Christmas 2014


Greetings! Guess who finally got called to Jury Duty after throwing herself on the mercy of the court? I was selected, with “a jury of my peers,” to serve on a trial that started December 1st. That is why this letter is getting to you so late; I was doing my civic duty. The trial did not last long, but I earned enough to treat my family to some steaks on the barbie at our local Outback Steakhouse. Woo hoo!

The night before my jury duty I did some brushing up: I skimmed the Declaration of Independence, I studied the amendments to the Constitution, I contemplated the historic court cases we studied in Mr. Ireland’s American Government class like Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. the Board of Education. Finally, I perused the Emancipation Proclamation for good measure. I wanted to be prepared for whatever might be asked of me during my tenure as a juror. Stay tuned to the rest of this letter to find out how this all went.

This year I would like to share with you a cautionary tale about Credit Card Fraud. Did you know that many people’s credit information was stolen at some major businesses like Target, Home Depot, and PF Chang’s in 2014? Yeah, guess who some of those people are?

First of all, for the sake of this letter, you need to know that I always try to get something for nothing. I try to charge everything that I buy on my Hilton Honors Visa and then I take the accumulated points and turn them in for free hotel stays. It’s all part of a well-thought out plot to deal in some major travel perks. It’s not like I am a member of a crime syndicate or anything, I just like to score free hotel rooms. Don’t judge me, I’m a travel junkie.

I don’t like to brag or anything, but we do have Diamond status on Hilton Honors. You know what that means? It means that I get a free bottle of water on check in, sometimes two. You’re jealous, aren’t you? Frequently we get a parking spot under a street light and perhaps best of all, you might get a Toblerone candy bar. Perks, my Friends! Perks! Once, there was a sign by the check-in desk that said, “Welcome Michael Gries, our special guest of the night!” You can’t imagine how exciting that made our stay.

What is it like traveling with Mike and me? I’m not going to lie, it’s difficult. We are both Type A, first-born people who think that his/her way to do something is the best way. For example, neither one of us can trust our GPS. The chicanery used by the makers of the GPS incites violence between spouses on long car trips. Moreover, we cannot sit still at one location for more than a day; we are constantly on the go and there is no such thing as relaxation. In short, it is lucky that we are married to each other; it would have been a shame to ruin two other people’s lives who might have married us. Anyway, I’m glad to report that we are still consciously coupled after 27.5 years of marriage.

Our first trip this year was in January when Mike helped Will move to Redmond, Washington to start his job with Microsoft. While Mike was out there he used his Hilton Honors Visa at Target. Yes, this Target happened to be one of the stores whose credit card information was compromised. Therefore, after Mike came home he had to get a new credit card.

I flew to Seattle in April to help Will decorate and arrange his apartment in logical Mom-style. Why is it that I always make mistakes with the first born? Will has called me several times since asking where he might have cookie sheets or a hair dryer since apparently it is too much effort for him to actually rummage through his well-stocked cupboards to find them. It also means that I am now stuck locating his stuff from approximately 1835 miles away. Trust me, I’m not going to make the same mistake with Child #2 or #3.  If I’m anything, I’m teachable.

Emily (Child#2) continues our love of travel and she will be an exchange student in France starting in February 2015. Abby (Child #3) is doing well; she is still dragged along with us whenever we are on a road trip. Bless her heart; she is our only kid at home now.

Anyway, in late April I received a phone call asking me if I had used my Hilton Honors Visa in Illinois at an Auto Zone and a Jewel grocery store. The answer was no! So, I had to obtain a new credit card because it was my turn to be hacked. Dang, I had visited that same Target in Redmond as well as their local Home Depot. I also remembered that I had taken Will to a PF Chang’s for lunch. Of course!

Mike had a series of meetings in New Jersey in May so I went with him and toured parts of New York City that I had never seen. Mike then joined me for some vacation time and we saw things like the Broadway show Jersey Boys, the Flatiron Building, Grand Central Terminal, Fifth Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, and the New York Public Library. In a shocking turn of events, our credit card was not hacked.

In July we drove with our girls to visit Will. Mike was delighted to drive his sporty, small SUV; with that sportiness comes his delight in zipping through the mountains. One DOES NOT zip through the mountains; one should safely negotiate the twists and turns, keeping one’s hands at a respectable 10 and 2 on the steering wheel! Nope! Mario Andretti Gries was speeding through the mountains while I was popping Valium like they were Pez.

I see now that Mike and I are at cross-purposes. He likes to drive fast, I like to live.  While he zips, weaving on “S” curves, I grasp my door handle for dear life and pray the Rosary. I am not Catholic. Between clenched teeth I hissed at him what I was going to do to hurt him when we finally got to flat land. There is nothing like suffering from hot flashes and “S” curve sickness at the same time. Of course Mike thinks his way to drive is the best way, but this first born wife has something to say about that!

