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Dec 24, 2009

Winter Wonderland escape

The first part of our holiday trip was a quick visit to the Colorado mountains for a friend's wedding. We spent 2 days in a small resort surrounded by mountains, a ranch and wonderful snow. We were very lucky with the weather: snow had just fallen a few days before, and we were greeted by bright sunshine.
Besides the wedding (beautiful and fun), we were able to enjoy the mountain, and Daniel had the best time. The first part of our program included a sleigh ride in the ranch, to visit all herd of horses, an ox, 2 donkeys and a mule. Daniel enjoyed seeing the animals closeby and he loved the motion of the sleigh (especially the bounce every time we started again). The horses were so big compared with the ones we see around here. They are used to working outside all year around. It was great to feel like we were closer to nature (although there was nothing green to be seen, everything was covered in white).

On the second day, we let Daniel try cross-country skiing. We were not expecting much, especially because we hadn't really introduced the concept of skiing to him before. But he had a lot of fun. Right away, he seemed comfortable with the skis and tried to run and slide with them. There was a kids skiing school next to us, and Daniel was trying to mimic was the 6-8 year-olds were doing. So cute!

Overall, it was great to have a little bit of a different routine for a few days, and we will definitely consider coming back to the mountains for future relaxing trips.

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Dec 13, 2009

The quest for fleece pajamas and bad, really bad customer service at Sears

Heading into the winter, I have been trying to find affordable 2-piece fleece pajamas for Daniel. This turned out to be more challenging than I thought: I either found nice but very expensive pajamas (not worth the price given that Daniel will probably outgrow them in 2 months) or cheap ugly ones. I ended up finding a few that seemed to be nice alternatives at Sears, so despite low expectations, I gave them a try.
It turns out that the sizing was a little bit off... not a big deal, I thought: Daniel is hard to dress right now, so it can happen. However, I got the worst customer experience when trying to return them. Here is how it went.

I first realized that there was no return label included in the package, and I couldn't get one automatically online (First FAIL!). So I emailed asking for one.
Me: "I would like to get a return label for my package as the clothes are too big."
Sears response: "Here is the link to our return policy." - Second FAIL.
Me: "I know the policy, I just need the label."
Sears response: "We will get one for you."

I was a little bit surprised that they didn't send me a digital label for me to print at home. But I thought I will give them a couple of days to see if they send it by mail. It wouldn't have been an efficient way to handle returns, I thought, but it was their problem.
After a week, I didn't get anything, so I emailed again.
Me: "I still haven't received my return label."
Sears response: "We recommend you return the package in a store." - WHAT?!? Third FAIL.
Me: "Are you kidding? I don't want to go to a store, I want to send the package back per mail. I need the return label now."
Sears response: "UPS will send you a return package. Please let us know how you will return the package."
Me: "I will leave outside by the porch."
Sears response: "Thank you. It will take 3-5 business days for UPS to send the return label." - Why this long?!?? Forth FAIL

I didn't hear back from Sears after that, but received a voice-mail from UPS to inform me that they would pick up the package on the same day. A couple of issues there:
- At the time, I still hadn't received a tag to tape on the package. Scheduling a pick up is useless if I can't properly prepare the package.
- Informing me of the pick up date on the same day of the pick-up is inefficient. I had already left my house by then anyways.
Fifth FAIL and counting...

I had to email Sears with some more complaints 2 or 3 times... While I got responses from them saying they had contacted UPS again, I never heard from UPS on another pick-up.

After another month of back and forth, I finally took it to the next level and expressed my frustration on Twitter, to @mySears. At least, someone started taking me seriously there. That said, it wasn't after a few more emails (the first couple of emails asked questions that would have been easy to answer had the team read all my previous exchanges - such a waste of time), that I got resolution. At that point, Sears just reimbursed me for the items, without even trying to get me to send them back. I think they realized how bad their return process is, and pretty much gave up.

Conclusion: At least 18 back and forth emails needed and a 2.5-month delay to resolve a return issue. Amazon's (and many other retailers') return process is instantaneous! How sad a big company like Sears is so behind!

