Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bon Voyage

We had a great time over the past two weeks, but it's time to start wrapping it up. In no particular order, here are some random thoughts as I finish up with our tour of Egypt and Jordan:

Crankiness:  Here is where I should insert a group picture of our busload of fellow tourists in the Forum at Jerash. Our guide, Moen (you can call me Mo), introduced a photographer who wanted to snap us - and obviously sell the picture back to us.

However, when Mo asked how many of us wanted to take the group picture, not a single hand was raised. It was an embarrassingly long pause as it sank in for all of us that not one of us gave a rat's ass about remembering any of the others.

I was happy about that because it meant that I was not the only cranky old fart wandering around Jordan who hadn't bonded all that well with his fellow tourists. In fact, a few moments later it became obvious that I wasn't even close to being the crankiest one in our group.

We had in our group an Irishwoman who was a forensic psychologist, and she had obviously forgotten her meds that morning. As Mo talked about the Forum in Jerash, she demanded more and more info. "I want to know who built this, when did they build it, how long did they stay, why did they leave, how did it get destroyed," she rattled at 78 rpm. I was surprised she didn't ask what their sign was and whether they were good dancers. It sure sounded like she thought Mo didn't have much real depth behind the information he was giving us.

Exasperated, Mo explained to her that he had pretty much told us all of this over the bus' PA system on the way to Jerash. But she was short, Irish and a forensice psychologist - she was not backing down. She told him she may have been asleep when he told us all of that.

So he promised that he would get to all that info at the next spot where we stopped our walk. And he did, dredging up textbook histories of the occupation of Jerash through about 20 centuries, the rulers and emperors and governors, the types of material used in the buildings, the dates of the major earthquakes that destroyed much of the place.

I said to LK that sometimes when you call a bluff, the guy actually has the cards. And as the rest of us in the group started to glaze over from an overdose of info, the Irishwoman dropped to the perimeter of the group. She did not say another word but later in the day went missing from the tour as she joined another group without telling Mo.

And she wasn't even the only one who needed to get the bug removed from their backside. While we stopped on our walk down the column-lined main street, some people used the chance to have their
spouse or friend get out in the empty street and pose for a picture.

Except some old bat from the UK wanted no one in her picture, just the empty street. "Can you please get out of the way," she barked at two guys posing for a picture. They explained that they would move as soon as their picture was taken. "Well, hurry it up," she snapped, "I don't want any people in my picture."

Or probably her life, either, I would guess.

At any rate, I was happy this all happened on the final day. Up until then I had thought I was the crankiest person on the tour, but there's no question I would have to be lucky to even get a place in the trifecta.

Vagueness:  I know I posted earlier about how some of our fellow travelers weren't very aware of things, but I really reached my limit of patience after two weeks in which on every single day we would see people wander off in the wrong direction, ask a question about something they had just been told, ignore everything they had been told and then complain, etc, etc. Over and over and over again.

I know people travel light on holidays nowadays, but many of these folks seem to have decided their brains might count as excess baggage. On our final night, as we boarded the bus to go to the airport, LK started pounding my arm every time someone in the group asked a question for which we had just been given the answer moments earlier. I finally asked her to stop, fearing blood clots on the flight.

Was it poor listening skills? Lack of concentration? Memory failure?

Sure. Or just plain stupidity, perhaps.

I would worry about regaining the top spot in the cranky rankings with this observation except that I know I did not feel this way about the people we traveled with on our cruises earlier this year. Nope, I think this trip just happened to be one of those times when we ended up with all those folks who thought they said "trains" when God was handing out brains and decided to take the ship instead.

Or as LK said, they were renaming our cruise. FormerlyVoyages to Antiquity, it was now known as Voyages to Senility.

Shopping:  Some times what doesn't happen is as remarkable as what does. LK did not go shopping for two weeks and only bought one inexpensive item as a souvenir. I point that out as one of the most incredible things on this trip, and those who know her will understand.

Old Places: It was a holiday about checking out all the ancient monuments and places. We walked in the places where the Pharaohs, Alexander, St Anthony, Moses and Pompey all walked. We were on the Red and Dead Seas, the Nile and Suez Canal. We saw old pyramids, old temples, old monasteries, old tombs, old cities and the desert where they filmed Lawrence of Arabia.

