Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Epic (fail) of GCI Alaska


Below, please find the contents of a Microsoft Notebook file that I have been composing throughout the day:

Well, it's been a while since postings on this blog have wound down from a crawl, to a drip, to a nothing. I suppose I should apologize, but as anyone who knows me is aware, I haven't given up on filling everyone in on the mundane details of my existence. I've just changed forums. After constantly updating Facebook and twitter, there always seems little left to package up into an original blog post.

But today I need to post about a topic that will take me longer than 140 characters.

The latest chapter in our ongoing, now 4-month loathe/hate relationship with GCI, has prompted me to put the whole story (or at least as much as I can accurately remember, with my notes from phone calls, etc) into writing. Mostly as catharsis, but also as fair warning. Yes, GCI has a monopoly in Bethel, so if you want cable, a cell phone, and internet (though there you have a couple other options, I believe), you'll have to deal with them...but be afraid. Be very afraid.

Sara and I got our cell phones this spring in Nunapitchuk. It was an exciting time, as GCI had just put up a cell antenna, and this was the very first time such "big city" technology was going to be availiable in the village. The representative set up camp in the community building, and residents flocked over to sign up for their contracts and get their phones. I headed over after work, got in line, and after 45 minutes of waiting we were told that the reason the line wasn't moving was that the coverage was down, and that we could stay in line or come back in a bit. This wasn't the first time that day the cell coverage was out, and the reps weren't able to call in and activate new phones. In retrospect, this should have been my first hint at what was to come, but the tech was new there, so there were bound to be bugs, right? Well after getting to the head of the line, watching people be told they were going to need to put down 4, 5, 600 dollar deposits (which I totally understand, by the way), I signed up...only to be told they were now out of phones. Well, not out of phones, exactly...the representative, seeing the results of my credit check, began a "hard sell", trying to get me to "just go ahead and get a blackberry". When I asked (already knowing the answer) if the service to support data was even availiable in the village, he said "well no, but it will be someday!"

Really? So I should purchase a $300 smartphone that won't even work to make calls in the village half the time, in preparation for whenever GCI brings data service to this village? What are the odds that such a thing will happen before this particular model is hopelessly out-of-date? But I digress...

We waited, called Anchorage, got our phones by mail, and they worked about as well as we would have expected in the village. That is to say, not always, but at least as often as out land line, and without the 8-second delay. So we were happy. Then came summer, back in WI, where the service map correctly told us we'd have service in our hometown and points north, but none at all once we ventured 10 miles south. Trips to Madison and Wisconsin Dells confirmed this...no problem, it was expected. Odd things with out phones, though - some folk's text messages wouldnt come through, while other people couldn't call us, only txt, and others would try calling us only to get an error as "invalid number". All calls had a 5-8 second delay. When I asked about this while later on the line with a particularly competant GCI tech, they mentioned this was most likely the fault of whichever service ran the particular towers we were bouncing off of not recognizing GCI phones or their setup, which sounds plausable considering I can't imagine Verizon in Central WI has much use by cell phones from Alaska. GCI gets a pass on that, in my book.

Then in August, we head back up to Alaska and move into Bethel. Hub town, lots of services, obvious the cell service would be better than in the village, right? Heh. This is where it gets interesting.

To date, I have not made a single call from my home lasting longer than 5 minutes that has not been "dropped". And that's when I'm lucky enough to be able to make a call. Often, dialing and pressing send gets a "BEEP BEEP BEEP" and a big red error message on my phone. The specific error rotates: "NETWORK BUSY" is most common, with "UNABLE TO COMPLETE CALL" and "NETWORK ERROR" also making appearances. Now, I know what you're thinking...how's the signal strength in your house? Well, as I sit here at my computer desk typing this, my phone is next to me, showing 4 bars. It was showing 4 bars throughout my conversation with a GCI tech this morning, during the course of which the call dropped and he called me back 4 times (I have taken to asking, first thing when I get on with a human, for them to call me back if we get disconnected. It works.) Now, mind you, this didn't stop a GCI Cell Tech from sounding annoyed and suggesting that I just stand by the window or go outside whenever I want to make a phone call. Dispite the fact that I told him I had 4 bars and that I wasn't convinced signal strength was the issue. Oh well.

