I was eight…he was sixteen
September 12, 2015 | My Jottings
(Reposted from the archives….)
I was eight years old and growing up in Southern California when this picture of my husband Michael was taken during his junior year at Proctor High School. It was 1965 and he was sixteen. He grew up near a lake in northeastern Minnesota and loved to hunt and fish by the time he was ten.
He joined the United States Marines two years after this photo was taken, and after boot camp when the boys men were asked to volunteer for the front lines in Vietnam, he courageously raised his hand.
Three days after arriving in Da Nang he had his first encounter with the carnage that would eventually become an almost everyday occurrence during his tour there. Three young Marines took a direct hit from an enemy mortar while they sat at a table eating their meal. Their bodies were completely blown apart. Michael was spared.
The next eighteen months were filled with days and nights that only his fellow Vietnam vets can truly comprehend. Trudging single-file through the jungles, sleeping very little, hardening their hearts in order to witness the destruction and do the killing the government required them to do, and watching close friends step on land mines just a few feet in front of them, was all part of a day’s work. He did not have any sort of faith then, despite growing up with a devoutly Catholic mother. He wondered why so many died around him and he survived.
Michael was a muscular 192 pounds when he went to Vietnam, and came home fifty pounds lighter thanks to dysentery. When he was notified that his service in Vietnam was over and he returned to the States, he was not expecting the hurled tomatoes, the angry jeers and the “Go back, baby killers!” placards waiting for them at the Los Angeles airport. No one had debriefed them. He was not expecting that his parents would not want to hear about what he had experienced in Vietnam. He did not know that for years if a passing car backfired he would instinctively drop to the ground, or that he could never again handle being near strobe lights.
When Michael was sixteen, he couldn’t have known that going to war was just around the corner, and he obviously couldn’t have known that his future wife was eight years old and growing up in a decent but slightly unstable home in southern California. He probably didn’t know that much of his entire life would call for bravery and strength. But God knew.
When Michael was thirty years old someone told him that Jesus was real, that He loved him and would change his life here on this earth and in the one to come. Michael believed the message with his whole heart and never turned back; His faith in Christ has been the central part of his life since 1978.
He and I “met” when I was twenty-three and he was almost thirty-two. We had only been in each other’s company once before marrying in 1981. He did not know that marrying me and being a daddy to my two little girls would require strength and courage. Even though he would dismiss my saying this today, I know it has taken great strength to stick with me all these years. He has a backbone most men don’t have. And he has humility and patience that I rarely see in anyone.
Four decades after his stint in the Vietnam war, Michael fights another enemy. This one stalks his brain, silences his speech, and stiffens his joints and muscles. This one has stolen pieces of his life and abilities, bit by ruthless bit. But he resists this enemy in the power and grace that Jesus gives him each day. He continues to be strong and courageous right in front of his family’s eyes, and he is deeply loved and respected by us all.
(However, he is by no means a saint. Even though I wish to honor him here, he has an annoying trait or two that has tested my patience over the years, and I know he feels the same way about me. For example, Michael could very well be the male version of Sarah Winchester, a strange woman who kept compulsively adding on to her huge California house until the day she died. Michael has a penchant for continuous building projects as well, and recently built a “small” storage shed I call The Taj Mamichael in our backyard, much to my dismay surprise.)
When I was eight years old and reading my Nancy Drew books in my sunny pink bedroom, I had no idea that a handsome sixteen year old boy living in the north woods of Minnesota would someday be my husband. When I was ten years old and swimming every minute possible, I could not have known that a strong and courageous eighteen year old who would someday be my children’s daddy, was steeling himself each day to face the horrors of war.
But God, who numbers our days and orders our steps, knew.
When I look at the photo of my husband when he was a junior in high school, I see the core of who he is today. Out of His great love, God preserved Michael’s life for me and for our family. Out of His great power, God has made Michael a strong and courageous man to face the many challenges that life has presented to him.
6“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:6-9
All these years later, my strong and courageous husband is still teaching me by his example to be strong and courageous myself.
I have so much to learn, but I have a brave, handsome and kind teacher.
(Note: my husband Michael died on February 9, 2015. If you would like to read the account of how God met us and blessed us so unforgettably during the week of Michael’s dying, please click here, and read that, and then the next posts in order…. there is one for each day, February 2 through February 9.)
Green Macaroni and Cheese
September 10, 2015 | My Jottings
(Reposted from the archives….have you tried this recipe yet?)
About twenty-five years ago a friend of a friend told me about a simple and unique (and more healthy) recipe for macaroni and cheese. I was intrigued by the ingredients and made it right away. It was pretty tasty, and I made it again, tweaking the simple recipe a bit until it was something we loved, and I’ve made it often ever since.
My daughters grew up eating this Green Macaroni and Cheese, and they still love it. I think Carolyn makes it for her family now and then. Even my grandbabies enjoy it, and some of them are fairly picky eaters. Sara introduced this dish to her best friend, and now Layla talks to her about “your mom’s green macaroni and cheese.” (I’m pretty sure they talk about other things too, but I’m honored that smart, beautiful and accomplished young women think highly enough of even one creation of mine to make it a topic of conversation.)
