A Christmas (card) story

Got lots of Christmas cards this year, which makes me very happy--I love getting them, even though I haven't sent them in a few years (too lazy). And the fact that I keep getting them even though I don't reciprocate just proves how much people love me.

But the one card I look forward to most is the one from RCAS and family, who are creative, funny, and wizards at Photoshop. This year's card arrived yesterday--It's so funny you could poke your eye out with it!

Wondering: Will the baby get a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model BB rifle with a compass in the stock? Or a pink bunny suit?

Also, to KK: Still waiting for yours, and it better have a picture in it.

Today I hate ...

... American Express.

Have you ever

In your life

Received a credit card bill that shows the past month's interest charges


When you pay a bill and the balance is zero after you pay it (assuming you paid on time), then the next bill should be zero, too.

But no: I paid the bill in full--I mean I paid the total balance showing on my statement--and the next month I get a bill for $42.05. The "recent activity" has just one item: $42.05 in interest. Um, interest on WHAT? My zero balance?

But here's the best part: The minimum balance due is $15.

So if you weren't paying attention, you might keep paying that bill for, oh I don't know, EVER? In fact, even if you paid the bill in full, wouldn't you have the accumulated interest on the interest to pay the next month? How would you ever pay that bill off?

I called them and got an extremely cheery woman who suffered my outrage like a saint. You have to pay your balance off two months in a row, she says, before they stop charging interest (this may be true--but it sure as hell doesn't sound right). "Let me explain how interest works," she tells me.

Let me explain, I said, that I know full well how interest works. Let me explain that American Express has a strong brand name--a company that has a reputation as being customer-centric and trustworthy. How many millions is it spending on its current ad campaign to bolster its image?

At a time where consumers aren't spending as much, it doesn't seem to be very smart to act so scummy. (Yeah, that's the only word I could think to describe it: scummy.)

BTW I thanked her for letting me rant and told her I know it is not personally her fault. But, I said, I wanted her to put two notes on my account: first, that I had been promised that if I paid this interest charge my next bill would have a zero balance and second, that I was very angry and wanted to state for the record that American Express is scummy.

It's a small consolation, but at she promised me she'd do both.

Edit: Apparently I am not alone. Check out this story on (and four pages of reactions from consumers with similar stories) on

I'm such a twit

God help me, I'm twittering now. For work, but still. That makes three social networking sites, an online weekly column, and this blog. And I'm considering Facebook, only because half my family's on there, and most of them don't communicate with me otherwise (unless they're sending me chain e-mails or I see them in person). For an old gen-xer (not that I'm old, but I'm on the high end of the generation x age range) that seems like a lot.

Read more about my first twitter experience here.

Curious: How many online sites do you actively participate in?

What do you see when you turn out the lights?

I phrase I honestly thought I'd never have to utter and a conversation I definitely never wanted to have:

Me: Do you think it's possible that there is poo on the back hallway?

Upstairs neighbor (who is watching his mom's dog): I hope not.

Me: The lightbulb is out so it's dark, but I'm pretty sure it's poo.

The bark collar bites

So I think I might have mentioned a few times that the dog barks. A lot. I took her with me to Jesse and Audrey's wedding--the hotel had dog-friendly rooms--and she barked every time I left the room and didn't stop barking 'till I returned. There are rumours that the hotel paged me at one point. "Gienna Writes: Please return to your room and stop that #&*%!@ dog from barking before we all go $%#*&^@ insane."

Or something to that effect.

I've been putting off getting the bark collar for a long time. Zapping an animal with electricity for doing what comes naturally seems so mean. OK, it's static electricity, like you get if you walk across a wool rug in your socks and touch your finger to someone's nose. So maybe it's not exactly mean. But I don't think it's nice, either.

The final straw was getting dragged out of the bar at the hotel by my uncle Richard, who was trying to sleep in the room across the hall but came to get me after two solid hours of barking. Nothing comes between me and my wine. I finally broke down and ordered the bark collar.

Since it arrived, the dog has never been so well-behaved ... But it has nothing to do with the bark collar.

The minute I put the thing on her she curled up in a ball and went to sleep. This was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. She didn't bark all day. Not once. And Sunday morning she was trotting around the house, playing with her toys, wagging her tail, licking my hand, and basically being adorable. Not one bark passed her little doggy lips.

Well, you buy a $50 bark collar you want to know if it's going to work, right? So, I go outside, shut the door, and knock. Sure enough, the dog starts barking. I'm peeping through the doorway and as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing is happening. I come in, re-read the directions, adjust the collar, and try again. Nothing.

