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The Quick Vacation

I thought it was a good idea.  Even though we had a gazillion things to get done and not a lot of time left, I agreed to visit my sister-in-law and family at their North Carolina Outer Banks beach house.  I thought it was a good idea and I’m glad that we did it.  The trip forced us away from all the issues and gave us some time to just enjoy a few days.

  • Sunday: 6 hours of driving and a late hour at the beach
  • Monday: Beach, beach, and more beach
  • Tuesday: 5 hours round-trip driving to Busch Gardens
  • Wednesday: Beach + incredible thunder and lightning show
  • Thursday: 6 hour drive back to Maryland

We had a great time at the beach and Busch Gardens was a lot of fun, although it was too hot and the driving was a bit too much.

In part, I thought this trip would be good for the Tabby Cat. I really want her to get used to traveling long distances in the carrier bag.  Also, I thought it might be helpful if she has experiences showing up in new places with new people.  The cat plan went perfectly at the beginning of the trip.  I stuffed the cat in the bag and we drove to North Carolina without any real issues.  I was very pleased with myself at how well I trained her.

I was so pleased, I even documented traveling with the cat on the trip back to Maryland.

First, you need to find the cat. This is not always easy to do.  Cats know when something weirder than normal is happening.  When all our stuff is packed and stacked by the door, she knows it’s time to hide.  Luckily, she always hides in the same basic place: under the bed.

If I stay very still, maybe you won't see me

Next, I pulled the cat out from the hiding place and attached the harness.  Tabby Cat is very sleek and hard to hold.  The harness, on the other hand, is easy to hold.  This harness was the smartest cat travel thing I ever bought.  And, as an added bonus, the cat is now resigned to wearing it.  She used to go through all sorts of antics in a crazy attempt to get the harness off.  Now, she just deals with it.

The harness is now easy to wear

Once the harness was in place, I grabbed the bag and stuck the cat into it. Then, I pulled the bag out, ignoring the hissing and flailing razor-sharp claws, and jammed the fur-ball with teeth in the bag.  I have tried different strategies: head-first and upside-down seemed like they should work best, but cats seem to have claws in unexpected places.  So, I have found that the best strategy is to do it in two steps. First, get the cat seated in the bag and then push her head down while zipping the bag closed.  Pretty simple.

Sit, stay, no..., STAY!,... down...

Once the cat was in the bag, I was pretty much home free.  The cat might make a lot of noise and look really angry or irritated, but there is not really anything she can do about it (or to you) once she’s in the bag.

Two annoyed eyes peeking through the screen

The next few stages were not photo documented because the events happened too quickly. The cat (in the bag) was carried to the car and partially buckled into a seat belt.  Then, my son says something like, “What’s that smell and why is the seat belt wet.”  At that point, I realized that there is something the cat can do while in the bag.  The bag was yanked out of the car, placed on the driveway, and carefully opened for inspection.

I was even more thankful that the cat had a harness since she was covered in urine.  So, we raced the cat into the wash room (in the basement of the house) and tried to clean her with paper towels. This didn’t really work at all. Finally, we decided the cat needed to get a bath. It was her first bath. Purrfect. Warm water was turned on in the wash basin; the sound of water, naturally, caused the cat some distress — especially when I started moving her toward it.  Again, the harness was a very good thing.

I managed to jam the cat into the basin.  At that point, I realized that sticking the cat into the bag wasn’t really that difficult — holding a cat in a basin of water, on the other hand, truly is difficult.  There was only room for one person at this wash basin, so I was holding the wet bundle of teeth and claws with one hand while rinsing various body parts with the other hand.  This activity progressed without any real incident until Tabby managed to get a claw in the shoulder area of my shirt.  At that point, she turned into a world-champion mountain climber working her way out of the tub by way of my shirt.  That pretty much ended the bath.

Next stage: I was given a dry towel and wrapped it around the cat, paying special attention to covering up all the areas with claws.  Only after the cat was covered did I dare to dry the cat with the towel.

Finally, after this additional 30 minute delay, we really needed to leave.  The cat carrier had been cleaned, but it was still somewhat wet. I didn’t have the heart to put her back in the bag again, so the cat was able to ride home without the carrier.

The best way to travel - purrfect

I really hope we haven’t taught Tabby a strategy for traveling without the cat carrier, because the next trip is the one that really counts.

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Categories: Family, Pets, Pre-aliya Tags:

Time Out at the Outer Banks

I’ve had limited Internet access over the last few days. We are spending a few days on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my sister-in-law and her family.

NO INTERNET (accept my iPhone)!

On Thursday we will drive back to Maryland and things will be back to “normal.”

