled it to the bag, and presented the other three roses to the three of us.

* * *

And that is the Manolates story.

I told that story today for Sandy, who wrote and asked if everything was okay since I haven't been posting. Everything is fine, just alternately bored and busy. Mostly busy. Thanks for asking!

I chose that particular story because the little pot from the town at the top of the world is for you, and I know you'll be seeing Mom tomorrow so she can give it to you. I just wish I could have brought back some of the yogurt too!

Sunday, July 15, 2007


On the other end of the frustration spectrum (the first end being detailed in the previous post), I got a call recently from a former quilter who has lived in Costa Rica for several years now. She has made dozens of quilts in her time, but has moved on to other pursuits and has no intention of returning to the quilting habit. She got my name and number from a newspaper article about the quilt guild (of which I'm the president) and wanted to donate her books and supplies to other quilters.

Rita and I went out to her house on Friday to pick up the things. In addition to quite a lot of fabric, she had probably a dozen or more patterns, a large stack of quilting magazines and a larger stack of quilt books. She also had some special ruler sets and a sewing machine.

The books, magazines and patterns will make perfect door prizes for the guild party next week, and will be gratefully received and enthusiastically used. We like to have enough prizes that everyone goes home with something, and these will go a long way toward making that happen.

The fabric was quite musty and will require a great deal of attention in the form of washing, drying and ironing to render it usable. Rita and I decided to divide most of it up between us, rather than giving musty fabric away as prizes, or investing the hours and energy it would take to clean it and then divide it into appropriate packets in time for the party.

The sewing machine is a mystery, but a tantalizing one. It is a Janome Memory Craft 8000 sewing and embroidery machine. It is approximately 20 years old and, in its day, was a $4000 machine. A little Googling indicates that used ones are going for a couple hundred dollars nowadays. (My current "good" sewing machine is a Memory Craft 6000).

It is reportedly not in working order, but the lady who gave it to us was told by at least one sewing machine shop here in Costa Rica that it could be repaired. It comes with buckets of attachments and presser feet and manuals and doodads and gizmos and things.

And now (with the stipulation that it will go to Rita if something happens to me), it's mine.

After picking up the things, I had to drive my father in law to a couple of hardware stores, so I pulled out one of the new books and looked through it while I waited for him. One of the designs caught my eye - surprisingly, it was a relatively traditional design, and the sample was made up in colors and (especially) fabrics that don't reflect my usual taste either. But I liked the end result.

When I went to my weekly quilting group the next day, I brought a few of the new books to look through, since I need to choose a design for my next quilt.

At the group, one of the members showed us a table full of fabric that was donated to her quite a while ago with the stipulation that it be used for charity quilts. We quickly agreed to take on the project, and I turned once again to the book I had looked at in the car the day before.

That same quilt kept jumping out at me, so I decided to go ahead with it. What are donation quilts for anyway, if not for trying out new things? Most of the donated fabric was in decent-sized pieces, but there was also a box of scraps that some well-meaning quilter had sent along. Scraps often get donated because we hate to throw them out, but unless someone wants to make a string quilt, their usefulness is really pretty limited.

Interestingly, the patten I had my eye on was, in fact, a string quilt. "Strings" are long, skinny fabric strips that are sewn together side by side more or less randomly, making a length of new, striped fabric. They need to be at least an inch wide and long enough to be usable, but they don't all have to be the same width.

I've never been attracted to string quilts, and never had any inclination to make one, until I saw that particular pattern in the donated book. And was faced with a donated box of scraps the very next day. Once I began to sort and iron them, I found that the scraps were absolutely ideal for a string quilt. Instead of a bunch of odd shapes and sizes, as scraps so often are, they consisted almost entirely of pre-cut strips with straight, even sides, plenty long and in a wide variety of bright, attractive and, get this, coordinating prints.

So, thanks to two generous donors who have never heard of each other, but who came (indirectly) to me at almost exactly the same time, I have inspiration, materials and the desire to make a lovely quilt that will, eventually, be donated to a disadvantaged Costa Rican child - probably in a rural indigenous community.

Plus, if it goes together as quickly as I think it will, and if I like the way it looks, I can use the same pattern for the quilt I was originally thinking about when I opened that book on Friday - a baby quilt for Erin who, speaking of generosity, read my post about using a friend's Electric Quilt software earlier this year and immediately offered to give me her own copy, which she had never used. I, of course, accepted immediately, proposing a baby quilt as a suitable form of payment.

Generosity, yo. What goes around comes around.


