Sunday, August 29, 2010

500 Days of Slumber

Two years ago I tackled my first blog post. It was two sentences long. I wrote that I intended to keep an online diary of my retirement years and over the next 50+ days before I retired I would learn what I needed to do, saying it was "just a chance to learn how to blog and play around" until I stopped working. Two things followed.

The first surprised no one who knows me. I didn't have the patience to wait, and two days later I started writing regular posts. Actually, while I still had eight weeks until retirement and was still showing up at the office, I had pretty much already stopped working so I wasn't jumping the gun that much.

The second thing that followed will have completely surprised anyone who knows me - including me. I have stuck with this. Let's just say that in the phrase "fits and starts" I'm usually the "starts" part. I have the type of personality where I start so many things with enthusiasm and determination and then grow bored or lazy or whatever. And yes, I can hear several of you saying "Ah, that explains his first two marriages!"

Anyhow, back to this blogging business, today marks my 500th posting.

You would hardly think enough happens to an old fat retired guy to justify writing about himself 500 times in two years. But in that time, I have written about dozens of places we have visited as we traveled the world; I have posted about moving our house, fixing the toaster and working out on the Wii. Hmmm, as I said, perhaps there isn't enough going on to justify writing so much.

There have certainly been lots of days when I drew a complete blank - couldn't think of anything to post. I would whine to LK, "I can't write about falling down again!" and she would wisely suggest, "Then write about trying to stand up afterwards, dear."

I also know I have some very loyal readers. Well, call it by its name - family pressure. My mother will routinely chide me for not having posted in a couple of days. My mother-in-law Peg will tell one and all that she reads my blog every day and they should, too. Sandy used to write comments that I made her cry, but she stopped when I blogged about that. My Dad will occasionally react to something I wrote, like last week when he said, "Those Australians - I don't know how they get anything done!"

When I did a post about all the Don Kennedy's in the world, I even heard from a couple of guys named Don Kennedy. And once I even had a brush with fame when I posted about watching Groomer Has It and loving the contestant, Jorge. He wrote comments to me - twice in fact - and that was a hoot. (And Jorge, if you still scan for your mentions on the web, thanks for commenting and I hope all is well.)

So there you have it. 500 posts, and for those of you interested in statistics this blog has had more than 11,000 visits from more than 1,200 different people. People (or automated web tools) from 54 countries have visited at least once, but the regulars are almost exclusively from the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Those stats would be pretty disappointing for a commercial web site - and in fact remind me of the stats of some of the commercial web sites I started when I was working. But it's a hoot to know that even an old guy with not a lot to say can ride the edge of this new media and have some fun doing it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Optusian War

Don't you love it when a phone company makes a mistake and puts all the blame on you? Or how they only write letters about the problem instead of, oh I don't know, maybe making a phone call or sending a text message?

Or how about when the mistake they've made is to wrongly change your address so you cannot ever, ever, ever receive any of their letters, and they slap you into debt collection because you haven't been answering the letters they've sent to the wrong place?

That's what happened to LK. When we left on our six-month journey around the world, she called Optus, our second-largest phone company, and adjusted her account by having a second phone removed from it. That call only took about half an hour of her life, and listening in to her half of the conversation I was pretty sure they weren't really going to remove the second phone.

I was wrong. They removed the phone, but then they did even more. For no reason at all, they changed her billing address back to an office she hasn't used for several years. And that meant, of course, that none of their bills were ever forwarded to the person monitoring our mail while we traveled. Ditto for their overdue notices, for their warning letters, for their termination of service notice and for their you're-in-debt-collection-hell now letters.

All they had to do was call us on the phone in question, and everything would have been fixed. But that, of course, would be easy and that's not a word in most phone companies' manuals.

Anyhow, while overseas we realized we weren't getting bills and had guessed at what the bills might amount to and sent e-payments. Then we discovered that LK's phone service was disconnected, but decided it could wait to be sorted out when we got back. Once here in Tassie, we called Optus fully expecting we had overpaid and were due a refund. Turns out, we hadn't put in enough and with penalties and late fees and charges for the months they shut off the service, we owed $275.

Did you catch that last bit? They were charging us for the two months AFTER they had disconnected the service. It's entirely possible that if we had not called them looking for a refund, we could have eaten up our entire retirement nest egg on a disconnected phone service without even knowing it.

Anyhow, LK spent about 10 minutes with someone trying to understand what had happened and why we had never received any of the bills or notices. Then the penny - or more precisely the $275 dropped - when the person told her the billing address they had been sent to. "But I haven't been in that building for three or four years!" she said. "There's absolutely no way I would have told you to use that address." And rather quickly she figured out that when they dropped the second account, they had reverted to the older billing address.

She assumed it was human error or computer glitch. I was pretty sure this is the phone company's way of getting back at you for reducing your business with them.

Either way, LK was reaching the sort of frustration levels that can ruin a beautiful Tasmanian morning so I asked her if I could give it a go. In my mind, I knew I had a secret weapon for I had only last month learned the techniques and skills of wearing people down from Super Consumer Advocate Dave. Remembering his mantra of "I want my 5 dollars," I figured I could win as long as I didn't ever flinch in the face of a mega-million corporation that wanted our $275.

I spoke with the person who had answered LK's call and asked for her manager. That was Susan, and I explained what had happened and was put on hold for about 7 minutes. Acknowledging that I may just have a point that they had screwed up, she "happily" offered to cut the penalties and fees they had tacked on, which amounted to about $70.

