Monday, November 29, 2010

Quill #110 - Young Adult Reading List

A few years ago, having had many impromptu discussions with readers where we tried to remember favorite books, Peregrin and I decided to put a short list on a business card that we could carry around and give out, as needed. The list is actually much longer than we can fit on the front and back of one business card and keeps expanding as we continue to read. However, Tress from Jumble Mash recently asked for book suggestions. Here is the list we compiled, back then:

  • Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series.
  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder, almost any.
  • William Farley's The Black Stallion series.
  • Edward Eager, almost any.
  • C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong set.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O'Dell.
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's Catwings.
  • Green Knowe series by Lucy M. Boston.
  • Piers Anthony's Xanth series.
  • Scott Corbett, almost any.
  • Tom McGowan's Sir MacHinery.
  • Jack Williams's Danny Dunn series.
  • Steven Brust's Jhereg series.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.
  • William Goldman's The Princess Bride.
  • Spider Robinsons's Callahan series.
  • Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series, Enchantment, & Ender's Game series.
  • Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted.
  • Barnes & Niven's Dream Park series.
  • Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series and Thieves World series.
  • P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins series.
  • J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan series.
  • Tom Clancy's Net Force series.
  • The Dragonlance Chronicles.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series.
  • Roger Zelazny's Amber series.
  • Natalie Babbitt's Search for Delicious.
  • Hitchcock's Three Investigators series.
  • The Ultimate Bike Path, Mike Sirota.
  • Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series.
  • Catswold Portal, Shirley Rousseau Murphy
  • Mercedes Lackey, several sets.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, several.
  • Douglas Adams's Hitchhikers series.
  • B. Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
These are books we consider older classics, things we've read and greatly enjoyed, and things we read to our children and encouraged them to read. In most cases, we read the first of the series to them and let them decide whether to take things further with that author. We tried to give them some variety but, obviously, the list is heavily influenced by our preference for fantasy and science fiction. We could have chosen as many again without even trying. These were the essentials.

(Some of the books we gave out for Halloween this year, along with other treats)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Quill #109 - A Spookier Kid Comes Along!

This little guy turns three years old in January and is already reading with comprehension, knows numbers to a hundred, knows colors, reads and interprets street signs and signals, jumps, stands on one leg or the other, skips, stands 40-41 inches tall, and runs his parents ragged every day.

The Spooky Kid Part Two! (pictured with Spooky, the original)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quill #108 - Love is Kinda Crazy With a Spooky Little Kid

While stationed at Fort Huachuca, my husband got his first computer, a gift from my parents. They spent $40 on a little machine that had about 40 kilobytes of memory and only understood Basic. Peregrin spent a couple of years trying to program that calculator to do anything before we finally got a better one.

He would sit on the floor and mutter the commands as he typed them. Our son, about two years old at the time, sat beside his daddy, watching, fascinated. We didn't think much of it till Spooky - who earned that nickname by doing things like this - corrected one of Peregrin's programming mistakes, and was right.

Even with these hints, even knowing we had a little whippersnapper on our hands, we didn't really take such events seriously. We didn't know what to expect from our first child and accepted everything as reasonably normal.

About two years later, when Spooky had just turned four, my mom took the three of us shopping at a Sears store. We were walking down the aisles in the household goods department when Mom turned to me and asked, "You do know Spooky can read, don't you?" I refuted her statement outright and she turned stubborn.

"I'll prove it, " she said, and took down one of the boxes of laundry soap to show to him. He promptly stated the name of the soap brand and a couple other words from the front of the box. Again, I refused to believe it. I said, "He's quoting from ads he's seen on TV." (Not that perfect ad quotation wouldn't be worthy of note, itself.)

She turned the box to its side panel and showed Spooky the list of ingredients in the soap. He started sounding out the words, "Phosphorus, sulfates, bleach, ...," etc. He read the entire side panel. I was stunned and still unsure that it wasn't some kind of trick. We had read to him quite a bit but he hadn't ever read back to us.

When we went home, Mom pulled out a pocket New Testament from her luggage and gave it to him, asking him to read it to us and prove this wasn't a fluke. He did! He began reading every word, almost perfectly. When he finished a few pages, I asked him if he knew what those words meant and he explained to me what he had just read. This was a child who had maybe been in church ten times in his four years of life, certainly not often enough to memorize bits, and none of his attendances in church had happened since the age of eighteen months!

I will say he probably needed every brain cell he got in order to survive his clueless parents. We expected a lot from the little guy and yet he almost always delivered. I hope he has at least a few happy memories from childhood. He sure gave us a lot of good times.

