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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Tuesday Night Football !?!

This week for the first time since 1946 an NFL game was played on a Tuesday night. The scheduled Sunday Night game between my Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings was postponed due to severe snow storms on the East coast, and concerns over crowd safety, not at the stadium (though it is open to the elements) but on their journeys to and from the game. As a result I'm typing and watching the game recorded last night while I was working.

Since Black Friday it's felt like a War Zone at WalMart with the sales kicking off, and Christmas shoppers hitting us from every angle since. On several occasions I'd had one customer at the till with two or more queuing behind them, the phone ringing and a call already on hold, and more customers trying to attract my attention from behind me. The first two days following Christmas were just as busy with people returning unwanted gifts and spending their Christmas gift cards and money, while we tried to serve customers while simultaneously dealing with carts full of returns and restocking the shelves with new merchandise. On Monday we had the added fun of setting the new modules for DVDs, Blu-Rays and games, which requires moving almost every film and game title in the store, approximately 1500 titles.

Yesterday it was marginally quieter as many people returned to work, but suddenly the store turned into a Ghost Town around 8pm. I think there might actually have been more staff in the building than customers, and I had the luxury of doing the tasks of cleaning and clearing the decks without being interrupted every 15 seconds.  This sudden quietude may have been due to the Football game, or might just have been a return to normalcy; I'm hoping the latter. We've also had two new associates assigned to the Electronics team to ease the burden, though one is currently signed off work with two sprained wrists after falling downstairs so I haven't met her yet. There were no evening truck deliveries yesterday either, so the overnight backroom staff were tasked with emptying many bins to see what could be stocked to the shelves. 

I have a short shift today and a day off tomorrow, before a couple of lighter weeks scheduled. I have yet to see if my reduced hours will continue, or are a January blip. I aready have days booked off to watch the Ducks Bowl game on 10th January and the Superbowl in early February.


A number of creatures are seeking out the warmth of our house this winter. A couple of weeks ago Beth found this lizard snuggled up in our cat litterbox. The cats don't use the litter often as they prefer to go al fresco, so Eddie Lizard probably found its own way in.

A week or so later we found this salamander on our front drive. I moved it to the lawn, but it came back the next evening. It enjoyed the warmth from my hands and got quite lively before we put it out by the creek in back.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Brother Snuggie

Even our cosy house can feel chilly at times and it take time (and money) to heat up, so while watching TV we both make occasional use of blankets, electric and otherwise. On a recent trip to Fred Meyer I invested  ~$15 in a Snuggie and matching Snuggie Boots.

Not the color I would have chosen given a choice, but they were on sale and all in this color. The various box pictures show people cuddled up reading, watching TV, or playing board games, and even suggests you could take them to an outdoor sporting event. 

However, as the back is completely open, I think this last is a tad unlikely. No point having a toasty front if your back is still exposed to the inclement elements.

The Snuggie is in fact just a 6' x 3' rectangular blanket with arms sewn in. Mine is made from microfleece material. However it is very cosy, and the boots are warmer than slippers as they keep my ankles warm.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Griswoldry Part 2 - The Excess

Nodding Polar Bear, and illuminated candy canes. People hang candy cane on their trees here in the US, but the habit has not fully caught on in the UK. Any that remain uneated (i.e. all of them in our house) can be reused next year.

Santa or possibly snowman, with sleigh and reindeer.

Herd of reindeer grazing in a Christmas tree forest.

Single Reindeer, with illuminated snowmen in back.

Motorised 6' inflated snowglobe.

Motorised inflated reindeer alternately stuffing Santa down the chimney and pulling him out.

Countdown clock with Snowman.  
This forms the centerpiece to a huge display with lights flashing in time to jingly christmas tunes. 

Our Tree.

A Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Sunday, 19 December 2010


For sometime my family have referred to excessive private Christmas light displays as Griswoldry, after the Griswolds Christmas Vacation movie. In the UK it's hard to put up an exterior Christmas display on most houses as there are no provisions made for external electric hookups, so anyone who does has gone to a lot of trouble, but in the US most houses come with external sockets purely for Xmas lights.

Here's our house, with 400 white LED lights, in four sets of 100 dangling icicles. That may sounds like a lot but actually it's  restained, as you might expect from an Englishman surrounded by American excesses. The lights are plugged into two exterior sockets, 2 sets coming from right to left across the garage, 2 sets from left to right across the porch, with a switch in the garage controlling everything. We switch them on from dark until bedtime. There are more plug points, and given a few hours up a long ladder it would be easy to add more lights across the upper eaves, as some of our neighbors have. For our first year in the house this, plus a tree inside (now installed, 6-7ft with 400 colored lights), is enough.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, relaxing in a way only he seems to understand.

These houses are all within walking distance of ours. So far so good. Lights on the eaves, an occasional tree or bush in the front garden light with a string or net of LED lights. Maybe a wreath, star or other display in a window or on the front wall of the house. Next time we will move onto some more... exuberant... offerings. 

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Cell Phones

Americans love their cell phones (mobile phones to my British readers).  At least I assume they must, or they wouldn't be prepared to lock themselves into 2-year contracts at $60-80 a month per phone in order to possess one. Bought without a 2-year contract attached, some phones cost up to $700.