I’ve received enough requests for this recipe that I thought I’d share it on the blog. It’s simple enough to make, but there are a few putzy steps that can be better illustrated by photos than by me trying to write the recipe out on 3 x 5 cards. Anyone who knows me knows that a 3 x 5 card might be large enough for me to write my name and phone number on.
Julie’s Green Macaroni and Cheese
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
So here’s what you’ll need for a large batch:
A cup of milk, 16 ounces of spinach nests pasta, 4-5 tablespoons of soy sauce (I use low-sodium but you can use the stuff that’s brown liquid salt if you like), 2 containers of cottage cheese and some grated mozzarella cheese.
I have only been able to find these spinach nests at one store in our town, and it just so happens that last week when I went to buy some, they were gone and it didn’t look like they were coming back any time soon. So I put in a request with the manager and we’ll see if he does anything about my family’s regular need for spinach nests. Not being one to wait for another person to hold my destiny in their hands, I did a little search online and found our beloved spinach pasta nests through Amazon. The case of twelve 16-ounce boxes of spinach nests arrived today.
If you can’t find spinach nests where you shop, you could probably use other spinach pasta that isn’t made into little circular nests. And I have made this recipe with multi-colored rotini pasta and it’s yummy too. Play around with it until it’s something your family likes.
This recipe will need a fairly large baking pan – I use my deep lasagna pan. I make a large recipe because at our house we basically feed the multitudes, and some of us around here love leftovers for our packed lunches.
If you don’t have multitudes to feed, I would suggest you cut this recipe in half, and use a 9 x 13 baking pan.
Pour all the spinach pasta from a 16-ounce box into a large mixing bowl. See the cute little nests?
They look innocent enough, but they will cut your fingers into shreds if you try breaking them apart with your hands. Don’t try it.
You’ll need to break these nests up now. I use a metal measuring cup and just slowly crunch up the nests by pressing down on them in the bowl with the cup. If you have Miniature German Schnauzers with sensitive ears, they will probably run into the other room while you’re crunching up your spinach nests in a metal mixing bowl.
Just press and crunch until there are no more nests left – just bits of spinach pasta a couple of inches long.
See? Like this. If you use a pasta that already comes in a bag and looks like this, you won’t need to crunch and crunch it with a measuring cup and scare your dogs.
Now take two entire containers (24 ounces each) of cottage cheese, and dump it out onto the broken up spinach pasta. (Remember, if you want to make a normal-sized batch and are halving this recipe, you’ll only need one 24 ounce container of cottage cheese, 8 ounces of spinach pasta, etc.)
Be sure you get all of the cottage cheese out. You can use 4%, 2% or 1% cottage cheese, but I wouldn’t recommend using skim.
Now comes the soy sauce. I like Kikkoman best.
Add four or five tablespoons of soy sauce to the cottage cheese and spinach nest pasta.
And now add one cup of milk. Again, you can use whole milk or 1% or 2%, but I don’t recommend skim milk for this recipe. Pour the milk over the green mess mixture.
Give these four ingredients a good stir. You might be thinking, “This is awfully dry — how is this going to make a delicious, creamy macaroni and cheese dish?” That’s what I thought when I first made it too, but I promise you’ll see how yummy it is soon.
I don’t think this recipe would qualify for Better Homes and Gardens or Bon Appetit magazines, because it’s too easy and it doesn’t photograph well. But I think we all know someone who doesn’t take a good picture who has a deep inner beauty that makes you completely forget about outward appearances. That’s the way this Green Macaroni and Cheese is. It has a deep inner beauty.
Pour all this into a greased (I use Pam) baking dish.
Be sure you scrape all the whey from the bowl too. You want all the liquid in there since the spinach nests aren’t cooked before you put all this in the oven.
Here’s how it looks spread evenly into my lasagna pan. Sara knows I like dark blue in my kitchen and gave me this pan a few years ago.
Bake this at 325 degrees and set the timer for 15 minutes. This will be the approximate halfway point, and you’ll have to take out the not-quite-done pasta and give it a good stir.
Below, here’s how it looks after about 15-20 minutes at 325. The pasta is softening up a little.
Now just stir it up a bit in the baking dish. Below, see the whey that the cottage cheese finally releases as it’s stirred? It’s pretty liquidy — just stir and fold, so all the dry bits of spinach pasta get covered with the whey. Experience has taught me that any little stray bits of pasta sticking up out of the liquid will get very dark and crisp, and will not taste very scrumptious.
We don’t want our spinach nests going rogue on us.
Stir those curds and whey, stir that pasta. This takes about a minute at the most.
Now spread it out again, making it even with the back of your spoon. It’s going back into the oven to finish baking. Set your timer again for about ten-fifteen minutes, and then pull it out again.