That was why we went, and we were not disappointed. But in the midst of all this we also encountered a remarkable attempt at modern living. Tomorrow I will write about the electric toilet.

Back in the USSA

As in United Sports States of America!

We arrived in Newark in late evening on Saturday and crashed (us, not the plane) at the Airport Hotel. We were so tired that we poured a drink, took one sip and sent ourselves to bed without any supper. Then it was wide awake at 5am and really ready for the breakfast buffet to open up at 6:30.

Walt and Terry picked us up at 11 and we drove back to Freehold. And this being Sunday, it wasn't too long before Walt and I headed over to Jeff's house for an afternoon in his Man Cave watching football. And when you're here, it's not gridiron or American football. It's just football.

 I finally got out of the padded recliner with holes in the arm for my beer about six hours and 12 games later (Jeff is brilliant switching channels with the remote control).  He is also brilliant in feeding us sports buffs with shrimp and spicy cheese wrapped in bacon, pigs in a blanket with spicy mustard and later a couple of pizzas. And just a few beers to wash it all down.

I think it only took one afternoon to undo all the self-denial of the South Beach Diet leading up to our trip. And that was fine with me.

So, anyhow, back at Walt and Terry's for a couple of drinks and the usual round of stories, tales and political discussions. And then complete collapse by 11 as our early rising got the best of us.

So this time it's the NFL that ate my homework. Which is why I still have to write a post to wrap up the Jordan and some of the Egypt stuff we did in the past two weeks. But that can wait until tomorrow. I have put up quite a few pictures and you can see some of the shots taken at the Temple of Queen Hatshetsup near Luxor (every guide said it's easier to just say "hot chicken soup" real fast and not worry), a couple of snaps at the Dead Sea that don't feature swarms of flies, some of the ruins at Jerash and lastly at the Citadel high above Amman.

They are all at our travel photo site here. And those of you who are new to social media might note that our friend Judy keeps making us feel warm and fuzzy by commenting so nicely on the pictures - which you are also all welcome to do there and also on these posts.

It's good to be back with friends and (soon) family. And there's no better time than this to be with them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Leaving Jordan

After that less-than-memorable post from the Dead Sea with more typos than a Rupert Murdoch newspaper, this is a brief post to say that we had a great final day seeing some of the ancient sites around Amman itself. First off to Jerash, a city the Romans built around 70AD. Even though ancient earthquakes had knocked much of it down, there was still plenty standing.

Then we went to the Citadel in Amman proper. It, too, has remains of temples, monuments and churches that were very interesting. But the best part was that the open-air museum stands high in the city with great views all around. No, that's the second best part. The best part is the museum on the grounds actually has some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a statue believed to be the oldest known statue ever found. Some times the things you see in this area of the world just bowl you over.

Well, it was a long day touring and a short night getting ready to fly out. Our plane leaves at 3:05am - can you believe they even schedule something at that hour? And we have to pack and get out of here before midnight. So, given the choice between a nice last-night's dinner with a good bottle of wine or a detailed post, I've chosen the obvious.

But there's a long layover in Frankfurt and a 9-hour flight to the US so I will try to catch up and tell you more about the stuff we saw today and some of the other things I skipped over in the earlier posts. I will certainly try to get the pictures from today up on Shutterfly.

And finally, LK and I have decided that we should not have been surprised by all the flies we encountered yesterday at the Dead Sea. In fact, a quick look around the Internet shows what we should have guessed, anyhow.

According to a recent survey, flies rate The Dead Sea as their No 1 holiday destination. The Top Ten list is:

Why I didn't finish the beer
1. The Dead Sea
2. Rotterdam
3. Death Valley
4. Mucking, UK
5. Shittlehope, New Zealand
6. Toronto (where they filmed the 1968 film "The Fly")
7. Pennsylvania Dutch Country (home of Shoe-Fly Pie)
8. Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds, UK
9. Maui (where they filmed "Lord of the Flies"), and
10. Philadelphia, home of the Philadelphia Flyers.

I know. Google has a lot to answer for. Anyhow, on to America.

How Low Can You Go?

Not any lower, actually, since we are sitting at the Dead Sea - the lowest point on the globe. It is a quarter mile (400 metres) below sea level. Making me wonder how a sea can be below sea level.

