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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The PERFECT Slippers from The Shearing Shed

I recently got the most wonderful pair of slippers I've ever owned from a place called The Shearing Shed in Belmont, MA. I bought them online, Massachusetts being fairly local to New York where I live. The slippers are made right there in Belmont, a Made in the USA product. I ordered a size 7, though I wear a 7.5, because they didn't have half sizes. I was told to expect them to be snug at first, but that they would form to my feet. When they arrived, I was struck by how well made they were, and also by the beautiful, thick, warm sheep fleece inside and around the ankle. On the outside, they are a beautiful suede. They felt like heaven on my feet, but were indeed quite snug, especially with socks. Almost too snug. But Bob, the owner of the company had sent me a personal email when they were on the way, reminding me that they would be. I decided to put my faith in him, and sure enough, after about 3 days, they were perfect. Every other pair of sheepskin slippers I've ever owned ended up being too big after wearing them for a month or so, flopping around on my feet and not keeping them very warm. Now, several weeks later, these still fit like they were made just for me, and in fact, they were. Bob mentioned they made them when I ordered them. And they were only $49, shipping included. I'm wildly in love with them and hope they never get dirty or worn out. And yet, when they someday need to be replaced, I know right where I'm going to order a new pair. These will make great holiday gifts too!
The Shearing Shed is without a doubt...
Extraordinarily sincere!
http://www.shearingshed.com/Slippers.html

Friday, October 4, 2013

Traveling Green - Guest Post by Cliff Barre

Many people are switching to a green way of living.  This allows more sustainability within the environment as well as the opportunity to save yourself some money on energy and other costs. While you may not think of yourself as the most green or eco friendly savvy person on the planet there are small steps that you can take to achieve a more green way of living.  These steps can be incorporated into almost every aspect of life from daily life to commuting and even travel.  Travel is one of the easiest and best ways to make small switches towards being more green.  From sustainable resorts to eco friendly traveling methods, you can quickly become a green traveler.

Begin your green travel by starting at home.  One way to become a more earth friendly traveler is to start before you even leave for your trip.  Preparing your home and packing responsibly are both great ways to make your experience more eco friendly.  Prepare your home by unplugging all of your electronic devices.  There is no need for these to be plugged in, leaking energy while you are away.  Make sure to set your thermostat at a lower- or higher- temperature than you would need it to be at to stay comfortable.  If it is winter, be sure that the temperature is not too low that pipes will freeze.

Packing can be one of the most exhausting parts of planning for a trip, make it easier by packing green.  Make sure you pack a lot of mix and match outfits to avoid having one or more set outfit everyday.  Also opt for one coat instead of two.  Heavier planes and cars use more fuel and your lighter packing will help keep the weight down and ultimately reduce carbon emissions.

Once you have packed, prepared and taken your eco responsible mode of transportation to your destination be sure that you are maintaining the green attitude throughout the trip.  If you are staying in a cool climate keep drapes or blinds open in the daytime to naturally warm the room. Alternately, if you are in a warm climate keep the blinds or drapes closed to keep the sun from coming in and making the room hotter.  This will reduce your use of artificial climate control systems which will in turn be green friendly.

While it may be tempting to buy into the tourist trap chains in your specific travel area make sure that you are getting everything you need locally.  Just like when you're at home locally grown food and locally produced items.  This saves on the transportation rigors that are often bad for the environment.

There are many green travel destinations within the United States and Upstate New York has something to offer every green traveler.  From the exciting adventures on the Finger Lakes to other outdoor adventures, you will be able to connect with nature and do it responsibly.  If the great outdoors are not your type of fun, there are many different wine tours you can go on and the world's largest green shopping mall.  Destiny USA offers a green shopping environment and boasts many stores that are eco responsible.  You can find something for everyone at this mall.  Choosing Upstate New York as your green travel destination will allow you many different activities no matter what your tastes all without ever having to leave the United States.

If tropical travel is more your style you may be surprised to find that Costa Rica is a great green travel destination.  Costa Rica is the largest green travel destination and has a vast array of eco friendly hotels and travel options for people who want to stay green when they leave home. Volcano exploring, hiking and exquisite beaches are all activities that can be done in Costa Rica. The tourist areas in the country also offer many different and delicious food and drink items that are produced locally so you will be able to eat locally and responsibly when you decide to go out for a night on the town.  It is one of the most popular destinations in the world among all travelers and will be sure to suit travelers that are looking for eco friendly opportunities.

Whether you are a mountain person, a beach person or somewhere in between the two there are green travel options for almost anywhere you visit.  Even if your particular location of travel doesn't offer green options you can quickly and easily use a few different tips and tools to help your experience become more eco responsible.  Whenever you decide to travel green you will be able to have a better time, help the environment with small steps and sometimes be able to save money in the process.   Traveling green is easy, responsible and enjoyable for any type of traveler.

http://responsible-tourists.blogspot.com/

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Plaza Auto Mall - You May Have Already Won!

Sure, I know what you mean; auto dealers in general have a reputation of being notoriously unethical, so why should I have expected this one to be any different? I wanted to believe them. What got me was the flyer I received in the mail informing me that this particular dealer (about an hour-and-a-half round-trip drive from my home) was willing to offer me 100% OF THE ORIGINAL MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price). I know it seems crazy, but it certainly got my attention just as they intended. As you can see on the flyer (below) - it makes that very compelling statement 3 different times in three different places; each time in large, red, bold, and ALL CAPS lettering.

Click to Enlarge
Georgina and I talked about the distinct possibility that this was some sort of a scam, but I called the dealership and asked some very direct questions (just not the most important question, but I'll get to that in a minute:). Really looking the fine print, I even asked, "is this the MSRP for my car, fully loaded as it is, or are you offering the base price (which would be a significant difference of thousands)?" I was informed that the offer would be based on my car with all of it's enhancements being considered, and after taking my name and indicating that they were very interested in talking with me about my car.

