Month: July 2006

Just Shoot Me Now

Moving In Day.jpg

Our Stuff Arrived

Our container arrived today, and I’m completely overwhelmed. I would much rather this had sunk midway across the Atlantic. Really. There are no less than 100 unopened boxes sitting in every space in the house, and any order that existed in our previous house has been completely erased, as all the boxes are in random locations now.

Funniest moment of the day: Cathy was standing at the kitchen sink washing out a glass container. Andrew, having just rediscovered his toy rubber snake, came up behind her and threw it towards her. This, of course, surprised her so much she dropped the glass container which shattered all over the floor.

Miami Ink, Harleys and The Waterford Lakes Mall

Back when I was about 10 my family drove into Juarez, Mexico for one of our family vacation adventures. I could tell my parents were unsure exactly how to navigate the place, and the combination of the foreign surroundings and potential danger left me scary memories of Mexico for quite a while. (I returned to Mexico as an adult and realized it was an OK place.) Upon leaving Juarez we stopped at Denny’s for some familiar fare, but that place had its own danger, too. A gang of Hell’s Angels bikers decided to visit that day. To a boy of 10, Hell’s Angels were pretty scary.

Thirty years later the image of a Hell’s Angels biker gang and their Harley Davidson choppers is just a symbol that successful doctors and lawyers use to represent what they wish they were, had they chosen a more irresponsible lifestyle. The image is so changed these days that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone under 40 with a Harley. In fact they’re building a Harley dealership in our neighborhood, a place firmly anchored in the 40-something demographic. The only people who have enough money to buy them are the ultra responsible types anyway. No one who actually lives the image of Harley could afford one.

Last night at Waterford Lakes Mall I saw the same phenomenon, only done by the high school and twenty something crowd. Cathy and I saw “Lady in the Water” (an OK flick), and when we left the theater, around 10 pm, the entire mall area was full of what looked like gangsters. Crooked caps, tattoos, bling bling jewelry, oversized clothes hanging low, everyone looking dangerous. Only there was no danger, just a bunch of kids wanting to look that way.

The night before Audrey and I had watched “Miami Ink“, a show about a south Florida tatto parlor and their clients. Tattoos have been mainstream for years now, but the fact that the Discovery Channel has a show highlighting the tatto lifestyle made me realize things were different back home now.

It all left me a bit unsettled. A 50 year old lawyer on a Harley will probably remain tame, but a sophomore acting like a gangster may not know when to stop pretending. Maybe this is what culture adjustment looks like right now; figuring out who’s safe and who’s not.

2 Vans in Garage

2 Vans in Garage!

2 Vans in Garage

It finally happened tonight; both vans fit into the garage. This might be a fleeting moment, as our shipment is due to arrive soon, and it will certainly fill half the garage again. But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Cathy had no lack of amusement watching me work to get this done. The last step was building a rack above our garage door to hold the set of plywood window covers which we acquired from the last few years of hurricanes. This was no small feat but something I’ve wanted to build for years.

So there it is. Probably the last house project I’ll have time for before life takes off again.

Phone Beats Internet

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

Living in a land where asking questions was always a challenge (Hungary), I got used to asking the Internet instead. In fact, I’ve come to think that if I can’t find it on the Internet it must not exist.

Today I found something in real life that helped me more than my fruitless Internet searches; a local county service which answered my question by phone about this here palm tree problem. Wow. How old fashioned, yet effective.

[My Washington Palm trees have Palm Leaf Skeletonizer, a form of caterpillar which leaves behind these brown, fuzzy webs. If you are interested, the treatment for them is to spray with caterpillar killer. Any “BT” product should do. The liquid form is called Thuricide, and the powder form is Dipel. Available at your local yard store.]

End of a Short, Fun Era

The trampoline has been one of our family’s best toys ever. Unfortunately insurance companies don’t see it that way. Either we build a fence around our yard or get rid of the trampoline, else no insurance company will even take us. We need a new insurance policy faster than we can build a fence, so the trampoline must go. Adding insult to injury, the new policy will cost twice as much as the simple one we had while we rented the house. It was fun while it lasted.

Pop Quiz – What Color is the Insulation?

New Air Conditioner unit

Pop Quiz: What color is the insulation on the inside of a new air handler unit?

Answer: Black, of course.

There are few mistakes I’ve made more expensive than this one, although in my defense, I was either deceived or ill-informed about my conclusions. After hearing an air conditioning service agent tell me that our inside air handler unit was full of mildew, after seeing black insulation myself, and after speaking with no less than five different air conditioner companies, no one questioned the conclusion that black insulation meant mildewed insulation.

“Your unit looks really clean, why did you need to replace it?” was the installer’s question that made my stomach turn this morning.

I looked at the new unit and with horror saw black insulation. I even called the manufacturer and asked them what was the color of the insulation in their units. Black. Unfortunately the freon lines and heating lines had already been cut and drained on the old unit, so there was no recourse.

Why have fun when you can own a house?

