23 January 2011

Tough Guys

Wisconsin men are tough. They will not let a little snow or arctic freeze get in the way of hunting, ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, sledding, or playing football in short sleeves. My husband can currently be found in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, skiing with this brother. Last year around this time, he took off all his clothes and jumped in a frozen Lake Lucerne. Not me, I took pictures, fully clothed.

Holland also has a long tradition of polar plunges. They are called New Year's Dives. They have become quite popular is the last decade. Hundreds, if not thousands of tough Dutch guys and girls run into the North Sea on or around January first. But when the temperature drops too far below zero degrees Celsius, those dives are canceled for fear of injuries and hypothermia.

Not in Wisconsin. This year's Polar Jump took place yesterday. And the temperature may have been sub zero, I am sure there were more than enough tough guys, and the occasional tough girl, who were willing to take the plunge.

22 January 2011

Arctic Freeze

Another sub zero day in the Northwoods. It is gorgeous and sunny but so cold, the inside of your nose freezes the minute you venture outside and your breath is taken away.

It's a day to stay inside, play with your child, and bake cookies.

Ice castle in Eagle River

Recovering The Satellites

It wasn't too long ago I publicly sang the praise of satellite radio. How happy I was with the commercial free stations, the freedom to listen to Bruce Springsteen all day long, or songs from the seventies, or Christmas music round the clock. So happy in fact, we decided to purchase a year long subscription before our trial was even over. 

And so our troubles began. 

Ryan wrote XM Radio a check for $173.27 which was cashed on October first. We thought we were good to go. We were wrong. The payment, as it turns out, was never applied to my account and in December we received our first bill for the same amount plus $2.10 for 'invoice costs' as it was put. 

I called XM Radio's Listener Care department. A cute name but not a very realistic one because neither listen nor care are verbs one associates with this service after trying to deal with it. I have spent hours on the phone with them, trying to work things out with people who have not mastered the English language very well and could not care less about this listener. When you ask for a supervisor, you're disconnected. On my third try my call was routed to a girl that seemed to grasp my problem and she supplied me with a fax number for the billing department. I faxed over my proof of payment and hoped for the best. 

Two weeks later I received a reply: a reminder invoice with another $2.10 tacked on to cover the cost of the invoice. They must have some fancy printers there. I called Listener Care again, only to find out the fax number I was given was not an XM Radio fax number. Really? Where did I send a copy of my bank statement to? She had no idea. She gave me a different fax number, a genuine XM Radio number she assured me. The number didn't work. I tried for two days. It rang but was never picked up. 

And so I called the Listener Care department for a third time and lo and behold, I was transferred to a supervisor without being hung up on. I was given a third fax number. I felt really good about that number because it came from a supervisor this time, someone in charge. "The number you are trying to reach is not in service." Phone calls were obviously getting me nowhere and I decided to write a letter, a very polite one even. I enclosed copies of everything and again, hoped for the best. 

Two days ago I received my response. My service was scheduled for deactivation if I didn't pay immediately. Sometime today they made good on their word and cut me off. I have run out of options. It is impossible to resolve anything with a company that refuses to communicate. When I searched online for an alternative way of contacting XM Radio, I stumbled upon Consumer Affairs' website with 62 pages of complaints about this company. Most experiences, from what I have read, are similar to mine. 

I am ready to throw in the towel and write my $173.27 off as a bad investment. But I learned from Consumer Affairs that XM Radio is not done with me. I have more bills to look forward to, charging me for the six weeks of service between the end of my free trial and the day I was cut off. Plus $2.10 for the cost of the invoices no doubt. Followed by collection calls at all hours of the day, because of course I am not going to pay them. We'll see. In the meantime I am back to listening to regular radio. Not commercial free, but at least it's hassle free.


21 January 2011

Toddler Talk III

I have a funny child, I could record her all day. Here are some highlights of the past months.

After Ryan told her it was our anniversary, that we had gotten married four years ago, she looked at me and exclaimed: "You got married?!?"

And later to her grandmother: "Mom got married!"

At daycare during a nature walk, outfitted with little magnifying glasses: "Connie, I think we have a mystery here..."