There is a sentence on the flyer, as you can see for yourself, that clearly states, "The only adjustments will be made for mileage, 35¢ to 55¢ depending on models and reconditioning." Yes, I placed those words in bold and in red so that they would stand out. (The dealership did just the opposite of that, for obvious reasons.) Typically, when dealing with car dealers, a statement like that typically refers to mileage in excess of 12,000 miles per year. My car has 27,400 miles on it, and the car is five years old. I figured that I was well within the safe zone. If they wanted to offer me $23,000 for a five year old car, minus a thousand or so for for minor scratches - I'd be really happy. Wouldn't you? 

Without even looking at it, the dealer offered us $10,000 for our car. He gave us that price based primarily on our mileage of 27,400 miles multiplied by .35¢ which, of course, equaled $9590.00 taken off their so called "offer!" 

This was a deliberate, built-in, intentional loophole allowing them to tell an outright lie, while making it appear that they were being as truthful as possible! OMG!

I just captured this quote from the website of the owner of Plaza Auto Mall 

"Always work hard, always keep your word, and always be good to people."

Uh, we really didn't have that experience.

We were more than annoyed, and we left the building. A few minutes later, after having examined the flyer which we were told explained it all very clearly, we walked back in and asked to speak to Marcello Scarrino. This is the same Marcello whose name appears on the flyer, which informed us that their research had indicated:

"Recently we have seen an increased demand for certain vehicles, and our research indicates you could be driving one of these vehicles. If so I have an incredible offer for you. I am willing to purchase your vehicle for 100% OF THE ORIGINAL MSRP base price when your vehicle was new! You read that correctly , we will buy back your current 2003-2011 vehicle for 100% of the original base price as listed in the current National Automobile Dealers Association™ Guide."
The general value of my car in today's market.
As you might imagine, Marcello and I had quite a discussion. He informed me with a blank, though seemingly sincere look on his face, that they were, after all, a car dealership and that the reason they sent out ads was to bring people into the dealership to sell them cars, and wondered aloud how I could have even thought for a moment that they would offer as much money for a used car as for a new one. I wondered aloud the same thing, but then there was all their research to be considered, indicating that there was, "an increased demand for my type of vehicle." With a straight face he said, "well, millions of people sign up for the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes every year." Further, he said, "we're here to sell cars and that's why you got that flyer. It was just to get you in here." He's right I suppose, I should be reading all advertisements as if they were contracts, right?

Interestingly, there is nothing on that flyer that is overtly offering to sell me a car. 
There are however 
2 NO-RISK OPTIONS
  • TAKE THE CASH OFFER FOR YOUR VEHICLE
  • TRADE FOR A NEW OR PRE-OWNED VEHICLE
There it is then, when dealing with this Honda dealer (or any of the other car sellers all owned by Mr. John Rosatti under the catchall name  Plaza Auto Mall) realize, based on the helpful and well considered information provided by the General Manager, Mr. Marcello Scarrino, that it's really very much the same as receiving an important looking envelope that indicates that, "You May Have Already Won!

I didn't want, nor was I looking for something for nothing. The flyer got me to believe that for whatever reason my car had an intrinsic value beyond what one might realistically expect. Okay, I admit it it - they got me. 

What if we lived in a world where "always be good to people" was not just a collection of words? What would the world be like if automobile dealers became the people known for being honest, dependable, and trustworthy? Impossible you say? 

Such an impossibility could be changed by any automobile dealership if they wanted it to happen. What are they afraid they might become if they were to make such a change?

Here's a possibility: an automobile dealership known for its integrity. 

Would I write about such a thing? In a heartbeat:-)

But in this case unfortunately our evaluation is:  You need to ask? Really?
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PLAZA AUTO MALL
2740 Nostrand Ave 
Brooklyn, NY 11210
800-553-4645 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Local and a Chain

We ate at two very good places here in NYC over the course of the last few days. The one we went to on the Fourth of July was the more special of the two for various reasons, but they both deserve mention.

Since it was too hot and we didn't feel like grilling on the Fourth, we went to a barbecue place in Astoria we hadn't tried before. It's called Butcher Bar, though the sign on the building just says "Smoke." Small but comfortable on the inside, there's also a backyard garden for dining though too steamy that night for us. We were drawn to Butcher Bar because its website said all the meat is grass-fed, free-range, hormone and antibiotic free, etc., and everything they serve is organic. There were even vegetarian options like veggie burgers for the friend my son brought along, but I wouldn't go in there if I were a strict vegetarian, because they do have a meat-market case and there's a lot of red, raw meat on display. Well, it suited me fine, but only because of the afore-mentioned natural-ness of the meat. I ordered a 1/4 pound each of the pulled pork and brisket (I wanted burnt ends but, like most good bbq places they were sold out by that time of the day) and mashed potatoes. My husband got ribs and potato salad. Everything was divine - I mean scrumptious! And very reasonably priced. However, as friendly, kind, helpful, and fast the waitresses were, the kitchen couldn't keep up with the rush. We waited about a 1/2 for our food and my son and his friend longer, as they came in after us. The waitress said they were always busy on holidays, but if that's the case, the management should plan ahead for it. Oh, and it took about 15 minutes to get our check back after we gave them the credit card, so maybe the waitresses got overwhelmed too. Anyway, I love the idea of a local place that serves great, natural and organic, sustainable food in a nice and friendly atmosphere. For this I rate Butcher Bar:
Extraordinarily sincere!

