Savings for Students (and Teachers)

When Rob goes away, I have to keep myself busy.  For the last week-plus I’ve been sanding, scraping, varnishing and painting the upstairs and planting the garden: projects that are eleven and three months later (respectively) than I meant to begin them, but at least they’re done now.  And, clearly, at the expense of my blog!

I promise to post something more meaningful soon, but I thought these bargains deserved their own private shout-outs:

  1. Amazon Prime: free two-day shipping and $4-per-item overnight shipping for a year, plus special sales and promotions.  $80 per year.  Or, if you have a .edu e-mail account, completely free.  No joke!  As of now, they’re saying it’s at least a one-year membership; they “might choose” to extend it. Either way, it’s quite a deal, and they have an alternate method for non-edu e-mail addresses.
  2. Scholastic Warehouse Sale: All educational materials are on sale, most around half of their normal price, through this weekend.  Search for a location (the closest to me is in Odenton) and click the “Sign Up” button to register and receive a coupon for an additional 10-25% off.

You Really Like Us!

1) The Newseum* does.  Free admission in April to any teacher with a valid ID.

2) The Container Store does: 15% off in 2011.

3) Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts does: 15% off through August 31.

4) Ann Taylor LOFT does: 15% off indefinitely.

5) Barnes & Noble does, sort of.  20% discount on "most" books, toys and games.

*In case you didn't know, the Newseum is pretty much my favorite museum.  Except for maybe the liger museum. Or the Decoy Museum, though it's a little disappointing once you realize it's, well, a decoy . . .

Seven Easy Steps Away from Bad News

I'm thinking of the kind of bad news that arrives in an e-mail from a disgruntled client who liberally invokes Caps Lock while stating her disappointment, implying her refusal to pay for your services, and concluding that your time and effort with her daughter was "A WASTE OF TIME."  But this would probably work for just about anything.

  1. Don't waste energy getting angry.  It won't help anyone or anything.  Instead, talk about it with your husband.  He'll get angry enough for both of you, and you'll think it's sweet that he cares so much.

  2. Go shopping. In person is good for immediate distraction; online shopping is an immediate rush of categorization and authority (don't want this; love that) followed by a few days of anticipation.  And if you don't like it, you can always send it back, no harm done.

  3. Read ten e-mails from grateful, satisfied clients who think the world of you.

  4. Have your family over for dinner.  In particular, your little sister, who makes you laugh till it hurts.  Don't tell them you are hurting; rehashing the story will make you more depressed, but just having them there will help you feel better.  Tell stories and quote obscure references.

  5. Do the dishes right away, so you can wake up to a clean kitchen.

  6. If you're too tired to wash the pans, leave them for the morning, so you can scrub while you gaze at the Christmas cactus on your counter in the hazy morning light of autumn.  It grew all by itself from a tiny cutting you received from a friend.  Three pale segments, now twenty-four robust ones.  And look -- those little heart-shaped buds on the end?  They'll be flowers soon.  Thriving is contagious.

  7. If all else fails (or even if it doesn't) pack your bags and go to Florida for the weekend.

Why I am a Comment Moderator

Here are the names of my last five commenters:

  • How to Get a Vampire Boyfriend

  • Paris Hilton Nude

  • Strip Clubs AZ

  • How to Get Ahead in Mafia Wars

  • Florida Landscaping

Gosh, their parents must have hated them -- and I hate to think who will try to comment now that I've just published those phrases on this site.

Thanks to all you real people for waiting it out when your comments get held.  I love hearing from you!

P.S. Less than a minute after I published this, I got another comment from someone who deserved to be added to the list above:

  • Ways to Attract Woman

This stuff is too good to make up!

Questions: An Alternative to Thought?

Tempers run short at the end of the year.  I should know not to take on another project on top of exams, organizational tasks and the odd letter from parents pleading with me to give their wayward daughter another shot at passing my course.