(family photos picturing Spooky, Kyrie, and nephew)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quill #107 - Lean Years - 100+ Ornaments for the Tree

I understand there are people who cannot afford holiday trees. That's going to be a blog, too, probably. I've done without, made do, pinched pennies, and been thrifty for so many years that I don't always know what's poor, anymore, and what might just be creative. For those who are lucky enough to own a tree, or be able to get one, make one, find a substitute, etc., here are ideas for ornaments if you can't go out and buy a tree's worth from the store:

1. Candy canes (inexpensive and space-filling).
2. Ribbons & bows.
3. Small toys from your child's toybox, such as small cars, fast food meal treats, small dolls, anything tiny that you can put on a string, attack a hook to, or sit on the tree.
4. Cookie cutters (Hang them on strings or ribbons).
5. Popcorn garlands. (Make a bowl of plain popcorn and poke through puffs with needle and thread, attach thread lengths to make a longer garland.) This one is suitable for outside trees, too.
6. Candy garlands. (Using thin cord, tie around both ends of wrapped candy for one style, or only one end of the candy for a hanging style. Lollipops can be set on branches or hung from string, or tied into garlands.)
7. Cranberry beaded garlands. (These are beautiful. Use needle and strong thread to stitch through the center of each raw cranberry. Can space with raisins, for a different look, but the garlands won't last quite as long.)
8. Home-made hard or salt dough shapes. (There are many recipes online and in magazines at this time of year.)
9. Colored thread spools. (String into batches of three, or make spool people, or thread them on wires in wreath shapes.)
10. Old-fashioned bobbins. (Not the little ones for sewing today, but the big long spools of yesteryear. Hang them from ribbons or make a tree-topper out of one that still has thread.)
11. Paper umbrellas.
12. Plastic or paper mache fruit.
13. Paper scrolls of poems.
14. Scraps of holiday sheet music.
15. Old holiday cards, cut into discs. (Use something circular as a guide, mark around the best part of the card, cut within the line, punch a hole and hang with string or ribbon. Or, use plastic lids as your guide, then glue the card into the center of the lid for a windowbox look.)
16. Twizzlers or ropey licorice garlands.
17. Ribbon angels. (Again, there are how-to instructions online, but you basically make a bow for wings, a cone of ribbon for the skirt, and attach these to some sort of "body" and/or "head" with thread or hot glue. Paper bodies work, as do wooden, toilet paper rolls, and almost anything you want to experiment with.)
18. Tiny treat bags filled with goodies and tissue paper. (The Dollar Tree often sells three to five tiny gift bags for a dollar, which would leave it up to you how much you want to spend on filling them. But, you could also use little natural-cloth teabags, tulle circles, wedding favor boxes, or anything small that holds the goodies you want to give.)
19. Paper cones, filled. (Like the bags, make sure some tissue or tinsel is showing at the top of the cone/bag, and put a little something inside.)
20. Small nutcrackers.
21. School supplies - pencils, pens, erasers, crayons, sharpeners, glue sticks, etc. (Attach with string or ribbon.)
22. Paper vouchers, rolled up for surprises. (I give vouchers for my game, every year, to those who say they enjoy playing it. But, you could use any game. If you play Monopoly with your children, give a voucher for extra starting money, or a Get Out of Jail Free card, or choice of which token to use while playing. Come up with a voucher for an extra story at bedtime, or letting the child choose their favorite meal, or anything you think they'd like. Write it on a small piece of paper, roll the paper into a scroll, tie with a small ribbon or rubber band, and hang it on the tree. One of the best rituals of coming years will be discovering what's on the vouchers. My kids ASK for this, every year.)
23. Flowers, any kind, any size, silk or live, whatever you've got. Baby's breath is a great addition to almost any tree, if that's what you've got.
24. Lightweight plastic snowglobes. (Attach with ribbons, but don't use glass globes!)
25. Key limes, kumquats, and other fresh citrus. (String them individually with needle and thread, or tie a ribbon around larger fruits and hang them. The limes and kumquats make a decent garland, though a little heavy for small trees. If you have whole cloves, poke those into oranges in patterns and hang with ribbons or thin cord. These will go bad quickly, sometimes. Be prepared to throw away anything that's turning brown or getting old.)
26. Cheerios or other circular cereals. (Last year, I made only edible ornaments for my grandson's holiday visit. These circles were among his favorites once he figured out he could eat everything on the tree. String them into single-strand ornaments or garlands, or shape them into tight groupings for wreaths.)
27. Fruit by the foot garlands. (These get hard, like ribbon candy, after they dry out. Once you're happy with where they're placed, leave them till clean-up.)
28. Individually wrapped dried fruits, such as prunes, little boxes of raisins, and apricots. (Hang with strings or thin cord.)
29. Tiny paper messages. (Like the poems and vouchers, only perhaps you'd want scriptures on each one, or a verse of Taoist philosophy, or advice to a loved one. Anything you'd like to share with your guests - even wishes for the coming year, or pictures from catalogs of things you would like to have someday.)
30. Miniature baskets of goodies. (You can get little bamboo baskets, or crochet baskets, or make them out of paper like the ones for May Day, and fill them with the kinds of things that don't easily fit elsewhere, like nuts or jelly beans. If you're worried about having them fall out, wrap the goodies with plastic wrap or netting inside the baskets.)
31. Miniature books. (String a ribbon around the center and hang.)
32. Pet toys.
33. Fans. (paper, lace, bamboo, whatever you've got or can make)
