A blog about "nothing"!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Have you tried Zulily?

Not familiar with Zulily or never heard of it?  It's an online retailing concept that is rather unique.  Instead of them keeping mass quantities of merchandise in a warehouse, they have worked out deals with various companies.  They offer items at discounts for a few days and then when the sale is over with, the merchandise is then shipped to them where they then ship it out to the purchaser.  They don't have to store the merchandise for an extended time in a huge (and expensive) warehouse, cutting down their overhead considerably.

So how does it work?  Every day they have a group of new items in all sorts of different categories that they make available for sale.  Usually these items are only available for a couple of days at most, some as short as 24 hours.  Once the sale for that item is done, that's it, you're out of luck.  If you placed an order, you will get your item once they have received it and shipped it to you.  Discounts on full retail can vary and is different even sometimes if they happen to sell the same item at another time.  You snooze, you may loose.

The bonus--sometimes the discounts can be hefty.  I recently purchased an item at a 50% discount and after doing a bit of homework, could not find it this cheap anywhere else, even with shipping factored in.  The item was shipped to my doorstep, saving me a lot of time looking around and gas money.  And it was very high quality when I received it, I was very happy with what I got. 

Is everything a deal?  No, unfortunately not.  I've looked at a couple of things on there, only to discover after doing a some checking that they weren't a deal at all.  That's where being a cheapskate comes in handy, I have no issue with doing a bit of research to be certain I'm going to get the best price. 

The caveats?  First off, they have a very rigid return policy.  Basically it's no returns unless the item is defective or damaged.  So if you're one of those people who is unsure of your size and you order the same item in 3 different sizes and return the two that don't work--not going to be a good thing for you.  I've read a number of reviews on them and I hate to say it, but it seems as though most of the complaints have been with clothing items--bad fit, poor quality, etc.  I just steer clear of those items.  And you can't be in a hurry to get these items AT ALL.  Their policy clearly states that it can take 10-17 days for your merchandise to even be shipped.  This is due to the way they operate with the manufacturers, and basically you (and they) are at the mercy of how quickly these companies get these items to them.  The item that I purchased took just over two weeks to arrive from the date I ordered it.  Didn't bother me since I knew what to expect, but I wanted to make that clear to anyone who might be interested in buying from them.  They do have a section of items they have in stock that you can order from in case you need it in a hurry, but it is a limited selection.

I've only purchased the one item from them, but I do go in and check every day to see what they have new.  Some of the companies are big names (Nautica, Clarks, American Girl, etc) and some are upstarts that need an easy way to get their name and merchandise out there.  Some of it is closeout type merchandise, some of it is the same things you would find in other retail stores.  It's one of those places that you need to check regularly if that's your thing.  I have no doubt that one of these days I'm going to come across something else I just have to have!

Lastly, you can sign up for an e-mail notification and they will let you know what's coming up for sale.  I'll be honest, these e-mails can reach the annoying point, and you can unsubscribe.  The good news is that unsubscribing doesn't "ban" you from buying from them.  It's not a secret club kind of thing, you can still go in and poke around the website to see if there is anything that interests you.  There is no membership fee to join either, you just sign up. 

I guess back when they first started the discounts were even better.  Darn, I missed out on that!  I still think it's a neat concept, and here's a link if you are interested in checking it out.  If you use my link, I'll get a discount if you buy something, so thanks in advance if you do!
http://www.zulily.com/invite/fhough701

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I guess I'll never understand/Don't do it!

I recently read a post by Danielle of Blissful and Domestic that really annoyed me.  A lot.  To sum it up, she had received nasty e-mails and comments in regards to how she must hate her son because she post doesn't post enough pictures of him.  Seriously?  Since when is the number of photos you post of your friends and family a measure of your feelings about them?  If that's the case, my husband must be the scum of the earth in my eyes in comparison to my dog! 

I loved the comments she got to this post though, they were all very supportive and pointed out that said persons must not have much of a life if they feel the need to constantly put someone down.  I've talked about this before here on my blog.  I don't quite get the urge to be so mean to someone that you don't even know.  Then I thought of a conversation I recently had with a family member, and it not only put things in perspective, but I think it's a great lesson in human behavior.

