Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Just because its fall doesn’t mean vacations are over

When we lived in the north Labor Day was the day summer ended for most people.  Since schools usually start the day after Labor Day most pools closed.  Everything was put away until the following May.  Not so the case in the south. 

South Carolina's Low Country
September and October are probably the best months to be in the south. Whether living here or on vacation here.  Since schools are in session most of the tourists are couples, many senior citizens.  If you want to take a dip in the ocean off the coast of South Carolina or Georgia, then September and October weather is perfect for that.  The beaches are practically empty so you can get a ‘good spot’ up close to where the surf meets the sand.

Restaurants are not as crowded either and off season can also save you some bucks on those hotel/motel rooms and restaurants.  Saving money means you will enjoy your vacation even more.

The dog will enjoy the pool for weeks to come.
Speaking of swimming, if you have a backyard pool, you know you still have a lot of time to enjoy it.  In my neck of the woods we usually close ours mid-October, compared to the end of August back in New Jersey.  If you have a heated pool you can enjoy it even longer and the further south you are your season is really extended.

If you are into amusements parks, the same theory prevails.  They won’t be totally empty, but with kids in school there will be shorter lines and that means more opportunity to re-ride your favorites.  Neither my husband nor I are into rides so you won’t be seeing us at any amusement park.

My husband's Blue Ribbon for his pickled tomatoes.

It is also County Fair time and festival time.  While some counties held theirs in August, the majority are coming up in September and even October.  Some charge admission while others offer free admission.  Our little county’s fair has no admission.  The price of that has been donated by a few of our outstanding citizens in order for more people to enjoy the festivities.

The Bradford Pear - first to bloom in spring, last to turn colors in fall.
Last but not least, this is the time of year for fall colors and you probably already know I’m going to say the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a wonderful place to see those colors.

It is safe to assume that you can find some deals on hotels and such in September.  Many of the VRBO/Home Away rentals I checked have much lower rates for off season.  And don’t forget to use your bargaining skills – ask for discounts, there is no harm in asking.

Photos belong to AbbyG

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Truth in Advertising – or – Buyer (Renter) Beware

You have probably heard those phrases and understand the meaning.  You see it all the time…a commercial on TV for a 65 inch HD TV for $50, special deal.  You fall for it and run to the store to find out they only had one and it was sold (like they really had any at all at that price).

Another example is a brand name Ketchup is on sale buy one get one free.  You pick up two bottles expecting to get one of them for free.  But you didn’t read the fine print….’with the purchase of $100 order’.  Oh well, who needs two bottles anyway.

The same Buyer Beware is something we ran across during our recent vacation to Maggie Valley, North Carolina.  I have used VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners) for many years, sometimes three times a year, without a problem. 

There were no photos of the living room on the website

I picked out the Maggie Valley property based on the photos, description and comments by previous guests.  The comments I usually take with a grain of salt and the description usually matches the photos – so herein lay the problems:

Photos of two bedrooms show wall-to-wall carpeting in both.  The guest bedroom shows two twin beds, perfect for the kids.  The master bedroom shows a normal looking Queen bed with night stands and a dresser.

In reality the guest room now has a Queen size bed, and the master bedroom has one also that is so high my 6 foot tall husband had a problem sitting on the bed.  There was no way I, at 5 foot 4 inches, could even get in the bed.  We had to use the guest bedroom.  The carpet doesn’t exist; there are hardwood floors, which is probably more sanitary anyway.

The photos of the kitchen show oak cabinets when in reality the cabinets have been painted red.  This is not a big deal, however, it’s not a true representation of what you pay for.

We ran into a lot of issues with this rental such as it wasn’t cleaned when we got there at 3 pm to check in.  The owner sent a different cleaning person but that meant we had to get back in the car (with the dog) and ride around for another hour or so – after a 4 hour ride to get there – a ride with many twists and turns and ups and downs.  

After the cleaning lady finished and we were able to unload almost two hours later, we discovered the fridge wasn’t working.  This led to many phone calls, us waiting around for a repairman the next day, more phone calls, the promise of a refund of one night and $100 credit for the food we lost. Fridge was finally in-place by 6 pm that Wednesday.