We are doing this visit on the fly. Well, actually the fly is on us. do not think a landfill could have more flies. There are so many sitting onmy arms that think the fly version of Glenn Beck must be holding a rally on me.

Anyhow, back to the bus and on to Amman for a Thanksgiving Day buffet that will most likely not offer turkey and certainy will not have ham.

My 2nd Kindle post. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Jordan Airs

What a great country Jordan is. It is drop-dead beautiful, its people are so friendly and it is just one of the nicest places we've visited in a long time. LK says it is "wonderful, compelling and interesting" which is pretty high praise from her.

Yesterday we landed in Aqaba and drove to Wadi Rum, a part of the desert that has some gorgeous mountains and is most famous for being the place where they filmed lots of key scenes for "Lawrence of Arabia".

We rode in jeeps with  bedouin drivers and had a ball, even if our tailbones were pretty tender by the end. My words escape me to describe the place, so I recommend you check out the pictures at our Shutterfly site. I took a fair amount of video, and soon I will edit into watchable shape. But for now, the stills.

Then today we did one of the most fantastic things we've done in all our travels. We are in Petra, and we walked through mountainous crevices and along twisting paths to reach some of the most spectacular ruins we've ever seen.

Again, the pictures will do more than words can, but at least we accomplished the purpose of this trip. Ten years ago, when LK had another significant birthday, we went to Xian China and had a jaw-dropping moment when we first saw the Terracotta Warriors. Today, on a trip to celebrate her recent significant birthday, the first view of the Treasury in Petra had the same effect.

You walk downhill through these narrow, towering cracks between the stones, and then you turn a corner and see this towering, pink-hued funeral monument. It is simply spectacular, and when you add in that it is over 2,000 years old it is amazing.

After standing in awe of this, we then walked down further and saw more tombs, caves where the "commoners" lived and some other monuments to the powerful. These monuments are not erected in front of the rocks but are carved from them. And the colors and shades are astonishing.

So enough of the superlatives. Check out the places yourself.

And yes, I walked all the way down and back - about 2 kilometres on a slope. I napped when I got back to the hotel and rewarded myself with a couple of Finlandias tonight. Swimming in the Dead Sea tomorrow (Thanksgiving Day) then our final day in Jordan visiting Amman and Jerash on Friday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Big Valley

Yesterday we played Indiana Jones and raided several tombs in he Valley of the Kings. OK. We stood in long lines and shuffled slowly through four tombs.

And any raiding of these tombs happened long ago. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to see these monuments that long-ago rulers had built for themselves. And make no mistake. When it came to glorifying themselves, these guys followed the advice of the King of the 20th Century and were seriously taking care of business.

Except maybe for King Tut. His mummy is shrivelled and black and all I could think was that it was good he had lots of gold with him or none of the chicks he met inthe afterlife would come within 5 yards of him.

They do not allow cameras in the Valley so you will have to take my word for it.

There is more to tell but I will save for later. I have discovered that I can get free Internet on my Kindle and experimented with this post. (But not before checking that the Patriots beat the Colts. Hurrah!)

But typing on the Kindle's mini-micro keyboard is killing my thumbs. I may never be able to hitchhike again. And I hope that explains why I am definitely not fixing any errors.

A lazy day in Sharm el-Sheikh today then overnight to Aqaba where we disembark to drive to Petra and lastly Amman Jordan.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


We're in heaven.

Actually, we're in Luxor, but the hotel has good Internet connectivity and it feels like heaven. We've taken a long bus ride here to check out the Temple of Karnak, and tomorrow we go to the Valley of the Kings to see some tombs - including Tutankhamen's.

And best of all, we've been able to upload more of our pictures. They're at our travel site which is here.

While the people on our tour may be getting under our skins a wee bit (OK, a big bit), the places we've been visiting have not let us down in the least. This Temple in Luxor is really mind-boggling in its scope. It is huge, and so much of it remains after such a long time that it really does make me wonder how we have ended up in our "enlightened" age with planned obsolescence built into so much of what we create.

But that sounds grumpy, and I'm not. Well, OK, maybe I am a little, but not about this trip. Well, OK, maybe a little about this trip, but not this place.