34. Photographs. (Framed or not. If not framed, tape a piece of string to the back for hanging. If framed, use cord or ribbon to attach to the frame through the hanging bar on back. Little ones work best, so as not to overweight the tree. If you want to print photos, you can frame them with circular plastic lids, like the holiday cards idea.)
35. Fabric swatches. (Take a length of pretty or colorful fabric and roll it into a long garland, drape on the tree. If you only have short lengths, hang squares or fans of fabric. No fabric stash - cut up a holey piece of clothing into long strips.)
36. Tulle fabric ribbons or garlands. (For garlands, roll the fabric like above. For ribbons, cut into lengths an inch or two wide, string together with fancy bows, and drape around the tree. Or, just make little bows of tulle. I mention this one separately because it's so versatile and looks so good, plus it comes in a lot of colors and is very inexpensive to buy.)
37. Rag braided garlands. (Take inch or two wide lengths of fabric and braid them like you would for a rag rug, tie off the ends and use the braid for a garland instead of a rug.)
38. Hair bobs, such as packages of bands, hair bows, barettes, bobby pins packages, hair clips, brushes & combs, or whatever you want to give.
39. Felt cut-outs. (Use cookie cutters for shapes, or magazine pictures of holiday shapes, draw around them on felt, cut out and hang with hooks. Or, buy pre-packaged bundles of pre-cut shapes.)
40. Foam cut-outs.
41. Jewelry and charms. (String necklaces together for a sparkly garland. Hang bracelets like wreaths. Charms and earrings make little glittery ornaments. Use whatever you have that you aren't planning to wear for a while.)
42. 45 rpm records. (Hang them on a larger tree. If you don't want or care about the records, you can hot-glue several together to make a wreath. Or, use a larger 33&1/3 rpm record and hot glue items onto it, using the record as the base of the wreath.)
43. Plastic or foil wrapped cookies.
44. Leaves in fall colors, especially red and green.
45. Shoelace garlands, especially if you have colorful shoelaces.
46. Scarf garlands. (Use like fabric swatches.)
47. Belt garlands.
48. Strands of beads for garlands or hanging ornaments.
49. Colored artwork or print-outs, framed like the holiday cards.
50. Musical instruments.
51. Small figurines, such as plastic animals or soldiers, ceramic owls, or whatever you've got that pleases you or fits your tree theme.
52. Lego creations. (Make figures, toys or ornament shapes with the blocks, then hang.)
53. Herbs and spices, dried or fresh, bundled and placed on branches or hung with ribbon.
54. Dead electronics, such as no-longer-working cell phones, pagers, small answering machines, and small game systems. (If you've got the money, hide your new one amongst the old ones for a surprise gift. Or, if you want to be mean, wrap all the old ones, give first, followed by the new gift.)
55. Potpourri pomanders made from circles of tulle and potpourri.
56. Sample-sized anything, such as shampoos, deodorants, hand lotions, bar soaps, and other goodies, especially if you have a college student home for the holidays.
57. Wire stars. (Cut short lengths and use pliers to shape into stars. Hang with ribbons.)
58. Plastic straw art.
59. Woven straw art.
60. Macrame ornaments.
61. Macaroni garlands, colored or not.
62. Sports pennants, cloth or paper.
63. Bad CDs, strung on ribbons.
64. Baby stockings and booties, along with other goodies like pacifiers, real or candy.
65. Sewing notions, such as needle packets, spools of thread, stitch markers, seam rippers, garlands of measuring tape, etc.
66. Doll clothing on toy hangers, old or new ones for gifts.
67. Tablecloth tree skirt. (Take an old round plastic tablecloth and cut to the center, then cut out a small circle in the middle, wrap around the base of the tree.)
68. Fabric swatch tree skirt. (Use any length of fabric that's long enough to circle around the tree and hide the base.)
69. Numbered containers for Advent treats. (Use bags, baskets, whatever, marked with numbers, fill as desired, then let the kids open one each day. If you have many children, add their names to the containers.)
70. Feathers.
71. Old watches, timepieces, gears, and other mechanical goodies.
72. Female glitz, such as polish bottles, nail files, tweezers, eyebrow curlers, makeup compacts, small jewelry and makeup pouches, clippers, ornamental hair combs, etc.
73. Itty-bitty stuffed plushies.
74. Kitchen aids, such as measuring spoons, whisks, spatulas, tinned spices, salt and pepper shakers, etc.
75. Napkin rings.
76. Origami figures and foldings.
77. Crocheted or knitted mini stockings, or store-bought mini stockings.
78. Needlework and fibre creations, if you're talented that way.
79. Banners. (Felt cut-outs attached to tiny dowel rods - maybe even toothpick-sized - and hung by cord or ribbons attached to each end of the dowels.)
80. Postcards, travel brochures, maps, and other pictures of faraway places.
81. Playing cards.
82. Tarot cards.
83. Cocktail picks.
84. Wine charms.
85. Empty matchboxes, matchbooks, and collectible small tins.
86. Birdseed treats, especially nice for outdoor trees.
87. Bird feeders made from single-use sized plastic drink bottles, especially good for outdoor trees.
88. Electronic tealights.
89. Dead 8-track tapes and cassette tapes. (Hang them, and maybe use a dead reel-to-reel spool for garland tape.)
90. Beader's delight, such as small beading tools, small containers of beads, beading trays, beading thread and needles.
91. Gardener's delight, such as seed packets, spades, plant food, etc. Nothing poisonous, please.
92. Pet lover's delight, such as cat treats, small cat toys, leashes as garlands, etc.
93. Buttons. (Strands for garlands, either side-by-side or tightly packed lengths, and thread into drop ornaments or wreaths.)
94. Snack-sized bags of chips and goodies, along with candy bars and other pre-packaged edibles, even tins of Altoids and small candies.
95. Tea lover's delight, such as individually wrapped teas, cloth teabags, small tins of loose teas, tea balls, child-sized tea sets, etc.
96. Small office supplies.
97. Coffees and coffee supplies.
98. Knitting or crocheting supplies.
99. Pocket-sized tools.
100. Energy drinks, small cans and boxes of fruit juices, and little plastic bottles of drinks.
101. Paper dolls.
102. Butterflies and faeries.
103. Use your imagination!

