Sunday, January 24, 2010

Unsociable. De-networked.

The dust has all but settled after this past week's Adventures in Hacking. The only remaining fallout has been that Facebook disabled my account on Tuesday and has yet to reinstate it.

On the one hand, I'm sort of annoyed about this, because I followed the recommended steps and sent an e-mail right after the account was disabled, and then a follow-up three days later, and I still haven't heard a word back from them. Not so much as an automated "thanks for your inquiry, we're looking into it" e-mail. I think it's poor customer service at the very least.

On the other hand, it's a little bit of an eye-opener for me being cut off from my "social networking" world. Until this week, I don't think I realized how often I used Facebook as a time-killer or tool for procrastination. As much as I enjoy finding out what my friends are up to at all random times of day, and I truly have enjoyed reconnecting with some folks I don't otherwise interact with very often, I don't know that the time I spend on Facebook could really be considered quality time.

My days tend to be divided into chunks. I work at least part of two or three days each week outside the home, and I have lots of little tasks to complete in support of that work in between. I go to class one or two nights a week, with reading in between. When I'm home, I take care of MLM when he's awake and do some minimal housework while he's napping. And as for writing and reading for pleasure, taking care of myself, and relaxing.... well, it all happens in between.

So given that most of my life occurs in the "in between," it's not hard to see why the appeal of Facebook is so irresistible. MLM falls asleep mid-day and I find myself with an unknown quantity of time in front of me -- it could be ten minutes or an hour and a half. It's hard to plan when you don't know how long you have, or it's the end of the day and you're totally drained, so I often cruise for the low-hanging intellectual fruit: checking e-mails and invariably following some link into the world of Facebook.

The next thing I know, it's thirty minutes to two hours later and I'm sitting in the same spot on the couch, lost in a sea of updates, funny videos, vacation photos, Bejeweled Blitz scores, etc. Which would be fine, if that were what I'd set out to do with those thirty minutes or two hours. As it is, the feeling that most often washes over me is a sort of resigned regret. I've done it again: passively given over my time to the world of social networking and forfeited another opportunity to work on those other things that more often than not would rank far higher on my list of priorities.

So, along with the drawbacks of being locked out of Facebook, there's some benefit, too. I have noticed this week that instead of killing time on FB, I have been able to "waste" my time in more interesting and stimulating ways -- like brushing up on The Charge of the Light Brigade. (Don't ask me why). And once or twice, I've actually been inspired to close the computer and do something else entirely. Imagine that.

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Specifics on the Hacking Thing

Now that I've recovered from some of the panic from earlier today, I thought I'd try to distill down as much as I know about what happened to my account(s) so that anyone reading this can be on the lookout for similar problems in their own e-mail accounts.

This was NOT, as I originally thought, a virus. The problem was never on my computer (at least as far as I know so far - and thanks to my awesome brother-in-law for helping me diagnose that). What happened to me today was online identity theft, and my hope is that it was more a huge hassle than any actual destruction.

That said, the hassle DID take up my whole day, and I'm still concerned that someone may have lost money because of this garbage, or that some personal information of mine might've been compromised. Anyway, enough people have been thoroughly shocked at the depth and cunning of what seemed like a simple virus at first, that I thought a more thorough warning might be helpful.

So, here's what happened:
  • Early this morning, someone hacked into my gmail account. I've never given out my password, and I didn't fall for a phishing scam. There was some kind of security breach with my gmail password.
    [I should point out here that I made the careless mistake of keeping the same password for a very long time, and that I do use the same password for lots of non-financial accounts, like gmail.
    Someone more knowledgeable than I in this arena has pointed out that since this "London Scam" has been around (I've seen accounts of it as early as last May) some technorati fingers have been pointing at Facebook for the security breach, which Facebook apparently denies. According to my internet-wise friend, the theory is that the scam artists stole a whole bunch of passwords from somewhere, and have been holding onto them and slowly meting out this lovely lesson ever since. So, if you are reading this and haven't changed your e-mail password in a month or so, go do it now. Go ahead. We'll wait. Done? Good.]

