A ‘Giver’s’ Tale…

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My mother and I were talking about the holidays this weekend, and I was encouraging her to simply the season by giving gift cards this year rather than shopping for presents.  Presents must still be wrapped and delivered; gift cards can easily be mailed.   Life is more complicated for elders who can no longer drive themselves or easily walk through stores.  Even internet shopping can present challenges, and I encouraged her to keep it simple this year.

She countered with a story of what happened to her when she tried to use a Red Lobster gift card at dinner last week.  Received for her birthday, she presented it to cover part of her tab.  To her surprise, the restaurant credited her for only $20 of the $25 value, claiming a $5 ‘service charge.’  Since she received the card just recently, she was surprised that she couldn’t use it for its full face value.

That is the first I’d heard of such a thing.  But she was adamant, and not entirely  convinced that my advice was good.  I had taken her shopping to Walmart on Saturday, and soon enough we encountered a huge aisle display of various gift cards.

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We approached and began looking at those available.  “You can do all of your Christmas shopping right here, Mom,” I suggested brightly.

In the spirit of the moment, I picked up a Visa gift card to send as a birthday gift, and she picked up a pack of 3 $20 Visa gift cards with a cover price of $60.00.  We have some family birthdays coming, as well as Thanksgiving with my daughter on the opposite coast.  It seemed a simple way to spread some cheer.

But, “Buyer Beware!”  We didn’t stop to read the fine print….  I checked out first, and glanced at my receipt while loading her groceries onto the counter.  There was an extra charge I couldn’t identify, and I questioned the clerk.  “Oh, that is the purchase fee,” she offered.  What?

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Turns out, and you may know this already, but there is a hefty fee charged for the convenience of using a Visa prepaid card.  Not in the habit of throwing money away, I asked her to refund the card.

She politely sent me to customer service, where the representative politely refused to issue a refund.  It is against store policy, he said, and showed me a phone number and website on the back of the card’s packaging where he assured me the refund could be easily processed.

I shared this intelligence with my mother, who promptly decided not to buy the gift cards she had picked up.  Her fee would have been nearly $10.00 for the 3 pack.  We hadn’t seen notice of the ‘fee,’ partly because it was printed in tiny white letters in the artwork on the package.  No notice of fees was given anywhere on the gift card display.

Well, Mother politely but firmly communicated her “I told you so’s,” while feeling blessed that I’d learned about the fee before she’d processed her cards.

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This morning I sat down to arrange my refund, called the ‘customer service number’ on the card’s package, and began wading through the automated phone tree.

I used every trick I know to get through to a real live person, and utterly failed.  The best I could get was instruction to go to their website to process the refund.  So, I began again at http://www.WalmartGift.com and searched that site thoroughly for a link to refunds.  The best I could find there was advice to call their customer service number.  It was the same number I’d already exhausted.

With nearly an hour invested in this circular exercise in futility, I searched for “How to get a refund on a Walmart Visa giftcard’ on the internet.

Well, that opened the floodgates of widespread frustration.  Have you any idea how many problems people are having with these cards? 

It seems that lots of other folks also exhausted the options on both the phone line and the website in utter frustration.  Everything from unknown charges on their cards, to cards that refused to activate, cards lost in the mail, and every other problem you might imagine was well documented.  And lots of others also found no way to get to a human customer service agent to actually get help with their problem.

Finally, I found Adam’s story. 

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Adam discovered that by choosing the option for the card’s transaction history, on the phone line, he could finally get to a real agent.

I decided to give it a try, only to learn that you must first enter the card’s multi-digit number, and security code, which means opening the package.  So I tore open the package (no changing my mind now….) and punched in all of the numbers… only to find that the live agent option has now been removed from the phone menu.  Guess too many people had figured out how to actually reach someone for help. 

The official Walmart website offers absolutely no help.  I searched it, too.  All they offered was the same website and phone number I’d already used.  Finally, determined to figure this one out, I called the customer service number once again, and this time entered the card’s number and code and chose the option to report my card as lost or stolen.