Here's how the collar is supposed to work. At the first bark, the collar beeps and emits a low-level warning zap. If the dog barks again, the static charge gets a little stronger and continues to get stronger the more the dog barks, though it resets itself if the dog barks a certain number of times within 30 seconds. I didn't hear any beep, so I wasn't sure if the collar was working. So I take the collar off the dog and test it on myself to see what will happen.

What happens is I get electrocuted.

OK, not electrocuted, since I'm obviously alive enough to be writing this. But holy crap that was a good little sting. Shocked the hell out of me. And while I'm performing my stupid human trick, the dog noses under the blanket on the couch, snuggles up into a ball, and closes her eyes. And as she fell quietly asleep, I'm pretty sure I saw her lips curl up into a very self-satisfied smirk.

Matt gets out of the picture

I've posted a few more photos of Audrey and Jesse's wedding. Meanwhile, this one had to be edited just a tiny little bit. See ya, picture-wrecker!

reception (348)

reception (348-1)

I may have overcompensated a bit

I haven't posted any photos from Audrey and Jesse's wedding because I'm still going through the 2,000 + photos I took. That's right, more than 2,000. At first, I was thrilled that they came out fine--despite the fact that this was the first time I ever photographed a wedding. But about halfway through, after looking at about 1,000 photos, I started being happy whenever one was out of focus or people's eyes were closed. Another to delete!

Anyway, here's just one of my favorites from the day. The "getting ready" pics of the boys have a very different vibe than the ones I took of the girls getting ready. They're a funny bunch.

ninja groomsmen
I took a few with more traditional poses and then I said 'Hey, I don't really know you guys--what would you like to do for a funny one?' They looked uncertain, so I said 'musclemen?' No. 'Mafiosos'? Definitely not. And then one of them says 'Ooh! Can we do karate?'

Note the van in the background--which they call the Prom Queen. (I didn't ask.) They made me CLIMB over the porch railing to take pictures of them with it.

This was a down-and-dirty edit, by the way ... it's still a little dark. I have some editing to do, but nothing major, thank goodness. Mostly tweaks to exposure, cropping, and making black and white versions of the "before" pictures and the ceremony. With the number of photos I took, though, I'm not doing any editing until The B&G tell me which ones they like!

Those leaves aren't going to herd themselves

I told you the dog barks at falling leaves:

There's a new leaf-catcher in town

And here she is jumping for joy because her candidate won the election:

Yay for fall Jump for Joy

One more bark for the road.

Did somebody say 'chicken'?


Domino--her mom and dad are getting married NEXT WEEKEND!



There are two little kittens and a mom cat living in the landscaping outside of the Starbucks at the Arizona Grand Resort. They seem very happy in this small space with its fake rocks. But it makes me a little sad.

What? You don't know about lolcats?

The view from here

A quick peep

Traveling again, this time I'm back in Arizona. I tried to count how many conferences I've been to here and I'm pretty sure this is the fourth one. I like Arizona, the weather is lovely. But when I'm at a big resort--this one is something like 135 acres--I tend to feel a little trapped, even with so much space around me. I took this photo through the security peephole in my room. Don't worry, though, I really have actually ventured outside.

And happily ever after

Erin and Anthony213

Erin and Anthony250 Erin and Anthony247

Erin and Anthony223 Erin and Anthony227

Before & during (but not after)

Here are a few of my faves from Erin and Anthony's wedding. These are the before pictures (getting ready) and the during pictures (at the church). I didn't get a lot of pictures of either Erin or Anthony. After all, they had a real photographer and I wasn't about to get in his way.

I'll post some pictures from the reception as soon as I get a chance. Or you can look at them in my "Erin and Anthony" set on Flickr. I'm bored of telling you that most are marked friends and family only and that if you want to see them you have to sign up and add me as a contact.

Erin and Anthony009

Erin and Anthony015

Erin and Anthony119

Erin and Anthony129

Erin and Anthony149

Erin and Anthony177

Erin and Anthony - 10.12.08

Erin and Anthony030

Stay tuned for pictures from Erin and Anthony's wedding--I will post them as soon as I can. Eventually, you will find them all here.

Silver and gold blues

Untitled I spent part of the weekend framing photos for the Marblehead Arts Association winter members show. The show will last through the holidays and the theme is silver and gold--all submissions must be in either a silver or gold frame.

What did I learn from this? That almost all of my photos look sucky framed in silver or gold. I managed to find five that kind of sort of work. This is one of them. Be interesting to see the reaction in Marblehead to my fem-bots. I put this one in a matching frame and I like the way they look together.