I keep trying to figure out how people have survived into their golden years with absolutely no awareness that it is dangerous to stop suddenly in a crowd and just stare around.  And when will these retired guys learn that they aren't the bosses anymore and no one cares whether they have A) an observation or B) a better idea?

Oh dear, that does sound grumpy. Unfortunately there is no avoiding the people who are starting to prove irksome. They're on our ship; they're in the dining room; they're on the bus; they're the ones slamming on the brakes as we walk through narrow spaces and just about tear our calf muscles trying not to fall into them.

The very good news is that it's quite easy to put them right out of our minds once we start looking at the artefacts of Egypt. Those are everything they were touted to be.

Just a couple days more here in Egypt, then a few days in Jordan before flying to the US. The trip is going too fast, even if the ladies in front of me aren't.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Out of Touch

Well, if there's any place that should make you feel like the good old days, I guess Egypt would be it. Today we are in Ein al Sakhra on the Red Sea. But it feels more like we're in Communicado. (Sorry. Really.)

We are having a great time on the trip and seeing some interesting stuff. Unfortunately, there isn't much way to share it with you. The Internet connection on the ship is slow, very slow - in fact, the slowest I have used since the old days when you plugged your PC into a phone jack. So we wouldn't feel bad, though, the ship has given us what may be the most expensive Internet connection available. I am conscious that every time I think about changing a sentence so it, oh, makes sense, the cash register is going ka-ching.

So briefly - we saw the awesome pyramids at Giza (and the famous Sphinx). It is great when these sorts of things live up to your expectation - and they did. Huge buildings that have lasted longer than just about anything else man has ever made and all filled with exquisite, ornate craftsmanship done at a time when the British Isles were populated by guys who danced around big slabs of rock that they'd stood on end in a circle.

Today we saw the Christian monastery of St Anthony in the very arid mountains just to the west of the Red Sea. It's about 1700 years old, but still has more than 100 monks living, praying and working there. All the monks and nuns take the last name of Anthony in honor of the hermit who founded the monastery, and they now have churches in the UK, Australia and America. Makes me wonder if Julie or Carmelo might be quiet members. I am pretty sure Little Anthony is not.

So, we have lots of pix but can't upload them for a while. And who knows when the next post will be? Probably in two days when we actually check into a hotel - but then that assumes the hotel will have internet access. If it does, I promise lots more details.

Oh well, that's the quick version. And I typed real fast so it only cost about $4.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cairo, Memphis and Sakkara

The Step Pyramid at Sakkara

Our first  day of touring started off a bit chaotic as all 300 of us milled around waiting to be told which bus to get on to go to the Cairo Museum. We were free to grab whatever bus we wanted, apparently, which had been color-coded. It felt a bit like we were in a road company of Reservoir Dogs as LK and I dutifully followed Mr Purple into the elevator and down to his bus. Or maybe it was Clue, for I could swear I saw Professor Plum leading another group.

But more about the organization's disorganization in another post. Today, just a quick one to say we first went to the museum that houses, among many many artefacts, the famous relics from King Tutankhamen's tomb.

There were lots of artefacts from the various dynasties of Egypt, and when we could hear our guide amid the din of the museum, it was pretty informative stuff. Obviously the King Tut stuff if the highlight, and it really is beautiful. At least it seems that way for the few seconds you queue past it, shoulder-to-shoulder with far more people than should be in that room at the same time. (By the way, you can't take pictures in there anymore, so the one at the left was downloaded.)

There really are a lot of tourists here. But then again, after our last several years of roaming the world I've come to the conclusion that most of the world now is either tourists or the people the tourists have come to see.

The Cairo Museum seemed to present very special moments, though, as tour groups numbering between 15 and 30 seemed to all flow in cross-currents to one another. There was no "right" direction to move, and in fact whatever direction your group was flowing would be the exact opposite of at least one other and about 45 degrees different from two or three other groups.

Oh, that's right, kind of like Cairo traffic. Now I get it.

After lunch we went to Memphis, which as we all know, was the former home of the King. No, Ramses, not Elvis. Memphis was the first capital of Egypt and is now a small village with lots of butcher shops and some excavations along with an open-air museum.

The highlight here is the huge statue of Ramses, which is lying on its back because the limestone of its back was damaged after it fell and eroded in the flood plains many years ago. It is pretty impressive and you can catch LK's pictures of it here.  There are also a couple of pictures from nearby Sakkara, which is home to numerous early pyramids. The Step Pyramid is being worked on, but it's a good example of the earlier designs they used.