Also, don't forget to give your tree a theme. Go with an all-candy or goodies tree, or match the tree to the colors of its surroundings (such as all black & white, or burgandy & gray, etc.). Make your tree a portal to Toyland, or a women-only tree. Go traveling by hanging postcards, but don't forget to add toy planes or cars or boats. If you have a family member in the military, use toy soldiers or airmen and toy medals, ribbons of red, white and blue. Want a steampunk tree, go with gears, watches, and model air balloons. Whatever your theme is, be creative. Nobody has to go without decorations.

(images from Dover and Lolcats)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quill #106 - Pathways (1981)

Hallways now deserted
Lie beneath the sea,
Stony, silent pathways
Lost these centuries.

Sleeping leafy valleys,
Corridors of trees,
Long forgotten past ways
Waiting to be free.

Ancient twinkling beacons
Mirroring their rays,
Lost throughout the eons,
Signaling a way.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quill #105 - Me Getting Angry (w/updates #1 & #2)

Thank you so much for the order you placed with us through Amazon for the 3 Sport Pet Kitty Pirate Ship Cat Activity PlayToy. My name is Jonathan Katz and I am the Customer Service Manager for Firefly Buys. I just noticed the feedback you left for us on Amazon indicating "Read the fine print about shipping. These items cost twice the price indicated, due to the "shipping fees." I feel I was deceived and will not purchase from this company again.", and an overall seller rating of 1 out of 5.

Let me start by saying that we are so sorry to hear you were not fully satisfied with your experience with us. I wanted to reach out to you personally to let you know that customer service is our #1 priority, and to see what we can do to improve your opinion of our company.

In these particularly challenging times, we as a small business try our very best to provide great products/prices/service to our customers while paying a living wage to our workers. We have found one of the ways we are able to compete against the “big guys” out there is by maintaining one of the highest feedback ratings on Amazon. We are a small, family-run business that strives for complete customer satisfaction and we really would appreciate the opportunity to make this right for you and ensure your full satisfaction.

Please let me know if there is anything we can do to make this right. While we unfortunately cannot “turn back the clock” we look forward to the opportunity to resolve this situation for you to be sure that you walk away with a more positive view of our company. Once we are able solve this situation for you, we certainly hope you might consider removing your feedback by following the instructions below:

1) Cut and paste the following link "" into the internet search line.
2) Sign in using your user id and password
3) Find the order from us Firefly Buys (under the Seller Name) and click on the order number
4) About ½ the way down the page you will see Your seller feedback about this order
5) Under this heading you will see Remove on the right side of the page
6) Click on the remove link
7) Select the appropriate reason and then click on Remove feedback at the bottom left side of the page

Again I apologize for the situation and I look forward to hearing back from you so that we can get this resolved as quickly as possible.

Best Regards,
Jonathan Katz
Customer Service Manager, Firefly Buys

------------- End message -------------

For Your Information: To help arbitrate disputes and preserve trust and safety, we retain all messages buyers and sellers send through for two years. This includes your response to the message above. uses filtering technology to protect buyers and sellers from possible fraud. Messages that fail this filtering will not be transmitted.
We want you to buy with confidence anytime you purchase products on Learn more about Safe Online Shopping ( and our safe buying guarantee (



My Response:

Apparently you'd like me to change my rating of your company out of pity because you are a family company. I get this impression because you provide VERY detailed information on how to do so, but not one idea for how to fix the original problem. But, you know what, MY family suffers from such deceptive practices, so no. I won't change this rating out of pity because you're trying to make a buck for your family. In my opinion, you STOLE from mine.

I'm not the only person who has trouble reading fine print. Your shipping costs were abusive, hard to find and hard to read. If you want to make this right, to me, that's what I'd want to see changed - more obvious and clearly stated shipping costs, so that I'm the LAST person to be deceived like that. Or, make the price appropriate to the item, and then shipping more appropriate.

