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Facebook hiatus

To anyone who has noticed that I have disappeared from their Facebook contact list... don't take it personally.  I have deactivated my account.  I may or may not return at a later date. If I have anything share-worthy, I will put it here (on this website that DESPERATELY needs to be updated).  I will continue to upload digital pictures to our gallery as I take them.

For now, I need to get rid of the distraction and focus on more important matters.  You can still contact me through email and text messaging or Google Talk.  Or that old-fangled contraption called a telephone!

- Matt 

Not-So-Best Buy

I think I'm just about done with Best Buy.  Everything seems like a hassle with them.  I can only remember one transaction in the past few years that has gone without some sort of aggravation.

We got new free phones (with two-year commitment) through the Best Buy Mobile store-within-a-store.  Seeming too good to be true, I asked up front what the catch was, and would there be an activation charge?  I was assured that I could use the same plan I was already on for the iPhones, and there would not be an activation charge. Well ... I had two $30 "upgrade" charges on my next statement.  I called to ask Verizon customer service about it, and they said they could not reverse the charge, it was a new policy implemented last September, all carriers were doing it (so I guess they just had to hop on board and do it, too?).  I pleaded my case with the VZW customer support girl, who was sympathetic but unable to do anything about the charge.  She told me I'd have to go back to the store, and they would have to reimburse me, since they forgot to put in some code or another that would nullify the charge.  Back at the store, with bill in hand, I got no sympathy.  In fact, the manager called over the guy that sold me the phone, who of course said that he tells everyone that there is an upgrade charge.  The manager made a call to his immediate supervisor, who told him that there was no code, and everyone gets the upgrade charge.  They were going to offer me a credit toward the phones, but since they were free, there was nothing they could do.  Now, $60 isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things - but it is the principle that gets me.  I specifically asked if there was going to be an activation charge, and was assured that there would not be.  Is it just symantics?  Did I ask too specific of a question?  An "upgrade" charge is not an "activation" charge?  I'm not going to leave Verizon over a $30/line one-time charge, it would cost that much or more to activate a new line with another carrier.... but it left a bad taste in my mouth as far as the Best Buy Mobile store is concerned.

I am not a fan of the "Reward Zone", either.  Again, this is not something that drew me to the store, I was there anyway and making a decent purchase a few years ago, so they had me sign up for the Reward Zone account.  The program is a bit confusing to me, with the points expiring annually on a specific date?  I bought over $400 of camera lenses in January, and the points take several weeks to post to the account (maybe waiting for the return period to expire, not sure?), so by the time the points would have posted, the annual expiration had passed, so the purchase never had a chance to credit to the account.  And another substantial purchase I made for Christmas shows up in my Reward Zone history as adding $0.00 worth of points to the total.  I just now tried to "report missing points", filling out all required fields, only to get a message (after I hit "submit") that informs me that their system is down and to try again after 6am tomorrow...

I just feel like EVERYTHING with Best Buy has to be some kind of frustrating battle .... store, customer service, website ....

I'm going to try to get my missing points from the December purchase, push to have the January ones credited to my account since they never really had a chance (but I'm not getting my hopes up for either, since it's before the annual expiration), and take my reward certificates to get some camera lens filters, and never bother myself to set foot in a Best Buy again after that.  I'm sure there are other stores out there that sell lenses, and would price match.

New Year, New Beginnings

2013 will be a year of change (once again) for the family.

As 2012 drew to a close, I had many issues tugging at me that I felt needed to be prioritized.  From all areas of my life: spiritual, familial, relational, physical and work (can't think of an "-al" word to continue that pattern!).

First of all, I have been very convicted about my devotional time.  As this new year begins, I am going to continue a reading plan that I started last Fall, with the intent of going through the Bible in chronological order by the end of this year.  I would also like to make the time to read some commentaries on scripture and do a little more digging into some practical areas of God's Word.

