Monday, May 27, 2013

Dear Hotel (Two Letters)

Dear Clarion Inn,

Our family recently went on a trip with several other families to Williamsburg, VA. Each family was in charge of arranging their own lodging. We spent months researching the best place to stay, originally hoping to stay in a rental home. We were unable to find an affordable rental home situation that suited our needs for this trip, so we we settled on a hotel stay and, being Choice Privileges Members, chose one of your hotels - the Clarion in Williamsburg. In the past, we have often stayed at hotels in the Choice Hotels family, usually having good experiences. Being members of your Choice Privileges program, we have been treated well in all the hotels we've used. Our experience in Virginia was quite different.

After driving all day, often in thick traffic, we were happy to arrive at our hotel for the night. There are four things we always look for in a hotel when we make our reservations: 1. non-smoking rooms, 2. complimentary breakfast, 3. free wifi, and 4. dog-friendly accommodations. We verified all of these things the previous week on the phone when we made our reservation with your establishment.

Since we travel with our small dog, we spent a lot of time looking for and contacting hotels to ensure we could bring her along with us. We quickly found out that not many hotels would accept pets, but according to your website the Clarion Inn did allow pets. We called and spoke to an employee at the hotel to confirm this and she assured us that not only were pets welcome at the hotel, she would make a note that we needed a pet-friendly room. She told us to complete our online reservation as she noted this. We did this.

Upon arriving and checking in, the clerk at the desk seemed genuinely surprised that we needed a dog-friendly room and informed us that all of their pet-friendly rooms were already booked. Now, we are absolutely positive that we verified that we'd have a dog-friendly room, because we know that when traveling with a dog, that is something you definitely want to confirm before just showing up. No one wants to risk having nowhere to stay when traveling with young kids and a small dog. And we're responsible people who know better than to not check beforehand. Plus, I'm pretty type-A that way.

We were then told there was no continental breakfast included, but that there was a restaurant that served breakfast for a fee. When we explained that we were told there would be breakfast included in the rate, the clerk said, "You shouldn't have been told that." That's fine, but the fact is that we were. Again, it is one of the things we look for when we make a reservation. Eating breakfast out daily as a family is time consuming as well as a pricey addition to travel expenses. Being able to eat breakfast at the hotel is a wonderful convenience that makes paying a bit more for a hotel worth it.

I know most families look for a pool when they travel with kids. While this is not a priority for us, because we are generally out and about most of the time except for sleeping and getting ready, it is a nice bonus. This particular hotel had a pool, so I took our kids to swim while my husband tried to work out our situation.

It was almost 9pm at this point. Since it was so late, we took all of our bags into the hotel and got settled for the night while my husband called other hotels. We figured we'd stay there for one night and find a different place to stay for the the rest of our trip. It was a huge inconvenience to have to figure out new breakfast plans as well as sleeping arrangements for the next several nights at a different place, since this hotel situation was not going to work for us for the duration of our trip. We were meeting 5 other families early the next morning at the visitor's center for Colonial Williamsburg. Having to add the time and expense of finding breakfast and checking out of a hotel to check in to yet another one for the following 3 days was very, very frustrating. Not a great way to start a vacation. Such a hassle.

Before this, we sat in our car discussing what to do, frustrated and tired and angry. We were exhausted and ready to get settled, wind down, and get some sleep. It was really late to find a new hotel and we were trying to figure out what to do for breakfast the next morning. The clerk had found us a room that was not technically pet friendly, but was at least available for the night. We walked into our room, a room I can only assume was some kind of extra storage facility, or perhaps a room awaiting some kind of eventual renovation. It was very much a "spare" room, in every sense of the word. We set our bags down and checked the clock to see how much time we'd have at the pool before retiring. It would give me and the kids something to do while my husband called hotels in the area to see if they had availability for us for the next 3 days. We were nervous, as we knew that many places were booked due to events in town and the fact that it was a spring weekend.

When we looked at the clock, it wasn't displaying the time. We looked to see if it was plugged in. It was. The clock was broken, so we picked up the phone to tell the front desk about the broken clock. That's when we discovered that the phone was broken, too. Sounds like a joke, but it wasn't. For kicks, I tried the lamp. It was missing a bulb.

