Sunday, November 16, 2014

Were We Swindled?



We've migrated to become an Apple family.

It started with the iPhones, then with the ease of syncing the phones to a Mac. Now it's two Air Mac books, two iPhones,  two iTouches and an iPad.

One of the big draws has been the lack of viruses and worry about suddenly having your PC compromised or infected. We were confident in this, until this past week.

One Sunday, Lindsey tried to log on to the Mac only to get the following message when she opened Safari:

"Your computer has been compromised. Please contact Apple Support immediately at 1-800-XXX-XXXX."

You could open other programs but could not access the Internet. So Wayne called the 800 number, was on hold for about 10 minutes, and then got through to a person who identified himself as an Apple support person.

Wayne gave the person the IP address for our machine and the person took control of it remotely. He noticed immediately that our firewall had been disabled, and after some searching on our hard drive determined that we'd been hacked and that someone had access to all of our logins and passwords.

Meaning our financial security was at risk.

He gave Wayne two options:
  1. Take the Mac to an Apple store. They would need to send it away to get it scrubbed and put virus protection software onto the computer. It would cost about $149 and we would be without a computer for an estimated two weeks.
  2. Allow their personnel to install this software remotely right at this instant. It would cost a little more, $199, but would be done immediately, security would be restored and we wouldn't have to go without our computer.
Of course, given those two options, Wayne opted for #2. The Apple support person transferred the call to a third party that would do this work for us.  The Mac spent the next several hours running scrubbing software, resetting security systems and being worked on by someone who I can only believe was in a time zone halfway across the world, because at one point during the chat the person said, "Good Morning," even though it was nearly 11 o'clock at night.

Three hours and $200 later, the Mac was ours again.

The next morning, I questioned the validity of this whole process.

Hmmm...so how hard would it be to install a program that makes a message pop up saying your PC has been compromised, and give a false 800 number for you to call? Then have the person on the phone give you the worst possible scenario and offer to charge you $200 to "fix the problem?"

And really, when is it every more expensive for someone to fix something remotely, and cheaper to send it away? Usually it's the opposite, as companies don't want to have to spend time and money on the logistics of shipping and tracking their products to get them fixed.

It reminds me of bullies who offer to "protect" weaklings from bullies. Meaning from themselves.

But no matter, we have the virus protection software, we're out $200, and our peace of mind has been restored.

Kind of.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Giving Up

A quick photo before all the clothing changes. (Note the stocking feet on Marissa.)
 Today was supposed to be a celebratory day.

This morning was the Girls on the Run 5k run. Marissa has been in the program all fall, all 10 weeks of it. While they train for a 5k, they also do great activities promoting good self-image, anti bullying, and other confidence boosting messages. That's rather ironic, considering what happened today.

On October 30th we had the practice 5k, which didn't go well. Actually, it didn't go. Unbeknownst to me Marissa had planned to walk the whole thing. Since we didn't get started until 5:00, I didn't have an hour to walk around the lake, as my husband was traveling and I had to pick up my eldest from Minneapolis Kids by 6 p.m. We ran for a little bit, then we walked, I cajoled her to run, she responded by refusing to move. In 20 minutes we had gone approximately a quarter of a mile. So we turned around and left. We walked back to the start, which was also the finish line, and could see and hear other girls finishing. In the time that it had taken us to walk a half a mile other girls and their running buddies had run 3.1 miles. Marissa was so embarrassed that we didn't do it that we intentionally walked a path around the finish so they couldn't see us ducking out.

The next session the coaches asked the girls how it felt to run the practice 5k. Girls talked about it being exciting, fun, challenging. Marissa's response was that it was embarrassing and disappointing because "my mom didn't want to walk it."

So it's my fault.

I felt awful. I felt horrendous. I felt like the worst mom in the world. I thought to myself, "I'll make it up to her for the 5k. If she wants to walk the whole thing, we'll walk it."

That race was today.