I received the three I purchased in the same beat-up old box. You saved on shipping them together like that, which means you profited even more. I am not impressed. You very nearly got them all returned. I feel like my message is doing a public service by warning other purchasers. You're not even bothering to offer to BUY my integrity; you want me to give it up for free.

So, yes, you can consider this a failed attempt at remediation.

Robin Payton


Apologies to my blog readers who have been pre-informed about holiday gifts.


His response:

Thank you so much for getting back to me, and I apologize if my previous email did not convey the right message. We have found that sometimes our customers assume we are a big nameless company that doesn't care about its customers, so we try to let people know that we are "people" too and we really do care about providing a good experience for our customers. All I was trying to do was convey that, as well as offer to resolve the situation in the manner that was best for you.

In terms of the specific issue, I have done some investigation and determined that the cause of the high shipping charge was due to Amazon having an incorrect item weight listed in their system (they have it listed at 8 pounds, when in reality it weighs about 3 pounds each). This is one of the downsides of the "marketplace" where many sellers are able to submit information to Amazon; sometimes it isn't accurate, which can lead to situations like this. We apologize for the incorrect shipping charge, and I want to assure you that we did not do this intentionally to overcharge you. If we did things like this as an intentional practice we would not be in business for long. One of our biggest strengths is our 99% positive rating, which would be impossible to achieve if we were intentionally misleading customers as a business practice.

I just issued you a $16 refund to remedy the overcharge. You should see this post back to your original payment method within the next 2-3 days (that is typically how long it takes for Amazon to process the refunds through their system).

I have done this without the promise of anything in return since it is simply the right thing to do given the situation. Of course I sincerely hope our actions have improved your opinion of company and our commitment to our customers, and perhaps once this is resolved to your satisfaction you will no longer feel the need to warn others. We try to get things right the first time, and apologize for not doing so in this case, but we do whatever we can to make things right for our customers when situations do arise. I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that everyone here would be thrilled if you removed the feedback once you are satisfied with our handling of the situation, but of course that is completely up to you!

Please let me know if there is anything else I can do (aside from the refund which I've already initiated) and I would be happy to help!

Best regards,
Firefly Buys


And mine:

I apologize for the tone of my previous message. You, as an employee
of your company, do not deserve my ire. You're doing your job and
doing it well. However, my issue with this transaction really wasn't
about the money.

It may be a moot point. I looked on Amazon and can't even find
Firefly Buys's playtoy available. You may have already sold out. I
looked at all the feedback for Firefly Buys and it's rarely negative
at all. As diligent as you are, I doubt every positive response was
due to mediation.

However, I've looked at other sellers of the same product. They're
using the same tactics. My husband looked into the Amazon policy.
It's $4.49 per shipment plus fifty-cents per pound. Using that
calculation, 8 lbs per item comes to $16.49 for three items bundled
together, which is how Amazon would figure the shipment would be made.
I was charged more than $23 for shipping, which means the seller TOLD
them to do it a different way. Ergo, I'm still not sure I believe
your company has good intentions.

You probably don't have the power to change how your company does
business. You have the power to give me a shipping refund. I
appreciate that you did what you could. But, what about the other
people who were overcharged? What about the tiny and faded shipping
fees on Amazon - not every company does this, so it must be a
company-by-company choice on whether to hide the fine print or not.

It's also not your fault that I'm angry with the world right now for a
lot of lies and deceptions, so that this one gets the brunt. It's not
fair to Firefly Buys that I feel like making an example of them simply
because, in this one little way, I can feel like I'm trying to improve
the world rather than letting things continue to worsen.

You've done your best. Thank you. I'm going to think about it.



Honestly, I would have expected things to end there, but he sent me another letter:

Thank you for your understanding. I am actually one of the owners of Firefly Buys so I absolutely can get things corrected if they are wrong.

After some additional investigation I think I figured out the full story of what happened. You are correct about the per shipment and per pound formula. In this case due to the weight being wrong, if we let Amazon use the formula, it would come out to $10.19 for shipping on an order of 1 (our rates our $4.99/shipment plus $.65 per pound, as each seller sets their own). Because the weight is wrong this is actually works out to a lot higher than our actual shipping cost, so we manually did an override on the formula to make the shipping $7.99 for this item. The downside of this (as you have brought to our attention) is that it seems for orders of more than 1, Amazon just takes the $7.99 and multiplies it by the quantity since we manually overrode the formula (this is why you were charged the $23.97 or $7.99 times 3). So, we actually did this to benefit most customers since 90% of the orders we get are just for one item, and so most customers would thus benefit from paying $7.99 for shipping instead of $10.19. We don't have any way around this side effect, and we are truly sorry that you were overcharged. I will look into whether there is something we can do, and I apologize for the long explanation, but I just wanted to convey that our intent was to actually charge less in shipping by overriding the formula, but as I said this appears to have a negative side effect on the multiple item orders. I know this sounds like a long and convoluted explanation, but I promise you it is absolutely the truth and was done with the best of intentions. As you can see this is not a trick or meant to be misleading. I would be more than happy to discuss this further via email or on the phone if you still have any questions or concerns about our policies, or our integrity.