Today we get to see the much more famous pyramids at Giza. (I think of the Step Pyramid as being kind of the $25,000 Pyramid to its million dollar cousins.) Then we're on to Alexandria, where we will board the Aegean Odyssey which will take us down the Suez after we tour the city tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Baggage Drop-off

So here we are, eating breakfast with the pyramids looming over our table, and we are talking about Jon. He'd sent an e-mail reminding us to have plenty of 1 Egyptian pound notes with us so we could buy toilet paper when we went to a public loo. And then he had commented that our new kitchen looks "eerily like our other one".

"He's such a bachelor," I said to LK, and she said to me that she had obviously trained me well for me to be able to understand that.

Oh, did I mention we were having breakfast a stone's throw away from the pyramids?

This is our second day in Cairo, but yesterday was devoted to rest and relaxation. That's because our travel time from airport to airport amounted to 44 hours beginning Wednesday morning and we were very low on energy.

You can make the trip from Hobart to Cairo in about 29 hours, but we are doing the retirement two-step when we travel. First, use frequent flyer points whenever you can, then book the very best deals you can find. Or vice-versa.

In this case, there was a great round-the-world fare from Lufthansa and its partners, which was ideal since we wanted to be in the States for Christmas. So that forced us into a situation where we flew over the Mideast to Frankfurt, sat in the lounge for seven hours and then flew back to the Mideast. It wasn't bad, just long.

The flights were uneventful.  Getting to them, not quite so.

In Melbourne we had to push our luggage trolley from the domestic terminal next door to the international terminal. It wasn't such a long trip - maybe a hundred yards - but when we got there we were one floor lower than we needed to be to check into our international flights.

I should add that the luggage trolley was groaning under the weight of three suitcases which LK had packed "lightly". Well, that's her phrase. The airlines always throws a "Heavy" tag on those "light" suitcases, so one of them is a bit off. I don't think the trolleys are designed for that much weight, because it was a real shoulder-to-the-wheel sort of push to get it rolling.

Anyhow, there was this escalator-type thing that was really just a long conveyor belt set at about a 30-degree angle. (I still don't know where the degree sign is on this Mac!) It moved slowly, and every few feet there was a big red STOP button, along with a sign saying anyone who pushed the STOP button without a real need to do so was subject to prosecution.

Toward the top there was another sign that said to push down hard on the handlebar of the luggage trolley (that releases the wheel lock) and push hard when you got to the top of the whatever-it-was-that-we-were-on (WIWTWWO).

I did that.

Unfortunately it wasn't enough to get 200+ pounds of luggage and trolley over the lip of the WIWTWWO. One bag fell forward, another fell sideways, I moved forward, the trolley trapped my right leg against the side railing, LK moved forward and started to fall over the cabin luggage which had rammed into the tipped-over trolley, another passenger was close behind and backpedaling. And all of this took about 3 seconds before I decided to risk prosecution and hit the STOP button.

Eventually, with a little help from some people at the top of the WIWTWWO, we were able to get my leg out from under the trolley, drag the fallen bags, right the trolley and re-load it. If it were still possible to wound my pride, it would have taken a hit. But let's face it, I'm pretty much over being embarrassed about this clumsiness/falling down stuff.

My shins were both scraped and a bit bloody, and LK was worried that I was going to repeat a very nasty medical episode where I got cellulitis when I scraped my shin in Africa about 15 years ago. I reminded her that we were not yet in Africa, that I could properly clean the scrapes with antibacterial soap and that it wasn't worth worrying about.

She agreed and moved the nag level to Code Yellow for the remainder of the trip, although she did pull a surprise inspection in Frankfurt when she lifted up my pants leg to check my shin - my own personal department of homeland security.

Anyhow, no damage done. And my shins were already so scarred from that other time that it's even hard to tell if they're injured now.

We slept like the pharaohs in our room the first night and are ready to start our tour tomorrow. Our cheap airfares required us to get into Cairo two days earlier than our tour starts, but we were glad to have some time to recuperate. We were also glad to be able to use frequent sleeper points to get free nights in the hotel.