Dear Travelport Customer Service Representative,

I am writing with regard to three round-trip tickets purchased through your travel portal, CheapTickets, and to request compensation for the expense and inconvenience I experienced in connection with that purchase. I am contacting Travelport, the parent company, rather than working directly with CheapTickets because the problems I experienced stemmed from a simple flight cancellation, but grew into nearly three days of frustration and expense due to CheapTickets' failure to communicate with me or respond to my inquiries.

Ticket and itinerary information:

CheapTickets record locator:

Airline record locator:
US Airways - DK4H2Y
Olympic Airlines - LS22VD

Ticket numbers:

Flight 1 - Monday, June 4, 2007, US Airways 704 (CLT-FRA)
Flight 2 - Tuesday, June 5, 2007, Lufthansa 3382 (FRA-ATH)

Flight 3 - Wednesday, June 27, 2007, Olympic Airlines 271 (ATH-LGW)
Flight 4 - Wednesday, June 27, 2007, US Airways 733 (LGW-CLT)

Total flight cost:
$3,496.21 USD

Detailed explanation of the situation and CheapTickets' failure to respond

I purchased three adult round-trip tickets from Charlotte, NC (USA) to Athens, Greece, departing Monday June 4, 2007 and returning Wednesday, June 27, 2007. I purchased the tickets online from CheapTickets.com on May 31, 2007. I received my paper tickets in a timely fashion, and received a Travel Document via E-mail (indicating that CheapTickets does have the correct E-mail address associated with my account, and that E-mail from CheapTickets is delivered to my Inbox and not misrouted to my Spam folder).

We did not experience any difficulties with our outbound flights. I had Internet access at several times during the trip, and was able to check my E-mail and review the contents of my Spam folder every two to three days throughout the trip, and almost daily during the last week. At no point did I receive any communication from CheapTickets regarding my travel arrangements.

The morning before our return flights, I received word from my father (who was not on the trip); in the course of double-checking our flight information, he discovered that the first leg of our return trip (Olympic Airlines 271, Athens to London Gatwick) had been canceled.

He called CheapTickets to ask what alternate arrangements had been made, and was told that an E-mail had been sent to me on June 15, stating that our reservation had been changed to a later flight (Olympic Airlines 259, Athens to London Heathrow). This new flight would prevent us from catching our existing London-Charlotte flight. The CheapTickets agent who spoke with my father said he did not have any information about a connecting flight out of London, although this flight appears in my online travel details, my paper tickets and in the Travel Document that was originally sent to me by E-mail.

Knowing that I had not received notification of the change, my father asked the CheapTickets agent to re-send the June 15 E-mail, and to CC him (my father) as well. The CheapTickets agent agreed to do so. However, neither my father nor I ever received the E-mail. (Interestingly, the call did cause CheapTickets to send me an automated request to complete an online survey regarding "my" experience with customer service, again confirming that CheapTickets has my correct E-mail address.)

When my father contacted me to explain the situation, I logged into my CheapTickets account and went to the "My Trips" section to see what alternate arrangements had been made. The system still showed the original itinerary. When I clicked on "View full trip details," I received an error message. I tried this a number of times, but the error message persisted - perhaps because the flight no longer existed?

I clicked on the "E-mail itinerary" link to have the itinerary re-sent to my E-mail address, but I never received the itinerary.

I filled out the online customer service form asking that updated information be sent, and also requesting clarification as to what connecting flight I was to take out of London. I received an immediate automated response from Customer Service, and eventually also received a boilerplate response that did not provide the information, but stated that an updated Travel Document had been sent to my E-mail address. However, no Travel Document or updated itinerary was ever provided in any form.

Please note that, having discovered on our own that there was a problem with this reservation, we made five different attempts (see underlined text above) to obtain the updated itinerary information, but never received anything but error messages or boilerplate responses from CheapTickets. Even today, the "My Trips" section of my CheapTickets account still shows the original itinerary, with no indication that the flight was ever canceled.

My father contacted both US Airlines and Olympic Airlines directly to try to find out what alternate arrangements had been made for our travel the following day. However, since each airline was aware of only one leg of our trip, both claimed that they were under no obligation to protect our connection.

Olympic Airlines simply noted that our reservation had been changed to the later flight. US Airways showed no change in our itinerary, and warned that if we arrived more than two hours late for the London-Charlotte flight, we would forfeit our tickets and our only option would be to purchase new one-way tickets at the walk-up fare of $1400 per person - more than the cost of our original round-trip tickets.