This would be a good place for me to interject that the bright spot in my whole interaction with GCI has been their 1-800 line customer service reps and techs. I would say that 75% of the ones that I've talked to have tried to be helpful, and even when they couldn't (and usually after having to call me back 8 or 9 times in the course of a 15 minute converation) they've been very sympathetic, saying they couldn't *believe* how bad my service was, how they'd never heard anything like it, etc etc. One even managed to put a $100 credit to our account for the trouble, which was nice, considering our bills are currently in the $150-$180 range for cell and internet combined. Now if only they could get something done about maybe letting us be able to use it.

Anyways, to shorten up the story of everything leading up to today, we've been struggling to use our phones. After complaining on twitter (much as I intend to now, after today's incident), I was contacted by the very nice, helpful person in charge of the GCIAK twitter account, who forwarded my information and problem to a Cell Help Desk specialist(?), I think, named Michael Lane(?)...the reason those are currently uncertain is because I can't access my email at the moment to confirm them. Anyways, Mr. Lane was extremely helpful and informative about the situation in Bethel, and told me that there were some tower upgrades going on, and asked for some feedback as to how they improved my service. It was marginally better for a few weeks, but as the Internet Tech I spoke to this morning and who had to call me back a nuber of times because the "network was too busy for my call" at 8:45am can attest...that improvement is no longer.

So that gets us to now...our cell phones suck, but they are what they are. Internet is expensive, and the transfer limits archaic for current browsing, but we stay off of youtube, don't download much, and just suck it up and pay the overage when we ultimately go over by a couple gigs a month. Then, yesterday. Heh. Well, our internet just plain stops working. Power-cycle the modem a few times, it's fine, no errors, all lights are good, no firewall issues, no hardware issues, went outside and checked the cable line into the house...it's fine. My first thought was that there was an outage, as happens sometimes...it would suck, but there are other things to do rather than check my email, so no big deal. I wait a few hours, try again, still no luck. Try calling the Bethel GCI office, first two times my phone disconnects before the call rings twice. Third time, "NETWORK BUSY". Fourth time, it's ringing! And ringing...and ringing...no answer. At 3:45pm on a Tuesday. I chalk it up to "it's Bethel" and txt Sara, to see if she can try calling from work while I try the 1-800 number in Anchorage. She gets ahold of someone at the Bethel office who curt and annoyed, tells her there's no outage and we should just turn the modem off and back on again. Thanks. Meanwhile, I have no luck getting my phone to call Anchorage, so I decide to just let it sit unplugged overnight and hope things resolve themselves.

This morning, same thing. Internet connects for maybe 10 seconds, then freezes, "limited to no connectivity". Boo. So, I wait until after 8 and call the 1-800 number to talk to GCI internet tech support. Not to much of a hold at this hour, so I get a tech quickly and tell him my usual "if you lose me, can you call me back?" schpiel. Explain the situation, he runs through a couple things, it's all good, he puts me on hold while he talks to some people. Call drops, he calls me back, and has some interesting news. Our modem has been shut off for non-payment. Mind you, I pay my bills online, have emailed confirmations, recipts, and entries in my checkbook program and on our bank statement SHOWING exactly when and for how much we made our payments. Here's where the frustration turns to absurdity and hilarity. What have we not paid? Our cable television bill! We do not have cable television. In fact, we pay an extra $7.99 a month "cable access fee" on our internet bill specifically BECAUSE we do not have cable TV. I explain this to the internet tech, who is instant messaging different people at GCI in customer service, etc (i'm not sure), and they all agree something is seriously messed up, but that the "shutoff" was initiated in the Bethel GCI office, so he isn't able to do anything right away, he has to leave a message for the people in Bethel.

So that's where I stand with GCI Alaska right now. Despite the troubles we've been having with service, I've been paying my bills on time, using their online "my ebill" system, getting recipts, bank statements, never a word of problem...only to have them shut off my internet for non-payment of a service they do not provide me.