Here’s the part that just takes a time or two of making this dish to understand or recognize. When you pull out the pan the second time, if there’s still a lot of liquid and it hasn’t been mostly absorbed by the pasta, stir it again and put it back in the oven. Keep watching it every few minutes until the pasta has absorbed the liquid. It should be moist, but not swimming in whey. You don’t want to wait too long though – it will result in dry pasta, and you won’t like this recipe and your grandchildren won’t have a chance to try it.
I find that an oven thermometer is a very helpful tool. Even though my range is new and has two ovens, I leave an inexpensive oven thermometer in there all the time. One oven cooks a little hot and the other a little cool (yes, I’ve had the Sears guy out), and if your oven cooks at 375 when it should be 325, it could make a big ugly difference with your Green Macaroni and Cheese.
Once the liquid is mostly absorbed into the now-soft pasta, pull the pan out and sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. As much or as little as you like. We like a goodly amount.
Above, here’s what ours looked like today before I put it under the broiler.
The final step: put the pan under the broiler and watch it carefully. Here’s my first peek after about 3-4 minutes — nope, not yet!
And here’s my second peek after about 5 minutes — yep, this looks just right! It’s ready to come out into the light of day again.
I let this sit for about 4-5 minutes before cutting it into squares and serving it on a small salad plate.
Can you see why I don’t try to write this all down on a recipe card?
I hope you let me know if you try Green Macaroni and Cheese. It can be a side dish to whatever you’re making for dinner, or it can be lunch itself with a nice Honeycrisp apple and a few carrot sticks.
This makes good leftovers too — just store it in an airtight container in the fridge, and warm it up in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.
Now when I look at the other kind of macaroni and cheese we’re all familiar with, it seems so foreign to me, so orange looking.
I’ll let you know if the store manager calls me to say they’re back to carrying my spinach nests again. But just in case they decide not to, I’m equipped for several months, at least.
Green macaroni and cheese has definitely transformed our consumption of mac and cheese.
Winning over Grandma Oma
September 8, 2015 | My Jottings
(Reposted from the archives….)
My Grandma Oma didn’t like me much. Oh, she tolerated me well enough when we first met. I was three years old, and she and Grandpa Bud had just moved to Southern California from their Hereford cattle farm in Kansas. My parents were happy about my grandparents moving to our town in SoCal so we kids could get to know them. But as I grew older, my maternal Grandma seemed increasingly distant and sometimes even disgusted with me. She thought I was a spoiled little girl; too mouthy, too whiny and demanding.
When I was very young I used to climb up in my Grandma’s generous lap and she would lightly scratch my back while we watched TV on Sunday nights after dinner. She wasn’t critical of me then and I relished those times. She would rock the chair back and forth and I would be very quiet. I thought I could feel her love for me then.
But before long I’d taken too many cookies out of her cookie jar or sassed my mother or turned the TV channels too fast, and she’d knit her brows and purse her lips in disapproval. I’d hear her mutter under her breath to my grandpa, “That child is spoiled rotten!”
Despite my suspicion that Grandma didn’t care for me a great deal and thought I was “too big for my britches,” I enjoyed going to her house. It was small with a good-sized yard and there were lots of interesting things for a young girl to investigate. There was Mr. Clean, their canary who used his cage water dish for a bath several times a day, there were richly upholstered rocking chairs where I loved to curl up and read, and intricately crocheted afghans and lacy doilies. I loved to walk through the rooms and study the different treasures: a Japanese music box that played a mournful tune when I lifted the lid (“Julie, you’re going to wear that thing out!”), a massive Drexel mahogany bedroom set that Grandpa polished to such a shine I could see my reflection in it (“Don’t get your fingerprints on that dresser!”), and a beautiful nightstand lamp that had three settings. I used to sit in my grandparents’ room and slowly turn that lamp on and off, on and off. It was delicate and old, with two milky globes, one at the top and one on the base, and I loved how it could give bright, medium, or very soft light when the key-like switch was turned. But then I’d hear Grandma’s footsteps coming down the hall and she would scold, “Julie, you are going to break my nice lamp, now stop fooling with it! Go outside and play.”
Years passed and by the time I was sixteen Grandma’s feelings for me hadn’t seemed to change much. Even though I wasn’t the juvenile delinquent she felt certain I would turn out to be, she seemed to merely put up with me. In fact, I thought she was more disappointed in me than ever. I never seemed to be able to win her affection. I drove too fast, was away from home too much (“always out gallivanting around”) and spent too much time running with my friends, she thought. I was resigned to the fact that Grandma would always think I was a disappointment as a granddaughter, and I just went on with my own life that by this time consisted of cheerleading, working part time, keeping up with my studies, and spending time with friends at the beach.
In early 1974 Grandpa had a stroke and several months later he died. Grandma was lost without him. She moved in with us and I could tell she was unhappy about losing her independence. She spent her days cooking and helping around the house and her nights sitting in a chair watching TV. She particularly loved “The Lawrence Welk Show” on Saturday nights, and sometimes as I was getting ready to go out with friends I noticed that Grandma would gently tap her foot to the music as Bobby and Cissy danced, or as Guy and Ralna sang a peppy duet. I would roll my eyes and heave a teenaged sigh. I hated “The Lawrence Welk” show. It was certainly not my generation’s style of music and it was just another thing that Grandma and I did not have in common.
