Thursday, March 31, 2016

More Microsoft Trouble for Me

“We were not able to complete the payment.”

I am not a fan of Microsoft. I believe the company is a bully, publishes bloated software, and usually does its users no favors. I am, however, a devotee of its Office product.

I own copies of Office 95, Office 97 and Office 2007. I have a subscription to MSOffice365; as long as I pay the annual fee, I am entitled to all updates, both major and minor, and access to all the programs in the suite. This is a good thing; I use the suite for virtually everything I do in my digital life except surf the internet. The subscription may cost me more in the long-run that purchasing the product, but both my wife and I can use it on our computers and the cash flow in the early years clearly favors the subscription.

At any rate, I bought it two years ago, renewed it a year ago, and was anticipating renewing it this year. I set calendar reminders so I would not forget. No need, of course, as MS let me know months in advance
( exaggerating slightly ). I eventually realized the subscription was due on Easter; I was unconcerned, believing I had to renew on or before March 27.

At 9:47 pm on March 26, I received an email from Microsoft: it confirmed the cancellation of my subscription. The message was mangled: “We’re sending you this message to confirm that your Office Home subscription ended ( note the past tense ) on Sunday, March 27, 2016 ( note the future date ).”

Ouch! This is a big deal. I use Office for virtually everything, I’m a power-user, and having to reinstall it and redo all my custom tweaks and things, would be devastating. I took a deep breath … maybe several. I came to believe that the future nature of the date was more important than the past nature of the cancellation text and that I could easily resolve this by renewing the subscription early Easter morning; I went to bed.

Stealing a few moments before leaving to visit family, I found the renewal instructions to be easily followed. Clicking the final button to complete the transaction, however, didn’t. Clicking the button didn’t do anything. After some non-productive fooling around ( I am a techie ) I clicked ‘Live Chat’ for help.

“The record says we were not able to complete the payment; are you using the same payment method as you did last time?”

“Yes, I am,” I reply. Isn’t the change in credit card on record at PayPal supposed to be transparent to this kind of thing? I wonder to myself.

Everything she asked me to do, including re-verification of my log-in and trying Internet Explorer, worked exactly as expected, except for clicking that final button. “Honey, are you coming?” my wife asks from the back door.

Now wanting to finish quickly, I ask, “Well, how about if I just give you my credit card information and you renew the subscription for me?”

“I would have offered that in the beginning of this if we could do that; I am not able to complete the sale for you. You can call the number on the screen and they can do it.”

“Thanks, good bye,” I typed and went upstairs to visit family.

After returning home, I returned to my computer intent on resolving the issue and renewing my subscription. The first thing I planned to do was remove PayPal from the payment method and add it in again. Using Firefox, I had some trouble getting this done. I opened the Microsoft site in Internet Explorer to try doing it that way; I experienced some more trouble. I eventually shut everything down and started over. Using Fire Fox, I tried renewing the subscription and everything worked exactly as it should, including the final button to complete the transaction. In moments I got a ‘thanks for your renewal’ from Microsoft and a receipt from PayPal.

Apparently the problem(s) I had had earlier in the day had nothing to do with either the browser or the payment method I was using. Go Microsoft.
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Monday, March 28, 2016

Not Much to Give Up

As predicted, vegetarian is easy, and vegan was very, very hard.  I say "was", because I gave that up on the third day.

The breaking point for me was Chipotle.  I had been eating most of the same foods that I always had, but making substitutions.  They tasted fine, but were super light on calories.  So, I ended up eating a bunch of junk food, like chips.  It all just seemed off.  I got most of my nutrition from a wholesome dinner, but half my calories were coming from soda pop and junk food.

I know it doesn't have to be that way, and I would have figured it out.  In the mean time, I had one easy answer; Chipotle.  I knew I could get a good nutritious meal that has a meal's worth of calories.  But then I got there, and I took a hard look at that cheese.  I can replace the meat with sofritas, or guacamole, or even both.  It just seemed hollow without the cheese.  I didn't order the cheese, but I did really miss it.