During our family trip I found my new favorite store, it is called “Sur la Table”. That is French for, “Korky Needs It”. It is a kitchen supply store. You cannot fathom my delight in all things culinary; I love every little kitchen gadget. I attempted to use my Hilton Honors Visa there to buy a lot of stuff, (we were driving! I could transport kitchen stuff in our car!) but they declined my card because we’d been hacked again! Once again I was on the phone with the Visa folks trying to get them to allow the use of my card, which they eventually did after I could tell them all my secret security info. Such info would be: which is your favorite lunch meat sandwich; what was the name of your first grade teacher; or, do you prefer chunky or smooth and should it be Skippy, Jif, or Peter Pan Peanut Butter?

Our final trip this year I tagged along to a business conference in October to Greenville, South Carolina. We spent two days there while Mike attended a conference and I shopped using my newest credit card. After Greenville we traveled to Charleston and Savannah where we spent a frenetic week steeped in American history, packing in as many sights  as we could before we were due in Atlanta to visit some dear friends. Even so, in our two remaining days in Atlanta we jammed in a visit to Margaret Mitchell’s home and Museum, the MLK National Historic Sites, the Atlanta History Center and Cyclorama, and a couple of famous restaurants. Whew! The Type A-people WIN!!!!!!  Wait, it’s a competition, right?

When we returned from our South Carolina trip Mike used his work Visa to pay for our parking at the Cedar Rapids airport. I wanted to use our Hilton Honors Visa because our luck was good; we hadn’t been hacked since our Seattle trip in July. But since Mike had to claim his parking under his expense report he used his work Visa. It was promptly hacked by someone who spent $2,000 in the Caribbean.

Do you know how many Hilton Honors hotel points I could have received for charging $2,000 worth of merchandise in the Caribbean? We will never know because Mr. Type A didn’t want to use our Hilton Honors Visa. If only he would have listened to me we could have used the Hilton Honors Visa, gotten the 2,000 points out of them, and THEN been hacked. Perhaps they would have forgotten and left those points   in our account for our next trip. Mike never listens to me; it’s part of his first-born stubbornness. He preferred to get hacked on another card.

Anyway, to help us relax we joined a Wine Club this year.  The owner of our local wine store is a really nice man who allows us to use our Hilton Honors Visa each time we visit and we have never been declined because of a compromised card. The wine helps us deal with our inability to relax on vacations and also to get over the stress of the constant sound of someone hacking into our credit card accounts. We all have our own coping mechanisms.

Eventually we wound down the year with my serving on that aforementioned trial.  Serving as a juror had been on my bucket list for many years so I was delighted to participate in our most important responsibility as an American citizen. I had hoped that I would be placed on a jury dealing with credit card fraud since I have so much knowledge, wisdom, and insight to offer the American judicial system on that topic.  Ironically, I was picked as a jury member on a trial that dealt with assault on a police officer.  How timely was that!?  People, you just cannot make up all this stuff, life is interesting!

Recently a friend asked how do all of these things happen to me?  All that I can tell you is that I am lucky and extremely BLESSED.  Please know that we feel blessed by your Friendship and Love this Christmas or Hanukkah or Whatever-You-Keep-in-Your-Heart, Season!  Best wishes to you and yours for a Healthy and Happy 2015!

December 2013



Happy Holidays!  It’s unusual to bring this up in a Christmas letter, but I think we know the main topic that we all have been talking about this year…no, it’s not Miley Cyrus, Fifty Shades of Grey, or twerking.  It’s Health Care.  I think that this Christmas letter would be the most perfect place to talk about my version of the Affordable Care Act, don’t you?

I’ve thought the matter over quite a lot this year and I have decided to take matters into my own hands.  I am going to need to create my own health care program.  That way if they cut our current plan I will know how to do our own surgeries and such.  I’ve been a Girl Scout, a Camp Fire Girl and also a Boy Scout, for goodness sakes, I guess I can do my own darn procedures if this health care thing tanks anymore than it already has.  I am Prepared!  Government scuzernment, who needs ‘em?

My Plan’s new slogan is “If you like your own health, you can keep your own health”.  To accomplish this all you have to do is buy some stuff at Wal-mart; they have many interesting products there for all your health care needs.  They have vitamins specifically designed for Healthy Legs.  Yogurt now contains something called,  “Bifidus Regularis” if you eat the kind like Activia.  What is Bifidus Regularis anyway?  The term alone is enough to make me contemplate eating the yogurt but if it’s good for my aging colon count me in!  In the TV commercial a gaggle of best friends dine on Activia in a restaurant.  How convenient, it’s group health care!  I like it!  There is a provision for Bifidus Regularis in my plan.

We went to a dinner party this year and one of the before dinner snacks was “Planter’s Digestive Health Mix- with Fiber to promote digestive health”.   Something has drastically changed with the friends we run with.  These are the same people who I know back in the day power slammed, with wanton abandon, entire bags of Flaimin’ Hot Cheetos and then chased them down with Grey Goose vodka.  Hmmmm.  I wonder if they have discovered Bifidus Regularis?  That’s gotta help cool things down a bit.

