The Dinner Drill

July 14, 2010

I’ve never been a cook. I don’t have the gene that causes a person to derive pleasure from constructing a meal and watching people’s pleasure as they scarf it. I love to eat, and I can find ways to enjoy meal – making – but really – alien territory for me, mostly.

(Just ask the people who have had to eat my bizarre food combinations.)

Anyway, as a single working mother, I have to make dinner every single night – for two picky children, and sometimes for adults who require more sophisticated creations. Yikes.

One of my favorite ways to deal with this daily challenge is as pictured – my fresh fruit and veggies with hummus and cheese plate, easily turned into a ridiculous happy face, easily put together, and easily ramped up into something more spectacular. (I would assume.)

Make Me Dinner!
I will never forget the radio story I heard on NPR about the place in Spain where mamas whose children have left the nest but who want to cook big, traditional meals have formed an online service where young professionals who don’t have time to cook can order this home-cooked food – even form a steady relationship with a local mother.

Collective Solution
Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I would like to see more collective-type enterprises like this start up in Cville. I’m thrilled with the new local Retail Relay service – that’s the right idea – a grocery delivery service that shops at a variety of local stores and CSAs.  Sure, Cville has a bunch of stay-at-home moms and those who can afford help, but there’s a lot of working parents, too.

Toy shares, toy exchanges, CSAs… all heading in the right direction. I don’t think the barter thing took off… but I like the idea…

The only problem: I don’t know that I have either time or money to put in the pot. Unless you can somehow quantify my children – certainly their health and wellbeing is worth something to the larger society?

Thoughts, ideas?


Shopping Safe: Great Website for Busy Parents (and friends)

June 5, 2008

Too busy and tired to hunt down bath toys, pacifiers, milk storage containers, dinner ware, teethers, bottles, nipples, and everything else your child will chew that is phalate and BPA free?

Try The Soft Landing, a site I just heard about and had to pass along. Yeah, I know, it’s not shopping local, but shopping local right now, with high gas prices and this heavy heat, can be grueling on your energy costs… as in, I’m trying not to drive too far in any direction so that I conserve gas and avoid the sweating in the car)… I also like the samplers offered – like the “Go BPA Free Teether Sampler” – what a good idea and great gift~!

And I hear that, due to a local mom wanting to prevent BPA plastics from being Freecycled to the unsuspecting, local favorite Nature’s Child will possibly be offering a dumping bin for these evil critters…

In other ‘green’ news, I have, in my new house, started composting (trial #2). Here’s a colorful guide.

A Big Lots Christmas?

November 27, 2007

The Roanoke Times is holding a Christmas song contest, and one of the contenders is “A Big Lots Christmas.” Check it out!

I am such a mishmash when it comes to my consumer choices. On the one hand, I  buy at Big Lots, I relish a Dollar Tree, I frequent the thrift stores, I’m a Freecycle nut, and my favorite thing in the world – no joke – is a garbage bag of hand me down clothes.

On the other hand, I do have some expensive tastes, and, more importantly, I’ve realized that

a) there are some things that need to be quality items – or else the cheapness really does make the purchase a waste – including: q tips (knockoffs fall apart), fingernail polish (the good stuff glides on for an easier application), shoes (cheap ones hurt my feet and back)…

b) buying “green” means paying more, but when it comes to choosing nontoxic drink containers, our health is worth it – and the better lightbulbs save money as well as energy. It’s moving away from plastic that is daunting…

So, here’s today’s inventory –

I’m wearing a paid of $98 Keen shoes, (made from recycled materials),

a shirt from a friend,

a pair of pants from the Salvation Army,

earrings from Target,

hairclips and socks from Big Lots,

drinking from a steel container from Rebecca’s,

eating a vegetarian organic pie (Amy’s brand) from Kroger,

wearing a secondhand coat from a friend,

nail polish and mascara from CVS,

and face powder by Burt’s Bees from Whole Foods.

I recently purchased a Sigg bottle from the Blue Ridge Eco Shop,

a pizza from Dominos,

gas from the BP,

hardware from Lowe’s,

and received a bunch of tupperware from Freecycle.