It's 10:40am here in Bethel as I'm tying this. I got off the phone with the internet tech (whose name I sadly cannot remember at the moment, because he was excellent) about an hour and a half ago. He told me he'd do whatever he could to get this mess resolved ASAP and give me a call back. As I'm not going to be able to post this text/manifesto until I get internet back, I will continue to update below if/when anything happens.


*UPDATE* - 11:15am: Nothing from GCI yet, no call and internet not working. Interestingly, just was told by my wife by txt that of the handfull of people around her in her office, two have had similar billing problems with GCI here in Bethel. Now that I think of it, it isn't our first billing problem with them here, they charged us double for installation on our September bill, and double rates for our first month. Not sure that even ever got resolved on our account. I remember calling Anchorage, having a CSR there look at my account, and say "what the heck are they doing at that office there?"

*UPDATE* - 3:12pm: RESOLUTION! So get this. After not hearing from them by 2:15pm, ww decide Sara would call the Bethel office to see if anything had been resolved. She texts me, while still on the phone with them, "they say we never paid a connection fee!" So as you can imagine (see my previous update, re: being DOUBLE CHARGED for a connection fee), this gets me pretty darn hopping mad. I call Anchorage. The CSR, Stephanie, is very nice and helpful, and reads through all the notes on my account, and as far as she can figure, the error has been corrected and our internet has been turned back on as of 11:20am...yet I still have no internet. She forwards me to Rick over in Internet Tech support, who magically zaps my modem and bingo, back online.

Now back to the subject of the mysterious unpaid connection fee. Remember the connection fee of $24.99 we were double billed for in September, the one i mentioned above with the billing problems? That I then called and had corrected by the good folks in Anchorage who couldn't figure out how the Bethel office had screwed up the billing? Yeah, that was for "Internet Setup"...apparently, according to the good folks in the Bethel office, there's another $26.99 connection fee for CABLE SERVICE, even though we don't have cable, and already paid the internet setup fee. Apparently when you set up "Cable Internet", they charge you for each word seperately.

Why didn't we pay this Cable Service set up fee, you ask? Because we never got a bill. Why didn't we get a bill, you ask?? Because the cable billing is ON AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT COMPUTER SYSTEM THAN THE INTERNET/PHONE BILLING SYSTEM, AND SINCE WE DON'T HAVE CABLE TV, THEY DIDN'T HAVE OUR INFORMATION! That's right, the global communication company can't even get it's Cable Department to communicate with the Cell phone and Internet department. They didn't have our address, didn't have our phone number (our GCI cell phone number, I remind you), and as such, simply waited 'til the time had passed when we were far enough past due on our cable setup fee and shut off the cable line to out internet modem.

The genius of this system surpasses anything my mind is able to comprehend.

But at the moment, since my internet is back up and running (thank you un-named tech from this morning, Stephanie, and Rick in Anchorage), I'm going to click "save" on this notepad file, and get to posting. I'd promise more updates later, but god I hope not...

*UPDATE* - 4:37pm: Wow! So the Internet Tech that I spoke to first thing this morning - his name is Carl, by the way...I had forgotten that earlier - called back to follow up. I told him how things played out this afternoon. He did some checking in the notes on my account, with his supervisor sitting beside him checking along, and decided that they need to send a message to Bethel and the CSRs. Apparently, the way Bethel Office explained it to Sara (separate fees for hooking up cable and internet when you're only getting internet) is NOT how it's supposed to be done. And that emphasis is his, not mine. When I told him the Bethel office had waived the late fees and was sending a bill for the "overdue" $26, he asked "Oh, so you haven't paid that yet? Good. I'm going to personally make sure this gets figured out and we get your charges on your account right."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Video Dump!

So! Facebook video uploads are still not playing nice with our internet, so we have a minor backload of videos from the last couple weeks. Mind if we throw them all into one big post? K, here ya go:

Here's Loki out for a swim this morning, dodging chunks of river ice...

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Here's Isaac walking home from school Thursday afternoon...

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And now some from the Bethel trip. First, a video of our transportation to and from the airport :-P...

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Isaac spent an entire day continuously running around the Yurt, destroying everything within his reach...here's a sample...