One day as my grandma sat dozing in her chair, I studied her, and a pang of regret assailed me. I wondered what had happened to us. Why had we never really been able to bond as a grandmother and granddaughter should? Why wasn’t she able to reach out and love me, shortcomings and all? She was 73, and as I watched her it dawned on me that if anyone was going to change, it was going to have to be me.
The following week I had an idea and told Grandma to be ready for an all-day outing with me on Saturday. She looked surprised and irritated. She questioned me about what kind of an outing I was talking about, but I refused to give her details. “Oh, you’ll see, Grandma. You and I are going to have a wonderful time together!” I assured her. We had never done anything together and I’m certain she was wary and curious about what I had up my sleeve. But she didn’t say she wouldn’t go with me.
Saturday arrived and I helped Grandma into the car. I was shocked that she actually allowed me to good-naturedly blindfold her to keep our route and destination a secret. Her mood was light as we drove along the southern California freeway system and I inwardly rejoiced that she was willing to go along with my little plan.
When we arrived at the entrance of Disneyland, I removed her blindfold and fluffed her snowy hair. It took a moment for her to focus her eyes and realize where we were. “Well I never!” she sputtered. Grandma had never been to Disneyland and I thought it was something she needed to experience.
“How in the world am I going to walk around this big place?” she asked testily. “Not to worry,” I responded. “I’ll push you in a wheelchair up to each ride. I’ll help you board the rides with me and then we’ll put you back in the chair when the ride is over.” Much to my amazement and relief, Grandma didn’t resist.
We spent the entire day exploring the famous park, going on the tamer rides, watching shows, shopping, laughing. Yes, laughing. I pushed her all over that place until dusk, when, exhausted, we made the forty-minute drive home. Before we went to bed that night Grandma looked directly into my eyes and said earnestly, “Thank you, Julie. This was a wonderful day.”
Soon after that I took her on another outing and she again submitted to my silly blindfold idea so I could keep her in the dark and totally surprised until we reached our destination: Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where we saw the movie Earthquake. Even though she had lived in Southern California for many years, she had never been to Hollywood, never been in a theater like this one. All the way home Grandma marveled about what a nice time we’d had.
Grandma Oma and I gradually became closer after that. Our conversations were light and we even laughed together. I talked to her about my friends and school, asked her questions about her childhood and how to cook and bake, and what she was interested in. I asked her questions about my Grandpa – she loved to talk about him. I found that she had a lot to share. I felt like I was getting acquainted with my Grandma for the first time. And little by little, she was definitely warming up to me.
I started sitting with her on Saturday nights as she watched “The Lawrence Welk Show.” She told me all about the people on the show as if they were old friends of hers. I learned to enjoy watching Arthur Duncan tap-dance and even tried to imitate him in front of Grandma, making her chuckle. We listened to Norma Zimmer and Larry Hooper sing, and to Myron Floren play his accordion. I learned songs I had never known before and I actually liked them. Most of all, I was learning to appreciate my Grandma, and I think she was learning to love me.
My Grandma Oma died in 1982. Her gleaming mahogany bedroom set sits in our master bedroom today. I treasure it. I also have her beautiful lamp, but about a year ago I accidentally bumped it and it crashed to the ground, shattering the top globe. I try not to hold too tightly to material things, but I was sad about this lamp breaking because it had been such a part of my childhood. I stared at the pieces on the floor and memories came flooding back, of me as a little girl exploring and dreaming, and turning that lamp at Grandma’s house on and off, on and off.
The memory of my Grandma’s “off” years of seeming indifference to me isn’t painful anymore and I don’t question why things were as they were. Instead I have the remembrance of our few “on” years together — how I believe God helped Grandma and me do what neither one of us knew how to do on our own — begin a loving relationship and make a real connection with each other for the first time in years.
Now I’m a grandma myself, albeit a few years younger than my grandmother’s age in this account. Only heaven knows what my grandchildren will remember about me when I’m just a fading memory to them, but I’m determined that they will never have to wonder if I loved them. They know already that my heart is nearly bursting with love for them all.
And all these years later, Lawrence Welk is still in the picture. My seven year-old granddaughter Clara loves to watch that old show with me when she spends the night on the occasional Saturday. She thinks it’s called “The Loren Swelk Show”, and I’m not in any hurry to tell her otherwise. As we sit and watch Bobby and Cissy, Guy and Ralna, Arthur Duncan, Tom Netherton and all the others, I sometimes think about my own Grandma Oma, and I’m thankful for those few pleasant memories we made.
And I say a silent prayer asking God to help me make lots and lots and lots of precious memories with my seven wonderful grandchildren.
I know this is one of the reasons I’m alive.