  • Once the hackers were in my gmail account, they changed my password to lock me out. Then they sent out an e-mail to many of my contacts, claiming to be me, and claiming that I'd been robbed at gunpoint in London and needed money. I've noticed as the day wears on that they mostly contacted people who are not on my "most frequent contacts" list, the ones who I e-mail daily and would obviously know I'm not in London.
  • While in gmail, they also used my gmail-based Instant Messenger to contact friends of mine who were online, still pretending to be me and claiming to be in a library in London with only a passport. I find this especially creepy.
  • The hackers then created a fake e-mail address using my name at "" and put it in my gmail account as the 'alternate' e-mail. They set my account to forward any incoming e-mails (like those of concerned friends wanting to help, for example) to this fake account and to delete them from my gmail. So, when I used google's account recovery system to get into my gmail account, it almost looked like nothing had happened - they deleted all the sent e-mails and any incoming e-mails were being automatically forwarded.
  • They also changed my security settings and put in a Nigerian cell phone number as my "password recovery option" - so when they locked me out of my gmail and I tried to use the automated system to reset the password, they received a text message notification so that they could jump in and beat me to the punch. I don't know about you, but these aren't things I immediately knew to look for when I got back into my e-mail the first time (instead, I started trying to send out warning e-mails to my contacts).
  • In addition to trolling through my gmail contacts, they also found all the other e-mail addresses I have connected to that account and tried to hack into those as well. I got a notification from yahoo asking me to confirm that I'd added a new e-mail address (which I hadn't), and fortunately I was quick enough to get in and fix that before they did too much damage on that account. They did, however, manage to change my contact information!
  • In the meantime, they used their access to my gmail account to get to my facebook page. I use a completely different password for facebook, but since they had access to my e-mail, all they had to do was go to facebook, click to reset the password, and then change it to their own.
  • They also created another e-mail account in my name, this one just like my yahoo account, but with one extra letter before the @. They added this fake account to my facebook page; and then deleted the e-mail that facebook automatically generates letting you know that changes have been made to your account. If I hadn't trolled through my gmail trash later, I never would've known that they did this. As it was, I was locked out of Facebook all day until I found that e-mail (and of course they were not only e-mailing my FB friends but also instant messaging with those who were online --- asking for money).
That's what happened. I've put it all in, step by step, so that my dear readers can get a sense for how clever (and thorough) these folks were in trying to extort money from my friends and colleagues. Not only did they hack in, they created two brand new e-mail addresses designed to mimic my own and spent lots of time tracking down my friends. They also had to be attentive to when I was attempting to recover and reset passwords. This was not just a random phishing scam, these folks really made an effort to steal my identity and represent themselves as me.

So, here's what I did:
  • I used Google's account recovery form to get back into my account (twice) via my yahoo account, and the second time, I waited for the first possible chance to get in and then quickly: changed my password to one much harder to duplicate, deleted all alternate e-mails from my profile, and deleted the Nigerian cell phone number from my password recovery options.
  • I changed the passwords on all my often-used social/e-mail sites, and on the sites for my financial institutions
  • I updated my friends and family via social networking, blogging, phone calls and (when possible) e-mail
  • Did a "deep scan" on my computer (again, thanks to my brother-in-law) to make sure I am virus-free
And here's what I am still working on:
  • Going through my e-mail accounts looking for passwords and/or login information that might have been vulnerable while the hackers had access to my email account. Deleting those e-mails once I've updated the information elsewhere.
  • Exporting my seldom-used contacts to a spreadsheet so that I can delete them from my e-mail account but still have them if I need them again.
  • I'm considering decentralizing some of my e-mail functions - while it's convenient having everything in one place, it also makes me pretty vulnerable
  • Credit freezes: since I don't know how far this "identity theft" actually goes, and I've seen how determined these bad guys are, we're calling the credit bureaus to have them freeze our credit. Clark Howard says it's a good idea anyway, and this little incident is just a good reminder....
  • Counting my blessings. I have to say I felt pretty violated today, but watching the news reports about the devastation in Haiti reminds me to keep even major annoyances like this one in perspective.
Some changes I'm hoping to make in the future:
  • Changing passwords more often
  • Deleting more e-mails (instead of just archiving), especially those with any kind of login information
  • Creating an offline, protected list of login names and passwords that I can maintain and update frequently
  • Stop using the same or similar passwords when I register for new websites or shop online. I've always done this because it makes it easier to remember, but I'll just have to go with a different system instead.
And.... what else? I'd love to hear suggestions from those more expert than I.