This afternoon we relocate to the hotel where the cruise is putting us up, and tomorrow we officially tour the pyramids. You know, the ones over my shoulder during breakfast.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

We Put the NO in Renovation

So here I am at 6am in the Frankfurt Airport finishing off a blog I intended to do Tuesday, then Wednesday. But I think it will be obvious why I am only getting around to it 48 hours later.

Tuesday was set to be the final day of our kitchen renovation. That was a tight schedule given that we are leaving on a 6-week holiday on Wednesday.

Anyhow, we had been led to believe that the final day was just a little bit of wrapping up. In fact, the schedule read simply: "Plumbing Connection, Electrical Connection". Too easy, right? Well, not quite.

The day started early when the guy the guys from the flooring company at 8, instead of 9 That was OK, because they only had to lay a little carpet on the stairwell so it reached the timber laid a few days ago.

Just before they finished two of the guys from the electrician showed up and started putting in outlets and switches. They were waiting for the boss before hanging the lights.

Then the cabinet guy came to do the last bits on that and also to finally hang some of our old cupboards in the garage so we would have additional storage space. About an hour later the plumber came to put in the last pipes and drains and get the water and gas on in the kitchen once again.

Then the guys from the home security company showed up a couple of hours early to get our alarm system running before we left for holidays. Don't want anyone stealing our new kitchen, do we?

And somewhere in the middle of that, the painter showed up to do some last minute touching up. Thank God the plasterer came the night before.

It was a bit of organized (or perhaps disorganized) chaos, but we knew that at the end of this day we would have our new kitchen in, with only paint, rugs and curtains waiting for our return from holidays.

We started to doubt our optimism when we went out to the kitchen once in mid-afternoon and saw that the room had gone backwards. The fan over the stove had been taken down, half the drawers in the island cupboards were now stacked against the wall. The plumber was cursing, the electricians' assistants hadn't quite got around to hanging the lights and kept looking at their watches and shrugging.

In the midst of all this the home security guys kept testing the alarm, which was in the attic. Which was probably why the electricians weren't crawling around up there putting in the lights. By 3, they told us they would only have time to get the new lights hung in the kitchen proper and would have to come back to do the living room and dining room. By 5, they said they weren't going to be able to do any more and were sorry they only got a couple of lights hung in the kitchen.
The plumber, however, was a different sort, and asked if we would mind if he worked until 7 or later finishing off the job. With the water off, LK started calculating how she could possibly get the laundry done for our trip, but at least it meant that we would have our stove and fridge in when we returned. So, sure, work late.

The cupboard guy, who was more or less in charge of the project, had done all he could and was just hanging around to make sure the others did what they needed to do. When I heard him asking the electricians if they would put the cupboard drawers back in when they were finished wiring the island, I knew he was checking out. And when the electricians left with the drawers still on the floor, I knew they had checked out, too.

In the meantime, the security guys finished installing the alarms and the painter finished touching up his earlier work. It was down to the plumber.

And Simon was a really nice guy who did not discover until about 6:30 that our stove was a natural gas stove and needed to be converted to LPG. At which point, with the finish line looming further and further away, we suggested to him that he had put in a long day, couldn't finish the work off anyhow, so he may as well head home and come back in January.

We even suggested that there wasn't any point moving the new fridge in since we weren't going to be using it until our return anyhow.

So that's the end of the reno saga. Lots done, but not complete. It all should be done in a day when we return (bar the painting) but then again that's what I thought when the day began.

Oh well, we were committed to catching a plane the next morning so with a shrug of the shoulders we bad our home farewell. I will wait until we arrive in Cairo this afternoon to write about that, but my fans (all 5 of them) won't want to miss a post in which my clumsiness reaches epic new proportions and leads to a seriously dangerous moment. (Don't worry, Mom, I only scraped my shins!)

And here are some shots of the house at the end of Tuesday's efforts. Fill in the spaces for the stove and fridge yourself, and imagine several more lights.

The view from the entrance

All done bar the stove and fridge

Well, at least the hood and tiles look good. Shame about the rest

LK's butler sink, along with cleverly hidden dishwasher and waste bins
The few lights that did get hung over the island

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Off Balance

Work ground to a halt yesterday when our painter failed to show up. After a couple of hours, LK finally rang the project manager to be told that although our painter is 'an artist' he also suffers from vertigo, which can keep him in bed.