Her daughter is only 13, and is having to deal with the whole catty girlfriend issue.  Some of it is ridiculous, and I think it's way worse than it was when I was that age.  I guess it got pretty bad at one point, she was really down in the dumps about it.  So bad that the mom actually went and talked to the school counselor about it, only to find out that the girl who was behind the catty behavior was notorious for this and this wasn't the first issue she'd had.  After a long conversation with the daughter, she decided that this girl wasn't worth worrying about anymore.  What happened afterwards was the best part though.

Once again, catty girl said something behind 13 year-old's back that made it's way around to her.  She decided to confront this girl via a text message with the "if you have something to say to me or have a problem with me, have the guts to say it to my face."  Then she took it a step further.  The next day at school, she walked right up to the girl and said the same thing to her.  What was interesting is that the girl was visibly scared, she said she was actually shaking.  After she said her piece, she walked away, and she hasn't had an issue with her since.  I suspect that no one has ever corrected or confronted the bully before.  And that she is a very insecure person deep down inside which is why she does what she does.  I hope perhaps this was a lesson for her as well.  13 year-old has moved on, and I was very proud of her for handling it the way she did. 

The reason I bring this up is because it confirms something I've thought for a very long time about nasty comments on the internet.  It's easy to hide behind a computer screen and make nasty comments about others when they can't retaliate.  In this case I don't think that the catty girl thought anyone would ever come after her for what she said and she would continue to get away with it.  She found out otherwise.  I've seen some horrible behavior on the internet by others who I know don't think that they will ever be found out.  Oh how wrong they are.  Recently a very popular blogger that I used to follow has been outed as not being as "authentic and genuine" as she appeared to be, and the backlash is proving to be very interesting.  Actress Ashley Judd was a victim of some horrible bullying on Twitter and she is pursuing legal action against some of these bullies.  These are just two examples and I'm sure that there are plenty of others and many yet to come.

Let me just say that "hiding" behind the veil of the internet isn't a good idea.  First off, it's cowardly, but second--you are going to eventually get caught.  I recently had an incident on my other blog with someone trying to post a completely inappropriate comment.  Then they tried to post a response to that comment, posing as someone else.  What they didn't realize is that because of the nature of that blog and the large number of younger readers I have, most comments are automatically thrown into a moderation mode and those that aren't, I closely monitor.  In addition, because of the software used with that particular blog, I was able to instantly detect that it was the same person posting both comments as well as where they were from, who their internet provider was and various other information that had I needed to, I could have turned over to law enforcement.   You are NEVER anonymous on the internet, no matter what you think otherwise.  Choose your words and actions carefully. 

The blogger who I mentioned that was found out not to be who she claimed she was--all that information was discovered by some very savvy folks who found most of the information used to discredit this person via the internet.  You can't hide forever.  I'm sorry, but I just don't have the time or the need to make up a whole lifestyle just to impress people.  It just isn't worth it.  I wonder about those who do this kind of thing though, are they really that needy?

One last thing--to those who think that being "anonymous" when complaining about something is okay.  Guess what?  When I was working in my last job, if we got a letter or complaint from someone that wasn't signed, it went in to the trash.  If you aren't going to be willing to "own" your words, in our eyes your opinion didn't count.  Keep that in mind.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

You've got to be kidding me!?!?!?!

I hadn't planned on posting again this week, but something happened that I just had to share because it falls under the MOST ridiculous thing EVER.  I'm still shaking my head.

I'm very diligent about checking our credit card accounts on a regular basis.  No one is going to pull a fast one on me, and recently it paid off.  I noticed a charge for $1.09.  This stood out for so many reasons:  I would never charge so little to begin with unless I had absolutely no choice, and because of that, I would definitely remember that small of a charge.  Plus, I know from bad experiences from several friends, scammers usually start with a small purchase and if it goes through undisputed, they will then move on to bigger and better things.

