Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nana's Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe...

Although I have a page on this site for recipes, a recent hard drive crash and corporate sourcing of a new computer means that I no longer have Dreamweaver on my laptop. I suppose I could go upstairs, but this is easier... :-)

My german grandmother, Irene Ida Meyer, affectionately called Nana, was a wonderful cook. You wouldn't find her recipes in high-end restaurants, as she was born dirt poor in Quero, Tx. She made good, economical meals that reflected her central Texas upbringing. My grandfather, a.k.a Papa, grew up in a Catholic orphanage and could make dinner out of anything. I got my epicurean experimentation from my Papa. Anyway, here is my version of Nana's baked macaroni and cheese. My sister Michelle has the original recipe, which I will post later, but here his my successful attempt to replicate...

Nana's Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Ingredients:

1 lb dry macaroni noodles
2 cups of milk
4 eggs
4 pounds shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Garlic salt
pepper
Grated Fresh Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook macaroni noodles in boiling, salted and oiled, water. Mix the milk, eggs, garlic salt, pepper and shredded cheese together. Pour the cooked noodles into a baking pan. Pour the milk, egg and cheese mixture over the noodles. With a large spoon, mix the liquid and cheese thoroughly through the noodles.

Cover with foil and bake in the 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Uncover the baking pan and continue to bake until the noodles and cheese are a golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh, grated Parmesan Cheese.

This dish is a mainstay at our birthday dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners. Every time we make it I think of Nana. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mattress Giant - Update...

Quick update on our expensive lesson. We went back to Mattress Giant and worked out a solution. Although, I would have much preferred to received my money back (minus the pickup charge), we were given store credit that we were able to use toward beds for the kids. So we will have two new Full-size beds plus pillows instead of a King-Size bed we can't sleep on. All in all, probably as good a solution as could be managed. As expected, Tom at Mattress Giant was very helpful in figuring out how we could use the store credit without additional cost to us. The kids laid on the mattresses and chose the ones they liked. Hopefully they are not tons harder than the floor model like ours was.

Slept on the Sleep Number bed last night and slept well. Again, lesson learned.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Logitech Harmony 659 Remote Update...Still Happy!

While I am blogging, I wanted to provide an update to my initial posting on the Logitech Harmony 659 Remote. I recently purchased a DViCO TViX Box to play our backed up DVDs, which are stored on our home computer, on our living room HDTV. This meant that I needed to update the remote's activities. We moved the previous PS3 solution upstairs, so this means that we no longer needed the Play Video Games activity and needed to edit the Watch a Movie action.

The laptop on which I had previously installed the Harmony software had crashed and been replaced by a new on. However, it was very easy to re-setup the remote control. It had the TViX box information and I was able to set it up easily once I figured out what category the device was listed in. Nice and easy. I didn't have to learn any codes from the original remote.

After several months of use, one of the best features of the remote is the Help function. Invariably, the kids turn things off without using the remote, causing the remote to be out of sync with the power and input states of our home theater equipment. However, a press of the Help button and a few steps solves the problem and puts the remote back in sync.

I had previously used a HomeTheaterMaster remote which was nice, but pales in comparison to the Logitech Harmony remote. This specific model doesn't appear to be available at Tiger Direct any longer, but is available via Amazon.com or one of their suppliers.

Three months later and I am still a very happy owner. I just wish they were cheaper so I could buy one for every TV in the house!

Mattress Giant Pain in the Butt!

Sorry for the length of this posting, but I need to vent and want to tell the whole story. The summary: Select Comfort ROCKS!!! Mattress Giant sucks!!!

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Few outside my immediate family know of the trials and tribulations I have been going through with our bed. When we bought our house in 1999, we purchased a queen-size Sealy (or Serta) pillow-top mattress from Mattress Giant for our new Vaughan Simply Shaker bedroom set. Sara and I have different definitions of a comfortable mattress and this one seemed to be a decent compromise. I have slept wonderfully on the mattress for many years. I have been happy with my purchase and the service we received at Mattress Giant.

As the bed aged, we would turn and/or rotate the mattress to try to get even wear. Finally, once much of the loft was gone from the pillow-top, Sara purchased a Tempurpedic (or similar) pad for the top. The pad, being at least 4" thick, restored my comfort in the bed. While we have wanted a King-size mattress for quite some time, we were happy with the bed so made no changes. However, Sara's quality of sleep was continuing to decline while I slept without problem.

Recently, Sara and her mom visited a Select Comfort store and they fell in love with the Sleep Number bed. Sara said I "just had to try this bed" so I did. Naturally, the sales staff at the Select Comfort store start you out on the low-end bed with the inflatable camping mattress feel and the vacuum cleaner (or maybe leaf blower) loud air pump. After laying on that bed (the 3000 model if I recall correctly), I thought I was going to have to break Sara's heart and refuse to purchase the bed. However, as we climbed the quality (and price) ladder, the beds became more and more comfortable. Once we got to the 7000 bed, I had no complaints and therefore no way to say no. So we purchased the bed. It was delivered a week or so later.

