31 August 2010

American customer service, as accessed abroad. aka Kenneth Cole is great.

I spent the weekend celebrating a birthday by going to DiscWorldCon for a weekend away with my husband. It's a celebration of Pterry Pratchett and his world and I may talk about it later.

But I started with a lovely conversation with Kenneth Cole customer service. As I have been decluttering, one of the first targets is damaged or broken items. This suitcase had a broken wheel. We had thought about taking it back with us to the US this summer to have it repaired, but the thought of dragging it along without a wheel, while traveling en famille, was insupportable (ah, Steampunk, it's catching).

So, I called their customer service. Who gave me the number for their warranty service for luggage (as opposed to The Luggage). When I called the number, a got a voice-mail telling me for a faster response I could use e-mail, as the person in charge would not be available.
I sent an e-mail and got back an out of office reply. I also said that I did not have a receipt and could only make a guess as to the store I got it in (although I knew the approximate time period).
Within 5 minutes the person whose e-mail it was got back in touch with me and asked for a specific piece of information that was attached to the suitcase.

I sent that and reminded her that (as per my address), I was out of country and wouldn't want to return the suitcase for warranty work until next back in the US: I was calling only to see what I would need to do and whether there was a possibilty of having it repaired in Europe rather than in the midwest.

She waived the requirement and said that she would get a replacement suitcase right out. Wow.

That is just amazing. I had thought the cost of shipping and repair would be too great and that I would just discard the suitcase and feel bad.

Instead I had several great experiences with people who knew exactly how to direct me and were generally chatty and friendly while looking up information that I required, someone who helped me out while not even at work, and who actually took my personal circumstances into consideration.

It was great and in celebration, while on the way to shop so that my (unbelievably great) in-laws could have food for the weekend, I stopped off at the recycling Hof and T2 and I recycled it:).

What I am reading: August 2010

  1. Cry Sanctuary by Moira Rogers: Hey, who knew? I really like it. Just an intro to a duo who will become a powerful team and a hint of societal dissolution and a European war. Between werewolves and wizards.
  2. Once around the Track by Sharyn McCrumb: Who would have ever thought that McCrumb would write a romantic paen to NASCAR? But I did enjoy it, as a fast read. Wouldn't have bought it though, although I like her writing.
  3. Chosen Ones by Alister E. McGrath: So clearly a tribute to the Narnia Chronicles mixed a bit with LotR, although not written as well as CS Lewis or Tolkein. I still enjoyed it and I think I will look at the second.
  4. Katy's New World by Kim Vogel Sawyer: In a contrast to the fashionable Amish story, this is a YA about a Mennonite girl who desperately wants to further her education even though her decision to continue school after 16 takes her outside of her community and may cause her to be ostracized.
  5. The Game of Stars and Comets by Andre Norton: this is a compilation of The X-Factor, The Sioux Spaceman, Eye of the Monster and Voorloper. Early classics by Andre Norton that I loved reading again.
  6. The Green Hills of Earth by Robert A. Heinlein: doesn't need an introduction. A classic collection of short stories that I purchased from Baen Books (love their DRM-less books, which give me a sense of confidence in longevity and are reasonable priced- always important when I already own the book, perhaps even in several copies).
  7. Forevermore by Cathy Marie Hake
ed. This posted a big early- I did a lot of reading on the Kindle this month and the majority of these were free downloads from Amazon, so interesting to dabble in.

25 August 2010

Double duty.

A post pertinent to Germany that fits in so well here.

Out of chaos, order.

When I am stressed, I love to roll coins. Yes, I know something could be read into that: the ability completely and discretely finish a task and result in a final and visible product is soothing. It's actually something I remember doing with my mother when I was small. She had a bank that one pulled a lever on and made "ching" and was only open-able at some vast sum. So it was a great treat to be able to open it up and to roll the coins and then perhaps go to visit the bank and deposit the rolls. To stand in line and hear my mother chat with the cashiers and perhaps bump into neighbors. That time still exists in parts of upstate NY and I revisited it this month.

One of the maddening things about Germany (to me) has been my inability to roll coins and then to get rid of them. My local bank branch offers me a large plastic pouch and tells me that I would need to drop the bag off at a different location. This has been annoying me and filling up honey jars with coins because I just can't get rid of the smaller ones, even carrying around a very heavy change purse. So I brought a bunch of change rolls back from the US and the coins above in the lower row are 5¢, 2¢ and 1¢.

