Monday, February 25, 2008

Comcast is Incompetent

Don't use Comcast if you can help it.

We moved and mistakenly thought we'd bought our modem four years before, so we took it with us. It was a mistake on our part.

Naturally, we got a bill saying we owed them $100 for nonreturned equipment.

I called to say, "I thought we owned our modem."

The first lady I talked to said, "You do. Just ignore the bill. We actually owe you $35. It's standard procedure. We always overbill when people disconnect."

Stupid standard procedure, but she assured me it was taken care of. So I tore up the bill and ignored it.

A month later we got another bill from them for the same reason. I called again and said, "We thought we bought our modem AND the last lady said this was taken care of." He did some research and said that we actually didn't buy our modem--our mistake, I admitted--but that two days after the bill was sent (but before we received it) the debt was discharged, so don't worry about it. It was all taken care of. Tear up the bill and they'd send us $35.

So I did.

Now today I received a bill from a collections agency for the same amount! Apparently the "discharged" was supposed to be "discharged to collections." Now, this would have been annoying because they did that before we even received the last bill. The fact that TWICE Comcasts own employees said to forget about it and tear up the bill is absolutely unforgiveable.


I called the collections agency and disputed the bill (we want to buy a house in a few months. We can't have that kind of black marks on our credit right now!). Then I called Comcast and said the mormon equivalent of "wtf!!!!!!!" (if you are mormon and don't know that phrase, don't ponder it too long, just go on with Becca almost swore at them).

The lady took my payment over the phone (since I acknowledge--we DID make a mistake), but first I had to convince her that I couldn't pay through collections. The last lady I talked to was really really nice. Really nice. She submitted a complaint for me.

But this whole situation is still UNFORGIVABLE. It should never have happened. What should have happened is they should have done the research on the first call, explained we made a mistake, and let us send back the equipment. That would have solved everything to everyone's satisfaction. I wouldn't have even yelled at them.

As it is--don't use comcast if you don't have to. (How they manage to be a true monopoly in some states has always bothered me, but that's okay....). If you do have to get your cable through them, at least buy vonage for your phone.....

A Couple of Recipe Successes

I have a recipe that makes some of the tastiest cookies ever, but it’s one of those “contributed by ____ to our school fundraiser cookbook” recipes, so you’re not going to find it easily in any standard cookbook. As with all recipes on my blog, I have modified it, but not as extensively as others, so I still feel like this is not my own recipe. Still, I suspect it will be lost if someone doesn’t preserve it somehow. I’ve done extensive searches online that indicate that only the wording of recipes is copyrightable, not the list of ingredients (nobody owns “3 eggs” because how else can you say it?). So here, paraphrased and slightly tweaked but with full attribution, is the recipe for “Great Grandma Lefler’s Icebox Cookies,” which apparently “men love.” We all love them, and the dough is the hardest to resist ever.

The original was contributed by PJ Holtzman, who donated a good many recipes to the book. It can be found on page 65 of “Reading, Writing and Recipes: A Collection From East Antioch Elementary”, published by Cookbook Publishers, Inc. from Lenexa, KS, in 1996, for the East Antioch PTA. It is one of the better “folk” recipe collections I’ve found, although it suffers still from amateur-cookbook-itis (says too much or too little, but not ever just enough).

½ c butter or margarine
¾ c shortening
1 c light brown sugar
1 c sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (my addition)
4 ½ c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Cream butter and shortening together. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Beat well. With the mixer stopped, add flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda, in that order (no need to sift!). Mix well. Press dough into an 8x8” pan. Cover and refrigerate at least overnight. When you are ready to use the dough, use a sharp knife to cut it into two 4x8” chunks. When you want cookies, cut off ¼ inch slices and bake them on an ungreased cookie sheet for 6-8 minutes at 400 degrees. You can also cut them into four 2” strips in you want square instead of rectangular cookies. They make good “cookie sticks” for dunking in milk.

The other neat cookbook experience we had came from “The First American Cookbook: a Facsimile of ‘American Cookery,’ 1796 by Amelia Simmons”, which Jon and Chastity gave me for Christmas.

This is the original recipe that caught my eye, quoted here in its entirety because it is in the public domain (or should be since it was first published well before 1920). You can download the entire book, minus the Dover notes and intro, here:

“A Bread Pudding. One pound soft bread or biscuit soaked in one quart milk, run thro’ a sieve or cullender, add 7 eggs, three quarters of a pound sugar, one quarter of a pound butter, nutmeg or cinnamon, one gill rosewater, one pound stoned raisins, half pint cream, bake three quarters of an hour, middling oven.”