My anger rising, I checked my watch for the time and took the kids to the pool while my husband went to the front desk to talk to the man there, you know, since our phone wasn't working. The man at the front desk said he'd send maintenance to fix it. Eventually, the handyman showed up and repaired whatever was wrong so that both the clock and phone were functioning again. My husband called numerous hotels in the area. Many were booked. Some didn't allow pets. One woman working the phones at her hotel job (a hotel that didn't allow dogs) gave a personal recommendation for La Quinta - said she personally travels with dogs and has always found La Quinta to be very pet friendly. He made some calls and found that La Quinta was not only dog-friendly, but also had availability that weekend. The plan was to stay the night at the Clarion and figure out both breakfast and check out in order to check in to yet another hotel the following day.

I got back from the pool with two soaking wet, cold kids. My son went to take a shower and discovered that there was no shower curtain. I walked in to the bathroom and looked - there was no tub/shower combination. The shower was simply on the side of the room against the wall. There was no curtain, but there was a drain and two shower heads, one on either side, facing each other. Underneath one of the shower heads was a chair. This was apparently a handicap-accessible room. I tried to figure out if this was some kind of fancy new shower that didn't need a shower curtain, but that didn't seem right. With the now-working phone, we called the front desk and the, by now, very embarrassed clerk said he'd send the handyman down again to install a shower curtain.

As we waited for him, our kids shivered wet and cold in their towels. I tried to distract them by turning on the TV. You guessed it. It didn't turn on. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I sort of did both. My daughter grabbed her iPod to text her friend and tell her about this comedy of errors only to discover . . . wait for it . . . there was no wifi. We were told there was free wifi, but for whatever reason, it wasn't working in our room. It was par for the course - the room was like some kind of wormhole of broken and missing items and falsely advertised services. The handyman got the shower curtain installed and then left. Our son went in to use the shower but couldn't figure out how to get it to work properly. I went in to help him. The shower knob turned on and then just spun around and around and around. We could get either scalding hot water or freezing cold water. I could not believe this was happening. I tried the other shower head - the one above the chair for disabled people - and it was broken, too. The shower head wouldn't stay up. It just kept sliding down the pole and not turning on. Unbelievably, we talked to the hotel clerk again. He sheepishly and apologetically said he'd send the handyman yet again, this time to fix the shower. We waited, kids cold and wet, for the shower to be fixed. I tried to adjust the heating/cooling unit to heat the room. I got varied results.

The handyman worked on the shower knob for some time. He was unable to fix it, so he went to talk to the hotel clerk. The two of them returned to our room, the clerk at this point completely mortified by the domino events of the evening. He told us that they could not fix the shower and they would try to find us a new room, but that all he had was one room on the fourth floor that was a business room that did not allow dogs. He said we could stay there, but that we would probably get complaints from people on the floor, as dogs aren't generally allowed there. While we were desperate for a room (and a hot shower!), I did not revel in the idea of being uncomfortable due to being some place we didn't belong and surrounded by people who were unhappy about that.

My husband had had it by this point and told the hotel clerk that he had found a hotel for the next several nights and he would just call them back to see if they could take us tonight. It was already almost 11pm and we were exhausted and aggravated. The hotel clerk looked down at his papers that had our information and said, "Oh, sir, I'm so sorry. I see that you're also Choice Privileges Members. I am so so sorry. You won't be charged for this." Choice Privileges Members or not, I wouldn't think any hotel worker in his or her right mind would charge us for this! At this point, we should've been getting paid for our time, work, aggravation, and for troubleshooting all the broken and missing items in the room!