September 2, 2015 | My Jottings
The day before yesterday I went out to get the mail, and sitting on our front deck was a good-sized package from Switzerland. My sweet blogging friend Helen had emailed recently and asked for my address, so I knew something was coming. Maybe a piece of Swiss chocolate or a quilted Christmas decoration? Helen loves to quilt (and knit, and sew, and read, and run, and translate difficult documents since she’s multilingual, and raise her family, and travel), so I thought it might be something homemade, even.
But never did I expect to receive the lavish gift she sent me. A large lap quilt, with all the right colors, with exquisite stitching and precision, and with Helen’s compassion and love sewn throughout.
This work of art will look perfect in my living room, which has taupes and reds and walls that are robin’s egg blue. It would look perfect in my office, which has red and cream toile wallpaper and aqua velvet curtains. And it would be wonderful in my bedroom, to put across my lap when I’m reading, or writing in my gratitude journal.
Here’s the reverse side — have you ever seen anything so cheery and striking? And you can enlarge these photos to see the amazing stitching swirls Helen did. Perfection.
And as I was inspecting the quilt, jaw dropped and eyes welling, I saw some birds. Red birds. Cardinals. Anyone who knows me knows I love cardinals, and they signify hope and God’s help and presence in my life. If you haven’t seen it, I wrote a little children’s story about a family called the Buehlers, which is really about our family, here.
Here’s a view of some of the cardinals.
Last night after my Fosters went to bed for the night, I got into my plaid flannel nightgown, made some popcorn, put my feet up in the recliner, and watched my favorite show on TV. I put Helen’s quilt over my lap and thought of Michael, because in her note Helen said she began working on the quilt before Michael died, knowing from reading my blog that things had gotten very difficult as Michael’s health continued to decline.
I love when something has multiple deep meanings for me. I will use this quilt often, if not nightly. I will remember the loving handwork of a friend far away with a beautiful heart, and of the hope that’s always there in God even when we think that hope is hidden. In a way, I feel like I’m being covered by a prayer, Helen’s prayer, that God would help me walk this sometimes lonely path of widowhood.
When I sit with my quilt, I will also pray for Helen. I will ask the Lord to bless her in every way possible, and that He will blanket her (x 1000) with the warmth, beauty and comfort that she has given to me.
Failures in frugality
August 28, 2015 | My Jottings
I don’t think I would label myself as truly frugal, but I love alliteration and “Failures in frugality” sort of fits what I’m going to share about, so I went with it. I’m careful with money and I like to save, but I will also not think twice about spending or giving a large amount if I feel the cause is right. So frugal might be a bit too strong a word. Anyway…
Ever since I started using a CPAP machine on April 13th of this year, I’ve apparently been doing damage to the inside of my mouth. Since I have to sleep with my mouth closed now (I have a CPAP with nasal pillows), I’m inadvertently pushing my lower jaw out and chewing on my inside cheeks, to the point where I have discolored lesions that could lead eventually to serious things. Gah! So I went to the dentist and thought I would get a simple mouth guard to keep me from this destructive somnolent nocturnal activity. Here’s what it looks like:
It’s made of very hard plastic, and I was expecting something a little softer. The little turquoise bands are supposed to keep my lower jaw from extending out past my upper jaw while I sleep, and prevent me from chewing on the inside of my mouth. There’s only one problem. One night with this instrument of torture was, well, torture. Every single one of my upper teeth ached as if they’d been hit. My jaw ached for so long the next day I thought I had the start of TMJ, which I’ve never had. According to my dentist, all that’s needed is for me to let them file down the upper tooth sections, a little bit at a time, so that I can try the mouth guard every night until it doesn’t hurt anymore. While going into the dentist repeatedly for these small adjustments until I finally have a better night’s sleep.
So in a nutshell, after Michael died I was having serious sleeping problems, had a sleep study that showed I was getting absolutely no Stage 3 sleep (the kind of deep sleep that enables your brain to catalog and store all your memories from the day before), got a CPAP that I’m tethered to until the Twelfth of Never, started unconsciously chewing on the inside of my mouth, and paid almost $500 for a mouth guard that fits me perfectly but pains me intensely and can never be used or returned. It sits in its little plastic container in my medicine cabinet, but I feel like I should attach some fishing line to it and hang it on the Christmas tree this December. At least I could get some use out of it. Ha. Ha. Ha.
My next money fail came when I ordered a dress from an online company I’d never dealt with before. I buy most of my clothes online because A. I’m overweight, B. I’m pretty tall, C. It’s less traumatic to try things on at home, keep one or two items and send the ones I don’t like back. I am taking my two foster gals on an Alaskan cruise soon, and if any of you have cruised before, you know there are usually one or two “formal nights” for dinner. Men are required to wear tuxes or suits and ties and women are encouraged to wear dressy, “cocktail” outfits. I didn’t have anything that fit the bill and neither did my fosters, so we each bought an appropriate outfit. They look adorable in theirs and are so happy with what we found. I searched and searched online for my dress/pantsuit, and the things I found that I liked were either too short, too brightly colored, or already sold out in my size. Or more than I wanted to spend. So I finally found an online company with many lovely “mother of the bride” type outfits, and I ordered a black, chiffony dress with a beaded black jacket to wear over it. Understated, pretty, and just right. I thought.