Of course cell phones these days may also incorporate cameras (but not very good ones), MP3 players (but not very good ones), radios (but not very good ones), and GPS satellite navigation systems (but not very good ones), internet access (but not very good access). They may also include (or allow you to purchase) applications (apps) to do a myriad of other things from telling you the weather to translating  into Spanish.

I don't require any those things in my phone as I already have a digital camera, iPod, radio, Garmin GPS, and broadband access (in the house). I just want to be able to talk and occasionally text, so my current phone is the cheapest lightest Pay-as-you-Go phone Beth could find for me. which I mostly use as a portable alarm clock.

I've owned four different mobile phones in my life. The first was a Philips, and I signed up with Orange (on my eldest brother's advice) as it was the only Pay-as-you-Go system that didn't steal my unused minutes at the end of each "billing" period. You bought minutes, and used them until you ran out, when you bought some more. In the UK then (and quite possibly now) you got charged less for calls on the same network, so I soon gave the Philips to my parents (they used it for years) and switched to a Nokia 3210, which was very nice but didn't ring very loudly and had no vibrate alarm, so I missed calls on the rare occasions I ever got one. You could write your own ringtone using Nokio shorthand, a feature I made great use of, and miss. I had that phone for years until I lost it (it turned up years later in the box of a boardgame), and replaced it with the closest thing I couild find, another Nokia, with vibrate and a louder ring. I used that until I left the UK, and I was still on only my second minutes top-up in years.

The phone and "non-contract" contract Beth found for me here is another Nokia, with service provided by T-Mobile. I paid $20 for the phone and an initial $100 for airtime, which gave me 1 year of service without further topping up and approximately 1000 minutes. Note that 1000 minutes is considered miserly by some users, and is the minimum offered by some non-contract providers for a month. A month. I used 300 minutes (combined talk and text charges) in a year.

I've just topped up my phone minutes, not because I needed more minutes but because my year's service was going to end, and added $10. That extends my coverage for another year, and leaves me $80 airtime (about 700 minutes)

On our arrival in Eugene just over a year ago Beth chose to get a Pay-as-you-Go through Fred Meyer, because when we first arrived we bought a lot of stuff there (including our kitchen table & chairs and our reclining chairs), and that gave her loads of free minutes. Unfortunately the service provider was Sprint, and their coverage didn't quite reach our Sweetwater house, limiting the usefulness of the phone, so Beth recently bought a new phone and switched to T-Mobil. That is the third phone she has ever owned.

I should also mention that in the US, in some mis-directed Victorian Throwback way that I still can't quite fathom, you are charged for both calls you make and calls you receive. In the UK it is a long established tradition that the person who intiates a call pays for it. Quite how the mighty US public (and the Govermnet that protects them against big business bullies) allowed the phone giants to inflict this scam is a mystery, but the result is that when you receive a "junk mail" phone call, it is using up your precious airtime, and families who call each other a lot (presumably because they don't meet at any time) use up their minutes at double the rate.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

1st Anniversary

Today marks the 1st Anniversary of our arrival on US soil and my becoming a legal resident of the United States of America, with all the legal rights to live and work that entails.

It's been an unusual and fun year, and Beth and I are greatly enjoying our life in Eugene. There are lots of things we haven't done yet (e.g. skiing, kayaking) that we still intend to do, mostly held back until we had full health insurance (via Beth's job), but we have plenty of time.

Yesterday I had my annual evaluation at WalMart, and my overall rating of "Exceeds Expectations" results in a 50c an hour payrise starting from 2nd Feb 2011, which will be the anniversary of my start at WalMart, and also our 5th wedding anniversary. 50c may not sound a lot, but it converts to $1,000 a year, a bigger payrise than I ever got year on year in my old London job, and will be very welcome. It's also good to know that I'm doing all the right things as far as management are concerned, and that my efforts have been noticed.

Yesterday President Obama backed down to the Republicans and, as part of a deal to extend unemployment benefits, agreed to retain the "Tax Cuts for the Insanely Wealthy" enacted by Bush in 2001 and 2003. America is wallowing in debt and needs to start to think about paying off some of its creditors, and sadly this isn't going to help. It is astonishing to me that a handful of super-wealthy Republicans can hold the country to ransom like this and get away with it, convincing their supporters that millions retained privately will somehow trickle down into the pockets of the poor and create more jobs. Yup, just like it hasn't been doing for the last 8-10 years. On a more positive note, a number of multi-Billionaires are pledging to give away large chunks of their fortunes to Charities. Once you've got a certain amount of ready cash at your fingertips, multiplying iteself through financial investments, any more is superfluous, and people such as Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) have the wisdom to realise that they can shake out a few millions in loose change and not feel one jot poorer. I applaud their generous actions, and am sure they sleep more soundly at night.

There is a continuing slow upswing in retail sales, as many people, who have for a couple of years managed to tighten their belts, are now feeling like spending more on life's little luxuries. Of course a retail upswing is good for the country, but it's a shame that people have forgotten that saving a little every month is better than spending every last cent.

In another week I will need to add some minutes to my pre-paid cell phone. A year ago, on Beth's advice, I bought a $20 phone and $100 of calling time. I still have $70 of calling time unused, which I can carry over by adding $10 more, and extend my service another 3 months. In comparison one of my colleagues spends $80 a month on her contract phone plan, and many WalMart customers buy a monthly calling card for $30-$45 and think they are being parsimonious. I guess I'm just not a phone person.