Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Moron of 2007 (I hope)

As my husband drove through an intersection with a green light, the moron driving the car seen here pulled out into the intersection to make a right turn right in front of us. It was snowing & Hubby hit the brakes & the horn - hard. This woman was holding her cell phone in her left hand & waved to us with her right hand while smiling & talking on the phone - while halfway through the turn & about a foot from our bumper. Um - how was she steering? The whole thing didn't even phase her. Are people really this self-centered and brain dead? (Please tell me there aren't too many more like her!)

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Dog Needs a Frequent Flyer Card

In the four years that we have had our dog, Sam, she has been on at least 40 airline flights. (I'm inclined to estimate that she's been on closer to 50 flights, but as a former auditor, I defer to the more conservative estimate.) That probably sounds like a lot of flights for a dog, but given our situation, it's understandable. For every flight on which Sam has accompanied me, we have had to pay $80 (sometimes as much as $100, depending on the airline) for her ticket. So, a round-trip ticket for Sam usually costs us $160. There have been times when my own plane ticket has cost less than the fee to bring Sam onboard with me. I'm not complaining about the cost to transport our dog - I understand that and think it is a good and easy source of revenue for the airlines. There are just a couple of things that the airlines could do to make the process easier and potentially more rewarding for both the travelers with pets and for themselves.

We usually fly American Airlines, but have flown with Sam on other airlines as well. In all cases, the fact that I am traveling with a pet in the cabin has completely hampered my ability to check in electronically both at the airport and from home. I just can't do it. I have to stand in the long check-in line with all of the people checking in luggage (though I never have any to check) and changing their flights. I understand that the agent needs to take a quick look at my dog to make sure that she isn't sick and that she meets the size requirements for a cabin pet. I also understand that I have to pay the fee to have my pet in the cabin with me. What I do not understand is why either of these things should impact my ability to check in electronically. I should be able to pay the pet travel fee when I buy my ticket and not have to wait until I check in at the airport. Also, given that boarding passes must already be in-hand before passengers get through security these days, the inspection of the pet could be performed by the airline agents at the gate, as they're really nowhere as busy as they were in the pre-9/11 world.

During our last flight with Sam, we had to physically check in at American Airlines at O'Hare International Airport and encountered a ridiculously long line. The scary thing was that we were standing in the First Class line and it took more than a good half hour just to get to the front of it. The Coach line was significantly longer. The delay was so long that the ticket agent had to escort us to the front of the security line after we received our boarding passes as we were in danger of missing our flight. If we could have checked in electronically, we could have gone straight through to the security line upon arriving at the airport and wouldn't have had to stand in the check-in line at all. Allowing electronic check-in for pet owners seems like a cost-effective option that the airlines should really explore. Seems like a no-brainer when you think about it.

The other item that I hope the major U.S. airlines implement is some sort of frequent flyer option for pets. There are certain airlines that do offer frequent flyer perks for pets: Virgin Atlantic, Midwest Airlines, EL AL and Japan Airlines have pet perks ranging from free promo pet products to additional miles for the pet owner to free pet airfare. United Airlines offered additional miles to passengers with pets for a few months in 2005 but the program ended. As I mentioned previously, Sam's tickets have sometimes cost us more than my own tickets have (especially on the BOS-ORD route). A free one-way trip for her once in a while wouldn't be such a bad thing. It's not like there are any real additional costs to the airline incurred as a result of transporting her and the fee we pay is basically all margin for them. (In fact, as she takes the place of my carry-on baggage allowed, they end up transporting less weight as I just don't pack as much.) So why not reward your loyal and frequent flying pets? It's in the airline's interest to have pet owners that want to fly with their pets. It's easy revenue with no real additional cost.

As I write this, I am contemplating booking yet another round-trip plane ticket for Sam and me for January. I doubt highly that either of my pet travel wishes will be granted before our next flight but there's always hope.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No Delays Today - Hooray!

Today was a travel day for us. We had to leave our family in Chicago to return to our home in Massachusetts. In hindsight, I have to say that it went much better than it could have. It went much better than it would have if we had left our flights as they were originally scheduled.

Today, Chicago got hit with a minor snowstorm: 3-7 inches of snow which mostly fell between 10 am and 5 pm. We were originally scheduled for the 12:20 pm American Airlines flight from O'Hare to Logan - which was looking more and more like a bad idea as Thursday was drawing to a close. I called the airline 12 hours before the 7:05 am flight (7:05 pm last night) and requested a Confirmed Flight Change. (Actually, first I asked if they would waive all fees since changing our reservation to an earlier flight would free up seats during the period when seats would be needed as a result of the inevitable flight cancellations. That didn't work.) Instead of paying the $100 per ticket change fee plus the difference between the fare we paid and the last minute fare, I requested a Confirmed Flight Change - which is only available within 12 hours of the flight you wish to take - and was able to change our reservation for $25 each.

Considering that we were traveling with our dog in the cabin with us and that we need to administer drugs to her to get her calm enough to travel with us, $50 was totally worth it. Our flight actually landed 16 minutes ahead of schedule. The rest of the flights from ORD to BOS on American Airlines had days like this by departure time:

8:35 Departed 36 minutes late. Arrived 50 minutes late.
12:20 (Our original flight) Departed 2 hours 13 minutes late. Arrived 2 hours 8 minutes late.
4:00 Departed 28 minutes late. Arrived 31 minutes late.
5:15 Departed 1 hour 55 minutes late. Arrived 1 hour 36 minutes late.

We were traveling on non-refundable Coach tickets and even though the terms specify a $100 change fee plus the change in fare, it is possible to work around those terms if you just call the airlines and ask. As an added bonus, the American Airlines agent that helped me change our reservations last night was able to snag us the last 2 upgrades to First Class available on the flight.

Our Christmas trip to Chicago started with a very easy trip through Logan to O'Hare and ended with a relatively easy trip back. Granted, the lines at O'Hare were unusually long this morning and the ticket agent had to personally escort us to the front of the security lines in order to make sure we would make our flight, but we're all home healthy and in tact. Really, in the end, that's all we really want. Hope you all have been enjoying the holiday season as well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to send you all a short wish for a great holiday season and a wonderful 2008. Hope you and your loved ones are all enjoying yourselves this week as much as this little guy in the hat is.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sam & the Hallmark Snowman

Well, we've shown her the video version of the Hallmark snowman and the snowman up-close and personal. She seems to like neither and she doesn't seem to be confused about the source of the music. I think she just doesn't like this version of "Jingle Bells" and likes the dog accompaniment less.

I think we'll let Sam have the rest of the holiday off (though she may have to wear a plaid collar tomorrow.) Thanks WickedStepmom for coming out to play!

Wishing you all very happy holidays and nothing but happiness in the coming year.

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Sam & the Video Snowman

Sam's drugs have adequately worn off enough from our trip to Chicago yesterday to torment her with the Hallmark Snowman today. Once again, WickedStepmom has been gracious enough to upload a video of her snowman to see how Sam reacts to it.…Mg/utt.php

We have the exact same snowman here in Chicago, so we thought we would see if her reaction differs at all between the snowman via video and the snowman live and in person.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Sam's Response to WickedStepmom

WickedStepmom was kind enough to post an Utterz of her Hallmark snowmen singing so that I could let our dog, Sam, hear them here in Boston.…MQ/utt.php Thank you WickedStepmom!