"I am so frustrated, I am going to turn into a monster!" And no, we have not been watching The Incredible Hulk. She was just demonstrating she learned a new word that day. Everything was frustrating to her.

There is a lot of talk about bugs going around at the moment. People are calling in sick left and right. Lola knows why: "If you eat a bug, you get sick."

"Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream. Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary. Like a spider's dream."

It is almost time for bed and Lola will do anything to avoid having to go to bed. We're discussing the messes in our rooms. I suggest we clean up this weekend. "How about you clean your room tomorrow and I clean my room today. But maybe you need some help with the little things. You know who could help you?" Big smile, pointing at herself. "But only if you listen to me. Do you promise to listen to me?"

20 January 2011

Clean And Shiny

The creature is taking a bath. She has quite the collection of bath toys but she informed me earlier she wasn't sure she wanted to play with them anymore. So I gave her a scrubber instead. And now I have a clean bathtub.

I am brilliant, if I do say so myself.

16 January 2011

One Of Those Mornings

There are a couple of work reports I need to write that I really have to sit down for and concentrate on. However, the daily hustle and bustle of the casino hasn't allowed for it. My intended solution was to go in nice and early and arrive before everyone else. To aid in my early departure I had prepared everything the night before. I prepped the coffee, I laid out my clothes, and all the chopping and browning for my slow cooker meal was done.

I got up shortly after 5 am, got dressed, and made myself a cup of coffee. As I started loading the ingredients in the crockpot, something seemed off. Three cups of rice and only half a cup of water? I looked at the recipe again.

Snag #1: the recipe called for cooked rice.

No problem. I hauled out the rice cooker, filled it up, and turned it on.

Snag #2: sometimes our rice cooker jumps back to the "warm" setting.

When I walked into the kitchen twenty minutes later, my rice was not done. I turned it on again. Why hadn't I just cooked the rice on the stove? By this time, I was running seriously late. Lola had gotten up in the meantime and I dressed and fed her. When my meal was finally ready to go, it was almost 8 o'clock. We decided I would take Lola to daycare and Ryan would pick her up, instead of the other way around, so I could work a little later to make up some time.

I dropped Lola off and was on my way. I was happily driving along, bopping to the music, feeling pretty good. There was no sense in stressing over lost time since there was nothing I could do about it. The sun was shining and the roads were clear.

Snag #3: at the Oneida/Forest county line a power line had fallen onto the road and all traffic had come to a full stop.

For the first time ever since I moved to Wisconsin I was stuck in traffic. I reached for my blackberry to call work and answer some emails while I was waiting.

Snag #4: my blackberry was still sitting on my nightstand.

Since Big Blue has a built-in cell phone, I was able to let my staff know I was going nowhere at the moment and I would be very late coming in. I also called Ryan to chat.

Snag #5: Ryan was not too far behind me, on his way to a dentist appointment that had already been rescheduled three times.

I told him to let them know he probably wouldn't make it. Not too long after that though, WPS pulled the power line back up and everything started moving again. Ryan made it in time and I finally clocked in at 9:52 am. Only three hours late.

15 January 2011

Happy 2011!

I started this post on New Year's Day, hence the title. I could have sworn there was a picture of an eagle here before. You see, as I was sipping my coffee outside on that crisp January 1 morning, there was an eagle soaring overhead. I watched that eagle for a good ten minutes, marveling at its beautiful and graceful movements. What a wonderful sight to start the new year with.

I went back inside to share it with you, only to find the router had crashed, bringing my resolution of posting twice a week to a screeching halt. The problem has long since been fixed but life happened and blogging did not. To bring you up to speed on our adventures, here are the cliff notes.

* The casino's Marketing Director left and I am now pulling double duty. It's been hectic to put it mildly.

* I have taken up belly dancing classes. Every Thursday evening, I shake my pelvis for an hour with four other middle-aged women. We look silly, we feel silly, but our pelvises love it.

* Lola has entered the Princess Phase. In addition to a tiny Cinderella doll with rubber dresses (that I have to dress and undress), she is now the proud owner of pink and silver princess sneakers that light up when she walks. While we were making our way to the cashier after picking them out, she told every single person in the store she had new shoes.