So – a mix of local shops and chains, of eco-friendly and earth-awful, of expensive and cheap.

-I’d love to see if any of you have an equally mixed inventory!

– and, What are some other items that should be the expensive, high-quality kind? 

Hoos Brews vs. Cville Coffee

October 22, 2007

Speaking from a working mother’s perspective, of course.

Cville Coffee – has a giant turtle.

Hoos Brews – does not have a giant turtle, but an outdoor seating area where, presumably, one might find a turtle. Or an ant, more likely.

Cville Coffee – good coffees and baked goods, expensive

Hoos Brews – good coffees and baked goods, MUCH less expensive – brownie for 50 cents? Are you kidding me? Awesome!

Cville Coffee – doesn’t take credit / debit cards, only cash or checks = pain in the butt if you haven’t been to an atm, if you have run out of cash, if you have switched to cards instead of cash or checks

Hoos Brews – takes credit/debit cards but not checks = awesome – hello 21st century!

Cville Coffee – wireless

Hoose Brews – wireless

Cville Coffee – children’s play area, which is not roped off so the kids go running through the rest of the place, while, oddly, the adult section IS gated – and yes, the adults stay put

Hoos Brews – children’s size and priced ice cream – $1.00 for a cup – yum good and just enough!

Cville Coffee – not a bad location – near 250 and Circa and downtown mall
Hoos Brews – also not a bad location – near 64 (and my house!)

Cville Coffee – offers lunch, dinner, beer

Hoos Brews – soup, bagels – but great ice cream

Cville Coffee – crowded parking

Hoos Brews – still unknown!

Cville Coffee – books, nice decor

Hoos Brews – ugly UVA colors

I like both places. I’m getting a little sick of how run down and chaotic the children’s area tends to be – I have found much more calm, quality time with my daughter at Hoos Brews recently. I also like the prices better. But nothing beats the big turtle.

Best Toy Store in Town

October 22, 2007

Since I never hear anyone mention it, I feel compelled to send out props to Uncle Larry’s Toy Shop, located in Ivy Square near Foods of All Nations (which should more accurately be called “Overpriced Foods of Some Nations”).


1) Hours: Open till 7 p.m. weeknights – so working parents can go there after work!!! yay! I took Jo there Friday night after picking her up from daycare and we had plenty of time to mull and peruse.

2) Customer Service: My daughter was treated like a queen. After graciously helping me get her hands washed, the woman (Owner, I think) set up things for Jo to play with, encouraged her to explore . Then offered a free sticker and free Halloween ring on our way out.

3) Fun merchandise:  Along with the wooden toys typical of local toy stores, Uncle Larry’s offers a wonderful range of other engaging things – books, jewelry, cars, trucks, animals, costumes – fun things for adults, too. Compared with the one on the downtown mall, I felt like the prices were better than the selection more interesting and various.

4) My anti-populist temperment: I know Shenanigans is the most popular one in town – or it seems so – and so of course, I am happy to find one less-recognized to be my favorite. Yes, I have issues (hee).

Letter to Toys R Us

October 8, 2007

This is a draft letter from a group of us parents disgusted by the poor treatment we’ve received at the local store… I’m not really a letter-writer, so am looking for feedback!


Toys “R” Us, Inc. Headquarters
One Geoffrey Way
Wayne, NJ 07470-2030

Store Manager, Toys R Us Charlottesville, #8338
590 Branchlands Boulevard
Charlottesville, VA 22901

October 8, 2007

Dear Sir/Madame:

This is a letter of complaint about your Charlottesville, Virginia store.

Recently a number of parents in the Charlottesville area discovered, through conversation on our various online networks (including over 500 area families), that enough of us have had such truly awful experiences at this store to point to a systemic problem with the store itself; our stories are not just random, isolated incidents. Convinced of the ongoing customer service problems at this store and frustrated because we would like to continue to patronize it, we decided to send this letter in hopes of having the situation amended for the better.

Please read the examples of poor customer service included on the following pages for specifics pointing to the repeated bad treatment many of us have received from management and staff.

