Thursday, May 25, 2006

Real Estate Business

Ok, this is really very annoying - I typed a nice story about us selling the house and was ready to publish it when the stupid blog crashed. So of course nothing was saved.

So basically, we're finally selling the house. We signed all the papers two days ago and got a big red sign in the yard yesterday (I should take a picture of it). All our remodeling is finished. Well, almost all, since we still have to buy one bi-fold closet door, install new carpet on the stairs, and get all the construction mess out of the garage. But we bravely fought through all the little and medium-size obstacles thrown our way by a heartless corporate monster known as Home Depot and by scores of contractors and sub-contractors that we dealt with throughout the remodeling process.

Overall, we've made a lot of changes to this house since we bought it. Hopefully, it will help us to sell the place quickly and with good profit. The market is cooling off and there's a lot of inventory now. So it's much more difficult to sell a house now than even 6 months ago. But hopefully it'll play in our favor when we proceed to buying our next house.

We decided not to go with a traditional real estate agency because it sucks paying 6% of the selling price to someone that is not even your friend or relative. Yeah-yeah, they do a lot of work, supposedly, but the gig must still be very sweet. If they were truly overworked and underpaid as some of them claim to be, we'd have illegal immigrants doing this kind of job. Anyway, we went with this Assist2Sell (CLICK HERE TO SEE OUR HOUSE) service. They are a full-service realty and operate nationwide. But they charge a flat fee of about $3000 if they sell the place and not a penny more. Of course, we had to also put our house on MLS listing (CLICK HERE TO SEE OUR HOUSE) to give it a better exposure and increase our chances. So now we'll probably have to pay 2.5% to the buyer's realtor (unless Assist2Sell people find us a buyer as well). Still we'll save two to three thousand dollars compared to going through a traditional real estate agent. And it's the next best thing after Selling by Owner, which we have no time for.

Our first showing is actually tonight. So wish us luck.


Kitchen BEFORE

Kitchen AFTER

Master Bedroom BEFORE

Master Bedroom AFTER

Living Room BEFORE

Living Room AFTER

Front of the House AFTER

Monday, May 15, 2006


After living in Florida for almost 5 years, we finally made it to our first Disney park, Epcot. And why not? After all, it is as much a part of real Florida as the Everglades or St. Augustine. Ever since the first Epcot brochure that I saw, I wanted to do three things:
1) Ride the monorail;
2) Find out what's inside the huge Epcot sphere;
3) Take a picture in each of the World Showcase countries and be able to say that I travelled around the world in just one day.

And so we charged the camera battery, drove an hour, parked the car in the Discover lot, paid for two adult one-day passes and followed several thousand other people through the park gates. The park itself has two parts - the Future World (with the monorail and a huge sphere) and the World Showcase, spread around the World Showcase Lagoon. We decided to follow the yellow brick road clockwise and see it all.

First stop was the Spaceship Earth, the iconic 180-foot tall geosphere. Inside, we boarded a little cart and moved through an animated display of the history of human communications, from cave paintings to instant messaging. The whole experience was very much like being inside a PBS educational program. It was not interesting and undoubtedly educational, just rather mellow and a bit old-fashioned.

Not to worry though, since we had plenty of thrills and excitement ahead of us. The Universe of Energy attraction was closed, so we went straight to the Mission: SPACE. It is the kind of ride that can send one to a hospital and should not be attempted by those that suffer from claustrophobia, motion sickness, back and neck problems, heart problems, high blood pressure, headaches, migranes, vertigo, or anxiety. For the rest of the tourists there are motion sickness bags located within an easy reach. The G forces and the super-realistic graphics will sure make you sick, especially if you don't follow the simple rules, such as DO NOT try move, close your eyes, or attempt to take your eyes off the monitors. Let's just say that this Mission: SPACE left me sick to my stomach, covered in cold sweat, hyperventilating, and experiencing a mild case of claustrophobia, something I'd never had before.