Historically, our dog freaks out whenever she sees these snowmen. My mother has them at her house in Chicago and the dog would go nuts and run in circles in frustration that she couldn't reach them to kill them.

When I played the Utterz from WickedStepmom, Sam was A LOT more subdued. It seems her hatred is reserved for *Jingle Bells* and even then, it's nowhere near as severe as what we witnessed in Chicago.

I suspect a good part of her freak-outs over the snowmen have to do with seeing them in motion along with the music. As a result, we're going to record her reaction to the snowmen that she sees live at my mom's house in Chicago over the holiday. Until then, enjoy her more subdued reaction (and please excuse my messy office).

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Frozen Pea Friday

Today, in the land of Twitter, it is "Frozen Pea Friday." It is that because today, our friend, @susanreynolds, will undergo surgery for both a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. She was diagnosed earlier this month with breast cancer. You can read about her experience on her blog, "Boobs on Ice" and I recommend that you visit it to read the very honest experience of a woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

Several of her friends have set up the Frozen Pea Fund and the proceeds of the donations to that fund will go to Making Strides, the breast cancer campaign of the American Cancer Society.

As a show of support, her friends on Twitter are all donning avatars that incorporate peas in them. Susan explains the significance of the peas in her blog. I know that today, Susan and her family are very prominent in my thoughts and prayers. I admire Susan very much for her strength through all of this and have admired her as a person for as long as I have had the honor of her acquaintance.

Breast cancer is a horrible disease and we must do what we can to find the causes and a cure. Part of the reason that I took my long break from blogging a year ago was because of a case of breast cancer in someone very, very close to me. Anyone that knows me well knows that I don't really deal well with the suffering of those I know and love. What pains me also is that I never have the words to express how I really feel and can't find the words to comfort those who are not well. As a result, I do things. I won't go into what I did for my aunt, but for Susan, I've made my donation to the Frozen Pea Fund, changed my Twitter avatar to a "Peavatar" and am truly praying that all goes well for her and her family.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pounding at My House

Well, our contractors are back today to continue working to free our home from the ice dams that have formed on our roof this week. It's day #2 of men pounding on the roof and also day #2 of me being totally under the weather. No worries though - it's all bound to get better!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ice Dams Are Not My Friends

I woke up sick this morning. Guess I finally succumbed to whatever bug has been plaguing my husband over the last few weeks. My nose is all stuffed up and I have a minor fever and body aches. Oh joy. As my husband has still not completely kicked this bug, he decided to work from home today. But as I lay in bed, tweeting my *good mornings* to the folks on Twitter from my iPhone before passing out again for a long nap at 6:30 am, my husband called me to our office to show me the leak that had sprung up in our window frame. The leak was more like a steady and strong flow of water through the screw holes used to hold up the window treatment. Good morning, sunshine! Kiss your nap goodbye. What we had was an ice dam.

We pulled down the window treatments and made a silly-looking contraption to keep the water from flowing into the house. Of course, it has to go somewhere - we were just hoping *somewhere* was somewhere outside. I left messages with the contractors we use the most though no businesses were open yet. Hubby went up into the attic and found it to be bone dry everywhere. We then went outside to assess the situation from there. Yikes! Definitely an ice dam.

Luckily, our favorite contractors called to say they were sending one of my favorite guys and his crew out to take care of our problem. He's not here yet. He's late. He's actually working on another house with an ice dam problem right now. In the meantime, we're getting water inside of our windows in several places. I don't even want to know what kind of damage will be left here when this is over.

A condo in the city with a nice doorman and maintenance crew is starting to look even more appealing right now. Someone's going to need to remind me why we moved out to a house in the suburbs five years ago. It was something about more space and the commute being good for Hubby (though I thought the short cab rides home were pretty cool). It's fine. I'll just do my best Martin Blank: What's done is done. Just forget about the whole thing.

Note: Ice Dam diagram from the Regents of the University of Minnesota.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Emancipating the Mailbox

Is it really so hard for the plow guys to make sure that my mailbox can be reached by the USPS guys? This happens every time we have any significant snowfall - and we got an extra eight inches yesterday. USPS won't deliver to a mailbox in this condition - so - even though I have already had my workout today, I have another workout right here. (I don't feel too bad about all of that English toffee I ate last night anymore - that's for sure.) :)

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Snow Makes for a Bad Commute

Ridiculous traffic today in and around Boston because of the weather. Highways were parking lots and people were running out of gas. Glad I made it home in time to watch it from there instead of from the driver's seat of my car. My sympathies to you all who have been driving in this storm tonight. Hope you all make it to your destinations safely.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Poor Rachel Ray

Stopped to buy some gift cards and an iced coffee regular and noticed that poor Rachel Ray had been defaced. Who would do such a thing? (tee-hee - it really wasn't me.)

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

We Have a Winner

Today, my husband and I went on our usual weekend run around town. We decided to look at trees after we finished up at all of our usual stops. We had previously decided that if we were going to have a tree at all this year, it would be an artificial tree as we aren't spending the week of Christmas at home. We went to our local garden center because I had seen some decent artificial trees there when I went earlier in the week to buy wreaths.

On the walk from the car to the main building, we had to pass through the area where they keep the fresh evergreen trees. The smell was amazing. I looked at my husband and asked if we could just look at the real trees. He was happy to go and look at them. There were some 4-5 foot trees leaning against the outer fence of the nursery. I suggested that maybe instead of an artificial tree, we bring home a smaller fresh tree. There was one tree in particular that had caught my eye. It was just standing there along with all of the other trees. I walked right to it and my husband admired it as well. The tree just spoke to us - both of us. It was such a sweet little tree.

We decided to go inside the building and look at the artificial trees anyway. None of them did anything for us. We just didn't really like any of the trees we saw. I don't know if that was because we liked the trees outside so much better or because the artificial trees inside just weren't right. I'd like to think it was because the artificial ones weren't so hot. My mom has a nice artificial tree that would put all of the ones at that garden center to shame. But then again, I had fallen pretty hard for that one 5 foot tree outside. Apparently, my husband did as well. Standing in the midst of the artificial trees, we decided to go back outside and buy the fresh tree that we found. We won't be gone for very long this year as opposed to previous years. Why not get a small tree?

So - for the first time in a decade, we have a Christmas tree in our home. YAY! All of our ornaments are somewhere in the attic, so we'll have to go dig those out. Tomorrow we decorate!

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Christmas Tree for Us?

In the last decade, my husband and I have spent every Christmas but one at the home of one set of our parents or the other. Now that my husband's parents have moved back to Chicago, they are spending Christmas with my side of the family - so I guess I know where we'll be expected to be for every Christmas until further notice.

That being said, my husband and I haven't put up a Christmas tree in our own home since I moved to Boston in 1997. We've had other holiday decorations around the house and our homes happily smelled like evergreens and mulling spices at appropriate times. Our homes have been festive but they have never had a tree in them. It's really starting to bother me.

When I had my condo in Chicago, I had 16 foot ceilings (it was a loft) and I made sure to find myself a huge tree for Christmas. My last one was a Douglas Fir and I loved it. I was so happy when I picked it out and dragged it home with my friends through the streets of Chicago. It smelled great. I was traveling for work during the holidays and a very good friend of mine who lived a block away would stop by my condo to keep my tree watered while I was gone.

