Monday, November 30, 2009

Leftovers

I think I had forgotten what Thanksgiving weekend means. It is the holiday that lingers long past the day. Food is followed by more food until it seems that not eating is an act of rebellious self-expression (or desperation).

After turkey dinner on Thanksgiving proper, we had ham for variety the next day. This was all followed by the inevitable: turkey chili, turkey soup, hot turkey sandwiches. And remember the ham? We also had frittata with ham and pea soup with ham. And LK and I will be taking ham sandwiches on our train ride to New York tomorrow.

There was also a fair amount of dessert left over after the big feast. As Linda noted when reviewing the family feast, "Only the Kennedys would have four pies, a cake, ice cream and whipped cream for a meal for 10 people." You would think by now she would have learned that my family has its priorities and adheres to it.

Today is also the first day that hasn't featured non-stop sports on television. Football, football, football, and more football is interrupted only briefly by a basketball or hockey game. It got so bad that LK - who normally is able to ignore whatever sport is on the TV - finally was forced to notice. Mind you, her comment was not about a particularly good play but about the looks of one of the Miami Heat players: "I don't care how rich or famous you are," she said. "That hair and those tattoos make him look like a big twat." Frankly, she was right, and it was encouraging to have her finally share a game on the tube with us.

Even the news was about sports this weekend as every news organization worked hard to figure out if Tiger Woods' wife had a mean slice when she swings the club.

The orgy of food and televised sports left me pretty much brain dead. I thought of blogging, but my blood sugar levels were not conducive to writing any posts. Besides, every time I thought of doing it there seemed to be a great pass play and I wanted to watch the six replay angles.

One of my favorite bloggers, the Poker Shrink, perhaps said it as well as could be on his blog, "Keeping Your Head in (All) the Game(s)". I love his writing and urge you to check him out. Recently he's been wandering the US and avoiding poker. His promise last week to write about Dante has been deferred a couple of times, the last with this post yesterday:

Due to circumstances beyond our control and a deluge of tryptophan. The Circles of Hell, particularly the one concerning gluttony will be delayed one more day. Tune in tomorrow when MSG swollen fingers will attempt to return to issues of portent and blah-blah-blah.


I know what he means - even if I did have to look up the meaning of tryptophan. Oh well, Thanksgiving is now well and truly past. Bright and early tomorrow we're on the Amtrak to the Big Apple. Where we undoubtedly will eat and drink a lot.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sleepless Over Seattle

Happy Thanksgiving.

We are up and drinking lots of coffee getting ready to drive to Rutland this morning. A big family feast at Bob and Deb's awaits this afternoon.

The trip from Honolulu to Rochester was uneventful - and pretty much unsleepful. Neither of us got more than an hour's sleep in the red-eye so we were completely knackered by the time we landed here around 9:30 yesterday morning. It's getting to be our travel pattern - Hello, great to see you, please wake us up in a couple of hours.

I partly blame LK because she broke one of our traditions in Honolulu.

An odd thing happens when we fly United in the US. For the past many years, all of our miles on United and its Star Alliance partners has meant that our United frequent flyer cards are at a gold level. We know we will lose them soon enough now that our business travelling days over, but it's been a nice plus in recent years.

Whenever we travel, we have shown those cards and they have gained us admission to the lounges for Singapore Airlines, Thai Airlines, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa and several others. For some reason that I still cannot fathom, the United Airlines card that gets us into lounges from London to Bangkok won't get us into the United Airlines lounges in the US. Odder still, had we joined, say, the Singapore Airlines frequent flyers instead, that card would get us into those lounges.

Oh well, we've learned to adjust. For years, whenever we fly out of Honolulu on United we no longer try to crash the lounge. Instead we go straight to the bar near the gates and order a Mile High Mary. This is a very large Bloody Mary in a water tumbler with double shots of vodka and spiced quite hot. It is garnished with a lemon, a lime and a dill pickle. OK, I cannot figure out the pickle, either, but it tastes pretty good and it counts as one serve of vegetable in my diet.