Categories: Pre-aliya

Ten More Days

In 10 days we’ll be leaving the Western Hemisphere. Wow! It is starting to feel a little crazy. I have not really been able to prepare myself mentally; I’m to busy preparing physically because we still have too much stuff. Even though we sold, trashed, donated, or shipped almost all of our possessions, we still have more! All these remaining things need to be either sold, trashed, donated, or carried with us on the plane.

This seems like a fractal problem. As we de-clutter and “zoom in” on our flight date, we still have the same problem of too much stuff. I’m really hopeful that we can whittle away at it until the remaining items can actually fit with us on the plane.

The amazing Adam Bomb!

Since selling the house, I’ve been trying to get rid of more things. Last week I sold my vintage, vinyl record collection. It was lost and virtually forgotten in the basement for years until we started packing for the move. Where do you find a “brick and mortar” store that buys vinyl records? Record & Tape Traders in Towson, Maryland. I didn’t think stores like this existed anymore. Twenty years ago, before Al Gore’s amazing internet, every small town in America had at least one store like this. I know because I went to college in Terra Haute, Indiana. Terra Haute is the sixth largest city in Indiana and it still qualifies as a small town. It’s really quite nice, as long as you can ignore the wondrous sulfur smells from the various chemical processing plants. Anyway, Terre Haute has Headstone Friends and Towson has Record and Tape Traders.

So, I sold my records. I was a disc jokey at the college radio station and I used much of my own collection. I had some really amazing classics… like Adam Bomb’s solo album. Awesome, don’t you think? If you’ve been looking for a vinyl copy of it, now you know where to go.

I also tried to sell my vintage collection of collectible football cards. Vintage all the way back to the early 1990s. Why do I have such an awesome collection? Because I had a buddy who collected sports cards and he convinced me that it was a great long-term money-making venture. I’m pretty sure that the sports card collectible craze peaked in the year 1991 — that’s the bulk of my collection! That’s the year that hoards of people bought collectible sports cards (without bubble gum) thinking that in twenty years their $100 card investment would be worth six-figures. Anyway, here I am twenty years later and no one is interested in sports cards from 1991. It’s just like money, if you print to much, it becomes worthless. Luckily, back in 1992, my wife told me something like, “Why are you wasting our money on those things!” and, at least that time, I listened.

This RAV4 is awesome!

On Friday I sold my silver, 2008, V6, Toyota RAV4 Limited. I love this car. It goes when and where I need it to go and, more importantly, it stops when I need it to stop. Toyota should build all their cars like this one. I really, really, really like this car. Anyway, I sold it. It’s gone. I’m now homeless, jobless, and car-less.

The tooth that wasn't

Even my son is working on getting rid of things; on Thursday, he had a “baby” tooth extracted to make room for an adult molar. It’s so nice having everyone involved in the common goal of getting rid of things.

One final thought. If everyone recycled as much as we have been, the world would be full of… well… full of a lot more recycled garbage.

That's a lot of recycling!

Categories: Pre-aliya

The Plan

It was a simple plan: let’s move to Israel. It sounds a bit overwhelming; after all, just moving to a new house across town can be a major operation and moving to Israel is obviously more complicated than that.  But is it really significantly more complicated than, let’s say, moving to another region of the US?  After all, once you’re moving more than a few hundred miles, does the distance really matter?

The distance probably doesn’t matter once you’re talking about more than a thousand miles, but there are plenty of other complications that do matter.  However, as long as we focus day-to-day on the issues at hand, and don’t think or dwell on everything at once, then it seems doable.

It was relatively easy to get accepted by the Jewish Agency as a new immigrant.  Israel has the “Law of Return” which provides a streamlined process to citizenship for Jews.  I guess that was probably the easiest part.

It was difficult telling our parents.  This great country (the United States) is so large that our families are already spread out across thousands of miles. Yet, the distance does not seem so great because we are all living in just one country. As a result, it was difficult explaining our desire to live on a different continent. Thankfully, everyone has been supportive (although many are concerned or worried.)

Selling the house was also a major pain.  We placed the house on the market last October with the intent to move to Baltimore. Why Baltimore? Well, why not? We currently live in Columbia, Maryland, which was rated recently by some big-shot survey as the #2 best place to live in the country. Guess what? I believe it! This is a great place to live — as long as you’re not us.

My children attend private day school…in Baltimore. The majority of our friends live…in Baltimore. The restaurants that we are willing to use are… in Baltimore. The kosher shopping is done… in Baltimore. The children’s friends live… in Baltimore.  So, although Columbia is a great place to live, it is not so great for us.