At setup, my chamber (naturally) would not stay inflated. Our 30-day in-home trial was not starting well. Sara called Select Comfort who shipped out a new pump and new chamber. In the interim, the wonderful store personnel provided (free of charge) a temporary pump and a twin-bed chamber so that I could actually sleep on the bed. Once I settled in on my sleep number (30-35), I was once again in slumber heaven. A few days later the replacement parts arrived and I replaced the defective parts and continued to enjoy the bed. (It turned out that the pump's pressure sensor, from which the sleep number is derived, was defective on the original unit.)

As the end of our 30 day trial approached, I was sleeping exceptionally well. So much so, I didn't want to leave the luxury of my bed each morning. However, Sara was not sleeping well in this bed either. She tried many different sleep numbers to no avail. So, she called Select Comfort customer support to request that they pick up the bed since we didn't want to have a $3500 bed in which Sara was still not sleeping well. Because of the difficulties we experienced in the first week or so of our trial, Select Comfort extended our in-home trial an additional 30 days. So we kept the bed longer. Once again, as the end of the extended term approached, we began to grapple with the decision to return or keep the bed. The difficulties we had with the pump, etc and various Internet-based reviews I read, pushed me to return the bed. So we called and requested a pickup.

In order to not be left without a bed, we began looking for a new bed, again. We considered a Tempurpedic bed, but had heard many stories of sleeping hot on Tempur material. In fact, when we had the Tempurpedic (or similar) pad on our old bed, I did sleep warmer. Being warm natured, this often meant sleeping on top of the sheets and/or covers. So, a tempurpedic bed was out. This left us with a traditional inner-spring mattress solution. Having had a good experience at Mattress Giant previously, we headed to the new store at the nearby mall.

Mattress Giant was running a sale that represented a savings of about 33% off their normal (non-sale) prices. The salesman who worked with us (Tom) was nothing short of extremely helpful and a pleasure to work with. He showed us many beds. We had gone in thinking about a Simmons Extravagance Super Pillow-top, but as expected that is not where we ended up. We didn't go a lot higher, but we did go higher. After laying on many beds, we decided on a Simmons BeautyRest Spirit Plush. Simmons offers (for an additional fee) the option of having one side firm and the other plush, but after laying on the beds we both opted for the plush feel. The mattress and box springs (two twins) combination was $1599. If we wanted the option to exchange the bed, once, should we not like it, we had to purchase a form of protection for the bed, whether the spray-on or the protective mattress pad. We opted for the latter at $99. Because of the expense of the bed, Mattress Giant would throw in either a free pillow or a King-size foundation (frame minus head and foot boards). We opted for the pillow since we already had a cheap frame we purchased for the Sleep Number bed and we have a Vaughan King frame (with head and foot boards) on order. With tax and delivery, we parted with $1905.17 and received a delivery date of the following day. Happy with our purchase, we went home, slept one last time on our Sleep Number bed and awaited the delivery of our new bed.

Sara took apart the Sleep Number bed and the new Simmons set was delivered ahead of schedule. We were excited to sleep in our new bed and wondered why Select Comfort hadn't scheduled a pick-up date yet. When I got home from work, Sara told me to try the bed; she said it felt harder than the one in the store. Sure enough when I lay on the bed, it wasn't as comfortable as the one in the store. So, I checked the SKU on our receipt and the SKU on the mattress and they matched. Not liking the firmness of our new bed, we had no choice but to sleep on it until we could talk to Mattress Giant. Big mistake.

Normally I can sleep just about anywhere. Unlike a lot of men, I sleep on my stomach. As such, I just need enough loft in the padding to keep the weight off of my ribs. When I first started camping with the Boy Scouts, this was a problem. But once I ponied up the money for a high-end Therm-a-rest ground pad from REI, I was in heaven. It had enough loft to keep my ribs off of the ground, allowing me to sleep extremely well. Even when I went to Philmont Scout Ranch and used a lighter-weight, backpacker-friendly ground pad from Therm-a-rest, it had enough loft to enable me to sleep well. (That and 54 miles of backpacking in 10 days...) The Therm-a-rest pads were $150 for the XL LuxuryCamp pad and about $100 for the Prolite pad. For $1905.17 one would expect to sleep far better than when using a $100 ground pad, but one would be wrong.