But I really thought that e-mailing a group of teachers about a new product opportunity, designed by one of my good friends, would be simple.  Take orders.  Collect money.  Write one big check.  Feel good about helping my friend and giving the manufacturer some business.  Easy, right?

Wrong.  In 24 hours since the original offer, I have gotten e-mails from almost a dozen teachers who obviously didn't read it.  They want to know what size they should get.  (There are two sizes.  How in the world should I know which would work better for you?)  Where should they send the check?  How long do they have to decide?  What kind of material is it?  And how does Paypal work?  ALL questions I already answered, except the last one, which is utterly ridiculous.  Why not just ask me how the Internet works?

After a year of answering questions like this (What page did you say we were on?  When is this due?  Do we have to write in complete sentences?) I have had it up to here with people who don't listen, don't problem-solve on their own, and expect me to do both for them.  My patience and compassion reserves are drained.  I have chosen to not respond to these messages at all, rather than to unleash the torrent of my wrath that would surely follow.

On days like this I love to read Dr. Grumpy's rants. His stories always make mine look downright reasonable.

Falafel Found, Finally

Falafel is one of those foods you take for granted until you can't find it anywhere.  In New York, there were a dozen little shops within walking distance of my apartment where, for about five bucks, you could get a pita crammed full of veggies, tahini sauce and delicious warm nuggets of fava beans and parsley.  In Baltimore, falafel is a specialty item, mainly found at upscale mezze restaurants.  An Arab lady briefly opened a gelato shop up the street from our church, and when we found out she made falafel on the side, we tried hard to keep her in business.  Unfortunately, she closed after less than a year (probably because the Middle Eastern side of the menu was insider's information.)

But today, on a Groupon adventure, Rob and I found falafel.  Tahina's is so well-designed and efficient, it looks for all the world like a chain restaurant; Rob dubbed it "the Middle Eastern Subway."  I would say it's closer to Chipotle, as the ingredients are all fresh and beautiful. My research, however, turned up an even better scenario: it's a brand-new venture by a marketing firm who wanted to try out some of their tactics on their own business.  They're calling it the "first of 300."  Boy, do I wish I had enough venture capital to be number 2!

Like Chipotle, you choose a centerpiece (beef, chicken, or falafel -- and who in their right mind wouldn't choose falafel?!) and a presentation (pita or salad.)  Then the fun begins.

There are a staggering number of vegetables (crispy fried eggplant rounds, red cabbage, sprouts) and salads (carrot and cilantro, cucumber and tomato, spiced chickpea) and sauces (baba ganoush, hummus, and yes, tahini.)  You can also get slightly inauthentic toppings like pickles, cheese and honey mustard. As many as you want (my salad teetered precariously as I carried it to the table) for about $6 per entree.

The restaurant also sells fries; eggplant and sweet potato options are a nod to the Mediterranean, and a "sauce bar" is meant to evoke Belgium's frites shops, I think.  After our falafels, we didn't want anything else.  But we will be back.  And you should join us!

Gmail: Saving Me From Myself

I just wrote an e-mail to a new client and mentioned I was attaching something.  When I hit "send," a dialog popped up:

"You wrote 'Attached is' in your message, but no files are attached.  Send anyway?"

Translation: "Hey, moron, try to get with the program!  Do you want this guy's business or not?!"

Gmail, I love you.  More than is probably healthy.

All Kinds

"It takes all kinds to make a world."  Yes, to make a world full of trouble.

Today, one more day of trying to teach while ensnared in a web of red tape, I'm thinking specifically about two kinds of people:

1. The kind who thinks the rules don't apply. You can give them the Suzuki Speech before beginning lessons, but they still don't understand that they need to be involved.  You can tell them tuition is due at the beginning of the month, but they won't bring it until you remind them, sometimes multiple times.  You can even make them sign a contract, but they may or may not abide by it, depending on the weather.  Their lives are just SO complicated and SO busy; you couldn't possibly understand what they are going through, but at least try to understand it's much more important than anything you care about.