The chain restaurant we visited Friday the Fifth for lunch in Manhattan was Chop't - a place many readers may already be familiar with. I hadn't yet experienced the chopped salad phenomenon, but it sounded good, and Jon and I just needed a quick, light lunch. Jon ordered a Cobb Salad while I was still deciding, but when we looked at the amount of food going into it, decided to split it. He asked them to divide it into two bowls and I thought they would quibble, but they did it ever so cheerfully, at no extra charge. They were patient as he decided on the dressing, and in general were very friendly - something you don't always find in NYC. At the cashier, we were thinking about getting a drink, and she offered us a free cup of ice water. Very nice. The place was cool and comfortable - we even got a booth, and best of all, the meats are all free-range and hormone free. The veggies are not necessarily organic, but they try to serve local foods as much as possible. The salad was delicious and half of it was plenty for lunch. The whole thing, at 670 calories would have been way over the top for me, but most salads there had way fewer calories - between 300 and 400 for the whole thing, which is more like it. And one more super-plus: you can recycle the plastic to-go bowls and all other plastics, except the forks. They also have to-stay bowls that they wash and re-use, but we didn't think of it in time. I try to avoid chains, though this one is only in NY and Washington D.C. so far. I have to say, Chop't is one I'd try it again. So, though I would rarely give a chain our highest rating, I'll certainly rate it:
Pretty sincere!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Basil Brick Oven Pizza


The green lasagna!
Jon and I were among the lucky few to be invited to the rebirth of Basil Brick Oven Pizza's menu: a night for food bloggers and critics to sample the delights that Chef Daniele Barbos of Piemonte, Italy has recently dreamed up. We love discovering new (or old) places in our Astoria neighborhood, especially if they're within walking distance, but Basil is known as a destination for diners from far and wide. Two blocks off the N or Q train, at Astoria Blvd in Queens, those hungering for the best, authentic pizzas and reasonably priced, gourmet Italian fare come from every borough in New York...and beyond.

For some reason, on the night of the tasting event, we decided to sit apart from the communal table where most of the food writers were gathered - and by doing so were rewarded with being joined by Joe Giannola, one of the owners, and his nephew, Vito, though throughout the night, many members of the Giannola family came by to say hello and make sure our every need was being met. It certainly was. I want to say we merely "tasted" Daniele's newest creations, as well as some of his standards, but the fact is, we were served full portions of everything, so that by the time we got to the main course meats, I could barely move, much less taste. But I want you to know, I gave it my darnedest - everything from the appetizers, including the freshest octopus carpaccio on a bed of lemony arugula, and the fat, juicy clams swimming in a sea of redolent white wine sauce, to the first courses: green lasagna made with pesto, homemade mozzarella, potatoes and bechamel sauce, delicious lobster ravioli, an inventive risotto with speck (a kind of gourmet dried ham), radicchio and mascarpone, and one with asparagus, mushrooms and seafood; and finally, salmon, rack of lamb, and pork medallions - juicy and perfectly cooked with all kinds of delectable garnishes and side dishes. The legendary pizzas were to be served after that, but with not an ounce of room left in my belly, I had to pass, and instead went home loaded down with leftovers and lots of hugs and kisses from the Giannolas, Daniele, and even our wait staff.
Basil's dining room

Yes, they were conscientious of us being food writers, especially because I was doing double-duty that night, being on assignment for the Queens Gazette Newspaper. But by the accounts of others that have delved into the delights of Basil, the family that makes up everything from owners to bussers is always like that. The food is always exceptional and you always feel like you fit right in with la famiglia. On this blog, we're never paid or bribed to say nice things about any business we visit. Yet, though we were fed for free, the sincerity was so palpable at Basil, I have no choice but to declare it: Extraordinarily sincere!

Basil Brick Oven Pizza 
28-17 Astoria Blvd.
Astoria, New York
www.basilbrickoven.com

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Amé Amé (or Rain and Candy)

I haven't posted for a while about just a great little New York shop, but I love Amé Amé on East 9th Street in Manhattan. I went in on a rainy day to buy an umbrella. At first I balked at paying $27.00 for a collapse-able umbrella, even though the designs were all so cute, and the one I was interested in was super-compact, because I was sure I'd lose it or it would break. But the salesperson, who I think is the owner,Teresa Soroka, assured me that if I put it back in it's waterproof case every time I used it, rather than letting it flop onto the floor to dry wherever I went, I wouldn't lose it - nor would it break. Though little, it was super strong, she said. Since my other problem is that my son always borrows my umbrellas and loses them, I bought one with black, white and grey roses so he wouldn't be tempted. It's very pretty and very vintage-y looking. Sure enough, one year later, I still have it, it still works perfectly, and it stands up in any wind. I adore it. Points for that, Amé Amé!

Then, I needed rain boots and saw some cute yellow ones in their on-line store. When I went in to the shop, they were higher in price, but the same salesperson let me have them for the low on-line price of $40, I believe it was. They are comfy, warm, adorable, and really sturdy. More points!

Yes, Amé Amé is a little pricey. I checked just now and didn't see anything in their on-line store as cheap as the prices I mentioned, but there's more variety in the store. And besides, most of their items are made in Canada, England or the U.S. They are the epitome of a great, local business. And did I mention they sell candy too? I used to think they were called Rain and Candy... just an adorable idea for a store. Please patronize them this holiday season, either in person or on-line. You can order from anywhere in the world!

Ame Ame
318 E. 9th street
New York, NY 10003


Evaluation:
Pretty sincere

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Monday, November 5, 2012

New Yorkers and the Storm

Staten Island  http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog
New York was focused on the upcoming election pitting Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and then we were suddenly, physically, torn away from that fascination by the super-storm, blithely named Sandy.  It has occurred to me that the sincerity of individuals affected by the storm had been tested to the limits of endurance.

It's been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, and I would argue that there are no conservatives in need of governmental assistance - especially when everything they have accumulated over a lifetime has been washed out to sea.

