Monday, April 26, 2010

It's a store, not a museum.

For anyone who has been to IKEA on a Saturday afternoon and lived to tell about it, I salute you.

Don't get me wrong. I love IKEA. And when I heard they were coming to the Portland area, I was thrilled. When I found out they were going to be just across the river near the airport, it was like I had died and gone to hard-to-put-together-yourself Swedish college furniture heaven. 

Living so close — less than 10 minutes away — has its advantages. The biggest of which is that I've learned when it's best to go ... and when it's best to stay home. Weekday mornings and early afternoon is a great time. So is any day after 7 p.m. The weekend? Just say no.

But regardless of what time it is, one thing always strikes me when visiting my favorite Swedish warehouse: the slow-moving people. Be they first-timers, elderly, with stroller (or strollers), pushing carts, pushing grandma, lugging boxes, from near, from far or even from a galaxy far far away ... please remember — it's a store, not a museum. You do not need to stop in the middle of the aisle to ooh and ahh. Affordable silverware is not a Renoir. A $19 plastic lamp is not a DaVinci. And synthetic pillows in six different colors does not a Picasso make. So please, keep moving. Unless it's Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My privates are just fine, thank you!

There's a special place in hell for spammers. 

Recently, I've discovered that I can go to my master online account and see what spam is being filtered out. Wow, was that an eye-opener! On a typical day, I get more than 100 spam messages. The bulk of them are shut out because they come from dubious places, like eastern Europe and sketchy regions of Asia. Yes, they have your email addresses, too. Scary stuff.

But there's another chunk of spam in my box that falls into three main categories: Replica watches, online pharmaceuticals, and an assortment of ways to make ... how shall we say ... my private parts much bigger/better/more powerful than they currently are. Apparently, if I take their pills/potions/mixtures/procedures, I can be a much better lover/partner/pleasurer to her/him/myself in no time. I'll be able to get dates and the ladies will be knocking down my door. Not to mention the fact that oxycodone, vicodin and a myriad of other prescription-only drugs are mine for the asking. And should I need a good looking replica of a super-expensive watch for mere pennies, I'm covered there, too.

So much for Internet etiquette when you're faced with wham, bam, thank you ma'am in the heading. Viagra at half price? Rolex knock-offs a jeweler couldn't detect? My spam box runneth over ...

The 5:07 wake-up call

I don't know about you, but I'm not a morning person. Unless we're at a theme park, I'd just as soon sleep a little bit longer every morning. One of the perks about working at home is that there is no true 9 to 5 time period for work.

That said, for the past six years, a little birdie has been waking me up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at just past 5 a.m. Her name? Kate. 

When she was 13, Kate started having morning swim three times a week. So every M-W-F, I'd stagger out of bed, throw on some shoes and drive Kate to the pool. Then come home, sleep for an hour, get up with the alarm and return to the pool for the pick-up. 

Before she could drive, this also meant early morning summer practices at the Mt. Hood Community College pool in Troutdale. For two summers, that meant getting up at 4:45 a.m. and driving the 30 minutes to the pool. Once Kate was in the building, I'd park the van, flatten the seats in back and take a nap. Pillows and a blanket became part of the must-have gear in the van. I'd set my alarm for 7:15 ... wake up ... drive back to the front of the pool and wait for Kate. Then we drove back home, hitting a burst of rush-hour once we hit I-205. Good times.

Nowadays, Kate drives herself to morning practice. And on mornings when Lisa is here, she graciously not only gets up with Kate, but makes her waffles, too. But since our driveway is way off to one side of the house and since Kate is still a tad afraid of the dark, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday when it's just me at home, I hear a quiet little "Dad, can you walk me out" sometime around 5:07. And while I'll admit that at some point, that was like nails on a chalkboard, these days I pop out of bed without a word and stumble outside in the dark with her. My baby will be going off to college in the fall, and my days of the 5:07 wake-up call are coming to an end. Who thought I'd miss that.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Things that go bump in the night

What creeps you out? The branches of an overgrown shrub outside your bedroom window scraping the side of the house in the wind? The sound you thought you heard in the basement when no one else is home? Maybe the dog suddenly perking up and barking for what appears to be no reason?

Forget that. The real life horror these days are the people who steal your information online.