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And finally, a quick one of us taking off from Bethel, heading home!

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

A brief AK political update...

After reading yesterday that our dear Governor's approval ratings have dropped once again, now down to 54%, an interesting article posted today that helps explain why still over half of the residents of this state are still eating up Sarah's b.s. sandwiches:


Now that's some quality stuff, huh? The title alone was enough to make me lose my (yummy) Bethel Subway lunch. Mind you, this is the same "newspaper" that published an "article" by the CEO of a mining company last year, extolling the virtues of the new proposed mining project. But it's not just the little publications, the largest paper in the state and the most popular local network's evening news are often using the same kinds of ass-kissy, hometown hero, "she's our girl!" kinds of spins on their stories. Not editorials...pieces of supposed news.

In reality, I guess I should be impressed that 46% of Alaskans have managed to see through the smokescreen. Given what a "big deal" her V.P. nomination was, and how she put Alaska "on the map", she must be scared shitless at this point that her approval rating has dipped to where it is. Maybe people are noticing that while Alaska is facing a ton of vitally important issues at the moment, she's been too busy forming legal defense funds, forming her own P.A.C, and using state funds to travel the country on the paleo-religious-conservative meeting circuit. Not to mention farming out the trainwreck her extended family has become.

Ok, rant over. Watch for a Bethel trip report :-)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Muchly with the Videos

Because we seem to have found our niche with the recent video postings...

The first one is Isaac playing with his soccer ball a week ago or so:

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And this is Isaac walking around outside on the boardwalk for the first time this afternoon:

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No, Alanis...

Not ironic (dontcha think?), just bummeriffic timing.

So of course, the weekend after we sell the snowmachine, I have no fewer than three people ask me if I want to go along hunting with them. Where were they last weekend? Ugh.

Though I suppose the family we sold the machine to hasn't actually given us any money for it yet, so I should just call them and ask to use it...but I'm a little too socially awkward to do that. Besides, I'm sure they're out on it hunting anyway.

Ah, spring on the tundra.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another Video..

Well, I guess if I can't do a lot of blogging, at least I can post videos, right?

Here's Isaac playing his game of the day (for Thursday)..."I run, and they chase me!"

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P.S. Please pardon the messy state of our house...moving soon, ya know...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sprung!

Spring, I mean...not in the Sir-Mix-Alot usage. Though have you seen that BK commercial? Disturbing...

So yeah, I've obviously been lured away from the at-length blogging here by the micro-blogging miracles that are Facebook and Twitter. Though if you're reading this, you're probably a Facebook friend, and maybe even a Twitter-er. If you are on Twitter and don't have me there, I'm shibby917. Hook a brotha up.

Not much to update here that hasn't been covered elsewhere...in the last month we've played Trivia (Dad's = 2nd place to Network. Look out next year...), made and then broken plans for a visit to SoCal, watched spring struggle to arrive on the Y-K Delta, started (barely) getting ready for our big move to Bethel, and done a lot of chasing an 11 month old destruction machine around the house. Good times.

Ok, I must warn you...there's a video here. It's really boring, most likely, unless you're related to this little bugger. Also, he was running around nekkid last night before his bath when he opened up his early bday gifts from grandma, grandpa, and Auntie Laverne...so if you're at all offended by baby-wang, don't click play. Indeed, I probably wouldn't have posted it here, if it weren't for the fact that Google Video has now stopped offering direct uploads (where I would normally have uploaded this, marked it as unpublished family video and just sent a link to grandparents), and I can't access youtube from here, so on the blog it goes for all the world to see. I apologize to Ike in advance for future embarrassment/trauma/therapy, and if anyone feels I should take it down, just let me know :-P


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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hey look!

We made the news!

Breakfast

The thought process of Ike eating breakfast, as interpreted and narrated by an interested observer:

Ooh, look, cheerios on the coffee table! Jackpot!

*nom nom nom*

Hey, the dog is on the couch, within arms reach, cool!

*nom nom nom*

I bet the dog would like these cheerios, too! One for me *chomp*, one for the dog while I'm chewing, to keep me entertained

Hmm, dad saw my plan and sent Loki to sit in his kennel 'til I'm done. Now what do I do? I was having fun giving Loki cheerios...I know, I'll pick one up, walk to the kennel, and give it to the dog!