Part of my problem is that I'm doing too much at once.  I'm still getting used to being back on a low calorie diet.  I'm also walking considerably more now that the weather is getting nice.  Then there was meet.  Now dairy?

I know a wiser man would suggest going vegan one day a week, and slowly increasing it.  I just think I'll be happier with the cheese and ice cream.  I'm going to remain vegetarian for now, but I think I'm going to literally wait a year before I even consider vegan again.  Food is just so much of our lives, this is really all I have the will power to do at the moment.

I will say this though.  If I started trying to cut out meat, I'd probably be obsessing about the meat I'm not eating.  Instead it seems almost trivial, and I keep thinking about all the things that I can eat.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

It's Like Coming Home

“No! It’s a ( uh ) reading … not a ( ay ) reading … “

During the last years of Loretta’s life, because her energy level varied widely, we never knew until the weekend which Mass on which day we’d be attending. Going to our parish frequently required more energy than Loretta had to give. We would wind up going to Mass at a different parish; it was closer and the Masses were shorter. She could participate fully.

Though she had this limitation, Loretta never failed to lector ( proclaim Scripture from the pulpit during Mass ) when her monthly turn came. She almost always made it to the required rehearsal the Tuesday evening before and always made her scheduled weekend Mass.

I, too, am a lector. For over twenty-five years I had been a regular at our prior parish and had discovered, as Isaiah says, “The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue.” I was eager to lector at the Basilica, but the problem of never knowing which Mass I’d be at deterred me.

I eventually sought to be on the substitute lector list. My twenty-five prior years, my “well-trained tongue,” meant nothing; I’d have to audition. The audition was in the form of proclaiming both readings for a Sunday, doing so to a group of lectors, after their rehearsal for the same Sunday, and their judgments would be part of the overall evaluation. “No problem,” I said confidently, “I’ll be there.”

When my turn came, I strode confidently to the podium, looked out at the large church containing less than twenty people, and noticed that my knees felt a bit rubbery. ( What if I hadn’t had that twenty-five years of experience! ) I managed to ignore the rubber and proclaimed well enough to pass the audition. There were no full-time openings, so I joined the sub list. I proclaimed not even once as a substitute.

Shortly after Loretta’s death, several full-time positions opened. I jumped. At my first rehearsal, I was both eager and nervous. The purpose of the rehearsal was to both practice the proclamation, and to give and receive feedback. The team leader, whom I knew, was warm and inviting. She was also pretty demanding, expecting us to have looked at the material before the rehearsal and to be prepared to proclaim it as though doing so at Mass … and to meaningfully comment on others’ proclamations.

There were all sorts of things said after their delivery. “The list of attributes can be boring to read and listen to; you’ve got to change something for each item.”

 “After the very first line you didn’t pause, and that failed to set up the rest of the first paragraph.”

“You kind of swallowed ‘testament’ after Old in the second paragraph.”

After my turn I heard an unusually eloquent young male tell me he thought I varied the pitch, speed and volume when delivering the list of attributes and that, “I’m not sure how, but it worked well for you.”

The last, and likely least significant, item we discussed was how the lector ought to introduce the reading; is it, “A ( ay ) reading from …,” or,
“A ( uh ) reading from ….”? The overwhelming consensus is that it is, “A
( uh ) reading from … “. Nonetheless, I heard more than one lector introduce the reading with, “A ( ay ) reading … “ and I heard myself saying, “No, Tom ( not real name ), it’s uh reading not ay reading  … .”

I suddenly realized I was where I love to be … giving and receiving coaching for oral delivery of the Sacred Scripture during liturgy; I had dearly missed this and was enormously grateful to be at it again.
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Monday, March 21, 2016

A Lot to Give Up

I don't always agree with Penn Jillette, but I often do.  At the very least I would say I'm better off having considered things from his point of view.  He seems to be an honest person, if nothing else.  I follow what he has to say, and for a while now he has been talking about how much healthier he feels on his new diet.  How he takes many fewer medications, and has lost a lot of weight.  He's inspired others to try it, and they all seem to agree.  I waited to find out what this new diet entails so I could try it.  Then came the big reveal; just two simple rules:

1. Very limited salt, sugar, and oil.
2. No animal products.

My first thought was, 'That's too bad.  I was hoping it was something I could try.'  And can you blame me?  It's pretty extreme.  But I realized I should not just be dismissing it out of hand.  I gave it a lot of though, and boiled down my two main concerns:

1. Can I be happy living on that?
2. Is that obtainable?

For salt, sugar, and oil, the answer to the first question is, 'probably yes.'  I didn't know then, but I do know now that if I wasn't eating all kinds of salt and sugar, that sweet corn would be sweet to me, and celery would be salty.  My taste buds would find a new norm.  But is it obtainable?  Probably not without cooking everything I eat, or eating at fancy restaurants all the time.  McDonald's doesn't have a salt, sugar, and oil-free menu.  And I'm a man who has never turned on his oven.  I put a pin in that part.

No animal products?  We're talking vegan here.  Like head toward vegetarian, and just keep going.  Can I be happy living on that?  Is it obtainable?  When I'm home I eat a lot of salad.  And it looks like I pass a few fast food places on the way to work everyday that have vegan options.  I actually think that going vegetarian would be fairly easy, but that doesn't even seem to be half way to vegan.  Most things I love have some animal products in them.  But do they have to?  Let's find out.

I've hired a consultant.  Turns out Fiverr has several people offering this sort of advice.  I have a Skype meeting set up for later this week.  I'm not naive, and I have done some research.  I know I'll probably have cook some: maybe figure out how to make some curries, and steam some vegetables.  I'll also have to spend more, but hopefully not too much more.

In short, it's an experiment worth trying.  I'm not going to let anyone make me feel guilty if it fails, but I'm also not going to let anyone make me feel guilty if it succeeds.  And above all else, I'm not going to be some jerk who makes everyone else feel guilty if I'm wildly successful.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Young Man

In December, 2010, just before Christmas, the half-brother of our dear Loretta's nephew, and their mother, were murdered at the home of their mother. My heart ached for Loretta, her nephew, his step-father.

He was a Young Man
A beautiful, handsome, attractive
Young Man
“He was my angel,” the father said, of this
Young Man
He … “was the best brother anybody can ask for,” his brother said of this
Young Man
There is … “a portion of my heart that constantly radiates indescribable joy,” at being his brother, he also said of this
Young Man
“You enrage me” … “ I will kill you” … said to this
Young Man
In an instant, the life of this
Young Man
flashed before him … and was snuffed.

Much more remains, though, than the lifeless body of this
Young Man
Dad’s memory of him as an angel lives, his brother’s heart overflows still with joy.
This is due to the stories … remember the
Young Man
as he appears in the stories … of his dad’s, of his brother’s, and your own. Remember the
Young Man
as a vibrant actor in the stories, not a victim.
Remember not the
Young Man
as his life was taken from him…rather recall, remember and relive the life of this
Young Man
And Celebrate. Choose life.
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Monday, March 14, 2016

Adulthood Catches up on You

A responsible adult does his taxes early.  Some irresponsible adults wait until April 15th.  I am currently doing my last four years of taxes, but then again, I've never really thought of myself as an adult at all.

In the course of preparing them, I got to thinking.  I made more money than I expected last year.  It was more than the year before, and more than the year before that.  I've sort of resigned myself to the idea that I work a low stress job that gives low paychecks.  But I divided last year's total pay by 2080, and came to a respectable amount of money.  The kind of money I'd expect a professional to earn.

Now that may be misleading, because I didn't work 2080 hours last year.  In fact, I work overtime fairly regularly.  The thing is though, I don't actually "work" most of the time I'm at work.  My job has a fair amount of downtime.  It's certainly not true that I'm spending more time working than a full-time job entails.  However you slice it, I'm employed in my field of study, using my degree to earn what you would expect a professional to earn.

I'd think the takeaway would be that hard work isn't necessarily the key to success.  The opposit is true though.  I feel like I should shapen up, and fly right.  Maybe take another crack at some certificates.  Now that I've stumbled into adulthood, I should probably try to keep it.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Seeing Things Differently ... Still

"You were involved in the interviews."