Anyway, here's the scoop on the show. Bring money. I need it.

November 1–December 24
“Silver & Gold”
8 Hooper Street, Marblehead, Mass.
Reception: Sunday, November 2nd, 2–4pm
Holiday Party: December 14th, 2–4pm

When robots (do not) attack, take two

Based on some feedback from my Flickr friends, I edited the photo in my previous post. The skew tool in photoshop truly does wonders with straightening out wonky lines and correcting distortion. I recropped the photo to make the composition a 50/50 split (more like a diptych). And I cloned out some small bits in the upper part of the picture that became more distracting in the new version.

When Robots (do not) attack 2

Summer leftovers

I kind of forgot I took these pictures of Calvin-Roo in the last days of summer. It looks like he's almost ready to propell himself into a walk in this one ... Any updates, KK?


Some more from that day:

IMG_0715 IMG_0710 IMG_0709 IMG_0708

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ for Gienna Writes:

1. What are you, some kind of idiot?
Yes. Yes I am.

2. What are you, some kind of moron?
I think we've already established that.

3. Are you an airplane?
No, silly, I'm a boat.

4. Are you an airplane?
No, I am a boat!

5. Are you an airplane?
I told you, I am a BOAT!

6. Are you a boat?
No, silly, I'm an airplane.

7. You seem to talk about yourself a lot. What's up with that?
I don't see your name in the title of the blog. If you don't like it, get your own blog. You could name it "Anonymous Writes."

8. What do you do for a living?
Did you seriously just ask me that?

9. Do you wear surgical masks in public? Perhaps carry excessive amounts of tissue to wrap around your hands when opening doors? Maybe you could wrap yourself entirely in duct tape and seal yourself from any possible contact with humanity.
That's honestly the best idea I have ever heard in my entire life.

10. Does it hurt your feelings when people leave mean comments on your posts?
Yup, but only for a little while.

11. Why don't you delete them, then?
Because I think mean comments say more about the commenter than the commentee.

12. I don't think "commentee" is a word.
That's not really a question.

13. It's sometimes hard to interpret a person's tone on the Internets. How can I tell if what you write is sarcastic or serious?
Sarcasm is usually a pretty safe bet.

The best airplane story ever

Clarification: By "the best airplane story ever" I mean "the most embarrasing airplane story ever." I find my own humiliation amusing.

I called Michael Dukakis an ass on the flight home from San Francisco. True story.

Let me back up a bit.

So I'm boarding the plane and as I walk toward my seat I see a couple are already seated in the middle and aisle seats. As they're getting up to let me in I say, "That's funny--they usually board the window seats first so you don't have to climb over other passengers in your row."

"They don't do that anymore," the woman says. Which I know is not true, but whatever.

So basically I sat next to Mike and Kitty for about six and a half hours without recognizing them. Although I did think that the man, who had a large Greek nose and very bushy eyebrows, looked a little like Dukakis. At one point I thought to myself that he could be a professional impersonator. At another point I wondered if Mike Dukakis has a brother. Then I looked at her and thought that she looked a tiny little bit like Kitty Dukakis. What an amazing coincidence, I thought.


Anyway, it turns out that Mike Dukakis is an armrest hog. In fact, his elbow was actually touching me almost the entire flight. Seriously, there's a reason people choose the aisle or the window. It's so that you don't have to come into contact with people. And if you're in the middle seat I think you just have to suck it up and keep your arms to yourself.

So, in a very subtle way, I started to jostle his arm a little bit. Just the part that was extending into my personal space, as if it were an accident. I would shift and stretch a little bit and give his arm a little push off the armrest and then say "Oh, sorry!" I did this about 15 times and if anything he encroached further into my space ... to the point that I had to reach UNDER HIS HAND to control the volume and change the channel on MY armrest.

That's when I called him an ass. I said it under my breath and in a loud airplane. It's entirely possible that he didn't hear me.

I'm so sure he heard me.

In my defense, by the way, I never heard him speak during the flight. If I had, there would have been no doubt that it was him. But I had my noise-cancelling headphones on (best investment ever) and he was reading a book the entire time.

So now we've landed and the woman pulls out her cell phone, dials a number and hands it to the man. And, very casually, I take of my headphones, because at this point I want to hear his voice.

And he says, "Hi, so-and-so, Mike Dukakis here ... yes, Kitty will be there at 10 tomorrow morning."

Awesome. Could I possibly be MORE of an idiot?