My husband and I haven't had a Christmas tree because we have been away from home for at least a week every year at Christmastime. We didn't want our tree to dry out and don't know anyone in Massachusetts who could actually water it for us without much difficulty. The first five years that I was here, we lived in an apartment in the Back Bay, so a fake tree was out of the question because we would have nowhere to stow it after the holidays. Now that we have a house in the suburbs, I suppose we could buy an artificial tree, but we haven't done it yet.

My parents had an artificial tree for Christmas at their home when I was growing up but I always wanted a real one instead. The artificial trees were more practical for them and so they went with them. At the very first opportunity for me to have my own tree, I went out and bought myself a real one. It's just a different experience for me to have a real tree in the home. Maybe I just perceived it differently because I spent so many years wanting a real one that when I got one it emanated some strange aura that only I could see or feel. Maybe it's not an issue of real or artificial - maybe I loved the real trees because they were completely mine as opposed to my parents'. I'm not entirely sure. An artificial tree should be fine as well, I just have to figure out where to store it for 11 months out of the year.

So, IF we buy a tree, we will do it this weekend - and it will most likely be artificial. Hope that's not a mistake.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I Don't Hate Meatloaf?

Yesterday, I made meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinner for my husband and me. Only problem was that my husband had a work dinner last night and didn't make it home until about 9 pm. There was an understandable miscommunication that occurred between the two of us. When we decided that I would cook dinner on Monday and not Sunday, we forgot that he wasn't going to be home for dinner on Monday. We both knew he had this dinner on his calendar. We both just forgot when we discussed meatloaf.

I never liked meatloaf. I always thought meatloaf was for people who didn't have the time or inclination to do something better with their ground beef. Part of this perception was from seeing so many unsavory-looking specimens in my lifetime. However, my husband really likes it - and as I more than really like my husband, I have been known to make it for him from time to time.

The difficulty here is that I have a hard time cooking something that I don't like. How do you know if it's any good if you don't try it? SO - I have tried little pieces of it and have tweaked my recipe appropriately. I still wouldn't say I “liked” meatloaf, but I can eat it. I was careless last night and burned myself on an oven rack while getting the meatloaf out of the oven. (I was actually freaking out because I had forgotten about it and was worried it would dry up.) So instead of just packaging it up and placing it in the refrigerator for my husband to eat today, I decided to have a small bit of it to see how it turned out. I had hoped I had sustained a burn making a good meatloaf and not some monstrosity that didn't taste good. I'm happy to report that the small piece was so good that I sliced off another piece and made a sandwich for myself with sourdough bread and cheddar cheese. I really, really enjoyed it. I totally surprised myself. That was totally unexpected. I don't hate all meatloaf at all! I just hate most meatloaf ;)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kris Kringle is Not My Friend

Every family has a different way of handling the exchanging of gifts at the holidays. Some families don't lay down any ground rules and some families do. I think it has a lot to do with the size of your family and its composition (kids vs adults). Sometimes it has to do with the family's economic composition as well. Whatever the reason, the underlying politics of the holiday gift exchange has always befuddled and flustered me.

I was always an advocate for having absolutely no rules governing the holiday gift exchange. (But then again, I am usually an advocate of less legislation & meddling from Big Brother - infer what you want). Each of us should be able to buy whatever we want for whomever we want. The problem with this has been the disparity in the value of the gifts exchanged (which I think is a dumb reason because I don't really want anyone to buy me anything) and the inevitable issue of buying presents for people for no other reason but guilt (Been there. Done that). For me though, the ultimate idea is to just forgo a gift exchange amongst the adults altogether - didn't think I'd ever see my family agree to that though.

My side of the family has been employing the Kris Kringle/Secret Santa method for the last decade or so. They each draw a name at Thanksgiving and have to buy that one person a present of a value no greater than $X to be opened on Christmas Eve. I say “they” because I have been exempted from the Kris Kringle for this whole time - well almost this whole time. I did it once and I don't want to ever do that again. (My husband & I have been on the free-for-all plan on the side ever since then.)

Regardless of whether Kris Kringle rules are being employed or whether there has been serious protesting on my part, my mother, sister and aunt & uncle will not be able to restrain themselves from buying my husband & me presents. They just can't. It's like a sickness. Even worse, there are only 9 adults on this side of my family. If you take the Kris Kringle cheaters I just mentioned, add my brother-in-law, my husband and me, that's 7 out of 9 people involved in this cheating. In all seriousness, regardless of the Kris Kringle assignment, my mother ends up buying presents for everyone. As I know they are going to cheat and buy my husband and me presents, I buy presents for them as well. What is the point of having a Kris Kringle again?

This year, the family has agreed to completely forego presents for adults and only buy presents for the kids. This was the agreement made on Thanksgiving Day. When I heard this, I was ecstatic. That's serious progress! After some time though, it became apparent to me that certain people (the usual suspects) were going to cheat again and buy presents for certain adults (including me). Ugh!

I love my family, but this is ridiculous. I've repeatedly told them that we don't want any presents. Nobody listens. My family has always been ridiculously generous with each other. We seriously fight for the bills when we all go out for meals together. Seriously. We're always picking up thoughtful things for one another for no reason at all. We're always going out of our way for each other and are always generous with our time when we can be. Since we do these things for each other all year long, remind me again why we need to exchange Christmas presents? This year we've agreed not to do that - but I've already personally witnessed a present being purchased outside of this agreement.

I still haven't figured out what my husband and I are going to do for the family this year. We've agreed not to buy anything for any of the adults, but they all agreed to the same thing and are obviously going to cheat. Why does holiday gift-giving have to be so darned convoluted in my family? If the “no gift” method fails this year, I'm suggesting the free-for-all for everyone next year. If the worst thing that happens is that you buy an extra present for someone you're not exactly close to or you feel bad that someone spent way too much on you, it'll be better than all of the crap that goes on while designing some gift-exchange scheme that nobody adheres to anyway. We'll see how this holiday goes and if the family restrains their gift giving gene. My hopes aren't high.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Another Birthday. Yay!

I've been blessed with yet another birthday to add onto the big pile of birthdays that I have already accumulated. I think the years are flying by faster and faster these days. I think about how long summers lasted when I was a little girl in elementary school and how much my friends and I changed in that span of three months. These days, there really aren't any dramatic changes in appearance over the course of a season and there never seems to be enough time for everything. Blink today and it'll be New Year's Eve when you open your eyes. It's obviously not that bad, but when it IS New Year's Eve, and I look back on my birthday, I'm sure it'll seem like it just happened. I will be ridiculously grateful for any extra birthdays that I get to add onto my birthday pile.

I say, “Pile 'em on - just not too quickly.” I don't have any problem with aging, I'm just not in a big rush to do it. I've had a very full year this year and so I shall judge this past year as a success. Heck, if I haven't maimed or killed myself of anyone else, I'd probably judge a year as a success just for surviving - so I guess this past year was a smashing success.

The thing about having your birthday at this time of year is that it inevitably falls during the week of Thanksgiving. I get all sappy and nostalgic and grateful. This post is just going to be about me - sorry. So if you're reading this and you'd like to be spared the sap, bow out now - I totally understand.

Last year, at this time, I was worried about my aunt who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was flying home to Chicago to accompany her to chemotherapy every other week. I did that because I didn't want her to go alone and because it was obvious to me that if I didn't, other family members would have done it, but would have encountered a greater hardship in doing it than I did. Today, I am happy to report that she looks wonderful and is back to her old self.

