can never have enough moms…

My daughter recently traveled to Germany for a job audition. While she wasn’t hired, the experience was more exciting than she had imagined it would be.IMG_0056

Her first trip alone to Europe came with a little anxiety…on my part, not my daughter’s. She’s crisscrossed this country more times than I can remember during the eleven years she’s lived on her own. Not only does she dance professionally, it seems she’s become a career traveler as well.

As a Valentine’s Day gift I decided to invest in the services of a tour guide for my daughter. Upon the recommendation of travel guru Rick Steves, I emailed Doris Ritter.

Being a mom herself, Doris graciously accommodated me and my endless questions. Most of them to do with whether or not American credit cards were accepted in German ATM machines.

A couple of weeks before my daughter’s trip, my husband suggested we get her traveler’s checks. “Traveler’s checks?” I asked. “Are they still being used?” And “Who sells them these days?” Without batting an eyelid, he replied that, of course, travelers checks were still sold and used. Not easily satisfied with his mater-of-fact response, I continued badgering him about the existence of traveler’s checks. Without any evidence to the contrary, I decided I’d better call in the “big guns”…AAA Travel Services.

Upon calling the local AAA office, the nice, young woman informed me that they’d not been selling traveler’s checks for some time. She went on to say that they substituted a travel card which our daughter could use like a debit card. The benefit of using this and not her bank card was that in the event she lost the travel card, her bank accounts would not be compromised. The thief would only be able to access the money we put on the card. There was a nominal fee of $4 for the first card, and another $1 for a second card. In case she lost the first, our daughter could still withdraw funds after reporting the first one stolen.

You might be asking “What’s the concern with using American credit cards abroad?”

It seems European credit cards no longer have magnetic strips; instead they have chips. Because of that our cards cannot be used in their machines. So if a train station is only equipped with machines, you might not be able to purchase a ticket. And you could only get cash from a bank, not an ATM machine. Our concern was that our daughter would be in a bind if she had an emergency and required more euros than was wise for her to carry on her person.

These are things only mothers worry about. Or is it just me? 

As it turned out, Doris Ritter cared for my daughter as though she were family. Or at the very least, a good girlfriend. Either way, I was delighted they enjoyed one another’s company, in addition to which my daughter got an insider’s view of Nuremberg where she spent a few days. From there she took a train to Augsburg and visited a friend with whom she had danced in the U.S years before.

Doris and I have exchanged emails since my daughter returned home. Having children in common makes moms the world over friends, even sisters. We all have one wish in common…the desire that our children be happy and safe. 

Hugs, Doris…for nurturing my daughter’s love of Germany, and her desire to explore other countries…

…and for putting this mom’s anxieties to rest…

………hugmamma.DSCN0648_Kopie (1)

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a little of this…a little of that…

Haven’t shared trivia with you in sometime. Thought you might be interested in the following regurgitated facts from experts in the field.

…from www.fsis.usda.gov: I was surprised to learn that what I thought would cause food poisoning insofar as perishable items are concerned, was incorrect. Mayonnaise may not be the culprit, but protein sources might. 

best egg salad sandwich ever, flying star, Alb...

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Can mayonnaise in egg salad make you sick when it’s warm out? Karen ( the virtual food safety rep) says people often think mayo is the cause of foodborne illness from chilled foods such as chicken, tuna and egg salad or on deli-styled sandwiches. But since mayonnaise is made with acid (vinegar or lemon juice), it tends to prevent bacterial growth. Usually it’s the meat, poultry, fish or eggs in a sandwich left unrefrigerated for more than two hours that becomes the medium for bacteria to grow.

What about leftover fried chicken? According to Karen, food left out of the fridge for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. At temperatures above 90 F, food shouldn’t be left out for more than an hour. If you have any doubts, throw it out.

When you’ll be in the great outdoors and a cooler chest isn’t an option, Karen suggests packing such items as fruits, vegetables, hard cheeses, dried meats, dried cereal, bread, peanut butter, crackers and bottled drinks. 

…from Jackie Keller (nutrition expert/licensed and certified wellness coach: Debunks popular myths.

My Weight Loss Coach

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Myth: Detox diets jump-start weight loss. I advise against detox diets, as they can cause the body to go into starvation mode and slow down the metabolism. If you want to cleanse your body, eliminate bad-for-you, processed foods and replace them with nutrient-dense foods.