The upper row is American change, garnered from different corners and bags: that's amusing because I actually rolled over $60 of coins while in the US, while downsizing some storage boxes. I visited my local bank branch, the one where I have had a checking account since starting to bank my birthday and babysitting money, multiple times to both deposit coin rolls and deal with the fact that my not-used-in-Europe ATM card had been purged from the system.

I'll put the rolls aside and the US money will go back with me the next time and the Euro cents will accumulate until I have time next week to take them into a branch that will actually take change. Next week is my last before my German course starts again, so maybe I'll actually even find a bike-able branch.

24 August 2010

With a heavy heart.

Although the start of our vacation in the US was pretty terrible, we did have some decent times, that I hope to finish writing up soon, particularly with family in Upstate NY and friends downstate, as well as the week we came back and went to the German's family reunion and then Neuschwanstein.

But when I finally came back and sat down and started to look through my Google Reader, I noticed again that a blog I have been reading with great enjoyment had not updated in two weeks, and that Curtis hadn't been feeling well when he wrote his last post.

I had been reading his blog when he was on LiveSpaces because I had been reading his late wife Ellen's blog. I hadn't really started to blog in earnest when she passed away and I was sad because she was such a nice person. But I am even sadder now, to realize that Curtis passed away after his post and that I did not realize it until I got home and, worried, read the comments on that last post.

Curtis' next to last post, which includes
Have you ever noticed how quiet it seems to get after a nice blanket of snow covers everything? Well imagine you are out in the woods and there are no major highways nearby nor are there any houses close and here you are skuched (there's that word again) up under one of these spots. Can you hear the quiet? Most people say you can't hear quiet but that's because they have never really heard it. I have and it's so calming but to me back then it was just the way it was suppose to be. You are sitting quietly and occasionally you hear a plop as a big clump of snow falls from a nearby tree. You hear the beautiful singing of the cardinals in their bright red coats which are winter birds and the peeping like music of the smaller birds. Then all of a sudden you hear this whooshing sound as a great owl comes soaring by with it's masive wingspan cutting through the air and then it gets quiet again as it glides away. Listen closely and you might hear a crunching sound as a deer approaches and it's hoofs cut through the fresh snow. It can't see you hidden under the boughs of the tree but it catches your scent and alertly looks about with it's ears up and then makes this loud snorting sound as it prances away only to stop a short distance from you thinking the danger is past and starts once again rooting through the snow for morsels of food hidden beneath. You too have dug beneath the snow in places to find these red berries we always called Creek Berries and eat them the same as the deer. These are the times when you would more than likely find some critter hidden under these trees. I have found numerous birds, squirrels, rabbits and an occassional fox hiding there. Even with the protection you would start to feel the cold and then you would move on taking with you those videos in your mind of what you saw not thinking that they would be there some 50 years later just as vivid as that very day.
Yes just sitting here watching the rain on the monitor and thinking back. Back to that time I have treasured for all these years and sometimes I find myself wishing I'd had off spring to tell these stories to but I don't so all I can do is leave them out here for anyone interested. Funny how the mind has these things stored away just like a hard drive. It took man years to develope the electronics such as the hard drive to store information on probably not realizing he had one with him all along.
So for now I shut the memories down and get ready for bed so I can make my way to the office in the morning but it was a nice trip and I only hope you enjoyed it as well. I will still feel that cozy feeling as I nestle my head into the pillow and drift off to sleep pretending maybe that I'm under the boughs of one of those Hemlocks so long ago feeling safe and secure from the rest of the world.
Good Night.

is so lovely that I had wanted to wait until I had a chance to really think about it and to say something meanngful back. But now he's gone and I am so sad for him and for those who knew him and for we who knew him through his words.

It took me a long time to write this because I am sad every time I read that post. It seems that people I care about are dying. Dear friends I have known my whole life, loved family members, even more distant relatives who are part of the backdrop of my life and it makes me think that the time for life as a play rehearsal is over, that waiting and working and hoping that the work will produce a better future is sheer madness: what we have is now.

Now is the time to connect, to let people know that we love them, to enjoy life as is is, every day and not to work and work for a better future while not being happy in the present.

Dear Curtis, thanks so much for sharing yourself with us and for being the sweet person that you were.


21 August 2010

A bit of enjoyment

Even though a large quantity of our time was used up very painfully, we were still able to meet friends and family in western Massachusetts and have an "American birthday" party for T1 and T2. They love American birthday cake and I am always amazed by how good a cake from the local Big Y or Hannaford tastes. On 16 hours notice they did a really sweet split between the two themes: Pooh for T2 and Tink for T1.