So waiting to leave Honolulu, we had our MHM, and I was getting ready to complete the tradition for the overnight flight - which is to have a second MHM - when Linda suggested we didn't need it. I pointed out to her that I wasn't thinking so much of need as want, but LK held firm. Wanna share one? I asked. Nope. I bowed to the pressure and passed on the refill.

Which was all better for us and healthy and all that stuff, I know. But then both of us were grumpy and tired from not sleeping on the flight when we arrived here yesterday. I believe it was our punishment for not completing the MHM tradition. I can only hope that Linda has learned her lesson.

Anyhow, gotta run. Long drive ahead this morning.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Leaving On a Jet(Star) Plane

We arrived in Honolulu this morning. A classic Hawaiian morning, beautiful blue skies, the temperature warm but not too warm, the light sparkling on the water. We did what you would expect. We went to bed at 9:30am.

That overnight flight from Sydney is just so tiring. Even if you get plenty of sleep, you don't get enough. And when you get into Honolulu at what is still 4am in Sydney, you're tired. So catching up on a few more zzzz's is first on your mind. And what good news to get to our hotel and discover that our room was ready even at 9.

We are in Hawaii because Jetstar had a fantastic deal about six months ago, and we couldn't pass it up. From here, we can use frequent flyer points, so it's a very economical way to go.

Jetstar is the airline Qantas created a few years ago to be able to compete at the budget airline end of the market. Some bright sparks at Qantas had decided they could do the impossible - make money by providing even crappier customer service than they normally provided.

The deal we took was for very inexpensive seats in what Jetstar calls StarClass. I am pretty sure they meant to call it StarkClass, but must have felt the K was unnecessary. Their web site points out that your extra bucks get you several great benefits. I was particularly attracted to the promise of wider seats. Having now spent almost 10 hours in one of those wider seats, I can only think that had we flown economy I may have had a permanent impression of the seat recliner button on my left cheek, because this boy's chubby cheeks weren't ever going to be sliding around in those StarClass seats.

We also got free food. I won't do cheap airline food jokes, but I haven't thought about our trip a few years ago aboard Polish Air Lot. I did last night.

Jetstar does not have stewards and stewardesses. They are customer service managers. To their credit, they do (barely) manage customer service. One particularly cheerful young woman customer service manager managed to give us the wrong immigration forms (no big deal), the dessert we didn't order (not that serious) and walked away during breakfast service forgetting to give LK her coffee as we were waking up (potentially life threatening mistake - she's lucky LK was in the window seat and couldn't crawl over me to get to her).

It wasn't all that bad - just not all that great. But things got better once on the ground. At the taxi rank, the luck of the draw gave us a stretch limo, so we at least got to the hotel in the taxi equivalent of StarClass. And as I said, the room was ready early. So we've now had a snooze, the sun is shining brightly at midday, and we have 24 more hours here in Honolulu.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Homeward Bound

389 years ago the Pilgrims travelled the rough Atlantic to reach Plymouth. After a near-death experience, they survived and celebrated their first harvest with a feast which continues today. Thanksgiving.

This afternoon LK and will travel the skies over the Pacific en route to our families. After what we assume will be a much more pleasant experience, we will wander around Honolulu for a day. Doing what retired folk do - picking up the best fares, using frequent flyer points - we have a layover in Hawaii. However, there are far worse things in life than having to spend a day in Honolulu.

On Tuesday we fly overnight to Peg and the family in Rochester, arriving Wednesday morning. Thursday - Thanksgiving Day - we will drive to Rutland to have a major feast with the family at my brother Bob's.

All of which means, there isn't much flexibility in today's to-do list.

So in an hour I will bring Streak to the vet's where the cattery will pick her up for her holiday at the upscale cat hotel. (At least that's what I keep telling her it is. I am not sure she believes me, since she just stares blankly.)

I need to get prescriptions filled at the pharmacy. I need to go to the bank to fill out some forms that will come due while we are gone.

I've already had the mail held, but need to stop the newspapers and also ring the security company and the gardeners to set up for while we are gone. I need to forward phone calls to my Skype number so I don't end up paying outrageous international fees.

Oh yes, we also need to talk to our lawyer and accountant. We sold the house Saturday and have to get things in motion with them. And we want to send a thank-you gift hamper to Mary-Anne, our agent.