* Ryan and I went on a date this week. Nothing spectacular, just drinks and dinner. We are going to do this every month. I just hope our next dates go better than this one did. We must be out of practice. Come to think of it, we never dated. We pretty much met and got married. We obviously need to do it more often. Practice makes perfect.

* The whole family received ice skates from Santa Claus. We tied them under last week and went skating in the park. It was after dark and we had the rink to ourselves. We didn't skate very long but we had fun. It was Lola's very first time on skates. In two weeks, we are taking her skiing.

* While we were skating in circles, there were two cars parked outside the rink, one with its door wide open. We looked around but didn't see or hear anyone. Very strange. As we were getting ready to leave, a woman came out of one car and got into the other one with the open door. I have a sneaking suspicion we stumbled onto Rhinelander's red light district. Ryan isn't sure.

* There are four business trips in my immediate future. I am flying to Palm Springs at the end of this month, to the Wisconsin Dells in March, and Phoenix and Las Vegas in April. I could get used to this.

* And last, but certainly not least, I have one more trip planned. On March 17, Lola and I are flying to Holland for eight days. Finally I will be able to introduce my daughter to her aunt and her cousins. We cannot wait. It has been four and a half years since I have seen most of my family and friends. Ryan is not coming, he cannot take that much time off work yet.

You're all caught up again. As for the present, I am tending to a sick child. She has a cold, a sore throat, and a bark like cough. Poor girl. I hope she feels better in the morning. We are going to make cupcakes together.

I wish you all a (very belated) Happy New Year!

31 December 2010

Best Ice Fishing Ever

My cousin and his family, the ones responsible for Ryan and me meeting, have come up to the Northwoods to celebrate New Year’s Eve with us. They arrived late last night. Just before we all retired to our beds, the men told us we needed to get up nice and early for the Big Surprise they had planned for us.

This morning it was revealed we were going ice fishing. Interesting choice of activity for four adults, two toddlers, and one infant, none of whom had gone ice fishing before. It was pouring rain outside, too. Clearly, there was something fishy going on. Why did we need to be there at 9:00 AM sharp? Ice fishing doesn’t seem to be that punctual of a sport. And why were all the efforts to get fed, dressed, and out the door on time only geared towards the (adult) women?

L. and I were shoved out the door at 8:40 AM with an address written on a piece of paper, our gps with English accent Penelope, and a cup of coffee for the road. Once programmed, Penelope took us straight to the Woodwind Spa just outside of Rhinelander, hidden in the woods. We were treated to an hour long full body massage, a foot reflexology treatment, and sacral/cranial alignment with reiki. Almost five hours later we left the spa again, fully relaxed, body and soul perfectly content.

Needless to say, L. and I loved ice fishing. You can take us out anytime!

20 December 2010

Elf Help

According to Big Blue’s manual, there is a gallon and a half of gas left in the tank when the warning light comes on. At roughly thirty miles per gallon, that means I can go another forty, fortyfive miles, right?


As I found out the hard way this morning, the manual is mistaken. I had about a mile and a half left and that was it. I found myself stranded by the side of the road, a few miles outside of Laona and the nearest gas station, with the temperature below zero.

I called Ryan, just for some sympathy, since he obviously could not help me from Rhinelander. And then I bundled up and started walking. It was cold, people! But less than two minutes into my walk, a very kind gentleman by the name of Francis pulled over and offered me a ride. He drove me to the gas station, waited while I purchased a gas tank and filled it up, and then drove me back to my car. He even filled up my tank for me. And my favorite state trooper (he once pulled me over for speeding) stopped with his lights flashing to keep us safe while we were replenishing Big Blue.

Thank you for being my elves this morning, Francis and Trooper B! It would have been a very long and cold walk without you. Merry Christmas!

18 December 2010

A Family Tree

We finally finished trimming the Christmas tree last weekend. With the sounds of the season setting the mood, Ryan, Lola, and I hung every last ornament found in the Christmas boxes that have been packed away for so long.

We have an eclectic mix of old and new going on. Mickey, my very first ornament from my grandfather's store, handmade felt and woolen ornaments made by Ryan's grandmother, Dora the Explorer ornaments picked out by Lola, and quite a few Santa Clauses from my ever growing collection.