The bottom line is that with the options Amazon gives us for determining the shipping charges, it is literally impossible for us to ensure that every order is charged the exact right amount of shipping. We really do try hard to make our shipping charges get as close as possible to being accurate every time (thus the override to lower our shipping charges on this item for a single unit order), but unfortunately we are limited by the flexibility that Amazon allows for. We place a very high value on being forthright, honest and fair with our customers, and a vast majority of the time our shipping charges come out correctly. When situations are brought to our attention we are quick to correct them and make things right for our customers, and I hope you would agree that we have done that in this case by refunding your charges as was appropriate in this case.

Everyone here has worked very hard to build a company that we are proud to be a part of, and I for one would not choose to be associated with (let alone an owner of) a company that was ripping people off. We try to make decisions that will benefit the most number of customers (i.e. manually lowering shipping on single orders of items where the weight is wrong), and all I can do is offer my sincere apology that you were adversely affected by this well intentioned decision. I hope that my explanation has communicated this to you in an effective (yet admittedly long winded) manner.

While every feedback matters to us (which is why I reached out in the first place!), and we would be thrilled if you felt removing yours is warranted, in all honesty we have one of the very highest feedback ratings on Amazon even counting yours. So the real reason I have spent the time to explain everything in such detail is that beyond the rating, what matters most to me is making sure you walk away with a good impression of our company. I would feel terrible about going to work everyday, to a company that I own, if the I had any sense that accusations about our integrity and business practices were true. I know the truth about who we are and what we do, and I hope that you now have a better understanding of that as well.

As I said before please let me know if there is anything else I can do, or if anything I have said is unclear.

Best regards,
Firefly Buys


And, probably lastly:

You've been more than patient with me. I understand your explanation now and agree that working with Amazon can be difficult. One of the issues with this very order was that the pre-purchase summary I was given didn't include shipping fees. I kept expecting to receive a summary that did, prior to purchase, but the only summary I was given that included shipping was the one sent to email after purchase. That situation was unique to my experience with Amazon, to the point that I considered reporting it to the company.

I will remove my comment about Firefly Buys. You have been pleasant enough that I no longer harbor any ill will toward your company. Thank you for taking the time to explain everything and deal with me, especially when I was being difficult.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quill #104 - Promenade (1981)

Daughter circles mother.
Mother greets the dad.
Smiling to each other,
All three take up hands.

Luna bows to Terra.
Terra bows to Sol.
Each one with an errand
They must help fulfill.

Do-si-do, around they go,
Constant to the end.
Then the stars applaud the show
And the dance begins.

(images from free Google images online)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quill #103 - The Unicorn's Gift (1972)

Silver horn,
Glinting in the sunlight.
Through the trees,
Whispering leaves,
Stays my stately handsome knight.

Jet black steed,
Given lead,
Racing through the forest dark.
Earthly sheen,
He comes when he hears my hark.

Golden haired,
Manly laird,
Smiling at me with his eyes,
Piercing blue,
Deepest hue,
Like the color of the skies.

Magic dreams,
Running streams,
Babbling in my secret land.
Lovely thoughts,
Forever will he hold my hand.


(image from Dover)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quill #102 - Gamblers Lie.

Oh, they'll tell you what they've won, but they don't tell you what they've lost or what it took to get to the occasional win. I suspect it's possible to win enough to break even, if the gambler could stop playing after their big win. How many can?

I had a family member, quite lovable, who was addicted to gambling. She had several personal issues she needed to work out and I think gambling was her method of forgetting about them. Like movies in the Depression, gambling was her way of avoiding the pain within her life. The problem was, though, that she would only talk about the wins. And she had some nice gains, a few over ten thousand dollars, which was big money to the people she told. One of those people was my mom.

Mom had, in all her married years, been the Keeper of the Purse. She managed the family budget with such finesse that, on a teacher's salary, we had travelled most of the US and parts of Canada and, from our midwest location, gone to DisneyWorld twice and DisneyLand six times. She was not a spendthrift. Her facility with money provided my parents with a retirement most people would only dream of having.

However, in the last five to ten years of her life, her health went dramatically downhill. The medical bills piled up, pharmacy fees were outlandish and, in spite of her best efforts, she slowly lost the ability to keep everything afloat.

To her, winning ten to twenty thousand dollars in a gamble seemed like the answer to her prayers. Encouraged by the family member whose losses were unknown, she began playing with small amounts and, when those were lost, was told she "gave up too soon."

It came to the point where she was losing more than she could afford in a desperate attempt to win like her relative was supposedly winning. She got herself into such dire straits that she felt she had nothing to lose by continuing to gamble with the little she did have. She borrowed from family, including me, to cover losses she couldn't explain - or didn't want to explain - to Dad, all the while encouraged to try again.

Some of this I put together later. Even when she borrowed hundreds from me (and I didn't expect to be paid back because, in truth, she helped me FAR more, over the years, than I could ever repay to her), I didn't realize how bad things were. I didn't know that she was falling behind on bills, or that their credit was maxed, or that the losses I thought were temporary would hurt them the following month, too. And her gambling increased as her situation worsened, all spurred on by the promise of one big win.

