Friday, November 26, 2010

20 questions...

I am the featured Canadian blogger today over at Nugglemama's Handful! It's an honour! Head on over if you want to learn a few really random things about yours truly :)


Today is our second wedding anniversary. I'm not much for sentimental stuff - honestly, I'd forgotten about it until my mother in law emailed to wish us a happy anniversary. Then I promptly forgot again... until just now, when this was delivered:from my wonderful, thoughtful husband (who happens to have a great memory). AND it came with a box of chocolates - the man knows the most direct path to my heart.

I'm all full of love!

So to my husband - we've had two years of marriage, plus four years of dating, a whirlwind of travel, a rollercoaster of emotions, a baby on the way and a love that can withstand anything. I look forward to a lifetime with you.Thank you - for all of this - from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

CSN vs ATG - the unbiased, unsponsored review

If you've been entering any blog giveaways lately (or following me on Twitter), you will have heard of both CSN Stores and ATG Stores.

They are both massive online retailers with hundreds of retailers, stocking just about everything you can think of. Both operate websites that make shopping easy, and shipping is free* on certain items, even to Canada. Sounds good, right? *sort of

I've had the chance to try both out, as, luckily for me, I won a gift certificate at each store. (The hard part was figuring out what to buy.) Here is my experience with both for comparison:

CSN Stores

At CSN Stores, I won a $60 gift certificate and ended up purchasing a couple of things for the nursery: a yacht mobile (not a big fan of the plastic, battery-operated crib mobiles, this now hangs over the crib)
and this crib sheet as well:These together added up to $60, so there's the gift certificate spent. I got free shipping on both items, but the "International Fees" added up to an additional $19.44 on these two items. My order was placed in late September, shipped September 27th, and I received it at the beginning of October. That's fairly fast - nothing to complain about (aside from the hefty International Fees, watch out for those!). Both items arrived in perfect condition, even the rather delicate mobile, and I'm very happy with them.

ATG Stores

At ATG Stores, I had a $50 gift certificate to spend. This came at the perfect time as we were looking into canoe covers to protect the canoe we bought this spring over the winter.

(The tiny picture is all I have as the original picture has now been removed from their website)

We found a canoe cover at ATG Stores and put the gift certificate towards that. The cover cost $79, and although it had "free" shipping, there were "Additional Shipping" charges to Canada of $36.16. This seems like a lot, but because of the gift certificate it is still less than the ones we were looking at at other retailers.

Here's how that order has gone:
October 8th: I placed my order. My credit card was charged.
October 11th: I got a message saying that the item I'd ordered was now on back order and that it was expected to ship on November 6th.
November 6th: came and went, and I didn't receive a shipping notification or email.
November 9th: I left a polite message on their "Live Chat" (because there were no customer service reps actually live chatting), asking for an update on my order.
November 11th: I received an email message saying that my order is now expected to ship on December 3rd, and "sorry for any inconveniences".
Update December 1st: I received an email message saying that my order is now expected to ship on December 11th. December 11th! More than two months since my order & payment. NOT COOL!
Update December 7th: I received an email message saying that my order was shipped and delivered to Washington. Um, Washington? I live in Ontario. I jumped on to the Live Chat and actually hooked up with a customer service rep, who told me that the source company doesn't ship to Canada, so they've had it sent to the ATG warehouse and will ship it on from there. Why send me an email saying it was shipped and delivered with a tracking number? Just to freak me out that it went to the wrong place? On the plus side, I did actually get to speak to someone in customer service, he did look into it and let me know what was going on - also at least this is progress. On the negative side, there was no apology for the wait and no goodwill offer. Also - we've now got about 10" of snow... The whole point of ordering a canoe cover in October was that it would be here in time to protect the canoe from the snow!
Update December 9th: "Your package is in the UPS system and has a rescheduled delivery date of 12/16/2010." Right. Because December 11th would be silly - only 10" of snow has fallen. Let's wait another 5 days so we can ensure the canoe is thoroughly buried and encrusted in ice and snow.
Update December 15th: The canoe cover finally arrived. It fits - after my husband spent half an hour chipping a foot of frozen-on snow off the canoe. I'm so. Done. With ATG.

Now, I get that sometimes back orders happen. This might be a weird thing that not too many people order or something - or maybe they had a zillion orders for it as fall approached and didn't stock enough. But as a customer who has already paid for my order, a two month+ wait to receive it seems a little much.

What I really don't appreciate about the experience is that I have had to follow up to find out what's going on, rather than their customer service letting me know when an expected ship date came and went without my order being shipped. I don't like that they advertise "Live Chat" with their customer service reps on the site, yet each time I have gone there is nobody on the other end. Maybe that's my timing, but really... it's not live chat if it's not actually live chat.

Usually when I have had major delays on orders with other companies, or they have problems fulfilling my order, they offer some kind of token as an apology, whether that's a discount off the next order, or a partial refund. I don't mean that I ask for this kind of thing, it just has been the standard in my experience. (Just as a recent example of good customer relations, we were at Extreme Pita on the weekend, they screwed up my husband's order, and in apology gave us two coupons for free sandwiches. Starbucks does the same if they are out of something or mess up your order. I have had non-food companies throw in freebies or discount coupons.). No such offer from ATG has been put forward.

Who knows when I will receive the canoe cover. I sure hope it's soon as we can expect snow any day now and the point was really to have the cover on there before winter hits.