2. The kind who takes a mile. Growing up, my mother had the same job I do now, so I learned early the value of a professional relationship.  It drove us crazy the way her students would tromp through the kitchen exclaiming, "Wow!  That smells GOOD!" or "What are you reading?"  We felt invaded, even when the people were our friends -- imagine your friends following you to the office and trying to make small talk while you work.  Eventually, she trained them to come in through the front door, and I've done the same with my students.

Except then we had this little storm, and shoveling four feet of heavy, wet snow is exhausting; it was all we could do to clear a path from the street to the front and back doors.  I (generously, I thought) offered to let my students use the back door that week.

Now the snow is melting and the walkway is clear, but they have still been coming in and out through the back door.  I feel awkward refusing, especially when they look at me with Bambi eyes and say, "It's soooo cold, can we go out through the back?"  So I say of course, and they walk through the kitchen commenting on dinner / dishes / decor.  It throws me into the most grumpy mood imaginable.  Is it a big deal?  Of course not.  (And at least it's reasonably clean.)  But I hate feeling like a sucker when I was just trying to be nice.

Now, I'm willing to bet that I've played both parts on occasion.  So I'm actually, in a sick sort of way, grateful to the people who have inspired this rant post.  Because of them, I am more than careful to honor my commitments and respect the boundaries others set.  Here's hoping that's contagious.

A Great Idea

In my experience, these don't come around often.  But last week, the Newseum (where I recently took a group of students on a fantastic field trip) e-mailed me to say that there were discounted tickets available at a site called Groupon.  It's pretty simple:  basically, when a lot of people promise to buy something, businesses can afford a drastic discount and still make a profit (and, hopefully, lots of repeat customers.)  Simple, but effective.  Hence, a Great Idea.

Every day the site features another local business with a deal in the neighborhood of half-price.  Many times it's a $50-for-$25 deal, or similar, at a local restaurant.  Or a discounted oil change or massage. And sometimes it's cheaper tickets to a very expensive museum.  Over 6000 people bought tickets Friday (sadly, I was not one of them; I meant to, but missed the 24-hour boat.)  They have dozens of cities on their site, so have a look at yours, your families,' and any you might be visiting in the next few months.


The Restaurant of My Dreams

Rob and I eat out fairly often, but I don't know if I've ever been to a place with this kind of service.  Bruce Buschel is my new hero.  My favorites from his list of One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do, Part One:

  • (7 / 10 / 40 / 43) Chummy Chattiness.  My sister's mantra was always "Friendly, not familiar."  It's a good one.  I'm not against a server introducing herself, but I don't really see the point (I rarely remember it, and even if I do, what am I going to do if I need her?  Yell?)  Ditto for her personal preferences, which will almost certainly not be mine.

  • (15) Complacent Ignorance.  Are there peanuts in the sauce?  Do the crabs come from Maryland or Louisiana or Japan?  It's okay if you don't know, but at least realize it's your job to find out.

  • (17) Obsessive Plate-Clearing. A dear friend with French blood first pointed this out to me: in the United States, servers act as if it's a contest to see who can finish first.  If someone eats more quickly than others, he has to sit awkwardly in front of an empty place; if more slowly, in front of a full plate while others twiddle their thumbs.  Meanwhile, the server continually asks "Are you finished?" or, worse, "Are you still working on that?"  Which makes me want to respond with an equally rude comment about my digestive tract, which will continue to work on it for several hours, thank you very much.

  • (23) Good God.  I really must be dreaming.  I have never had a server offer to do this.

  • (34-47) Gossip.  My friends have all heard me grouse about this from time to time.  Almost no retail establishment is immune, no matter the caliber.  It is crass and rude to talk to a customer about your break time, your personal problems or your co-workers (telling me the chef is inept may pass the blame from your shoulders, but it won't increase my confidence in your establishment.)  Be polite.  Be civil.

I hope I get to visit this restaurant someday!  It will be a great experiment as to whether truly service-oriented businesses can succeed.