Mom had never been able to discuss finances with me. It must have been a matter of pride for her because I honestly didn't know they were hurting for funds. Nobody told me. Maybe my brothers thought she had, or that I should have figured it out for myself. I don't know if they knew how bad things were, either. Regardless, I found out the hard way.

I'm sure it was the stress. If she could have told me she needed money, I'd have found a way to get it to her, but she couldn't tell me, couldn't ask, and I couldn't read her mind. When she died, her checkbook was overdrawn by eighteen dollars - the exact amount of a check she sent to me for something I had asked her to keep as a gift. I told her NOT to send me money and she did, anyway. Maybe that was her cry for help - a check she knew would bounce. But, since the check arrived at my house while I was attending her funeral, the information came too late. If I had known, she might still be alive.

(photos from family archives)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Quill #101 - Grandma's Potato Soup Recipe

This was my father's favorite soup. The recipe was passed down to my mother from her mother and, presumably, from mothers before them. When I make this soup, I don't follow a recipe, so you'll have to forgive me if the instructions are a little strange. I'm putting this one in a blog for family members.

Home-style (Very) Potato Soup

a big pot about half-full of water
up to 1 medium-sized onion (sweet varieties preferred)
2-3 medium-sized potatoes, or whatever you've got
3 eggs
1/2 - 1 cup flour
milk or milk powder or canned milk
chicken broth or chicken bouillon (4 cubes)
celery salt
1/2 - 1 tsp. black pepper

Chop the onion and potato into small bits and toss them into the pot. Add the broth or bouillon and a couple shakes of celery salt, for now. Set the pot to boiling.

While that's getting hot, whisk three eggs in a cereal bowl with a fork until they're smooth and yellow, then add a half cup of flour and keep stirring with the fork till the batter is how you like it for either noodles or dumplings. (Noodles, the batter drips thickly off the fork. Dumplings are thicker.) You may have to add more flour, depending on what you prefer. My dumplings usually take about a cup.

When the pot has boiled, drop in your noodles or dumplings, a little bit at a time, allowing each bit to cook a little before dropping more into the pot. Once all the batter has been put into the pot, reduce the heat and let the noodles/dumplings cook for a few minutes on simmer. Stir the pot occasionally as you're adding batter.

When the pot isn't boiling anymore, and the noodles are fully cooked, add the milk. You want enough milk, if possible, to turn the broth from transparent to opaque. If you haven't got that much milk, don't worry about it. The soup will still be good.

Now add a teaspoon of salt, if you're allowed, and a couple more shakes of celery salt, taste, and then add whatever amount of these is pleasant to you, tasting as you go. Add a half teaspoon of black pepper, again adjusting these three spices for your taste. Once you're satisfied with the flavor, serve. Some people like crackers with their soup.


Now, I have to admit I've made personal adjustments to this recipe. Sometimes I add a few bay leaves while it's cooking, or use red pepper instead of black. Sometimes I add carrots or other vegetables when I'm low on potatoes. I've experimented with making lower carb versions, though none of my experiments have the flavor of the original.

Once I made the mistake of putting one of my versions out for dinner for my father, saying that I thought the flavor was an interesting variation. I don't think he could have glared at me more if I'd murdered my mother. In his eyes, the two crimes might have been equal.

In any case, nobody else is bound to the original. Feel free to make variations. If you serve one to me, I promise not to glare.

(image from Lolcats)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quill #100 - Gift Ideas for Lean Years - Fleece Scarves

Thirty-six inches divided by six inches equals six scarves, but six inches is a thin scarf for winter time warmth. It might be fashionable to have thin scarves right now, but I prefer eight inch scarves, which only would allow for four scarves to a yard of fleece - plus a bit left over.

Forty inches wouldn't cost much more and that would give five scarves of eight-inch width. However many scarves you'd like to make and however wide you want them, fleece winter scarves are super easy to make and inexpensive.

Fleece can cost up to twelve dollars or more per yard for a good thickness and popular prints. But, you can usually find a decent thickness in good colors for around eight dollars a yard. That's four scarves that you can use as holiday gifts for about two dollars each.

Best of all, the most difficult part can be done by the sales clerk. Decide on your width before purchase and ask her to make the right number of cuts. Then, all you have to do is fringe the ends with two-inch snips about a quarter-inch apart. Perfection is not required. Part of the charm of these scarves is the whimsical appearance.

Don't worry if someone has better scarves or plenty of them. These babies roll up very small. We keep one in our glove box for cold weather emergencies, a few in luggage when weather is uncertain. If they become dirty or are ruined, they're easily washed (cold water, tumble dry low or no heat), and they're easily replaced.

When I'm stumped for a gift, these are almost universally suitable, either alone and tied with a ribbon around the middle, or in a basket of goodies. Plus, with all the varieties of fleece available, you're likely to find something suitable for any age or interest. And, if the recipient really won't wear it, they can pass it on or donate it to someone who needs the winter-time warmth.

