Saturday, February 13, 2010

Patience is hard

vivid cowl button detailBack in my early days of blogging I was pretty quick to rush to the keyboard and report whenever a company had pissed me off. When I moved over to Blogger, I decided that I'd be a little more patient and hold back when it came to reporting my frustrations. Now, I still get annoyed and do my bit by "voting with my wallet;" I'm just a little more restrained when it comes to what I'll share. Oh, the stories you have all missed! (Pic is because there has to be a pic, right? Also, the buttons on the cowl are from the store I'm about to rant about, from a previous trip.)

I think of myself as a fairly easy-going, responsible consumer. But I won't beg a store to take my money, and I will reward poor customer service with my one-woman boycott for months (or years, in the case of Target, and that ain't easy!). On the flip-side, good customer service will gain a store/company/chain repeat business. (Oh, JetPens, I am SO coming back and ordering more!)

The economy in Michigan is not good right now. Stores are closing left and right, there are near-empty malls & shopping centers everywhere. Many people have less money to spend. So why on earth would a store allow their employees to turn customers away? Especially when they have a competitor in the same shopping center!?

One sacrifice we made when moving to the country is the lack of local shopping. The only grocery store nearby is scary, so we have to drive several more miles to a Meijer. It takes John over 3 hours to do the grocery shopping at 2 stores (1 fruit & veggie market, plus Meijer or Walmart). There are no book stores, no yarn stores. There aren't even any craft stores. It's inconvenient, sure, but we traded for space. And more quiet. I was pretty excited to realize that I could get off a couple exits early on one route home from work and, just a few miles out of the way, I could stop at a JoAnn Fabrics, sort of on the way home. (It's not LYS, but I'll take what I can get!)

I'm not a "customer is always right" kind of person. I don't make unreasonable demands. What I do want is to be able to pick out my items, pay and leave. Imagine my surprise when I got to the register the second time I stopped in at that store and as the cashier started ringing me up, she was interrupted by a senior staff member and sent to another part of the store to help another customer. I was left standing at the register with a pile of greeting cards, yarn and other crafty "necessities."

Help a customer? What was I?

I know some people would have picked up all their stuff, and gotten back in line or even demanded that the woman who sent the cashier away ring them up. But that's not how I roll. I don't beg people to take my money. So what was I? Not a customer anymore, that's for damn sure.

What cracks me up is that there is a Hobby Lobby just a few doors down from that JoAnn! Must be nice that they're doing so well they can send people away. (I'm not a huge fan of HL, because of the music playing, but I can tune it out well enough to grab what I need and get out.)

That all happened a couple of weeks ago. Two weeks ago yesterday, to be exact. Two weeks ago today, I fired off a letter to corporate and haven't heard "boo." (I win the bet I made with myself.) I decided to wait and see if they responded before I blogged about it (I immediately posted to Facebook, naturally). Of course I haven't been back to that JoAnn. Well, not any JoAnn, but I'm not going to say I'm never going back to any store in the chain. That one, though? Nope. And since it's the only convenient one for me to go to, that does mean they'll lose a good portion of my disposable crafty income.

I bought what I needed at the drugstore, Walmart (yes, Walmart. This is the country) and Hobby Lobby, or went without.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Good Auntie: Candy-Dipped Pretzels

pretzels packedI'm trying something new this year. Now that we're living out in the country, we don't see my family very often - mostly birthdays and major holidays. I thought it would be fun for my niece & nephew to get regular mail from us: packages, cards, etc.

So, back in January, I started sending mail to the kids. Vaguely remembering being a kid, I figured that what arrived isn't as important as the fact that they're getting mail, so I've made liberal use of my "swap basket"; a large metal basket into which I toss things I find on sale that look interesting or things I might have received in a swap that I couldn't use. Of course, now that these packages are planned, I'm always on the look-out for more things to add to that basket!

For Valentine's Day, I made a batch of acorn brownies and sent those, along with some themed goodies. Except that I got into the whole thing a little early and had to send it a couple of weeks ago so the brownies wouldn't get stale!

I mailed a letter last week, and Valentine cards today. I woke up this morning, knowing that I had to make the candy-dipped pretzels I'd been thinking about doing off & on since I got a canister of pretzels along with a dish (I bought on clearance). I already had all the other ingredients. And today was the day. This is so easy! You need about 3 ingredients, some paper plates & bowls, a double boiler (or facsimile (see below for mine)) and some wax paper. Doing it this way (with disposable bowls & plates) made for very fast clean-up, too (about 90 seconds).

Candy-Dipped Pretzels
Ingredients: mini-pretzels, candy melts (I used <1 cup of white melts to make approx. 3 dozen pretzels), sprinkles (optional)

Other "equipment": double boiler, paper bowls & plates, plastic spoon, wax paper, treat bags & tape (if not self-sealing)

pretzels sortingFollowing package directions, start melting the candy. My double boiler consists of a small saucepan and a stainless bowl that sat on top - in enough to keep in steady, but out enough that it didn't get stuck). Inside the bowl, I added a paper bowl and a couple handfuls of candy melts.

While the candy is melting, sort your pretzels. Put the unbroken ones in a bowl and set the broken ones aside (these can be eaten as is, or broken up even more and added to some leftover candy and spooned onto wax paper (ever had a Pretzel Joy?)).

If sprinkles are desired, pour some into another small paper bowl. Not too much -- you won't use as much as you think -- enough to cover the bottom of the bowl about 1/4" thick.

Lay squares of wax paper on plates/cookie sheets. You won't want the pretzels to touch much once they're dipped.

pretzels dipping candyTurn the heat down a bit, so you can comfortably work near the heat, then dip the pretzels into the candy, covering 1/3 - 1/2. (Note: When I took this pic, I'd already dipped several pretzels and had to add a few more melts.)

If you're not adding sprinkles, skip the next step.

pretzels dipping sprinklesImmediately dip the candy-dipped pretzel into the sprinkles, moving it a bit to grab more of their colorful goodness.

pretzels settingPut the pretzel on the wax paper and pop in the fridge to chill for at least 10 mintues.

When you've dipped all the pretzels, try breaking up the remaining pretzels even more (not quite crushed) and stirring them into the remaining candy (unless it's a lot and you want to refrigerate it for later use). Spoon mounds of the mixture onto wax paper and chill.

pretzels wrappedIf you're serving them, store in a container with an airtight lid. They should be okay for as long as regular pretzels would be if stored that way. If you're giving, package up. I stuck several (all "facing" the same way) into a treat bag and taped it shut with some fun Japanese tape that has fruits & veggies on it.

pretzels container done2_nonameI also took advantage of the container the pretzels came in and made a spiffy gift box, by punching a circle for the top and cutting a strip to go around it out of heavy-duty scrap-booking paper and gluing in place. I made a label using photo paper and faux-matted it with the same paper from the lid.

It's already boxed up to be mailed next week, along with some stationery supplies, in case the kids want to send mail back to their old auntie, or friends, etc. I made return labels for each, found fun patterned paper at the dollar store, and am sending a box of envelopes to share.

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