Pros for both: decent prices, easy shopping
Cons for both: Hefty additional shipping fees to Canada

Pros for CSN: fast shipping and well-packed items, lots of selection (200+ retailers)
Cons for CSN: nothing besides the above

Pros for ATG: even more selection (500+ retailers), easy shopping
Cons for ATG: customer service is not as good as one might hope, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w fulfillment (on my order, YMMV)

Just FYI, this is just me sharing my experiences with these two companies. Neither has asked me to do a review or anything. I figure with a lot of us doing online shopping for Christmas, a completely unbiased and unsponsored review might be just the thing if you were considering either of these massive retailers for your shopping. If you've tried either site, and had an experience worth sharing (good or bad), feel free to comment!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Share a Smile with Snack Pack & Donate to Food Banks Canada

What makes you smile? For me, it's many things - little baby kicks and wiggles, my crazy dog doing his 'pillow dance', my husband cracking jokes, thinking about how our life is going to change in the next few months... I love watching my painting students' achievements and their wonder and pride as they create their paintings. I love seeing my friends' children develop new skills (one recently started walking!) and their parents' joy. Christmas shopping always makes me smile (at least, once I've succeeded in actually buying gifts) as does wrapping presents.

I'm sure you have heard of Snack Pack before - if you're a pudding junkie like me and my husband, you will know them well. They also make Juicy Gels (if you are not vegetarian) and low-fat puddings (me, I say if you're going to indulge, go all the way).

As we approach the season of giving, here's a super easy way to give a little to someone in need. The Snack Pack Share a Smile Campaign has a goal of raising $20,000 for Food Banks Canada in time for the holidays, and they've made it SO easy for anyone to help out. All you have to do is share a smile with a friend and every single time you do that, Snack Pack donates a dollar. Not only that, but sharing a smile enters you to win a weekly prize - it's a complete win-win!

Here's how: sign in to your Facebook page, look up Snack Pack Canada, "like" the page and Share a Smile. Snack Pack will donate $1 on your behalf to Food Banks Canada just like that. If you register for the contest, you will also receive a ballot for the weekly prize - and get points towards cute Smile badges. The best part is that you can share a smile and thus donate every single day.

I hope you take the couple minutes to share a smile today. I did!

Disclosure - I am participating in the Snack Pack program by Mom Central on behalf of Conagra Foods Canada. I received a gift card as a thank you for my participation. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weekend deliciousness

This weekend we had a dinner date - the kind where we spend time in the kitchen together, cooking something neither of us has ever made before. My husband chose the recipe:

Schwammerlgulash mit Semmelknoedeln

Yes, it's a mouthful!

When we were out in Kimberley, B.C. in September, we had the pleasure of dining at the Old Bauernhaus Restaurant. This is a traditional Bavarian restaurant in a remarkable setting - a 370 year old building that was transported piece by piece from Bavaria! My husband (the sometimes carnivore) had the schnitzel, and I had the Knödel (bread dumplings) in a wild mushroom sauce. The food was delicious (and, like most German food, SO filling!). So, his inspiration for making this dish was our fabulous meal at the Old Bauernhaus.

The recipe makes 8 dumplings and plenty of mushroom goulash to top them. This is easily enough for four hungry people to eat for dinner (I managed one and a half dumplings before I was full to the brim!). It also came together faster than I'd expected. We used about 500g of mixed mushrooms (the recipe calls for 800g) and that was plenty. I think next time we would use the food processor to chop the mushrooms. We also substituted sherry for the white wine, just because we had it handy. (We also decided we'd stir in a bit of sour cream to the sauce next time, to give it a richer texture and a bit of a bite.) It was so yummy. Definitely recommended for a very rich, filling and impressive meal that isn't too time consuming to make. You could easily prepare the uncooked dumplings ahead of time and refrigerate until you're ready to cook them.

Today was a rainy and house-bound kind of day, and I decided to make Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting. We had some cooked pumpkin in the freezer, perfect to puree and use in these (though of course, you can use canned)!

I found the recipe at Good Life Eats, though I just tried to take another peek at it and the site is down. Hopefully it comes back up soon (and thank goodness I copied down the recipe!). As with most yeast breads, this was a fairly time-consuming recipe - mix, rise, roll, fill and cut, rise, bake... but definitely worth the effort. The pumpkin flavour is subtle, the cream cheese frosting is delicious, and the rolls are moist and soft. You even get to say you're eating your vegetables and healthy whole wheat :) If their site doesn't return and you really want the recipe, leave me a comment and I'll try to post it.

I did find I needed to add more flour than the recipe called for, and I also added about 1/2 cup of walnuts sprinkled over the sugar filling (I mix the butter and sugars for the filling before spreading, too, which I think is easier). And... don't tell my hubby, but I didn't defrost quite enough pumpkin and had to add a little pureed sweet potato (possibly his least favourite vegetable). He didn't notice, phew! So, yes, you can substitute! :)

Okay, honestly, they are not healthy at all... but they sure are delicious.

One more thing... we had initially considered eating the Knödel with a side of meatless "chicken nuggets" - while the flavour would have worked with the mushroomy Knödel, thank goodness we didn't as we were already so stuffed. Anyway, my husband came up with the most hilarious term for chicken nuggets that nearly made me narf my dinner. Seriously, I laughed until I cried. Never mind that the pregnancy hormones make me do that often, this was really funny. Ready for it?


"ghetto schnitzel"


Ha! I was picturing people ordering a 6-pack of ghetto schnitzel at McDonalds.... :D Feel free to use and abuse at will. It would make me very happy.