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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Miss Em: Almost a Year (Almost) without Shopping

We get an occasional distress signal from Miss Em, dear daughter so far away: My boots are leaking! My shoes broke again! I'm dressed in rags!

Yes, Miss Em went off to Serbia last fall with two giant suitcases, for a four-season stay, in a country where the consumer goods are--she was warned--low quality and expensive. What an opportunity, we thought. An opportunity to stop acquiring so much.

Miss Em had succumbed to retail temptation many, many times over the preceding two years, partly as a result of youth, partly as a result of stress, partly as a result of peer pressure, and mostly because of the constant bombardments of consumer culture. She had spent way too much money.

How lucky to have an enforced time out. And lucky too to have a way back to the land of economic opportunity, which Serbia is not. 

Now things are winding down. She has given away her heavy winter coat to a friend who has helped her in many ways. It says something (what, I am not quite sure) that the coat, a faux shearling from LL Bean, was acquired for a mere $5 at Goodwill. She gave the same friend a cashmere scarf that I picked up on sale for $10. No wonder we accumulate too much! No wonder that we so seldom wear anything out (I, at least, usually donate long before there's much wear).

Soon, we will visit Miss Em in Serbia and--I hope--get to thank all the people who have shown her so many kindnesses. Maybe we'll even get to see the shoe repair guy.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dental Denouement? Comments Solicited

In the never-ending story of the dentist, another irritation. We received notice of a certified letter about a week ago. We filled out the little slip, requesting the the letter be left in our mailbox. A few days later, we found the slip squished underneath our mail. The carrier had not seen it.

OK. We clipped the slip to the box, only to find that we needed to PRINT our names in addition to signing. We did that, and....nothing. We fear the letter has been returned to sender. So angry is the dentist with us, that we assume she will take the return as a hostile action on our part!

I guess we could go to the post office and inquire, but that will take close to an hour and I forbade Mr FS from doing that. I figure the dentist will have to re-send it.

Anyway, here is a letter we are going to send to the dentist. Is this a good idea? And, if it is, do you have any suggestions for revision? Any tone problems?

We received notice of a certified letter from you more than a week ago. We signed the form left in our box and requested delivery, but have not received it. If the letter was to inform us that we were dismissed from your practice, you can take this letter as acknowledgement of that fact. If there is other information in the letter that we need to see, we request that you send it again. Thank you.

Mar 17 (6 days ago)

Last spring 2013, you recommended treatments for Mr. FS costing approximately $5000. T told you he would have to wait till January 2014 to begin treatment because he had to set money aside in a medical savings account. He did so. As I told you in our chat in January, we were eager to continue working with you because we appreciate your work as a dentist.

Tom called several times over the past few weeks to 1. get a list of the recommended treatments and cost breakdown and 2. make appointments to begin treatments. He did not receive the list of treatments or an appointment. He stopped by your office since we live down the street and were taking a walk nearby. He was hoping to get the treatment list and to make an appointment. At that point, you told him that our family was dismissed from your practice. He was quite stunned by that pronouncement. 

In addition to the list of treatments you recommended and an appointment, we had two other requests, neither of which we received. 

1. We asked Marilyn to give us the contact information from the Collection Agency so we could check on the records. Marilyn said she did not have that information.

2. We also asked for a letter outlining the events that led up to the bill being sent to collection. We told your office that we would pay Em's remaining bill in December. We called several times in December, but the office was closed. We left a message with your service stating that we wanted to pay and to call us for credit card info. We did not receive a call back. In early January, we called again to complete the payment. We gave Marilyn our credit card info, after which she stated that the bill had just been sent to a collection agency and that she would try to stop it. 

Marilyn then checked the email records from your answering service and said that she had overlooked the message about payment from December. She apologized and said that it was her mistake. We were appreciative of that statement.

A few weeks later, our daughter received a call from the Collection Agency. We were distressed to discover that the Collection Agency was given her name, since Em was a college student and the bills were guaranteed by US, her parents. We are afraid that a spot on her credit rating could have repercussions in the future, long after your office might be closed. 

That is why we requested a letter showing that we had made an effort to pay BEFORE the bill was sent to collection and that your office made the initial error. 

Even though we are no longer your patients, we would appreciate
1. a list of the treatments recommended for T.
2. the contact info for the Collection Agency
3. The letter with a timeline as outlined above.

