Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flyertalk member tells how he turned one hotel stay into 110,000 hotel points

    Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of airline miles and hotel points. Sometimes you can get these points for free. If you are going to be flying or staying in a hotel, it pays to be a member of that chain's hotel program.
    Virtually all of the chains have some type of program -- even Super 8 and Microtel have rewards programs. Obviously Hilton and Marriott are going to offer more opportunities for a luxury vacation, but free hotel and plane trips are there for virtually anyone. For example, one of my children has 40,000 airline miles, over half of which were earned by playing games where I logged in every day to the airline website during a special promotion.
    Here's a post from the website, where a new Marriott Rewards member describes kicking off his new membership with a two-week stay and 110,000 points. He is informed to hold out for the 270,000 point air+hotel award, which during certain times can include 180,000 airline miles. That can be enough for three round-trip tickets to Europe plus a week's stay in a good hotel! I have to confess I didn't know about this deal until reading this thread.

A story of status and maximizing points...
    So Jan 1st I found out I was going to stay in a Marriott for two weeks. I quickly went over to Flyertalk, looked for promotions, and all sorts of other good stuff.
    I signed up to be a Marriott rewards member.
Then I got the Marriott Premier credit card. But thanks to FT, I was able to get the 50000 signing bonus instead of the normal 30000.
    Then I signed up for that instant gold status in 90 days HSBC promotion. Boom, instant gold. Also thanks to FT.
    Then I stayed in a Marriott for two weeks. Got a 25% bonus on points, giving me 20k points from my stay. Gold status was now extended for a year.
Then I found out there was a megabonus promotion that I missed (stay two times and pay with a Visa = 1 free night). I called and asked, and they gave me a free 20k points since I was a good customer.
    I also signed up for the current megabonus promotion - stay two times in Feb-Apr and get a free night.
    I'll be staying another two weeks in Feb, thus giving me another 20k points and a free night due to the megabonus.
    Giving me a total of 50k points from card + 20k from first two week stay + 20k from second two week stay + 20k from calling customer service + 1 free night certificate from credit card for signing up + 1 free night for Feb megabonus stays.
    I'll be using these for a 5 day stay in San Diego for free. Leaving me with 40k points, enough for 2 nights at a cat 4.
Pretty awesome, I have to say.
One thing to remember in collecting airline and hotel points. Don't use your points on a cheap airline seat or hotel room. Use your airline miles on on a last-minute ticket or a ticket to Europe, Hawaii or someplace you wouldn't be able to afford the ticket to without the miles. Save your hotel points for a top award offering the best deal. but whatever you do, if you are entitled to hotel or airline points, make sure you are getting them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama sez: Get rid of those 'boring' tests

    In an interview that ought to scare the daylights out of anyone who cares anything at all about education, President Obama essentially said our nation should do away with testing and accountability and just grade students and schools based on whether or not the kids show up for class. Before I go on, let me allow the president and the story to speak for themselves:
    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday that students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids, he said.
    "Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools," the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.
    Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation's education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that "everybody agrees makes sense" and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.
    At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate.
    "One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you're not learning about the world, you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math," the president said. "All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that's not going to make education interesting."
    What a bunch of rubbish! First, these tests are not boring. If anything, just the opposite. I've never heard of a student falling asleep during a standardized test, but I've heard of plenty of kids falling asleep in class.
    Obama then goes on to state that tests are used in some cases to punish schools or students. Well, I do think they can unfairly punish schools with a large number of poor students. But I would challenge Obama to give me the name of a single student who has been punished by a test. It's simply not possible.
    Next we hear the cry of the leftist educators, that tests force teachers to "teach to the test." You betcha! We want teachers to teach those things that society deems important, not just have them rambling on about nothing. So we as a society will put on the test those things that we want the teachers to teach. How in the world can Obama think that testing can inhibit the teaching of science and math when these are among the subjects most frequently tested? Is this man just babbling?
    Finally, Obama suggests that while he sees the importance of testing, it ought to be done only every few years. Does he not understand the two-fold purpose of testing? First, to catch problems in students right away, not every few years. Second, it is to measure the effectiveness of teachers every year by determining the value added to their students, something that can't be done unless the students are tested annually. Of course, it may be part of Obama's master plan to make it impossible to identify or get rid of bad teachers.
    Make no mistake, the No Child Left Behind law was bad law, not because it encourages the testing of children, but because it assumes all children should be held to equally high standards. They shouldn't. Children with IQs of 80 should be held to much lower standards than those with IQs of 120.
    Schools with large numbers of low-ability students shouldn't be punished just because all their children don't become "proficient" in various skills. Instead, we should determine how much children at every IQ level ought to learn with adequate instruction. Only then should schools and teachers that aren't able to provide that level of instruction face the chopping block.
    Unfortunately, with his animosity towards testing, we can all expect the quality of education in this country to decline in the near future. Could someone please give this man a dunce cap?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baptists holding prayer meetings at every courthouse in state