What else have I forgotten? Oh, who cares? We're heading home for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Going Once, Going Twice...

That's Mary-Anne.

She sold our house this morning. For more than we were willing to take.

I feel bad for ever doubting her.

Please ignore all previous posts on the subject.

Think Harry Belafonte, instead: "All together now. All day, all night. Mary-Anne."

Friday, November 20, 2009

They're Showing Our Cops

Mary-Anne finally called around 12:30 to discuss my e-mail cancelling the auction.

I know myself too well. All she has to do is tell me she is so sorry we were upset, and I will tell her don't worry, we didn't really intend to cancel the auction, we were just letting you know we didn't like Damien's attitude, we need love, we are pathetic, so sorry to have wasted your time.

That's why I asked Linda to answer when the phone rang.

Apparently just about the first thing Mary-Anne said was, "It was Damien, wasn't it?" Almost as if she assumes we are the sort of people who would jeopardize a major thing like selling our home just because we didn't like some guy. Which, of course, is the case.

Once Linda confirmed that, oh yes indeedy, it was Damien, Mary-Anne told LK how he had ignored her strong advice to treat us as intelligent, experienced, knowledgeable, witty and gracious people who understood the process of selling, etc. Or something like that. She vowed to LK that Damien would have nothing to do with the negotiation process. That was her job, and she knew what we needed and wanted and would do her best to deliver it. Don't you worry about Damien. He's nothing more than a carbuncle on the rump of the sales process.

Mary-Anne said she had been out all morning trying to drum up more interest in the auction. Excuse me - not THE auction, OUR auction. She also explained that cancelling the auction would send a terrible message to the one very hot prospect she has. LK didn't mention it to me, but I suspect she may have also mentioned her children.

LK told her she wanted to chat with me about it, and would call back quickly. We chatted, she called back, and the auction was on again.

I don't believe Mary-Anne actually used the term "bad cop" to describe Damien, but she may as well have. It is pretty obvious that being the good cop has its advantages. Like being able to blame everything on the bad cop. Like making sure the people you're double-teaming still love you even if the bad cop goes too far. If you're really clever about it, you can even get them to believe that you two weren't working the act together.

And being the good cop even means you get to be the super nice person who celebrates the making-up-after-breaking-up by stopping by with flowers after you've agreed to continue with the auction. Hydrangeas, LK's favorites. How doe Mary-Anne do it? She's not a good cop - she's a great cop!

Auction in less than 16 hours.

Cold Feet

There is a reason a groom's friends take them out for major drinking the night before the wedding. For many guys, if they were to just sit around thinking about what they are doing the next morning, the chances are probably 50-50 they will be a no-show. It's not because he doesn't love his fiancee, although he would know he is risking their love not surviving his cold feet. And it would be with full awareness of how many people will be so pissed off if he cancels the wedding at the last minute.

He would do it because in the base of his male brain a little voice would be saying there's no turning back after tomorrow and all the negative things that you chose to ignore during your months of euphoria will start to look a lot more significant when you get on with life.

By the way, I sent the following e-mail last night:

Hi Mary-Anne

Linda and I have spent most of the evening discussing Damien's remarks this morning, and we do not think we have confidence in going ahead with an auction.

Damien started out the meeting by telling us his estimate of the property's value was well below our hopes, and quite frankly that has made us reevaluate our thinking on the property.

We are happy to wait until the property is able to attain the sort of value we require, and we both think an auction which sets a lower bar is an atrocious marketing statement.

We want to cancel the auction on Saturday.

Of course, you can still sell the house through the period of the contract, but when the contract ends we are removing the house from active consideration and will wait until the market is such that we can achieve the amount we feel is fair for for the house.

I know you will want to discuss this further, but we believe the best course of action is to cancel the auction.

Regards

Don

Sure, part of this is just our reaction to their tag team effort to get us to lower our expectations. And sure, it won't take much more than a salesperson's sincere and solemn vow to do their best for us to change our minds. But after feeling like we were being played by the people we are paying to represent us, LK and I thought it might be a nice idea to try to raise their expectations rather than lower ours.