Of course it was all of 10 degrees this morning, and snowing. Rock star weather to have a bunch of 9-11 year olds run a race. But this is Minnesota, we're hearty people, and we know how to layer like nobody's business.

It began by Marissa refusing to get out of bed. "Why is this so early? I'm not even up this early for school." she complained. 

She got dressed. She didn't like what she was wearing. She changed her pants. She changed her shirt. She put on snow pants. Then decided not to. Then took off a layer of pants and put the snow pants back on. She put on running shoes. Then took off the running shoes and put her boots on.

We were 20 minutes late leaving the house, and we were already planning on not being there right when the activities were supposed to start. At this rate we were barely going to make it in time for the start, assuming we knew exactly where the start was and drove right there.

Which, of course, we didn't. I knew the race was at Como Lake in St. Paul, but had missed the message that due to the inclement weather they had moved the pre-race activities to Como Elementary School, just a hop skip and a jump from the lake.

But which side of the lake? I drove all the way around the lake at least once. We stopped and parked at the rec building on the lake, but it wasn't there. We got back in the car and drove around some more. In the meantime, Coach Kristi was texting asking where we were.

Well fuck if I know.

Once I found out it was at the elementary school I started driving towards it, but they had already left the school to walk down to the lake. We drove around the lake some more. Finally I saw some Girls on the Run volunteers, parked near there and figured we'd get to the start from there. They informed me that the start line was about a half a mile down the path and pointed us in the direction of the start.

We began walking to the start, me texting/talking to Coach/Aunt Kristi as we walked. We could see all the encouraging words and sayings printed in chalk on the race course. We got a ways down the path and then Marissa sat down on a bench.

What a 5k run is not supposed to look like.
"I don't want to do this," she said.

We talked about how she had trained for weeks, had spent lots of time with her teammates, how her friends were expecting to see her. We talked about finishing what she'd started, and that this was the BIG FINALE. 

She would have none of it. Finally I said that we'd wait there, when the runners started coming by we would find her friends, get in the pack and then pick up the race from there. Because of the weather they had already said that if you only wanted to do one loop around the lake instead of two you could. 

"Let's just walk the one loop," I said. She said nothing.

We could finally see the first runners coming our way. "Come on!" I said. "Let's go!"

"No, let's wait until they go by," she said. 

"What are you talking about? C'mon, let's join them," I said.

"I'm too embarrassed. No one else is wearing snow pants. Let's just go home."

Eventually that's what we did, both of us in tears. 

I am frustrated. I am angry. I am disappointed. And she is all of these things, too. We both talked in the car on the way home how disappointed we both were in the day. 

After a while she went up to her room, and a little later I found her sitting on her beanbag chair, crying. She said she was upset about missing the 5k, disappointing her teammates and disappointing herself. And she blames it all on my not knowing where to go for the start line. 

It's my fault. Again.

Right. 

She needs to take responsibility for not wanting to do the race. She had plenty of opportunity to still do the run/walk, even though we were late. Those were her decisions to not participate, not mine. We talked, she got mad, and she told me to leave as she curled up in a ball, sobbing.

"Now you know what it feels like to give up," I said. "It doesn't feel very good. I don't recommend doing it again." And I walked out and shut the door.

Maybe it was harsh. I don't think we are harsh enough at times. She needed to hear it, better to learn this lesson now.  Later on she came to me in my room as I attempted to nap away the bad feelings from this morning, curled up and snuggled up to me, tears still on her face. 

We're still sad and disappointed. Everything that Girls on the Run is not supposed to be.

Rock star day.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fabulous Fall

Fall has come to an abrupt end today, but it's been an amazing one.

The trees turned color slowly, seemingly one species at a time, lengthening how many weeks we had to enjoy their colors. The wind stayed calm, so the leaves stayed on the trees until when they finally fell, they made that satisfying crunching sound when you stepped on them.

We have a majestic maple in our front yard that we planted years ago for its spectacular color, and it did not disappoint.