"That's great," I said, doing my best to channel Bill Clinton at his most persuasive, "but don't you think we should also cut out the charges you've been posting for the time the phone was disconnected?"

I think Susan agreed, but there is something you need to know about Optus. It not only is a phone company, it is a government-owned phone company. (And that government isn't even Australia, but that's a whole other issue altogether.)

So of course I was moved to yet another Optus manager to deal with the second part of my request. This is bureaucracy's great tactic - just wait them out, shuffle them from person-to-person, and eventually they will give up. But these Optusians didn't know I had been trained by Super Consumer Advocate Dave and my tactic was simple - show more perseverance than they and keep telling them you want your money.

Immovable objects, it's time you met an unstoppable force.

Joe was my last contact. He told me Susan had briefed him on the issue (which would explain why I was on hold for about 10 minutes). Joe, needless to say, had not the tiniest grasp of the issue. He tried to convince me that they were generously waiving the penalties. I just kept saying, "But, Joe, since this was all your mistake, I don't want to pay for service during the time you disconnected the phone."

Joe put me on hold several times. Finally he came on and said they were waiving the fees for the period when they were not providing service. The final bill was only $79 and I gave Joe the credit card details to pay it and get the debt collectors off the case.

It's time to picture LK and me standing on our front porch, looking in the sky and waving as we shout, "Thank you, Super Consumer Advocate Dave."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Democracy Inaction

This is a quick primer for my American readers who are undoubtedly confused by the results of Australia's national election on Saturday.

First, don't be embarrassed that you don't know we had our national election this past weekend. Most Americans don't.

Now, if you did know about them, you are probably wondering why we haven't been able to determine who won yet. If you're thinking Bush-Gore, don't. Our inability to determine a winner has nothing to do with hanging chads and corrupt governor brothers. Nope, ours is simply a result of good old-fashioned Westminster style government.

Unlike you Americans, we don't actually elect our head of state. All we vote for is our electorate's representatives and senators in the Parliament. The Parliamentary leader of the party with the majority of seats then becomes the Prime Minister and gets to live in the big house on Sydney Harbor.

The problem with this system, of course, is that it is possible that no single party will actually win a majority of the seats. And that's what is happening here. It's called a "hung Parliament" and in order to actually take control of government, one or the other party will have to get the few independents to agree to support them.

But of course, most of the independents became that because they couldn't stand the major parties. Their feeling about working within the major parties is so strong, these people chose to be almost completely irrelevant members of Parliament rather than have a say in actually influencing government. But not anymore. I think we can expect them to rub the big guys' noses in it for as long as they can stay in the catbird seat.

Here's an analogy to help you Americans understand. It's as if Congress is virtually tied after the next election so Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid need Joe Lieberman to support them. But their prize if he does isn't being Majority Leader, but President. If you watch Fox News, you're probably quite sure that this isn't really the way democracy should work. And I guess we'll find out here soon enough. But frankly it seems to be working in Britain, where the same thing happened only a few months ago.

Our system here makes it a legal requirement that you have to vote. Unfortunately, the lawmakers did not figure out how to make it a legal requirement that the country should be able to make some sense out of all these votes once they're cast.

It doesn't help much when you don't even know the final tallies in the closer races. This is partially because of postal votes, partially because some vote counters in Western Australia apparently are leaving work in the middle of the afternoon even though the seat they are tallying is too close to call, and also because of preferences.

Preferences is something that Americans might like to try. Basically, you get to rank the candidates, and if the one you like doesn't get enough support, your No 2 choice gets part of your vote. Or something like that. I know I am not explaining it well, but that is primarily because I have never found anyone here who can explain it well to me. Anyhow, it means that quite regularly the candidate who got the most votes doesn't win because the second-place person got more preferences.

Now that's democracy in action!

This year all of this is academic for LK and me. You have to reside in your current house for a month before you can vote, and we weren't in the Tasmania house long enough to be able to register. Which is kind of unfortunate because our district is one of the still too close to call seats.

This morning LK and I filed online forms to change our address. It says something about our enlightened government that they have you fill out the form online and forward it to them electronically, but at the end they tell you have to print it out, sign it and mail it to them, too.

Because I have a driver's license, I didn't require any further evidence that I was who I am.

LK, on the other hand, doesn't have a license and she is going to have to provide proof of who she is in person. The good news is that she doesn't have to go to the electoral commission. After all they are still a tad busy trying to figure out what happened last weekend.

Nope, there's a pretty lengthy list of people who can countersign your form and confirm that you had the appropriate documents to prove who you are. Some I understood: a commonwealth or state employee, a sheriff, a justice of the peace, a clerk of the court.

And some - well, I understand it, but I think you Americans should consider this part of your primer on understanding Australian elections. Among the other people who are officially authorized to verify that you can vote in our elections are: a veterinary surgeon, a real estate agent, airline ground staff, managers of a woman's refuge. And, as you would expect, anyone holding a current liquor license.

We will probably know who our next prime minister will be within a week or two. In the meantime, I hope this helps you understand how democracy works down under.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Home Shopping Network

We've been shopping. And when you've just moved into a new house, shopping isn't for sissies. It's for pros, and quite frankly, amateurs like me had better just get out of the way and let the real shoppers do their thing.

The serious work started Sunday when we bought all of our new kitchen appliances in one fell swoop. We bought a fridge - our second in two weeks. The first one was always a stopgap and destined to be the garage fridge where we keep white wine and beer and all the food LK has left over because she still cooks for 12 even though it's just the pair of us.