I suspect Mary-Anne will be getting into the office any minute now. I'm waiting for the phone to ring.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Under the Hammer

This morning our agent, Mary-Anne, told us she was showing up early Saturday to put up bunting. She urged us to ask our family and friends and neighbors to all show up for the auction. And she admitted that it was entirely possible that no one was going to bid at the auction.

It seems a little like having a block party to celebrate the fact that we're going to have to stay here because the house didn't sell. Actually, Mary-Anne and the auctioneer both are making sales-y positive speak and telling us that the house is likely to sell if the auction is a failure. Only, of course, they don't use words lie failure in a sentence with anything they do.

The auctioneer strongly suggested that we would greatly increase our chance for a sale if we are willing to accept a lower price. Which, as I recall, is one of the basic tenets of capitalism. If we were willing to lower the price enough, I suspect I could go outside and sell the house and skip the auctioneer's fees. But I don't think that is what he was getting at.

As LK noted later, it is becoming obvious that the auctioneer is Mary-Anne's agent. If her job is to be our agent and get people to buy our house, it is quite evident that one of the auctioneer's job is to get us to sell at any price. And the only person sitting at the table who benefits from that, of course, is Mary-Anne who gets commission on the sale.

Back in our working days, LK and I had different approaches to sales people. I tried to motivate them and give them ideas that experience taught me they would never use. LK tended to be very dismissive and tough on them only to screw with their heads once in a while by rewarding them for good work.

I let her deal with the auctioneer and Mary-Anne about lowering the price.

Because Americans don't auction homes, I keep getting asked how it works. Since LK and I received a couple of quick lessons this week, let me try to explain.

This is the theory. People auction their house hoping to get more money than they would through a normal sale. You are not at risk of getting less than you want, because you set a reserve and the house is only sold if bidding goes above the reserve. (I should qualify that to read: You're only at risk of getting less than you want if you listen to your agent and auctioneer.)

If you set a date for an auction, you don't have to have an auction. If someone offers you a decent price ahead of time you are always free to take it and cancel the auction. If nobody has shown any interest in bidding on the house, you can cancel the auction.

But - and this is the interesting part - if nobody has shown any interest in bidding on the house, it is strongly suggested that you go ahead with the auction. To me, it seems like a very public way of letting the world know that nobody wants your house. I can't think of a poorer marketing message.

But we are assured by our agent, our auctioneer, several of our friends, and numerous people we barely know but who feel compelled to talk about selling houses, that not selling at auction can be a really good thing. The thinking goes that there are people who may want the house but are afraid of getting caught in a bidding war and paying more than it is worth. Once the auction fails they come out of the shadows and make an offer.

Or so the theory goes. The alternate theory is that the agent and auctioneer have come up with a great story that means failing to sell the house is really a success of sorts.

Anyhow, the bunting goes up Saturday morning. Shirley is coming over, fulfilling our obligation to get friends to show up. Jason and Lora have said they may come, but I don't know if they knew how early the auction was. If they do come, we will have pretty well brought in every one we could - which may seem kind of sad in its own way, but I can't quite get up the energy to ask others to come over and watch what is likely to be nothing happen.

Mary-Anne thinks there is one couple that definitely are interested in buying but may not bid unless there's some else who starts. She has talked another potential buyer into coming even though they haven't committed to bidding. It's very possible - and looking probable - that the only bid will be the one they call the Vendor Bid. That's the pathetic one the owners put up to kick off the process in the hopes that some one else will say, "Hey, that's pretty low. I'm jumping into this!"

I've decided that Friday night LK and I are baking dozens of muffins. I figure if we put on an auction where nobody bids, at least we can pay some of the auctioneer's fees by selling them to the people who come to our block party.

And on Monday, sale or no sale, we're on the plane to America.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Final Inspection

Today is the final day we have the house open for inspection. Technically, it is open for a short while at 8:30 before Saturday's auction, but anyone who is serious about looking at the place will have seen it by then.

So this morning was the last day when I had extended morning routines. Besides making coffee, feeding the cat and unloading the dishwasher, I had to put the toaster in the cupboard (even though it is now working perfectly), stash the tomatoes and peppers LK had on the counter, put the napking holder away and in general reduce the kitchen counters to one lonely mixer on the right, one lonely cutting board on the left and a mortar and pestle (lonely, except for each other) on the counter. I even have to put the coffee maker away once we are done with it.

