Friday, April 29, 2011

Wedding Vendor Customer Service

Customer service is so uneven as to be annoying, often because you're never quite sure of the level of service you're likely to get. However, usually the more you pay for something, the better the customer service. To wit: Our wedding vendors have been friendly, helpful, and available, getting back to us by phone or e-mail within a day or two of contact, answering our ridiculous wedding n00b questions without making us feel ridiculous, etc. After all, neither Ed nor I have been married before, and we're not really wedding-obsessed people, so we had no clue what we were doing in terms of planning our wedding.

However, we've run into some problems with our reception site, the costliest part of the wedding. We're paying just over $11,000 for our reception site, the Hotel Bethlehem. (That includes the $9,000 base figure for the small ballroom, but not the 6% Pennsylvania sales tax, which isn't too surprising, or the 20% service charge that gets added to everything. And by "everything" I mean things like every single thing that you would think would just be part of the base amount for the event.)

It's a beautiful building, in a beautiful, historic part of Bethlehem. We chose that particular venue because it's close and easy to get to from the church. And for the price, we were expecting a certain level of customer service, which in part we've gotten. Our coordinator is our point person who will be available the day of the wedding, coordinating arrival times with our vendors (the florist, bakery, and DJ), setting up the room the way we want, distributing the wedding favors, etc. As part of our package, we also have access to a hospitality suite where Ed and I, and the Bridal Party, can rest our weary wheels before the grand entrance. The staff will bring us food, and Ed and I get a "complimentary" room for the night. 

However, getting anyone to actually talk to us about what we want during the reception is turing out to be difficult. We started out with Cathy-with-a-C, then were handed off to a second person, then back to Cathy-with-a-C, who then went to work for someone else, so we were handed off to Kathy-with-a-K. We've tried calling her with questions; she wouldn't return our call. We tried e-mailing, and more time would lapse. Finally, we made contact and made an appointment to talk to her - in person - a few weeks ago when we were in Pennsylvania. We got a slew of questions answered, and were told that e-mail is a better way to reach her because she'll often go days without getting to her desk (and by extension, to her telephone to check her messages).

Ed and I finally made up our minds in terms of what food we wanted, so I e-mailed Kathy a detailed list with all the ins-and-outs. Finally, today, ten days after I e-mailed her, she finally responded, apologizing because of new pricing codes and an inability to review the banquet check with a director who is out of the office.

The best part? The banquet check she had attached did not include the correct number of guests; it did not take into account the three vendor meals we'd requested; and we were charged for five children's meals we did not want (the kids get the same meals as the adults at our reception; we're not serving them chicken fingers simply because they're kids). And would we check to see if her numbers matched ours?

It would take so little effort to compose and send a short e-mail telling us how busy she is, that we haven't been forgotten about, that she's working on our bill.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recreational Drug Usage

On whether a young woman should break up with her long-term boyfriend because of his recreational drug use, about which he then proceeded to lie multiple times to her, advice columnist Wendy Atterberrry replied:

"Personally, I don't see what the big deal is about your boyfriend smoking pot a couple of times or popping an Adderall to help him study. Sure, you can argue that it's illegal, but I happen to think some of the drug laws in our country are seriously ridiculous."

The advice given struck me as that which would be given be someone who has never had a career that could be affected by a criminal record. The illegality of drugs should be enough of a reason, in my mind, to exit the relationship. If he/they get caught, there could be consequences that affect their careers. That others could get hurt in some capacity, and that drugs tend to do bad things to he who is taking them, would be other reasons. 

As it is, I would not date anyone who currently drinks heavily, gets drunk, or is a recreational drug user. I can't afford to get caught with someone who would take part in those behavior. There tends to be zero tolerance for that behavior in teachers; I would not let ruin anyone my career because of his behavior. I choose not to spend much time around people who get drunk, because I read that behavior as stupid and something one does in college when you're in your early 20s.