Be careful out there!

Hacking Scam (I Just Wasn't Myself Today)

Well, I guess the Universe noticed my hubris in my last blog entry this morning and decided to take me down a notch... Right after I posted, someone hacked into my gmail, yahoo and facebook accounts. Someone claiming to me and claiming to be stuck in London needing money just spammed my entire address book and changed all my passwords for me (wasn't that nice?). They also not only put in a fake backup e-mail that looks like mine (at, but they changed my security settings to alert a Nigerian cell phone whenever I tried to reset my password, so they could beat me to the punch.

The first time I thought I had gotten in and fixed the problem I was able to e-mail some of my contacts to let them know about the problem, but then the hackers reset my password again, kicking me out and taking over my e-mail. The only way to fix it (I think) was to use google's account recovery form and a secondary e-mail address, then IMMEDIATELY get into the account, delete the phony e-mail address & cell phone and change my password to something much more difficult to hack.

[I was relieved and annoyed to find that I'm not the only person this has happened to; you can read here how this happened to a business, as well. ]

I'm still sorting through the wreckage these unholy bastards have created in my techno-life. I can't get into my facebook account, for example. In the meantime, if you follow this blog or we've corresponded by e-mail, please go and update your e-mail security settings immediately. If your e-mail password is outdated or easy to figure out, change it. If you get an e-mail saying that a new address has been added to your account, change your password immediately and delete any e-mail address you don't recognize; you should also check your address & phone number to make sure they have been fiddled with.

And, if it's not obvious, please don't send money to me in London. I'm not there, I haven't been mugged, and if you really want to give me money, please come do it in person so I can thank you properly. ;)

When the hackers had control of my IM, my friend Rob also had a brilliant way of figuring out something was up - he just typed, "How is _____?" with a made-up name of someone we don't know, and the hackers of course responded that _______ was fine -- demonstrating that they weren't me! I thought it was pretty clever for a Monday morning and I'm glad he (and others) know me well enough to sense when I'm not myself.

I'm writing all this so that everyone else can be on guard for these horrible, pathetic excuses for human beings and their miscreant behavior. If only we could harness the intelligence and cunning of these jerks (not the word I want to use, but you get the idea) for something productive and useful in the world. Sigh.

On the flip side, I can't say how touched I am that some people actually were willing to help me when they thought I had an emergency in the U.K. I also got lots of phone calls and e-mails from people who figured out something was wrong and wanted to make sure I had a heads up. It is really nice to know that we're all looking out for each other.

So, that's my silver lining. And if you'll excuse me, I need to go make sure I've closed all the loopholes and then let off some steam. URRRGH!

I'm on a Roll, Baby!

Today I am Superwoman. I'm feeling totally empowered, focused, and ready to take on the world. For some reason, I've been up since 5 a.m. (Hint: think 16 pounds of drool and happiness); and in those three hours my mind has somehow landed in a random groove of productivity. I think it's that "in the zone" feeling I always hear people talk about. Either that or it's the third cup of coffee!!

Either way, I have been planning like a maniac, not just for the week but for the whole dang year.

Last week was a little overwhelming for me, especially in my professional world; but I am totally going to rock this week! I can feel it!! Happy Monday!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What I Would Say if I Could

If my mom were alive, she'd be 62 today. Anyone who's lost someone close to them knows that birthdays and holidays take on extra significance when you are missing someone important in your life. Days like this I often imagine what things might be like if she had lived.... and I always come to the conclusion that we'd still be driving each other nuts.