Also, if you're looking for shelter or nursing home gifts, there are less expensive fleeces for buying in bulk. Some could cost as little as a dollar a scarf. Or, if you'd rather do lap blankets and shawls, use the same technique on a wider swath of fabric - perhaps two shawls/lap blankets to a yard. With fleece as low as five dollars per yard, you wouldn't need to spend much to warm a few friends and relatives.

I first got the idea for these scarves when I took some children on a fall trip to the St. Louis zoo. When we arrived, the weather was sunny and hot. A sudden wind swept through the park, sending whirlwinds of leaves everywhere, and bringing an icy chill into the air. Immediately, every child was cold and shivering, but didn't want to leave the zoo.

I darted into the nearest gift shop to look for warmth and found fleece scarves, just as I've described, available for seven dollars each. (This was ten years ago and they'd likely be more now.) I bought one for each child and hurried the trip along. We managed and still had fun.

(images from BigStore and Lolcats)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Quill #99 - Gift Ideas for Lean Years - Fingerless Gloves (Steampunk style)

Steampunk is all the rage. My daughter keeps asking me for fingerless gloves. I can, and probably will, crochet some for her, but I found a trash-to-treasures quick fix for her until I get around to crocheting a pair.

In our house, we have an abundance of unpaired and holey socks, many of them in black, brown, navy and tan colors. For fingerless mitts - sans thumbhole - just cut off the entire foot from the cuffs from a matching pair of socks. Voila! Wrist warmers.

If you want a thumb slot, cut the foot to just above the heel, where you can cut straight across and have the fabric even. Cut a side slit into the fabric below the cuff for the thumb to go through.

Embellish the cuff with buttons, if you please. Sew lace onto the snipped end for a longer glove and for beauty. Edge the thumb slot with blanket or ornamental stitching. And, if these wear out, it's an item you likely would have thrown out, anyway, and is easy to replace.

I might even make a pair for myself.

(image borrowed, as an example of a good Steampunk fingerless glove, from Kaboodle)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Quill #98 - Brown Family Tradition

Every child in my family, back through my father's line for generations, has had their feet dipped in the waters of a particular spring. I believe that this was a tradition begun by my Osage great-great-grandmother. This tradition has been carried forward, even to my grandson and daughter-in-law.

It's a very serious tradition. The child has to be bare-footed, and must stand in the spring if they are old enough to stand, even though the rocks are sharp beneath their feet and the water is very cold. My parents made me promise to carry on the tradition with my children, which I did. And, I made my children promise, as well.

Because the spring, like most natural springs these days, is a fragile site, I won't say where it is. I don't know if my brothers have kept this tradition, though I hope they have. Our family has roots in that area of the country in addition to the spring.

(images from Dover's free images online)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Quill #97 - Waterbed Sheets

Sheets can be expensive. Sheets for a king-sized waterbed are outrageous, now that waterbeds have fallen out of favor, again. Last year, we discovered we were down to one good bottom sheet and one that had holes. I priced supplies online and realized we could almost buy a new bed for the price of a couple sets. I decided to take matters in hand.

After measuring the mattress length, width and depth, I bought inexpensive fabrics from a department store in colors and textures we thought would feel pleasant for sleeping. We're low on underpads, too, so we bought some thin and silky materials, but we also bought thick and cottony fabric, similar to flannel.

Pillowcases and top sheets were easy, but the bottom sheets took a little more creativity. With a king bed, I needed to sew selvedge to selvedge across the middle of the bed. A seam there could cause discomfort. To avoid that, and for added strength, I went with French seams to ensure they'd lay flat.

For the bed corners, I cut a square section out (depth of the mattress), then sewed that square back on, once the corner cuts were sewn together, to act as the under-mattress sheet holder. The flat square pocketing the mattress is pretty good at securing the sheet during use. We haven't had many problems with ours. In fact, the ones I sewed stay better than our store-bought sheets.

I spent $12 for the fabric for each complete set rather than $65 and higher at online stores. The bottom sheets took me two hours to sew - I'm fairly slow - and I could make a full set with pillowcases in less than a day. I've sewn three sets and have purchased the material for one more that I haven't started, yet. We never run out of clean sheets now and I saved a bundle of money by making them myself.

(images from Dover and Lolcats)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quill #96 - Sanity Break

Sleestak hunters wanted.
Children of the 70s,
Having already failed,
Need not apply.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Quill #95 - 30 Years (2010)

I promised you, Love,
To be here when the rains came,
When lightning crawled over our heads.
I swore to be with you
On sorrow-filled sleet days,
Through poverty, illness, till death.

You promised the same, Love,
And here we're together,
Our children moved far from our hearth.
We both kept our promise and,
Though there were trials,
Survivors, we never did part.

We were not alone, Love,
Even when we felt lonely,
For islands are rarer this day.
Our family grew bigger,
Some born, some from marriage,
And some we adopted from fae.

Many years passed, Love,
And dark days were common,
But more were the hours spent in fun.
If I had to do over
I'd choose the same memories,
And you would be my only one.

But, if I had time, Love,
To do it all over,
I'd not repeat our lives again.
I'd add ever more years
That we'd spend together,
Choosing today to begin.

(images from personal archives and Lolcats)