*nom*

Hmm, every time I try carrying it over, I end up eating it before i get there. This is a problem.

I know!

*grabs handful, walks to kennel while eating cheerios out of semi-closed fist*

Here you go Loki!!!

*giggle maniacally, return to table for additional fistful of cheerios*

*repeat for 20 minutes until cheerios are gone*

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hibernation

So you know what the problem is? Too damn many social networking sites. By the time I get done posting pictures and "status updates" on Facebook, not to mention Twitter now, there's really nothing left to come here and write a blog update on without being redundant. Seriously, is this form of blogging becoming obsolete? It might be, at least for me...

But! In the interest of trying to not go, oh, a full month between posts, here's an update. Because really, there has been news.

First off, we spent last weekend in Anchorage! Well, a long weekend, that made up our abbreviated Spring Break. We headed in on Wednesday evening, by snowmachine because the weather (of course) wouldn't let our chartered plane fly out to get us. Once we got to Bethel, sore and soaking wet, we discovered that the jet from Anchorage was actually going to come in for the first time in two days! Buoyed by the news we might actually make it out, we trucked over to the nearest diner to have some supper and kill the few hours 'til the plane was to arrive. Then, the scariness began. We were traveling some friends/coworkers and their baby, same flights, same hotel, everything. After we ate (and only a couple minutes after Sara, Ike and I had started to walk back to the terminal while our friends got ready), our friend had a seizure and collapsed, while her husband frantically called for an ambulance. It's astonishingly lucky that this happened while we were in Bethel, where there's actual medical care available, as if it ha happened in the village they would have had to rely on help to fly out, which in the weather would have been nearly impossible. So...while Sara, Isaac and I got word of this, let the airline know that their bags needed to come off the plane, etc., and flew to Anchorage on our regularly scheduled flight, our friends were taken to the hospital, and then on to Anchorage a few hours behind us on a medivac flight. Unreal.

So, our weekend in Anchorage was a combination of relaxing, sobering, productive, and adventurous. We helped our friends as much as we could, did some shopping, ate some good food, drank some good beer, and generally did what bush teachers do when they head into the big city. We even got memberships at Sam's Club, filled a cart, and braved the "bush order" process. Our boxes are supposedly on the way, but I'll let you know how that goes :-P

As for other big news...it's LKSD Shuffle season. Contract time. Our version of the hot stove league. The time of year when gossip is afoot about who's leaving, who's changing sites, who's moving up in the world and who's giving up and going home to the lower 48 to lick their wounds. Well, as you may have known, Sara's position has been eliminated for next year. Nothing to do with anything, other than the fact that the district had apparently used the wrong funding for the program, and has to alter the way the job gets done. Not a huge deal, since all the teachers in those positions are pretty much guaranteed jobs either at their sites or elsewhere in the district if they so desire, but it has made "shuffle season" a little extra shuffly this year.

As for what Sara plans on doing, we had (or so we thought) a few options. One of the potential jobs was as a teacher coach, basically teaching teachers how to fill in the blanks left by the fact that the ELD positions were going bye-bye. Then there was the option of simply taking a regular teaching job, either here in Nunap or elsewhere in the district. This is pretty much where we thought we were headed, with a sweet, sweet spot in Oscarville with one of our good friends at a great, small school only a stone's throw from Bethel. Until....Sara heard about an opening for a jig at the District Office in Bethel, and was encouraged to apply. For various reasons, we assumed this was sort of a pie in the sky, not really plausible, "hey, I'm gonna do this just to practice my interviewing skills" kind of job application.

Turns out....she got the job. We're moving to Bethel.

I can't even wrap my brain around what this means, both in terms of challenges and advantages. The Cliffs Notes version from our "very serious discussion" about whether we wanted to take the job and move "into town"? Here we go.

Cons: Moving sucks (but we were going to have to do that no matter what), we'll have to buy a car, we have to find (and pay for, at Bethel prices) our own housing, Sara stepping into the unknown re: working at the D.O. and we'll have to live at a more "real world" pace...no more laid back lifestyle of the village, where most days the big decision is whether or not to hit up the Post Office and the store on the way home from work. It's amazing how stress free life can be where there is simply nothing to do.

