Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Photo Fun

I am on vacation and snowed in. On top of that I have the flu--which really cuts down on my ability to write anything coherent. So instead of writing the posts I had planned to write, I am entertaining myself with my camera. Here are the best of the shots I took today.

Both are lovely ornaments that my in-laws sent from Ireland a few years ago. The lighting comes from the lights on the tree.

©2010 Cristina Kollet

©2010 Cristina Kollet

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Winter Tradition

This morning we were supposed to drive down to south Jersey for brunch with our friend Richie.  I admit that in my holiday haze I had not checked the weather. Thankfully, I checked Facebook before getting out of bed this morning; because it was posts about snow storms and changing travel plans that made me check the forecast.

Of course, our plans changed.  Instead of driving to Hazlet, we drove to ShopRite.

I admit that I don't know how far this phenomenon extends. But here in New Jersey, if so much as a dusting of snow is expected, people will rush to the supermarket for bread and milk. If you are expecting a blizzard, you get this...

At 10:44 AM, the parking lot was packed. Note that, at this time, there are only a few flakes on the ground.
© 2010 Cristina Kollet
Of course, we went straight for the milk, knowing that's the first thing to go.

© 2010 Cristina Kollet

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And to All a Good Night

I'm sitting here with the hiccups winding down from a great evening with family and friends.

I plugged in our tree. It's been up all year, but not re-lit till tonight.

I wrapped the presents and completed a personal tradition. Every year I make ornaments for my nieces. Some years I get very busy and come close to forgetting. This was one of those years. But between remembering on the way to dinner and getting home some hours later, I had a vision.  Some wire and an hour later, I was done.

We'll be up early tomorrow to participate in what has become known as The Festival of Greed.  Mainly we watch the kids open presents and have a huge breakfast. The adults have switched to doing Secret Santa via is fun, but I'm not clear on the timing of the exchange this year.

Now, there are some out there who won't like the whole "Festival of Greed" concept, but to each their own. I'll say here that I'm not traditionally religious. Christmas in my family has been secular for years. Personally, I look toward the common theme being celebrated by many religions and cultures this time of year--the theme of light in the darkness--be that light from a person, a flame, or the ever lengthening days after the solstice.

I'm also celebrating my anniversary. It is 7 years now since I first met my husband face-to-face. Our first date was on Christmas and so I celebrate the day the light of Love came into my life.

And so I wish you all a happy holiday-whether it's a holiday of faith or just a day off work. I hope you all find something or someone to make you happy. My happiness is asleep upstairs. It's time to turn this good day into a good night.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My New Toy: Neat Receipts for Mac

This is my new toy and it's great!

I've lusted after this for about a year now, hoping it would do everything it said it would, but too skeptical to buy it. Finally, faced with the year-end task of getting together receipts to file for my flexible spending account claim and tax season around the corner (the horror!), I took the plunge.

It's not a very expensive gadget, the portable model that I got was on sale for about $130.  (It's usually about $180 and the desktop scanner is over $300.)

Setup was easy. One CD and the usual bit of clicking next when prompted. The scanner uses a USB cable and comes with a pouch for storage.  I'm still a little confused by the software. I was able to get it to do everything I wanted in the end, but I can't say exactly how and I am sure there is a better way. (I could have used a manual.)

What I was able to do--scan a pile of receipts, which the Neat Receipts software then read and categorized and created PDFs.  I was also able to import PDFs I had of online receipts into the software.

In the end I was able to create one PDF with all of my receipts in it which is so much easier to deal with than having to deal with lots of attachments.

Neat Receipts is supposed to be compatible with Turbo Tax and QuickBooks. So hopefully it will make tax season easier.  But I feel like just having it for the Flexible Spending Account receipts made it pay for itself.

I think my next step will be one of those Android apps that turns the Droidx into a scanner and makes PDFs. That way I can capture my receipts right away before they end up a crumpled mess in my pocket.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tis the Season for Giving! May I Suggest the Gift of Clean Water?

Have you ever been inconvenienced by a water main break or just felt disappointed when the store didn't have your favorite brand of bottled water?
Imagine never having clean water you can count on--to drink, to cook with, or bathe in. Face it, if you're reading this in a warm home, with running water, you've got it relatively easy.

This is the time of year when we turn our thoughts to giving--to our friends and loved ones and to worthy causes.