(I do have friends who are socially heavy drinkers (as in, during certain occasions they drink heavily, but so far as I know this does not occur on a regular basis), but those who don't seem to have any hobbies other than drinking heavily are being cut out of my life. I'm too old for friends like that, and they're too old to be acting like that themselves.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Ultimate Church Choir

I love choirs; I love the harmonizing of the voices, and I love singing with them. I like churches who have choirs, even if they're bad choirs, because God bless them for singing anyway. St. Joe's church choir isn't really all that good but God bless them for singing anyway. (I don't understand why they use a synthesizer and not the actual piano that's sitting two feet away from where they sing, but one isn't told everything.)

In any case, our church choir normally sings at the Sunday morning 11:30 a.m. Mass; this is not the Mass we usually go to, more because of scheduling than any other reason. (The Saturday 5:30 p.m. Mass suits us better.) However, this past weekend - Palm Sunday - due to a series of unusual circumstances, I wound up going to the 11:30 a.m. Mass alone. (It took two days for us to get back from Pennsylvania; when we got home early Saturday afternoon, Ed wasn't feeling well and wound up ill, so I stayed home with him; by Sunday he was feeling better but not well enough to go to Mass with me.)

I was so glad I went to the Sunday morning 11:30 a.m. Mass. Last Friday, we'd missed a performance held at church by the Philipine Madrigal Singers, but they performed throughout the Mass on Sunday morning. They were amazing.

I managed to record a few clips: the psalm sung shortly before the Gospel, as well as during the Preparation of the Gifts.



The Saga

The church where I attend services has been in existence since about 1964, but before I moved to West Jordan, the old church building (which looked, to put it kindly, a bit like a barn) was torn down; Masses were held in the social hall for over a year while a new church was constructed. A dedication was scheduled for December 19th, 2010, but there were issues with the delivery of the Baptismal Font, so the dedication has been rescheduled for May 1st, which is much more fitting since May 1st is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker, for whom our parish is named.

The Saga of the Baptismal Font has been a thorn in the priest's side.

Apparently the most cost effective way to get the font that was wanted was to have it ordered from China, where it was hand carved from one giant piece of rock by little old Chinese artisans. (They may not have all been little or old.) Machinery could not be used, or at the very least was not used for some other reason. The font was originally going to arrive in November; then around Christmastime; then No One Really Knew. (Or as the priest put it, We don't know when the hell it will show up. He's the first priest I've met who curses. Sometimes it's even appropriate.)

Finally the baptismal font was finished, and on the literal slow boat from China, where it would arrive at the Port of Los Angeles, then stuck on a train for Salt Lake City. How they got it from the boat to the train is beyond me. It finally arrived at St. Joe's in March, but there were delays in installing it because of plumbing, or piping, or the weather, or some combination thereof.

Yesterday was the first day I saw it in which it was actually full of water and completely installed. It's fairly impressive. And really, really big.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

RSVP Etiquette

Yesterday was the date by which we had requested our guests to return their RSVP cards. Most people responded in a timely manner - we had mailed out the invitations just over a month before the RSVPs were due - but it's surprising how many people simply did not respond.

Before we had sent invitations to the folks in our wedding party, we spoke to or e-mailed them first, asking if they would consider being bridesmaids or groomsmen. When they said yes, we mailed them invitations, not only for the sake of formality, but because we'd also wanted to know if they were bringing a guest.

However, there were a number of folks who for some reason or another just never responded, so yesterday and today Ed and I have been tracking them down. The lack of concern about replying by the actual RSVP date was immensely frustrating: We weren't inviting them because we don't care about their response; the caterers need to know how much food to have. How many people are coming affects how much food and beverage we're able to afford to serve (and whether we have a full bar, or just beer and wine, is a big chunk of that). I wasn't sure if our guests thought they only had to reply if they were coming; I wasn't sure if our guests thought they only had to reply if they weren't coming. Simply put, I wasn't sure if people recognized that we needed to hear from them either way.

