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:

Dear customer,

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.

Best Regards,

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.

Dear customer,

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.

Dear customer,

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.”

Dear customer,

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:

Dear customer,

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

Best Regards

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.

Thank you,

Julie B.


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.

I hope we see some whales on this cruise to Alaska. Something like this would be excellent.

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. 34267_800 (1)

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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Kidquips 14

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. LouphotoIt 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…

I bought a bird.

August 1, 2015 | My Jottings

Our family had several pet birds during the years our girls were growing up. First we had Rosie the yellow cockatiel. Her last name was Shackadorum and she was hand-fed, so was quite tame and loved to sit on our hands and shoulders. She breeped when we came in the back door and each time the toilet was flushed.

We thought Rosie would like a boyfriend so we bought another hand-fed cockatiel, a grey guy we named Chester Pondaleeky. Chester was mean and domineering to easy-going, cheerful Rosie, and one morning we came downstairs and found her cowering in the bottom of their cage, her wing bloodied. We gave Chester the Molester to a couple right away, who promised to never put him in a cage with another bird.

Then we tried again with a meeker male, another grey cockatiel we named Walter Whomperwhacker. Walter and Rosie liked each other enough to need a clutch box, and over the next couple of years she laid several eggs, three of which had baby cockatiels in them. Rosie and Walter were very intrigued by their newly hatched and helpless offspring, but didn’t know how to feed them, so the poor little ones never survived. Then Walter turned into an angry bird and took his frustrations out on Rosie, and we gave him away too. Rosie lived in cockatiel peace for a good long time, and we were truly sad when we found her dead at the bottom of her cage one winter morning.

Next we acquired a canary with a bad toupee. I think these kinds of canaries are called Gloster Canaries, and you can see what I mean by a toupee here. She first belonged to our friend Carl, but she didn’t thrive in his house because he had over a dozen cats who paced the floor beneath her cage and plotted her feather-exploding death. It was perhaps no puzzle why Carl’s canary began to lose her little yellow feathers, one by one, until she looked like the most pathetic miniature plucked chicken, all pink flesh with an occasional pin feather here and there. Except for her head, where she had retained an odd cap of dark brown feathers I always said looked like a tiny fountain. Carl gave his canary to us and we named her Harriet the Canary with the Bad Toupee. As soon as Harriet came to our cat-less home, her yellow feathers grew back and she was a sweet, trilling pet for a few years.

Here are a couple of drawings my talented son-in-law Jeremy drew of Carl and some of his cats, considering what to do about Harriet, and one of Carolyn and our old Schnauzer Winnie, peering at Harriet once she came to our house.

drawing of Carl

Harriet, Carolyn, Winnie

Then life happened. And dogs were what we could handle. I didn’t want to clean cages and vacuum bird dander anymore, so when Harriet flew to canary heaven I decided to take a bird break.

But now that break is over, and we have a new little parakeet. I’ve never had a parakeet before. She’s quite young, and the way you can tell is that the rows of stripes (or bars) in her head feathers come almost all the way down to her beak. As she grows, these stripes will fade. Here’s a photo of a young parakeet with the stripes, and a mature parakeet who has lost his stripes.

phoebephotoHere’s Phoebe in her cage in our dining room. She is being very quiet, but will squawk once in a while when she hears me turn on the kitchen faucet.

I’ve been relieved to see her eating her seed, and I hope she’ll take a bit of the apple slice I’ve affixed to the side of her cage. I haven’t seen her drinking from her water container yet and that concerns me a little. I hope she’s sipping when I’m not around.

I hope to hand tame her a bit so she’ll enjoy sitting on my shoulder and having her head stroked. But I’ll have to shut Edith and Mildred the Schnauzers away in another room when I try. One doggy chomp could bring about a very sad ending. I’m feeling stirrings of affection for little Phoebe already so don’t think I could bear that.

Michael taught me to love birds. He had a way with animals, and birds were always sidling up to him and were never afraid of him.

How about you? Have you ever had a pet bird? If so, what kind, and what was its name?