Audrey Leaves for Camp

Audrey leaves for camp

Audrey and her friends leaving for camp

We sent both kids to camp this summer as a way to help them transition back to life in the U.S. Andrew’s high school camp finished a couple weeks ago, and he had a great time. Audrey’s middle school camp began just yesterday. She has been looking forward to this for months.

Air Conditioning Solution

I finally gave up trying to fix my air conditioner problem by myself. Regardless of how I tried to figure it out, I couldn’t find a way to replace the mildewed insulation without removing the heating coil and separating the unit from the duct work. While I’m sure I could disconnect it all, I am quite sure I could not reconnect it again. It meant I needed a professional.

So I paid to have someone come out and look at my dilemma and make an estimate. Not surprisingly, the estimated cost approached the cost of a new unit. Only this time the new unit was half the cost of the previous estimate, and this proposal kept the feature I like best about our current heating system; it runs off our natural gas hot water heater.

By Wednesday afternoon the mildew should be gone.

Dis-Service in my own language (poor service at Winter Park Dodge)

It’s good to know I can get disservice in my own language now. In Budapest I was never sure if I was getting disservice or just experiencing a communication problem. With the language barrier removed now, it’s back to simply disservice.

This was a recent call to BellSouth:

Jerry: I’m calling to find out if calls from BellSouth customers in Orlando are long distance to my new cell phone.

BellSouth Agent: What is your BellSouth number?

Jerry: I don’t have a BellSouth number, my friends do. I have a cell phone number they’re calling. I want to know if they have to pay long distance to call me.

BellSouth Agent: I’m sorry I can’t do that. My computer only allows me to look up numbers of existing BellSouth customers, and I can’t give you information about someone else’s account.

Jerry: Ok. Let’s try this another way. I am a potential BellSouth customer, but I would like to know what it would cost me to call my mobile phone from my home phone if I get a line.

BellSouth Agent: I’m sorry I can’t tell you that until you have a phone line. Then I can look it up.

[dumbfounded silence at my end]

I finally gave her an OLD BellSouth number of mine, and she confirmed it would be a long distance call to my cell phone.

Next was an experience at Winter Park Dodge:

Jerry: Last week I brought my car in for service on the same issue, belt noise, which was repaired 200 miles earlier. This should be covered by your service warranty. Upon picking it up last Saturday I was charged $100, and your mechanic said it wasn’t covered by your warranty since it was not related to the previous repair. Furthermore, your mechanic said he didn’t know what the problem was, just that it wasn’t a belt noise.

Winter Park Dodge Service Manager: Hmm. I can see that seems a little steep. Have you paid this already?

Jerry: Yes

Winter Park Dodge Service Manager: Can you bring me your receipt so I can see it?

Jerry: It’s rather difficult driving across town. Can’t you retrieve a copy of the receipt from your computer?

Winter Park Dodge Service Manager: My computer is on a different screen right now. Can I take your number and call you back?

Meanwhile I take the car to another mechanic who immediately identifies the noise as belt noise, and the Winter Park Dodge Service Manager never called back. I finally called him, and he agreed to refund half of what they charged me. A week later I am still waiting to see any refund. Meanwhile, the other mechanic fixed the belt problem for $200.

Considering service at Winter Park Dodge? Caveat emptor.

Air Conditioning Dilemna

Yuk! Mildew in the A/C unit

Yuk! Mildew in the A/C unit

Sometimes it’s better not knowing things, like how badly mildewed your air conditioner is, regardless of how much you’ve been sneezing since moving back into the house. The service guy opened it up and showed me the other day, and of course, offered to replace the unit for several thousand dollars.

The problem is mildew in the insulation of the air handler cabinet. It should be a simple thing to replace the insulation, right? Certainly this is a common problem in Florida, right? Nope. My question about this to the manufacturer’s tech support (in Texas where I thought there was more heat and more humidity than Florida) was met with one of those, “Hmm. I’ve never heard of that before.” comments.

So it looks like I might as well tear the thing apart and try to replace the insulation myself. Apparantly there is nothing to lose, as everyone else’s solution for replacing $75 of insulation is to install an entire new A/C unit.

While our days in Hungary were seldom marked by receiving outstanding service, they were rarely marked by this type of “just throw it away and get a new one” mentality that seems so prevalent here. I’m sure I could have easily found someone to replace the insulation, and I bet it would have been hard to find someone who would have replaced the whole unit – even if I wanted them to!

Anyone know a good insulation contractor who knows air handler units?

‘Painting is not as fun as I thought’ – Andrew

After spending a few hours at the hardware store getting tape, rollers, mixed paint, etc. then spending another hour taping off baseboard trim, then finally getting some primer on the wall – with fumes strong enough to raise Jimmie Hendrix from the dead, Andrew concluded, “Painting is not as fun as I thought.”