Breezy Point  http://www.bnqt.com
I want to be clear that I am not viewing this from a distance, safe and secure in the knowledge that it could not happen to me and my family, but rather from a mere block away from where food and water was delivered by the National Guard  to the part of my community, the housing projects, that was flooded out. Okay, so those people were likely not conservatives before, and clearly they are not now. But they are no different, in the way of current need, from other people a few miles away in a comparatively wealthy community, who, up until a scant few days ago, were financially secure and dedicated to the idea that what they had was a result of nothing but their own hard work - as opposed to by birthright and  entitlement. I would also argue that this last group is generally (though certainly not all) representative of the conservative mindset in our society.

New Yorkers Helping New Yorkers  http://www.dnainfo.com
When faced with total loss, with nowhere and no one to turn to,  public generosity and governmental intervention are more than welcome. I wonder if some event were to happen in the life of any very wealthy person, taking from them everything, so that no trace of their wealth remained - how long would conservatism endure?

We are all part of a community of people who understand what it means to stand united and outside of political posturing.

Evaluation: The sincerity of individual New York neighbors supporting all of their neighbors, rich and poor in the face of unimaginable loss: Extraordinarily sincere



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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Best Public, Public Bathroom in New York City, and Other Suggestions

Locals and tourists alike are often looking for the same thing, no matter what city they're in: a convenient, clean, FREE, public bathroom. I've heard that in some cities, like London, you pay for certain public bathrooms. In many places, we rely on McDonalds, Starbucks or other fast-food joints that we recognize. In New York City, McDonalds is rarely clean, and at Starbucks you have to ask for the key. Neither of those options work for me.

I like to know my bathroom choices, whether I'm traveling abroad, or traveling around my own city, New York. Here, I know where there's a bathroom I can use no matter where I am, though there are different levels of restroom preferences. Hands down, the best public bathroom in New York City, and by public I mean free and not on or in private property, is the bathroom on the 42nd Street side of Bryant Park, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. Though a little small, only three stalls in the ladies room (and I'm afraid I can only speak to the ladies' side), as you enter, the first thing you see is a huge bouquet of fresh flowers. Inside, the room is spotlessly clean. An attendant, whom you are not pressured to tip, is on hand to keep things clean, and make sure people don't linger needlessly (I hate to say this, but let's face it, she keeps the homeless people from mucking it up, though I hope she allows them to use it.) There's even classical music playing! Sometimes there's a line, but it's usually not a long one. It's definitely a place for the quicker pit stops, and I don't believe there's a diaper changing table.

All of NYC's parks have restrooms. Another decent one is in Central Park, along the stairs that are near the Bethesda Fountain. It's big, and usually clean, but there's no guarantee of that, and it's only handy if you're in the middle of Central Park. There are several other OK bathrooms in CP, but as in the other parks, none of them is great.

If you're not in the Bryant Park area or the vicinity of another city park when you need a bathroom, I recommend a few other options that don't involve going into a restaurant where you have to buy something or ask for a key:
1. Department stores - big, clean and you can generally take your time, but you have to be
willing to go in, find it, and get out without being distracted by shopping.
2. Sit down/take out cafes - I'm thinking of places like Europa Cafe, Panera Bread, or similar. Some are better than others. At most of these kinds of places, no one notices you coming in just to use the bathroom. However, some of their restrooms are quite small, and they're not always clean. Certain other places, like Le Pain Quotidien, are designed to make it really obvious if you're just going in to use the bathroom, so you have to choose carefully.
3. Churches. These can be iffy because churches in NYC are not always open to the public except on Sunday morning. However, a place like St. Patrick's Cathedral, which is a tourist attraction as well as a church, is a good choice - free, clean, and no one is paying attention to whether you are only going in for the bathroom.
4. Bookstores: same pros and cons as department stores.5. Pizza or bagel joints. Anything that is considered a restaurant is supposed to have a public bathroom, but in NYC these little pizza and bagel places, delis as well, don't always, and even if they do, they're generally disgusting, just to discourage you from using them. Same with Chinese take-out places. I once used one where I had to step over a huge hole in the floor to use the toilet. Ew. (However, this doesn't compare to the actual hole in the ground that passed for a ladies room at the train station in Chiusi, Tuscany. That one, however, was far superior to the filthy hole in the ground I once used at a "bathroom" at a beach in Acapulco.)
5. Whole Foods/Trader Joes, etc. Similar issues to department stores and bookstores.
6. Libraries. Passable, but you have to get well inside and be scrutinized by the security. (Another anecdote: I was in a small town in England and needed a potty. I went into the library, and politely asked if they had a restroom. The woman replied, "We don't have anything so fancy as that here, but there is a public toilet down the street." I can't remember if I had to pay for it or not.)7. Public atriums. They all have to have restrooms and they can be really nice, but they don't make them easy to find. There's a big, beautiful one in Trump Tower, 5th Ave and 56th street, but you have to go all the way downstairs, past the restaurants and down a long hallway. It's worth it when you get there though.

Knowing where these kinds of places are in relation to where you're shopping, doing errands, or site-seeing, can really make a difference. If I'm downtown in the Village, I might stop into the Whole Foods in Union Square for a pit stop. More preferable still is The Strand bookstore on Broadway and 12th, and there's a Barnes and Noble on Union Square North as well as on on 18th and 5th Ave. Around St. Mark's Place there's a pizza place on the corner of St. Mark's and 3rd Ave that will do, though it's not very clean, and the bathroom in Washington Square Park will do in a pinch. I don't go all the way downtown to around Wall Street very often, but there's a Burger King down there that immediately comes to mind. In Chelsea, there's Chelsea Market, around the FlatIron District I believe you can find bathrooms in Eataly, but that's the most distracting and fascinating place in the world, so be careful. Around 34th Street there's Macy's, then farther uptown is the afore-mentioned Bryant Park restroom. Midtown, there's a Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, several atriums - you can Google these just by entering "Atriums, Manhattan" - libraries, and of course Central Park. I have to say, I'm not that familiar with the Upper West Side, but tourists don't spend a lot of time there anyway, except in Central Park or the Natural History museum, which of course have lots of bathrooms. That brings me to museums in general. Even if they're pay-what-you can, like the Met or the Natural History, it's not worth that buck or two because they're hidden in the depths of the museum, and unless you have lots of time to spare, you really risk getting pulled into the wonders that lie within the museum itself. On the Upper East Side there's a Barnes and Noble on 86th & Lex, also a Bed Bath and Beyond around 63rd and 1st Avenue - they always have bathrooms. I once used a bathroom in Ralph Lauren around Madison Ave. and 72nd street, but I really had to pretend to be shopping. 