After our last refrigerator, I am hooked on fridges with an ice maker and cold water in the door, and LK was happy to go along with my wishes. She wasn't too keen on the energy saving door on the fridge door - where you just reach in and grab a wine or beer without opening the whole door. But LK decided it wasn't all that obvious in black so it was OK.

I also had fallen in love with the look of a stove I had seen in the showroom. Oh, excuse me, they aren't stoves anymore. This is an oven and cook top. It's actually three ovens, I think, or two ovens and a grill, or one oven and a warming oven and a grill or something like that. Since we almost never need the oven for more than one thing, it probably doesn't matter much.

LK and the sales guy did discuss a slightly larger cook top, but I was able to convince her that if she really was cooking a meal that needed 7 burners it was probably time to take everyone out to a restaurant.

Now that I think of it, this was all too easy. I mean the bit about us choosing the appliances that I liked. I can only speculate that around 2am every night, she has been whispering in my ear, "You really, really, really want the Kensington stove and the Samsung fridge." Either that, or after 25 years she has actually trained me to identify items that meet with her approval. But if that were true, she would let me buy my own clothes.

Before we left the store, we ended up adding a hood for the cook top and a dishwasher. "But our dishwasher works pretty well," I said. And I got a look that was half condescension and half pity-the-fool straight out of the Mr T playbook. "Donald, you can't buy all these beautiful black appliances and have an old, white dishwasher in there with them." I didn't really know why that was true, but from the tone of her voice, I knew I shouldn't ask any more questions. Besides, getting two things I wanted may have just been the luckiest shopping streak I've ever had with LK.

Our sales guy was pretty good on giving us discounts, and ended up knocking about 25% off the sticker price for everything. He then spent five minutes trying to get us to give it back to him by buying extended warranties. All told, though, LK was very happy with the results.

"DK, this is significantly below the budget I did," she said. I think this is directly related to the type of thinking that buying something you had no intention to buy is a good deal if it was on sale. But then, what do I know about shopping?

Yesterday the hard shopping work continued with sample day. And this really was one where I stood back and let the expert do her thing. First to FloorWorld, where we had to choose wood floors for the new kitchen. We somehow ended up moving straight to the top of the price range, but I am as much to blame for that as anyone. I really do love this bamboo floor. It's called "Coffee", and it should look fantastic.

So fantastic, in fact, that we have decided to extend it into the dining room. Since that room was probably going to be carpeted, I have a feeling that I won't be hearing too much about how well we are doing versus the budget on the flooring side.

We also needed to get some carpet samples for the family room. It was while shopping for the carpet that LK really showcased her skills as a shopper. There was a whole wall and a bit more with carpet samples. LK looked around and moved to one section in the middle. "I think this would be perfect," she said.

While she was comparing light brown with tan with slightly lighter brown, I compared prices. As you would expect, without even looking at the tags, my darling had chosen the most expensive carpets in the joint. Her instincts really are awesome.

We trudged out of FloorWorld with arms full of carpet and flooring samples. We later left the windows treatment store with samples, and of course, we had about 4 dozen color cards from the paint store.

It was at the paint store that I realized that I am not cut out for this sort of work. I really cannot see the difference between the close colors. And about the only thing I did enjoy was discovering that one of the most popular shades of white is called "Hog Bristle". It is hard to imagine most women I know telling their friends, "Oh yes, Hog Bristle was just the look we wanted for our lounge room." As you can tell, my mind was wandering.

Anyhow, we got it all home and brought all the samples to the room. "I'll leave you to it, then," I told LK. She looked quite hurt. "Aren't you going to help me make the decision?" she asked.

"Well, actually, you'll make a much better decision than I will," I said, "but even more, if you don't like my ideas you won't use them anyway."

"Well, yes, that's true," she said, "but I still want you to be part of the process."

I stayed. And her choices are going to look great.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Neighborhood

We're certainly nowhere the finish line, but life here is starting to feel a lot more normal. In fact, I've been so focused on the boxes and the tradesmen and all the things we plan to do that I haven't really posted much about this place we've moved to. Let me fix that today.

Many of our mornings are spectacular, and today was one of the best. We had a brilliant, rosy sunrise, and that picture is the view from our front window. That's the beach part of Kingston Beach on the left and Hobart is just a little further down river.

Depending on which window you look out of, you either see Kingston Beach or Blackmans Bay and the Pacific. That perspective in the picture is east-northeast, and sunrises are really nice because Kingston Beach lights up just a tad before the view we get looking out the back windows at Blackmans Bay, and we can track the light moving across the water.

And this is a shot of Blackmans Bay from our deck. I took it about seven hours after that first shot. A rain cloud had come through, really pelting us, but right in the middle of it the sun started shining brightly. The whole storm lasted about half an hour. We're getting used to being able to watch a shower to the north and bright sun to the south. Soon we should even be good at figuring out which is coming our way.

These views, needless to say, are pretty much what made us fall in love with this house when we first looked at it about six years ago.

We are very close to what you can fairly call "settled in" by now. Every room is at least somewhat usable, and the chief rooms - kitchen, living room, bedroom - are all pretty much where we will leave them until we have the painters and flooring people in. We have been quite surprised at the size of the rooms. Now that we have moved our stuff in, they are bigger and roomier than we thought they would be.