I'd thought there might be some cultural aspects, too; we invited quite a few people from Ireland, a family from England, and one from Germany, all of whom we would have loved to have attend, but weren't really expecting to because of distance, cost, taking time off from work/school, having children in school, etc. (One of my mother's cousins, his wife, and their two daughters are coming from Ireland, which is fantastic.) Most of the international guests replied, but a few we haven't heard from. I understand that there might not be as much emphasis on replying, but I was hoping for a little more cultural awareness on their side. Perhaps the RSVPs got delayed in the mail; I'm half expecting us to get a few more RSVPs trickling in this week. A few folks were in contact with my mother, but again, Ed and I are the ones having the wedding and I would have appreciated hearing from the guests directly, and not secondhand.

The more frustrating non-responders were those who simply forgot to mail their RSVPs, or who admitted they had just been carrying them around for that last week. (Do people not realize that it can take the postal service a week or more to mail a letter from the one coast to the other? Obviously sometimes the service is worse than that for several factors, but mailing an RSVP three days before the requested date just seems like bad planning.)

Because we no longer live in a society where both the bride and groom live in the same part of the country or part of the world as their extended families do - because extended families are sprawled all over the place these days - we knew it would be an inconvenience for people to attend our wedding. It's an inconvenience for us to attend our own wedding, having to travel 2,000 miles for it; we certainly would have preferred to have it in Utah.

However, the economy and the cost of travel being what it is, having other family obligations that same weekend, not being able to take time off work, etc., people just aren't able to attend. But if you get to the point where it's a week before the RSVP date, and you have a pretty good idea that you won't be able to make it, holding on to the RSVP doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either.

Ed and I know that this wedding is more important to us than to anyone else, but whether or not the guests realize it, their holding on to their RSVPs - for whatever reason - gives the impression that our friends and family just don't care. Several people have told me they've simply forgotten to mail their RSVPs, which makes me wonder if they care about our friendship at all. I'm less worried about those in the wedding party formally responding, but if you're not in the wedding party, I need to know if you're coming and if you're bringing a friend. That date on the RSVPs is not a random date; we need to know quantities in terms of food, wedding favors, etc., even how many people to seat at a table.

It's hurtful when folks hold on to their RSVPs and don't communicate what's going on; whether it's intentional or not, their waiting gives the impression that they don't care what this day means to us, how much we might want them there, or whether we'd be inconvenienced waiting. A handful of guests hadn't received their invitation; when I e-mailed them, said outright they forgot about our wedding. That tells me our friendship means absolutely nothing to you, especially if we're in somewhat regular communication.

Flakiness is no longer accepted once you're an adult. Start realizing that if someone is holding an event, you need to make up your mind and communicate with hosts. Having this wedding shouldn't have made me reevaluate some of my friendships, but it has.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Reassessing Developmental Writing

Re-Assessing Developmental WritingI really enjoy teaching lower level English classes at the college level. Doing so forces me to reassess how I explain the basics of grammar, sentence structure, analysis, argumentation, etc., as well as constantly change my pattern of teaching, especially because at the lower levels of English and writing classes, you're likely to have a broader spectrum of students.
This morning I was reading "Remedial Levels," in which the blogger made the following point: 
"This week I saw a webinar by Complete College America...that suggested a 'co-requisite' strategy for developmental. In other words, it suggested having students take developmental English alongside English 101, and using the developmental class to address issues in 101 as they arise. It would require reconceiving the developmental classes as something close to self-paced troubleshooting, but that may not be a bad thing. At least that way students will perceive a need for the materials as they encounter it. It's much easier to get student buy-in when the problem to solve is immediate. In a sense, it's a variation of the 'immersion' approach to learning a language. You don't learn a language by studying it in small chunks for a few hours a week. You learn a language by swimming in it. If the students need to learn math, let them swim in it; whey they have what they need, let them get out of the pool."
I haven't thought through yet all the implications and problems, but I thought it was an extremely intriguing possibility.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Name Change

When I got my Gmail account, Google was only offering their e-mail service as a beta test run; one was invited to use Gmail if one was already using a Google product. I happened to be using Blogger extensively at the time as my sole blogging platform, and since Blogger had been bought by Google, I took advantage of being a beta user and grabbed msolomon at gmail.