At the same time both my husband's parents and my mother were looking to move into new condominiums in Chicago. I am handling all of that for them - from Boston. While we didn't have to do much customization for one of the units, the second unit was a huge interior design project. The airlines just loved me last winter. The first condo is available for a move-in this January. I think I'll be celebrating each of those closings pretty hard. Let's just say that I hope none of them ever wants to move again.

This year I was also fortunate to have stumbled upon a wonderful community at Twitter and to have met some of the most interesting and caring people as a result. I am definitely thankful to have made their acquaintances. They have brought a smile to my face on more days than not since I joined in late August and have been quite a source of inspiration and encouragement. This is my first “social media” birthday and from the moment I woke up this morning, I was encountering warm birthday greetings from the friends that I have made. Each one has been very special to me.

I have thoroughly enjoyed most of this last year. I say “most” because, as in most years, something horrible befalls someone around us whom we love. This year was no exception. All I know about those times is that I am grateful to have been able to provide some ongoing support to those affected.

My family gets upset with me for not ever wanting anything for my birthday. In fact, I always specifically ask them to not give me anything for my birthday. They say I'm not any fun (and usually ignore my requests). I say I'm saving them all the trouble of worrying about finding something for me. If they wish me a happy day, I am more than happy. I am so thankful to add another year to my growing pile of years here. I am also so very thankful to have been able to share my years with such wonderful people. I have the best husband, an awesome pup, great friends and family. I'm still generally healthy, travel a lot and am not wanting for much of anything. What more could a girl really want? Just more birthdays to throw onto my pile and more birthdays for the piles of my friends and family too. Thank you all - you know who you are.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Weekend

As my husband and I live just outside of Boston now and our families live in Chicago, we find ourselves back with our families in Chicago for the long Thanksgiving weekend more times than not these days. So, to us, the Thanksgiving festivities seem to last for our entire stay - which usually spans from Wednesday to Sunday, as it does this year. As tiring as it always is and as horrible as it is for our waistlines and cholesterol levels, we are so very grateful to our families for always being there for us and always wanting to make our stays in town enjoyable.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Easy Thanksgiving Travels

This year, in addition to the several things for which I am thankful, I get to add a safe and easy trip from our home in Massachusetts to my mother's house in Chicago for my husband, our dog and me. News and weather reports would have had you think that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was going to be a fiasco, but as it turned out, for us, it was smooth sailing all the way.

The New York Times printed an article today called “Fearing Worst, Air Travelers Find Smooth Going” that summed up our experience fairly well.

We did allow ourselves extra time as holiday travels in the past for us have been difficult. In addition, we were traveling with our dog, Sam, in the airplane cabin with us. When you travel with your pet, you are not able to check in electronically at the airport or over the Internet. You physically have to stand in line so the ticket agents can see that your pet is healthy and within the airline's size guidelines. You also have to pay the airline the related fee to bring your pet onboard with you. (In our case, it costs us $80 each way to bring Sam on any domestic flight in the contiguous U.S. on American Airlines.)

When we arrived at Boston's Logan Airport on Wednesday morning, there were either very short lines or no lines at all greeting us. We were the only people standing in the status line (Gold, Platinum, Executive Platinum, Business, First). The regular coach line consisted of 5 people waiting. The ticket agent said that the flights were all pretty full - over 90% in most cases - but that the lines hadn't been bad at all. The security line was a breeze as well - even with the dog in tow. There was a longer line at the airport McDonald's for breakfast than there was for security. Everyone was in a really good mood as well. Even though Sam was on her travel drug of choice (acepromazine) she was still into meeting and greeting the various people working to get us to Chicago yesterday.

We fly a lot and we usually fly American Airlines. Not a month goes by that one or both of us does not have to go through Boston's Logan International Airport. That being said, our experience yesterday has to rank near the very top of the pre-flight experiences at that airport for either of us. Certainly for travels with Sam, it may very well have been the best pre-flight she's ever had.

In addition, we had a great flight. We had an on-time departure - a real one. After the leaving the gate, we didn't go and park on the tarmac somewhere for a while. We taxied to the runway and were 2nd in line for take-off. We actually landed 11 minutes early. The pilot had been thinking we were going to land 20 minutes early, but there were more planes in the queue at Chicago's O'Hare than he'd thought. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

So I am thankful to all of the people that made sure that we and many other people like us had a safe and good travel experience yesterday. I wish all Americans everywhere a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First Snow & Traffic

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Thanks, Nordstrom

While shopping yesterday, I noticed this sign in the window of the newly opened Nordstrom store at the Natick Collection in Massachusetts - and it actually made me smile. It wasn't there last week, as there were the usual mannequins in the window then. They are apparently preparing their holiday window decor behind this sign, but won't be unveiling it until the Friday after Thanksgiving. I thought it was very refreshing to see a retailer not just blow by Thanksgiving and take us into the December holidays as soon as Halloween was over. So, for that, Thanks, Nordstrom.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Macy's = The Borg

Today's Chicago Tribune carried an article entitled “Macy's Motivated to Matter” by Sandra M. Jones. The article is basically about the takeover by Macy's of Marshall Field's (by way of May Department Stores) and the three year plan Macy's has to reinvigorate the struggling State Steet flagship store. The article quotes Macy's North Chairman Frank Guzzetta and describes his ideas on the turnaround process he envisions. Now, when Macy's went ahead and cavalierly turned all of the Marshall Field's stores into Macy's stores, they lost me and very many other customers.

This isn't new for Macy's - the idea of just taking regional stores and turning them into Macy's stores. Two of the larger stores that Macy's absorbed into itself besides Marshall Field's were Jordan Marsh and Filene's, both of New England. I know a lot of people in the Boston area that are still more than a little steamed about the loss of these stores. Macy's is like the Borg of Star Trek lore - the great assimilators - and the villain (from the point of view of any non-Borg).

Frankly, the only way I see myself ever walking into a former Marshall Field's store again is for the know-it-alls at Macy's Inc. to bring back not only the name “Marshall Field's” to these stores, but to bring back the product lines that Marshall Field's carried as well. I'm all for change and for re-invention, but the idea of taking a Marshall Field's store and turning it into a Macy's is a GIGANTIC step in the wrong direction.

Here's the quote from the article that just made me ill:
“Now, instead of convincing shoppers that Macy's isn't all that different from the more upmarket Field's, the company is embracing the difference as a way to attract new customers.

“The focus of this building was on the Marshall Field's customer,“ Guzzetta said during an interview as he walked through the State Street store. “There are a lot of people who never shopped in Field's. There was a vision of what Marshall Field's was and they felt it wasn't the store for them.“
Is this guy totally joking? Living in Chicago for the first 28 years of my life, I did not know anybody who didn't shop at Marshall Field's for one thing or another. Seriously. I wasn't rich and neither were my friends. Marshall Field's wasn't like Neiman Marcus or even like Bloomingdale's. It was the store where every couple kept their bridal registry and where you could be close to assured to find a present for everyone on your gift lists. My family and I shopped at that store for as long as I've been alive. My christening dress came from Marshall Field's. My prom dresses came from Marshall Field's. My sister bought her couture wedding gown there at the State Street store and would go to the Walnut Room to eat after every fitting. Countless things were purchased there including the furniture for my loft in Lakeview. The same goes for lots of other folks I know.

