New Year’s Eve

We’ve had a fun but low-key transition to the new year here. We once again attended Mark and Yvette’s Drunken Scrabble New Year’s Party. There was actually less Scrabble than usual, but no one seemed to mind. Several of us played Kill Doctor Lucky a couple of times, and then we switched around for a bit.

I played Speed Scrabble with a couple of groups, doing well with one group and poorly with another. I also played a game of Scrabble with Mark and Subrata, which wasn’t a recipe for a great outcome since both of them are better Scrabble players than I am. We were actually pretty close for most of the game until Subrata made a triple word play with the Z and pulled ahead, but I did finish ahead of Mark, which was a pleasant surprise.

I drank a surprising amount of champagne (for me), but stopped well before midnight (and we didn’t leave ’til after 1).

Debbi and I rang in the new year with a smooch and with silly New Year’s hats. (I think there’s even photographic evidence of the hats somewhere!)

A good way to wrap up the calendar year and (almost) my week off.

Amazon Christmas “Fun”

I’ve been using Amazon.com for a long long time. My oldest orders on record there are from 1998, but I’m sure I was ordering from them before that. I’ve always been very impressed with their business: Availability of items, fringe benefits like the Associates program and the free super saver shipping option, and their customer service, which has always been very helpful when I’ve had to contact them, which fortunately hasn’t been very often.

This Christmas season has eroded my faith in Amazon somewhat. Now, I’ll say up front that things turned out well overall, but my Christmas experience with Amazon resulted in more glitches in one month than I think I’ve seen since I started using them.

Here’s a rundown of what happened:

  1. I received a box from them which I opened and noticed that the gift cards were from “Mom” but to “Rachel”. The box was indeed addressed to me, so I opened the itinery to see that someone else’s order had been placed in a box addressed to me. I contacted my family, and the UPS tracking number was one my Dad had received. He contacted Amazon by phone and was told I would have to send the items back and would received a gift certificate for the value of the items Dad ordered. Dad’s comment: “That’s not very much like Christmas.”

    Well, instead I contacted Amazon customer service through e-mail, and after I provided them all the information they needed, they instead packed up a new box with the items Dad ordered and sent it to me. So all turned out well, and I didn’t need to send anything back. (Ironically, my aversion to calling people on the phone worked in our favor here.)

  2. I received another box with a wrapped item from my Mom, and another wrapped item addressed to someone else. Apparently someone else’s order got placed in the same box by mistake. Since there was no indication the first time around that they’d fix the other person’s problem unless that other person contacted them, I didn’t contact Amazon about this. (The item in question was a CD which actually looks kind of interesting.)
  3. My Dad received some items I ordered for him, and they were wrapped, but had no gift cards. The order didn’t show any gift note when I reviewed it, so in all fairness I might have screwed this up myself rather than Amazon losing my note. On the other hand, Dad says he received some gifts from someone else which were not wrapped but should have been.
  4. Finally, I received one CD from my Dad which should have been wrapped but was not. That’s not the fun part though: When I unwrapped presents from Dad, one of them was another copy of the same CD. However, if this was part of the order they had to re-ship, this might have just been a little fallout from the first problem. (Anyone want a copy of Shadow Gallery‘s Tyranny?)

None of this is likely to make me stop using Amazon in the future (fat chance!), but it is an unfortunate set of events. The moral of the story is: Take a look at what you received, even if it’s wrapped, to make sure it looks like it’s correct, because the sooner you notice any problems the sooner you can work with Amazon to get them fixed.

And Amazon’s customer service still rocks, for getting things fixed in time.

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone who had today off from work enjoyed it, and that everyone else didn’t have too hard a time of it.

We had a pleasant morning opening presents. I had to go upstairs and carry Roulette down from a rough morning of watching birds to frolic in the wrapping paper, but she got into the spirit in a hurry!