Then Gmail became huge.

It only happened occasionally at first. Then it began happening monthly. Not it's happening several times a week, often multiple times a day: I get e-mails addressed and meant for other users, users who were not fortunate enough to get the "msolomon" handle.

Sometimes people sign up for Web-based accounts or news; sometimes they attempt to establish msolomon at gmail as a login, or as an e-mail address to send shipping confirmations. Not much I can do about that except "mark as spam" and delete. It's becoming more frequent that the same user attempts to use my e-mail address, so I'm getting more e-mails for Mhel/Mark/Melissa/another Michelle/Michele Solomon.

Sometimes actual people send e-mails, thinking it's a friend/relative/colleague, etc., they're e-mailing, but in reality the sender is missing an extra letter or number. I usually reply to tell the sender that they've got the wrong person. It's irritating, but I learned that I don't reply, they keep sending me e-mails asking their friend/relative/colleague, etc., why I don't respond. Most of the time the sender is apologetic, and I don't hear from them again.

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a nice young man - a college student - who wanted to know if I'd give him my e-mail address. Apparently he's getting close to graduation (if I'm remembering correctly), and thought it would prudent to get a professional e-mail address, instead of whatever previous e-mail address he'd been using. I said no, if for no other reason than it would take me weeks, possibly months, to go through all my various online accounts to switch to a new e-mail address I hadn't even registered yet. I should have offered to sell him my e-mail address, or put at least put in another stipulation in there. He was accepting of my answer - really, what else was he going to do if I said no - and I haven't heard from him again.

Also last month, I got an e-mail from someone named Howard, who had cc'd me regarding work he wanted done. I replied, saying that I was not the person he was looking for. Instead of that being the end of it, I got argued with. I don't remember the specifics anymore, but he did try to tell me he had the correct e-mail address; he added, "Michelle, it's Howard" (emphasis mine), as though I hadn't noticed the name of the sender. I replied noting that this last e-mail he got from me would, in fact, be the last e-mail he got from me; I also pointed out that often many folks added an extra number or letter to their e-mail address. (The only Howard I know is a cousin of an ex-boyfriend; in all the years Chris and I were dating, I never once got an e-mail from cousin Howard, whose last name was the same as Chris'; it's certainly a name I would recognize.)

Howard sent me another e-mail after that, continuing with the presumption that I was the person he was looking for, the person from whom he could expect work. I added his e-mail address to Gmail's filter and haven't heard from him since. Thank goodness for e-mail filters.

I was going to wait until after the wedding, after I'd officially changed my name, until I actually became Michelle Szetela, to start changing logins, but I've begun doing so now. I registered (I need to stop using the old website Chris had registered for me and paid for); I got a new e-mail address. I'm associating everything with my new name - calendars, Picasa, anything I come across.

I deleted my Flickr account - the URL was long and difficult to remember and had nothing to do with my current frame of mind; I want everything under a variation of "michelleszetela" or "mszetela." I decided I would start using Picasa, since it gives me more space than I need for less money; not only that, but I already had an account associated with my Gmail addresses, so the URL would include a more professional user name. (When everything you own online is under a variant of your first and last name, "fleurdesoleil" makes no sense.) I then deleted photos from my Picasa account associated with "msolomon" and uploaded said pictures to the Picasa account associated with my new e-mail address.

It's been busy. It'll take a few more months before I really finish updating my contact info. Websites that I peruse will need me to update my contact info, but I'm not going to go nuts trying to do all that in one day; I'll do that as necessity dictates.