Myth: Cutting carbs will help the pounds come off. The weight loss that low-carb dieters achieve in the first two weeks of carbohhydrate deprivation is measurable and not surprising. Carb-cutting will cause the body to shed water weight, as carbohydrates are stored in the body with water. That water weight will come right back on, and such a yo-yo weight loss is counterproductive and bad for overall metabolism.

Myth: Fat is the enemy. Research shows that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats–which are found in foods such as fish, olive oil, avocados and walnuts–can actually improve levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce the risk of heart disease. These healthy fats can aid in weight loss and even delay hunger pangs when consumed in appropriate amounts.

…from David Horowitz (leading consumer advocate) @ www.fightback.com: Warns against scams. In my February 27, 2011 post, “ever have one of those years…?” I talked about the first one. So trust me! It can happen to you.

McAfee
Image by biggraham via Flickr

A message flashes on your computer screen: “Warning! Your system requires immediate anti-virus scan.” A free scan is offered. What do you do?
This incredibly common scam is almost guaranteed to occur as you use your PC. Upon first look, it would appear that clicking “No thanks” would be the right solution. Wrong. Clicking anywhere in the on-screen alert can open the program further or direct you to a website you have no interest in going to. Worse, clicking anywhere in the on-screen alert can instantly infect your computer with a virus that can be difficult or even impossible to remove. (It cost me $199 to have Tech Pros remove it.)

The solution is to hold down the Control and Alt keys and hit “Delete.” Once the application tab pops up, select “End Task,” then do a full scan of your computer with the anti-virus software you already have. (That’s exactly what the expert at Tech Pros told me…after I paid the $199.)

You are in financial trouble, and as a result your credit is suffering. You have been approached by a variety of services offering to repair your credit. What do you do?
Although many companies offer to repair damaged credit, it can be difficult to tell which are legitimate. The most common scam involves a company advising you to stop paying your creditors and deposit money into a special account instead. In reality, the debt-settlement company withdraws fees from your account for “services,” long before it negotiates with your creditors, if it negotiates at all.

If these companies send you an unsolicited email or advertise on the radio touting a stellar track record, it may be a scam. Stick with a legitimate nonprofit counseling outlet with an established track record, and always try to negotiate directly with your creditors first.

Ebay Explained 2006 (KLCC)

Image by liewcf via Flickr

You have made an online purchase and the item never arrives, or the item is not what you thought you were buying. What do you do? 
If you made the purchase from a reliable company, review the return policy and keep all receipts once you ship the items back. …However, if you made the purchase through a third-party entity on a website such as craigslist or eBay, the solution can be  bit more complicated.

Eiko's credit card

Image by eikootje via Flickr

Look for telltale signs of a scam before charging your credit card. For example, buying tickets can be risky, as scammers often change one digit in the theater address or the ticket number, tricking you into buying tickets you think are real, only to be told they are fake once you try to enter an event.

Beware of merchants who provide you with only a cellphone number; they do this because cellphones can’t always be tracked. Look out for sellers who ask you to wire money, retail websites that don’t list an address or a phone number, and companies that don’t have much of a presence or any reviews online. These likely are scams.

…more than enough…to contemplate…hugmamma.

redeeming air miles, “tricky” business

Pan Am Boeing 747SP at LHR

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News about airlines always grabs my attention because both my husband and I are former airline employees. He had worked for Pan Am; I had worked for Iran Air, and then TWA. Probably because we were always opposite the table from management, and are now paying passengers, I’m always sensitive to air carriers trying to “pull the wool over our eyes.” So the Wall Street Journal article “What Airlines Are Hawking” had me wondering “what now?”

We accumulate air miles with a couple of different airlines. We don’t really work at it like a science, knowing how restrictive their use can sometimes be. But we do redeem them from time to time. As a result of what I’ve just read I will, however, start looking at air miles differently. Evidently passengers can redeem them for more than a free trip these days. How about “Plastic surgery, big-screen TVs, IPods, lawn tractors, diamond necklaces, VIP passes to sporting events, casino gaming chips, dinner with the New York Yankees and designer handbags.” And, it seems, the inventory continues to grow. But there’s a catch.

