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!

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