    Monday afternoon I saw a large crowd gathered near the south door of the Lafayette County Courthouse. Figuring somebody might be giving away something for free, I rushed up the street to see what the commotion was.
    When I got closer, there was crowd of about 100 or more people praying, with more people looking on. The photo above only shows about half the group. The first couple of people I asked had no idea what was going on, but then one older gentleman told me that a group of Baptists were organizing prayer meetings at every courthouse in the state. His understanding was that they were almost finished, with only four more courthouses to go.
    While religion and politics don't always mix well, the fact is that our elected leaders need the prayers for guidance from all of us. I'm sure most elected officials are grateful for all the help they can get!

Oxford University Methodists to build columbarium

    I just read a copy of the Oxford University Methodist Church's newsletter online and saw that they were building a columbarium. Church member Johnny Morgan has donated three acres of land, and the proceeds from the sale of the land will be used to build the columbarium either in the existing church or as an additional building.
    The Holly Springs Presbyterian Church built a columbarium some years ago, and since then cremation has become a common option for members of that church. Prior to its building, I simply can't recall anyone being cremated. As a practical matter, traditional cemeteries really aren't a very good use of land and are expensive to maintain.
    Here's the article as it appeared in the newsletter:
    In December, OUUMC member Johnny Morgan donated a three-acre lot of land in the Woodland Hills subdivision to the church. The proceeds from the sale of this land will be used to construct a columbarium in an appropriate area, either within or outside the church building. The Administrative Council voted in January to accept his donation and begin the process of planning a columbarium.
    “The columbarium was something that was on the radar for the church’s future,” Johnny said. “It will be a place where people can sit in remembrance of loved ones or friends. I wanted to help with that.”
    A columbarium is a consecrated area reserved for the cremated remains of members of the congregation and their families. The columbarium will offer a resting place for our loved ones who have been faithful members of the church, and will provide a quiet area for prayers and remembrances of those who have passed away.
    OUUMC has a committee in place to plan for the building of columbarium. Parham Williams chairs the committee, which includes Bill Baker, Futures Team representative; John King, Trustees Chair; Warren Black, pastor; and Johnny Morgan. John Morgan, chair of the Administrative Council, will serve on the committee in an ex-officio capacity, and Ron Hipp, Mary Sharp Rayner, and Bob Rosson will serve as advisors.
    Once this team has enough information about constructing a columbarium, the members will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees and the Administrative Council as to the planning and construction. This team will work closely with the Trustees during the planning and building phase and will help the Trustees create the policies and procedures for use of the columbarium.
    The church is grateful to Johnny for his generous gift.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

2nd Quarter Offer: HHonors sez go elsewhere!

    Okay, HHonors didn't say go elsewhere, but they might as well have. They just released their Second Quarter promotion, and they are offering 1,000 bonus points per night. What a snoozer!
    The First Quarter offer, which required longer stays, had its critics, but it did offer the chance to rack up some points. For example, Jinny had a three-night stay in New Orleans and earned 15,000 bonus points. With the 2nd Quarter offer, the same stay would earn only 3,000 bonus points. So with this new offer, a really active customer might earn enough bonus points for about half a hotel room. Bleah!
    Let's hope Marriott has a better 2nd Quarter offer. If that fails, there's always the Holiday Inn Priority Club, which has the most generous free hotel room program of all. But let's face it, there are some Holiday Inns out there that aren't very nice, and they certainly don't treat their elite customers as well as Hilton, Marriott or Hyatt. I help Jinny book her hotels when she's on the road, and the first time I book her in a dumpy Holiday Inn when there's a shiny Hilton next door there will be trouble on the home front, regardless of the number of hotel points she receives!
    Marriot, we know you can do better than this. Show Hilton who's boss! Please?
    You can following the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth over on Q2 Promotion Speculation. The sad news comes on about page 8 of the thread.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Former Ole Miss chaplain, inspiration for 'Kudzu' strip, to speak at Methodist luncheon