I hope this post helps you be prepared for your time in NYC. After all, these little realities of life are important when you're planning that dream vacation - especially with kids.

Evaluation of Bryant Park Public Bathroom and by default the NYC Parks Department: Extraordinarily sincere!

Here are some suggestions from other sites:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cafe St. Malo, Quebec City

The bar/counter area of Cafe St. Malo
I haven't posted here in a while; I've been so busy working on my third book, which I continued to do WHILE on vacation in Quebec City. Vacation? No rest for the wicked here! In all seriousness, there were so many wonderful things about Quebec City, and so many truly sincere things to comment on, I didn't have much time to write anything down. I finally just decided to spin the wheel and put my finger on one: the restaurant that provided the best meal and loveliest dining experience we had there, Cafe St. Malo (or Cafe Le St. Malo, it seems to go by both). It's located in the super-quaint "Low Town" (Basse-Ville) in Old Quebec (Vieux Québec). Because Low Town is so cute and charming, it's crawling with tourists and rife with pricey shops, not a situation I would exactly call sincere, but Cafe St. Malo is a bit off the beaten tourist track. Just walking in, I sniffed sincerity in the air. Built solidly of stone, like most buildings in Low Town, (because it's the area of QC first settled) with low ceilings supported by massive wooden beams, and filled with interesting accouterments, each table feels like it has it's own nook so that you're not right on top of someone else's dinner. We were eight people in all, so that's not an easy feat to accomplish in a restaurant that maybe seats 25 at a time. Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you about how I made the reservation partly in French and how tolerant the hostess was of my limited skills in that language! As a matter of fact, I tried to make the reservation for 6:30 but they asked that we come at 6:00 since we were such a large party. We were late, of course, but they didn't blink an eye, nor at the fact that we didn't all show up at once, or that we had two little ones with us. The restaurant manages to be both elegant and family friendly at the same time. The prices were surprisingly reasonable, and for an additional $8 or so, one could add a soup or salad, and dessert, so many of us did.
My adorable niece Chloe, and my lovely mother Pat at Cafe St. Malo

And the food: oh my gosh. We started with a couple of orders of escargot and foie gras. Perfect. We decided on a carafe of the house red, and they brought us an oversized bottle. It was also...perfect. Then the main course: most ordered the steak frites, my sister's boyfriend ordered liver (ack!),  and my sister and I ordered mussels and fries. Let me just mention that the special of the night was horse. Yes, horse. None of us went there. Anyway, when our buckets of mussels arrived, my sister and I realized we probably could have split one. There must have been 100 mussels in that thing! And they weren't the tough, rubbery ones. They were tender as butter, and redolent with garlic and white wine. Neither of us wanted to admit defeat before we'd made it to the end of our buckets, which we did; plus we ate a fair number of our fries - stuffed, but happy. The eaters of the steak frites, and even of the liver, were thrilled as well - I tasted the steak and it was superb. The only tiny complaint I have is that the fries didn't come with mayo or vinegar, and when we asked, were given a run-of-the-mill version of both. But that's OK. Every other detail was attended to and the service was flawless. We were especially amused by our waiter who spoke English extremely well but sounded like Kermit the Frog, a fact my nephew very nearly announced out loud to the whole restaurant. Dessert was dee-lish, and we left completely happy, full beyond belief, and declaring it was one of the best meals we'd ever had.

Evaluation: Very sincere

75 Rue St-PaulQuebec CityQuebecCanada

(418) 692-2004
(One can find a full rundown of all the great things we discovered in Quebec City by visiting the post I wrote for Indie Chicks Cafe: http://indiechickscafe.com/oh-so-charming-quebec-city/)

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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Sincerity of John Locke and How He Sold 1 Million ebooks...etc.

I'm thrilled and inspired, having just finished reading John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million ebooks in 5 Months!. So thrilled and inspired, in fact, I decided both the author and the book needed a mention on the Searching For Sincerity blog.

As an indie author, I struggle every day with the idea that endlessly promoting my work feels a little insincere. Being a salesperson doesn't come naturally to me, though the feedback for my novels has been great, and, of course, I adore them (both - my books and the feedback), and I want them to sell. But what Mr. Locke has done is to show me how to mitigate the insincere aspect of self-promotion, and to UN-lock (pun intended) the secret of building a solid readership in a way that is genuinely sincere. I am so grateful.

I haven’t read Locke's fiction (though I intend to download and read his best-selling Saving Rachel - and yes, if you use any of the links to his books on this page I make a few cents from Amazon:-). From what I gather, he writes contemporary, humorous, irreverent crime novels, as well as a Western series. I don't usually read either of those genres, nor do I write in them. I write romantic time-travel adventures that take place in evocative settings such as Jane Austen’s England and pre-Civil War New York City. How's that for an obvious plug! But this post is not really about my sincerity, rather Mr. Locke's and that of his how-to manifesto.