I love our tree. It is past and present blending together in the most colorful way, to become part of our young family history.

Our family tree

Mickey, who is as old as I am

Made by Ryan's grandmother

Dora, Lola's pick for the season

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

I am linking up to Cheri's ornament party at Its So Very Cheri.

15 December 2010

Catch A Falling Star

Green Girl in Wisconsin was up and outside before the crack of dawn yesterday, marveling at the beautiful sky, watching the stars fall to the earth. She witnessed the peak of the Geminids meteor shower. When I commented I wish I had known, she replied the meteor shower can be seen all week, but best before dawn.

I got up at 5:30 this morning. After making coffee, I was ready to go outside. It was -16 degrees (-26.7 C). Bundled up with a warm cup of coffee in my hands, I stood in the driveway and looked up at the sky, wishing for a falling star. But not for me, not this time.

There was too much light around me reflecting on the snow: street lamps, Christmas decorations, and other sources. I could barely make out the handle of the Big Dipper and the only bright star was the North Star, remaining steady in its place in the sky. If all had been quiet, it would have still been entrancing. But that loudly beeping truck just down the street took all the magic out of the moment. And did I mention it was really cold?

After seven, eight minutes I called it a night and went back inside to my cozy fire and warm bed. I'll catch a falling star next year...

14 December 2010

First Snow Casualty

I scratched the car. Not the older hand-me-down Nissan, of course. No, the new car, Big Blue. And I scratched it good. In a way it's a relief that the first nick is there, it takes the pressure off driving in a brand new car. But I am really bummed that I am the one who did it. Naturally, it's not my fault.

First off, there's the design of the garage. It is obvious the garage was added on at a later date and the only place to put it was behind the house. To get to it, we drive down the narrow driveway alongside the house and make a ninety degree turn at the end. Not the easiest thing to do without room to manoeuvre. We back the Aveo in by driving onto the grass and then putting it in reverse, taking care not to hit the big pine tree that lives there. The Nissan pulls forward into the garage and parks diagonally. A very tight fit but we have been practicing and it was working.

Until someone built a snow fort at the end of the driveway. Right where I pull onto the grass. There is barely any room now to pull forward without hitting the six feet high, solid mass of snow or that tree that won't budge. Let alone enough space to make my turn when backing the car into the garage. I ended up just an eighth of an inch too far to the right.

Like I said, clearly not my fault.

12 December 2010

Santa's Workshop

Earlier this year, in the summer to be precise, I made Christmas ornaments for all of my staff at the casino. In the spirit of Christmas, I whipped up another batch this weekend for the entire Marketing department. And made my own gift wrap, too. It's my new thing.

While the snowstorm was raging outside, I was sewing up a storm of my own inside, making little red felt gift bags. It's like Santa's workshop in here! Now I know what elves feel like...

11 December 2010

Snow Day!

Kickin' it

Shoveling day and night

Angel in the snow

Really people, what's the excitement?

White Out

I have never experienced a blizzard. Not in Holland, not during the two winters I lived in Massachusetts, and certainly not in western Washington. I had high hopes last year for my first northern Wisconsin winter, but alas, it was a record breaking mild one.

This is the weather forecast for the weekend, copied and pasted from www.wunderground.com:

The Winter Storm Warning is now in effect from 3 am Saturday to
noon CST Sunday.

* Snow will overspread the area late tonight. The heaviest snow
should fall Saturday... with lighter snows continuing Saturday

* A total accumulation of 10 to 16 inches is expected by Sunday

* Winds will increase Saturday night... causing widespread blowing
and drifting and near blizzard conditions Saturday night and Sunday.

* Cold air pouring into the area will result in dangerously low
wind chills Sunday night and Monday morning.

* Travel conditions will become extremely hazardous. Non-essential
travel should be postponed until the storm has passed.

Will I finally get my blizzard? Probably not, but it will be close. The casino's General Manager sent out a memo today advising team members working this weekend to pack an overnight bag and plan to stay at the hotel if they live more than 25 miles away.

I think I am going to take a snow day...