CheapTickets sold us round-trip tickets and, as our travel agent, was responsible for arranging for our transportation to our final destination. We were willing to accept changes in our itinerary, carriers, schedule, etc., but no alternative was ever made available to us, even when we contacted CheapTickets directly, and repeatedly, to ask.

Aware that we were in danger of being stranded in London if we waited and took our rescheduled flight the next morning, we cut our guided tour short on the day before our scheduled departure, returned to our hotel for our baggage and rushed to the airport to try to get on Olympic Airlines' last flight to London that evening. Olympic Airlines was happy to put us on standby, but the flight was overbooked and in fact had to deny boarding to at least one ticketed passenger.

Fortunately, Olympic Airlines eventually did assume responsibility for helping us reach our final destination, even though we only held tickets from Athens to London on that airline.

When we were unable to board the Olympic flight to London the day before our scheduled travel, Olympic tried to place us on a US Airways flight from Athens to Philadelphia the next morning, followed by a connecting flight from Philadelphia to Charlotte. We placed our baggage in storage at the airport and returned to our hotel in Athens for the night.

When we returned to the airport the next morning, we were told that the US Airways flight was subject to unusually strict weight restrictions due to the heat wave affecting Greece at the time, and was unable to accept any standby passengers.

Olympic then tried to place us on an Olympic flight from Athens to New York, but several airport personnel misinterpreted our Flight Interruption Manifest and sent us to the wrong check-in window. By the time the mistake was discovered, it was too late to catch the flight.

Olympic Airlines provided us with hotel and meal vouchers, and placed us on the same Olympic flight to New York the following day. We did finally fly to New York on Olympic Airlines flight 411. Olympic Airlines had arranged for a US Airways connecting flight from New York to Charlotte. Hhowever, when we reached LaGuardia airport (having flown in to JFK), we discovered that this flight, too, was canceled.

Due to multiple flight cancellations, US Airways could not get us to Charlotte until two days later. However, they were able to place us on a shuttle flight to Washington, DC the following morning. Family members drove from North Carolina to Washington DC to pick us up.

As a result of CheapTickets' failure to resolve the situation:

We reached our final destination over 48 hours late, having been on standby for at least five different flights to a variety of destinations, and having slept (or attempted to) on the floor of baggage claim at LaGuardia airport in order to be among the first in line to check in at 4:00 a.m. for a flight that was not even taking us to our intended destination. One of my travel companions missed two days of work as a result of the situation.

Our family members drove a total of 12 hours to pick us up in Washington DC in order to save us the time and expense of a second night in baggage claim or at a NYC hotel.

As noted above, a CheapTickets agent acknowledged by telephone that the company was aware of the flight cancelation, and yet no alternate arrangements were made and at no point did CheapTickets even notify us that there had been a change in the itinerary, much less arrange to meet its obligation, as our travel agent, to provide service to our final destionation.

CheapTickets absolutely does have my correct E-mail address, and no E-mail from CheapTickets has ever been diverted to my Spam folder, which I check carefully every time I check E-mail. To this day, CheapTickets' website shows the original itinerary, including a flight that did not exist.


Our out-of-pocket expenses in connection with this problem totaled over $400 for three travelers (I will be happy to itemize these expenses if necessary), as well as two days of missed work for one of my travel companions ($XYZ) and the extraordinary inconvenience and discomfort of over 48 hours of nonstop travel, delays and uncertainty, one night without accommodations and not, in fact, receiving service to our intended destination.

I expect compensation in the amount of $1000 from either CheapTickets or Travelport. This is less than 30% of our total ticket price, even though CheapTickets' failure to uphold its obligations prevented us from using 50% of the tickets we purchased.

I will accept a cash refund, credit card reimbursement, or transferable travel vouchers.

I absolutely expect my concerns to be addressed directly and in a timely manner.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I will be happy to provide any additional information you may require. I can be reached via E-mail at any time, or by telephone or fax at XXX-XXX-XXX-XXX.


Jennifer Tucker

Monday, July 09, 2007

This just in

I don't actually know anything about this, but I was catching up with Kit's blog today and casually followed a link to some information that began as follows:

At several points throughout the year most of us will be bombarded with the maddening effects of Mercury in retrograde. Mercury is a planet which governs all transportation and communication issues. Mercury is not an emotional planet, but rather a highly objective, truth-seeking one. It rules intelligence, education and truth. When it is in retrograde, some of its power is held back.
Interestingly enough, Mercury retrograde dates for this year include June 15 through today. I'm just saying.