Work up bright and early Monday morning from an automated call from the Wells Fargo fraud department, asking us to call back, which I did. Went through the usual series of "enter your billing zip code" questions, then got to the crux of the call. The system asked if we recognized a $300 charge to Yahoo something-or-other the night before. Nope. And in clicking the no option, we were immediately connected to a real person. They ran down a list of recent charges on the account. $50 at Paper Zone. Yeah, that's us ... making invitations for Kate's graduation Open House. $29 at Target. Yep, that's us, too. As was the Union 76 charge and the Land of Nod rug purchase. But the $190 to T-Mobile of Bellevue? Sorry, we have AT&T and live at the other end of the state. And the Yahoo purchases — there were two — not us either.

So long story short, the cards were immediately canceled, we can't access the funds in the account, and we'll be receiving paperwork to fill out and documentation to sign within 5 to 10 business days. After that, we will at some point get the money from the bogus charges returned to our account.

When I asked the fraud expert if there was anything we had done to cause this, she said no. "They're just really good at what they do," she told me. "And what they do is figure out ways to beat the system and steal other people's money. It's their job."

Personally, I'd like to see them change jobs. I hear the license plate foundry at the Walla Walla State Prison is hiring.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

And the little dog pooped ...

What is it about this chihuahua of ours? Don't get me wrong, Essie is a GREAT dog. Probably the best dog I've ever had. She's loving, loyal, quiet, mellow. When she sees big dogs out the window, the hair on her neck stands straight up and she goes crazy ... never mind the fact that they could eat her six tiny pounds as a snack. On nights when Lisa works, she'll sleep all night with me, then sleep all day with Lisa. And since she's a burrower, she's like a little heating pad under the covers. 

But then there's the issue of poop. We find it here, we find it there, we find it pretty much everywhere. And we often find it just minutes after she's gone outside to do her business. What the heck!? All I can say is that thank goodness she's small! 

Let's play ... PASSWORD!

Back when computer passwords first came out, the requirements were simple. The name of your favorite teacher. Your beloved childhood pet. Your sister's birthday. Nowadays, passwords have become more and more complicated — and harder and harder to remember. Six letters? Not enough. Eight letters? Add a number. Added the number? Include at least two capital letters. Decided what to capitalize? Now add a symbol. No, not THAT symbol, try another. What could be easier. Now try and remember it six months from now.

I used to have a couple of passwords I liked to rotate with various accounts. That, I can remember. But lately, businesses have been upgrading their systems and strengthening their online security. So now instead of two or three passwords, I have dozens. Can I remember then all? On a good day, I can barely remember then names of my two kids.

And the questions you need to answer now in case you forgot your password? "What's the name of the elementary school your father's next door neighbor attended?" Can I take "HELP" for $200, please, Alex.

So when I saw a four-star-rated application for the iPhone that works like a safe for all your passwords, I jumped. Spent hours meticulously entering the information. Now if only I could remember the special password I created to access it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Buddy, can you spare $20,000?

More good news on this wonderful second week of April! Just got an email from the Financial Aid Office at the University of Northern Colorado. Seems our "financial aid awards" for the coming school year total just over $20,000 — in loans. Are you kidding me? That would be $80,000+ in loans to get a Bachelor's Degree. Seriously? So needless to say, we'll be in contact with the Financial Aid Office with lots and lots (and lots!) of questions. 

In the world of higher education, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. We're smack dab in the middle of the middle class. Translation? We make too much money to qualify for grants and free money ... and we make too little money to be able to actually afford the cost of a college education outright. And once we click the "what's your ethnicity" box that says "caucasian," forget it. 

That said, you'd think that a school-loving dream student with a 3.93 GPA (in primarily honors, AP and college classes) ... State Championship level swimmer ... Executive Class President ... and steadfast volunteer would be worth some sort of cash tossed her way. If only. As it stands, Kate has applied for roughly 15 or so scholarships, and has actually made the second round in a couple of them. Knock on wood that a few will fall her way. 

Financial aid? More like a financial miracle. Ready or not, college, here we come.

The Road to Guatemala

Tomorrow morning, Nurse Lisa and her 35 teammates leave for Guatemala. It's a week-long Christian mission to help impoverished Guatemalan women get all sorts of necessary medical care, especially related to OB/GYN needs. Lisa, with her always positive attitude, is very much looking forward to it. Me? I'm nervous, apprehensive and worried. At one of the meetings she attended, team members were told to always have $14 in cash on them at all times — that's the going rate for a life in Guatemala. They've also been told NEVER to go anywhere along ... and not to leave the hotel after dark. So you can see why me, with my easy-going, what-me-worry attitude (heavy sarcasm here!) would be concerned. But it's something Lisa felt she was called to do, and we're here backing her up 100%. I'm always proud of the work she does helping people, this just ramps it up another notch. Or as she's so fond of saying, "more jewels in your crown." Team Lisa, we look forward to your safe return.