Finally, I broke through the miasma of the automated site and reach Gail, who pronounced her name ‘Geele.’  I explained the problem and asked for her help.  Gail politely explained why she couldn’t help me.  But, she promised to put me in touch with someone who could.  Then she transferred me to ‘Mike.’

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At this point, I’d been at it for more than an hour and a half, and felt no closer to my refund.  But Mike began asking for every scrap of  information about me, and about the store where I’d made the purchase, and about the receipt.  He needed every detail down to the exact time of the purchase.

After reading off all of this data, he asked whether  I was ready to write down the information he needed to give me.  Turns out, that although Mike took my report, I still had to email a photo of my receipt, and photos of both the front and the back of the card I want refunded,  to his bank before they would process my refund.  He said they would act within a business day of receiving the email to process the refund, and then I would get a check in the mail in a few weeks.

At last check, there has been no confirmation email back to let me know the process is underway…

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It turns out that ‘Mike’ doesn’t work for Walmart.  Mike works for a bank I’ve not heard of called ‘Green Dot Bank.’  Sound familiar?  Not to me…

There are several banks who handle these pre-paid Visa cards, and the refund comes from them.  If you look at one of these cards, the name of the issuing bank can be found at the very bottom of the back of the packaging in tiny type.   I guess the ‘purchase fee’ is so high so they can spread the profit around.

By the way, had I given this card, and the recipient didn’t use it right away, more fees would be subtracted along the way from the remaining balance.

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Why am I telling you this story?  Because you are probably starting to think about holiday gifts and shopping, too.

You may be tempted, as am I, to pick up gift cards for those loved ones who are hard to shop for.  Or maybe, like me, you wanted to send a gift card to help pay for ‘all the trimmings’ for a holiday meal to loved ones who can’t get home.  But these gift cards, convenient as they may be, come with expensive and frustrating strings attached.

“Buyer Beware!”  Mind the fine print, and maybe we’ll all have a more peaceful and affordable holiday this year!

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Mark Robert's Sugar Plum Fairy

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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December Reflections

December Reflections

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December is a time to reflect as another year draws to its close.

Nature has crafted it as a time of peace and silence,

A time to slow down the pace we’ve kept since early spring.

As the world outside goes dormant, there is little to do

here in our modern lives.

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Once upon a time there was wood to chop and carry,

Game to hunt and prepare;

The ever ongoing round of baking, roasting, stewing, frying

percolating, brewing,

To keep families comforted and fed.

Perhaps children to entertain and instruct by candlelight.

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But now most of that is optional.

There is a gadget to

replace each and every well worn task.

We are free to do as we will;

To write, to paint, to craft, to read, to visit,

To plant the seeds of a new life in a new year;

To dig up the roots of past plantings and examine them yet again.

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Or simply to sit in peace and silence,

In the glow of those candles

we lit by our own hands and mind;

And simply

Reflect.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

“Seeing through to essential nature is the window of enlightenment.”

                                           Hakuun Yasutani Roshi

Happy Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving morning has dawned clear, bright and cold here in Williamsburg.

A simply beautiful day, and a good day for traveling; which is very welcome news since our Thanksgiving dinner is already in preparation by loving hands…. elsewhere.  We have a pecan pie, some rolls, and of course some beautiful cranberry grape preserves to contribute to the feast.

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Vase by Dennis Orton glazed with a custom Raku glaze

I want to share a few photos of our mantlepiece arrangement, completed last evening.  This grows and changes a bit each year, and will probably change a bit more before the end of December.  This is the simplest of arrangements, depending on branches from the garden and items collected over the years.  The birds came from McDonald Garden Center in Virginia Beach.  They have such wonderfully imaginative displays.  The fairies, designed by Mark Roberts, were another McDonald Garden Center find.  This is our indoor forest garden, which we’ll enjoy from now until early spring.

Our very best wishes to you as we greet the season of the solstice, the season of light, preparing for Yule, Hanukkah, and Christmas.

Some of the glass orbs are from Glass Eye Studio, hand blown with ash from Mt. Saint Helens in Washington.  Others were hand blown in Portugal.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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