Funnily enough, one of the emails I received included a link to a satisfaction survey, which I quickly answered... except that the "submit" button didn't work. Well, Sears, it looks like you have a lot of work ahead of you to improve your customer service. Until then, I will be shopping somewhere else.

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Dec 12, 2009

23 months going on 24.... and so much fun

Daniel is turning 23 months on Monday. Wow! Almost 2 years! This year for sure went by fast, and thinking back, we witnessed major developments in the last 12 months. From my standpoint, the developments are very positive!

I went back to look at pictures we took earlier this year, and I couldn't believe how much Daniel has changed physically during the year. Back in January, he was still a chubby little boy with a cute baby smile. Now he is a real kid, slimmer (fortunately), and his look says that is really starting to process what's going on and having his own mind.

A year ago

A month ago

Speaking of own mind, he has started a few tantrums here and there, but so far, the frequency and length is limited. And, in my mind, this is completely compensated by all the positive that comes with this age.

Take for instance talking. A year ago, Daniel was only saying a few words, and not even giving them the right meaning.
Today, I heard Daniel say his first 2 official sentences, including subject and verb, and all words at the right spot: Daniel faehrt camion (Daniel drives truck); Daniel likes music. OK, he mixed up some languages, but this is expected at this stage of development. In general, Daniel's vocabulary in all 3 languages is still growing very well. Sometimes, I even feel that he manages to remember French words many days after I taught them to him... once. What a memory!
By now, Daniel can frequently produce 3-4 word sentences. They don't always include the right words in the right order, and they still require him to make a huge effort (he sounds breathless after saying the sentence). But they definitely allow him to communicate with us very clearly. It's very interesting to see what he is noticing, the relationships he is building in his mind and the stories he is making up. So fascinating!

Also, Daniel started singing entire songs, such as the ABC song (yes, he knows the alphabet, although I doubt he can do much with it at this point) and Baa, Baa Black Sheep. So cute. He definitely likes music, and he tells us about it!

On a more logistical note, we are now able to take Daniel to nice restaurants for dinner without fearing the worst about his behavior or having to leave the table mid-way. Lately, Daniel has been able to 1) eat somewhat cleanly by himself (even with a fork!) and 2) entertain himself happily most of the time. This is also great progress! (although we still continue to bring books with us for now, just in case!)

Another development I love to watch is on the emotional front. Daniel has really started to develop empathy and to understand what other people are feeling. Unfortunately, it doesn't always turn into him being open to share his toys or being cooperative when brushing teeth. But lately, I have found quite a lot of success in telling him that Mama is sad when he isn't nice. In most cases, he will try to react to the information and improve.

Also, it's been interesting to observe Daniel respond to stories in movies or books. We recently watched "Up", which we didn't expect Daniel to be into. However, he watched through the end and has been asking to watch it over and over again ever since. He seems to understand the story, and he is particularly fond of the moment when the house flies away at the end, after the characters have spent the entire movie trying to protect it. Daniel always seems to feel so sad when this happens!
In one of Daniel's many train books, there is an image with a little girl saying good-bye to her mom who is leaving in the train, while the girl is staying with her dad. Daniel regularly hugs me when seeing the picture, as if to say that he doesn't want his own mom to leave. So cute!

Based on this, I have a hard time believing what the common wisdom says: that 2-year olds are unbearable? Granted, we are not at 2 years exactly. But so far, it seems that things are moving into a positive direction, not backwards! I hope things don't change on us come January!

In January, Daniel will be moving up to junior pre-school and reconnecting with his older friends who moved up in September. It will be great for him to have older role models and to be encouraged to keep up with them. His teacher in his current class has recognized that Daniel is slowly getting bored, so it will be great to see how he does with more stimulation.
In the meantime, he will be spending 2 weeks with our families in Germany and France, respectively. So it should also be an interesting learning experience as well. I can't wait to see what Daniel will have learned by the time he turns 2!

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