Last spring, at my annual retreat, I reflected on Ellie's taking care of Loretta as she battled her cancer. Before moving in with Loretta, Ellie had spent a lot of time with her. At the time of the retreat, Ellie had lived full-time with Loretta for more than 3 months and it looked to be ongoing. As I believe I've made clear in this forum, although the sheer amount of time apart was putting distance between Ellie and me, I fully supported Ellie's doing it; Loretta was my friend, too, and badly needed what Ellie provided. And I figured we could recover.

Knowing that Ellie would be the executor of Loretta's will, I struck on the idea of settling Loretta's estate in a way to make it a joint project that she and I could use to enhance the process of getting our life back. ( Truth be told, this was not my idea alone; the retreat master mentioned 'joint projects' as one way for spouses to enhance their relationship. ) I broached the idea with Ellie, she liked it, and we agreed we'd work the project with the specific purpose of enhancing our relationship as we eased back into our life. 

Ellie is back home, we're well into the project ( perhaps nearing the end ), and another retreat is coming up. It seems appropriate to evaluate how we've done. Well, like so many things in our life, the answer depends on whom you ask.   

Make no mistake ... we are both glad she's back home; we are as close as we've ever been; we've had some misunderstandings about how to live together but we've managed them with humor, grace and love; we are giggly about living together again. 

But I didn't think it happened because of working together on the project; she did. She told me I had been profoundly helpful in talking things over, especially early, when she was just getting started. I thought we were just talking about it, informally. She had never done anything like this before and didn't want a type-A personality ( guilty ) to contend with, so she took the doing into her hands, asking me to do only small, well-defined tasks; the planning was heavily influenced by the conversations that I thought were merely informal exchanges of ideas. "And you were very helpful with the successful estate sale," she said. "We had to choose between several people to orchestrate it. You were involved in the interviews." Our friend Jane had offered help early on, even saying she enjoyed doing the sort of organizing and carting away that was going to be required after the estate sale. I had no particular skill to offer, and less desire. Both Ellie and I were happy for me to stay home while she and Jane met to work on the leftovers after the estate sale.

And so ... dear friends ... while Ellie and I, as is typical for us and part of what makes living together so interesting, characterize our working on the project differently and speak of it differently and even experience it somewhat differently, we agree on the things that occurred. And the project has eased us back into our happily married life.
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Monday, March 7, 2016

Time to Start Running

The diet I chose for myself was a simple two part one.  Step one, note all of my food and exercise everyday.  Step two, try to run as big of a calorie deficit as I can, up to 1,000 a day.  I have been eating very reasonably, and I'm sure I'm running a calorie deficit, but I've been failing at step one.  The fact is, I'm sure I would be running a higher deficit if I was noting it.  I'm not ready to pull myself out of that rut, but I have been trying to at least get into some healthy habits.

For starters, I bought a new branded coffee tumbler.  A popular local coffee chain just switched from vanilla flavored syrup to syrup made with vanilla extract.  Turns out the calories don't change, but the flavor very much does.  That and using it to make tea is a habit I should get into.  Both are relatively cheap, and very low in calories.

So far it's been working out.  The problem with my last tumbler was that it was easy to keep clean if you rinsed it everyday, but that was never going to happen.  The internal workings of the spout were impossible to clean if you let them get dirty.

Then I found the Little Tokyo on my way to work serves grilled chicken with rice and vegetables for $5.50, if you are a frequent customer.  Needless to say, I am now.  I love their chili garlic sauce.

Then there is exercise.  Now I have started doing twenty push-ups when I wake up most days, and I am working on making that everyday.  But I do know that even if I make that everyday, it will not have a big affect on my weight.  Maybe someday I'll make it to 100 everyday.  The funny thing is, I bought myself a pair of three pound ankle weights that I can barely notice, and they should have a huge affect.  It looks like I shouldn't wear them everyday, because the slight added stress to my ankle joins could add up.

My current commute takes three buses.  I can, and often do when the weather is nice, replace two of them with walking.  It's a lovely two and a half mile walk from my home to downtown Saint Paul, across the river.  It' has been a while since the weather was nice  though.  Then taking a bus the last mile of my commute is just a hassle.  Might as well spend an extra fifteen minutes walking it, which I continued to do all winter.