Mr. Guzzetta seems to be saying that he wants the old Marshall Field's to attract new customers - the ones who never shopped at Marshall Field's previously. Well, yeah - the old customers of Marshall Field's are very aware of the ridiculous step down in merchandising, quality and service since the transition to Macy's. He's going to have to find some new customers to buy his crap. Most friends of mine in Chicago have moved on to Nordstrom as their preferred store. Only problem is that Nordstrom doesn't carry things like housewares and furniture - but there are other stores for that as well.

The folks at Macy's Inc. didn't take into consideration the fact that there was a lot of value in the green Marshall Field's box. I've lived in the Boston area for a decade and I avoided shopping at Macy's even before I had this beef with them. I used to wait until I flew to Chicago to do my shopping at Marshall Field's and Nordstrom. It's just not a good experience to shop at Macy's. (Thank goodness a Nordstrom finally appeared in Massachusetts!) Marshall Field's was a different story. When you gave somebody a present and it came in a green Marshall Field's box (or the old white ones with the gold scroll logo) it “said” something to that person. It said that you cared and that you went to a great store to find them something. There was something intrinsic to the Marshall Field's name and it counted for a lot with its loyal customers. Macy's? Definitely not the same perception. Definitely not the same store. Definitely not where any of my dollars are going this holiday season or any ordinary day in the foreseeable future.

Addendum: There is a group called that is working to get Marshall Field's back in Chicago. They have been holding rallys and trying hard to get Macy's to listen. Check it out. Also, check out the NPR piece that also ran over the weekend (thanks _ITGuy)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Today's Shopping Fiasco

I know it isn't Thanksgiving yet, but the retailers haven't seemed to notice and have started their holiday advertising and decorating very early. In fact, I would say that right after Halloween had come and gone, the retailers went into full holiday mode. That's all fine and good - they want to move onto December before the second of November, that's their call. I just ask that along with the pretty decorations and advertisements they take some time to tend to their registers and properly train their employees.

Today, my husband and I went to a big box electronics store to pick up yet another “project laptop” for him. We went at about 11 am and the store was not busy. A young salesperson asked if we needed help the minute we walked into the section, so kudos to him for that. My husband and I are probably two of the easiest customers to deal with in the computer section. We knew exactly what we wanted and knew they had it in stock. We really never have any questions for the sales people. Having to deal with one is usually just an added and unnecessary step for us (though necessary for the store's physical security internal controls). We brought our pile of accessories to the sales guy and he started to ring up our items with the laptop.

I am a member of their customer loyalty program, and as a member, I get coupons emailed to me. I had one for triple member points (which for this purchase was equal to an additional $40 in future discounts) and one for $20. In addition, because we purchased a laptop, we were entitled to an additional 15% discount on three of the accessories. Well, I guess this was too much for the first register because after all of the items had been scanned, it froze up and refused to process anything more. So, after involving another salesperson, we moved over to the next register, now with two salespeople in tow. They explained that while the last register acted up, the one we had moved to was temperamental and liked to beep at them a lot. Comforting, I know. The young sales guy managed to scan all of the items successfully but then the matter of coupons came up. The computer didn't take them. We had three sales people trying to figure out how the system should be manipulated to get the discounts done properly. I'm pretty patient, but this was ridiculous. I nicely suggested that they let me back there to look at what had and had not been scanned into the system - and they did! Two of the sales people took off to attend to others. The original sales guy stayed to ring us up and told me that he's only a seasonal worker and had just received his uniform yesterday. Why was I not surprised? To their credit, all of the sales people had been trying and were pretty conscientious, they just were lacking in training and equipment. We went through what had been scanned and which discounts were applied and how to manually apply them. Luckily, it all worked out with me behind the counter with him making sure that everything got applied properly. (I know I'm an accountant, but I shouldn't have to audit something like that.) I wished him luck for the holiday season - God knows he needs it.

So in addition to the lights and the music and the ads for the holidays, I'm hoping that they get their employees some training and some registers that work. I'm going to do the majority of my holiday shopping on the Internet again. I think I'm going to avoid that particular store like the plague until the new year.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Flu Shots at the MGH Walk-In Unit

My husband and I are going to be traveling a lot in the next few months, so I was anxious to get a flu shot. I've had a flu shot every year except for one in the last several years (and that was the year they were rationing them for pregnant women, the elderly and children - and I did get the flu that year). I really hate being sick and getting a flu shot is a seriously small price to pay for some minor attempt at immunity. The only bad thing about getting a flu shot is the usually ridiculous wait at the clinic/hospital/doctor's office and finding out where to go to get one in the first place.

This year, when I called my doctor's office at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to inquire about a flu shot, I was told that they had already run out of their entire supply. Classic. Luckily, the office attendant suggested that I go to the MGH Medical Walk-In Unit. I have gone to this clinic more times in the last decade than I want to admit. I have gone to this clinic whenever I felt that I was in need of non-emergency medical assistance and my doctor's office was unable to see me. So it made total sense that when my doctor failed me again, the Walk-In Unit would be there to help me out.

So I drove over to MGH this morning and walked over to the Walk-In Unit on the main floor of the Wang Building. Across the hall from the clinic, was a station that was set up in the hallway to dole out flu shots. There was no line. I walked up and was greeted by two very nice women. I handed one my MGH Blue Card and the other one administered the flu shot to me behind a curtain. Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am.

That was seriously the best experience I've ever had in obtaining my annual flu shot. Many thanks to the MGH Medical Walk-In Unit. I highly recommend going there if you are still in need of a flu shot and have a valid MGH Blue Card (hospital registration). Their hours are Monday - Friday: 8:30a.m. to 8:00p.m., Weekends and Holidays (except Thanksgiving and Christmas): 9:30a.m. - 4:00p.m. If you have questions for them, you can reach them directly at 617-726-2707.

Lesson Not Learned

Last weekend, my husband's mother called our house and mentioned to him that I was going to accompany her, her husband and my mother to a cemetery in the suburbs of Chicago on December 1 to help her and her husband purchase plots. There are two problems with this scenario: First, nobody ever asked me if I even wanted to accompany anybody to a cemetery to select plots. Second, I'm not even going to be in Chicago on December 1, so that would be more than a little difficult for me to pull off.

One of my pet peeves is when people make commitments for me without my consent. I am not attached to anyone except for my husband, and even he knows to check with me before he commits me to anything. We haven't run across this problem for almost 5 years with our parents and I thought that the lesson that we taught them then would stick for longer. Perhaps the lesson wasn't severe enough.

Six weeks before Easter Sunday five years ago, I found myself on the telephone with my favorite aunt in Chicago. She was really happy and excited on the phone and told me that she was SO happy that my husband and I were going to fly to Chicago and be at her house for Easter brunch. HUH?!

Turns out, my aunt had called my husband's parents to invite them to Easter at her house. (Our families spend most big holidays together these days.) His parents had recently moved to Massachusetts from Illinois to be closer to us (my husband's an only child - that's a blog post for another day). His parents responded that the FOUR of us would be there for Easter. Needless to say, I was very angry and explained to my aunt that my husband and I did not know if we could make it to Easter in Chicago yet and that we had made no plans with his parents. My aunt was seriously crushed.

I was angrier than a charging bull. My husband and I were actually 95% sure we could go to Chicago for Easter that year, but because of his mother, I really didn't want to go at all. So my husband and I discussed what had happened and agreed that even if we could go to Chicago, we wouldn't and we'd make his parents, who committed to going there, go on their own. That would teach them to ever make plans for us again, right?