That seemed to me like a potentially bad condition for a painter - especially one who may need to climb up ladders. I knew nothing about vertigo other than the Hitchcock movie and its weird pinwheel effects every time James Stewart looked over the edge of a tall building - which he seemed to do an awful lot for a guy who had vertigo.

So off to Wikipedia, which has in just a few years become my preferred source of knowledge.

(from the Latin vertō "a whirling or spinning movement"
is a type of dizziness, where there is a feeling of motion when one is stationary.

When you phrase it that way, I would have to say that I can sympathize with vertigans.  There's a WiiFit test where all you have to do is stand still for 30 seconds. I always feel I've aced it, only to get the message "Stability: 62%". And that's on a good day.

Actually, reading that definition of vertigo did make me look at the longer entry. It has been weeks since I've added a name to my list of Possible Diseases Based on My Symptoms, and the last few have ended in disappointment when I eventually discovered they are exclusively female diseases.

This search, however, was more promising as it led to the information that vertigo can be caused by Meniere's Disease, which is characterized by periodic episodes of dizziness, progressive hearing loss, tinnitus and a sensation of fullness or pressure in one or both ears. Cool, I have all four. I can add something else to my list of possible explanations for my poor balance.

Deep down I doubt that my dizziness is something to fret about. First of all, it almost never happens. And second,  Wikipedia may have added a more likely explanation:

Excessive consumption of ethanol (alcoholic beverages) can also cause notorious symptoms of vertigo.
They even offered a link to an entry on the "Short term effects of alcohol" but I thought that might force me to justify an unhealthy lifestyle, so I didn't bother to click through.

Anyhow, I digress quite badly. When the painter was a no-show, LK's reaction was truly noteworthy. In fact, given that this could easily mean that the renovation won't be finished before we take off on our holiday, her reaction was amazing.

That's because she had virtually no reaction. It will either happen or it won't, she said, while showing zero signs of stress. In fact she was so stress-free that when talking to the others whose work may be pushed back because the painting wasn't done, she kept saying "It's no big deal to us" and "Really, we're not going to be upset if we don't get it done."

Last night she thought about our day and noted that this wasn't her typical, expected reaction to having a tight schedule go off the rails. "I guess I am nowhere near as tense as I was when I was working," she said. I tactfully did not mention the Color and Lighting Crises.

And as a reward for her refusal to get too fussed yesterday, the painter showed up this morning and said he would work through the weekend to get us back on schedule. That has led LK to go upstairs and start working to get some of the rooms in shape. I'd help her, but I'm feeling just a little light-headed and I have a ringing in my ears.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Crisis of Color

"I'm having a Color Crisis," LK said as she ran into the family room, rummaged through her folder for some color patches, grabbed them plus a sample of cloth and bolted back upstairs where the painter was working.

Turns out Jonathan, our painter, is the sort of guy who does not want to paint cupboards Fair Bianca White if there's a better shade available. In our case, the oven, which looked like a light cream color in the brochure, evidently has more yellow in it than LK had thought. Or so I found out later that night when we reviewed the executive decisions that had gone into resolving the Color Crisis.

LK and Jonathan came to the conclusion that using the shade of white we had originally chosen would make the oven stand out too much. "And it will make it look very yellow," LK told me.

I nodded, trying my best to act as if I too thought it was a bad thing if the oven looked yellow and stood out. I even offered a bit of post-Crisis philosophy. "But if you moved into a place with a beautiful new kitchen with white cabinets and already owned this oven, you wouldn't think twice of just plonking it in. Right?"

I guess that was a Men Are From Mars sort of thought for it merited a befuddled look, a brief pause in LK's conversation and then no response as she made a decision to act as if she had not heard me.

This may have been in part because at one stage of this whole process I had laughed loudly at what I thought was a funny joke when LK told me there were dozens and dozens of shades of white.

Or perhaps it was my earlier decision to decline a seat at the table for the Crisis Management Team. Early in the Crisis, LK asked if I would like to come up and get involved in the decision to switch colors. I smiled and asked her if she thought I would have anything to contribute to such a decision, and she nodded briefly and left the room quickly.