I did like this part though:
There will be countless delays, cancellations and postponements--but know these will benefit you in the long run. Don't fight them, although your frustration level and feeling of restlessness will be hard to cope with at times.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Today's special

Not that she hasn't seen them already, but in honor of Lisa's birthday today, we will be featuring the kitty pictures from the trip.

Cats in Greece? You'd better believe there are cats in Greece, and not just on all the souvenir calendars.

And now, please wish Lisa a happy birthday and tell her what a great photographer she is. Not necessarily in that order.

Friday, July 06, 2007

So we're in Athens, right? And I say to Lisa,

I say, "If J were here, she would take a picture of that flower."

So she (Lisa) did, and here it is, along with some others that I didn't even have to prompt her to take.

This is the one. It's near the entrance to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, in Athens.

And this one is at the foot of a statue about a block away.

These were near our room on the island of Kea.

So was this. We thought we lost this picture (and about 300 others) because of some technical issues, and it was too late to recreate it because we wouldn't be there the next time the sun hit the flower that way. Fortunately, all was not as lost as we had feared.

We saw these on our walk to the archaeological site on Kea. I call them dandelions with an attitude.

These were on the terrace where we ate our breakfasts (of store-bought yogurt and fruit) at the Nassos Guesthouse in the town of Molyvos on the island of Lesvos.

I've never been a fan of hydrangeas, myself, but some of my best friends are. And if you're gonna spend time looking at them, the variegated color does help a lot. It's is not a trick of the light; they really were this many colors that close together. These are in Istanbul, on the grounds of the Blue Mosque.

You know what? I've lost track. This lovely bush is somewhere in Greece. Or Turkey.

I took this one, I took this one! This intrepid little bud was poking out by the steps down to the ladies' room at a restaurant we stopped at, in a town I'll have to tell you about soon, on the island of Samos.

Still Samos. Not flowers, I guess. So sue me.

The poppies! I can't believe I forgot the poppies. I kept asking Lisa to take pictures of them and she kept doing it but saying they wouldn't come out. And I said, "That's fine. Just try." And she did, and then we got this. And I totally forgot about it until Alex looked over my shoulder to see the other pictures (already posted) and tried to tell me that that other red one was a poppy. Which it's not. But these are. And now I've remembered. And here they are. This is at the Göreme Open Air Museum in the town of Göreme, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ahhhhhhhh. Umm, now what?

Okay, my family is starting to get calls because I haven't updated since Washington. Sorry.

We finally made it back to Lisa's place at 9:00 p.m. Friday (instead of the originally planned 5:00 p.m. Wednesday). Six hours in the car was a bit of an ordeal, but there were no further delays or disasters.

I did very little for the next two days except copy, rotate and organize our photos on Mom's laptop and pull out a select 20% of them for a slide show. Lisa prepared an amazing Greek dinner for us all on Sunday and we had a big double birthday party.

My trip back to Costa Rica was not without its share of excitement, what with my first flight getting in at the exact time the second flight was due to leave, but the Departures board at my arrival gate said the second one was delayed by 20 minutes, so after a flat-out run through the airport (which demonstrated unequivocally to me that we did not, in fact, get that much exercise during our trip), I found that it was actually delayed by over an hour, so I was fully recovered by the time they actually got around to boarding. I even saw my bags go in at the eleventh hour, so I knew they were safely aboard the plane.

We got in at 10:00 p.m. Costa Rica time - that's midnight in NC and 7:00 a.m. the next day in Greece. Customs and immigration were both uncrowded and friendly, and Alex was there to pick me up.

He picked the girls up this morning, and we've all just been hanging around the house today because their school vacation started this week. This is their mid-year break, not "summer" vacation, so they go back in two weeks for the second half of their school year.

I'm surprised at how tired I feel, since we managed to get ourselves back onto a relatively Western Hemisphere schedule while at Lisa's house. Of course, it's not like I have any responsibilities I have to gear up for, so I can just lie around if I feel like it. In fact, I'm not sure just what to do with myself at the moment. After going and going non-stop for the entire month of June, and even having things I wanted to get done during our couple of days at Lisa's house, all of a sudden there are no demands. I have to pay four bills online and then...deciding where to go for dinner is about as urgent as it gets, and I've got that narrowed down to the restaurant across the street or pizza and a video in the living room. (I'm skipping the guild meeting tonight - told them that even before things went haywire with the flights home.)

Anyway. I may not have much to say for the next couple of days, but once I get back into things I'll post some more pictures and things from the trip.

A click a day for good causes

The Hunger Site The Breast Cancer Site The Child Health Site The Literacy Site The Rainforest Site The Animal Rescue Site

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