Feeling very sick I asked Chris to bypass the Test Track ride and we continued on to the World Showcase. Very slowly we made our way through Mexico and Norway. Every time I would turn my head to look at something, a wave of nausea and dizziness would flush over me. So I don't remember much of either of these showcases except a little boat ride inside the dark and chilly pseudo-Mayan pyramid. By the time we got to China, I started getting my bearings and was able to not only snap pictures of a fantastic floral dragon and a colorful pagoda, but even express mild interest in the menues. Unfortunately, the Circle-Vision 360 film about China's grandeur set me back a couple of steps on my way to recovery. The film reminded me of the best Soviet propaganda movies, with overjoyed kids with red kerchiefs tied neatly around their necks, red flags flowing over the Tiananmen Square and a larger-than-life portrait of the fearless leader guarding the gate to the Forbidden City.

There are many ways to cure post-motion sickness nausea. One is to sleep it off. Another one is to drink some Ginger Ale. Yet another one is to eat something with enough salt and spicy mustard to jolt your stomach back into submission. And that's exactly what I did once we reached Germany and its beergarden-style cafe. A fresh salt-covered pretzel and a bratwurst smothered in mustard and buried under a heap of warm sourkraut did the trick and I was back to feeling peachy once again.

What are the country showcases anyway? Well, these are mostly souvenir shops and ethnic restaurants hidden inside stereotypical structures and manned by country natives. Name a country, than quickly write down the first couple of things that come to mind and presto - you got yourself a country showcase. Mexico is Maya pyramids and sombreros. Norway is vikings and swords. Germany - beergardens. France -the Eiffel Tower and snobby waiters. Some country showcases have additional attractions, such as China's Circle-Vision fild, Japanese drummers, or American animatronics puppet show featuring Ben Frankling and Mark Twain.

And so we made our rounds, through the Italian vineyards and the a capella presentation of American patriotic songs, through the bonsai forests, and past the Moroccan belly dancers, bypassing the very tempting French bistro and British fish & chips place where you can drink beer while listening to the Beattles tribute group. And we finally made it to Canada. Even though Canada smelled like a medium-rare filet mignon (they have a steak house on premises) we decided against stopping there. After all, we can always go see the real thing, right?

Instead, we left the World Showcase alltogether and returned back to the Future World for some more rides. The next ride we went on was the "Honey I Shrunk the Audience". It is a very old, what's called "venerable", attraction scarred by a horrible Kodak-sponsored pre-show. And yet having legions of white mice run over your feet in the dark theater and a giant friendly dog sneeze in your face makes up all the outdated cheeziness of this attraction.

Next we spent hours in line waiting to get on the new attraction called Soarin'. The first hour was passed in playing an on-screen geography trivia. In 60 minutes I learned, among other things, that Atacama is the driest desert on the planet that once went 40 years without a drop of rain; while the dunes in the Namib Desert reach 1000 feet high; that at the current rate of destruction the rain forests will be completely destroyed in less than 50 years; that an acre of these said rain forest has more species of plants and animals than in all decidious forests of Europe; that Himalayan mountains are not only the youngest on the planet, but also grow at 4 inches a year; and that Bryce Canion is famous for its fantastic rock formations. But the ride was absolutely worth the wait. How did they do it, I don't know. But somehow the ride designers managed to create an exhilarating and very real hang gliding experience. At some point it seemed I could almost touch the water surface or kick a surfer right in the head. And the golf ball that went wizzing by only inches from my face was so real that it made me duck.

Our last attraction was the Test Track. Even though we were promised a 40-minute wait, the line actually moved much faster. The ride simulates testing conditions that cars experience during development process. It provides a succession of climbs, bumps, sharp turns and unexpected stops, a heat chamber followed by an ice chamber and a corrosion chamber, and a sudden acceleration on a super-elevated stretch. It's fun and all, but not nearly as much excitement as driving on I-4 through Orlando in heavy traffic or driving on I-95 through all the construction zones.

By the time we were done with the rides it started getting dark and the time drew closer to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks display. Our plan was to watch the fireworks and then have a nice dinner at a Morroccan restaurant. Except we didn't know that the entire park essentially shuts down right after the fireworks, at about 9:15pm. And so we got some ice-cream instead and found a spot along the World Showcase Lagoon for firework watching. I'm not going to try to describe the show itself, except to say that it the most fantastic 15-minute fireworks, light, and music show that we've seen.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wine Tasting

Dear Diary,

Two days ago I went to my first real wine tasting event. I was so excited yet nervous about being surrounding by snobby middle-age high-brows. What's all the excitement about? Well, I'm not a wine afficionado and have little interest in the subject. But for the past couple of weeks I was stuck in the house, mostly confided to my office. When I would get out, it would be to get the mail or do grocery shopping or go to the blasted mall. In short, it was a typical case of cabin fever.

