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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Photo Ops

So I've been playing with my new scanner (fun, fun, fun!) and decided to scan some of my photos from my trip to Ireland in '01. I need to travel more. (And I need to somehow become independently wealthy...)

Above is a cathedral in Galway. I don't remember the name of this one (if I ever knew), but it was pretty from my viewpoint across the river, so I took this picture. Above is a Waterford Crystal Irish Harp on display at the Waterford factory. The tour was pretty awesome, and there was some amazing crystal work on display. This was just one.

Above is a shot of the view across the gardens of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. I don't remember what the building across the street there is (and although it looks like the gardens belong to this grand edifice, they are actually fenced off and across a street - you can see a tour bus in the mid-frame on the right side). The cathedral was about 2 blocks behind the hotel where my friend (Kerri) and I were staying while in Dublin. It was a great location (also walking distance to Guinness, Dublin Castle and a nice fish&chips shop around the corner).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Merry Christmas! (okay, it's a little late)

I hope everyone had a happy Christmas. Mine was good. I spent Saturday with a few friends visiting from out of town, which was fun, but I think we all wished we had more time. Saturday night it was back to my mother's house. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with Mom and the stepfamily, and got to meet my little brother's new girlfriend. (She seemed very nice - and good news - she crochets and knits!)

After the gift unwrapping frenzy, and dinner with the family, it was time to head on over to Dad's house for Christmas evening. My two brothers also came and Tony brought the new girlfriend over to meet Dad and my step-mother. She seemed to warm up to them quickly, if I read her right. And my big Christmas surprise - my parents and step-parents all went in together and bought me a new computer! I was not expecting that at all. But I'm definitely happy about it.

So, when I got home Tuesday night, I puttered around making numerous trips from the car to the apartment, bringing everything in. I'm still fighting this cold, which is sapping my energy, but decided I'd set up the new computer that night anyway. Easy peasy. I set up the printer today (so nice to have a working printer again! And now I can scan some of my older photos too). Late last night, after connecting all of the computer components, I hopped online and ordered DSL. That's right, now that I have a machine that will support DSL, I am booting out the dial up! I should be connected with high speed by next Tuesday. Welcome to the 21st Century.

And, because my vacation is now over, and I must head off to bed...I will leave you all with photos of 3 of the crocheted scarves I powered out this winter for Christmas gifts. I've discovered ArtYarns Supermerino, and I am addicted!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas to me....

So today at lunch I decide to go to the gas station for a necessary fill-up. I swipe my debit card, and the little machine thingy tells me to see the cashier inside. Weird. And it won't let me cancel the transaction either. Hmm... So I go inside and the cashier tries the card again, and it is denied. And then again... I pay with my credit card instead and high-tail it over to the bank to see what's going on, since I know I have the funds in my account, plus overdraft protection.

My credit union has great tellers (just have to say that). The teller checked out my account and said there was some questionable activity and that I would need to call their fraud services department and verify if the charges were authorized. In the meantime, the debit card is useless, but I can still use my checks. I deposit the check that was sitting in my purse waiting for me to take care of it, and get some cash back since the card is on hold. I was figuring that they were questioning the numerous retail charges I racked up last Thursday when I did the bulk of my Christmas shopping.

Nope! After talking to the fraud services representative, it seems that someone is using my debit card info for a Wal-Mart shopping spree in Louisiana. I don't even think I've ever been to Louisiana! She told me to go back to the bank and fill out the necessary paperwork. My boss graciously allowed me to head back out to take care of it (have I mentioned that my department at work handles fraud detection and investigations, among other default issues?).

Again at the bank (they'll all know me by name soon), I spoke to the same teller I had spoken to earlier. When she checked my account again to print out documentation of the disputed charges, she saw another pending charge (again at a Wal-Mart in Louisiana), so I got a new form and added that amount to the dispute. So...someone who should be receiving large quantities of coal (but more likey will get a Playstation obtained through dastardly deeds) in their stocking has taken $1,130 of my hard earned money! Yes, I am rather indignant about it.

But, since I found out so quickly and filled out the dispute form and affidavit of forgery (fraudulent use of a credit card, debit card, or ATM Card), the stolen money should be refunded to my account. The debit card has been cancelled, and I will be issued a new one, so there shouldn't be any additional fraudulent charges.

Then I came back to the office to call the coppers - I want to file a report ASAP, just to keep my bases covered. The local cops here told me I need to file with the local department (by my residence). So, after weighing in tonight at ww to see how badly I've done all week, I'm heading back home and will be making a special stop at the local police department to file a report. (I called already, just to find out if I could file by phone or not. I need to show up in person, which makes more sense anyway. But they are open 24/7, so I don't have to take any more time off of work.)

