Wednesday, August 18, 2010

5 Things Every Kid should know while trying to pursue happiness

At about the 5th or 6th grade, my daughters had to memorize the Declaration of Independence.

When they got to : " We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", a long discussion on the "right to Happiness" versus the "right to the pursuit of Happiness" always followed.

It is an important distinction that we as a society grant the right for people to Pursue happiness, but there is no guarantee that you will ever find it. What a shame to waste that right to pursue Happiness by chasing shadows and never finding any of it. Here are 5 things every kid(or the kid in all of us) should remember when they head out on that pursuit.

1) Don't assume you know where you will find happiness. You might have ideas about where your happiness will lie, but it is just as likely that it will surprise you and you will find happiness in unexpected places.

2) Happiness is rarely expensive, hardly ever uses batteries and never,ever fake pees.

3) Happiness is often dirty, creates a mess (please clean up afterward) and sometimes requires odd bits of string and glue.

4) Flitting about like a butterfly or a busy bee can be absorbing, distracting and fun;but sometimes you have to lie still like a snake on a hot afternoon, stare up at the clouds and let the happiness bask into you slowly.

5) You can pursue something all you like, but if you do not clearly and intentionally pay attention to the life around you, it is likely you will never find it- even if it is sitting right in front of you.

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and Nanny McPhee Returns blogging program, making me eligible to get a $50 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.” [however, the advice is still heart felt and useful]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Green until death

Marketplace has an article about Resomation-a new treatment for corpses that is being pitched as the green alternative to cremation. By dissolving the body, they are really only accelerating the natural decomposition process, but this is not always the way that people want to think about what happens when they die. It seems that there are some who are also opposed to this alkaline body dissolving solution because they are worried what will happen to the post treatment liquids. We have entered a time when death is so removed from life that even thinking about having to interact with something that has been part of death is frightening.

If we are really worried about the carbon emissions of cremation, perhaps it is time to return to the old tradition of the dead being laid out on a pyre to be consumed by birds. This does get a bit messy( and the smell is not good) so perhaps the use of dermestid beatles would be a cleaner, most clinical way to dispose of cadavers without the use of any energy at all. The resulting clean bones could be ground into bone meal and returned to fertilize the soil.

No matter what path we choose for disposing of our dead loved ones, we would all be better to remember that we are part of the cycle... and there is no life, without death.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Honor over Luxury- the Sheraton Saga Part 1

It started last night when I got a call from Ogre, telling me that he had been walked from the Sheraton. This wouldn't have been any big deal, except for how badly it was handled. Starwood Hotels , via their social media folks at @starwoodbuzz ,has stepped up and done some after the fact attempts to make good so I can not disparage them completely- but the tale is still unfolding and I will let you make your own judgments.
My analysis says that this is a case of corporate corner cutting leading to less than prepared staff who were young and failed to step up to their customer service mission. Luckily, there are heroes- expected and unexpected- as well as buffoons in this tail. I share this, not to reek vengeance but with the very real hope that somehow, some of this might sink in and make the system change. ( yes, I have a thing for windmills, as well).

Following are the things that the Sheraton did very wrong, turning any one of these around could have made for a completely different level of satisfaction than we have right now.

1) Knowing 3 conferences were coming to town at once, Managers should have been assisted to have better backup plans for guests who have to get walked.

2) Even if training is expensive and time consuming, Sheraton staff should be trained and capable of handling stressful situations. I have NO doubt things were crazy. They had to walk over 20 people. They had booking issues with a wedding party. People were traveling for conferences and were cranky. That is a suck situation. Businesses who excel, handle it with grace and calm. Yes, the people around you might be nuts, but you are getting paid to get more polite the crazier they get.

3) Not once was the Sheraton pro-active. They were badly reactive to every situation.
a) they knew they hit full and still had bookings that might come in ( likely for weddings and conferences) but did not make any arrangements with other hotels until the crisis moment was upon them

b) they had multiple people booked from Purdue, but once the first got walked and others were still to arrive, it never occured to them to contact the single business office person and let them know there were any issues for their travelers.

c) they claim that part of this was a misunderstanding and they were still holding a room for Ogre for nights 2 and 3 all along. He left them his cell phone, but they never called to clarify when they realized the point of confusion

d) when my tweets got annoying enough and reached Starwood hotels, they found a room and wanted to make it right, but even then, they waited for him to approach them and ask-- even though his conference was in the Sheraton and they could have easily located him.

e) the Expedia process was beyond annoying, but at least once I reached the right person, they called back several times to see if things were resolved. the Sheraton NEVER called me back, even when they said they would. It was Starwood staff who finally called me the next day.

4) If your IT/booking system is so hard to use that you can not clearly tell ( multiple times by multiple people) if there is a room available or not, you need a new system. It is impossible for service people to do their job well when the systems and processes are an obstacle.