Apparently making the kitchen look as if no one uses it makes it more attractive to people who might want to use it.

Both of us are glad this process is coming to a close. We've had one low-ball offer and three or four others who the agent thinks are serious about the place. But there is no guarantee that we will even get any bids at the auction on Saturday. And apparently in the world of real estate, that's not such a bad thing since not selling your house at auction often leads to selling your house right after auction. Or so they say.

We're in a good position, of course. If we don't sell now, it will have just been a little (a lot of) inconvenience and a little bit of money for the advertising, brochures, pictures, etc. We can continue to rent the house we're moving to and stay here until we do get a buyer. In fact, in our original retirement planning we were always going to stay in Sydney for a couple of years. But it looked as if the real estate market here in Greenwich was pretty active, and we thought we may as well go for it now. Going back to Plan A wouldn't be all that bad, in fact.

One of the real problems with all of this is that you can't help doing a lot of calculations, none of which make you really happy except the what-if scenario where you sell the house for much more than you want. But I made the mistake of doing a spreadsheet showing the impact of selling the house for various prices.

Turns out that in the best-case scenario we can live like Auntie Mame and cavort around the world most of the year. In the worst-case scenario, we have to live our life as we planned to when we retired.

Those who worked with me may recall that I always tried to consider what could go wrong with a business plan and what we would have to do if that happened. Turns out that is not the best way to have a life planning discussion with LK late at night. The poor woman was up at 4:30 anticipating our very own personal edition of 2012. For two mornings running.

Then yesterday, I popped up pretty early for me with the sudden realization that I had forgotten to include all sorts of good things - like the money we have - into the equations. I did mention that these were late-night (read, after a couple of wines) discussions.

Anyhow, I was able to come downstairs yesterday and point out that everything was cool with our planning and in fact there really is nothing to worry about. LK went to bed a little early last night and is still sleeping as 8 o'clock rolls around. I will have to remember in the future that spreadsheets are best left back in the work world.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blah, blah, blah

tor·por (tôrpər)

noun

  1. a state of being dormant or inactive; temporary loss of all or part of the power of sensation or motion; sluggishness; stupor
from www.yourdictionary.com

It's good to know that there are words that perfectly describe the way I am feeling. For the past several days, both LK and I have been in a state of torpor. Perhaps not the stupor part of the meaning (at least until my first two martinis) but certainly the sluggishness part of it.

We have both been feeling more or less betwixt and between. Because we have de-cluttered the house and have to keep it in a state of semi-readiness for inspection, we don't get into anything that might mess the house up. Because we are going overseas in a week - and perhaps getting rid of our house the weekend before we leave - there's no sense in doing any gardening or projects that can't be completed in a couple of days. I was going to add there was no point in starting DIY projects to that sentence, but everyone who knows me knows that that would not be likely to happen anyhow. LK still has standards to maintain.

Because we are going to be in the US, there's not even any point in buying Christmas presents since - even with our dollar now in the low 90-cent range - stuff in the US is always going to be massively cheaper than stuff here with about 50 times the variety to choose from.

And there isn't even anything to do in preparing for the trip. Everything has been booked and planned for many weeks. All we need to do is pack and bring our passports.

So you might think that this would translate into productive use of our time. It would not be unreasonable to think I may use this time to write more. Well, if you know me you probably don't think that, and if you don't think that you are right.

So the lead-up to our getaway next week is replete with things I am not doing - not doing much work around the house, not writing much, not even reading much. The only reason I wrote this post is because it has been so many days I thought some people might wonder if something was wrong. Don't worry. It's just early onset torpor.

In fact, I am starting to see the value of tweets and Facebook entries. Instead of this post, I could have just written:

Don feels lazy

and had four people reply that they liked that, and one comment saying that's not news.

I will work on getting some energy for tomorrow. Maybe a progress update on selling our house. But then again, maybe not. We'll see.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vet's Day

Today was Vets Day for us. No, not the day remembering the people who served in the armed forces - the other vets. The ones who look at our mixed breed cat and dreamed of sending their children to the best universities.