Anyway, it took so long to sell the house that we eventually realized that neither of us really like the city of Baltimore.  It would be convenient and we would be near our friends, but why move to a city that you don’t like when you can travel to some remote land where they speak a different language and constantly fight with neighboring countries.  Seems like a no-brainer. If nothing else, it should be exciting.

Quitting my job was difficult, primarily because it was a great job, with great people, and with a great mission.  The fact that the work was stable, profitable, not transferable, and really the only business that I know added to the difficulty. Having said that, now that I’m unemployed, I have a completely new perspective. I think I am enjoying life more without all those pesky work responsibilities. I guess I can see the appeal of living on welfare.

We sold the house at the perfect time (although, not at the perfect price). The timing really could not have been better. Instead of renting storage or having to move our goods into a temporary home, we were basically able to store everything in a great, big crate floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Sweet.

I think that we have basically completed the easy parts of the plan (although I still need to dissolve my corporation, which should also be relatively easy.)  Thankfully, the hardest part of the plan should also be the best part: learning Hebrew, starting a new career, and adapting to a different culture. At least that is what I want to believe. So for now, that’s the plan, and I’m sticking to it.

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The Cat

Hanging out at the tub

We have a cat.  She’s about three and a half years old and she is going to make the trip with us. The cat is completely black (except for a tiny white spot on the face among the whiskers.)  She is a “rescued cat” — she was born somewhere on the streets and spent her first 6 months living behind a grocery store.

She was trapped by a rescue organization, cleaned up, spayed, and then she spent a couple of months living with the rescuer. Finally, after becoming acclimated to living with humans, she was placed in a cage at a local PetCo for adoption and that’s where we found her. My kids had been whining about getting a dog or cat and I had been stalling for years. I finally went to the PetCo under the pretense that we would look and see if there were any acceptable pets.  My plan was to not find any, but she was just a little too cute.

Windows are okay, open doors are not!

The name tag at the store called her “Licorice.” No one liked that name — I feel you should never use a name that you can’t spell without a dictionary. I wanted to call her “Kelev”, but my wife and kids hated that idea.  They insisted that you can’t call a cat “Kelev” because it is a cat! (“Kelev” means “dog” in Hebrew.) They would say this to me, in a kid-friendly way, like I was a moron — “Dad, it’s a cat!”

They wanted to call the cat “Tabby,” so I tried the same strategy. I insisted that you can’t call a black cat Tabby because it is a black cat. The response: “Tabby” is short for “Tabitha.” Admittedly, that was quick thinking and it’s hard to argue with it. I made a feeble attempt, something like, “Oh yah, well I don’t think she looks like a ‘Tabitha’.” I am such a fountain of quick thinking wit. As a result, she is now typically called “Tabby Cat.”

She is strictly an indoor cat. That’s not my choice; she is terrified of going outside. That seems odd since she lived on the streets, but none-the-less, she is terrified of the outdoors. Looking out windows: that’s okay. How about an open, screened doorway? That’s also okay. Open the screen door and the cat runs and hides somewhere inside the house.

Fortunately, we took her on car trips when she was younger, so she doesn’t freak out in cars. However, besides the outdoors, there is one other thing that terrifies her: people. Especially men. Especially lots of men.  It is not clear to me how we are going to get her to Israel.  The route will be something like this:

  • Long car rides are cool

    Thirty minutes by car from Columbia, Maryland to Baltimore

  • Five hour chartered bus trip with four other excited families from Baltimore to Kennedy International Airport in New York
  • Three hour pre-flight experience in a very loud and crowded airport
  • Twelve hour flight on a filled-to-capacity Boeing airplane containing 500 loud and cramped passengers
  • Two hour post-flight experience at a busy Ben Gurion International
  • Thirty minute trip to Ra’anana

That looks like 23 or 24 hours door-to-door and the cat is terrified of two things: the outdoors and people. The entire trip will be either outdoors or surrounded by large numbers of men or both.  I’m half-hoping that the cat will be to terrified to meow.

The harness

We’ve been trying to figure out how best to prepare the cat. I bought a cat harness at a local grocery store and I make her wear it at odd times. We also bought a leash that can be attached to the harness. I figure those will be easier to grab during a freak-out moment. Finally, we bought an airline approved pet carrier.

We have also been taking her to lots of different places; changing her surroundings and having her meet lots of new people.  This has been met with resistance and partial success.

The cat will either be in the pressurized pet cargo hold or in the passenger area (with all the loud people and screaming kids.)  The plan is to keep her with us (if we can.) If she stays with us in the passenger area, the pet carrier must be small enough that it can be placed under the seat. Big cat — small carrier — 23 hours — Tabby is going to just love that.