A week before Easter, my husband finally told his parents that we weren't going to Chicago for the holiday. He nicely mentioned that they shouldn't ever commit us to anything. (I would have been a lot more stern about the whole thing, but as they're not my parents, I made him handle it.) We figured we'd wait as long as possible to tell them that so they couldn't get out of their obligation. Well - one would think that at least. His mother called my aunt and gave her some B.S. story about the landscapers having to be at their new house early on Monday so they would have to stay in Massachusetts for Easter.

Well, if I was angry before, I was doubly angry after I found out they backed out of Easter after we told them we weren't going. Luckily, my husband is totally amazing and agreed with me that we would not reward their bad behavior by spending Easter with them. They fed him the same B.S. story they fed my aunt and my husband told them that we were busy in town and couldn't spend time with them for Easter. (If plane tickets to Chicago were even reasonably priced at that point, we would have gone, but alas, they were not.)

So they made plans for us without consulting us and ended up spending Easter all alone. That was five years ago. You think they could remember that lesson, eh?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Late Night Lunacy

Yesterday, I changed the sheets and the blanket and comforter on our bed. I threw the old sheets and a couple of other sets of sheets in the laundry and then threw them in the dryer right before turning in for the night. We made it to bed at a pretty late hour for a week night for us and I was ready to seriously pass out. As I started to change into my bed clothes, my husband asked me what happened to the bed. When I looked, I saw a large wet area on his side of the bed that included the comforter, blanket and sheet. I also saw our dog, Sam, sitting on my side of the bed. Ugh! We looked at the wet area in disbelief - in the whole time we've had our dog, she hasn't done anything like that. She couldn't have really done that, could she have? Well, it turns out that she did.

Our pup Samantha is four years old and I've always thought that my husband and I were lucky to have her. I still do. She is a very sweet and loving dog and has pretty good manners. She doesn't beg. She doesn't chew anything that she isn't supposed to chew. She doesn't play with any toys that we haven't presented to her as her own. She's really playful, loves people and is pretty smart. So she barks a lot at passing people, dogs and vehicles? - she's a dog. But urinating on our bed? That's new and that had better not happen again. I think she must not have liked the way the new comforter smelled - it had just come back from the cleaners. Doggie psychology was not my major in college.

So there we were, scrambling for another set of sheets, a blanket and a comforter late last night. It would figure that there were three sets tumbling around in the dryer at that very moment. But never fear, I had more sheets in the closet. I'm pretty sure there isn't a medical problem that caused that spontaneous urination last night, but I'm keeping an eye on Sam nonetheless.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It's National Veterans Awareness Week

Today is Veterans Day. Did you know that the week of November 11 through November 17, 2007 has also been designated “National Veterans Awareness Week?” This designation for an entire week is meant to make more people aware of the the great contributions of all of our veterans to our country. As our military is made up completely of volunteers these days, many people in this country do not personally know anyone in the Armed Forces. I believe that it is important for Americans to remember and be grateful for the people that have sacrificed of themselves for our country's security, prosperity and freedom.

I have relatives and friends that are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. I also have relatives that have served our country in the past. My grandfathers both served during World War II. One of my grandfathers served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, when the Japanese attacked our forces there. He was fortunate and returned home to his family. I remember stories of my grandmother not knowing if her husband had survived the attack for months as a result of poor communications at the time. My other grandfather served as a guerrilla for the U.S. Army Forces Far East, which resisted Japanese occupation in the Philippines. He was captured by the Japanese and beheaded. My grandmother was pregnant with their third child at the time and was brought to the place where her husband was left to identify him. It is said that her grief caused her premature labor. I don't doubt that. My grandmother never remarried and raised her three children without the aid of a husband as a result. On both sides of the family, the absence of the father for very long periods of time was very difficult. My mother has absolutely no memories of her father. My father first remembers meeting his father when he was five or six years of age. His father was a total stranger to him. For all of their sacrifices, I've never heard one word about anyone regretting their service to the country. If anything, it was an honor and a privilege for them to contribute to the liberty that their children enjoy now.

I look at the young men and women that are serving in the Armed Forces today and those that have completed their commitment to the military and I see the profound sacrifices that they and their families are all making for our country. These patriots have my most sincere respect and gratitude for their service and commitment.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

One Misconception of All-Girls' Schools

I recently had a conversation with a relative of mine and she told me that her daughter, who is in pre-school will be attending an all-girls' school. Now, I went to an all-girls' school for high school. I attended a co-ed school from kindergarten through 8th grade. While discussing this decision with her, I realized that there are a lot of misconceptions about all-girls' schools. The one I think is hilarious is the idea that girls who attend an all-girls' school will have more time to focus on their school work as they don't have to worry about their personal appearance -- there are no boys around to impress.

The truth of the matter is that most women naturally dress and make themselves up to impress other women. They may think that they are trying to impress men, but in truth, they're not really. Poll any group of well-adjusted males and ask them what they would want their wives or girlfriends to wear when they are with them. They're not mentioning clothes that can be found in the fashion magazines and when they mention “jeans” they're usually not specifying the brand on the label. Most guys like women to look “natural” and don't like a lot of makeup on them. Now, most all-girls' schools have uniforms, but there are still issues of make-up, hair and accessories (jewelry, purses, shoes, etc.) In addition, I don't know many all-girls' schools that don't have casual days at least once a month. I once had somebody say that it must have been great for me to not have to worry about hair and make-up through high school. What a laugh that was. I was lucky as I had a mom with really good taste that made sure I didn't have to worry about those things. Several of my classmates had it a lot rougher.

I think if we had men in our school, it would have been easier. Young women can be brutal to one another. With men around, the brutality would have probably been tempered as the men would have been there to witness the bad behavior. In my experience, I had to care about my personal appearance more in the all-girls' school than in the co-ed school. Sad, but true.

Friday, November 09, 2007

For Those In Service

I'd like to think that I am one of the most easy-going customers out there. I'm almost never in a rush and I'm pretty nice to everyone with whom I contact during the day. Most of the people who work at the establishments that I frequent know me and we usually exchange pleasantries or inquire about one another's spouse/kids/house/weather experience/or whatever - there's usually decent small talk involved. I'm pretty spoiled because there hasn't been much turnover in the staff at my gym/cleaners/groceries/post office/coffee joint/etc. and the people that have worked at those places have been very pleasant over the years. Today, I encountered two new people and both of them really just ticked me off. Mind you, they wouldn't have known I was annoyed because I wasn't so annoyed as to actually say anything. I was pretty pleasant. But geez - if you're going to work in a service position, please do not emulate either of the people I am about to describe.

First was a male senior citizen who was working at a local grocery store as a bagger. This guy was bitter. Now I don't know why he was working as a bagger, and frankly, not only is it none of my business, but it shouldn't be. We all have our own problems, guy. Please stop taking yours out on other people's potato chips and hamburger buns. Seriously. He was about as pleasant as a bad bowel movement. Why can't you be as pleasant as the senior citizens working at Disney World? If I run across this codger again and he so much as looks at me sideways again, I'm going to the store manager. Everyone has a bad day once in a while and I'm hoping I just caught him in the middle of one. You get a reprieve Mr. Angry - buck up before I see you next week.