It’s easy to assume that a book about selling a million of anything is just going to be either a sales pitch, or a bunch of instructions that are impossible for a novice marketer like me to follow. How I Sold 1 Million ebooks... is neither, though the author is totally forthright about saying that he hopes the reader will purchase one of his novels. He’s also forthright about the fact that he wrote his book not just to help authors, but because it made good business sense to do so. Maybe it’s his skill as a salesman, but by the end, not only was I ready to try the step-by-step EASY to follow business plan that he lays out, but I believed that he is a pretty nice, sincere guy, who does not and will not manipulate anyone into buying his books – any of his books. And that was the part that impressed me the most. He stresses that though it is possible to manipulate people into buying one’s books through blogging and social networks, he asks that one not. “It would be like giving you a super power,” he says, “and watching you use it for evil.”

So, though I am honestly and sincerely saying that by blogging about John Locke’s book I hope more people will read this blog than might otherwise do so, I am also willing to add Locke and his book to this carefully chosen evaluative list of businesses, restaurants, entities, and individuals because he has earned the honor.

I deem Mr. Locke and  How I Sold 1 Million ebooks in 5 Months!Very sincere


John Locke - author
http://donovancreed.com
How I Sold 1 Million ebooks in 5 Months!


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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sugarfreak

We had been wanting to try Sugarfreak since it opened a few months ago, but Jon's gluten allergy, and my intolerance to sugar kept us away. When I first glanced at the menu one day as I walked by it on 30th Ave, all I saw were po-boy and muffaletta sandwiches (hence, the gluten), and that name...well it scared me a little. Still, I was intrigued by what looked like shower curtains covering the front window, and the New Orleans theme. Once my friend and co-contributor to this blog, Teresa Barile, reviewed it for the Queens Gazette and gave it a big thumbs up, we decided it was time, especially when, upon closer perusal online, we discovered buttermilk fried chicken and blackened catfish on the menu. According to Teresa, the name Sugarfreak came from the original intent to make the place a bakery. I'm so glad they decided to ditch that idea.

At any rate, when we dropped by for dinner last night. we were immediately charmed by the interior. The "shower curtains," as it turns out, are actually vintage tablecloths that are also used for dividers between booths and on comfy back-pillows. Even the furnishings themselves made us drool - gorgeous antique kitchen tables and chairs that we wished we could sneak out with. We also were tempted to pocket the teeny mason jars used as salt and pepper shakers. And I was so in love with the bathroom: a bucket for a sink, colorful mardi-gras lights strung all around and a pull string toilet, I actually stayed a few minutes longer than I needed to and tried out a few Charleston steps to the Dixie-land music that was playing on a taped-shut CD player hanging from a towel rack. Sounds too kitschy? It somehow manages not to be, but rather walks the line between friendly family place and hip hangout. There were lots of well-behaved babies with their young moms and dads there the night we went - the place so crowded by the time we left at 8:00 we were glad our grown-up family had dined on the early side.

The food was good, but I'm not gonna say great. I tasted the fried chicken but still think I make better. The catfish was tender and delicious but I sensed a pre-made spice mixture was used. The sweet potato fries were probably the same frozen  brand I use, though I bake mine and they fry theirs. The mac and cheese was outstanding, however, and the chocolate bread pudding for dessert was so decadent I only had to smell it to know how wonderful it was. For a more complete assessment of the food, go to Teresa's review: http://bit.ly/wVVLLF because she tried many more things than we did. The service, though friendly, was a little slow, and when my husband ordered a salad, the server might have mentioned that another one came with the dinner, but the prices are right. Anyway, we liked it enough to definitely go back, and are looking forward to bringing out-of-town friends there. In a city (Astoria, Queens) where you could go to a different, great restaurant every night of the year and still not try them all, Sugarfreak is definitely a stand out.

Evaluation: 
Very sincere


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36-18 30th Avenue ASTORIA (718) 726 5850
Sugarfreak.com

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pita Hot...What?

Sometimes you just gotta put the spotlight on the little guy. I doubt anyone cares about a tiny gyro shop tucked away on a busy street in Astoria, Queens, NYC, but my son is such a fanatic about their shawarma (sliced, ground lamb in a pita) that I had to give Pita Hot a try. First of all, the name is awfully cute, don't you think? A little play on Pizza Hut except that it doesn't really make sense, since in English, of course, we would say Hot Pita. I'm sure the owner either doesn't know or care, and why should he?

But I digress. Anyway, I went in to order a felafel (ground chick peas and spices rolled in balls and fried, served in a pita with veggies and sauce) and found the counter man, probably the owner, a large, middle-aged, middle-eastern type, as friendly as could be. He cheerfully took my order, then proceeded to offer me hot pita triangles dipped in fresh hummous (ground chick peas and spices in a paste.) It was phenomenal. He offered the same to all the customers who came in, and knew some of their orders before they spoke. My son tells me this is true of his - the guy knows to add extra hot sauce but no veggies.

I got my felafel in about 5 minutes and took it home to eat instead of there in the tiny restaurant with just a smattering of tables and chairs. It was good. Not as good as the fresh hummous, but good. Good enough to remain impressed with Pita Hot's level of sincerity, and want to recommend it to others. So if you are in Astoria anytime soon, drop by for a cheap, satisfying, middle-eastern sandwich, made to order. It's the friendliest shawarma you'll find anywhere.