Triple AmEx Bonus Round!

Aha! Didn’t I warn you that the airlines might be up to their usual trickery? What a passenger’s air miles are worth depends upon his or her ranking by the air carrier. How’s that you say? “Airlines charge customers radically different prices, depending on their status and credit card.”

David Yu, who travels so much he has platinum status in Delta Air Line’s frequent-flier program figured he’d be the one to get the best prices. Using miles, he’s bought a computer printer for his college-age daughter, a handbag for his wife and TV speakers for himself.

“I’ve got miles to burn so I consider it free,” he said.

But when he told a co-worker he was thinking of spending 42,600 miles on the Bose headphones, she said she had just purchased the same product from Delta for 34,100 miles. They compared offerings on side-by-side computers, each logging in with their Delta frequent-flier number. Her price was 20% lower than Mr. Yu’s, even though she’s not an elite-level frequent flier with Delta and has fewer miles in her account.

United Airlines Boeing 777 N775UA @ Paris CDG ...

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So what’s up? According to Delta, merchandise pricing isn’t based upon a customer’s accrued miles or past buying history. While Yu received a sizeable discount off the regular price, 68,100, of the BOSE headphones, his co-worker got an even bigger discount because she has a Delta American Express gold card. Yu doesn’t. Furthermore a passenger who is a diamond-level frequent-flier and holds a fancy Amex Skymiles card “can get triple the buying power out of each mile than a regular frequent-flier without the co-branded credit card,” according to Jeff Robertson, Delta’s VP who oversees the Sky-Miles Program. United Airlines Mileage Plus managing director, Krishnan Saranathan adds “The more valuable the program member, the better the redemption rate.”

Primary lures for the frequent-flier programs remain free airline tickets and hotel rooms. But with air carriers selling more miles to partners like credit card companies, it makes good financial sense to encourage passengers to redeem miles for “merchandise which gobbles up miles without opening up more airline seats or hotel rooms for award.” Delta now offers 6,000 items and in excess of 30 different gift cards. When air fares are low, redeeming miles for merchandise, mostly travel-related, is popular. When air fares rise, it’s more attractive to redeem miles for air tickets.

American Airlines MD-80 flight 577.

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There’s been renewed fervor in frequent-flier miles since airline offerings have stepped “outside the box.” For example, Delta “is auctioning a spring training package that includes dinner with New York Yankee manager Joe Girardi and pitcher Joba Chamberlain, and a trip to China to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.” Last year American Airlines “sold three packages to the Kentucky Derby, including passes to special clubs and invitation-only dinners, for a total of 1.6 million miles.” For Paul Terrault, owner of a metals-trading company, who’s on the road more than 100 nights a year,

Winning an auction for 290,000 Hilton HHonors points–a trip with VIP perks to a Formula One race in Montreal with his son in June–hooked him on the program.

“No one gets access like that,” he said of getting into the hospitality suite and Hilton-sponsored garage. “I’m a jeans, gym shoes and Harley T-shirt guy, and they treat you like a million bucks.”

When another Formula One trip, to Brazil, went up for auction, Mr. Terrault grabbed that, too, for 420,000 points.

Hilton Hotel in Manchester taken in October 2009

Image via Wikipedia

But there’s a caveat to all this. Buyer beware! While some of the merchandise up for redemption are true values, others aren’t. United Airlines offers a 10-inch Sony digital picture frame for 25,000 miles. The same frame can be had, with memory card, almost anywhere for $150. Instead those same miles could be exchanged for a discounted round-trip domestic ticket on UAL worth a minimum of $300, or even twice that amount.

Beat the airlines at their own game, and…

there’s probably a seat for you on the stock exchange…hugmamma.

“sprinkling snow” and comcast

Have you noticed “snow” falling in my posts? WordPress.com’s wizardry never ceases to amaze me. Bloggers were invited to “allow snow,” and WOOSH!!! little white dots slowly descended, like sprinkles from atop a cupcake or ice cream cone. With “sprinkles falling,” December is officially here, with Christmas just around the corner.

Following that pleasant surprise, I got another. I just concluded a phone conversation with Amanda from Comcast. Having revealed my ongoing frustrations with our internet connection in a previous post, I received an unexpected “comment” from Mark at Comcast. You can read it at the bottom of the post. I decided to bypass picking up the phone, and pressing buttons to tell my problem to an automated voice, or a real one, and email Mark as he offered. Not too long after, the phone rang.