Here is what I did:

A 22 oz of sandwich bread has about 22 slices, so I took 16 slices of white bread (I realized after the fact that Amelia Simmons wouldn’t use her white flour, if she had any, for this, but it worked well for me). I tore the slices into pieces and poured 4 cups of milk over it. I stirred it, covered it, and let it sit (at room temperature, but I should have put it in the fridge I guess—but Amelia couldn’t have, and I was trying to make her recipe) for an hour or two.

Then I worked it through a sieve. This was extremely tedious, but it eventually came out a nice light brown thick liquid. It had a unique texture that I couldn’t have achieved by blending it in the blender, or any other way I can think of, so this was a useful step. It also definitely set this apart from modern bread puddings, which I’m not very fond of.

I added the 7 eggs.

Then I had to go to the internet to find out how many cups of sugar are in a pound, and discovered there is no exact consensus, but everyone’s estimates hover around “a heaping 2 cups”. So I put in 2 level cups of sugar and assumed that was about ¾ lb. One quarter of a pound of butter is one stick, so I put in one stick of margarine, which wouldn’t blend up nicely. So I fished it out with some of the mixture and heated it in the microwave until the butter melted. I stirred this all together and put it back into the whole.

At this point I realized my bowl was too small, but I was careful and worked through the rest. I put in a dash of nutmeg and about a tsp of cinnamon, and then I skipped the rosewater. I didn’t want to deal with it! But I did stir in about a half a pound of raisins (about a cup, I guessed), and I didn’t have cream so I put in a cup of whole milk. Normally in this kind of recipe I use evaporated milk as a cream replacement, but I didn’t have that either. So milk it was.

Then I greased a 3 qt casserole (a really big one) and poured the liquid in. The raisins sank to the bottom. Oops. I should have soaked them in boiling water overnight (or at least long enough to plump them) so they would float in the batter. Stoned raisins would have been flayed, more or less, so they wouldn’t have sunk like regular seedless raisins.

I am familiar with the phrases “quick oven” (really hot, like 450-500 degrees) and “slow oven” (most of the heat has escaped and it’s closer to 250-300 degrees), so I guess a middling oven was 350 degrees.

The pudding wasn’t done after 45 minutes. It was brown, but jiggly and liquid in the middle. I have since discovered that the oven here cooks hot (a LOT hot, like 50 degrees off), so I kept cooking the thing until the middle was set like a pumpkin pie, but then the bottom (with all the raisins on it) was on the edge of burning. It took over an hour. I should have cooked it undisturbed at 350 (probably 300 on my oven) for 1 ½ hours, checking after 1 hour and then every 10-15 minutes after.

It came out incredibly tasty. Unbelievably yummy. It had the consistency and texture of pumpkin pie, but was much much tastier. It actually got eaten. By everyone in the family.

So that was a success.

And an adventure.

Cooking is fun.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

House Hunting in Vegas

Nobody here has ever heard of the neighborhood we want to move into, even though it was built in the 1960s.

I find that bizarre. It is so "unheard of" that they didn't even put it on the maps in the phone book. Some of the streets aren't paved yet. And it's only a couple of miles from the strip! Far closer than we are now.

This had me puzzled for a long time, until I realized that the neighborhood and ward we live in value conformity as an end in itself.

This is a foreign concept to me. Completely. In Colorado, a singer/composer being married to a writer was seen as odd, but "how nice that they are living their dreams". Here people treat us like we're from another planet! The only thing that saves the situation ever is that Tim works for a prestigious producer in an established theater on the Strip.

The conflict seems to stem from the conformity issue. People here value it. We've always seen it as sometimes necessary, but never to be done willy-nilly. I realize that conformity is necessary for society to function, and for people to have a sense of whether or not they are mentally healthy. There certainly is value in being "normal" (and I have cried for not being "normal" many times). On the other hand, the world can't be happy filled with accountants and salesmen (seem to be standard kinds of jobs here, much the same way being a computer programmer was the norm in Colorado). Who would write the music? Who would dance the dances and tell the stories and paint the pictures and create the movies?

People here LOVE master-planned communities. We have always considered them foul. Now we live in one, and it is very difficult to want to come home at night. I actually feel more comfortable back stage and in the back hallways of the theaters than in my own neighborhood!