The other day I told my friend Walter (you may know him) that I intend to start jogging the way home when the weather improves.  He gave me a skeptical glance, probably because people jog at all times of the year.  It's true though.  I can't very well leave home in the winter without a winter coat, and I don't want to lug a winter coat in a backpack while jogging.  Maybe once I become an old hand at jogging, I will know my limits, and figure out how I can jog in the winter, but I'm still getting started.

Then disaster struck.  It was so nice today that I gladly walked that three and a half mile journey, and with no winter coat.  It was lovely.  But now I'll have to start putting my money where my mouth is.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

An Inkie Surprise

“Aren’t surprises wonderful?”

My wife was still living at Loretta’s in December; we didn’t have a great deal of Christmas spirit, and decided to forgo our traditional Christmas, which included a plethora of little gifts for each other and our family.
( One thing we did do was decide to attend a performance of “Sister Act” at a local dinner theater, but that’s another story. )

Nonetheless, Ellie decided to surprise me with a sample package of fountain pen inks, purchased from an online store which both of us had shopped at. It was a randomly selected group of a small amount of eight inks of various colors. I had only recently moved away from using solely black ink in my pens, and was discovering I delighted in using colorful inks. ( “Darn purist! Why didn’t I try this sooner?!?” I wondered. ) She knew this would be a wonderful gift and, at less than $10, didn’t really violate the ‘no gifts’ spirit we had agreed upon.

She planned to surprise me; she had some trouble creating the order; she had some trouble setting up payment for the order. Finally, close to Christmas she told me her secret, sought my help, and we created the order together. She asked me if I wanted expedited shipping, which added a significant percentage of the cost of the inks to the total purchase price but promised the possibility of Christmas delivery. I said, “Sure.”

Christmas Eve came and went; no ink. Christmas came and went; no ink. Days passed; still no ink. Disappointed, using the USPS package tracking site, I determined the ink made it to our local Post Office possibly in time to deliver on Christmas Eve, and certainly by a day or two after Christmas. I called the post office to see why my package had not been delivered.

“Your package is lost. I can see it’s a small package, and it made it in here and didn’t make it out. So it must be here in the building, or something. I’ll talk to your carrier and get back to you.” 

On the day he promised to call, well after the Post Office closing time, he called. “Your carrier remembers delivering a package,” he said. “But it wasn’t the one you’re asking about.”

“Yes, we did get a package just the other day.” Something Ellie had ordered and a bigger package than the ink was ( apparently ).

“I am sorry; it remains lost; it’s small. It may well be on the floor and we may find it when we move some carts around.”

“What are my options?” I asked.

“Well, you have to wait for 30 days from the date it arrived here to make a claim with the Post Office. You could also talk to your vendor.”

“Hmmm.” I had thought of talking to my vendor, but they did everything right and the package was lost well after the last time they saw it. But they have a stake in good customer service ( as if that exists anymore, my darker side thought ) and they might have access to remedies that I don’t. “Well, OK, thanks for your help. I’ll give that some thought,” I said, hanging up.

I called my vendor; she was immediately helpful, saying things like, “Of course we’ll refund the extra charge for expediting shipping,” “I am sorry your order got lost,” and “we’ll certainly make things right for you.” She took my order number, said she’d send out a replacement more or less immediately, and gave me a new tracking number.

Just a few days later an envelope from the company appeared in our mailbox. I eagerly it, wondering what eight colors the vendor had selected; I found names like Stormy Gray 1670, Jade, Silky Purple, Bay State Cranberry, Nightshade. The packaging was superb; eight small vials of ink tightly packed in a small plastic bag, much like a sandwich baggie. Then I noticed it, a smaller baggie, just big enough for and containing two vials, inside the larger bag. To my mild astonishment, my delivery of eight randomly selected ink color samples contained samples of ten ink colors.

I looked at the invoice, which of course noted this was a no cost replacement order, and the packager had penned, no doubt with a fountain pen, a note on the invoice, “Sorry your initial order got lost. Aren’t surprises wonderful?”
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