It was great to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law and their two younger kids (each a year or so older than ours). It's been a long time.

Our first week of vacation.

Here's a look at some of what we did on our first week of vacation.

More than an item a day while I was away...

This is part of what we "downsized" while clearing out our house in Westchester. A good number of these items were damaged through our tenants neglect in mitigating the effects of water in the basement. There are: water damaged end tables, swings, changing table chair, a grill that they rusted out somehow, some strange decorations, mildew damaged linens, lots of extraneous lumber we had floating about.

Some of the larger and better items aren't even visible here: we deliberately put them out several days before garbage pick up because there's an active "look through neighborhoods" attitude here and folks swing by and grab things.

A better swing and a kiddie seat went before pick up, as did a huge hanging chandelier (too large for my house) that had been given to me by a relative and never used.

Our prior tenants, in a gesture that I found amazingly typical, sold the Sienna minivan that we had sold to them, but left the 4 spare tires (with aluminum rims!) behind in the garage, with the extra running board we had given them (we had damaged and replaced one; they are only sold as a pair). I guess that whoever bought the minivan wouldn't pay as much as they wanted for the tires/rb, so they just left them for us to discard rather than toss them in. One of our garbage guys took them: at $100+ per rim, I hope he gets some $$$ for them (in addition to the tips we gave for the two extremely heavy pick up days).

There's more to come.

17 August 2010

Vacation: Not

It's been a crazy month or so.

We started by going back to Westchester county to clean up our house in Westchester, NY for the new tenants. The prior, German tenants, were returning to Stuttgart. Neither our broker nor the tenants, nor any of the prospective tenants, had indicated any issues with the house.

So we were overwhelmed to discover unattended and unreported flood damage, general non-normal wear and tear damage to the plaster walls, a bathroom renovated two weeks before turne dover to the new tenants that was now destroyed (water damage, mold, marble damage), flood and mold damage in the basement (where the dehumidifying system was also set at 35% instead of 70%— or even higher to deal with the unreported mold), furniture which was destroyed and filty beyond belief: it was shocking. From the large to the small: the buckled floor in the basement to the lost remote to allow the ceiling fan/light in the living room to be turned on to losing the privacy pins to the nickel door levers to not replacing a single outside light bulb (we had left them three years worth of compact fluorescents- just not enough of the low wattage for outside fixtures). The list was endless.

All this while they had turned off the cable and phone (which we had requested to retain for the half month) so we had no easy way to contact anyone. We still haven't spoken to the insurance company officially, although we have talked to our agent and taken hundreds of photos before beginning to mitigate the damage.

There's a 4-6 week lead time on the replacement vanity (special order to be code compliant in a small bathroom) and the marble repair will wait for that. The shower doors will be in stock next week and taken care of then, but our "vacation" was having done/getting estimates for/doing:
  • marble repair, floor and vanity top
  • ordering a new vanity
  • ordering bathroom doors
  • plastering and repainting gouges in the hall and three rooms
  • completely repainting another after patching holes
  • emptying the house of the furniture (previously rented furnished) while discarding the destroyed furniture- we loaded it into a U-Haul and drove it upstate to storage by my parents
  • ordering a new remote from Minnesota (easily done- the manual was there!)
  • replacing all the lost/removed (why?) hinge pins so that the doors would not re-gouge the walls after replatering and re-painting
  • fixing all outside locks (a screwdriver and a brain)
  • having the basement swabbed down with bleach, the mildew mitigated and painted with special paint.
  • discarding destroyed rugs (downstairs due to mold, upstairs due to the tenants' fire, which they had otherwise mitigated)
  • having emergency landscaping done: we expected to do some things, but having a sumac 14 feet tall next to a bedroom window indicates that in three years they never lifted a finger. They also destroyed grass areas where they had pools or tarps. Luckily, they had no control over the irrigation system or there would have been no grass left.
  • there was more, but I get a head ache thinking about it
This was after they spoke to the husband, as one German to another, and asked to use their security as last month. Because they assured him of how everything was in order, and because the broker agreed, he complied. I expect that will be a little less than we will be out of pocket. I expect he won't do that again, either. I also think that after the current lease is up, we will be considering selling the house rather than dealing with this again.

After we get back to Berlin next week I can't wait to start dealing with all of this long distance and time estranged to US contractors and insurance companies.

I expect that I will have a lot of additions to my Downsizing blog as well, when I can sort the photos out.

(Here's my favorite shot— the full potty left in the rotted out vanity.)