We spent the afternoon at Subrata and Susan’s, having brunch and doing a blind gift exchange. We saw Mark and Yvette there, and some friends of Susan’s. When we came home, I cooked up some dinner from a trial cooking magazine I received: Penne with asparagus and pistachios in a cream sauce. It came out quite tasty! (Last night I made meatloaf, which despite taking longer than I’d planned was also quite good. So now we have two days of leftovers.)

Everyone be well. I’ll leave you with a photo of our Christmas card collection this year:

Christmas_Cards.jpg

Frozen Frisbee

My lesson from playing frisbee last night is that laying out when it’s about 40 degrees out is a good way to find out exactly how really goddamn cold the ground is. Gyaah!

Other than that it was a really good session. I accidentally stumbled into a way to improve the mechanics on my forehand throw, which led to much greater consistency, including being able to break the mark with it a couple of times. Very cool! We’ll see if my muscle memory can retain that improvement after the new year. Consistency in sports is mostly about mechanics: Being able to make the same motion in a repeatable manner. Ultimate throws in the wrench that you often need to repeat those mechanics while your body is in different positions, which really sucks for someone whose forehand mechanics are otherwise all screwed up, like mine are. (I have a very pretty follow-through, which is really just an indication of how unbalanced I am when I throw. But unless you know what to look for you probably wouldn’t notice. 🙂

This cold snap is amazing. It’s been below freezing each of the last three days when I come downstairs in the morning. I expect to see snow on the ground any day now, which might actually kill a few native Californians from simple horror-induced heart attacks.

Debbi seems to have caught the cold I had last week, and it’s taking longer for her to get over it. Unfortunately she hasn’t been able to take a day off from work, but she has been going home a little early. Hopefully another day or two and she’ll be over it. We’ve also got a bout of strep throat going around at work (or else it’s two independent events, since correlation doesn’t indicate causation and all that), but I think I’ve dodged it.

I’m just about ready for Christmas. And I’m definitely ready for a few extra days off.

It’s Beginning to Look a Little Like Christmas

Okay, presents are mostly bought and sent, cards are mostly sent, lights are up outside the house… what’s missing?

Well, a tree, for one thing. Due to our Disnyeland trip we didn’t go look for a tree until today, and what we found were mostly overpriced and a little skraggly. So we’re thinking we might not have a tree this year. I like having a tree, but with less time to enjoy it, it might not be worth it this year. On the plus side, no trying to keep the cats from drinking the water out of the tree stand!

Debbi asked where we would put the presents. I started giggling, and said, “Where else? Under the papasan!”

We had a little mishap with presents from Amazon: I opened up a box and found a couple of gifts addressed to “Rachel”. Turns out that gifts for someone else were put in a box sent to me, and checking with my family, the UPS tracking number matched one sent to my Dad. So we exchanged some communications with Amazon, and it sounds like they’re going to be sending the right items to me this week. If all goes as they said, then I can’t ask much fairer than that.

I’ll leave you with a link to this twisted Christmas classic: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fish-Men”.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Sick Day

I’m home sick today. I’ve had a cold building for a couple of days, and this morning I decided it was better to stay home and take it easy.

It’s days like this that I really appreciate my house. It’s not big or elegant, but I can lie on the couch and watch TV and read. It’s a short walk to the kitchen or the downstairs bathroom, and I can look out the back door onto my patio, which may be a mess of leaves and branches right now, but it’s still a nice little outdoors. It’s a cozy way to rest up.

So I felt crummy this morning (when I called Debbi she said I sounded awful!), but a bowl of chicken soup and two mugs of tea (and four hours) later, I’m feeling better. Less congested. Getting tired of coughing, though.

I don’t take sick days very often. Mostly I’m pretty healthy, and it seems like when I do get sick it’s right when there’s a big deadline at work or something else interesting going on that I don’t want to miss. So yeah, I can be a contributor to “presenteeism”. I’m trying to get better about that. Usually I get sick in the spring or fall when the weather changes (either direction). I think it’s unusual that I get sick in December like this, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, here I sit!