So, what's with the scammers last Sunday in the Target parking lot, and the stolen debit card now? What a crazy dichotomy (did I use that correctly?)- half the nation is out celebrating the season of giving and charity, and the other half is scheming and stealing. Don't people know right from wrong anymore?? No wonder I am such a cynic!!

I'm just wondering how someone got a hold of my info. One of the bank tellers was guessing that it was skimmed (where they insert a device into an ATM machine or other scanning device and copy the account numbers of the magnetic strip when the card is swiped). If that is the case, whoever did it is probably working on a large scale to make it worth their while, and who knows how many other people were affected too. I have no idea where this could have happened, since all the ATMs, and as far as I know, all of the POS sites, that I use are pretty heavily guarded security-wise.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hectic Holidaze

Well, the frenzy continues.

The cookie baking was fun. My friend Judy from high school came with her 2 kids, sister and mother. We did a lot of catching up and also made 3 batches of cookies (sugar cookies, gingerbread cutouts and buckeye balls). It's a paltry amount by my father's standards…but a much more relaxed atmosphere than when my Dad and I get together to bake Christmas cookies (sorry Dad, but it's true!). It was good to see Judy again - I hadn't seen her since last Christmas when we got together to bake! There were a few e-mails back and forth over the year, but I have not been good at keeping in touch (with anyone, really) in 2006. That needs to change.

Sunday I got up early and went to mass with Mom (and family). Afterwards, we were looking at the giving tree (or whatever they call that - where you pick a name off of the tree and bring in a gift for a needy child/adult/social service organization) and noticed that there were an awful lot of names still on the tree. And that was the last day to bring in the gifts…So, Mom and I decided we would get generous and picked about 7 or 8 of the tags off the tree, with a plan to shop and bring the gifts back to the church before the 5:30pm mass let out.

I was lucky enough to get a nap in on Sunday, which is a rarity. We got home from church at about 8am, which is earlier than I usually can drag myself out of bed. So, a nap was welcome. After getting up and grabbing a quick little lunch, Mom and I decorated the gingerbread cookies. They came out cute. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera with me to her house, so I don't have any pictures.

After that we went on a shopping spree, with some $$ kicked in by my stepfather and stepbrother for the giving tree presents. We picked up quite a few things and then packaged them up out in the parking lot. It got pretty cold out there after the sun went down, and I had left my jacket in my car, because I hadn't needed it earlier. So, instead of running across the parking lot to my car to get my coat, I shivered at the open back of mother's Jeep and taped tags onto the individual gifts. (Mom was running back to the church to drop them off, and I was heading home directly from there.) I wonder if that had anything to do with this cold I seem to be getting.

While Mom and I were sorting and packaging the items, a car pulled up behind us with 2 young women in it. The driver caught our attention and told us she and her sister were away from their home in Modesto and her sister is a sugar diabetic (her words) and didn't bring any food with her, and they had no money. I was torn. On the one hand, my charitable self wants to offer them some food. On the other hand, my cynical side thinks it sounds like a scam, and that if her sister is a diabetic, she should always be prepared (and don't they have a debit card or a checkbook?). So, I wimped out and let my mother handle it. She told them to turn around and go back into Target (which was directly behind us) because they are known to help people out in that type of situation (I hadn't been aware of that, if it's true, but it never hurts to ask them). Then the car drives away and leaves the shopping center completely, confirming my cynical view of their speil as a scam. I hate that people do that. I would prefer to be surprised by people's sincerity…

Now, back to wrapping and writing (Christmas cards, that is).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Festive Frenzy

I can't write much tonight, but thought maybe I'd check in for a few. I've been crazy busy at work this week, staying late each night except for tonight. I realized a few days ago, thanks in part to my friend Caitlin's new blog (I'd link, but I haven't gotten her permission yet and I don't want to make assumptions), that Christmas is the weekend after next. How did it creep up so fast? I haven't wrapped a single gift (other than the one that went to my secret pal) or sent a single card! I feel like such a slacker.

But, today was the company Christmas party, when they treat us all to a catered late lunch and entertainment by the cheesiest dj on Earth. After the party, we all get to go home. So, I got out around 3pm, and was finally able to do some real Christmas shopping. I had a lot done already from before and immediately after Thanksgiving, but still had some people on my list to take care of. I think I finally made some good progress today. I think the only one I have nothing for is my youngest step-brother. And I had to stop myself from buying more for Gino (so easy! But I did pick up a plush Star-Bellied Sneetch for him at Kohl's - how could I pass it up for only $5? Too bad they didn't have the reindeer dog from the Grinch though.)