One of the things that bugs me about the community is that it is a tangible expression of the value people place in appearance over quality. The ladies who have come over thought my "brick" kitchen was great. It bothers me, even though I've always been charmed by brick kitchens, because in this house it is actually still cheap drywall with 1/4 inch slices of brick glued on. And in a pattern that, if it were real brick, would be structurally unsound in places. Part of the charm of a brick kitchen is the sheen and variation 100-year-old bricks get from the oils that are used in the kitchen. Antiques and country home enthusiasts capitalize on this by shellacking the bricks so they take on that red brick glow. These "bricks" aren't even the right color of red, and, to give the wall "variation" that is inherent in old bricks, they put white marks in some of them, which in real bricks would make them prone to crumbling. Or come from scuff marks from years of use (and therefore never show up near the ceiling). The fact that the master bathroom is larger than the kitchen is very tangible evidence of the value people place on appearance here.

I had no idea that low quality really bugs me. But it does.

Another thing that bugs me (and this shows my Boulder-ness) is the lack of energy efficiency in these homes. As I see it, this it the situation: People think new is better than good. Hands down. Every time. In fact, new is better than old all together forever and ever. So the builders figured this out and they want to make money. So they take one acre and carve it into MORE THAN TEN lots (serious). But most people can't live in 600 square feet of space, so they build two stories. With a tiny lot and tiny floors in the house that are an arm's length from the next house, they have to do something to hide the fact that people are buying into a stand-alone condo, so they build the two-story homes as tall as 3-story homes and give the floors high ceilings to give the illusion that you are living in a lot of space. It's volume, though, not useful space. And volume is NOT ENERGY EFFICIENT. Vegas is an extreme climate zone. You actually physically can't live here without using energy to make it livable. Not comfortable. I'm talking purely physically survivable. So people have two air conditioners and two furnaces in their homes. The homes, to fill the need to appear wealthy, have huge windows ( it goes!). They have steeply pitched roofs with colors chosen for cosmetic appeal rather than efficiency. They are so close to each other they reflect heat and hold it between them, never releasing it to the cool night sky like deserts are wont to do. The walls are thin (cheaper!). And with all these houses crammed close together in a city of millions, I have seen ONE house with solar panels on the roof.


They should ALL have solar panels. Who are we kidding? A dozen or so have black piping on the roofs, which I assume is solar-heated water. That's good. They ALL should have that. In fact, the entire empty desert land surrounding the city should be frosted with solar panels. There's enough sunlight here to power the city and then sell to neighboring states.

But it doesn't matter to people here because those things (along with the foot-thick adobe walls people used to have in the desert for a reason) are ugly, so they just use more non-renewable energy.

They don't even plant trees (in the name of conservation of water, I think). There are desert trees that do well here. I'll stop short of saying "native" but there are desert evergreens, and mesquite, and all kinds of desert trees, actually, that they put into the cactus garden in the city, but not in their front yards. These houses should be completely surrounded by shade producers, preferably deciduous ones (like mesquite trees) so that they get the natural heat in the winter, when it does get cold enough to be noticeable (35-45 degrees some days), but not in the summer when it could be deadly.

I'm not even sure the houses have those argon-filled sun-proof double paned windows. They should. Or huge overhanging roofs or some other form of built-in sun shades to keep direct sunlight out of the windows and off the walls.

They don't even have ceiling fans in all the rooms. How hard is that? (Pretty hard, I guess, since they didn't bother to put overhead lights in all the rooms. Whoever puts lamps in a kids' bedroom?!) There certainly is an abundance of light switches (and they are inconsistent. It's driving me crazy that the bathroom light is sometimes on the right of the fan switch and sometimes on the left, depending on the bathroom, so I always get the wrong one!)

It's driving me crazy.

So when we try to express to people that we are looking to move--soon--they are baffled. How on earth could we want to leave the most prestigious neighborhood in the city (second to summerlin) to live in Enterprise (and where is that anyway?). They just can't comprehend that prestige doesn't matter a spit to me, at least when it comes to housing. (I wouldn't mind having a prestigious performing award for Tim, or writing award for me, but that's not for bragging rights. That's because those kinds of awards guarantee future employment, and that IS important). What matters to me is that my neighbors aren't watching me.

And that my kids have space to play (and not the "huge" 6000 square foot lots they have here--I want closer to 10,000 square feet! Or even 40,000--that's an acre). I thought grass mattered, but I discovered here that the kids don't want to play on the grass. They want to dig it up. A big dirt lot would be perfect for them--it's one giant sandbox/off-road bike trail/construction zone/ mudhole/ creative space to them. The kids won't play outside here because there is nothing to do on all that beautiful grass that mom won't let them water soggy and dance on. There is a reason, I see now, that kids always went to the vacant lot next door to play.