I forgot to mention a couple of fun things that went on at work this week:

Monday, in addition to getting my car fixed (which was not so much fun, other than the outcome), my extended team went out for bowling as a fun activity. Honestly, it’s been probably 15 years – maybe more – since I last bowled. I think when I’ve bowled before it was either candlepin or duckpin bowling, with a smaller ball, but this time it was ten-pin bowling, with larger, heavier balls with the finger grips in the middle.

It was an odd experience, since I clearly know squat about bowling, and it’s strange to play a game or sport for which I have no expectations at all for myself. Of course, none of us were all that great, as our bowling scores ran anywhere from 50 to 150 during the day. I think I bowled between 100 and 110 all three games. I figured out how to be a little more consistent during the day, but didn’t show much improvement after the first half of the first game. But it was fun! In addition to enjoying my job, I like my cow-orkers, and even if I don’t hang out with many of them very often, I do enjoy it when I do.

Then yesterday there was a “family dinner night” for the software organization, so Debbi left work a little early and joined me for a Christmas-style dinner in the cafeteria. The food was good, the desserts were terrific, and we had a good time chatting with some other Apple people and their families.

It’s not all fun-n-games, though, and I have a bunch of stuff to do before the holiday break. I was getting pretty well focused yesterday so I was a bit bummed about staying home today rather than staying on that roll, but it’s important to get healthy, and hopefully I can pick up tomorrow where I left off.

Recharged

I ended up taking my car to Sears this morning. The jumper pack I borrowed from Michel worked great – no problems at all! Sears replaced the battery easily enough, and the car does feel like it starts a little more easily now. I guess the old one was really shot.

I forgot that my car radio has a lock code so that if it loses power – such as being stolen – then you have to enter the code to get it working again. Of course, this also holds when you replace the car battery. Fortunately I file all my car records in a folder, so it was easy enough to find to get the radio working again.

I’m going to miss Sears when it leaves town next year.

Return to Disneyland

This past weekend was time for our annual trip to Disneyland. It’s “annual” in the sense that Debbi and her friends really love Disneyland and the Disney characters, but while I enjoy the rides I don’t enjoy them so much to go more than once an year, whereas they, well, do. So I guess it’s really my “annual” trip to Disneyland.

Anyway. If you’re new to reading about this whole thing in my journal, you can find last year’s accounts and links to earlier ones here.

This year’s trip didn’t start off auspiciously. Debbi and I went to dinner Wednesday night, and when we came out of the restaurant I turned the key to my car and – well, the lights on the dash come on, sort of, and the starter clicked, and not much else happened.

Yes, my car’s battery had died.

The AAA guy who came to jump my car said I should have my battery framed, since it was the original battery from 1999, and he says most people are lucky to get 5 years out of a battery like this, not 7. Fortunately, we always rent a minivan or something for these multi-person trips to Disneyland, so my car could just sit in the garage until Monday. Which it was destined to do, since it got home without a hitch, but as soon as I turned off the engine it refused to start again. The battery’s so dead it won’t even work the door locks with the remote clicker.

We were scheduled to meet Lisa and Michel to get the aforementioned minivan at the airport, but of course we were late, since we drove home to drop off my car and switch to Debbi’s. It turns out it wouldn’t have been much faster had my car worked properly since there was a hitch in picking up the van, so by the time we got there everything had just gotten smoothed out.

All-in-all, we ended up not getting home until around 9:30, which meant we were up until close to midnight packing and otherwise getting ready. A bit of a pain since Lisa and Michel picked us up at 8 am on Thursday morning. Fortunately the rest of our long weekend was pretty smooth. By leaving early, we managed to avoid the worst of the traffic in LA.