We packed up our things and loaded our car again. We left the hotel, wet, tired, cold, hungry, and frustrated beyond belief. It was 1am by the time we were checked in, showered, and settled in bed in our new hotel. The upside to this frustrating night's experience is that we found a new hotel chain that now has our loyalty. In fact, I will be writing them a letter next, only theirs will be a very different one - I have nothing but good to say about La Quinta Inns. Everyone was friendly; the hotel was clean; everything worked; it was bigger; it was pet-friendly; and it was more affordable! We got much nicer accommodations, free breakfast (a very nice spread, too!), free wifi . . . all at a better price. We had a fantastic experience there. Over the next several days, we talked with many other friendly hotel guests about La Quinta. Everyone had nothing but good to say. This place was FULL of dog lovers and apparently it's known among travelers with dogs as THE place to stay. What a happy discovery! We signed up with their rewards program, grabbed a book that listed every La Quinta in the country, and enjoyed the rest of our trip.

Since getting home, I have done some research online and what I read there confirms what we experienced - people love La Quinta. I wouldn't have discovered that had it not been for our miserable experience at The Clarion, so for that I thank you. Otherwise, I'm stymied as to how we were not compensated in some way for the time, aggravation, and hassle we spent at your establishment. I would think that a reputable hotel chain like yours would work in some way to get us back and convince us to not give up on your accommodations and service. When we travel, we have almost always stayed at your hotels and, in general, have had positive experiences. As Choice Privileges Members, we have participated in the "Stay Two, Get One" program. We have sought out your hotels while traveling. We haven't ever had a problem before this trip, but this particular situation was beyond the pale and we thought you should know about it.

An extremely frustrated, former loyal patron


Dear La Quinta Inns,

We are THRILLED to have discovered what a great hotel chain you have! After a very frustrating experience at one of your competitor's establishments (see attached letter), we checked in to your hotel for our family vacation and had a wonderful time. The hotel was clean, big, and affordable! We have long been rewards members of another hotel chain, but our loyalties have most certainly shifted to La Quinta! Your rooms were great. You include free wifi. You include a lovely spread of breakfast (your Colonial Williamsburg location even had biscuits and gravy!). You are affordable. Your entire building is non-smoking (how have other chains not figured out to do that?!?). And you're gloriously pet-friendly!

Every morning, while eating a nice variety of foods for breakfast, we talked with other guests and all of them told us that they won't stay anywhere but a La Quinta Inn when they travel. All it took was one person praising your chain for another person, overhearing the conversation, to join in and add their own praise and compliments. Dog owners especially spoke of how wonderful it is to have such a great dog-friendly hotel chain to count on. And because so many guests are dog owners, all of us enjoyed talking with one another and sharing our love for our furry, four-legged friends. It was such a comfortable, community-like place to be.

Apparently, it is known among dog lovers that La Quinta accepts, welcomes, and appreciates us! Thank you for that. It's great to be able to take our pets on vacation and know there is such a comfortable, welcoming place to be together. Add to that all the amenities you offer at an affordable price . . . well, there is no question in our minds what our first choice of hotel is. We are now signed up with your rewards program and have a book of all of your locations. I only wish there were more of them (especially in the northeast part of the country)!

You have new, loyal customers in us. We are thrilled.

A very happy new, loyal patron

Friday, May 17, 2013

Liebster Blog Award (Mark's Turn)

Thank you, The Magic Violinist!

The Magic Violinist (who is a fantastic writer and blogger) tagged me for the Liebster Blog Award. Here are the rules:

1. Each nominee must answer 11 questions.
2. Create 11 questions for the next nominees to answer.
3. Link back to who nominated them.
4. Choose 11 people and link them to your post.
5. Go to their page and tell them.
6. No tag backs!

Some writing/book related questions:

1. What is your least favorite book and why?

I really don't know. I don't tend to remember books I haven't liked at all.. I had a very poor experience with The Grapes of Wrath as a junior in high school, but that could have been due to how it was taught. I do remember thinking that the Joads could have traveled to California in less time than it took me to read about it.

2. Have you ever read anything that made you laugh so hard people stared? What did you read?

Not that I can remember. I've had books that make me laugh out loud, but I don't usually read in a public place where someone else would see my reaction. Maybe I need to do that sometime.