So, how come I work late, get home at 8pm and have no energy or motivation to do anything? But, I work half a day, overeat over-rated free food, socialize with co-workers, and I can go home, shop for three hours and get home at the same time as usual with motivation to write up some Christmas cards? (I didn't get far on that score though - had to jump online and pay some bills. Then I got distracted.) Go figure.

Well, I'd better go now. I'm headed to my mother's this weekend to bake cookies with her and some family friends. We did it last year too. It's fun - and fattening - all at the same time!

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Girl in the Bubble?

I really think I'm too cynical for this one to be correct... I just might have to take it again. (To take this one, click on the link in the pink section, and from the website that comes up, click on "extras" and then the quiz link.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shameless Plug

This weekend I'm driving back up to my Dad's house to go to the open house where he works. My father and stepmother have rather unconventional jobs. They are basically elephant-keepers. Yep, no fooling. But they don't work in zoo or circus...much much different!

They both work for PAWS - That's Performing Animal Welfare Society. It's an animal sanctuary where "abandoned or abused performing animals and victims of the exotic animal trade can live in peace and contentment." I'm sure I can't do it justice with any description I could muster up, so I lifted the following from their site.
"Founded by former Hollywood animal trainer and author, Pat Derby, and partner, Ed Stewart, PAWS maintains 3 sanctuaries for captive wildlife -- 30 acres in Galt, CA, the 100-acre Amanda Blake Wildlife Refuge in Herald, California and ARK2000, 2300 acres of beautiful natural habitat in San Andreas, CA.PAWS is internationally recognized as a leader in animal welfare -- dedicated to the rescue of performing and exotic animals from cruel confinement and performances of pain. Among our greatest concerns are the treatment of animals in traveling shows, animal acts, television and movies, as well as the problem of captive breeding, inadequate standards for captive wildlife and the exotic animal trade."

Dad and my stepmother work at ARK2000, with the elephants, and both of my brothers have worked there previously. There is also a tiger facility at that location, with another staff. Anyway, I haven't ever been up there when the elephants were up by the barns (which are massively huge!), so the open house should be fun. My friend Kristin is coming up too, and this will be the first time that she has seen my baby brother.

Another plan for tomorrow - secret santa exchange at work, then the holiday luncheon for our department. The boss is letting us go home early afterwards. It's not going to be a very productive day. (I'm okay with that.) And since I'm getting out early, I am going to be having an exciting afternoon. Yep, I'm going to sit at the Chevy dealership and wait for a tow-truck to show up to tow the dead car over to my step-father's shop. I have to be there when the tow truck comes. At least I've got a book to read - who knows how long I'll have to wait for a truck to show up? And after that, I'm heading straight to my Dad's. I'm hoping I still miss rush hour...(I hope for a lot, don't I?)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'Tis the Season

I ran to Target today at lunch to shop for the gift exchange and pick up some other things (including a cheap watch, since mine died and I'm too lazy to get the battery replaced). I am looking for a crossword puzzle book or something like that at the checkstands, since there weren't any over in the book section (a ton of So Duko books though, one of which I did snag for the secret santa recipient). Since I couldn't find any, I ambled up to the nearest checkstand, not paying much attention, since all of the lines seemed to have about the same number of people in them, around 2 ahead of me. Not too bad, right?

This woman comes up behind me and knocks her shopping basket into my elbow, as she says to her 2 kids, "'tis the season for rude shoppers," in a very sarcastic tone. I'm standing there wondering if she's referring to herself, as she just whacked me in the arm and didn't even apologize. Then she proceeds to say, "I guess it doesn't matter who sees the line first, just if you get there faster." Also sarcastically muttered. One of her kids whispered, "Mom, she heard you. She heard and looked at you." The mother replied, "Good. People like that need to know they've been noticed."

I couldn't believe my ears. And you know that kid had to have been mortified by her mother's muttering rant. I would have been. And I kind of wanted to turn around and smack her...I mean...tell her that, yeah, it pretty much is whoever gets there first. I didn't see the whole scenario happen (and part of me was insecure, thinking that maybe I did it unintentionally while I hopped on line without paying attention), but really, I doubt the other woman was standing there waiting to see which line this obnoxious woman was looking at so that she could rush to beat her to it. There weren't that many people waiting in the first place!