As soon as I could, I called my credit card company to report it.  Of course I had to go through the hassle of cancelling my cards, etc, and then officially "disputing" the charge in question.  No biggie, we've only ever had to do this one other time before and it was relatively painless. 

I also noticed a phone number beside the charge in question on the statement, so I decided to do a reverse lookup on it.  It was: (are you ready for this)  Experian!  Yeah, the agency that is supposed to be monitoring your credit, one of the so called top 3 credit reporting bureaus in the US.  It was one of the companies that work under their corporation.

As soon as they opened, I called to find out what was going on.  This just gets crazier, and I'm still half laughing/half pissed off about it.  Someone had used my credit card number to purchase a credit report and a credit monitoring service!  WHAT?!?!  Besides being gutsy as all get out, why didn't Experian discover that the name on the account didn't match the name on the credit card?!?!?!

Here's the disturbing part of all of this--apparently it happens all the time and has been for a while.  I found a whole story very similar to mine on a blog and found this in the comments section, told to this person from an Experian rep:  "It's common for identity thieves to get a hold of a credit card number and use it to buy someone else's credit report."  Say what?!?!  In other words, the person who used my credit card number may not be even the person whose name is on the credit report they ordered, it could be stolen as well.  Wow, just wow.  And Experian does nothing to stop this obviously, the reports I'm reading about this go clear back to 2012.  There were probably close to 100 comments on this blog, primarily people who had experienced the same type of thing, all from Experian.

Some of it is phony, people using the Experian name to show up on a credit card statement so it looks legit.  But a lot of it is not.  In fact, there were several people who said that they hadn't had any issues with credit card fraud UNTIL they signed up for monitoring through one of Experian's companies.  They operate under several different ones, Free Credit Report.com is one that comes to mind as they advertise extensively.  The one that had used my credit card number is called Credit Check Total.

I also found a number of complaints in regards to their offers of "free credit reports".  Hardly.  First, they charge you a fee of $1.  In fine print you will discover that when you do this, it automatically enrolls you in their credit monitoring service (what I suspect happened with mine, except I caught it too fast) and they will automatically charge your credit card a monthly fee until you cancel it.  In 2005 the Federal Trade Commission investigated them for this very thing.  Apparently they haven't learned anything from it though and think they are still above the law.  They keep on getting away with it, they just lowered their fees.

I know that back when I worked in the banking industry, we didn't even use Experian for credit reporting purposes.  They were unreliable and inaccurate more times than not.  Apparently that hasn't changed!

Anyhow, my reason for posting this is to make everyone aware of this type of fraud.  It can happen so easily, even to someone as particular as I am.  I'm not even sure how they got my credit card number in the first place, I just know that they got it.  And Experian does not offer any due diligence on verifying the information they are given.  Not only did they not require the 3 or 4 number code on the back of the card, they didn't compare the names on the accounts.  Very negligent if you ask me.  In the blog I read, someone said they were told that they(Experian) don't require the number from the back of the card or verify that the names match because "someone might be buying it for someone else as a gift."  Huh?!?!

So what should you do if this happens?  First off, call your credit card company to report it, and they will investigate it, cancel that card, issue you new numbers and cards and hopefully reverse the charge.  You then will need to verify that the company who charged your card is legit (pretty easy to do on the internet) and then you will need to contact them to cancel the service if in fact it is Experian or one of their affiliate companies.  The reason you need to do this is because several people commented that even after they had cancelled the card, Experian had managed to get their new number and yup, you guessed it--started charging the new card.  Remember, this is a credit bureau you are dealing with, so they have all of this information at their fingertips, legally.

One step to take further if you are concerned about ID theft is to freeze your credit (if you haven't already).  It costs a nominal fee and prevents anyone from opening any NEW accounts under your name.  I emphasize new accounts because it does not prevent theft of existing credit card accounts.  It just protects you from anyone opening any additional credit cards or loans in your name.  You still have to be pro-active in checking your own existing accounts.  How does it work?  Once your credit is frozen, no one can access your credit history, FICO score, etc. unless you unfreeze it.  It also helps to eliminate those unwanted credit card offers you may receive in the mail (which can also be an open invitation for further fraud.)