    Former Ole Miss Chaplain Will D. Campbell will be the guest speaker at the Lenten Lunchen sponsored by Oxford University Methodist Church at noon this Wednesday, March 30. Campbell left the Ole Miss post in 1956 because of his support for civil rights and went to work for the National Council of Churches.
    The Los Angeles Times had a profile on Campbell in 1992 which provides a colorful biography of Campbell. The rather long title of the article is Meet Will Campbell, 'Good Ole Boy' Preacher, Writer With Crazy Ideas : Activist: Enigmatic Southerner, friend to blacks and rednecks alike, became a civil rights legend. His latest book lambastes social injustices. From the article:
    Here's a white Southerner who was a legend of the civil rights movement until he became disillusioned with the growing hostility of some of the movement's leaders and the "burn, baby, burn" syndrome.
    Here's a whiskey-swilling, tobacco-spitting, guitar-picking Baptist preacher and truck farmer who is a widely respected writer, thinker, humorist and ex-officio chaplain to the Grand Ole Opry crowd.
    He doesn't have a church--a steeple as he puts it--and doesn't want one.
    "I'm a Christian anarchist," said Campbell, a short man of 67 with a bald and freckled pate and a fringe of unruly long hair. He likes to wear cowboy boots and a wide-brimmed hat that makes him look like he just fell off an Amish buggy.
    Campbell was the late cartoonist Doug Marlette's inspiration for the character "Will B. Dunn" in his comic strip, Kudzu. Marlette died in a Marshall County, Mississippi car wreck in 2007 while on his way to coach some Oxford High School students who were working on a musical adaptation of his comic strip, Kudzu, A Southern Musical.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lincoln and Gaddafi: To hold a nation together, both willing to be tyrants

    So if leaders who put down revolutions by force of arms are despicable tyrants, what exactly does that make Abraham Lincoln?
    I'm no fan of Gaddafi, but I don't see why we are supporting the Al Qaeda rebels who are fighting him either. We say we're trying to protect civilians, but what about the civilians who support Gaddafi? What about the sub-Saharan Africans who are being ethnically cleansed from rebel areas?
    As awful as Gaddafi is, we had made our peace with him and he had renounced his terrorist past. Now we're apparently trying to settle old scores, proving that as a nation we can't be trusted. He is guilty of trying to hold his nation of squabbling tribesmen together by force of arms, just as Abraham Lincoln did 150 years ago.
    Perhaps he is a tyrant. So was Lincoln. The difference is because of President Obama's stupid actions Libya is going to fall into chaos and civil war. In short, we've picked the wrong side on this one, and the pricetag will be far greater than a few hundred million dollars for Tomahawk missiles.
    Haven't we learned anything from the mistakes of Iraq?

Chorus Line sells out at University's Ford Center

    It looks like "A Chorus Line," the traveling Broadway show set for Saturday night at Ole Miss' Gertrude Castellow Ford Center, is a sellout.
    Jinny and I had already planned to sit this one out, but I checked the Internet last night and there were only four seats available. This morning I checked and was informed that website sales are no longer available and was advised to call the box office at 662-915-7411. When I called, I was told that there were a few obstructed view seats available that would not be offered online. These tickets will be sold at a discount.
    Speaking of discounts, the Ford Center had some coupons earlier this year for half-price tickets on the day of performance. Obviously you're taking a chance of not getting a ticket at all, but a great opportunity to do something at the last minute at an affordable price. So keep this in mind for future events.
    The Ford Center is one of the most impressive performing arts centers you will find on any college in America. For that matter, it's a fine a venue as you will find anywhere. I'm glad to see that quality events are being supported.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mae Helen Flowers, who served generations of students, dies at 79

    Mae Helen Flowers, who several generations of Ole Miss students remember from Kiami Bowling Lanes, died recently. Her obituary, from the Coleman Funeral Home website, is reprinted below.
    Mae Helen remembered everyone, and if she didn't remember you she would pretend she did. She offered up hamburgers and advice to students who would return long after they had graduated. When I stopped by Sen. Trent Lott's office a couple of times to visit students who were interning for him, one of the first questions he would ask is "How is Mae Helen these days?"
    She will be fondly remembered by thousands. (Thanks to Ed Flemmons for the photo, wherever he got it from!)