By now the line had moved up a person, so I placed my basket on the conveyor belt. Psycho mom behind me tells her daughter to stop standing in front of her (not in a nice manner) and accuses the daughter of being the reason that people cut in front of them in line. Now, the girl wasn't really in front of her mother at all. She was slightly ahead, but to the side, and the woman could easily have placed her purchases on the counter. Talk about finding a scapegoat. While I'm paying for my goods, the woman proceeds to berate her son for placing an item on top of something she had put down already. I guess he wanted to buy something and she said no, and he was begging her to take it out of his allowance, but hadn't checked to see how much it was (this part I can see any mom putting their foot down for, but she was just so snippy/snotty about it).

Now, it may sound like the woman was being pretty awful, which I thought she was, but I have seen worse. I don't want to blow it out of proportion or anything - I wouldn't call it abusive. Just nasty. And all I could think as I left the store was that those poor kids are going to have the worst self-esteem if their mother treats them like such crap all the time, and in public!. (And again, I don't know how she normally treats her kids…but in this instance, they really hadn't done anything, and she was mad at someone else for something petty, which annoyed me.)

'Tis the Season indeed!

So, after that I headed to Starbucks for some much needed caffeination. The woman whose drinks were up before mine must have been doing a coffee run for the office, because she had about 7 drinks with 2 drink trays. And no pockets. She was fumbling to hold them both, plus her wallet and keys, so I offered to go across the store and get the door for her. She was grateful, and I felt good about myself. Think that was enough to counteract the nastiness of the woman in Target? It boosted my mood, anyway.

'Tis the Season, after all.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Secret Santa

Yay! I got pictures to upload - above is the tree I decorated yesterday. Luckily, it was still standing when I got home from work today (yay Gracie!).

A week or so ago, I was debating whether or not to approach my boss about maybe doing a gift exchange at work. I decided not to, because I knew that if I brought it up, it would end up being my sole responsibility, and I already have a ton of work piled up to do. Well...last Friday, after our department tree trimming party, I got an email from a couple of other co-workers asking if I thought people would be interested in a secret santa exchange. I said I thought so, and let it go...hoping that one of them would then send an e-mail out about it or something...

Well, about a half an hour later, one of the co-workers approached me and asked if I'd send the email out about it, because no one else wanted to. And since I am way to nice (doormat alert!!), I grudgingly agreed to do it. And not surprisingly, it has become my little project. Since the big boss was out sick today (which means she works from home and sends 400 more e-mails than usual), I spent way too much time convincing her that we should exchange gifts on this Friday (as she had suggested last week) and not next week (as she suggested via e-mail today) because 2 of the participants are on vacation starting next Monday. Honestly, this kind of thing should not be so difficult! Her suggestion to do the exchange came today AFTER all of the participants had picked names, so if we'd decided to do the exchange next week, at least 2 people would be out of the game.

And also, since I ended up spearheading this whole thing, I let everyone pick their names, and then chose for all the absentees who were participating, as well as for myself. So naturally, after picking names for all the absentees, I picked my own name for myself. So even if I put myself back in and re-chose for the others, I would have ended up e-mailing someone to tell them that they had to send me a gift (in secret). I ended up explaining that to Christyn, and she put the co-worker she had chosen back in the bag and took me so I wouldn't have to tell someone to buy me stuff...But, now I know who's buying for me. (Actually, I'm pretty sure Christyn will do a fine job getting something for me, since we hang out pretty often - I just hope people don't think it was fixed, since we always go to lunch together!) I somehow draw difficulty to myself?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Deck the Halls

I went to my first (non-work) Christmas party of the year last night. It was out in Discovery Bay in an area that makes me feel decidedly poor. My friends and I got there kind of early and helped the host set up (he looked absolutely frazzled when he opened the door, and when he saw who it was he let out a big sigh and said, "Oh thank God." Then he put us to work. But we were happy to do it, and I prefer having a purpose at something like that where I barely know anyone.)

Today, I cleaned out the little corner where my tree always goes, and got all the Christmas boxes out of storage. The tree is up (it's fake), the lights are on, and now I'm waiting for the cat to get curious. She did reach up and bat at a low hanging ornament (mostly there aren't any - this lower one is unbreakable), but I shooed her away and she hasn't gone near it since. We'll see how long that lasts.

I'm remember past damage done to trees by the family cats...our old cat Merlyn once climbed the tree and knocked the whole thing down. We lost a lot of ornaments that year!

I wanted to post a photo of my tree this year, but don't have the photo upload option at the, maybe later.