I was able to help with the Lighting Crisis, though. As so often happens when one thing goes off the rails, it seemed as if some other problem pops up. In this instance our lights (also known as the last things we had ordered that had not yet arrived) arrived.

Shortly after resolving the Color Crisis, LK opened one of the boxes and took out the lights that are going over the kitchen island.  "It's supposed to be 30 centimeters," LK said. Even though I still deal with centimeters by mentally multiplying by 40 inches to figure out what that would be like, I knew the little light in her hand was closer to 30 millimeters.

(OK, Yanks. I'll give you a break. It was supposed to be about 12 inches and it was closer to 1.5 inches.)

LK grabbed the invoice, went online and came to the conclusion that the folks in Italy had sent us the wrong lights. This made the Color Crisis look like a trivial problem. She had me look through the web site to see what the light was supposed to look like.

And that is where experience saved the day. Sure, younger people may have more enthusiasm, energy and other stuff like that. But I have experience, and experience trumps youth every time. As I looked at the lights it reminded me of several times in my life when I had panicked because some self-assembly piece was not what it should be. And in nearly every instance it turned out that I hadn't emptied the carton or read the directions.

"Have you looked in the box to see if there's a 30 centimeter part you haven't unpacked yet?"

A few minutes later the Lighting Crisis was officially over as LK showed me the metal shade that looked to me to be just about (.30 x 40) inches wide.

Two crises in one day. No wonder LK was tired last night. But she would have slept well knowing how good her lights are going to look in the kitchen - especially with those cabinets now a creamier shade of white officially known as Milan.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Floor Show

LK cracked first.

She was sitting in our downstairs family room. The coffee table in front of her was covered with a tablecloth, which in turn was covered with all the paperwork of the renovation. Behind the sofa the table was full of stuff we needed for a week without a kitchen - a box of water, paper plates, half a loaf of bread, a bottle of scotch. And there's a bag for trash hanging on the walking machine behind that table.

There is no water or electric in the kitchen area. For a week LK has been cooking on an electric frypan on the washing machine in the garage, and I have been doing the cleaning up in the bathroom sink and storing some of the clean dishes in a space where we moved some bath towels to make room.

So it was not surprising LK cracked. And she did.

"I feel like I'm living in a trailer," she moaned last night. "And I just want to get this over."

(Any readers living in trailers should please direct comments to LK and not me. And in fact you should be aware that LK would think even less of this blog than she already does if she were to find out I actually have readers living in trailers.)

I think her lament was caused by more than just the temporary clutter and loss of space. For one thing, the guys laying the floor made more noise than any of the other tradesmen have. Saws whining, hammers pounding, floors being scraped clean - it was enough to drive us out of the house in search of just about anything else to do.

So we shopped for a few things we need for our trip, but really there isn't a lot to buy when you're unable to cook your own meals. We ended up trying out a little Malaysian takeaway place that disappointed us by having run out of satay. Finally, with just about nothing to do, we made our way back to the house to wait for the floor to be finished.

Silly me, but I had assumed that ripping up old flooring and putting in new stuff would be one of the simpler and least challenging parts of the reno. Of course, I didn't know that the underpad of our old flooring was glued more firmly than any that the tradesmen had ever seen in their whole wide career. It seemed to dampen their enthusiasm for the job, which was already pretty moist because the people who sold us the floor and hired these guys to do the job kind of led them to believe that all they would have to do is take up an old carpet. (By the way, the picture at the top is the kitchen floor after they ripped up the current floor and scraped away the glue.)
The Floor Before - looked like wood to me!

Underfoot Now - It's bamboo timber in a coffee shade

But we're finding great attitudes and a willingness to tackle whatever needs being done by 99% of the people who have been doing work for us (the other 1% = Stuart the painter, but we're so over that and I don't want to rehash that). The floor guys were still pounding the boards in last night around 6:30 so we could stay on schedule.

They didn't finish off the whole job - the dining room will get done Thursday, along with a few edges in the kitchen area. But today we get kickers and skirting and that's the end of any building. Then it's painting, tiling, put in the sink and appliances waiting patiently in the garage and, oh yes, turning on the gas and electric so we will actually be able to use this place.

And I am sure it will be great and well worth a couple of weeks of inconvenience. Which makes me wonder how long it will take for LK to forget what this was like and want to do something else?