Last night LK said it was really starting to feel like home, and I agree. I have even made some new friends. Nearly every morning, about 20 pretty little birds fly madly around the garden just below the window where I usually sit. They are black and white, with bright yellow wing tips. They are New Holland Honeyeaters, and they are great fun to watch because they cannot seem to sit still for more than three seconds. They didn't come by this morning and I have grown so used to watching them that I was a little disappointed. (By the way, I did not take that picture, but downloaded it instead.)

As for the big question that we kept hearing when we announced we were moving here.

Yes, it is colder here than in Sydney (though not as bad as Sydney was in the few days we were there in the beginning of the month). However, it isn't THAT cold - and in fact our family and friends in the US probably laugh at the thought that some people think it's cold when the temperature never even gets to freezing in the middle of the winter.

LK and I grew up in places that had real differences in the seasons, with a cold winter and warm summer and half-and-half spring and autumn in between. We both missed those seasonal changes, and it was one of the reasons Tassie seemed so inviting to us. Sure there will be colder months, but that has its own appeal.

Besides, all you need to do to stay warm is to throw on more clothing. Part of the pleasure of the cold is getting warm. I certainly haven't had a day yet when I didn't throw on a sweatshirt, and I like nothing more than turning the heat up to warm the kitchen while making the first pot of coffee.

But it really isn't all that cold. Even though the temperature has been about 7C (45F) around 8:30 each morning, I've watched three or four of the neighborhood kids walking to school with just short-sleeve shirts. A couple of them are even wearing shorts.

I may just be a wuss about the cold, but I suspect these Tasmanians are incredibly hardy souls. It should be fun to get to know them as we live our life here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Learning on the Go

Much to my surprise, I am discovering that the Internet can be useful. Sure, playing poker and writing a blog are fun but you can't really call them useful. I am sure that there are some who consider porn and chain letters lying about Obama as pretty useful in their own way, too. But they're really not.

No, what I am finding useful this week is the treasure trove of old user manuals and product guides you can find on the Internet. There's lot of things in this house that we have never dealt with before, and we really had no idea how to use them properly.

Take, for example, the electric panel heaters, which we have throughout the house. They look simple enough to run - turn on the power and set the thermostat - but I thought I had better read up on them just to make sure. Also, with everything we've heard about the high cost of electric heat, I didn't want to mistakenly run up a $20,000 electricity bill this month.

It turns out our particular brand are Norwegian in origin, and they're among the most efficient and least expensive to run. But of course you'd expect the brochure to say stuff like that. What I did find instructive, however, was their user guide.

The title was in English and Russian, which probably says something about the markets for Norwegian manufacturers. The rest of the brochure was pictures. Apparently there were 11 things users needed to know. Unfortunately, only the final four made it to the download on their site. And now that I write that, I realize I have assumed I saw the final four. For all I know, there may have been 250 things you needed to know and they just happened to scan one page.

Regardless, that one page proved to be a little less instructive than, say, real words telling you what to do.

OK, I can understand #9 where they suggest you keep your furniture a couple of inches away from the heater. I may have even figured that out without a picture.

But #10 really puzzles me. Do they mean you shouldn't put the panel heater in a car? Given that cars come with their own heaters, I don't know why anyone would even think of doing that. Or perhaps they were suggesting that the panel won't fit into that space between the car and the garage door. Surely, if they were trying to tell you not to put a device with a heating element in a closed room with gas (petrol) fumes, they would have come up with a much clearer picture. I would think. But then again, the few Norwegians I have known did have odd senses of humor.

One thing I do know, though, is how to test the level of gas in our LPG tanks. This was one I couldn't find on the Internet. And to be honest, I don't think I am willing to trust an Internet source to tell me anything about testing gas.

So I went the old-tech route and called up the help people at the energy company. The guy was helpful and told me about the Boiling Water Method. What I have to do is boil a kettle of water and take it out to the gas cylinders. I then have to pour the boiling water over the cylinders from the top down. Then I have to touch the base and slowly bring my hand to the top while rubbing the cylinder.

At this point, all I am hearing in my mind is Ricky Gervais asking, "Are you having a go? Are you having a go?" I can even imagine one of those candid camera clone shows hiding next door to film this idiot giving the gas cylinders a hot bath and a slow massage from the bottom up.

But he assured me that this was a tried and true method to figure out how much gas is left in the cylinder. Apparently, when the cylinder is cold to the touch, that's where the gas is. When it's warm, that's where it's empty. Or maybe it's the other way around, but either way you find out how much of the cylinder still has gas in it.

Given that the option appears to be having hot water stop suddenly in the middle of a shower, I guess I will give it a try tomorrow. But I can tell you now, I'm going to be looking around to see if there are any hidden cameras in the bushes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Plumb Wrong

Monday was the day to tackle all those bits and bobs that had made it on our To-Do list. It was a long list, but most of it was just people and companies that needed to know our new address. Almost all of these were routine, quick calls or online entries; a few were pleasant surprises - our insurances (health and home) are actually a couple of bucks cheaper by living here instead of Sydney.

There was one item on the to-do list, though, that required getting a trades person in.

I should preface this by noting that Tasmania is fiercely conscious of the environment. I noted pretty quickly that most people prefer to let their clothes dry on the line using wind and sun, rather than in a dryer using electricity and creating carbon emissions. However, having spent her late teen years growing up in a town that has actually banned clothes lines, LK is adamant that it's tumble dry or nothing.