5) when you are apologizing, don't make excuses. Be sincere, don't assume just buying off the guest will make everything OK no matter what.

Here is the unfolding thus far:

Travel arrangements were made for a handful of Purdue University staff by a single business office person via ( which is a subsidiary of, which is owned by Upon arriving at the Sheraton Station, Pittsburgh where the prepaid reservations had been made, Ogre was turned away by management. They informed him that there had been an error with Expedia, they were over booked and there was no room at the Hotel. ( there needs to follow an entire post on this thought, but suffice to say,there is a huge opportunity in the travel business for an enterprising geek who wants to perfect their algorithms for projecting room use).. Truth is, this happens, no hard feelings- the key is in how the Hotel handles it when it does handle. There is a charming hotel in the islands who won my mother's loyalty because they got walked for the first 2 nights of a vacation and the overbooked hotel booked them in a very expensive resort where she was greeted at the door with a champagne glass and lots of care. The overbooked hotel had called ahead and arranged things and there was minimal paperwork they had to do to get settled into a lovely room until the original hotel could handle them again.
Last night was a different story. The Ogre and another guest were sent in a cab to a nearby Quality Inn. The Sheraton manager had not called ahead, and the manager at the Quality Inn basically laughed at them and sent them back. They were then sent to another Sheraton 1.5 hours away. Along the way, the cab driver complained about the 5$ surcharge the hotel claimed for every cab fare they booked and said there was a movement to blacklist them. Arriving at the Sheraton 4points at the airport Ogre was again greeted by a manager who had no idea they were coming, but luckily had a room-- for that one night. But no rooms after that.
In parallel, I was working the system from the angle. They had actually made the booking with the Sheraton (it was guaranteed and we had the booked itinerary number)and technically, they were the ones who should be arguing and making this right. (again an entire other blog post to follow- but suffice to say 100 minutes on the phone (mostly on hold) and several transfers to finally get to someone helpful and useful is NOT a functional system) While waiting in the airport hotel lounge, ogre ran into a very nice gentleman with an iPad who helped him look up other possible hotels for rooms. They were calling around while I remained on hold with the travel specialists and found the Parador Inn- a local BnB- who had a room available. Ogre booked it then and there, just in case. (knowing you will have a place to sleep the next night in a strange city can be re-assuring). Once we got to the correct Expedia agent, and were getting some help they talked to the Sheraton, confirmed that there were no more rooms there at all this week, and arranged for the Sheraton to pay the Parador Inn, since the room was pre-paid. They told me to call the Sheraton to confirm, as they did not believe the Sheraton would call me back. when I did and spoke to the desk agent in charge. I was trying to get confirmation that there really was no other room for the other nights ( before he moved to a hotel 15 minutes in cab away from the conference) and re-assurance for Ogre that things would be calm and handled the next day, she was frustrated with my questions and when I said I just wanted to be sure he would not be sleeping in the streets the next night, cut me off and hung up the phone.
I told the Expedia people that the issue was not yet resolved, got the case number, talked to Ogre a bit then went to bed. about 12 hours later ( not bad, really) I was contacted by @starwoodbuzz asking for details and if they could help. After some DMs, I got a nice call from Starwood, saying that they talked to the general manger, there had been confusion, they DID have a room for him. I was also told that they admitted this had been handled badly ( but it was because they were full and things were crazy, so you have to understand, yes?) and he should expect a little VIP treatment. I text messaged him the news, then gave him a call a bit later to see how he wanted to handle it. At this point, he had already checked into the Parador Inn. He felt like the proprietor had stuck his neck out when no one else would guarantee a room and Ogre said that although the Sheraton had guaranteed him some luxury, honor was more important and it was not fair to take the income away from the small business man because Sheraton was finally starting to behave reasonably. (you see why I love this man?) The Sheraton has agreed to pay for both nights (so far only one has actually been paid- we are waiting tomorrow to make sure the next day authorization shows up) at the local BnB, but this is really no skin off their neck. If they can show he got a room, they can still charge Expedia, who charges Purdue, who uses the federal grant money taxpayers funded to pay Sheraton. This leaves the Sheraton with no losses and no motivation to change how they operate. it also leaves all of us paying for some really crappy service.

I am not sure how I feel toward the Sheraton yet, I DO appreciate the @starwoodbuzz efforts and that they responded to me personally. I do not feel like they learned anything in this incident, or that there will be any reason to believe that my next stay at a Sheraton will be any better. That may be my frustrations still being fresh and coloring my judgment. I am still going to contact Expedia, both because their process sucked and because I need to find out if they are still paying the Sheraton, even after all of this. What do you think - am I over reacting or justified in feeling less than willing to trust Sheraton?