Disneyland was pretty good this time around, although usually we’re there on Sunday and Monday, and it seems that the park is just insanely full on Saturday. Sheeesh! I think we were a little disappointed that we weren’t able to ride some of the major rides as much as we usually do because of the long lines.

On the bright side, we did get to ride the big roller coaster in California Adventure several times, which ain’t bad since it’s probably my favorite ride in the whole park. I also got in a good zinger on the Jungle Cruise, for which the “guides” are known for their bad puns. It went something like this:

Guide: This… is a boat. Spelled B… O… uh… T… E.

(Objections from a few patrons.)

Guide: Well, how do you smell “tote”?

(A little confused muttering.)

Guide: T-O-T-E. So if you replaced the ‘T’ with a ‘B’, then you have ‘boat’!”

Me: Or you have “tobe”.

Guide: No… uh…. yes, you do.

It’s good to be a smartass.

We got a little rain Friday night, and a bunch of rain Saturday night (right while we were sitting down to dinner, naturally), but otherwise the weather was warm and mostly sunny. Thanks to that, I even was able to ride the Grizzy River Run – one of my favorites – even though everyone else in our party-of-six wimped out! (Lisa’s friend Yvonne and her boyfriend Wender were also with us.) I managed to avoid getting soaked, even though a woman on my raft had a big wave come right up over her lap and purse!

(I guess we missed a whole bunch of rain that got dumped on the Bay Area over the weekend, too.)

Debbi and Lisa push themselves pretty hard to have as much fun as possible at the park while we’re there, and my feet just give out after a certain number of hours. I went back to the hotel a little early on Friday night, and happened to stumble across a concert called Celtic Woman on PBS, which featured some orchestral arrangements of celtic music and a few contemporary songs, sung by a quintet of ladies (and one fiddler) backed by orchestra and a small chorus. It was pretty neat. I might need to buy their CD, seeing as I’m a sucker for:

  1. Celtic music;
  2. Lush orchestral arrangements, and
  3. Lovely female vocals (as opposed to lovely female vocalists, whom I appreciate as much as the next guy, but whose appeal doesn’t come through in an audio medium).

Debbi enjoyed it too, as we watched some of it when re-run on Saturday night. It turns out she has a fondness for productions like that, which I hadn’t known!

So now we’re home, and we picked up Chinese take-out for dinner, I finished reading Tim Powers’ new novel (review coming soon!), and I made a fire so we could have a lazy and warm evening at home. Mission accomplished, I say!

Tomorrow I get to find out if Michel’s car-jumper works, and I’ll find some place to get my battery replaced. I figure if the dealer can’t take me, I’ll either go to Sears, or to a repair place a few blocks away (or maybe I’ll try the last place first). It’s just a battery (I hope), so I bet it doesn’t matter much.

Wish me luck!

Turkey Digestion Day

We made our annual trip over to the house of our friends Bill and Elaine yesterday for their terrific-as-always Thanksgiving dinner. Debbi brought her usual pizza-bread appetizer, which disappeared even faster than usual! After a brief (but fortunately not problematic) mishap in determining whether the turkey was cooked, we ate a huge meal, and then a huge dessert consisting of pies and ice cream, after which I just about fell asleep, but instead played with their persian cats for a while and wished I wasn’t completely stuffed so I could go have some more pie.

Oof.

We justified the feast by going for a 2-hour walk yesterday through the Palo Alto Baylands around Byxbee Park, and I went for an hour bike ride this morning when I got up, which took some intestinal fortutide since it was forty-freaking-two degrees out at 9 am this morning. Gah. Winter is here.

Today we spend a good chunk of the day cleaning house: I cleaned old cobwebs from the ceiling corners, swept and mopped the tile floors and the study. Debbi vacuumed and did laundry and cooked a turkey breast so she could have leftovers. We each cleaned our own bathroom. All very productive! The cats were kind of weirded out by all the activity, though.

Hard to believe it’s Friday already, that my week off is about over. But we still have the weekend ahead of us!