Company rep Amanda informed me that upon researching my Comcast connection, there did seem to be an issue. At no cost to me, their service person will come by to check things out. Hallelujah, for fabulous customer service! I knew if I waited long enough, the good old days of companies caring about customers would return. I don’t think Comcast has ever made me feel like I was a bother, although I don’t remember if I’ve ever spoken with them before. My husband may have had the pleasure.

As far as I’m concerned, Comcast should “bottle” their well-trained personnel, and share them with other service-oriented companies who could use some pointers. I dread having to speak with most of them, for fear that my blood pressure will boil over, or because I end up talking to myself like a “loonie” when I get off the phone. I’ve often felt like the rep thought I concocted the problem just to aggravate him. He vacillates between defensive and offensive, leaving me no choice but to do the same. Very little is accomplished, except that I continue working my way “up the ladder,” until management is involved. On a few occasions, I’ve gone as far as the president’s office. I even called the owner of Culligan’s Water at his home, because of missed deliveries.

Among companies I’ve “blacklisted” are Citibank for upping my interest rate to 23 % without my prior knowledge, and for a reason that had nothing to do with my charge account. I think it had to do with a late payment with someonelse, which I’d squared away, but which made no difference to Citibank. With the economic downturn, they canceled my card, which I hadn’t used in years anyway. Anytime I hear their name or receive an application for a credit card, I cringe, the smile on my face quickly turning into a frown.Funny thing is, when I worked in Manhattan, I often ate lunch at one of the cafes in Citicorp’s building on Lexington Ave. That was probably 25 years ago, and as far as I’m concerned Citibank is history.

I’m hoping when Comcast fixes my internet connection problem, it’ll stay fixed. But that’s not real life. In case issues crop up in the future, I hope the company will be as accommodating as they were in my current dilemma. I don’t mind complications, once-in-awhile; glitches happen. If the person on the other end is patient with me, then I can be patience personified. And Amanda from Comcast got what she gave, a completely cooperative customer, me. I can’t forget to thank Mark, who got the “snowball” rolling.

for fixing my problem, comcast, and tweaking my post with “snow,” wordpress.com…huge hugs…hugmamma.

buyer beware, “best buy”

Wanted to share some valuable information about retailer BEST BUY. Perhaps you are already aware of their return/refund/restocking policy, but in case you aren’t, perhaps you’d be as surprised as I was to learn what it is.

At most other retailers, like Wal-Mart, Sears and Target, when you return an item with the receipt, you will get a refund, cash if that’s how you originally paid, or credit if you made the purchase with a credit card. Unlike these stores, Best Buy’s return policy boggles the mind. The following anecdotal story demonstrates just how bizarre it really is.

A customer bought a GPS for his car, a Tom Tom XL.S. Returns must be made within 14 days of purchase, so the gentleman was well within the time limits when he returned the GPS after 4 days. He painstakingly repackaged the product exactly as it had been upon purchase, presenting it to the “Returns” desk with his receipt. The customer explained that he wasn’t satisfied with the item because it was unable to locate store names. Unbeknownst to the man, the clerk informed him that he would have to pay a 15% restocking fee, or $45. Querying her further, he asked if he’d returned a $2,000 computer, would he be expected to pay a $300 restocking fee. The woman replied in the affirmative. The customer agreed to pay the fee, asking that she deduct it from his refund. But, he was informed, because the amount exceeded $200, the clerk was unable to return his money. Instead he would receive a check in the mail from Best Buy’s corporate offices within 7 to 10 days. Evidently this information was printed on the back of the receipt. (Who wants to wait to be informed of such details until a purchase has already been made? Wouldn’t being informed ahead of time make more sense? Hmmm.)

Explaining the situation to a manager, the customer confirmed that no one had explained the return policy before he made the purchase. In reply, the manager suggested the gentleman contact Corporate. Their response was to offer a $45 gift card to be used at Best Buy. Suffice it to say, the customer metaphorically told Corporate, “You know what you can do with the your card!” My words not his. His retort was that “they could keep their gift card.” But he did give them a “piece of his mind.”

long story short, best not buy from “best buy”…hugmamma.