I laughed out loud. I had the perfect Tom Sawyer going on him. The plan, by his suggestion, was to paint his room on his own. I explained how much confidence I had in him and that I would be happy to let him try this out to see if he could do it. Unfortunately he figured it out even before the first coat of paint was dry. Fortunately he has my same desire for closure, so now that the project has begun he is determined to finish it.

This picture is Andrew in the practice stage while it was still fun. He wants to graffiti his room after painting it white.

Andrew Sprays Graffiti


World Cup – Not What I Expected

Watching sports has always been a social thing for me rather than something that intrinsically interests me – with a few exceptions. The World Cup would be one of those exceptions. Other than the match I saw in person in Kiev last September (a World Cup qualifying match), I had never watched an entire soccer game until this World Cup.

The first thing that struck me from the three games I watched was how weenie these men are! I used to think pro baseball players were the biggest sports weenies around, but these soccer twerps make baseball players look like hockey players by comparison. Sure, acting like you’re hurt stops the clock and gives everyone a rest. It also fools the referee, and sometimes you score on the resulting penalty kick. So this is how I understand it: If you want to win at soccer, either be a real weenie or act like one.

Soccer is my favorite sport to play (or at least was when I had knees that could play it), so I came expecting to like it. I liked it, but I was surprised. I can understand why Americans prefer [American] football. Even baseball is better than soccer in this regard; if you aren’t a real man you can take steroids to become one. The goal is being a stronger man – not a bigger weenie.

The other surprise was Zinedine Zidane’s head butt to Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Who saw that coming?? That bit of real drama made up for all the other acting during the rest of the game!

Thanks, Rob, for the pointer to this clip:

Zinedine Zidane head butts Marco Materazzi

Zinedine Zidane head butts Marco Materazzi

Americans are like Russians

Several times after returning to the U.S. my mind has taken me back to Russia.

It happens most when I’m driving around Orlando. The streets are so enormously wide. There are residential streets near my house which are three lanes wide! All concrete. Used about 2% of the time. The streets in our previous village, Budaors, were usually one and a half cars wide, and if two cars needed to pass, they did an ad hoc negotiation of which one used the shoulder. Neither case is wrong, but one case reminds me of Russia.

Just like Americans, Russians are a dominant culture. At a conference I attended where 1000 Eastern European Campus Crusade for Christ staff members met, I couldn’t help noticing that the Russians held themselves like Americans. They projected the sense that the conference related primarily to them. Not arrogant, just very matter of fact. Just like Americans.

Just like Americans, Russians are very practical. All across Eastern Europe on the outskirts of every city are large concrete apartment blocks. They are very practical and every one looks the same regardless whether you are in Bratislava or Bucharest. They do not bring pleasure to the eye. Russian building motto: “Why waste money on an architect? Our engineers can design buildings just fine.”

Americans are very practical. All across America in every large city there are large, franchised chains of restaurants. The food is good, but it is all generally the same. American restaurant motto: If one is good, fifty thousand are better. This mindset extends to residential homes as well. American residential home motto: Hire an architect to design a nice looking house, then build 50,000 of them.

Finally, everything Americans build is BIG, just like the Russians. This is manifest in cars, homes, yards, streets, and cities. After living in compact Central European surroundings just before my visit, the wide boulevards of St. Petersburg were quite a contrast. The largest open square I saw in Europe was in St. Petersburg, and the biggest city I saw was Moscow. Back here in America, I see that all the roads are very wide, and the shoulders and cleared land on either side of the roads are even wider. Entire Central European villages could fit inside most American highway interchanges. Just like Russian boulevards.

That’s probably as far as the similarities go, but I was surprised to see them in the first place and even more surprised to be reminded of them here in the U.S.

5 for $500

Life right now feels like a money storm. I’m reminded of the storm in which the disciples found themselves, and I’m trying to trust Jesus as they should have. (c.f. Matthew 8:23-27) I won’t embarrass you with the list of things about which we are tempted to worry, but I will tell you about some of the cool ways God has carried us through so far.

Recently someone gave us a gift of $500. Here is what that gift brought us: 1 washer, 1 dryer, 1 TV, 1 couch, 1 love seat, and a dinner out for Cathy and me (per giver’s request). At some point in the past I had looked ahead to these things and feared the price tag, but not only did God provide us an unexpected gift, He multiplied the gift many times by providing unexpected bargains.

I could repeat this example verbatim for our two cars, only changing the amounts.

So looking ahead we’ll keep our attention on Jesus.

Dryer On; Water Heater Off

Friday around 11:30 pm our “new” gas dryer was ready for its first load. Having learned how to connect a dryer to the natural gas line, I was feeling pretty good about myself – until the next morning when Audrey came out of the shower complaining that she got NO hot water. Then it occurred to me that shutting off the gas so I could hook in the dryer also shut off the water heater’s pilot light. Restarting the pilot light was every bit as challenging as hooking up the dryer, but both are now working and family is now happy again. This marks the end of our era of living without a dryer for three years. I regret the end of this era as much as I regret going from one car to two.

I feel like I’m doing my part as an American to burn as much energy per capita as possible!