It seems we never really appreciate people until they're no longer around. I guess that's because all the friction of actually being in a relationship with another human being is taken away and we are left to enjoy and long for the relationship itself.

So sometimes instead of imagining what it would be like if she were still alive, I imagine what I would say to her if the gap between our two planes of existence (whatever that means) were temporarily bridged... if I could talk to her again from right here and now, or even send a letter to the proverbial Other Side. That letter changes daily, of course. Here's what it looks like today.

Dear Mom,
It sounds obvious to say that I think about you all the time, but I do. I miss you. I have always missed you, even when you were still alive but unable to be really present with me. But now that I am a mom myself, I long for you in a way that makes my heart ache with loss and missed opportunities.

You must know, from wherever you are, that we have a little boy now. He's named after your dad and has a funny, laid-back spirit just like his namesake. I imagine that you look in on him from time to time; and sometimes, when he laughs in his sleep, I think I can almost see you there, hovering around the edge of my reality, holding him in a way that only the two of you can know.

I know you are laughing when you watch me struggling with my new role -- especially at those frequent moments when I realize I haven't the foggiest idea what to do next. You'll be glad to know that the little guy has humbled me -- I've come to appreciate all you did for us in ways that I never did before.

So today, instead of just saying "I miss you," I'd also like to say "thank you." For loving me and making sure that I knew it, regardless of how hard life was for you. For singing to me with your beautiful voice (I try to sing to your grandson daily, but I didn't inherit your talent -- it won't be long before he's begging me to stop). For teaching me to be a part of something greater than myself. For doing everything you could to make me feel incredibly special and valuable. I didn't realize until long after you were gone what a tremendous gift that was, and what joy you took in giving it.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me about love and inspiring me to share it. Happy Birthday.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Decade in the Life: Part Three

Yep, Just Like on 'Sex in the City'

When I left Austin, I closed an important and treasured chapter of my life. My experiences there changed me forever; and frankly, I didn’t know what to expect on returning to Atlanta. As it turned out, a whole new era was about to begin.

Looking back, I know I met the man who is the love of my life once before I even moved back to Atlanta. I’d come home for a visit and to do some work for my friend’s company, where he happened to be working. I remember we had a nice conversation about New Orleans and I thought he was really cute, but that was about it.

Once I did move home, however, and we began working in the same place and hanging out with the same group of friends, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that the cute boy in the lab was a really incredible person himself. I could go on for a while about what makes him so special to me (and lots of other people), but that would embarrass him and bore everyone else.

As we began spending more time together, the primary tension in our relationship was that MD-future-H had always envisioned himself marrying someone Jewish. Someone born Jewish, actually. And so he only dated Jewish women, which obviously I was not. So we oscillated for a few months between dating and not dating [I think he broke up with me three times during this period]. And in the meantime, I found myself reading “Judaism for Dummies,” among other things.

I’d been on a path of spiritual searching for years (far longer than this blog covers), and my close-up experience with Catholicism in Austin had piqued my interest in ancient and ritual-focused religion. So as a relationship with a nice boy spurred me to learn more, I found myself drawn to Judaism at the deepest levels of my being. After further education and mutual soul-searching, MD-future-H and I decided that someone willing to consider conversion and someone willing to consider marrying a convert could make a go of a relationship.

From there, we just followed the path that seemed to be appearing at our feet with each step. We took a Derech Torah class as a precursor to my conversion, where we met lots of great people – some of whom were in the same situation we were, and many who have been our friends ever since. Soon I began studying with Rabbi Analia, one of the most wonderful and wise women I’ve known. She and her husband Mario lead the congregation where we’ve found our spiritual home.

We got engaged in February 2006; MDH knew how much I love Jane Austen, so he took me to see “Pride and Prejudice” at the Alliance Theater, and proposed at a quaint little Italian restaurant before the show. His wonderful family accepted me warmly, and they have never treated me any differently than they would a born Jew.