Always fun meeting new people

Once we arrive in Israel, we need to have her “papers” in order to get her imported. She needs a documented rabies vaccination and verified test results. She needs to be examined and verified to be in good health.  All of this must be documented and certified in triplicate.  This information must be faxed to the quarantine station two days before departure. A similar set of information must also be faxed to the airport two days before departure. Both sets of documents are faxed to the same phone number. Wouldn’t you think it would be adequate to just fax it once and have them make a copy?

Finally, there’s the chip.  The cat must have a subcutaneous electronic chip that transmits on a frequency of 134.2 kHz and can be read by a chip reader conforming to ISO standard 11784. Great. We had our cat “chipped” six months ago, but the chip transmits on a frequency of 125 kHz. Looks like Tabby needs yet another visit to the vet to get yet another chip implant.

That’s the background on the cat and that’s the plan for the cat.  What could possibly go wrong with a well thought-out, bullet-proof plan like this?

Categories: Family, Pets, Pre-aliya Tags:

Sold!

We sold our home today.  I am now officially unemployed and homeless.  With credentials like that, you’d think I could make a few extra bucks getting paid and bused by the Democrat Party to a few polling places this coming election. Fortunately for me, I do not have to suffer this sort of temptation.  My vote from overseas probably won’t get counted anyway.  But I digress….

The sale went very smoothly.  Yep — smooth.  The only glitch was the water pouring into the basement because the first-floor bathtub overflow was not fixed properly.  In fairness, the problem was partially fixed; I think some of the water drained properly.  My guess is that at least 50% of the water entering the overflow didn’t end up on the basement floor. That would have been okay, I suppose, if we had waited until the tub filled completely and then checked down stairs right away. Instead, the overflow was being tested for 10 or 15 minutes while the agents talked and we looked at other “more important” things.  At least the overflow wasn’t plugged up!

Anyway, the overflow was (improperly) fixed a couple of weeks ago.  I guess the job was so simple, so obvious, and so easy, that the plumber didn’t bother to test it. Likewise, I was so certain that it was fixed, that I also didn’t bother to test it.  The buyer’s agent didn’t know any better, so he tested it with the buyer during the walk-through prior to the closing.  This problem, however, was really a non-issue.  The plumber guarantees his work for 5 years and the guarantee is transferable to the new buyer.  Some time this week the work should be completed (again) and tested and that should basically be the last house hurdle that we’ll have in this hemisphere.

There was an interesting twist regarding the realtors.  It took us ten months and two realtors to sell the house. We used the first realtor for seven months.  There were plenty of showings, but no offers.  Our new realtor had a conflict on settlement day, so she was unable to be with us at the closing.  Instead, she sent a substitute realtor from her office to represent us.  The substitute was awesome and that worked out fine.  The buyer’s agent, however, was none other than our original agent, so we have a bit of (mostly friendly) history with him.  Given that scenario, I imagine things could easily become…awkward.  Thankfully, that didn’t really happen.  There was only one awkward moment.

After all the documents were signed and we were all just talking about whatever, the buyer’s agent suddenly gets really excited and states, “I’ve got a really good Jewish joke.” Red lights start flashing in my head: DANGER, DANGER.  But the buyer’s agent is also Jewish, so how bad could it be?

He tells his joke:

Two Jewish men go into a bar,… [pause] It could happen!

There’s an awkward pause while everyone waits a few moments until it is obvious that that was the joke in its entirety.  Then there was some light, polite chuckling while everyone but my wife looks around to see if someone else actually understood it.  My wife doesn’t laugh or chuckle; she just says, “Okay,…your point?”  His response is, “That’s it!” with a big grin on is face.  At that moment, he has the realization that no one understood his so-called joke, so he then tries to explain it.

Jokes are never funny when they are explained, so this one was sort of fresh and inventive because it also wasn’t funny before it was explained.  The explanation had something to do with Jewish men not drinking alcohol, or maybe not going to bars, or maybe not going to bars together, or maybe they were only pretending to be Jewish.  I don’t know.   I don’t think any of us could really figure it out, even though it was explained and justified several times.  Maybe it was supposed to be a joke about two Quakers or Mormons  or something.  Believe me, I know plenty of Jewish men who can drink alcohol and who go to bars with friends.

Anyway, my guess is that in about a month, I’m going to start hearing plenty of jokes that I don’t understand or find funny.  Jokes are never funny when they are explained; even less funny are jokes that are translated.