Oh my gosh. I have never experienced with any other clothes company what I’ve gone through with them.
My first red flag was when the dress arrived in a box with an unreadable return address from China. I tried the dress on right away and laughed when I looked in the mirror and saw how short it was. The jacket was too short, the dress wasn’t nearly as long as the photos of the tall women in the catalog represented, so I folded it neatly and looked inside for a return slip. No. There was no return slip. No paperwork inside the package of any kind.
So I went to the website and found the customer service email and wrote to them right away. I said that the dress had arrived, was too short for me, and would they please tell me where to return it so I could get a refund? I had to write to them twice before they responded. Two days later I finally heard back from them, and thus began a series of seventeen emails between us, that ended in their refusal to give me an address to return the dress to them, and me contacting my credit card company, who issued me a “provisional” refund while they investigate the company.
Here are exact samples of some of the emails I received from this company:
We are sorry to hear that. We made the dress according to your order information. Would you please check with our size chart to see whether you chose a wrong size? If the size is correct, could you please send us some picture to show your measurements of your bust, waist and hip size so we can confirm the size problem? Thanks.
I wrote back and kindly told them that I had ordered the correct size, but the dress and jacket were too short. They wrote again asking me to send them detailed photos of myself wearing the dress, centering in on my “bust, waist and hip,” so they could determine if they had made a mistake.
Sorry for the inconvenience caused to you. We made the dress in the size you chose. If you think we made wrong size for you, please offer us clear pictures of your own measurements with tape (bust, waist, hip). And send us pictures to show the dress on you (or pictures showing that you can not put the dress on). Then we will confirm with our factory if we have made you wrong dress. We will try our best to help you before you return it, we will need to check the problem first. Or we will not accept the return. Thanks for your cooperation in advance. Please check the attached picture to see how to take measurements pictures.
I wrote back and told them I bought most of my clothes online, and that every single company always takes the clothing back if they don’t fit or if I don’t care for them, and I told them I was not going to take pictures of my bust, waist and hip with the dress on and send them to them, and that I wanted them to please send me the necessary information on how to return the dress, and that it fit okay, but was just much too short. I told them (all very respectfully but more firmly now) that I needed return information from them within 24 hours or I would be contacting my credit card company.
Please note that we made the dress in the standard size you chose according to our size chart on the website. Before we sent the dress out, we will put it on the model to check the size. Only passed the quality-check can the dress be sent out. So there is no problem about the size. Hope you can understand that. If you chose a incorrect size, you can go to a local tailor’s shop to make adjustments. Because we always leave a little space on our dresses in case there a change to make. Because we made the dress for you after you placed the order. It can not be sold again. Hope you will not let credit card company to involve in this. Because once they step in this, it will take several months to get a result. Thanks for your cooperation in advance.
Many emails exchanged. Finally, I sent back a short note: “The dress is the right size, it is just too short. I am contacting my credit card company. Sincerely, Julie B.”
Please note that you chose standard size. Then the dress’s length is also made in the standard size. If your height is same as the model’s. When you wear the dress, it will get same effect. If you were taller than her, the dress will be a little short for you. The dress is so beautiful. If you really do not like it, you can resell it or give it to your friends as a gift. Then we will offer you $10 compensation.
The dress cost $171, more than I have ever paid for any garment in my life. And they’re offering me $10 and thinking I might like to give it to my friends as a gift.
I did not respond to that email but instead contacted Visa.
A couple days later:
Here we heard that you not satisfied your this order and we want to help you out, but you not reply us.
So if you have any question or also need help, please contact us back, then we will help you out timely,
Your understand will appreciate
And after sixteen emails, here was my final one to them:
I will try to state things as clearly as possible.
1. I ordered a dress in good faith from you. I ordered the correct size.
2. The dress is too short. I am very tall, and the sleeves on the jacket are too short, and the jacket is too short.
3. It isn’t the wrong size, it is the length. It doesn’t look good at all.
4. I have ordered from online catalogs many times. Sometimes things fit well, sometimes they don’t. Whenever I send something back that doesn’t fit, the other companies gladly refund my money and take the item back.
5. You are the only company who has ever given me trouble about returning an item.
6. I will ask you one final time. Please send me the address where I can return this dress. And please refund my money.
7. There is nothing more to be said. You should do what every other dress company does, and take care of your customers.
This is my final email to you.
So Visa requested copies of all seventeen emails, which I mailed to them this week. They’ll do an investigation and determine if the company should take their dress back and refund my money. If not, I will have wasted $171, and like my mouth guard, the dress will never be used. Unless I can give it as gift to my friends. (By the way, the fine print on their website doesn’t reveal any of these policies, but I blame only myself for buying from someone I wasn’t familiar with.) Of course a google search of this company, after the fact, revealed dozens of warnings from other customers with headings like “DO NOT BUY!” and “They ripped me off!” Sigh…this was a lesson learned.