Now, Chris on the other hand has gotten into wine tasting. It started with a book that I got him for Christmas, "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course". Next thing I knew, my husband was leafing through the issues of Food & Wine while sipping espressos at Barnes&Noble and spending money on esoteric accessories such as a professional bottle opener and a decanter.

While working in Deland, Chris found out about the Elusive Grape wine store. He used to spend his lunch breaks there, talking to the owner, Bill, or sitting in one of the overstuffed chair in the back of the store with an old issue of a Wine Spectator. Most of the time he would emerge from the store carrying a brown paper bag with a bottle or two. Chris even signed up for a 5-week Wine Appreciation course at a local community college. And so our spare closet was converted into a wine-cellar, our Wednesday nights at B&N were moved to Thursdays, and our wine glasses were filled with Merlots, Shirazes, and Cabernets on most evenings.

And that's how we ended up at the Elusive Grape's wine event a couple of days ago. We paid $10 each, got our glasses and duly entered our names in a raffle. Inside, a 100 or so people, all middle-aged and all with glasses in hand, were standing in the ailes between the wine racks, crowding around the counter, occupying every nook and crany of the lounge, and even spilling over to the sidewalk and into the back alley. Deland is a small town and most of the guests knew not only each other, but each other's friends, bosses, and most family members several generations back. We were clearly the outsiders. Feeling slightly (read: very) uncomfortable in this convivial atmosphere, I was pretending to study the labels while tasting some red wine. As I said, I can't tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet, nor can I taste smoky flavor, ripe cherries, leather or any other tastes that supposedly are present in wine (I guess part of the problem is that I never bothered to spend time munching on BBQ chips or licking leather belts). My wine descriptives are generally limited to "dry, spicy, sweet, fruity, watery, and bitter". If it's not too dry or bitter, it's a good wine as far as I'm concerned. (here's a good article).

Nevertheless, things started looking up as I discovered the Chocolate Amore, a dessert Merlot with a distinct flavor and taste of all the warmth and spicyness of a raising-and-hazelnut dark chocolate bar. Now, that was a find worth the money! Perfectly content, I retired to the lounge with my perfect wine while Chris was breaking "one bottle at a time" rule and buying half the store's inventory. I forgave him for his acquisition included a bottle of my new chocolate obsession.

Soon enough we started some perfectly delightful and non-commital conversation with some perfectly middle-aged people. Hours later we emerged from the store into the perfect summery breeze and quietness, walked along the perfectly quaint streets of Downtown Deland back to our perfect little economy-size answer to the rising gas prices, and drove 30 perfectly safe miles back to our perfectly simple and inviting house.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Another Trip to NY - Part 2 (Parents)

Ok, so this part is long overdue. But my work has been really crazy lately. I even had to work until 7pm a couple of days. Of course, by now the details of our stay in NY faded and are of little interest to anyone. Let's just say that it rained non-stop for our entire stay in NY. So instead of going to the City or to experience some great outdoors in rural NY or PA, we divided our time between devouring my Mom's cooking and window-shopping at the Garden State Mall. Speaking of Mom's cooking, as if non-stop eating wasn't enough, we stopped by the Rockland Bakery on our last day in New York. There you can actually enter the production area and grab fresh out of the oven bread right off the conveyor. Not to mention that you can try all sorts of bread there for free as long as you don't take it outside. If you want to take it outside, you got to pay for it. Rules are rules and so we spent some time there stuffing our faces with deliciously fresh walnut-raising rolls.

To be fair, the weather cleared up for about 30 minutes on Sunday and we used that time to go on a walk around the Rockland Lake. We got there, got out of the car, and walked for about 200 yards when it started raining again. But I did get to take a couple of pictures.

At home, my parents provided us with non-stop entertainment of their own. Let me tell you, I doubt anyone else would be able to create a non-stop buzz out of half-finished dialogs, laughter, petty quarrelling, phone calls, and background TV noise that the way my folks do it. And then sometimes my brother would join our beehive as well. In short, it was a short, loud, and cozy visit.