As part of our getting-ready-to-go-overseas, we had to get Streak a current vaccination shot since that is a requirement of the places that board cats. Her vaccination was due in September and you might share my thinking that the vets would have given her a shot while they were botching her surgery in - oh that's right - September. We both would be underestimating how well trained they are in getting to charge for everything they do.

Anyhow, Streak and I went in to see a guy who introduced himself as Chris. "So you're here for a checkup and vaccination?" he asked. "Well, no," I said, "she doesn't need a checkup since you folks did all sorts of things to her about five weeks ago." He chuckled at my joke. I wasn't making a joke, of course, but Chris began doing checkuppy sort of things quickly lest I stop him once I realized he was going to do a checkup and charge me for it whether I wanted it or not.

The checkup was mercifully brief. He weighed the cat. He then told me that with older cats the most important thing to watch for was weight loss since that would indicate such things as kidney probems, diabetes, or the other things that kill older cats.

"But, Chris," I said, "when I was here five weeks ago, your colleague told me she was worried that Streak was gaining weight and might need to go on a diet." Chris checked her records and nodded. "Yep, she's even gained a little weight since then," he said. And in a desperate attempt to salvage a consolation point, added, "but if she starts to lose weight, bring her back in quickly."

Chris then prodded Streak in ways that made this placid, lazy cat fairly tense. Based on my observations, I am pretty sure she has no prostate problems, but Chris was fairly concerned about her coat. "This coat is pretty thin," he said, "Do you think she is overgrooming?"

My quick answer was, "I don't actually watch her to see how much grooming she does, but the part of the coat you're worried about is where you people shaved her while you botched her operation in September. It actually looks pretty good compared to how she looked when I got home after that."

He decided to move on. He looked in her eyes. ""Hmmm, this right eye looks like she's had a transplant."

"Yes, Chris, she has. In fact, she had it done here. It's a dog's cornea. And since she doesn't keep walking in circles, I assume it's working."

Chris nodded sagely and moved on a few centimeters until he hit the motherlode. He opened Streak's mouth. "Hmmm," he said quite gravely. "She has a lot of plaque in her teeth."

He held her mouth open and pointed to the plaque on her teeth, which I must admit is not something it had ever occurred to me to look at before. "See, her gums are quite irritated. She needs to have her teeth cleaned." He paused. "To do that, we will need to put her under general anaesthesia."

OK, I know this game. We want to brush your cat's teeth and it's only going to cost a couple of hundred dollars.

"No, Chris," I said. "This poor animal has gone through enough this year and almost died the last time you folks put her under general anaesthesia. I will just encourage her to floss more often."

I wanted to add that I know plenty of English people and Streak's teeth were hardly the worst set of choppers I've seen. And I had never heard of anyone putting a Pom under general anaesthesia just to clean their teeth - although I can imagine it might be the easiest thing to do in some instances.

Anyhow, I am guessing there comes a moment in every vet's life when he recognizes a pet owner who is not about to take out a second mortgage to do things like brush a 12-year-old cat's teeth. Being a vet, though, he did have Plan B, and out of desperation he convinced me to buy overpriced cat food that cleans cat's teeth. I gave in and agreed to buy the special formula scientifically proven pet food.

Anyhow, Streak survived her vaccination day and our bank account more or less survived. Tomorrow LK and I are going for our H1N1 vaccinations. And this is no joke -- Our doctor will charge significantly less to give us our vaccine than Streak's doctor did. And I know she isn't likely to try to sell us a bag of special formula food on the way out the door.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Up in the Air

Early in my journalism days, Corey, my editor, used to complain that "people think you just throw a whole bunch of ideas up in the air and, presto, when they fall back down as words you have a newspaper." I guess I understood his frustration that few people recognized the hard work and experience that went into putting out a good publication.

But when it was my turn to be an editor and later a publisher, I always thought it was a lot cooler to make the whole act of publishing seamless so that readers didn't know or care about what hard work went into their paper but just enjoyed reading it.

Honestly, that sounds more noble than I actually was. The truth is that more often than not my team would be rushing headlong toward deadline with barely an idea of how we were going to get the paper done. And absolutely no clue as to whether there was anything we were doing that was going to end up being worth reading by the time we were finished.