Evaluation: Very sincere
25-15 30th Ave
AstoriaNY 11102
(718) 932-8282


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Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Tale of the Vacuum of My Dreams

Georgina sometimes chides me for writing about giant companies that everyone knows tend to be distant, and saying that they are insincere seems to be just stating the obvious. However, I have a lot of fun squawking about their lack of passion for the customer (that being reserved for the money that the customer represents:). I know I just can't help myself.
When I say to you that I know of a company that does not fit that mold, at least in terms of their dealing with me, I am hard pressed to have fun with it... There's no complaining involved! I ask you, what's a guy to do?
I suppose I'll just have to tell it like it is. We bought our second Dyson  (In the interests of transparency and sincerity - the link is an affiliate link to this tool available through Amazon) vacuum a couple of months ago and it took me a whole month to realize that there was a part that should have been included in the box that was not. This vacuum was, like its predessor superior in every way, but there was no sort of attachment that would clean under, for instance a bed or a dresser. The vacuum itself was too big to fit under either of those things. The last vacuum came equipped to do the job, but this one was not. So I called them and told them my sad story. The man I spoke with listened to what I had to say, and within a few minutes he realizied that he agreed with me! He quickly arranged to send me the part in question for free, and indicated that he would be forwarding our conversation to the upper echelons in the company, so that attention could be paid to creating a solution in advance of  of their receiving any other calls from unhappy customers. He actually cared and indicated quite directly that so did the company, and he was fully empowered to do something about it.

Evaluation, Very sincere


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The BestBuy Sincerity (or lack thereof) Factor

This is the first ever dual evaluation for the same business!
That's right I found a better deal at BB than at Amazon. I was both surprised and elated... I was about to save a significant amount of money, but I ran into a snag...

This is a copy paste of the conversation I had online with  (the online division of BestBuy) Buy.com:

Jonathan Ellis:  Trying to check out and set up an account, but the page will not accept any password.
Jennifer:  Ok, I will be happy to assist you with your account
Jonathan Ellis:  thanks
Jennifer:  Are you getting an error message?
Jonathan Ellis:  Password must be 6 to 30 characters and contain at least one number. Cannot contain spaces. Please try again to create a new password.
Jonathan Ellis:  the passwords I have tried to use have all contained the correct specs
Jennifer:  Ok, how many times have you tried this?
Jonathan Ellis:  3 or 4
Jennifer:  Ok, are you sure you have 6 or more characters and at least one number?
Jennifer:  No spaces.
Jonathan Ellis:  yep
Jonathan Ellis:  correct
Jennifer:  This is for your Best Buy account correct?
Jonathan Ellis:  Yes to create a bb account
Jonathan Ellis:  I also just now got a rewards membership that seemed to go without a hitch
Jennifer:  Ok, that is great!
Jennifer:  What I would recommend doing is calling 1-888-237-8289 and asking for order support. They will definitely be able to resolve this issue for you.
Jonathan Ellis:  thanks
Jennifer:  You're welcome. Thank you so much for choosing Best Buy. We look forward to chatting with you in the future. If you need further assistance please contact us via chat or by phone at 1-888-237-8289. Have a great day!
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It seems simple, friendly and kind, right?? Right. I called the number and spoke with yet another Jennifer who was not able to resolve the problem in any other manner but to take my order by phone. That was when something very strange happened. The total that they came up with was nearly $30.00 more than what I was being charged online. Online I was about to pay $5.66 in tax and by phone $38.40! In light of the fact that I was being forced into the purchase with a higher price I requested that they fix it. Jennifer could make that happen so I asked to speak with a supervisor which is when Scott came on the line with lots of fast talk and no service in mind. it was a problem on the website and no problem of his. He literally said, "there is nothing that I am willing to do to have your business. I will not discount anything. The tax is the tax. if you don't like it there's nothing I can do about that. And you should know that when you shop online if if the site doesn't work right you have agreed per the user agreement that BB will not be held responsible."

"You said a mouthful," I replied, "please cancel my order."

I was back to square one. In the meanwhile the original online Jennifer without my request had gone the extra mile and sent me a link whereby I could create a brand new password, and it worked! I made my purchase (tax $5.66).

Scott can bite me. He needs to discover that the customer being right has real meaning (or it should) to a "Customer Service Supervisor."

Evaluation Online: Jennifer was Extraordinarily sincere!

Evaluation Phone: Other Jennifer was caught in the middle while Scott -  well, You need to ask? Really?

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Word Books, Brooklyn

Luis Alberto Urrea signs Queen of America at
Word Books, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of
WordBrooklyn.com
On a mild December night, I took my husband for a surprise visit to an independent bookstore in Brooklyn to give him his Christmas present: not just a hard-cover version of the recently released Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea, a book we'd been anticipating as the sequel to our favorite, The Hummingbird's Daughter, but a signed copy and a chance to meet the author.

Jon was delighted when he realized what his present was. We've been a fan of Urrea's for a long time and were both just thrilled to meet him. But we were also delighted with the venue in which this reading and signing were taking place - not a Barnes & Noble, not a Borders, or other Starbucks-ridden big-box behemoth, but a cozy, well-stocked bookstore in Brooklyn with a lovely children's section and a knowledgeable and friendly staff.

We were led into the basement where Urrea and his wife were setting up a slide show, we were offered refreshments and encouraged to enter a raffle for 18 signed books of all different titles offered by the bookstore. Then Mr. Urrea showed pictures of his real-life main characters upon which his historical-fictional novel is based. He answered questions, and finally did a memorized reading, more of an acting out, of a scene from Queen of America. The man should be on Broadway. Then my husband got in line to have his newly purchased copy signed and I had a great chat with a staff member about the book A Fearful Symmetry by another favorite author, Audrey Niffenegger.

And guess what...I won the raffle! However, that is not why I chose Word Books for this blog. They fit all the Sincerity criteria and then some (even providing lots of community outreach, according to their website). My husband came away feeling like he'd gotten the best Christmas present ever, and I walked off with a charmed impression of the shop. We don't have anymore independent bookstores where I live, Astoria, Queens, so Word Books is now my bookstore of choice. Merry Christmas to us!