The next person was the middle-aged male working as a cashier at the Whole Foods. If you don't know what you're doing, ask for help. Don't stand there trying to figure it out while the line grows longer and longer (and my ice cream starts to melt). This guy was cagey & nervous. Worst of all, he was trying to process the order for a cute, little old lady with a food stamp card. She stood there patiently while he fumbled and she looked a little embarrassed. I felt bad for her. FINALLY, he called for help and the manager came and processed the card in no time. Luckily, the store manager was overly sweet and comforting to the woman with the order in limbo. I was right behind this woman, and when it was finally my turn to get checked through, not only did Mr. Dense not greet me, he didn't apologize for the ridiculously long wait that could have been avoided if he'd had the balls to call his manager sooner. Even worse, as he was such a clod, I bagged my own groceries, which isn't a problem, as I don't mind - but instead of helping me after I finished paying him, he started to ring through the next customer. Note to dense cashier at Whole Foods: Unless there's a dedicated bagger there, you make sure the person you just checked through is bagged before you start ringing through the next guy. If this guy makes it through the Thanksgiving holiday without incident, I will be surprised. I'm staying away from this one as he has that “I don't belong here” look about him and he may just blow up there one day.

So, people in service jobs, all I ask is that you realize that your job is to serve your customers. Whatever baggage you personally carry should be left at home. For your own sakes realize that you're working at the job that you are working at for a reason. Try to make the most of your day instead of being a complete moron. You can try to make your jobs more pleasant by not being the miserable one all day long.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Moms Rock

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Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is my mom's 65th birthday. Now, my mom doesn't know that I have a blog... and that's probably why I can post this entry about her here now. hee hee.

My mom and I have not had the easiest of relationships. At times, the best word for our relationship has been “strained.” We have had many disagreements over the years, as many mothers and daughters have had. She has done some things in her life that I cannot understand. But if I think about it on the whole, I'm pretty lucky to have the mom that I do.

Yesterday, I wrote a scathing blog post (which never did get posted) about the older generation in our family. I basically vented and let out all of the annoyances that have been eating at me like acid on iron come out. After I wrote that post I realized that my dad wasn't a target of my rant at all and that my mother was only guilty of buying me too many presents and wanting to spend more time with us. (So you can imagine who got me all riled up.)

So, if my mother isn't annoying me, why do we have a complicated relationship? Well, after everything that has happened in my lifetime, it is still understandable. However, I am lucky in that I can be brutally honest with both of my parents about what they do that bugs the living daylights out of me. I actually told my mom that her voice on the phone is like “nails on a chalkboard” to me and suggested that she email me whenever possible instead of calling. So now, we have nice discussions via email and when she does call us, it isn't as screechy of a nails on the chalkboard experience.

She is still working as an accounting manager and doesn't seem to have any plans to retire anytime soon. When I was a public accountant, my mom was actually a contact for some of my colleagues who audited her company. My mother is very smart and ridiculously efficient - my friends were wowed. I wished she was MY client (but that wasn't possible.) She did teach me a lot of things about professional presence and a lot of the credit for why I wasn't completely clueless about the professional world when I started working goes to her. (Then again, one of the reasons I went into accounting in the first place was because she told me not to. lol.)

I know I won't ever have to turn my mother in for any make-over shows because she always looks amazing. She has really good taste and her instincts as to what I may want or need are more right than not. She's very responsible and doesn't get herself into any situations from which I need to rescue her. Most importantly, she doesn't ever mean any harm to anyone and is usually just looking out for us. My mom's really thoughtful and kind. I could never say she didn't love me with a straight face because it's very obvious that she does. (There's a shrine to me at her house, a.k.a. my old bedroom, to prove it too and I'm almost 40.)

I called her up today to wish her a good one. We sent her a couple dozen roses on Monday so she'd have them at work all week before she had to haul them home. We'll obviously celebrate with her when we get home to Chicago later this month. So I hope my mom has a happy birthday. Maybe I'll tell her I have a blog and let her read this herself.... Ok, well, ...that may just be a bad idea.

Going to Face Torture at the Gym

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hooray for Cold & Rainy Days

When I woke up this morning, I really didn't want to come out from under my nice warm covers. The furnaces had been running all night and the outside temperature was in the 40's. I managed to pull myself out of bed and realized that it was raining heavily outside too. The rain from the previous week knocked most of the leaves off of the trees and I suspect this rain will knock off another round of them. When I walked Samantha this morning, it wasn't raining very hard, but it was cold, wet and grey. Samantha did her business quickly and promptly put her two paws on top of my shoe - which is her signal for, “Pick me up NOW, please.” She hates rainy days and seems to sleep a lot when the weather is bad. I know other people who find themselves in foul moods when the weather turns foul as well. I guess I'm strange, but I like days like these.

There are definitely exceptions to this feeling - the biggest ones being when I am at the airport and need my flight to run on schedule and when it's been raining non-stop for days on end - but in general, I think there is a need for cold, rainy days. I use these days to catch up on the more mundane tasks in my home that I would normally push off as long as possible. I get my personal finances in order on days like today. I don't stay inside all day though. I do what I have to do and don't let the rain hinder me. Unless I have to meet with somebody, I usually don't use an umbrella. I don't run into buildings from my car. I just let the rain fall on me. I'm the crazy lady in the store parking lot who is casually walking to her car without an umbrella in a deluge. Yes, that's me. I don't care if I get drenched, I get a kick out of the rain.

I haven't always been like this though. Growing up, my father wouldn't even let me play in the sprinklers. He thought that getting wet would lead to illness - never mind the bacteria & viruses. When I was working, I always had an umbrella handy and rushed through rain and snow to get indoors whether I was on the job or not. Now that I'm closer to 40 and have a decent grasp of my mortality, I try to slow my life down as much as possible and be aware of what is going on around me right now. Part of that has been learning to enjoy all of the weather that we get as there isn't a whole lot we can do to change it. One of my favorite times to remember was experiencing Hurricane Charlie from our balcony at the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney. I try not to be sad about the weather unless someone is getting hurt.

It's actually really liberating to stand outside in the rain and enjoy getting pelted with raindrops. After you do it for a while you notice the people around you who are looking at you like you're a kook. Now, you may be one of those people who think I'm a kook, but I assure you I'm just having a good time.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I've Been a Bad, Bad Girl

It occurred to me that it has been a month since I felt compelled to post to this blog. Considering all that has happened in the month, I find this surprising. I spent a week and a half in Chicago staying in my old bedroom (which hasn't changed a bit since I moved out). I spent a good amount of time documenting my days as part of the 10 for 30 Challenge on flickr with some of my Twitter buds. My husband was sick - twice. My beloved Cubs got swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS. My beloved Red Sox won the World Series (w00t!). My sister & brother-in-law hosted a wild Halloween costume party. One of my good friends from Chicago, who I thought may never give up his “bachelor” status, got married. There's been so much more too. It's been an eventful few weeks. So what's up with my lack of posting? I'm not entirely sure. All I know is that I have a ton to write about now and that I will try my hardest to not go silent for that long again.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Opening Doors

Recently, I've done a few things that may seem a tad “reckless” for me, relatively speaking. I changed the name on my Facebook profile to my real name. This really wasn't a big deal when I did it because the only people that I had as “friends” on Facebook were people that I had known for eons - there was seriously not a “friend” on Facebook that I hadn't known for at least 15 years (and that's because they're only 15 years old.) The picture that I had for my Facebook profile photo wasn't obviously me either: It was taken from afar and I'm wearing dark sunglasses (I'm also standing in front of the Facebook offices on University Street, but that's another story.) I also tweaked my Facebook privacy settings in such a way that I am not searchable under my real name by anyone - not even by other Facebook members. This tweak in the settings puts the onus on me to go out and invite other people to be my friend, as they would really have no way of finding me. I can definitely live with that.