Thank you for your consideration,

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St Patrick's Lost and Found: Geaux Saints

As we await our certified letter's redelivery, we continue to suffer dental stress and distress. How about St Patrick's Day (and the traditional New Orleans parade the Saturday preceding) as a stress-reliever? Celebrations were marked by things lost and found, but the stress of the lost was far outweighed by the de-stress and delight of the found. This is turning out to be a year of saintly interventions: I can now add St Patrick to St Anthony (the prayer of a thrift store customer to St Anthony led to immediate recovery of my grandmother's bracelet.) As the signs and tee shirts of football fandom proclaim in New Orleans:

THE LOST: The New Orleans St Patrick's Day parade is huge and noted for its throws: in addition to the usual beads and flowers, spectators vie for cabbages, potatoes, and carrots. So exciting! A frugal parade! Unfortunately, the parade was running rather late and Mr FS and I had to head home before the big floats with the cabbage-givers rolled by. Not to worry: we had Frugal Son in attendance. He wanted cabbage for his homemade kimchi, which is not a traditional Irish recipe. But Poor Frugal Son. He had a bag of seven cabbages. He walked a few steps away for a few seconds to say hello to a friend. When he turned around, the bag was gone. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

THE FOUND: As our group of four crossed Magazine Street en route to our chosen parade spot, I felt eyes upon me. I looked into the eyes of a young man. We were locked in a stare. Finally, he mouthed "Dr Frugal???" I ran over and he gave me a hug, reminding me that he had taken classes from me. I asked him to remind me of his name and he said "My name is Josh, but you always called me another name, which you said suited me better." As we walked away, I retrieved my memory from the file cabinet in my brain. Josh was a psychology major who took one of the dreaded (to many students) required literature courses. He was very smart and more interested than most. He fell in love with Paradise Lost and always vowed he would take a Milton course if it was offered while he was in school. A few years later, the course was offered and--lo and behold--there he was. He held his own with the advanced English majors too.

As we walked back from our stint at the parade, we came to Magazine Street once more. And there he was again. He came over and said "I always loved you as a teacher." And I said "I always loved you as a student." Another hug and then I remembered. I said, "Isn't funny? I always called you PATRICK."

LOST AND FOUND: A few years ago, I was whining in this very space about how I wanted a second Hermes scarf. Amazingly, a blogger with a beautiful spirit sent me one and, also amazing, it arrived on my birthday. The scarf was designed by Kermit Oliver, the only American to design Hermes scarves. When you read about him and view his artwork, it is clear that he too has a beautiful spirit. In addition to gifting the world with remarkable images, he has suffered tragedy beyond my efforts to process. Any powers of empathy I possess are not sufficient.

This scarf has come in handy. I wear it when I teach Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, whose plot hinges on the gift of a green scarf. I also wear it on St Patrick's Day. And when I looked for it in my scarf area, IT WAS NOT THERE. I looked and looked. Even though I am a certified slob, I always keep my two Hermes scarves in their place. This one is especially valued because of the giver and because of the artist.

I suffered through several hours before and after work of looking in various unlikely places. Then I found it. It had slipped from its spot (HOW???), crossed to the other side of a small closet, and ended up next to Mr FS's socks. Oh, how I hugged that precious piece of silk to me! Just like poor Sir Gawain, for whom, unlike for me, taking the scarf was a sin.

I'd say that in the LOST AND FOUND of St Patrick's celebrations, I have received much more than I lost. Frugal Son mentioned that the mom of one his friends might give him a few cabbages from her parade stash. So we may have kimchi after all.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Hays Town: In the Midst of Stress, Beauty (Frugal for Me)

After a day so stressful I could hardly speak (the stressful pinnacle was notice of a certified letter from the Dreaded Dentist), Mr FS and I went to a musical event organized by some music-loving acquaintances. After Katrina, this pro-active, supportive of musicians duo began hosting soirees in their home. They invite VERY good musicians (lots of choose from in the area) and the guests bring a dish to share and about $15 a head to pay the musicians. This being Louisiana, the food is as good as the music. We count ourselves fortunate to be on the guest list of these events.

Now the events are hosted by many people, at least those with homes big enough (ours is not) to accommodate 25 plus guests plus a musician or three. Yesterday, we were in a home designed by A Hays Town, an eminent architect who died in 2005 at 101 years of age. Most of Town's homes are very large, built for very wealthy people. This one was of more human (to me) dimensions.

Town is famous for using old regional materials: wood and bricks especially. This house was designed for some friends and so was more modest than his usual work. The front part of the house was a cottage from the 1830s (moved from South Louisiana), onto which was appended an addition of old bricks and wood (old bricks and wood=frugal!!). I can hardly describe how beautiful the home was.  One guest said the house even smelled good.

The current owners bought the house from the original owners after Katrina. I am glad I got to visit (and we were all told we could visit any time). While we were all waxing ecstatic about the privilege of living in such a masterpiece, the owner said the house was extremely high maintenance. The husband mows the 7.5 acres with a tractor (ugh). The house itself takes a lot of care.

I might fantasize about living in such a beautiful space, but I see that the beauty is a frugal experience for visitors, but not for the owners. Still, it has long been my fantasy to be INSIDE one of Town's homes and now I have realized that fantasy.

I own this beautiful book, which some madman donated to Goodwill many years ago.

For more views of Town's houses, you can google about. I like the interiors better than the exteriors, most of which are too massive for my humble aesthetic.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dental Disaster!

This story gets stranger and stranger. I hope I am not in trouble--though for what I do not know.

Mr FS called the dental office on Thursday (third effort) to get the recommended treatment from a prior visit. We never got any call backs. Then, when we went on a walk, I said "Why don't you go into the office and ask them to make us a copy?" We live right down the street.