I hate to sound like such a negative Nelly here, but I really want everyone to be aware of this.  Banks are not our friends and from this whole experience and my research, it sounds like the credit bureaus aren't either.  The bad part is that for so many people, credit cards are a necessity, even if you don't carry a revolving balance.  You can't rent a car, a hotel room--so many things without a credit card.  They literally have us at their mercy.

Poor show Experian. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Signs of Spring

Spring is definitely here to stay now, and right now is one of my favorite parts-when everything is starting to come in to bloom, leaves are forming en masse, grass is growing (like crazy) and everything is an intense green, made even more intense by some rain.  The only thing I don't like is the pollen, but I guess with the good you have to take the bad.

Since winter seemed to go on forever, I held off on planting any seeds.  I did finally get something started though, more out of curiosity than anything.  I can always go buy plants if I really want to, but this was one of those things that bugged me.

If you've been following this blog for very long, you may remember 2 years ago I started seeds and got nothing.  I was kind of bummed, but I wasn't sure if the problem was with the seeds or the seed starter.  I suspected the latter as we'd had it for a while.  I didn't throw the seeds out, last year I kind of forgot about them, but this year while shopping at Lowe's, I saw this neat little "greenhouse" type container that came with soil pellets.  I decided to give it a try, it was only a couple of bucks and if it didn't work this time, then I knew I could toss the seeds in the trash and quit wasting my time.

Well, my gut feeling was right and the problem wasn't with my seeds at all!
On the left we have banana peppers and on the right Roma tomatoes.  Whooohooo!  I've already done one thinning on the tomatoes, I'll give them a couple of days and do one more.  The peppers seemed to take forever to sprout but once they did, they really took off, I think if I'd sat and watched, I could have seen them growing over the weekend.  Another couple of weeks and everyone will be moved outdoors to prepare for planting over Memorial Day weekend. 

Last summer I found this cute little container for growing basil in with seeds included (with the lid on it also looks like a little greenhouse), so I started it too.  Good results as well, I will be moving them to a larger pot outside with the rest. I can't wait to have my own homemade Caprese Salad, the only thing I will need to get is some fresh mozzarella and I've actually been wanting to try making my own.  MMMMMmmmmm!!!!

Besides these plants, I also want to start my usual lettuce and I'm going to do a few onions, but not a lot.  Last year didn't go so well with those, but that was partially my fault because I planted the "killer" tomato plant beside them.  Who would have thought it would have grown so large?!  Fingers crossed that my lettuce won't drown this year either, it had done so well the previous.  I know I've said this before, but I love having some of our favorite fresh vegetables just outside our front door, saves me a trip to the store and for the most part, I know that they are not only truly fresh, but not contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals. 

Now for the next step--figuring out what I have to plant everything in and if I need to buy a couple of pots!  The peppers and the onions will go in our built in planters by our front door, I know I have a long narrow planter for my lettuce, but not so sure about the tomatoes, I know a couple of our containers broke at the end of the last two seasons.  I need to get some new soil too, the bag we bought last year wasn't the usual stuff I buy and I wasn't as pleased with the results. 

Have you started planting anything for your garden?  What are some of your favorite things to grow?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cooking From Scratch: Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce

Growing up my mom always made homemade spaghetti sauce.  Somewhere along the way she quit and we ate sauce out of a jar.  It's not bad, but I knew there had to be a better way.  Over the last few years I've tried to reduce the number of chemicals and preservatives we've been eating, and I've found no better way to do this than to start making things from scratch.

I started poking around the internet and found a recipe that I thought sounded really good.  I made it, and while we thought it was good, both my husband and I thought it could be better.  After a bit of tweaking each time I made it, this was the resulting recipe that I now use every single time.  I did laugh, one time I ran out of sauce and wanted a quick meal, so made pasta with jarred sauce and my husband was not impressed.  I haven't bought a jar of it since!