I also started up a Twitter account as Hooeyspewer in late August just to see what that site was all about. (Truth be told, I did it so I could give my husband a data dump on the site from a user perspective - but that's another story as well.) What I found was a really great group of people on that site from all over the world that interact with one another throughout the day in small messages of less than 140 characters each (a.k.a. “Tweets”.) I'm totally sold - it's great. It's been a study in being succinct - which anyone who consistently reads this blog knows, is not a strong point of mine. I found many of the people I follow to be very engaging and interesting. In the last month, I have grown an appreciation for many of the people on Twitter. I've had longer conversations off of Twitter with some via IM/email, and it really bothered me that these people that let me into small slices of their lives through Twitter (and more recently through the 10 for 30 Challenge on Flickr) only knew me as Hooeyspewer. It really just seemed awkward, in a way. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have had real reservations about letting many people know who the person behind Hooeyspewer is in real life. Recently, I've decided that it wouldn't be so bad to let a few people know.

I figured it wouldn't hurt to let some of the people with whom I swap Tweets and photos know what my real name is. What would really be the harm in inviting some folks from Twitter to be friends on Facebook as well? I doubt highly that any of them care whether my name is Andorra Steele or Mary Poppins. I really like these people and would really like to become their friend. How would that even be possible if I couldn't divulge my name? That just seems nutty to me. Truly, there isn't much of a difference between meeting people on the Internet in this way and meeting them at the gym. In a way, it's actually “safer” as you would naturally divulge your name almost immediately to someone you become acquainted with in person, whereas, I am divulging this information to people with whom I have been acquainted for at least a month already. I really like these people. I've read their blogs. I've seen their photos. I know what hobbies they have. I have enjoyed their company greatly.

I have been overly guarded for the last decade because of the stalker incident that I had in my past. The offender in this case wasn't just stalking me, he was armed and meant serious harm to me. The judge was all too happy to grant me the maximum duration for a restraining order as allowed by the law. Many people can operate on the Internet as themselves without much worry of physical harm resulting. I, unfortunately, am not one of them. I have basically been “hiding” for a little over a decade as I have a known threat that is still walking the planet who could wake up one day and decide once again that I ruined his life because I rejected him. (The first time he woke up and decided this, I hadn't seen him in well over a year.)

I have used the name “Hooeyspewer” as a shield for a long time. I am grateful that I have been able to operate online without many problems under this name. I threw up walls between the real me and the outside world to protect me from the threats that I know lurk out there. I didn't build the walls to keep good people out and keep me inside. All of the same barriers are still there. I am still just an anonymous face to the general public. I am happily choosing to not be anonymous to some people who I appreciate and who have shared part of themselves with me. I am just choosing to trust some people and let them through.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Happy Birthday Sam!

Friday was our dog Sam's fourth birthday. She's a black and tan miniature dachshund and she's ALL personality. We met her at her breeder's farm in New Hampshire when she was two weeks old. Her eyes hadn't quite opened yet when we met her. We were trying to decide between her and her sister who looked exactly like her (at two weeks, you can imagine). My husband and I kept passing the two puppies between us, trying to see if there was any discernible difference between them. Suddenly, while my husband was holding Sam, she stuck her little tongue out and he got a mini-lick. Decision made and sealed in stone (or more like “sealed with the peach-colored collar that her breeder gave her to identify her as our puppy.”) Never mind the fact that I am totally allergic to dogs and break out in hives when I am licked by one, we got ourselves a kisser! She came home with us when she was eight weeks old and a whopping two and a half pounds. Now she's four years old and has grown to 11 pounds. She's a lover through and through, though her bark would lead you to believe otherwise. She fits perfectly underneath the seat in front of me on 737s and she seems to make friends everywhere she goes. She's a great friend and pup. We really love her. I don't know what happened to her sister. I do hope she went to a loving home. I hope Sam really enjoyed her birthday and that wherever her sister is, that she had a great birthday too. Sam slept like a rock last night, so I'm thinking she did.

Pictures from part of her day can be viewed at Flickr.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The 10 for 30 Challenge on Flickr

Last Sunday, a fellow Twitterer, @AnnOhio posted the 10 for 30 Challenge on her blog. The 10 for 30 Challenge entails taking 10 photos during your day every day for 30 days and then uploading them to a group in Flickr. I remembered reading an article about founder Jeff Bezos a few years ago in which he mentioned that he made an effort to take one picture every day. (I think the reason why it stuck in my head is that one picture that he took was of the bird droppings on his pants that he acquired while sitting through an outdoor wedding.) I actually tried to take one picture a day back then, but it didn’t last very long. I didn’t have a camera in my phone then and was admittedly lazy about hooking my camera up to my computer for one picture per day.

Things are different now. I have a trusty iPhone with which to take pictures and post them almost immediately to my flickr account. (I love technology!) In addition, as there is a group of people doing this, I will be less likely to fall off the bus. I think it’s a great idea and have joined the 10 for 30 group on flickr.

So far, there are 36 members of this group and the pictures have been a very cool view into the lives of others. Thanks for the idea, Ann and thanks for setting up the group @banannie7. I look forward to the next month of pictures.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Privacy Revisited

I have been very careful with my personal information over the years. As I have mentioned previously, I have had to obtain a restraining order because of a stalker in my past. In addition, I have personally known people who would otherwise pass as totally normal but who have developed unexplainable one-sided attachments to other people. Experiences like that will teach you to be careful. I am aware that it is almost impossible to safeguard my whereabouts thanks to several purveyors of personal information, but I still try to make it a little more difficult when possible. I'm frankly getting really sick of having to hide behind an alias like Hooeyspewer and it's getting more difficult to do these days.

I am envious of the people who can just throw it all out there and not worry about the repercussions. They can blog under their real name, post their photos and videos for public consumption under their real name, converse with total strangers without an alias on the Internet and post their real contact information as well. I would require a P.O. Box in another city in order to give out a contact address and even that would make me nervous.

I recently joined Twitter and have become acquainted with a few people who do, in fact, not only Tweet under their real names, but blog using their real names. They use their real names as their email address and/or domain name. They're on Facebook as themselves without all of the privacy guard settings and have their contact information out there for others to see. Their real names are used on YouTube, Flickr, Pownce, Digg, LinkedIn, Mash - you name it, they're there as themselves. (Well, I'm on LinkedIn under my real name, but that's the whole point of it, right?) If you Google their names, you're met with pages and pages of entries from all over the Internet. Some of these entries include information such as current phone numbers and the location of tonight's dinner reservations. I've seen articles explaining how to make your name more Google-able. I've worked pretty hard to make sure I'm not easily Google-able under my real name. I couldn't do what these people are doing in a million years - I don't know how I'd sleep.

I've actually joked with a couple of them about this and they really didn't seem too worried about the prospect of having some nut job recognize them in public or stalk them across the Internet or in real life. They're not dumb or ignorant to the possibility - they're just not too concerned with it. It's part of the job for some of these people - their job requires a public presence or they need to be accessible. An example of a person who does this at least partially for professional reasons is Robert Scoble, who was recently kind enough to Tweet updates on Twitter while at the hospital awaiting the birth of his son. (Congratulations, BTW.) I do admire these people and their families for being that accessible to the masses and I also truly hope that they never have any reason to regret that they are.