I finally did find something to wear for formal nights on our cruise. It’s this pants suit:
And I’ve found a way to protect the inside of my mouth too — I’m just wearing soft teeth bleaching trays over my teeth at night. This has seemed to help and the little chewed spots are healing.
Wednesday’s Word — Edition 121
August 26, 2015 | My Jottings
“I don’t like it when people minimize their gifts. There is a difference between humility and insecurity, and self-effacement does no one any favors.
We teach our watching children to doubt and excuse and diminish themselves. Do we want our kids to reflect on their mothers and have absolutely no idea what we loved? What we were good at? What got our pulses racing and minds spinning? Don’t we want them to see us doing what we do best?”
~~Jen Hatmaker, in “For the Love”
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I’ve been thinking on these words lately. I’m pretty sure if I got a do-over I would more confidently embrace my gifts instead of minimize them, especially to my daughters.
Friends, what are your thoughts on this?
I wonder if Phoebe could learn to do this?
August 19, 2015 | My Jottings
My daughter Sharon texted this video to me this morning and told me to watch all the way to the end. Maybe you’ve seen it already, but if you haven’t, here’s your smile for the day:
My new baby parakeet Phoebe (who’s about three months old now and is settling in and trying out a few cute vocalizations) doesn’t have the “expressive” head feathers this cockatoo does, but I’m wondering… if I worked with her every day, could she learn to respond to music in this way?
Would I have to buy a guitar, take guitar lessons, and learn an Elvis song before Phoebe would start cutting her parakeet rug, so to speak?
I also thought Mr. Cockatoo’s wife was hilarious in her own way. Notice the warning foot Mrs. Cockatoo lifts when she thinks he’s getting a little too carried away?
And what better words to sign off with?
Don’t be cruel,
The kindest Kelly
August 17, 2015 | My Jottings
Her name tag said Kelly. She was a ticket agent in a navy blue uniform with green trim, behind the Eastern Airlines counter in the Atlanta airport in 1979. I was 22 years old, a heartbroken and exhausted young mother with two tiny daughters in tow, eleven pieces of luggage to keep track of, and a bleak-looking future before me. But first, some details.
When my then-husband Glenn decided to end our marriage in Germany so he could be with another woman (who also needed to end her marriage), I just had to get home to Southern California. The Air Force required meetings and copious amounts of documentation to warrant their issuing airline tickets earlier than the planned three years we were all to be in Germany. By the time a few weeks had passed and the Base Commander gave the go-ahead, I was anxious to depart and to return someplace where we were wanted. I’m not sure my mother “wanted” us to move lock, stock and barrel into her quiet home for six months and nearly turn it upside down with sorrow and baby and toddler paraphernalia, but she was gracious to welcome us and let us stay for a time, so I could find a job and get on my emotional feet.
The Air Force travel agent (if there is such an animal) issued our tickets, and here was our itinerary: Frankfurt to McGuire AFB in New Jersey, a long flight filled to the brim with military personnel and their families. I’d been issued two tickets, so two year-old Sharon and I had seats, and eight month-old Carolyn was on my lap for the entire eight and a half hours. Thank God she was a nursing babe. We were not allowed to deplane in New Jersey, and the big jet then took us to Charleston AFB in South Carolina in about an hour and a half. Here our military transport ended and we had to find a way to get to the civilian airport in Charleston, with all our possessions. We had two bags for each of us (because we had to take everything we owned, aside from furniture, which would be shipped across the Atlantic in six weeks), a high chair, a diaper bag, my purse, and I can’t remember what else — I just know there were eleven pieces. I will never forget that. Can you imagine trying to travel with eleven pieces of baggage today? Impossible, and not even allowed. As I stood on the sidewalk at Charleston AFB with Carolyn on my hip and Sharon holding my hand, surrounded by our bags, a man approached me and asked if I needed to get to the civilian airport. He was driving a bus there and kindly loaded everything up and we were on our way. Once we reached the smallish airport in Charleston I knew we’d have a layover but I must have put it out of my mind since the first time I’d seen the tickets days before. The girls and I settled in to a row of connected airport chairs and my eyes probably bugged out of their dark shadowed sockets when I looked and saw that our layover was nearly six hours.
No place to go, no cribs for sleeping little girls, no real restaurant to speak of. And of course no cell phones in 1979.
I did my best, cheerfully reading to the girls, making a big deal out of snacks and water, taking frequent potty breaks and changing diapers, helping Sharon curl up in a chair to rest, and leaning back in mine so Carolyn could doze on my shoulder. My sweet little daughters were so good! They were tired, but were cooperative and easy to console. It makes me tear up just to think about it now.
When we finally boarded our next plane we were headed, not for Los Angeles which was my neck of the woods, but for Atlanta, because that’s the way the Air Force travel agent planned it for us. Because everyone knows the best route for a single woman with two little children and a bunch of baggage is Frankfurt>New Jersey>Charleston AFB>Charleston civilian airport>Atlanta, Georgia>Los Angeles, California. This flight was about an hour, I think.