3. Who is your favorite villain and why? (He doesn't have to be likable for him to be your favorite).

Severus Snape of Harry Potter fame. Some may argue with me and say that he ends up being a hero of sorts, and that he isn't really the villain. Voldemort is. But J.K. Rowling sets him up as a villain of sorts throughout the entire book series. I think Snape is one of the most well-written characters I have ever encountered. I would love to be able to create a character with such convoluted motivations, who acts so consistently with the back story I've created for him, whether or not that past ever makes it into the book. That is no easy task.

4. What is your favorite movie that was based on a book and why?

I am so terrible with coming up with favorites that I sometimes dread having to do it. I've seen a number of movies based on books, and normally the movie is not as good as the book. I do remember seeing "Chocolat" a number of years ago and thinking that it was better than the book. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is also a great adaptation of a book. I love how it follows the book so closely so it feels like I can really picture what J.K. Rowling had in mind.

5. What is your least favorite movie that was based on a book and why?

Well, I haven't read the book and didn't even realize that this move was based on a book, but "Admissions" with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd was a huge disappointment. Realizing that Tina Fey had nothing to do with writing the screenplay lessened the pain of that movie, but still, it was not a great movie. Bad book or bad script? I don't know. But either way not the best 2 hours I've spent in a movie theater.

6. Which of your book characters is most like you?

None, I hope.

7. Have you ever based any of your characters after people you know? (Have you ever based any villains after people you know)?

Yes, and yes. Basing a villain on a person we know was extremely satisfying. (Does that make me a bad person?)

8. Which book has inspired you in your writing the most? 

It's really hard to say since there have been so many great books from which to draw inspiration. Stephen King's On Writing is an incredible book and probably was the first book that truly began to make me feel like I could write books. I also think books that are well crafted in general are inspirational (The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter come to mind). Books with an interesting format are also inspirational to me.

9. When do you feel most inspired? Morning, night, Saturdays? Why?

I don't know that I can count on any specific time of day or day of the week for inspiration. Ideas for writing and the motivation to do it come at various times, depending on what I'm doing.

10. Do you write more description or dialogue in your stories? 

I tend toward writing more description. It seems like that flows for me a lot more easily than dialogue. I would like to get better at writing more dialogue because sometimes your characters can say all that needs to be said to move the story forward and even provide pivotal information.

11. What annoys you most in books? How about in your books? 

In my own books I get annoyed when my characters decide to stop speaking, or when they decide to stop doing anything at all. Sometimes I try to nudge them along but they refuse to help me out. Yelling at them doesn't help either.

In books in general I get annoyed when the author seems to get lazy. I read a book where the ending happened so abruptly I am convinced she was up against her publisher's deadline so she hammered out the last chapter without thinking much. I don't like when the description gets so wordy so as to detract from the story. Details are good, but too many details is the lazy way to fill space. I have a problem with this, too. I can admit it.

11 Questions from Me about Books and Stuff 

1. How do you feel about main characters dying in a book?
2. If you could be any character in any book you've ever read, who would you be and why?
3. Is there a book you'd really love to see be turned into a movie? Why?
4. If there was a movie made about your life, what genre would be the best way to tell the story?
5. Who would play you in the movie from #4?
6. Does answering 11 questions instead of an even dozen make you nervous? Why or why not?
7. Alfred Hitchcock said, "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder." How long could you hold your bladder for a great movie?
8. Is there a perfect length for a book? If you think there is, how long is that? Why do you feel that way? (Yes, those are three questions after one number.)
9. You can either win a Pulitzer for your book or an Oscar for your screenplay. Which would you rather win? Why? (You may not find a way to say "both," no matter how clever you think you are.)
10. Do you prefer a book that has titles for every chapter or just numbers? Why?
11. You've just written the book you've always wanted to write. Your magnum opus. Now Steven Spielberg has bought the movie rights. Which song do you want playing during the closing credits, and why?

Tag, You're It

I now tag Stacy (turnabout is fair play), Thing 1--no, wait. Can't do that since it's against the rules. Um, er. I basically know the same people online as my family so . . .