This year the girls were able to hold their tradition of "helping" with leaves one day so I could get lots of pictures of them. Raking leaves into a pile only to throw them about and leave them in random piles isn't exactly "helping." Last year they never got to do this because it rained the entire month of September. Who wants to play in wet soggy leaves that acts as camoflage for hidden dog poop? Yeah, no.

But this year it stayed dry all September and October, so we headed out.





I am now awaiting a collage that I made of the various pictures I took, which will adorn our wall upstairs. At least until I get the snow pictures taken.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Flower Girl Times Two


When Marissa was in 1st grade she had a nanny who would come in the morning,  spend time with her and take her to school. We were quite lucky to find her; I had met her through social media networks and she had babysat the kids a few times. When we were left with a gap in morning coverage before school started, we couldn't think of anyone who would be willing to nanny for just 1 1/2 hours five days a week.

Then we discovered that Katie was happy to do it.

Katie became a big part of Marissa's life, and even after the school year was over and she wasn't nannying anymore, we stayed in touch and she often would come and take the girls to the Holidazzle parade, or to Caribou for a treat or other outings. Katie eventually moved to England, fell in love, and came back to get married before moving overseas for good. (At least that's the plan.)

I was honored that she asked Marissa to be a flower girl in her wedding.

One of Marissa's friends from school was also asked to be a flower girl, so Marissa was super excited to have a friend to hang out with during the activities.


What a week it was.

Katie's fiancé's family and friends trickled in over the course of a week. They planned activities all week long so everyone could get to know each other, and of course Marissa was invited to every part of it. We pulled her out of school early on two days for the rehearsal and the wedding itself, which was a Friday evening affair.

This one gets me teary-eyed just looking at it.
Throughout the week, I learned what a loving and generous family Katie comes from. I learned about her selflessness in putting others first, and her love of children (not just our own kid). I also learned how much she enjoys social media, expressed by the Twitter bird on her wedding cake.

Marissa gloried in the affair, in being in the spotlight (as much as flower girls are), in being in a pretty dress with flowers in her hair.

Guests blew bubbles on the happy couple for their first dance.
Unfortunately Lindsey came down with a miserable cold the day of the wedding, so she and Wayne ended up staying home for the wedding itself while Marissa and I were off for the evening. I hardly saw the girl all night, she was having so much fun playing with Eleni, the other flower girl, and the ring bearers in the wedding party. They had so many kids in the wedding party that they actually had a kids table just for the kids in the wedding.

Now that's a kid's table.
I sat at a table with neighbors of Katie's parents and Nicole, the woman who had introduced me to Katie through social media, and her 17-year-old daughter.  Not shocking, we managed to have a blast. Nicole even got to keep the fabulous British hat of the mother of the bride, who insisted on finding someone in the United States to give it to so she didn't have to take the thing back with her on the plane.  Hats that size aren't normally her style, but she said she wouldn't be a "proper English mother of the bride" if she didn't wear one.

Me and "Astronaut Abby," Nicole's daughter, both wearing the hat of the mother of the bride.
It was large enough for two.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Kids Write the Darndest Things



For 4th grade, one of Marissa's weekly projects is a "Common Core" reading assignment. A passage comes home on Monday, and every night a different exercise around the reading has to be done.

This week her reading exercise is about informational text. The first day's assignment is to read a bar graph about the planets' distance from the sun and then answer some questions.

She dutifully answers the two Monday questions about the bar graph, and then ponders the last question:

"How does the graph help you understand the passage?"

She thinks about it and then writes her answer:


And there you have it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Overheard at the Inline Marathon




This past weekend I skated the North Shore Inline Marathon, my fourth or fifth year (I've lost count). And unless you know the sport of inline skating, there are lots of things you can overhear at a marathon that you might take the wrong way. Things like...

"You're so big, I could draft behind you forever."

"Want me to pull?"