What we've discovered is that houses built before central air got to be all the rage (say, the 1960s and 70s houses) _are_ built better. Higher quality. Not so cookie cutter. And with comfort and efficiency in mind. They have bigger lots (up to almost an acre in some areas of Enterprise) so the houses aren't sharing each other's heat. They are one story buildings, which are far more suited to the area (no basements, either, because the ground is so hard the rain just pools--and floods basements). The roofs are pitched (to avoid that flat-roof suncatcher problem we had in Longmont), but just barely. That way there's enough attic to catch the worst of the summer sun, but not enough to hold it forever. There are large overhangs on the roofs in front (forming walkways with arches) and in back (forming large patio areas). The large lots are not desert landscaped (which is not natural, just not water-consuming). They are NATURAL--that means just plain old dirt, thank-you very much. The houses are white or cream colored, with light-colored roofing. There are mature trees around the houses.

And, call me crazy, I want one of those.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Hair is Sold

Finally, after many months, the hair is gone. I sold it finally for $1000 to a lady in New Jersey who said it was "beautiful" when she got it.

It was a long road. Several men just wanted more and more pictures but wouldn't close the deal. One bought someone else's hair instead. One I found actively participating in hair fetish sites ("where is your hair now?" "In my lap." "Is it braided?" "No.") so I never got back to him.

So I went with half the original accepted offer, but to someone who just wanted the hair, who buys a lot, and who has a salon.

Hooray! It's gone.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


You know what I hate about Rice Krispies? Chasing the last few out of the pool of milk in the bottom of the bowl.

You know what I hate about realtor websites? They sometimes list houses for cheap that aren't even for sale just to draw business.

You know what I hate about nursing? Thrush. That develops into a seeping open infected wound with red streaks.
You know what I also hate about nursing? When the baby bites hard enough to draw blood in multiple spots--on the other side (the one without the thrush infection). Don't worry, though. Just a moment's thought led me to lots of antibiotic ointment, a prayer, and giving up nursing on that side, at least for a day or two (and forever if I dry up). And now the red streaks are gone and the wound is closing up and hooray for antibiotic ointment! Too bad it's poisonous, so I can't nurse until I'm SURE it's gone.

The stuff moms go through....

So I'm trying to rearrange my house to make it possible to clean. Right now it's not even possible. I am putting all the still-packed and sort-of-still-packed boxes into a big pile in the living room. The couch and end tables can stay in there. And the dining table is going in there, too. Then the toys won't get lost and stuck under it, where they catch the food the baby drops and make a horrid unsanitary mess, which the baby loves because it's like a pantry he can reach (dried cookie half, anyone?), but which I detest.

Meanwhile, I'm house hunting still. Probably can't buy a house, but that's where I prefer looking while I dream. Come April, though, I'm hoping to find a different rental that is less fancy (so nobody cares if we spill red kool-aid) and more livable. This place is really a glorified condo, complete with lack of privacy and lack of places to put stuff. Living here is like trying to cram a family of six into a four-man tent for a week. Seems like it should be possible because four of the men we have are very small, but somehow it doesn't work anyway.

The only thing that IS working is the stuff we jury-rigged--the clothes room, which we made out of a long table and four bookshelves, some of them back-to-back to form a wall. It replaced the dining room, which is why I can't find a place for the dining table. But I am actually getting the clothes folded and put away on a regular basis. I have come to the firm conclusion that keeping clothes anywhere except in the room with the washer and dryer (and preferably bath and shower, too) is like keeping your dishes in a closet upstairs even though the sink, dishwasher, and food are downstairs.

I still can't find the bowls and spoons, but we finally found most of the cups. I found both my wedding dress and my mothers, and all the kids' winter boots. But I can't find the wedding ring I need to return to my mom, and I can't find my knives. I did finally find the nightlights. Still don't know where my scriptures are, though. Hmmmm.

This is why I've decided to unpack and repack every single box. Okay, maybe just open them all and look inside. They were packed well in the first place, just not by me, so I can't for the life of me remember what size and shape of box the knives are in.

And all of this while the Grand Opening of the show is coming (with a positive review sneaking out early already!), kids are settling in to home schooling (finally--I had to take the nintendo controllers away each day until they do their lessons online), and I'm suffering from Writer's Block. I know where I need the story to go. I'm just struggling to get it there. Not for lack of ideas. I don't know why I'm stuck unless I messed up some previous detail somehow.