Mr FS returned a few minutes later. The dentist had emerged from treating a patient and told him that we needed to seek treatment elsewhere. We were fired.

We called a teacher of our acquaintance whose husband is a dentist and got some recommendations. We planned on calling some next week.

Today, we returned home to find notice of a certified letter in our mailbox. FROM THE DENTIST WHO FIRED US. What could it be?

Does anyone have any ideas? I am kind of nervous about this.

Believe it or not, I don't blame the dentist. Her receptionist/bill person made the initial error and, except for one cordial chat with the dentist in January, we have perforce dealt with the receptionist.

When I saw the certified notice, I was hoping the letter contained our records, but it is a LETTER and not a LARGE envelope. I am hoping the dentist is merely terminating our relationship--only officially. Could it be anything else?

I hope Mr FS and I are not banned from the dental world in our small town. Rather worrisome, since we put several thousand dollars in our flex account to cover the treatment recommended.


Friday, March 14, 2014

HELP! Frugal Spine Needed DENTIST ENCORE

So many customer service issues of late! Help me stay strong!

 DENTIST ISSUE still ongoing: The office "withdrew" the charge from the Collection Agency. I have no idea what that means. Even though MR FS and I were receiving the bills, the charge was put under the name of our 22 year old daughter. I know this because she got a call from the Agency! Does anyone know if this will affect her credit rating in the future?

Mr FS has said that he is willing to stick with this dentist. She IS good, though her receptionist/bill person is awful. We have asked for an itemized list of the procedures the dentist recommended before the debacle. They totaled $5000 (no insurance for this). We have asked three times and not received one.

We have also asked for a letter to be signed by the dentist attesting to the fact that the receptionist sent the $200 bill to collection AFTER we had attempted to pay by phone and left a message. She did not read the messages. We are afraid that years after the dentist retires, my daughter may be haunted by this charge. However, the receptionist has not followed through on this either.

We have also asked that the Collection Agency send us something to the effect that the charge is not part of my daughter's record. the receptionist said there is no way to get in touch with the agency.

As I type this, I cannot believe that we are putting up with this service. The dentist herself is excellent.

There are only two good dentists in the area. I have been appalled by the quality of very expensive service provided by dentists in the area. Our previous dentist was--we now realize--negligent in many ways. So we have been willing to try to stay with a very good dentist within walking distance of our house.

Are we crazy?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Frugal French (Language Lessons)

The Hostess of the Humble Bungalow, proprietess of a cozy blog, is off to France. She asked for suggestions. Rather than putting my suggestion in a comment (where it might be seen by no one), I will put it here (where maybe someone will see it).  I learned about this site from my frugal colleague Merton (his chosen nom de plume that pays homage to his favorite author, Thomas Merton). Merton was in the Peace Corps many years ago and used the Foreign Service language courses for his stint.

These courses are now on-line, with an audio portion and a workbook that looks like the dittos of days of yore. In spite of the retro look, the courses are good. They are in the public domain. Word is that they are the basis of the expensive Rosetta Stone courses, which have jazzed up the visuals.

Me, I like free, especially if paid for by my tax dollars. I'm going to practice my French this very minute!

You can learn a zillion other languages too. Miss Em looked at the Serbian before she left for her gig there. Whoa! It's a difficult language.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Am I Still Frugal?

I have been aroused from my blogging slumber by a comment on my last post wherein I hawked Paula's Choice products.

This is supposed to be a frugal blog.........?
Pleeeeeeeeease !

Nothing like a little derision to put me on the defensive. Lizzie raises a good question, of course. On the defensive side: I buy perhaps 3 items per year from Paula. always on sale. They work well and last a long time. 

Further, I use many cheapo products recommended on her site: Cerave, Cetaphil, various sunscreens. In a sense, I feel that I'm paying her back for her excellent advice, which is, at times, better than the advice that dermatologists are dispensing (along with pricy items they sell in their offices). For instance, a colleague who had skin cancer was told by her doctor to wear sunscreen, but the doctor did not inform her of the importance of broad spectrum ingredients as Paula did, way before this info was in mainstream media. My colleague's sunscreen lacked a crucial ingredient, so I gave her some Paula sunscreen from my stash. Now most sunscreens have broad spectrum protection, but at the time, they did not. 

I first heard about Paula from a friend who lent me her book. My frugal heart was thrilled to discover advice on skincare, hair products, and make up that got around the always tempting advertisements we are bombarded with. Paula recommends many, many drugstore brands. Paula herself noted that she was skirting an ethical issue by starting her own line of products. I think she handles it pretty well. I've never used much make up, but the friend who lent me the book so many years ago saved a TON of money when she switched from department store to drugstore brands. 

Besides, I am 60 years old and have been uber-frugal for many, many years, at first by necessity and now (thank heavens) more by choice. I think my Paula purchases fit into my frugal ethos, but most of us make spending choices that appall both friends and family. I, for one, reserve the right to be appalled by disposable diapers!