I have become more aware of the amount of spiritually devoid things I have been putting into myself, and have been making a consicous decision to replace those things with God-pleasing things.  Music is one area of example: I am finding that music that I used to enjoy just stirs up feelings within me that, while they may not be wrong in and of themselves, should not be taking the place of God-honoring music.  Some songs that we hear on the radio today are just outright profane, and I have used the filter in my mind to say, "if this is not something I would want playing while my kids were around to hear it, then there is no reason I should be listening to it even when they are not around."  The same goes for television (not that I get to watch much of that) and other forms of media.  The world is full of "fluff", I'm going to make an effort to pursue substance!

Some of the areas mentioned above overlap.  Family and work, specifically.  As 2012 drew to a close, I made arrangements to leave the carpentry work behind.  It was enjoyable (for the most part), but there was not enough work to keep a full-time income stream.  And there was too much work to carry on any other type of work.  I tried last fall to go full-time with my dad, doing carpentry on the side, but enough work was coming in with odd jobs that I was distracted from putting the hours in with dad.  In December, I cancelled the business insurance and hung up the tools.  Starting this January, I am going full time with my dad, no distractions (except this blog, at the moment!).  Having a singular focus will, I hope, provide more effective use of my time, and will allow me to be around the house with more quality family time on a more regular basis.  The kids are growing up fast.  I don't want to be just "that guy that keeps the bills paid" to the kids.  This is prime memory-making time!

Also with the new year, I am looking forward to some new relationships.  I have committed to join a group of men from our church that will be meeting every week for the next two years, seeking out God's design for the leadership of Godly men at home, church, work and community based on principles found through Biblical study.  There are 14 of us that will be going through this Christian Leadership Concepts study.  I am so looking forward to digging deeper and, in the processs, getting to know some men that are seeking after God's heart, on a more substantial level than the usual "hey, how's it going?" kind of relationships that many men have.

Recreationally, in this coming year, I would like to make some time for things that I enjoy.  I've been too busy to even think about some of these things for the last few years (almost a decade).  I have a trumpet that I have started to play some scales on again, working my embouchure up to playing wherever I may have opportunity.  The whole family has working bikes now, I'd like to see us get out and enjoy some of the many trails around the area.  I have a Jeep (see jeepxj.net) that has been untouched (except for 4 moves in the last 10 years), part-way through an engine swap.... I'd like to get at least some progress made toward getting that operational again, while the kids are still young enough to think it's fun to go on "bumpy rides"!

And finally, I have found that my sweet tooth is being overpowered by my desire for healthy living.  I've got a few pounds that I'd like to lose, and I think that the best way to achieve that and maintain a healthy lifestyle should start with being careful about the food we eat as well as making a point to get out and stay active.

Ambitious? Probably.  Will I falter? No doubt.  Can I get back up and keep on trying? By the Grace of God, I want to live a life that is pleasing to Him in all aspects.

I am so thankful that we don't need a new year to make a new start.  While it is a great time for reflection on where we've come from and setting our sights on where we want to go, it is comforting to know that God's mercies are new every morning, and Great is His Faithfulness! 

Thanksgiving!

What a week!  So much to be thankful for!

We packed up and went to visit my family in New Hampshire for the Thanksgiving weekend.  Hannah had a couple of "bonus" days off from school this year, so we were able to leave a day earlier than past years, and we have a recovery day now that we're back to Ohio.

The rental car was an ordeal in itself - I've never had any problems with Hertz before, and they DID make it right, but it took 2 hours to do what should have been less than 20 minutes.  The fourth car that we tried was acceptable for our needs for the week.