I had already surprised myself by setting up the washing machine, but we needed to get a plumber/gas-fitter in to modify our clothes dryer from natural gas that we had in Sydney to the LPG that we are using here. It took three calls as the first two plumbers said they were flat out and wouldn't be able to stop by for four or five weeks.

My third call went better, and the plumber said he'd be over in the afternoon. This did make me wonder how good he was when some guys are booked full for weeks ahead and he has spare time right now. No matter, the thought of having to go to a laundromat was far worse than whatever mistakes he might make, I thought. And besides, I had just called and moved the home-and-contents insurance to cover this house.

As it turned out, he was a really nice guy and seemed to know what he was doing. This became especially obvious when he got behind the dryer and stared for a few seconds before saying, "This isn't a gas dryer. It's electric. What made you think it was gas?"

There are moments in your life where you cannot really think of an answer that won't make you look dumber than you already are, and this was one of them. So, with my brain racing to find any sort of reply that would make me look less stupid, I came up with the only answer I could: "I have no idea. I'll have to ask my wife."

I called out to LK who joined us. "LK," I said, "this dryer is electric. What made you think it was gas?"

Of course, all I was doing was passing the hot potato to her rather than answering it myself. And, as you would expect, she knew precisely how to answer it. She thought for just a second or two and then smiled sweetly as she said, "I guess because I'm dumb."

All three of us had a good laugh.

The plumber did look at our barbecue, which really did need to be converted from natural gas to LPG, so he got a little bit of work from us and didn't seem to mind that the main reason for his trip had been a waste of time. More than that, I was pretty sure he would be dining out on this story about the hapless Yanks through more than a few rounds of beer at the local.

And later that night, LK said something that she's been saying with ever greater frequency lately, "It may have been embarrassing, but at least you got something for your blog."

Saturday, August 14, 2010


One of Linda's fears about moving to Tasmania was that it would be hard to find good stores, or if we did find good stores, it might take weeks for stock to make its way down here from the mainland. My concern was that this remoteness would lead to sticker shock as prices soared above what we were used to in Sydney. (Which, of course, were already shocking compared to what you would pay in the US, but that's a whole other issue.)

For a little while this week, LK was quite sure her worst fears would be realized as we went shopping for some furniture. And yes, I can hear you all saying, "But hold on, you shipped your furniture down and you're moving from a larger house to a smaller house. What could you need?"

The answer is "a couple of things". First we needed a couple of chests of drawers for the bedroom. Our house in Sydney had a huge number of closets and many of them had shelving, making it unnecessary to have a chest of drawers. We also need a smallish, casual dining table next to the kitchen for meals when it's just the two of us, which pretty much describes the table LK gave away before we moved. I can't argue too much about that, though, since the fridge we had to buy when we got here pretty much matches the specs of the one I decided to include with the Sydney house when we sold it.

Anyhow, a few visits to the obvious furniture places was getting my bride pretty discouraged. Very little variety at the leading department store's home store; the classic lack of quality at the chain furniture store. Then she saw a store listed online and when we checked it, my sweetie was smiling again.

Wishbone is the store's name, and it had lots and lots of furniture that was stylish, well-made and with enough variety that LK was able to find exactly what she wanted. The service was great, and the woman waiting on us went out of her way to help us find what we were looking for.

But wait, there's more. We went in after noon on Saturday, and they are delivering everything on Monday. The prices for the table and chest of drawers are lower than either of us could imagine a Sydney store even contemplating during a going-out-of-business sale. And then the woman who was waiting on us apologized that she couldn't cut the prices any more because they already had been reduced but - out of the blue - told us she was going to knock 10% off the chairs for the table and throw in free shipping.

Linda was in heaven, absolutely overjoyed that her worst shopping fears were unfounded. Not just unfounded, but in fact better than we had experienced in ages. The whole thing went so well that I could see her straining to see if there wasn't something else we should buy for the house while we were there. She did manage to add in a bolt of fabric for curtains she needs to make, but really there wasn't any more to buy, and the final bill was much less than either of us had dreamed it would be.

So, for slightly different reasons, we both left the store feeling extremely good about our experience and quite confident that we have made a smart choice in moving here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lessons from Unpacking

Yep. . . after being on the road for a full six months and only being in our own home for two nights, my e-mail had an amazing message this morning. Trip Advisor wrote me with the heading "Your friends think you need a holiday".

Which seemed funny when I saw it this morning, but by the end of our third day of unpacking, LK suggested that a holiday wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. I agreed, except it would mean packing and then unpacking a suitcase. And if there is one thing I don't want to do is more unpacking.

Of course, unpacking a weekend bag isn't quite the same as unpacking everything you own in the world. Both of us seem to be learning a few things from unpacking all our earthly possessions.

For years, as you may recall, I have been trying to convince my darling that perhaps she has just a tad too many pairs of footwear. I've been tactful, funny, insulting, snarly. She's ignored me like the pro she is.

But yesterday, as she unpacked another large carton crammed with footwear that she had to sort and bring into the other room, she said, "Donald, if I ever start to look like I am going to buy more shoes, you have to remind me that I told you I should never buy another pair again."

So that's the solution, I thought. Arguing and cajoling won't make a dent in her resolve to acquire more. In the future all I have to do is throw all her shoes and flipflops and boots into big boxes and make her sort them out and return them to the closet. Voila - instant shopping cure.

Or more likely, instant divorce, because of course we all know that this is a spur of the moment comment and there is no way LK is serious about not buying more footwear.