In Atlanta we now had a four hour layover. And I remember thinking we had landed in the biggest airport in the world. The concourses seemed endless and the crowds were thick. Our ticket changed to Eastern Airlines (now defunct) and we got in a long line to check in and get our boarding passes. Again, this was before the days of online or kiosk check-ins.
By the time we neared our turn at the ticket counter, Sharon, Carolyn and I had been traveling for over nineteen hours. Sharon was almost sleeping on her feet as she shuffled along beside me, holding my hand. Carolyn was fitfully sleeping on my shoulder as I held her and my purse and the diaper bag, and who knows what else. When the attractive blond woman named Kelly called me forward and took my ticket, she must have seen the exhaustion in my face, and assessed my situation quickly. “How are you this evening, Julie?” This was going to be the red-eye flight from Atlanta to LAX, but until Kelly had greeted me I’d lost all sense of time. The compassion in her eyes and concern etched on her face was too much for me. I started to cry, and I told her right then and there that my husband had decided to take up with someone else and had sent us home from Europe. Kelly put down the paperwork, stilled her hands and looked straight into my eyes and said with quiet fierceness, “How. Dare. He.” I can’t even convey how much her words meant to me. She was outraged on my behalf and for my little girls, and what happened next I will never forget.
Kelly issued me FIVE seats on the flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, all across the center of an L1011. And I didn’t have to pay anything extra. I’d never been on such a big plane. Here’s an old picture so you can see the five seats at the center of the L1011.
Then she closed her side of the counter and let the other agents continue issuing boarding passes, and she led me and the girls to a comfortable bed in a private employees’ lounge, where she brought us blankets and pillows and encouraged us to get some sleep. Kelly assured me she would come get us in time to board the plane. So we slept in this blessed, quiet place for over three hours, and I thanked God for Kelly.
When Kelly came to wake us in time to board, she escorted us onto the plane before anyone else, like we were some kind of VIPs. Even the First Class flyers were still waiting to board. She gave us more blankets and pillows and I was able to sit in the middle of the five seats, and Sharon and Carolyn each had a bed made of two seats on either side of me. They both slept almost immediately.
As Kelly was about to go back to her job behind the Eastern Airlines ticket counter, she bent over toward me and wished me well on this flight and in my life. I couldn’t thank her enough.
I have told the story of my encounter with Kelly many times. Several people have speculated that she might have been an angel because of the ways she ministered to us, citing Hebrews 13:2, which says,
“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
I’m pretty sure Kelly wasn’t showing such love and kindness to me because she thought I was an angel. I wasn’t. And am not one still. But even though I wasn’t the one showing such love and care to her, I never completely discounted the fact that Kelly could have been divinely dispatched to come to my aid on that grueling trip. A ministering angel, perhaps. Or perhaps she was just a really wonderful woman who used the authority she had to soften my way.
Thirty-six years have passed, and I have prayed that God would bless Kelly for the way she took care of Sharon, Carolyn and me. If Kelly is still alive, she’s probably in her late sixties or early seventies by now. I hope someone is making sure she sleeps well and is gently covered at night. I hope there have been friends who’ve come along side her and expressed their outrage at any injustices Kelly has had to endure. And I pray that all the things she did for me during that short time, giving me five seats on the plane instead of two, finding a quiet place of rest for us, going out of her way to help and comfort us during such a terrible time, are multiplied back to her a thousand times.
I’ve known a handful of Kellys in my life, but the Kelly who worked for Eastern Airlines in Atlanta, Georgia was the kindest Kelly I’ve ever met.
Consider the lilies
August 10, 2015 | My Jottings
May God bless your day today….
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”
~~Jesus, the book of Luke, chapter 12.
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August 6, 2015 | My Jottings
Sharon and Chris’s youngest child just turned three years old. It boggles my mind how quickly time rushes by once you’re in the senior citizen demographic. Years seem like months and months seem like weeks and weeks seem like days. It really does seem like just a couple of months ago that Louisa had just a little bit of wispy blond hair and would come over on Fridays to visit Grandpa Michael and me.
Anyway, Sharon called a couple of days ago to tell me about a cute conversation she and Louiser had. Apparently Louiser wanted to play with her mama, and she said “Let’s play that I’m Grandma and you’re the little girl!” Sharon agreed, and Louisa began enthusiastically, “Wash your hands!” After Sharon pretended to wash her hands, Louisa then commanded, “Eat your pizza!” And Sharon took a bite of invisible pizza. Then Louisa directed, “Let’s take a tubby!” and I’m not sure how Sharon responded to that — maybe pretend-washed her face. And then Louisa bossed, “Now we read a book, sit down I read to you!” And her final words were “Ok, I love you!”
So my life is pretty accurately distilled into five important views:
1. Germs are bad.
2. Enjoy your food.
3. Germs are bad.
4. Books are wonderful.
5. Love is the way to go.
At least that’s what I think she was saying…