We drove through the night Tuesday, which gave us all day Wednesday to visit (and me a chance to nap for 45 minutes to an hour at a time, several times!).  Thursday was a wonderful day filled with family and food, Friday brought us to an old favorite breakfast spot, then to catch up with our neighbors from a few years back (and I got my butt kicked by a 6-year-old in a game of chess), then some relaxing time with family in the evening.  Saturday brought the Richmond boys on a trip in a rental truck - Mason's first experience in a big rig - up to Maine and back, while the Richmond/Root girls had an afternoon at the theater.  And Sunday brought us back safely to Ohio!  Over 2,000 miles in 6 days.  As on-the-go as it was, it was still an enjoyable time!  Great to visit and spend time with the family!

Our photos in a new gallery

I thought I had already put a post up here about our "new and improved" photo gallery, but now I don't see it.  Sorry if this is duplicate content, but I wanted to make sure that all of our friends and family knew about the upgrade!

I have just finished uploading every digital photo that we have ever taken (plus some that were taken by others, and which have somehow fallen into our collection).  With the last batch of pictures, there are now over 50,000 photos in our gallery!

If you had access to our "old" photo gallery, you should still have access to the new one, which can be found at the same URL that the old one was at.  If you don't remember the URL, let me know and I can send it to you.  As with the last gallery, I am not publishing a direct link to the photo album anywhere online, so as not to compromise the security and privacy of our personal photos.  There are security measures in place on the gallery, but no sense exposing even the welcome page of the gallery to unnecessary web crawler traffic, risking the chance that some "bot" may break through and have access to photodocumentation of our life!

If you feel like you don't have access to the site, or you just can't remember your password, let me know and I'll get you connected.

It's a very cool new gallery.  I switched from "Gallery2" to Piwigo.  Lots of cool viewing options, with the ability to browse the photos by date.  You can see a neat calendar view of the entire website, or you can look by creation date (when the photo was originally taken) or by upload date (to see what the latest additions to the gallery have been).  You can also navigate through the albums the same way they were sorted in the old gallery - first by camera, then by year, month, and day.

I will be working on tagging the photos, but have so far only tagged about 5,000 of the 50,000 photos... that will be an ongoing process!  As more photos are tagged, searching for specific photo content will become much easier.  For example, you will be able to search for photos tagged "Hannah", then narrow it to photos that also include Mason ("+Mason"), then narrow it to include pictures of both of them together with their cousin ("+Annabelle").  I've been very happy with the gallery, and it is holding up well even with the 50K photos it contains!

If you want to download any pictures from the gallery, most browsers will allow you to right-click and "save as".  I would recommend viewing the highest-resolution version of the picture before saving it.  That will guarantee the best quality if you choose to have it printed.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a tutorial.  If you have any questions about using the new gallery, just let me know!  I hope you enjoy it! 

Does anyone update their blog anymore??

I guess I've gotten over most of the things I didn't like about Facebook... and updating this website to work like I want it to would require more time that I have at this point.  I am debating about archiving this website and putting up something more WordPressish, perhaps allowing me the option of updating via mobile device.... we'll see. Changes may or may not be coming!

stupid, Stupid, STUPID!

Erg.  Sometimes I can be so dumb!

Our auto insurance bill has been going up by about $5/month every six months since we signed on with State Farm two and half years ago.  What started as a $120/mo payment is now $150 a month.  I decided to shop around.

At one point, I thought I was on Progressive's website and filled out a form with my contact informaton,  and the type of insurance I was looking for, including driver's ages and types of vehicles.  I hit submit and was taken to a screen that listed off a half-dozen websites of insurance companies that they recommended for me (third on the list was Progressive).  Only ten seconds later, as I was taking in the fact that I was NOT on a Progressive page, and was in fact on a cleverly disguised NetQuote page, my cell phone rang showing a toll-free number on the caller ID.  I always ignore numbers that I don't know.  A google search of the number showed that it was Liberty Mutual.  Two minutes later, another unfamiliar number called, turned out to be 21st Century Insurance.  Since then, my phone (which can go silent for days at a time) has been ringing at least once an hour during business hours.  Allstate, Farmers, you name the company, they've been calling.  And since I filled out the form, they're not "unsolicited" calls.  Hopefully they'll give up on me soon enough.  I don't like having a phone that rings this much!