Well, of course, it turns out that I can. During the flight he started sneezing and I may have been a little bit overly dramatic when I put my sweater up to cover my mouth and nose and pressed my body against the wall of the airplane to get as far away from his germs as possible.

When the airplane reached the terminal and people started getting up, a man standing behind the couple claps Dukakis on the back and says "Hello, Governor!" And after they chat for a while about politics a woman sitting in front of us turns around and puts her hand on his arm and says "I just want to thank you for all of your service."

That's when I started pretending I was a foreign tourist. Honestly, if I could speak French I would have pulled out my cell phone and faked a conversation in French. Moi? I am but a foreigner in this land who would have no idea that you are a former Massachusetts Governor and that you ran for President (until your campaign tanked--ha, ha).

Good night, San Francisco

Overall the best vacation I've had in a long time. But I'm still happy to be going home.


Check out my San Francisco set on Flickr.

Monday at the Museum

Matching outfits

I was a little disappointed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art--they were in between exhibits in some halls and the fifth floor and roof were closed altogether. But the museum itself was cool. It has a striped theme inside and I saw this woman come in with a striped hat ... I basically stalked her all over the museum until I caught her in this photo.

And I would walk five hundred miles ...

I had a slower connection earlier today and realized that, for most normal people, yesterday's post would take about eight hours to load b/c of all the pictures. Sorry, but I can't resist at least one more from yesterday's adventure.

I walked about six miles to take this crappy picture

The Golden Gate Bridge looks a LOT closer to Fisherman's Wharf than it actually is. It looked like it was getting closer and closer as I walked toward it along the waterfront. I kept thinking, OK, I'll just go another 20 minutes. I'll just go as far as that building up there. I'll just go around the next bend. I'll just go as far as Crissy Field. Well, as long as I'm at Crissy field, I might as well go just a little bit further. After an hour and a half of this nonsense, it finally dawned on me that a) the bridge was still very far away and b) I still had to walk back.

My legs are killing me.

Sunday in Chinatown

I was agog like a typical tourist

Chinatown was not exactly what I expected. I had seen pictures, of course, and so the sights were familiar. And yes, Grant Street, which runs straight up the middle from the iconic gate, is crowded with shops selling trinkets, jewelry, paper fans, tee-shirts, postcards, and chirping plastic birds (and yes, I bought some fun little things to bring home for my dog-sitters).

Another touristy one Coca Cola

For Jim So I went for a wok the other day

But it is also a real neighborhood with real people going about their daily business and their lives.

I’m glad I went on a Sunday morning, when the residents way outnumbered the tourists. And I’m really glad I wandered off the main drag, into the side streets and alleys, where people elbowed their way through the crowds to shop for their groceries or talked and laughed with friends and neighbors. Bins of mushrooms and other unidentifiable dried roots, vegetables, fruits, berries, fish, and meats. Strange window displays, wildly ornamented and brightly-colored architecture, and run-down buildings with grated windows covered over with newspapers. The smell of Chinese spices and cigarette smoke.

Modesty sash


And The clunk of sticks hitting the pavement as boys practiced their martial arts, playing at fighting with each other, serious expressions on their faces.

Sunday School

The women are busy, doing their shopping and walking their children to the playgound. The men are a different story. Everybody smokes. Nobody smiles. In fact they barely move. This was the perfect place to practice street photography.

At Portsmouth Square, a band of Chinese folk musicians were playing a concert. In the back of the park, beaneath the shade of a small stand of trees, groups of men stood around playing cards. They were so engrossed they didn't even seem to notice me taking photographs. Or if they did, the simply didn't care.

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Co. was not what I expected, either--I pictured a large, clean factory but it is actually a small, narrow, crowded shop on Ross Alley, off Washington Street. Women take turns sitting at a large machine on view for the tourists. A conveyor belt drops rounds of batter onto a griddle, and the women scoop them up while still warm and piable and fold them into the familiar shape.

Fortune Cookies

It costs 50 cents to take a picture. I gave them a dollar and also bought two bags of cookies. That's right, two.

Saturday, in the park ...

I had a little vacation anxiety before I left for this trip to San Francisco … but that is gone, now. Well, mostly. Last night I had a dream that my vacation was over before I expected it to be and I hadn’t done any of the things I wanted to do. But even if I only had the last two days, I would be happy. In fact, the only thing I haven’t done is slow down. You could pack up all the stuff I've bought in the bags under my eyes. I'm going to have to hit the spa pretty soon ... but I'm going to get in one more day of power walking first.

I arrived early in the day on Friday, local time. I’ve already adjusted to local time, too, so even though I’m staying up much later than I would on home time, I’m also waking up at a normal local time here, around 7 a.m.