It's more or less like when you realize how fat you are and you say, "I'm not having a drink for a while and I am seriously going on a diet until I lose a lot of weight. If you see me drinking or eating the wrong foods, you should just take them out of my hands and remind I said to do it."

Sure you mean it right then because your pants are tight and you're having trouble seeing your feet. But a trip to the Big and Tall Guy's Store - or just some judicious spandex in the waistband - and you don't really expect to have hand-to-hand combat if you decide a martini is the perfect way to begin the evening.

Well, I will probably find out soon enough. Because this afternoon LK unpacked some of my clothes and I tried them on. Much to my surprise they seem to have shrunk during the six months they were in storage.

That settled it. It's back to the beach for me - South Beach Diet, that is. I told LK of my resolve and that she was fully authorized to enforce it. She smiled. "I guess that means we won't be able to have comfort food all this week," she said.

"Well," I said after thinking for a few seconds. "Actually I can start the diet a week from now. But really - you have to make sure I stay on it once I start it."

LK nodded sagely. My wise wife knows the chances of this happening the way I say it will are about as remote as - oh, I don't know - maybe, her not ever buying shoes again.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Boxes, Boxes, Boxes

I woke up last night and went in search of the bathroom. Only, in my semi-awake state, I had no idea where I was. Nothing looked familiar, I couldn't get any sense of orientation. Finally I woke up enough to notice the boxes stacked to the ceiling and the tumblers in my brain fell into place. Great, I thought, after six months I finally sleep in my own home and when I wake up I have no idea whatsoever where I am.

When we went to bed last night LK had wondered if we would be able to move today. Unfortunately, we were, but tomorrow is really looking dicey.

I say unfortunately because we must have emptied more than a hundred boxes so far, and most of them went today. Those of you who know LK pretty much know that when she's on a mission she doesn't rest. Well, that compulsive nature was in full evidence today. She whirled through the house, moving things from one place to another and sending me a steady stream of empty boxes to break down.

By the end of the afternoon, she astonished me by having the kitchen in full running order - including taking delivery of two (2!) different online grocery orders to round out the large load we bought on Tuesday. In three days we now have spent most couples' quarterly food budget, but our cupboards do not look as if we have just moved in. Mission accomplished.

While LK was working her tail off making the house suitable to live in, I attended to two very important jobs. First, I had to take a lot of boxes down to the basement because our crack delivery crew obviously decided that in the rain the much closer garage beat the further away basement hands down.

And the rest of my day was taken up with what may be the most critical action of the move. I emptied the boxes holding our wine and put it in the wine fridges. Actually, with more than 500 bottles, I can swear to the fact that this was a very real pain in the neck - and back and shoulders. Or as LK so sympathetically said to me a moment ago: "I don't think our past six months prepared us for this kind of work."

Anyhow, we have made great progress today. LK wins the Hardest Worker Award for the sixth straight day. (And is right now making meatloaf for dinner to add a little icing to the cake.) She has decided we are celebrating the start of our new home with a week of comfort food. I'm not complaining. And somewhere around the second bite of meatloaf I just might reward myself with some very old wine that I forgot we had.

More boxes tomorrow. And probably furniture shopping. (Don't ask.) And hopefully I will know where I am this time if I get up to pee tonight.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First Day


I wish I had more energy, but I am pretty sure that's not going to happen for at least a week.

Today they delivered 2 1/2 containers of our household goods. Don't know what that translates into, but suffice it to say it is a lot of household goods. And they all needed to be unpacked.

The poor guys working for the movers ended up with the bad weather - rain, wind, cold temperatures - and they were pretty much soaked to the skin before they even began bringing in the wine fridges.

From our point of view, that was too bad, but we just wanted to find the stuff we needed to get through our first night at our new home. Enough pots and pans to cook dinner, sheets and pillows to complete the bed, a place to sit when we can't stand up any more.

Well, here's the quick version. The move went well. We are probably 10% further ahead than we thought we would be. And we are both soooooooooo damned tired that this night is ending very early.

More tomorrow, assuming I can move tomorrow. Which is something that LK keeps suggesting won't be happening for either of us.

Anyhow, we're here. Our stuff is here. And the future's looking rosy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Big W

It was a battle between the Ks and the W. Unfortunately for us, W stands for Winning.

Needing lots of little things to set up house, we drove to the Big W discount department store in Kingston. Big W is a lot like Walmart only without the charming floor staff. And without the wide range of products. And without the top-quality brands. And without the great prices. But otherwise, it's a lot like Walmart.

You could say it is like K-mart, only not so upscale. Or you could say it is like Nieman Marcus, but only if you mean they both have rooms with stuff you can buy. No, the Big W is a dreadful store.

And that's coming from me, who is pretty much not focused on shopping experiences. You can only imagine how my darling reacted to finding herself in this store.

I should add, LK is not all that elitist about shopping. As much as she loves Tiffany & Co, she gets just about as excited going to the Dollar Store (or the $2 Store here in Oz, where a dollar won't even buy you a punch in the nose).

Nonetheless, there we were loading our shopping cart with 24-packs of toilet paper, extra-large rolls of industrial strength garbage bags, three laundry baskets, 24 cans of Diet Coke, a box cutter, an electric kettle, enough paper napkins (called serviettes here in Oz) to keep a platoon tidy at lunch, a camper folding chair, four bags of chips, cleaning products and some things I have already forgotten.

We weren't altogether happy because the store didn't stock some of the things on our list - basic things like small waste baskets, for example - but really, other than the fact that there weren't a lot of items on the shelves, it wasn't all that bad an experience until we got to the check-out.