"Did you squib the whole race? Oh man, that's embarrassing."

"Who wants to pull now? I'm beat."

"If you can't keep up the pace you should fall back."

"She's like a locomotion, get behind that engine."

"He's great at breaking wind."

I heard all (except the squibbing comment) just today.

Put in context:

Drafting in inline skating is just like drafting in biking: someone takes the lead and others fall behind, benefiting from the leader taking on the wind resistance. The person in the lead is called the "puller." If a person drafts the entire race and is never the puller, s/he is called a "squib." It's not cool to be a squib.

I am always faster in races than I am skating alone because of drafting. And, if you are built like me, I benefit from drafting behind tall, broad-shouldered skaters, usually guys. Even if I take the lead, they never get the benefit of drafting the way I do, because I can tuck behind them and be invisible to the wind. They never get that break when they draft off my 5'6" frame.

I ended up skating the majority of this race with a guy named Chris from Superior, WI. He is tall and broad-shouldered, and we both were skating about the same pace. We tried to get in with other drafting lines, and a couple of times other people drafted off of us, but for most of the race, until mile 24, we were together, taking turns being the puller.

Which was when I made the first comment I wrote. Yep, I actually said that to a man I do not know. And neither of us laughed, we totally took it in context.

We skated together from probably mile 4 or 5 all the way to mile 24, where the pavement gets really sketchy and drafting lines break apart for safety reasons. Last year I saw three people bite it because they were drafting on this part of the course and the girl in front went down, taking the two who were right behind on with her. Not a pretty sight.

Even though I skated with Chris the majority of the race I couldn't find him at the finish line, because I didn't know what his face looked like -- I never once saw the front of him. He was wearing a North Shore marathon shirt from several years before which many skaters were wearing, and I had no idea how tall he was when he wasn't tucked over or on skates.  If he'd put his helmet on turned away from me, I probably would have recognized his neck hairline.

Last year a friend of mine saw a t-shirt at the race which read (on the back) "Do my muscles make my butt look big?" Which is totally funny to us skaters, who spend the majority of races looking at other people's backs and asses.



For posterity, so I remember next year what I did.
My fastest mile was the first one of the race, which is all downhill. Before I knew it I had passed the one-mile marker. Turns out I skated that mile in 3 minutes and 18 seconds. My top speed of the race was going down a hill near the end of the race when I reached 25 mph. Such a rush. I'm going to have to do this one again.


This year Wayne decided to run the half marathon that starts at 7 a.m. He beat his goal time and had a great race. He loved it so much that our friend Junal, who lives in Duluth, has already decided to join him in the half next year. Because seriously, who wouldn't get up at 4:30 a.m. when this is what you get to see and you get to run or skate alongside of this for 13.1 miles?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Tale of Two Downtowns

I'm a little over a month into my new job now, and eventually I will look forward to my work-from-home days.

But for now, most days I'm commuting to our corporate office in Oakdale, a city east of St. Paul, for training. As much as I'm not loving the drive, it's easier to be there while training. Plus I get to know my new co-workers this way, see pictures of their kids and pets, put faces to names and email addresses.

Mapping my route to work.
Do not be deceived by the "35 minutes" estimate. That does not take into account the traffic into and out of two downtowns. While the drive is only actually 25 miles, it takes me an hour to get there in the morning, and more than an hour in the evening to get back.

On the way, I get to see this.

Downtown Minneapolis.

 And this.

Downtown St. Paul.
And eventually this.

How far am I going here?!
Which amuses me to no end. I'm used to seeing this sign only when we're actually leaving the state of Minnesota and going to Wisconsin to visit relatives. So to see this on my morning commute makes me laugh.

The days I'm driving in the girls take the bus home and Lindsey has the key to get into the house. I'm happy they are old enough to let themselves in and be home alone for a little while until I get home.

The drive through two downtowns is pretty cool. But I have to say, I look forward to the day when I don't have to do it.