Categories: Pre-aliya Tags:

The Back Stairs

We are stuck within that zone of seemingly limitless time and maximal frustration — the region between receiving a contract for the sale of a home and the actual closing. This is the first time that I’ve been involved in selling a home during a “buyers market.” The last time I sold a home, the buyer paid more than I asked and basically took it “as is”. That’s not the case this time.

It hasn’t really been that bad — I can’t say that everything has gone wrong, but the whole experience has been…. well, unpleasant. To give you an idea, the night we decided to put the home on the market, we broke the glass cooking top on our stove. This happened while the realtor was signing the contract with us. In fact, it happened because the realtor was busy with us signing the contract. It’s almost like the house resented our decision.

With all of that in mind, I’m going to tell you about the backyard stairs. The home has a back door leading to the backyard. The door is a couple of feet above ground level. The builder didn’t bother adding stairs; they just put a couple of 2x4s across the exit. This isn’t the safest approach; any child (or adult) could crawl between the boards and fall the two feet to some horrid fate. But, apparently, this is “to code.”

I’m not really much of a “do it yourself” kind of guy. I’m pretty good with my hands, but I just don’t have the time and therefore never bothered to get the tools and therefore never really got much practice. However, I was perfectly capable of removing those pesky barriers so that we could have access to the backyard.

At first, we just used that one, huge, two-foot step that the builder didn’t provide. That lasted a couple of days. Then I started putting my wife’s step aerobics equipment outside. That lasted for a few months, but the rain really made a mess of it. Finally, it became obvious that I really needed to build steps (or a deck, but the steps seemed easier.)

I bought a kit from some Home Depot type store and built a set of very solid steps. The steps looked great and they were even level! Unfortunately, the ground near the door was not. So, not really knowing how to properly level the stairs, and because I was already tired of the job, and because I just wanted it finished even if it wasn’t quite right, I tore up the ground and forced the stairs in place.

These unlevel, railless stairs worked just fine for years until their genesis was mostly forgotten. Then we sold the house (or at least received a contract). The buyer’s loan is contingent on a home inspection and an appraisal. It’s a VA loan, so there are special rules. We were told that the appraiser identified the stairs as a problem and that they needed to be fixed.

Now, the way this works is the appraiser notifies the buyer’s realtor and the buyer’s realtor notifies our realtor and our realtor notifies us and we describe the problem to the “certified repair guy”. Have you ever played “telephone”?

We were told that the stairs need a railing so that it is up “to code.” Fine. We hired some “handymen” to fix odd little problems and we asked them to handle this. Please add a railing. They added a railing and also leveled the stairs as an added bonus: check.

About a week before settlement, we received an urgent message from our realtor. She says that she received a call from the auditor who needs to verify that the back stairs are up “to code”. Through this conversation, she learns that the stairs also need to be attached to the house. Back stairs: uncheck.

We bring back the contractors and ask them to attach the stairs to the house. Apparently this is not trivial because there is a duct under the stairs. Lot’s of talking ensues. Through this discussion, I have a realization: the appraiser doesn’t want a railing and he doesn’t want the stairs attached to the house — he wants the stairs brought up “to code”. Gulp. What the heck does that mean?

I call my realtor and ask the obvious question: “Do we need to attach the stairs or do we need the stairs ‘to code’?” Silence, followed by, words of uncertainty, followed by recognition that the auditor had stated in the written report that the stairs needed to be replaced. She decided to make some phone calls and I decide to talk to the contractors.

At this point, it is obvious to me that the stairs need to be to code. Do these stairs (with the new railing) look like they are “to code”?

These contractors know how to build things. They don’t know how to sell houses. Even so, they have a brilliant idea: ditch the stairs in the neighbor’s yard and put a couple of 2x4s across the door. That way, it will be “to code.” Brilliant. That’s how I bought the house and it was good enough for me. However, that’s not the way things work around here.

The buyer bought a house with stairs in the back. In addition, the house was appraised with stairs in the back. The stairs may have been old and worn-out, unlevel, without railings, and, in general, a hazard, but the house was still bought and appraised with stairs. So we can’t just get rid of the stairs without forcing a renegotiation of the contract and requiring a new appraisal. What? Those simple stairs that I slapped together and couldn’t get level — the loan hinges on those stairs? Apparently.

I could have eliminated the stairs by removing them before the buyer gave me a contract. Now, I must have stairs that are “to code”. So, I had the contractors build a brand new set of stairs, with railings, “to code”. I lived fine with the old set for years. Now, a week before the house is sold, I’m putting in a proper set for someone else. And the irony is that they are probably going to tear the brand new set of stairs down and build a deck. At least the appraiser is happy.

Here’s the final set of stairs…

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