Pros: Access to stores and restaurants, easier travel (it basically removes a step), stuff to do, hosting friends from the villages, work/volunteer opportunities for me, easier for people to come visit from the lower 48, access to a vet (not to mention our own, human, medical care), and a downright cool, quirky community.

Yeah, the decision was scary (as are it's implications), but it wasn't all that tough to make. Bethel ho!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yes, we are huge nerds.

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And if that's not enough, here's a link to an even better video...at least for the Grandmas in the audience ;-)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Customer Service Fun

After a few months of finagling and more emails than she probably cares to count, Sara succeeded this week in bringing fresh, organically grown produce to the village. No, she didn't plant a garden. She did, however, coordinate to get Nunapitchuk as a drop-off site for Full Circle Farm. So now, instead of hoping to have a few bruised apples and sad looking onions (if anything) to pick through at the store, we will get glorious fruits and veggies delivered once a week! Needless to say, we're quite excited...not to mention eating like royalty.

We had another successful - if slightly more frustrating - customer service victory this week, involving trying to take advantage of the new cell phone service here in the village. Recently, GCI put up a tower, and after seeing cell phones on TV and all around them when they visit Bethel or Anchorage, people here have all jumped on the cell phone bandwagon. It's a good thing, in a way, as many of the Search and Rescue missions that are currently conducted for people who have gitten turned around or run out of gas between villages will probably be reduced if people are able to call for help.

But anyways, GCI started cell service here recently, and came out to the village for a day a couple months ago an signed a bunch of people up. After hearing about this, we had discussed calling the company and getting signed up, not knowing if the reps would come back out. I actually called them a week ago to ask a few questions about the service, but as it turns out they came back on Wednesday, and I headed over as soon as I could to try to get signed up. Well, when I got to the community building, there were a bunch of people already waiting, so I got a form to fill out, and had a seat. Well, as it turned out, they were at a standstill because their tower and network were "down" (good sign, huh?), and we were all sitting around waiting for the reps to be able to call in credit checks. Yeah. Once the network came back up, I spent an hour waiting around for people to get their credit checked, have it come back bad, and argue with the reps about having to pay hundreds of dollars in deposits to get a phone. So. By time I got to talk to a rep, they were out of the phones we wanted, and the rep was (and this is a gross understatement) not at all helpful. Add to that the fact that he kept calling me "bro", trying to sell me a Blackberry even though the tower here doesn't support data service, and I just asked him for my paperwork back and walked out. So after wasting a few hours waiting in the community building, I just decided to call the 800-number and try to get phones that way. After talking to a couple people and getting disconnected (again with the good signs from a phone company), Sara and I have cell phones on the way that will replace our crappy landline here, and work just fine (in theory) back in WI.

So numbers will be forthcoming :-)

(special note: This entry was written, about a sentence at a time, over the course of 5 hours today. Please blame any repetition, logical leaps, and disjointed writing on NPR, Loki, Isaac, and a Zach Galifianakis TV special.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

On CNN

CNN: In rural Alaska villages, families struggle to survive

I wonder if any of this attention is thanks to our lovely Governor's new national profile?

Unfortunately, she's too busy setting up her Political Action Committee and trying to figure out how to keep her name in the national headlines to actually do anything productive.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Well THERE'S yer problem!"

So yeah, when they tell you to be careful about over-reving your snowmachine when the track's frozen, because you might ruin your belt...

They're not kidding.

Good thing we're S-M-R-T and keep a spare around! (though now we have to order a replacement for the spare...but at least we can still bum around for now :-P)

You know what's tough?

Getting back on the blogging train once you've missed a whole bunch of time. Especially over the holidays and beginning of a semester when there is really SO much blogworthy stuff to catch up on, that it just keeps getting more and more daunting.

So you keep slacking.

But fear not, dear readers...I will take up the challenge. For now, here are links to 2 photo galleries that are posted on Facebook but available for all you non-facebookers to see :-P