In May, Rabbi Analia decided I was ready. The Bet Din (conversion panel) and my submersion in the Mikvah (ritual bath) were incredible experiences that marked a whole new era in my life as a Jew-by-Choice. I’m honored to be part of the Jewish community. I am still learning, day by day, what it means to be Jewish, and particularly how to help lead a Jewish household. It will be a lifelong journey and I’m cherishing every moment.

In September 2006, our beloved Rabbis Mario and Analia presided over our beautiful garden wedding. When Analia talked about how my mom and Sam’s dad (who had also died suddenly in April 2002) were both with us in spirit, a sudden breeze blew the white tulle walls of our chuppah high in the otherwise calm air. It was chilling and lovely.

The last three years of my decade have been decidedly different from the first. There have been more losses – both grandmothers, my brother’s best friend, my first boss at the Catholic school (who was always really kind to me). But there have also been tremendous joys, achievements, new friendships and the deepening of old ones. I went back to grad school, completed my Master’s in Counseling and am enjoying the challenges of a new career, one that constantly drives me to reflect and question myself.

For me, the impulsive choices and perpetual newness of the early 2000’s have been replaced by a whole new kind of adventure. In June 2009, we expanded our family with the long-sought addition of our beautiful baby boy. He's an amazing little kid with a funny personality that is already beginning to emerge. Difficulty getting pregnant and the experience of undergoing fertility treatments has helped us -- if at all possible -- to treasure him even more.

I no longer characterize myself as a world traveler – though we did take a fantastic trip to Ireland when I got my counseling degree – but being a mother to our six-month-old son takes me to new places every day. And while no marriage is fail-proof, MDH and I work hard to secure ours to something larger than ourselves, so that we’re not left alone during those inevitable hard times.

And Two the cat is still hanging around, letting us know when the kiddo is crying (as though we can't hear him). She's a decade older than when she came into my life, but not too much worse for the wear. Our family has lots of big plans for the coming months and years; but if 2010-2019 is anything like this past decade, we'll mostly just be holding on tight and trying to enjoy the ride.

A Decade in the Life: Part Two

Neither of us had so much as set foot in Austin before we pulled into town with a U-haul in mid-2000. We got a crappy apartment and I landed another temp job -- this time in the resource development department at the Red Cross, where I was pretty much guaranteed to perform better than the previous temp -- who had been mysteriously (and quite unexpectedly) taken out of the office by the SWAT team one afternoon. A few days with no sign of law enforcement, and I was hired. Thus began my career in fundraising.

For the next year or so, I learned the ropes in development – grant-writing, special events, schmoozing. Meanwhile, our close friendship (usually a good thing) and mutual stubbornness prevented MDexH and I from noticing the cracks in the foundation of our marriage. So we did what married people do – we bought a house, adopted two dogs, and added a kitten (who I found wounded and scared in the drive-thru of a Jack in the Box and brought home in a French-fry box). The music and culture in Austin was everything we’d heard it would be. Life chugged forward.

Until June of 2001, when a devastating event I’d been semi-anticipating most of my life came to fruition. I went home to Atlanta for a friend’s wedding; and made plans to see both my parents along with some of my lifelong friends at home. We’d arranged to pick up my mom – who’d had chronic physical and mental health issues nearly all my life – for lunch a couple days after the wedding.

As I called her to confirm in the days and hours before we were supposed to meet and continually got the machine, I began to have a sinking feeling that all was not right. We’d had a minor spat on the phone right after I arrived in town, and after years of struggling with her through mental illness and its accompanying behaviors, I was worried. When we arrived to pick her up and she didn’t answer the door, I finally called the police to help us get into her apartment and confirm what I’d feared: after years of suffering, the woman who created and nurtured my life and my brother’s had taken her own.

I won’t dwell on this part of my life for long – it could be a book unto itself, one that I’m not ready to write. But I will say that in the days and months following that horrible moment, I learned the depth and capacity of true friendship. Even though much of it is blurry at best, I remember distinctly that every time there was a decision to be made or pain to be faced, there was always the loving and helpful shoulder of a friend nearby to help hold me up.