Tagging 11 people is a daunting task. Tagging 11 people, who haven't been tagged before, and who will actually answer my 11 questions is even more difficult. I'm going to break the rules and not actually tag anyone. Consider this the "Tag of the Unknown Blogger." Maybe 11 people will come across these questions and decide to bog their own answers. Whatever happens, a big thank you goes out to The Magic Violinist.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Liebster Blog Award

Thank you, The Magic Violinist!

Writer and blogger extraordinaire The Magic Violinist tagged me for the Liebster Blog Award. Here are the rules:


1. Each nominee must answer 11 questions.
2. Create 11 questions for the next nominees to answer.
3. Link back to who nominated them.
4. Choose 11 people and link them to your post.
5. Go to their page and tell them.
6. No tag backs!

The Magic Violinist's Questions:

1. What is your least favorite book and why?

Recently, I read a book called, They Did It With Love, and I did NOT like it. I found it on a bargain table a while back and it was on a shelf for a while. It was a fluff read. I think I drove my husband crazy with my constant griping about it ("Oh, this book is so awful!" or "Oh, I have so much more to read," or "These characters' dialogue is so unbelievable and so so so cheesy."). He kept encouraging me to stop and not bother with it. I carried on because I had already read a fair amount, was curious about how it would end, and because I read it thinking, "My writing is good. I should do something with it." So, it wasn't all bad. :)

2. Have you ever read anything that made you laugh so hard people stared? What did you read?

I don't know if people stared, but I loved reading Bridget Jones's Diary years ago. I did laugh out loud several times. I love, love, love when a book makes me laugh out loud. I laughed out loud with Wonder, too. I also have laughed out loud at my own books, so that's pretty cool, I think! 

3. Who is your favorite villain and why? (He doesn't have to be likable for him to be your favorite).

A while back I read a book entitled All is Vanity and I loved it. It showed the slow, steady decline of a character driven to break unspoken rules and loyalties in pursuit of her own goals and ambitions. I love character-driven plots and this one did not disappoint. I think what I liked best about it was that the author presented us with an otherwise good character who gave in to her uglier, dark side because of her thirst to achieve her own aspirations. I think, like Sirius says, we all have that in us - light and dark - but the trick is to choose the better part. 

4. What is your favorite movie that was based on a book and why?

This one is easy for me. "Chocolat." It is the only movie I've ever liked more than the book. I thought the presentation and ending were both better than the book's, and that hardly ever happens.   

5. What is your least favorite movie that was based on a book and why?

Hmmm, sometimes I don't even like to see a movie based on a book, because I'm so worried they're going to ruin it or that people will opt to watch the movie instead of reading the book. I know I have strong opinions about this, but I'm blanking at the moment. I will say that years ago I read The Notebook and was very moved by the story. When I heard it was being made into a movie, I was SO upset. I haven't ever watched it, because I didn't want to ruin my experience with the book. I understand people really like the movie, but for me, I want to stick with my personal, emotional experience with the book itself, and not let that get clouded by a movie version.

6. Which of your book characters is most like you?

Definitely Nancy Eyre from my first novel. Since it's a semi-autobiographical novel, I suppose that makes sense.

7. Have you ever based any of your characters after people you know? (Have you ever based any villains after people you know)?

Oh, absolutely! It's very therapeutic. I've gotten out a lot of aggression and frustration this way. I love basing characters on people I know. I usually laugh out loud and get to have some fun liberties with what I write. Plus, some people just write themselves, you know? If they don't like it, maybe they should stop being stupid.

I also give minor side characters actual names of people I like. Like in my first novel - I named the nice children's librarian "Jessica" after my sister-in-law. I think of it as a little shout out to those I love.  

8. Which book has inspired you in your writing the most?

Several. Bridget Jones's Diary, for holding my attention at a time in my life when I could barely get past a single sentence due to my severe emotional struggles; Jane Eyre, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and To Kill a Mockingbird, for all being not just great stories, but beautifully written works of art, and inspiring me and reminding me to not settle for mediocrity in my own writing; and the entire Harry Potter series for being inspiring in and of itself - J.K. Rowling is a genius and her story is so moving and encouraging. 