Evaluation: Extraordinarily sincere!
126 Franklin Street Brooklyn, NY 11222 | 718-383-0096
www.wordbrooklyn.com


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas - Nice

Yesterday my son Josh was sick with a terrible sinus headache which unfortunately expanded into throwing up all last night.  Obviously, we had to postpone a planned trip by plane.  Everything got crazy quickly if ya' know what I mean? He's starting school in January and finds himself between insurances (naturally), so we needed a reasonably priced doctor who would take care of him without an overwhelming pile of paperwork, governed by an even more overwhelming number of rules and regulations. I called the Community Healthcare Network in Long Island City. At first, all those things I feared would occur - did. However once I explained the dilemma and the situation, a woman named Crystal came the rescue. Basically, she bent the rules just a very small amount and made things happen fast. What a great experience. As I write this Josh is being seen by the doctor. What a relief to know that he is in capable and caring hands. This is what true sincerity is all about.  Merry Christmas to all, etc...-)

Evaluation: Extraordinarily sincere!


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Long Island City Health Center
36-11 21st Street
Long Island City, NY 11106
http://www.chnnyc.org/locations/lic/

Merry Christmas - Naughty

209 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, is the address of the Radio Shack where I purchased a simple wire to connect my IPod to the speaker system in my car. It worked exactly twice and then gave out. I took it back and the clerk sneered , "do you have your receipt?" I had to admit that I did not, but that I figured since it was their product they would easily be able to recognize that they had indeed sold it to me, and that is was new. I was Informed by the manager, who stepped into the conversation (who would not provide her name) - that for all she knew I had bought it months ago. "True," I said, "I've only returned to this store to con Radio Shack out of the $2.79 I paid for this thing. This isn't a hugely expensive (overpriced) computer. It's just a faulty wire!" As you might imagine - she was not amused. 

As my 19 year old son asked in utter amazement when I told him of this incident, "didn't you already know never to shop at radio shack?" Okay, I guess I didn't know, but now I do. Really in my mind, even if the wire was a year old they should have replaced it.  Sincerity is not to be found there.


Evaluation: You need to ask? Really?

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They're everywhere...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kid's Center, Tucson - the Anti-Big-Box

Every time I come to Tucson, which is at least once or twice a year, I discover a new treasure. Sometimes, I re-discover a place I've known about since I was a teenager growing up here. A place I've loved, not since I was young, but since my son was a toddler, is called Kid's Center. This is a magical little toy store where we used to go to get parts for his Brio train set. Now, I guess, you can get them at Target, maybe even Walmart, but they used to be found only at higher-end toy shops because they were high-quality wooden trains and tracks from Sweden; these days, the company seems to have gone mega-corporate.

Anyway, I hesitate to mention those two evil big-box stores, Walmart and Target, because they don't belong anywhere near a sincerity blog. Especially when this particular blog post is about is about one of the most charming, sincere, mom and pop stores I know of in Tucson. I stopped by there today, six days before Christmas, to look for things that were on my niece and nephew's Christmas lists. I remember the year I did go to Target in Queens, NY to find things on their lists, and came out nearly sobbing with frustration and disgust. I've never set foot in one again. What a different experience today! I called ahead to find out if they had Sea-Monkeys and Art Kits, which of course they did, and not only was each item well under twenty bucks, but the art kit was %20 off today only. The lady in the store guided me to the higher quality kits, still only $16, and then I had fun picking out adorable and unique stocking stuffers that you wouldn't find anywhere else.

At Kid's Center they gift wrap for free, their toys are mostly educational or at least well-made, and the ladies who work there know exactly what they have and for which age kids, and are super-friendly. They also have a great selection of children's books. As I breezed by Walmart on my way home from successfully accomplishing my Christmas shopping for the kids, I stuck my tongue out at it and all the suckers slogging their way through that made-in-China, small town-killing nightmare. Do yourselves a favor people, find those sincere, local gems in your own towns and give them a chance again.

Kid's Center
1725 N. Swan Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85712
520-322-KIDS

www.e-KidsCenter.com

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shirley Mae's Diner

Shirley Mae's...doesn't that name just conjure up images of fried chicken, ribs, collard greens and macaroni and cheese? It did for me and Jon, especially when we saw the words Soul Food under the name as we drove past the restaurant on 21st Street in Astoria. I stopped by during the week and picked up a menu, then called in our order last Saturday night. When we went in to pick it up, the friendly, dred-locked guy named Anthony, the only one on duty besides the cook, told us the place had just been open a couple of months and was doing pretty well. At that hour, around 6:00, there was only one table of little old ladies in the joint, but it seemed more a take-out than sit down place anyway 'cause it is quite funky. Apparently, it had been an Indian restaurant before, and had been decorated in a cave-like theme, with slightly erotic Aztec/Mexican art on the walls. We weren't sure why. But Anthony told us that his grandmother, who owned the place, liked it and so left it as is.

So anyway, for 5.99 a piece, we got the chicken and ribs special, plus a side of mac and cheese. Each meal came with 2 pieces of chicken and two ribs with a side of fries, and Anthony gladly substituted sweet potato fries for french at our request. A soda came with each meal. So we took our orders home, just a five minute walk, and discovered that, though he'd said the meals came with a thigh and a drumstick, and though he mentioned he'd had to substitute a wing in one, actually, together we had only one drumstick and three wings. That was a little disappointing, but the wings were big and meaty, and the chicken fried perfectly - not greasy at all, not a huge amount of batter and not salty. It was the epitome of homemade - just like my East Texan gra-ma used to make it. The ribs were good, a little sweet for my taste, and the fries just fine. The mac and cheese, however, was sublime. This stuff was really authentic. We didn't try the collard greens 'cause Jon doesn't like them, but maybe next time.

You cannot beat the prices, and, though I may not be black, this part-southern girl knows good soul food when she eats it. At Shirley Mae's, it's pretty dang good.

Evaluation: Very sincere


Shirley Mae's Diner
28-08 Astoria Blvd.
Astoria, Queens, NY
718-626-1404

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