My favorite part of this particular recipe is that there isn't a ton of prep work, you toss all of the ingredients in the crock pot and walk away.  It cooks all day while you are off doing other things, then all you have to do is boil your preferred pasta, make a tossed salad and dinner is served. 

Are you ready?  This will require a 5-6 quart crock pot.  If you have an older one, it will cook for 8 - 10 hours without burning, if you have a new one, 6 - 8, both on the low setting.  One thing I'm not real pleased with is that the manufacturers of the newer slow cookers have upped the temperatures on them, which requires adjustments on some of the cooking times.  For this one it's fine, but some of the others, it's not practical. Grrrr...enough about that, I'll get in to that rant another time.

Spaghetti sauce over gluten free rotini noodles
Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce

Makes 6 - 8 servings

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced (or 2 tablespoons of garlic powder)
1(14 oz) can chopped/diced tomatoes
2 (14 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
3 (8 oz) cans tomato sauce
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
1/6 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried oregano*
1 tablespoon dried basil*
2 teaspoons dried marjoram*
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup Extra Virgin olive oil

*see notes below for a substituion

Brown the beef in a skillet and drain off the excess grease.  Put all of the ingredients in the crock pot and stir thoroughly.  Cover and cook on low for 6 - 10 hours (see above note about crock pot cooking times). I usually stir it again about halfway through the cooking process.  Serve over your choice of pasta and enjoy!

A couple of variations and changes can be made with this recipe.  If you want it to be more of a Bolognese type sauce, double the beef.  You can make this sauce meatless as well.  Or, make meatless and about 2 hours before serving, add meatballs.  I've tried all of these with good results.  This also makes an excellent sauce for lasagna or baked penne.  (I'll share that recipe another time, yum!)

You can substitute a couple of things too--as you can see I've noted using garlic powder instead of fresh garlic.  I never have very good luck with mincing garlic and most of the time I use the powder instead.  It's also easier to adjust the recipe if you like more or less garlic flavor with more consistent results.  If you like a chunkier sauce, substitute the crushed tomatoes with diced tomatoes.  Canned diced tomatoes don't cook down as much because of the way they are processed prior to canning.  *Lastly, I don't have containers of oregano, basil and marjoram around all the time, but I almost always have an Italian seasoning blend around, and usually use that. 

This recipe can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled--as long as you have a big enough cooker.  A friend of mine used fresh tomatoes out of her garden and made it in her electric oven roaster with great results, she then canned it all for use later.  With just two of us, this makes way more than what we would need for a single meal.  It freezes very well, I put it up in oven safe/freezer safe containers and then I just pop it in the oven to reheat. 

A big 'ole pot of steamy, yummy goodness!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Photo of the week, April 27, 2015-the last one!

 
The magnolia bush outside of the building where I used to work.  Magnolia's don't typically do very well here, in the southern part of the US they are trees, here they are bushes, simply because it's just too cold.  In the time I worked there, I can't tell you how many times that the blossoms were ruined by cold, frost, or worse yet-snow!  They are so pretty though, even for the short time we get to enjoy them here.
 
This is the last photo of the week.  When I started this project, I told myself I would do it for a full year.  In all honesty, I wasn't sure I would keep it going, but I did!  I originally started it on Twitter, but didn't get much response so moved it to the blog.  It has been fun looking at some of these old photos, as well as going through all of my old files to see what I had and thinking "why did I take that?!"  It's far from the end of photos on the blog, there will always be pics here, but it's time to try some other stuff.  Thanks for putting up with me!
 
One thing I'm hoping to devote more time to is my "Cooking From Scratch" series, I got started and then other things sidetracked it.  I've got a number of yummy yet simple recipes to share, if all goes well I may be posting one later this week.  I just have to remind myself to take a photo of the finished product. :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Photo of the Week, April 21, 2015

This picture makes me laugh every time I look at it.  We were on a bus trip in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland.  The bus driver was a friendly gentleman named Kevin who decided to stop to let everyone stretch their legs and he bought everyone an ice cream bar.  When he saw this dog getting a treat from one of the members of the tour, he said "Oh great, now the dog will be waiting for the bus every time I stop!"