9. When do you feel most inspired? Morning, night, Saturdays? Why?

Usually when I'm too busy to write. :P Honestly, I can almost always write - what I mean is, I don't struggle to come up with what to write. My struggle is making myself DO it. Sometimes the words flow better than others (usually when I'm in a good place and being inspired by whatever I'm reading myself especially), but I can always come up with content. Time and discipline are my greater challenges.  

10. Do you write more description or dialogue in your stories?

Dialogue, hands down. I love dialogue. That's where you can really have fun, in my opinion.  

11. What annoys you most in books? How about in your books?

I don't like books that have too many characters to keep track of - that drives me nuts. I don't like super long chapters. I don't particularly care for everything being tied up neatly with a bow. I know I'm weird that way, but I love ambiguous endings and even wrote a book once that has an ambiguous ending - I killed off a character and it's not clear which one! I love character-driven plots and I love simple stories, too. I'd rather have those qualities than a grand adventure. I like humor and sarcasm. I also love unique presentations of story (epistolary novels, varying perspectives, visuals, etc.). I love graphic novels and often wish I had that kind of artistic talent (drawing, etc.).

In my books? I guess I don't like how I've now written 3 (kind of 4) books and haven't done anything with them yet - so I suppose my annoyance is with myself on that one. I especially like the book I wrote with Mark a year and a half ago, and am itching to do more with it. I think it would make a great movie, too.

My 11 Questions:

1. Have you ever watched a movie that made you very hungry? Which one?
2. What is the stupidest movie you've ever seen?
3. When do you make time for yourself to write? Is it a regular schedule?
4. What book would you love to see made into a movie?
5. Who would you cast in the main roles?
6. If you could write for any TV show, which would it be?
7. Do you like books/movies that have ambiguous endings? Why or why not?
8. Who is the best weird character you've ever seen in a book? Movie?
9. Is there any character in a book or movie that you wish were in your family?
10.  If you could be best friends with any character, who would it be and why?
11.  What character (book or movie) do you most relate to and why?

11 People I Will Tag:

I tag Mark and Thing 2 (kind of cheating there since I know Thing 1 has already tagged them), my friend at seventy-two fishes (because I know all she needs is more distraction), Jimmy (because I like when he does these in our comments), Emily (because she is one of our most faithful readers and I totally appreciate her for that), Jessica (because maybe it will get her blogging again?), LMW (because I'm thrilled to have a new reader in LMW - by the way, did you see my comment to you earlier with my email address?), Thing 1 (to do in the comments, since technically we're not supposed to do tag backs), Nevillegirl (because I think she's cool and love that she and my daughter are blogging buddies), [surprise] (because maybe you've been reading our blog but haven't shown yourself yet - now's your chance), and Dave (because I bet he won't even see this and then I can say, "See? You totally don't read my blog."). There. That's 11.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Our family just finished reading this book and I urge you to get it and read it. I cannot overstate that nor can I oversell this book.

I found out about Wonder through my Amazon emails that list the best books for kids, middle schoolers, etc. I loved the cover (interesting side note: this is the author's first novel - she is a graphic designer who designs book covers for her day job, though she did not design the cover for her own book) and was intrigued by the story.

Also? Have you seen the number of 5-star reviews on Amazon?? Over 1,000!! People love this book. We love this book. I love this book! Get it, get it, get it. We checked it out from the library and now we are ordering our own copy to own. It's that good.

Yes, it's a book geared toward middle graders, but it doesn't matter - adults will love it, too. It will move you. It will affect you. It will inspire you. Get it.

I laughed out loud several times, smiled often, and cried like a baby over and over and over again. This book has heart, pluck, and spunk. The characters are fantastic. The author's writing is compelling.

She tells the story from multiple perspectives (a literary device that I love), but most especially from Auggie Pullman's perspective. Who is Auggie? He is a wonder. Read to find out. Seriously, do it.

From Amazon's Book Description:

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. 

I mean it. Get this book. 

And check out what our kids think of this book by clicking here and going to their shared book review blog. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you, too. I haven't read what they wrote yet, but I can guarantee that they think you should get this book, too.