Oh, and a simple conversation with our agent (who I had no intention of leaving, as he is family) got my bill down a bit.  Turns out we were missing a couple of discounts, and if we can hang on until October, we'll be getting a substantial discount for being accident-free for the three years that we will have been insured with the company.

From the lips of Hannah...

Some of the latest things that Hannah has said that have made us smile (or laugh out loud!):

We ate out at Max & Erma's the other night, and partway through the meal,  I was thinking of ordering one the restaurant's famous make-your-own sundaes. I mentioned to the kids that if they finished their meals nicely, they could have a yummy treat for dessert.  Hannah piped in, "Yeah, like fruit!"  (We settled on fresh baked cookies, and we were all happy).

Today after church, we went up to redeem the Groupon that we purchased last month, entitling us to a one-year family membership at the Akron Zoo.  When Hannah found out we were going to the zoo, she said that she hoped "to see elephants, giraffes, and pigs."  I thought that was an interesting mixture of exotic animals.  We didn't wind up seeing any of the above, but we had a fun time nonetheless!

Addendum, 3-22-11:
Last night, Heather told me about a conversation between Hannah and Amy (a friend of ours who was watching the kids for the morning).  Amy was making peanut butter sandwiches for the kids, and she asked Hannah if she or Mason had any nut allergies.  "Oh, yes, we have those."  Amy was confused because Hannah said that they eat peanut butter, but can't have peanuts.  She explained to Hannah that if she were allergic to peanuts, she would be allergic to peanut butter.  Hannah adminted, "Well, I guess we're not allergic to peanuts.  Mommy just doesn't let us have them so we don't choke on them."

Non-cache-related Geocaching treasures

Sometimes, the game of geocaching turns up treasures totally unrelated to the hobby.  Two recent hunts yielded such treasures.  Well, maybe "treasure" is not the best word.

While seaching for a cache near the old Goodyear Blimp hangar in Akron, I came across a purse near ground zero (in this game, "ground zero" refers to the GPS coordinates where I should begin my hunt for the cache).  It kind of appeared to be rummaged through an discarded, and there was almost nothing in the purse.  I recognized the Prada name on the logo, even though I'm a fashion ignoramus.  I knew it had the potential to be worth a tidy sum. If it was indeed a $700 purse, it would be worth cleaning up a bit.  Before I put any effort into cleaning it, however, I decided to research the authenticity of the purse.  Everything checked out on the outside, but when I went inside to check for the metal badge, I noticed a "made in china" tag sewed into one of the seams. I tossed it. :-)

On Tuesday, I went hunting for a newly placed cache in some woods less than a mile from our house.  I didn't find the cache (and as of yet, no one else has, either, so I suspect it is not there).  I did find a nice piece of 6x8 pressure-treated lumber though!  Brought it out and will cut it up to use as trailer blocking.

Note:  I just did a search for "Prada" and "Made In China" together, and came up with some interesting pages that lead me to believe that the purse may have been a low-end authentic Prada, as they've been sourcing out some of their products to the Orient in the last few years... I don't know what "low end" means with Prada, but it probably was still not worth cleaning up.  Oh well, the trash has ben taken away already!

Technology failure

The latest news from the world of annoying things:

The touchpad on our laptop does not let me left-click anymore.  One minute it worked, and as I was actually midway through doing some work on the computer two nights ago, the tap-to-click feature (which I use mostly) stopped working.  The left click button was also not functional.  Right click still worked, so I swapped the button functionality (I reinstalled drivers, etc., so I'm fairly certain this is a hardware problem).

Now I'll need to get us a USB mouse (unless a new touchpad is easy and comparabile in price), since all of the external mice that I have in my box-o-computer-junk downstairs are PS/2 or serial, and I don't have anything but USB ports on the laptop...