There are particular friends and family who held my hand through the funeral arrangements, the funeral itself, and cleaning out Mom’s apartment – I haven’t forgotten how much that meant to me. And however strained our relationship might have been before or since, MDexH stood by me from the moment policemen opened the door with the news, and he quite literally kept me from hitting the floor. People sometimes ask how I manage to stay friends with an ex-husband, and I guess times like that are the answer.

A few months later, my personal grief was compounded by our national tragedy on September 11,2001. Again, I could write for hours about my own personal experience during that time. Instead, I’ll speed things up and just say that some typical career stressors at the Red Cross were compounded in the months that followed. So I left my job in 2002 and did another short stint as a freelancer before realizing that I still didn’t quite have the resources and discipline needed to make that career viable.

I ended up back into the world of development at a private Catholic high school. This put me on a new path in a number of ways: career-wise, I was catapulted into far more responsibility than I’d had in the past; socially, I found a group of colleagues who also became amazing friends; and spiritually, I got exposure to a religious culture with which I’d never been very familiar. Things were going swimmingly in my professional life. But by 2003, the strain in our marriage had become palpable, and was beginning to wear down MDexH and me both. Being really great friends was no longer cutting it for either of us, and we separated.

So in June 2003, I moved into my first apartment EVER that was just mine – no family, no roommates, just me. It was 480 square feet, just two rooms with a motel-style air conditioner cooling both, but it was my own little space and I treasured it. There was something amazing about being alone in an apartment, a thousand miles from my hometown, family and friends – it was a little scary and occasionally lonely, but I had an independence there that still makes me proud today.

I was lucky that summer (and beyond) to have the influence and support of many new close friends, in particular a good friend from the school where I worked. She was a wonderful, independent spirit herself and would’ve been an inspiration to me under any circumstances. As it was, she had learned just months after we met that she had a brain tumor, and was faced with invasive treatments as well as the possibility of her own mortality all at once. Never one to take anything lying down, she was determined to continue living life with gusto, and was constantly calling me to go out and explore new activities with her – from swing dancing to karaoke to late-night bowling.

If I’d had any inclination that I was going to sit home and mope about the divorce, she shattered it by saying “I have a brain tumor – what’s your excuse?” And so I went wherever she wanted me to go, made loads of new friends, and learned a lot about myself in the process.

One summer week she purchased from a garage sale the ugliest crocheted duck I’ve ever seen [I say that as though I’ve seen so many… and some of them tasteful!]. She stopped by my apartment while out for a bike ride, claiming she needed the restroom, and left the hideous little duck on my loofah sponge – quite a surprise for me the next morning. It became a game with a group of us: we would secretly try to pass the duck around from friend to friend by sneaking it into one another’s homes. Since then, I’ve learned that many families have a similar tradition with an old fruitcake or summer sausage. I prefer the duck!

For the next year and a half, I lived a life that was truly my own. I kept in touch with friends from Atlanta, of course, but I had the challenge and excitement of forming new friendships and relationships by myself. Since I had no family nearby, I was responsible for filling my own time, taking care of my own needs. It could be hard sometimes, but it was also thrilling to have so much freedom.

I experimented with online dating a little – actually just long enough that I can relate when people talk about the awkwardness of online dating. I developed a couple of relationships that never really had long-term potential, but I learned something valuable from each. One taught me that even an intelligent, strong, self-aware woman can end up in an unhealthy relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive; and the other helped me to see my own worth more clearly and expect the best from myself. Both prepared me in their own way for what was to come.

As 2004 drew to a close, I realized I was ready for another change. I loved my life in Austin in so many ways, but I began to feel rootless there, and missed my friends and family in Atlanta. When I went home to visit over the winter holidays, I realized it was time to find my way back. An old friend came to the rescue, and helped find me a job with his family’s business; while my best friend and her family opened their home to me (are you picking up on a theme yet?).