After checking in, I was lured by the Bloomingdale's sign across the street to one of the largest malls I've ever been to (though the mall at Caesar's Palace tops them all--I thought I was taking a shortcut through it ... four-hours later I arrived at my destination, a block away). I met this awesome and funny guy at the Clarkes store. His name is Noel, and he says he was a rock star in the 60s, that he played Golden Gate park with The Who and Jefferson Airplane (Or Starship, or whatever it was caled in that era). He brought out every single pair they had in my size and I tried them all on while we chatted. He was originally from Rhode Island and he's travelled and lived all over the world. Hey, I'm not saying any of it's true, but it was an interesting conversation nonetheless. And yeah, he sold me two pairs of shoes. He was a very good salesman.

Then I wandered around the Union Square area for a while ... more shopping, and lots of it. I bought a few little things (I can never resist an Anthropologie store), but mostly just had fun window-shopping and people-watching. I stopped at the cable car turntable and Powell and Market--it was a zoo. I haven't taken a cable car ride yet, but it's on my list.

For supper I had a turkey club at the hotel bar and a lovely glass of white wine from the Sonoma Valley ... I have to look up what kind it was--delicious. Met some funny sales guys at a convention, drunk off their asses. I swear one of them looked just like Joe Leiberman, but when I asked him if he was disappointed not to get the vice presidential nomination, he pretended he had no idea what I was talking about. Later, he did admit that he was very disappointed, though.

The hotel is in an awesome location--you can walk to lots of things, including a Walgreens ... key for buying gallon jugs of water for $1.99 instead of spending $8 a bottle at the hotel. (That's about all I've done to save money, though. Something about being on vaction makes you feel like treating yourself. Although, to be fair, one of the two pairs of shoes I bought was on sale.) There's a Starbucks on every corner, of course. People take their coffee very seriously, and you often see people carrying around cups late in the day and even into the night. How do they sleep? I'm at a Starbucks right this very moment, in fact. Grande skinny cafe misto with a booster shot. Mmm. There's also a ton of bars and retaurants nearby.

My room rocks. I could almost reach out and touch Saint Patrick's church and I love the sound of its bells rining, very gentle and soft. I can see the museum of modern art and the Contemporary Jewish Museum and other interesting architecture. I can even see, in the distance, the Bay bridge and a glimpse of the Pacific. My first room had a view of the back of a building and an alley and reeked of cigarette smoke. I am soooo glad I asked for a different room--they definitely made it up to me. My Madonna theory at work and paying off once again.

On Saturday I walked about a mile down Market Street to the Ferry Building on the waterfront, took a very sad picture of the Bay Bridge (see the previous post) and some fun photos of the produce and etc. available at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. It was HUGE. I bought tomatoes and plums and peaches and a bag of about 15 figs for $3... at home they are 99 cents each.

You say tomato Farmer's market

At the Boccalone Salumeria I bought some cured meats, which, I learned, are called salumi, and some cheese and crackers. I'm all set, snackwise, for the week.

I love meat

There are craft tents and booths in the area. I bought a cheap but pretty bracelet made of jade-like stones with Chinese characters (I know, I know, I am such a tourist) and had a wonderful time talking to a man selling prints on the sidewalk just outside the market. He has these funny, bright, colorful watercolor painting/drawings San Francisco scenes. I can't even describe it--I'll take a picture of the print I bought, of two cats hugging beneath the Golden Gate bridge, and post it later. It's not as stupid as it sounds. I'm 99% sure I found my mom's birthday present there. It was one of the first things I saw, though, so I'll have to go back.

Meanwhile, in the throng of people, I ran into someone I know (I edited his book) ... he is also here for the conference next week and he and his wife came out early, too. Funny.

In the afternoon the sun came out and I went to the Yerba Buena Gardens (which I can also see from my room). There was a live concert going on. I visited the Martin Luther King Memorial and took pictures of the carousel. Then I skipped over to the SFMOMA and looked around the gift shop. Bought some cards, a watch for me and a funny trinket for my dad. I'll go back first thing tomorrow. The woman in the gift shop said that's a good, quiet time to visit.

Why do carousel animals always look just a little creepy?

Today ... Probably Chinatown which, if I am reading the map right, is also within walking distance. There's a gallery on the way designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that I'd like to see. If the sun comes out this afternoon as promised, I'll hit the Golden Gate bridge. I'd like to go later in the day, when the light is more interesting. That's definitely a further excursion, but I'm not leaving without seeing it!