And there the shopping experience took a decided turn for the wretched. It seems the Big W management, in a brilliant cost-cutting exercise, decided to have no check-out people. Not terribly concerned with what their customers felt, they made all of us go through the self-service check-out. And it is such an enormous pain in the butt - not to mention that it doesn't work all that well - that I can right now name at least two customers who vowed they will never go back to the Big W.

In fact, I believe I told the young lady who was there to help people like us who couldn't master the self-service check-out, "I'm never coming back to this flaming store. I can't believe they'd put customers through this crap just to be able to avoid hiring a couple of minimum wages flunkies." OK, I didn't say "flaming" or "crap", but what made me feel bad almost immediately was that I realized even as I said it that I undoubtedly was already talking to a minimum wages flunky.

The problem with the self-service check-out is that it is really lame technology. You scan a product, then put it in the plastic bag that is resting on a scale. Only no one tells you you can't move the product once you put it there. But worse, the system just doesn't work very well. Half the time the damn eternally pleasant computer voice tells you a product has been removed that hasn't been removed. And there's nobody to argue with.

I won't even go into the challenge of large items like 24-packs of toilet tissue. They don't fit on the scale and yet the computer goes into paroxysms of fury if you don't weigh them. When the person whose job is to assist people who can't master the self-service check-out technology came over once again to help us, LK or I (and I honestly don't know which of us) muttered, "We are ready to just walk out of this store and leave our stuff here."

As you would expect, this person showed us how to weigh the oversized items, punched a few things into the touch screen to make everything work again, and probably walked away feeling very conflicted that they had solved our problems since my guess is they would have definitely preferred that we walk out of the store and never return.

Anyhow, we eventually got our stuff, loaded the car and drove away. "I'm never going back to that place," LK said. I thought for a second and said, "Actually, now that I understand how to use the check-out, I could handle it."

There was a long silence in the car. I think Big W is a deal breaker.


Tomorrow - less than 12 hours from now - our furniture arrives. We will have a home again!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Working Relationship

I'm tired. And we're still two days away from having our furniture and hundreds of boxes delivered.

We have been doing the preliminary work and I am starting to think that this moving house may just be a very long project. It's not just moving in. Since this is likely to be our home for as long as we can live at home, there's much more to do than just move our stuff in.

LK and I both agree that the kitchen needs an upgrade. And neither of us likes the color the walls are painted, so we've agreed that should be done sooner rather than later. Ditto for the overhead lights. They look like the sort of things landlords put in when they rent a place, which, come to think of it, is exactly what they are.

LK wants a new floor in the kitchen and living room. I have always loved wood and kind of liked the wood floor that was there until she explained to me that the wood I liked was actually linoleum. I don't like linoleum, although it did occur to me that if I couldn't tell the difference perhaps I only like brown things with grain and that even fake wood will do for me.

We both want a patio/deck area outside for barbecues in the good weather. And eventually, if there's anything left in the budget, we would love to have a pool put in. But that's for much later.

As you can imagine, we have discussed and debated all sorts of possibilities. For LK, making her home beautiful is not something done casually. It is something that takes hard work, study, effort and hours of exploration. And that is what she has been doing for months, poring over home magazines and web sites. She has a vision of what the new house should look like, although it's a movable feast as she continues to explore other possibilities and tweak her ideas.

She has wonderful taste and we have always lived in lovely homes that she set up. I, on the other hand, can't tell wood from linoleum.

So it's not much of a surprise that we have evolved a working relationship as we tackle our new home and its many projects. LK makes the major decisions, and I offer my ideas. Then she tactfully explains why my ideas are more appropriate for the sort of place that might be home to legally blind men with poor hygiene.

She's right, of course, but that doesn't stop me from whining. When I hinted that I wasn't having a lot of impact on the decorating decisions, she told me it was not fair for me to say that. Of course it's unfair. I know that. It's a little like me complaining that I'm a Red Sox fan but they won't let me play on the team.

But LK is nothing if not kind. A short while after this discussion she said, "You know what. You can make all the decisions about the pool." Two things happened. First I realized that I had just been given responsibility for a project that may or may not happen and will certainly not happen for a year. And second I realized that I did not want that responsibility.

Damn! Look what complaining got me! I told LK that I wouldn't dream of being the decision maker if we built a pool.

And that is about as assertive as I intend to be from here on out.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Finish Line

G'day, all. This post is being written in Hobart. And for the first time since early February, we are no longer homeless wanderers.

This morning at 6:58am we drove off the Spirit of Tasmania ferry in Devonport, and by 10:30 we were in Kingston Beach unloading all the stuff in our car into our home.

The drive down from Sydney was uneventful (we don't count LK and me having "discussions") and it showcased Australia in its winter. No snow on our route, but the fields around Canberra looked wintry, bare branches and brown grass on the ground. Leaving Albury yesterday morning, we drove through thick fog until we exploded out into brilliant sunshine about an hour above Melbourne.

We had a lovely moment as we sat through what now seems to be an inevitable delay in boarding the ferry. My phone rang. The reception was very scratchy, and I could hear a voice saying, "Don't you know who this is?" Finally the signal was clear enough to recognize Judy, whom we had met on our cruise from Singapore to Athens.

That seemed like ancient history, but of course it was just one of the early stages of this whole mad journey. It was great to hear Judy and her husband Wally welcome us back to Oz - and their timing couldn't have been more perfect than catching us with only a few minutes left before we physically left the mainland. They're a fantastic couple and it is really great to think that we will continue our friendship beyond the couple of weeks of the cruise.