In other words, my style of editing was more or less to throw lots of ideas in the air and hope that when they fell back down as words, they'd make a publication.

Even though I am retired (aka, professionally unemployed), I thought of this today. The lawyer who is doing the contract and other stuff you have to do when you sell a house had sent a questionnaire over the other day. It had to be completed and returned within an hour or two because - well, because I had forgotten to hire him and therefore left him almost no time to compete the draft contract, which was required before the first open house.

(Regular readers will recognize a trend in this procrastination. Irregular readers can find several earlier posts about it. But if you are anything like me, you will put it off and never get around to it.)

Regular readers will also recognize a disturbing tendency to stray off topic, so for their sake I will return to the lawyer's questionnaire. There were lots of questions in there which left me no option but to guess at the answer if I was going to get it back in time. The biggie was about putting the pergola on the deck - and converting it into an undercover entertainment area!

A lot depended on when the work had been done. I had to guess whether the pergola was built within the past 7 years. I didn't think so. Turns out I was wrong. I had to guess whether I had a copy of the Home Owner Warranty Insurance for the pergola - which is a legal requirement for any improvement when selling the house. I said it didn't matter because it was more than 7 years ago. I was wrong about that. Did we have Council approval for the pergola? That I remembered - yes, we did.

The questionnaire asked if I had a Council survey and if not did I want one. I didn't know - both times. So I said No and Yes. Turns out the correct answers are Yes and Doesn't Matter.

I took a few more stabs at the truth, but you get the idea. Anyhow, the lawyer called me up and asked if I could take a look for the Council approval for the pergola. And he also suggested that if I could not find the survey done when we bought the house, we really should shell out the $600 and get one done.

Now that someone has actually asked for a copy of the contract, I was starting to think that perhaps my best guess wasn't exactly what most lawyers would consider best practice. So as part of my ongoing mission to tick off the to-do list, I decided I would give it a look this afternoon.

I went up to that part of the desk known as the Big Square Part Where We Shove Everything We Don't Think We Should Throw Away But Don't Think We Really Need, Either. It took awhile, but eventually I found the Council approval. And while I was searching for that, I found the survey from when we bought the house. And I found the copy of the Home Warranty Insurance. I even found a letter from the bank that we needed to find. I had no idea it was in the Big Square Part etc.

And that is why, as I came down the stairs smiling broadly and ready to share my good fortune with LK, I thought of Corey. Some times when you just throw everything up in the air, it all really really does come down exactly as you wish.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The To-Do List

Normally at 4am there is very little that I think about. Oh sure, in the fog of my mind there are little reminders like don't trip over the cat on the way to the loo and don't forget to flush, but that's about it. I have never been one of those people who sit up in bed bolted awake with sudden worries or overwhelmed by what seems like an impossible amount of work to do.

That's why I was so surprised to be wide awake this morning as the alarm clock ticked over past 4:00. It all came about because somehow even in my sleep I started to understand that we are leaving Australia in 14 days and when we return in early January we very likely will have only a couple of weeks to clear out our house.

As I tried to force myself to return to my favorite dream -- the one where I am young and thin and my hair falls over my brow -- I instead started thinking that we've got to get some moving companies in to give us quotes. And I have to call the lawyer who did the contract for this house and get the survey. And I need to dig out the building certificate for putting the roof on the deck. And we need to arrange for Streak to be boarded at a cattery while we are in the US. And I will be wasting a couple of hundred bucks if I don't consolidate the storage bins we rent. And we really would be stupid not to get flu shots before spending so many hours on planes as winter starts in the US. And - well, there were lots more things on the to-do list, but who can remember the things we think about as we lie in bed trying to get back to sleep?

Letting your mind race through all these tasks is, of course, fairly tiring and I must have dozed off at some point and didn't get up until a little before 7. With coffee brewed, I became a man of action. I turned on the laptop and located some moving companies. I added their web address to my bookmarks. Same with a place that boards cats.