I was told the fridge was ‘new’ and it turned out it was 13 years old.  (The owner said she hated to spend the money for a new one.) The new one didn’t fit in the space and the house was a mess with the delivery men in and out and more phone conversations and when it was all said and done we lost two full days of our vacation dealing with things the owners should have dealt with.  

Did I throw a fit?  I sure did, told her we were leaving after 3 days and I wanted a full refund.  Once we got the fridge in place and things settled down she promised she would refund all our money plus $100 for food and that we should stay for our full time booked.

The new fridge that ate into our vacation time

The ‘old’ photos of the house were taken when the current owners bought it – before they did their updates. The current owners have had it for twelve years.  It is a real easy matter to take new photos and post them on VRBO.  Show future renters what they are getting not the way it used to look.

I must say this is the first rental over all the last 20 years that the photos of a rental didn’t match the rental in person.  The next time I rent a vacation cottage or cabin I’ll be sure to ask if the photos are current.  In this case it didn’t matter much, but it could have.

We did stay and checked out on a Saturday as planned.  Did we get our money back?  Short answer – most of the money (except the VRBO fee) we paid was refunded…..but the owner didn’t send me $100 as promised.  When I asked her about it she said ‘we’re even’.  Since our phone conversation was over a landline I had no proof as to what she said, so I let it drop.

The bottom line for me is this – I will continue to use VRBO for vacation rentals.  I will, however, from now on ask if the photos are truly representative of how the rental currently looks. 

Maybe if they aren’t truthful about the photos, they aren’t truthful about other things.

Buyer Beware

Ruby means we need 'pet friendly' rentals

Photos belong to AbbyG

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

A fulfilling trip to Mother Earth Meats, Maryville, Tennessee

Last Fall I discovered Mother Earth Meats in Maryville, Tennessee.  We purchased two steaks, two different cuts, to try them out.  The bottom line was they were well worth the money.

A really good place to shop

We live about an hour and fifteen minutes from that butcher shop so it took a while to get back there, but get back we did.  Last week we took a road trip to load up on meat.  

It was a nice ride up to Maryville and the store was open when we got there.  We chatted with the man behind the counter.  We still aren’t sure if he was the owner or not.  I should have asked him.  I did mention to the man the name of the town we live in and how long the ride was to get there.

They only had three NY Strip Steaks in the display case and my husband said we would take them.  I knew three wasn’t enough so I told the man, “Give us three more.”  We also picked out one Rib Eye and an Eye Round Roast.  My husband’s was extremely happy when the man asked if we would like him to vacuum seal the meat individually….which would have been my husband’s job when we got home.  So he saved us time and a bunch of vacuum sealer bags.

Mother  Earth Meats beef display

This is not a cheap place; you aren’t going to get a steak for ten bucks.  This is expensive meat, but it’s worth it since it isn’t fatty or tough and it is very flavorful.  We get tired of tossing meat in the trash and by buying the good stuff we fill our bellies not our trash can.

As he checked us out at the register he asked if we liked chicken.  I said I do but my husband not so much.  Off he went to the poultry case and came back with a vacuum sealed bag containing chicken.  He said it was a gift since we drove so far.  That was very nice of him and we truly appreciate the fact he is considerate of his customers.

After we paid and our thanks and good-byes we were off to one more stop – the Shrimp Dock in Maryville, which is about an 8 minute ride from Mother Earth Meats.  To read my article on the Shrimp Dock – just click on this link.

We had a few stops along the way – peaches at a roadside stand in Vonore and lunch at a little place in Madisonville and when we finally got home we spread out our loot on the counter.  What a nice sight to see, all that delicious beef vacuum sealed and neatly labeled. Off to the side is a pile of seafood from the Shrimp Dock.

Our haul from Mother Earth Meats and the Shrimp Dock

Needless to say that evening we shared a NY Strip Steak (it was delicious) and a shrimp cocktail (also delicious)…..a good day from start to finish.

Mother Earth Meats - employees making sausage.

Photos belong to AbbyG

You can check out their website for more information on what they sell and the prices.