When I climbed into bed around 11PM, the top felt cushy enough. I like cushy beds. I could feel a little pressure on the bottom of my rib cage (far more than I felt in the store), but I thought it would be okay. It wasn't. I was able to sleep until about 2 AM when I awoke in pain. So I moved around a bit, ending up sleeping on my side. However, I don't sleep on my side. Since I was a kid, I could take both shoulders out of joint...still can. The problem is that when I sleep on my side, they pop out of socket and did so during the night. I would be starting to fall asleep when I would be roused by excruciating pain in my shoulders. I tried my back, but couldn't fall asleep on my back. I spent the next 3 hours tossing, turning and thinking that I may have just been taught a very expensive lesson. However, my faith in humanity told me that Mattress Giant would allow us to return them for a refund since we had only slept on them one night and with the $99 protective cover on. That was obviously sleep deprivation talking... I finally got out of bed at 5:30, not to return. My back aches in places it has never ached before.

In the past, I was the one that enjoyed sleeping on our various beds and Sara was the one that had issues. I was worried that she would LOVE the bed and I would have to suffer through. However, Sara evidently slept even worse than I did; I was surprised that this was even possible. Interestingly enough, sleeping on the Mattress Giant bed made Sara realize how good she was sleeping in the Sleep Number bed. Compared to the night we had just had, anything was better, but in Sara's words, the Sleep Number bed was "heaven compared to the Simmons Spirit Plush."

She and I wracked our brains, trying to decide what to do. We had already called Select Comfort to pick up our Sleep Number bed and now we have a bed we cannot possibly sleep on. So Sara called Mattress Giant corporate customer support. Cheryl was very nice and helpful, saying that she was sorry that we had such a bad experience with the bed. She promised to contact the Mattress Giant district person (rep, manager, I don't know...) and that person would call us back. Hearing a hopeful tone in Sara's voice, I became hopeful that the customer service I expected from Mattress Giant wasn't a sleep-deprived delusion after all. A little while later, Cheryl calls back with a completely different tone. There will be NO refunds. We will be given store credit "this one time" and we "need to be more careful to choose the 'right' bed this time." Mattress Giant customer service was a dream after all. Interestingly, it is Mattress Giant written policy to allow a trade-out within 45 days of purchase, so I am still puzzled over Cheryl's "this one time" comment.

After talking to Cheryl, Sara quickly called Select Comfort customer service to see if we could rescind the pickup request. The lady at Select Comfort was very pleasant (Rita I think was her name) and said of course she would be happy to cancel the pickup. Sara and Rita recognized that they had talked on Monday and Rita took the time to propose ways to help Sara sleep better in the Sleep Number bed. As quickly as we could, we moved the Simmons out of the way and put the Sleep Number bed back together. Just for the heck of it, I climbed into bed and Sara was right. It was heaven.

I showered and dressed and Sara and I went to the Mattress Giant store where we purchased the bed. Tom was there and we told him what happened. As before, Tom was a joy to work with. He suggested we lay on the plush side of the floor-model and Sara and I both could tell a difference between that and the one we had agonizingly tried to sleep on the previous night. He opined several reasons why we could have had an issue, only one of which was aimed at us, the customer. In fact his first reaction was to assume he had inadvertently ordered the wrong mattress. After checking, he hadn't. Tom talked to our Cheryl in corporate customer service who informed him that we were not to be given a refund. We could use the non-sale price toward another bed or beds. Tom pointed out that the latter made little sense. I could purchase a bed on sale for $1599, return it for $2399 credit toward a bed that wasn't on sale? Seems like a hole in their thinking. So, Tom suggested that he could apply the $1599 sale price toward other mattresses which he could discount 33%. This was an acceptable alternative. However, we don't want to go through this again. So, suffer the children. It looks like we can purchase a Full and a Twin mattress set for around $1397 and make up the difference with protective covers, pillows, frames or something.

So while it is not a total loss by any means, it is a very expensive lesson learned. Had we purchased the mattresses at more normal retailers such as Sam's Club, Costo or Sears, we probably could have returned them for a refund. However, as Mattress Giant operates more like a car dealership of old, this is not possible. Contrast Mattress Giant with Select Comfort. Who has more faith in their product, the company that takes a buyer-beware attitude or the company that will give you 30 days (60 in our case or 90 days for Tempurpedic) to determine whether you truly are satisfied with the product and provide a 100% refund (minus shipping)? If we have problems with our Sleep Number bed as others have reported (although nothing indicates we will at this point), I will gladly replace the pieces necessary to continue my relationship with my very comfortable bed and the wonderful company that produces it. And someday when the cats have shredded the bed or the dust mites have consumed it or whatever, I will purchase another Select Comfort bed happily.

So severs a 9 year relationship with Mattress Giant and so solidifies a new relationship with Select Comfort. Readers of this are encouraged to do as you like. This is just one man's opinion. However, I would strongly discourage you from giving your business to Mattress Giant, unless you desire to learn a lesson yourself. However, if you see Tom at Mattress Giant at Firewheel Mall in Garland, TX, tell him hello from Nick and buy him a cup of coffee for me. He'll appreciate it!