This year, I consistently heard phrases from my friends and my health care professionals like the more birthdays you have, or as you mature or as you age.  I am on to their shenanigans!  These hints are supposed to be diplomatic and polite ways of communicating that you are getting old.  They always qualify the procedure they are suggesting you consider, like, “Well, do you really need teeth on that side of your jaw?  At your age, you have to ask yourself is the cost of replacement really worth the benefit.”  So, for example, if you enjoy a great steak you might actually enjoy the experience more if you can chew the food yourself.   Instead of putting the meat through a food processor to turn it into a Filet Mignon Smoothie, here’s a novel idea: let’s use our teeth to chew since at my age, I still think teeth are a want AND a need.   In my version of dental health care it’s off to Wal-mart to get some dental floss, fluoride rinse and Anbesol to ward off an emergency.

Anyway, enough about health care, here is our news for the year:  we traveled all over the globe in 2013!  In June, Mike and I, Emily and Abby took a much anticipated trip to Europe to visit France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.  Will had been offered an internship position at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington (Seattle) so he made the decision to stay behind to work and earn some experience.   You and I would call that staying behind to earn some money.  We were sad to not have him with us, but it was a great opportunity for Will.

We had spent a lot of time and effort planning the best sights, museums, and cathedrals to visit but the girls will both tell you that the best thing that they saw in Paris was Conan O’Brien.  Emily is well known in our family for her prowess in sighting animals in the wild – deer on the edge of a forest, eagles hidden in a tree, and 6’4” tall, red-headed talk show hosts walking under the Eiffel Tower.  He was stealthily disguised by wearing dark sunglasses so he blended in with all the other deer and eagles that were lurking there.  He was really friendly as he posed for pictures with our girls; at their ages running into Conan was the highlight of the trip.

Will graduates from the University of Iowa on December 21st, 2013. His majors are Computer Science and Political Science; miraculously, he is graduating with Honors.  Soon after graduation he will be moving to Seattle to begin a full time position with Microsoft.  He is quite delighted for this new opportunity and of course we are equally delighted to get him off of our dole and to get his stuff out of our closets.  Woohoo!!  One down, two to go!

Will is pictured on our Christmas card as a water skier, but again, let’s be clear: he did not accompany us to Europe and he is not actually a water skier, although he looks very professional on the Christmas card, if I do say so myself.  He requested that I remove him from the family card since he is starting his own life now; in retaliation I am not above using Photo Shop.  Yeah, this is what happens when you ask your mom to cut you from the family photo. I just want you all to know that we still have a first-born child; however, apparently moving forward he will not be appearing with great regularity on the family holiday card.

Emily graduated in May and started college at Iowa State University in August.  After graduation, she took a trip with her friend Mali and her family to stay in a condo at Estes Park, CO.  I had the pleasure of answering the phone when she called me screaming, “Bearrrrrrr!!!!”   It turns out the girls were sitting one evening on the condo’s front steps when they were surprised by an approaching large black bear.  What should you NOT do in this case? Take the time to CALL YOUR MOM!!!  Anyway, she wasn’t mauled or anything so please don’t worry, that would be an entirely different kind of holiday letter.  Since I’ve matured as a mother I’ve learned that once the screaming stops it’s still probably okay as long as you can hear running noises.   Obviously since I am unaccustomed to dealing with bear maulings it would test my ability to apply some in-home health care.   There are challenges to every system.

Abby is a sophomore in high school this year and she is glad that Emily has gone to ISU because Abby now has a car to drive.  I think she enjoys being the only child at home but since she is never home I would not know.   Abby is involved in many clubs at Linn Mar and she volunteers at the local hospital.  She enjoys girl’s track and she recently started weight lifting to train for the track season and to tone and sculpt her bony 96 lb frame.  At her age she is burning more calories than she can possibly take in; I just try to have a food handy in the fridge for her whenever she decides to appear.  I know that she still lives here because the food disappears, the laundry piles up, and the money that I keep in my purse vanishes.

As many of you know, my parents now live here in Marion and we spend a lot of time with them.  My mom fell twice this year and it was decided by her doctors that she needed to have two new knees.  If she had just taken those Wal-Mart brand vitamins for Healthy Legs we might not be in this situation, but you know how parents are: the more birthdays they have the more you can’t tell them anything.  She had her first successful knee replacement on October 18th and she is scheduled to have the second surgery on December 11th which happens to be my dad’s 82nd birthday.  They will stay here with us while she recuperates- specifically so I can dose her up with some of that Bifidus Regularis.  I’m into the whole body approach of healing in my health care program.

As he matures Mike is doing well.  He still works at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids and he and I continue to enjoy traveling and wine as hobbies.  When we can marry those two interests we are deliriously happy, such as our France trip or a wine vacation that we took to the central coast of California in October.  We look at Will moving to Washington as a way for us to have a west coast base to explore the second largest wine producing state in the country.  Life is good!!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!