So if you're looking for a cause to support, and whether you're giving out of the goodness of your heart, or for that last minute tax deduction, or a little bit of both, I suggest you check out Our Glimmer of Hope's Water is Hope campaign to raise funds for a well in Tercha, Ethiopia.

Tercha is a village near where my friend's daughter was born. My friend's adoptive family travel group is trying to raise $4750 to install one clean water source in Tercha. 100% of donations go to the well.

Please take a moment to learn more about it here. Water is Hope | Our Glimmer of Hope

Monday, December 6, 2010

Calling in Tech Support

I'll admit it. The heavy posting tonight has been due to my attempts to get Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook to play nice.

Since I'm not having great luck, I've brought in some tech support. If this post shows up in all three places, Biggles will have been successful.
©Cristina Kollet 2010
Biggles has his own fan page. I lean on him for technical expertise when the Wookie is not around.

When I Was a Kid...

When I was a kid, I loved putting up the Christmas tree. I loved lights, the decorations with all their memories attached, and even that empty space beneath it holding the promise of little dreams that might come true come Christmas morning.

I wanted to keep the tree up all year. This year, I did.

©Cristina Kollet 2009
I'm happy every time I look at it. With all the responsibilities of adulthood, how many times to we think back to being a kid and actually DO some of the things we said we would when we grew up?

If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend it.

That Most Wonderful Time of the Year

©Cristina Kollet 2010

This morning I saw the first snow flakes of the holiday season. Happily, it didn't stick. But here, the snow is fluffy white and no one has to dig out their car.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Book I Can Put Down

I have recently rediscovered reading for pleasure. It’s not that I ever lost interest in it; more a combination of lack of time and not finding anything that really met all of my qualifications. I am picky.

You see, with all the stresses of my day-to-day life, I have very little tolerance for added stress in my entertainment, be it books, TV, or movies. And so some may say that my tastes have become simplistic.

I want characters I will care about and well-crafted interesting stories. I won’t tolerate getting invested in a character only to have them killed off. A little drama is good, too much drama it’s time for Food Network. (Nothing really horrible ever happens on Food Network.) Happy endings are required.

I recently devoured five books. It started when the title of a book I read years ago (probably back in high school) popped into my head and I found it was available to read with an app on my phone. Then I read the sequel and that got me to looking for more books. I found a new author, sucked down two titles by her, and then found an old favorite author had written a new book with characters I knew and liked. So I read that too.

All of these titles were totally engrossing; I couldn’t put them down. This led to some sleepless nights as I plowed through to reach the end of the story and see my fictional friends through to their happy ending. But I’m not writing about those titles tonight.

Having been bitten once again by the reading bug, but needing more sleep than I did back in my book devouring youth, left me with a bit of a predicament. I wanted to keep reading. It would be nice to read a chapter or two before I go to bed…provided I could stop there.

So this just added one more qualification to my already picky list. I needed a book that was enjoyable enough to read, but I also needed to be able to put it down.

Right now that book is Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. It’s not that I don’t care about the hero, Robert Langdon. Back when the book was at the height of its popularity, I enjoyed Langdon’s exploits in the Da Vinci Code. (Didn’t sleep much during that one.) But Mr. Brown’s books adhere to a very strict formula. His formula is so strict that I was actually too annoyed by it to read Angels and Demons.

When I find an author and character I like, I will usually go through one book after another till the list runs out. So after enjoying the Da Vinci Code, I picked up Angels and Demons. A few chapters in I could see the formula at play and it was so obvious that I could not get past it. (I did enjoy the movie when it came out on cable, but that was largely due to Tom Hanks.)

I won’t go into the formula here, because I don’t want to spoil the books for anyone.  But I will say that this time it’s a comfort. Langdon is Brown’s cash cow, so I can be pretty sure he’ll live through the book. And the story is engaging, especially since this time it’s set someplace I’ve actually been, Washington, DC. But after each chapter, I’m able to say, “enough for now” and I don’t have that anticipation or anxiety that leaves me needing to find out what happens next. In fact, I realized today that, unlike my other recent reads, I can go days between reading one chapter and the next without even wondering what will happen.

And that’s exactly what I need right now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"What this Wall Needs is a Giant Sperm"

I have to wonder about the design meetings for some of the sound barriers lining the highways here in New Jersey.  This one on I80 is particularly interesting when I stop to think that someone actually proposed this design and had it approved.
©Cristina Kollet 2010