So in January 2005, I began taking my leave of the city I’d come to adore and the friends who had made it home for me. In that same month, the increasing hardship of the brain tumor’s effects and dwindling hope for recovery cost my dear friend her independence; and she decided to forgo further treatment and move in with her parents in another state. When I saw her that January, she was having trouble finding words, particularly to express her complex emotions. I knew, though, when she hugged me and handed me that horrible little crocheted duck, that she was saying goodbye. She died peacefully two months later surrounded by her family.

By mid-February, I was on my way to Atlanta: music blaring, hot tears rolling down my face, the crocheted duck in the center console, and Two the cat howling in the passenger seat for the entire 15-hour drive.

A Decade in the Life

In the last couple of weeks I've been seeing and hearing lots of retrospectives highlighting the key moments of the past decade -- from our fears about Y2K and September 11th, all the way to the economic collapse and 2008 election, and everything in between. It got me thinking about my own life over the last ten years and the amazing journey it's been. I decided to write my own little retrospective.

Normally I have a “slice of life” writing style; but a decade is more like a “whopping hunk” of life, and I’m a little nervous about putting it out there. It could either turn out to be enlightening and entertaining, or a lot like looking at someone else's vacation photos. Or colonoscopy video. So read at your own risk.

Part One: A Wild, Drizzly Start

When the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999 and we all held our breath that the essential structure of our country would continue to function, I was living in Portland, Oregon in a 1920's quadruplex with my new husband. I had just turned 24, and we'd gotten married and moved cross-country four months earlier after a whirlwind Philadelphia-to-Atlanta romance. We had been friends for a while, but had never even lived in the same city before we got married. [If you're thinking that you can see from here what a huge mistake that was, you're not alone. But try telling that to me at 23. In fact, several people did try to tell me that, but sometimes we have to learn our own lessons firsthand.]

So by New Year's Eve we'd been living in Portland in theory for 4 months, but in reality we'd lived half that time in San Francisco because of MDexH's work; so basically I started the year 2000 as a person without a home. Despite being a recent MBA grad, I was also willfully unemployed thanks to another relationship that neither party was mature enough for - this time between me and a little start-up web design firm.

I'd been cashiering at Target to help make ends meet, which was painful to both the pocketbook and my pride. We'd been robbed during our absence in San Francisco, and though we had nothing of real value, the thief made off with some personal mementos of mine from college and my treasured 1996/1998 passport -- complete with border entry stamps from over 20 countries. So the decade was off to a less than auspicious start.

The social scene was challenging, too. Northwesterners, in my experience, are a kind, loving and generous folk; but compared to the bombastic Southern style to which I’m accustomed, they were pretty reserved. It was hard for an outsider with no connections to make friends in the drizzly Portland weather. Meanwhile my best friend in Atlanta had to call me up from three time zones away to tell me that her first daughter was born – a joyful moment laced with the tiny sadness of distance.

Still, I was in love with the Rose City -- the bike paths, the gardens, 6 miles of books at Powell's -- and optimistic for what was to come. I worked a few temp jobs, put up fliers as an ESL tutor. I took a creative writing class at the Portland State continuing ed annex, which turned into a small coffee-shop writers' group: lovingly but sardonically called, "Happy Animal Stories." When I branched out and took an acting class, I made even more friends and finally started to feel like I knew enough people to throw a respectable dinner party. I even landed a couple of freelance writing jobs.

I was finally settling into my new life in Portland. Cue the Internet bubble. MDexH's company (one of those crazy bad examples from that era -- the ones with kegs of beer in the breakroom and incomprehensible titles for all its executives) went bankrupt and our 1.25-income household was suddenly about to be broke. Given that Portland had the nation's highest unemployment at the time -- nothing compared to today, btw -- we packed our bags and a cat named "Two" who'd come from the mean streets of North Portland, and headed for the bright lights of Austin, Texas.

Obviously, at this rate, there's no way I could fit the whole decade in one blog. I'm just not that talented. So I'm publishing this in pieces, and the three of you who are still interested can read on in the next entry....