We can only conclude that the company cares little for its customers, children and adults alike. Staff members lack the politeness and respect central to common courtesy. There are frequently no staff members to check out or assist customers in a timely fashion. Getting a refund or product information often becomes a nightmare. Consideration for the customer’s needs is, overall, poor.

The problem is that you do have competition. Many of us are taking our business elsewhere — shopping at locally owned toy stores, visiting big box stores, or going online – finding the kind of customer service relationships we desire and deserve. But our hope is that your company will actively address the issues we have outlined here so that we can visit your store in the confidence that we will receive consideration and respect.

Thank you for your time and consideration of our complaint. Our community looks forward to hearing from you. We will be sharing your response with the larger group when it arrives.


Amy S. Marshall, co-moderator of the Parents Network of Charlottesville and Charlottesville Working Moms

2323 A Crestmont Avenue

Charlottesville, VA 22903

Gisela and Mark Swift,

Cecily Reynolds,

Ghizlaine Taft,

Kristen Nelson,

Melanie Bowyer,

We purchased a safety gate a couple of months ago. A couple of weeks after we installed it, apparently a piece broke off and my daughter opened the gate! It was at the top of the stairs and could’ve been a bad accident. Luckily I was right behind her and grabbed her before she could move further. We immediately ordered another one online we had at the bottom of the stairs from another store because so far was working great and this one from Toys R Us was obviously not safe. It took us a while to take it back to TRU and we didn’t have a receipt. SO you can guess the rest.

The manager would not take it back, even though it was a faulty product that could’ve hurt our daughter. The manager could care less, was very adamant about the no receipt, no return policy. Didn’t even offer to call the manufacturer or anything. Back in Colorado (we just moved here 2 months ago) we NEVER had a problem with Babies R Us or
Toys R Us. They took things without receipt all the time and gave us credit.

Please sign both my husband and my name as outraged parents.
Thanks for doing this,
Gisela Swift
Mark Swift

My son got a present for his birthday that he didn’t want, & didn’t want to hurt the person’s feelings who gave it to him, so he took it back to Toys’rUs (from where it was purchased) to exchange it. Should’ve been an easy thing, right? The guy at the desk very rudely proclaimed that the policy had changed, & w/out a receipt they could do nothing. Now, the person who gave it to him should’ve given him a give receipt, but that’s neither here nor there. The sales guy was not only initially rude to my son (he’s 9, & I was trying to get him to handle this on his own w/ me at his side, thought this was going to be a great confidence-building teaching moment), but refused to even acknowledge that it was my son who initiated the conversation in the first place. He wouldn’t even look at him! I said to the sales guy, that my son was handling this, would he mind explaining it to him, since it was his present & he’s the one exchanging it. The guy (still not even acknowledging his existence) looks at me & says “that’s your job, you tell him. I’m not gonna.” My head nearly spun around like the exorcist’s. Needless to say, no exchange occurred, my son is still stuck w/a present he doesn’t want, & I called out the manager. Eventually this guy was sent home, but the policy remains the same. I called the corporate office, & they have a special portion on the system dedicated to complaints about the policy. What does that tell you? (Shop at Target! They’ll exchange w/out a receipt!) Moms & dads, here’s my warning to you: if you must purchase a gift from Toys’rUs, get a gift receipt. I for one have no need to ever cross the threshold of that store again as I will not go to a “children’s” store which is clearly not child friendly! In fact, I think it would serve them right if we parents boycotted them all together!

Cecily Reynolds,

Back in April my little boy who turned 3 received 2 Imaginarium train sets which we certainly didn’t need. I had the same experience there, no receipt nor gift receipt…sales clerk as rude as could be an the manager vague and barely interested in explaining their “nonsense” policy. I kept the other set because I own a preschool and thought we could eventually use it here but REFUSE to buy anymore toys there. Target, Walmart carry just as many toys…..
Ghizlaine Taft,

I’d be happy to sign a petition to ban toys-r-us though, as their customer
service sounds like a nightmare and its only a matter of time for it to
happen to more of us. I do feel like the corporate upper management of the
company would like to hear about this.
Kristen Nelson,

I’m with you on letter writing. I loath going in Toysrus.
Melanie Bowyer