The ferry ride was uneventful. Or perhaps I should say, from all I knew it was uneventful. I had briefly thought of posting my final blog entry as a mainlander from the ferry itself, but a couple of wines and I was out cold till the loudspeaker told us it was 6am and we would be docking in 40 minutes.

Driving south through the island, I must have commented how lovely Tasmania is half a dozen times. Mother Nature certainly helped, with a rosy dawn lighting clouds in pink and faint blue as they stretched across the mountains. We passed many sheep paddocks where dozens of ewes were minding their newborn lambs. And at one point, we had a jaw-dropping view of long white clouds settling into a couple of valleys among the rolling hills.

But the real prize today, of course, was Kingston Beach. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as we drove up to our new home, and the bays glistened in the early morning. It was this view that knocked us out when we first saw the house, and I can only hope that we are still knocked out by it ten years from now.

We're in a Hobart hotel right now. Furniture gets delivered on Wednesday. Errands to run until then - including buying a fridge and some tools. I wonder if LK would notice if I slipped a chainsaw into the basket....

We are both very, very happy, very buzzed and ready to make this house our home. Our love and thanks to all of you who helped make our long journey such a wonderful experience.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Cold Farewell

Blow winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
King Lear

I will try to do a quick catch-up of our week thus far.

After more than a month of hot, almost always sunny weather, we returned to Australia on Monday and were immediately beset by record low temperatures, bone-chilling rains and gale force winds. Honestly, I haven't been this cold since we visited Lake Crater in early June.

Monday was the classic jet lag recovery day. LK and I were too tired and lazy to do much of anything. Couple that with the cold weather, and we decided to spend the day rediscovering the joys of Law & Order reruns and, much to our amazement, a willingness to have a second viewing of the movie, SWAT. (And I was almost too embarrassed to admit I had seen it once!)

We vowed to struggle through the drowsies and made it until just before 9. At that point, I was sleeping while sitting up in a straight-back chair. Shirley and LK were concerned that they would have trouble righting me if I fell over, so they sent me off to bed. Not surprisingly, LK joined me. I have a vague memory that I noticed it was warm and felt good before going completely unconscious.

Of course, early to bed et cetera. We ended up getting up before 5 on Tuesday so there was plenty of time to run our errands. And we did. Visits to the bank and post office to make it official that we were now residents of Tasmania, pick up scripts at the pharmacy, a visit to our accountant to find out the bad news with taxes. Then we broke for lunch with friends we haven't seen for months. After that it was time for hair cuts (still don't understand why LK's takes about 2 hours more than mine).

And then the highlight of the day - dinner at a Mexican restaurant with Lily. We had been away for her eighth birthday, so LK had wrapped lots of little presents and it was a bit like Christmas in August. She is such a beautiful girl, and now she is becoming almost grown up with the things she says and the way she converses. It's so trite to talk about how fast kids grow up, but it is so true. And it doesn't help when we saw how much she had grown in the four months away.

Oh, yes, Matt and Rachael were there, too. That punchline aside, everyone seems to be doing pretty well. Matt enjoys his new job and looks to have survived the end of his first contract with a new offer coming.

On Wednesday we woke around 5 again and, after thawing our toes, got dressed and headed over to our storage locker which we emptied of the last few things we had in Sydney. Thank God one of the suitcases was empty or I don't think we could have fit everything into the car. But a bit of work and the boot (the trunk) was full without a square inch of space left.

We had put in things that we wouldn't need to get until we arrived at our new house in Tassie. Needless to say, we had to open and rearrange it later that afternoon.

The back seat was full from floor to ceiling. Bottles of wine, shoes, loose clothes all filled the floorspace, and then bags and whatnot piled into every space we could find. Shirley thought we had perfected the boat people look. But being Australian she wouldn't naturally think of the Okies heading to California.

LK worried about the fact that I had no vision in the rear-view mirror. I reminded her that lots of truckers don't either and just use side mirrors. I was surprised that she seemed to accept that. Secretly, I was thinking of Sly Stallone in Death Race 2000 ripping off his rear-view mirror, saying it was for losers.

Fortunately the skies cleared and we had a clear sunny day for the drive to Canberra. And as we drove past the city and then the airport, it became official. After 22 years, we are no longer Sydneysiders.

We were pushed around by strong winds, but otherwise it was an uneventful trip to Jason and Laura's. I had called Jay as we left Sydney to tell him we were coming, so I didn't quite know how to take it when we arrived to an empty house.

Actually, Jason had just popped out to the post office to get the paperwork underway for the US trip they are planning for October. Laura arrived soon after. Inside LK and I rediscovered how much we loved central heating. We had a great catchup with the kids, and had loads of laughs.

Then we learned what a great cook Laura is. She made one of our favorite Thai dishes, massaman curry. It's a rich broth with beef, potatoes and peanuts and gorgeous seasonings. Laura's version was so good both of us ended up having a second dish. And this morning we learned that people travelling by car should probably limit themselves to one dish of curry.

We also decided to go out in the refrigerator-level temperatures to repack the whole car. But more about that in a later post. It's time to get moving. Not in the least because LK is outside in the near-freezing temperatures trying to reorganize the backseat stuff whie I'm writing this in the heated room.

We're heading to Albury this morning and will spend our last night on the mainland before heading to the ferry on Friday. We're almost at our new home!