It was too early to call then, but I figured I would get around to it all later. And then I thought that it would make a reasonable blog topic, which I badly need since I haven't posted much lately, so I started writing this. However, despite my love of procrastination, I do intend to start ticking off the list.

For one thing, I don't want to be lying awake at 4am any more. For another, the real estate agent just rang and one of the people has asked for a copy of the contract. Suddenly 14 days is starting to seem like a very, very short time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Grumpy Old Me

LK and I are so over this selling-the-house thing. We are getting grumpy, feeling put upon and put out, and generally not enjoying it.

It's only been one week since we first opened the house for inspection, so perhaps it's good that the whole process only lasts three weeks. After only two viewing days, we're tired already of having to leave the house so people can poke around and look at our home. And we know many of them aren't even interested in buying, but are just nieghbors having a stickybeak.

Right now we are sitting out on the deck because we don't want to get in the way of the cleaners the agent wants us to use before the inspection day. Fair enough, at least we don't have to do the cleaning. But it is adding to a growing sense that the process of selling the house is definitely taking over from the satisfaction of living in the house.

On Tuesday one of the people who went through on Saturday asked to send in a building and pest inspector and also to have a chance to wander around and check out the house one more time. All very positive signs - they're spending money on inspectors, can't wait to get back to have one more look. We should have been happy. But when I told LK that night that I hated it and would not be here for any more of that sort of stuff, she said, "I can't believe you feel that way. It's exactly how I feel, too."

We both know that you have to let interested people send in inspectors. We did it when we bought this place. But knowing is one thing, feeling it is another. We're still at the stage of "This is our house and how dare you come in here tapping the walls and shining lights into the back of the cupboards and crawling into parts of the house we've never even been to."

And, of course, we know from experience that the building inspector's primary concern is to avoid a lawsuit for failing to detect a problem, so he diligently looks for every little thing about the house that may either be a concern now or maybe, who knows, some time in the future. For us, this is a wonderful place to live. For him, it's a great opportunity to find fault with all sorts of things - he's kind of like the Rush Limbaugh of tradespeople with an audience of one.

I think we will just have to let the agent handle this stuff if more people want to send in the inspectors. Anyhow, my laptop is running out of battery, and I am stuck out on the deck (I mean, undercover entertaining area) and cannot charge it. So I will just post this and shut down.

I hope someone buys this place soon. I am getting very grumpy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween 2

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
an' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Goblins will get you
If you don't
Watch
Out!

from "The Little Orphan Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley


I'm not even sure if anyone today knows what goblins are, and I am not sure if I ever really knew myself. But I can tell you one thing for sure... goblins used to scare the daylights out of me.

With the annual Halloween orgy of horror movies on most every channel on the cable, it has reminded me of one of the earliest times in my life when I couldn't wait to be scared out of my wits.

Given the swiss cheese nature of my memory, I am surprised how vivid the recollection is, but I can still picture the littlest details as my Dad would sit me on one knee and Brenda or Peggy or whoever else was around on his other knee. Then he would start to recite James Whitcomb Riley's masterpiece about Little Orphan Annie.

That's the fist stanza up above and you can - and should - read the whole poem here. But to properly appreciate it you have to get past the words and into the theatricality of the poem. Dad would start slowly, just more or less telling us that Little Orphan Annie has come to their house to stay and you'd listen to the rhythm of the poem and the soft tones as he told you about her chores.

And then - because we had done this dozens of times and knew exactly what was coming - we'd start to squirm a little, feel the tension rise as we anticipated what was coming even though his voice hadn't changed a bit. We were usually squealing by the time he tightened his grip on our arms and loudly barked out "Or the goblins will get you if you don't watch out". I swear, I am getting tense just thinking about it almost 60 years later.

Of course it was us kids who kept begging him to recite the poem to us. It was delicious to be scared and yet know that we were completely safe at the same time. I think the folks making scary movies today could learn a lot by figuring out why this was such a thrill to us kids and made such a deep and lasting impression on me as one of the wonderful moments of my childhood.

In hindsight, I think it's remarkable that a poem written in 1885 could still be scaring kids in the 1950's. And even more remarkable that my father knew the whole poem and seemed to like nothing more than get us on his knees and warn us that the goblins would get us if we didn't watch out.