Lula Mae Helen Flowers, 79, died Thursday, March 17, 2011 at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford, MS.

Born in Sardis, MS, Ms. Flowers had lived most of her life in the Oxford area. Affectionately known as “Mae Helen”, she was employed at Kiamie’s Bowling Lanes for 45 years. She was a favorite of Ole Miss students and local young people for her laughter and the care she gave them. Ms. Flowers enjoyed painting, writing, and considered people her project. She was a member of Harrisonville MB Church.

Visitation will be held Thursday, March 24, 2011, 12:00 noon-2:00 p.m. at Coleman Funeral Home with funeral services following at 2:00 p.m. in the Coleman Funeral Home Chapel. Rev. F. C. Kelson will officiate. Interment will be in the Harrisonville MB Church Cemetery, Hwy. 6 West, Oxford, MS. Coleman Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Survivors include one son, Dale Flowers of Oxford, MS; one sister, Marie Flowers of Milwaukee, WI; two brothers, Leroy Flowers, Jr. of Atlanta, GA and Bobby J. Flowers of Phoenix, AZ; one grandchild and two great-grandchildren.

Her parents, Leroy and Ella Flowers, and two brothers, Roosevelt Flowers and J.R. Flowers preceded Ms. Flowers in death.

Memorials may be sent to Dale Flowers, 109 Red Rose Lane, Oxford, MS 38655 for distribution.

Online condolences may be left at

Marriott Free Night Offer

    It's not too late to register for the Marriott Megabonus, offering one free night for every two paid stays at any Marriott-family property. The free nights can be used at any Category 4 or lower hotel.
    Registration ends March 31 and applies to stays until April 30. Make sure your Marriott earning style is for hotel points and not airline miles to get the free nights offer. Each member gets his own Megabonus offer, but most get the free nights offer.
Here's the link:

My daughter wins science fair, but misses lockdown

    The Regional elementary school Science fair was held Wednesday, March 23 at the Tad Smith Coliseum. My daughter won first place in the medicine and health category for her project on color blindness. There were quite a number of schools represented, including a number from Memphis, so winning was a real honor.
    Della Davidson Elementary won 19 total awards at the science fair. I attended the Della fair about six weeks ago and was very impressed with some of the projects these students did, and it was rewarded at the regional fair, as Della tied with Hayes-Cooper for the total number of awards won; however, Hayes-Cooper included students from grades 1-6 while Della only had students in grades 4-6 (middle school students were counted as Della students). If you only look at grades 4-6, Della received about twice as many prizes as any other school. Very impressive! (I think Hayes-Cooper, by the way, is a charter school in Merigold. So charter schools can do some pretty impressive things!)
    Meanwhile, while my daughter was at the science fair, all the schools in the district were placed on lock down because a car thief with a gun had jumped out of his car and eluded police in the area of the Oxford High School. My daughter expressed great disappointment to us that she missed all the excitement!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Time to stock up on discount groceries

    Long time, no post!
    Can't help but thing about the importance of having some extra food around the house in case of emergencies. Mormons, for example, are taught as part of their faith to try and keep a year's supply of food on hand.
    From my reading, many Mormons end up wasting quite a bit of food by storing things like wheat. But it is possible, and easy, to store enough food to have a couple of month's supply, and in the process save money on groceries. The current events in Japan should illustrate the wisdom of at least having a little extra food around the house.
    When pasta is on sale for 50 cents a box, why not buy 50 boxes? It really doesn't go bad, and it makes for an economical meal. A couple of years ago I was able to buy about 40 or 50 jars of Ragu sauce for 88 cents a jar. You can buy 25 pounds of rice for $10 at Sam's Club, put it in baggies and have enough rice to last several years. Cooking oil, cream of mushroom soup, evaporated milk, condensed milk, canned tuna and chili often go on deep discount and have a long shelf life.
    Flour doesn't keep as well, but there's no reason not to have a extra bag or two of flour that you rotate. Same for a lot of other items. Every home should have at least a case of bottled water for emergencies and some plain bleach for water purification.
    Literally hundreds of thousands of people are lined up in Japan for a drink of water or something to eat. The country's distribution network is in a shambles. There is going to be real hardship for every citizen of that country. It probably won't happen here, but it could. If disaster strikes, you can be prepared.
    And if disaster doesn't strike, you will save on your grocery bill by stocking up on items when they are on sale.