"Crotty News" Postings for: August 2009 !

Hi! Aloha! Ciao!
    Summer is almost over! After the doctor prescribed new medicine for my back pain. I've been able to work on my landscaping projects by being extra careful not to lift anything that would put a strain on my back, so I've been able to finish a lot of concrete "stepping stone" pathways over the past few weeks. I get the Lowes' people to load my truck with the 80lb bags of concrete, and as I need them I just slide them off the tailgate into the wheelbarrow. No lifting!

   01 - 11 August: I finally got people to come out and give me estimates for removing three tall pine trees in the back yard. One guy wanted $1000 and was only going to grind one stump away. The other wanted $750 and would grind all three stumps. He got the job. When he arrived he also cut down a few more trees and stumps for me at no charge, and gave me a huge truckload of mulch for free! It was really interesting to watch them work, especially the guy who clambered up the tree, cutting each branch off as he went up. They tie the branches before cutting them and lower them harmlessly down alongside the trunk of the tree to the men waiting below, who immediately take the branches and run them through a "chipper" which reduce them to wood chips in seconds! Now the back yard has a large, open, sun-lit space. I've covered most of it to a depth of about 8-12 inches with all the mulch the guy gave me. Looks very neat and tidy. I've also been getting truckloads of brown mulch from the local landfill. They weigh my truck going in, and when I come out fully laden with mulch they weigh it again. I pay for the mulch at a rate of $10 a ton, so a full truckload usually costs me somewhere between $9 and $11. Using this mulch and rolls of weedblock, I've been reclaiming grass areas -- covering the grass with mulch to create large, new garden areas that enveloped my existing crepe myrtle trees and several bushes along a 210' stretch of our property line. I'm not through yet (will get back to this project, and take pictures, when we return from Florida).

    Wednesday 12 August - Packed the cat into the truck and off we went to Florida :-) It is usually a ten hour trip (8 hours driving) but this time we ran into three different rainstorms, all of which were so bad we could hardly see out the windshield! Of course that delayed us by hours since we had to slow down, and at one point I was lucky enough to see an almost-stopped car in front of me before I rammed him. He had his lights on but we was almost invisible in this storm! I kept my flashers on for miles after that.

    Thursday 13 August - a "down day", just lazing about, although we did drive to a couple of local stores.

    Friday 14 August - Went to the Red Barn, our local flea market, for veggies and what-not. I always browse through two of the outdoor stalls run by chinese couples. They always have some tool or doodad that I don't need right now but they are cheap and I know that I'll need them later (always do)! We also stopped off at one of the local Goodwill Stores. I've literally worn out and ripped apart all my "work shorts" in my landscaping endeavors back in Myrtle Beach, and Goodwill had lots of T-shirts and shorts for a few bucks. I am now back in business :-) This evening we invited our good friends Larry & Geri Tyler out to dinner at the Beach House restaurant on Anna Maria island. Larry is the condo complex's maintenance chief and he has been a lifesaver for us too many times to count, especially when we are not here! He's also lived in this area for many years and seems to know just about everyone. He's a Fire Commissioner, owned his own business, etc.

    Saturday 15 August - We went to Capalbo's with Larry & Geri Tyler. Capalbo's is an italian restaurant on our street (Cortez Rd) where you can order regular dinners or go for the Pizza Buffet for something like $6.99. It turns out that the new owners are an Englishman and a Czech (young married couple) who had all sorts of difficulties with the local Building Department when they tried to renovate the place. The air conditioning company they hired neglected to take out a permit, and things went downhill with local government agencies from there! It looked like they were not going to be able to open, and they were going to lose everything when: LARRY stepped in! Larry took care of all the problems, got the permits through in time, and then helped the owners get everything ready for Opening day! Needless to say we were treated like royalty tonight! And they refused to let us pay!

    Sunday 16 August - we noticed last night that the air conditioning wasn't putting out nice cold air like it did when we first arrived. Back in June we had a new compressor etc installed (the outside unit) and the inside unit is only a few years old so we were at a loss to figure out why it wouldn't work. I checked the outside unit and it was just cycling on and off every ten seconds, so we shut off the air conditioning last night and relied on three room fans to keep from sweltering (it's in the 90s during the daytime here). It's Sunday so we figured we'd just leave a message on Nick's machine (Hub Air Conditioning) but he answered the phone and came right over. He immediately found a leak in the device he installed to shut the system off if the freon got too low.

    I've been complaining for over a year now that my glasses are "terrible". I got them from Dale's doctor in Myrtle Beach last year. He did a bangup job on the eye exam but when my glasses were made I told the technician that I was seeing double, fuzzy, etc. She insisted that the prescription was correct and that my eyes would adjust. We then left for Florida and over the next couple of months we were traveling elsewhere so I never did go back to them. So today, I finally went to the local Sears store (they were open for Family Day, even though it was a Sunday) and had my eyes examined. It turns out that my current eyeglasses were NOT made correctly! They did not center my left eye lens correctly so the area that they ground to my prescription was way off. No wonder I couldn't see well! My new glasses will be here in a week or so, so we'll just have to stay here for a bit longer than we planned :-)

    Monday 17 August - We were supposed to spend today on the beach but we got sidetracked. The local Beall's Outlet stores have 15% off on Mondays for seniors (that's us) so we rummaged around there for most of the afternoon (we don't even get up until 10AM or so :-) We also had a filled-in card from many previous Beall's purchases. This gives you an extra 20% off what you buy. PLUS -- they have racks of clothes that are reduced 30-90% from the original prices, and I found a couple of shorts, some T-shirts and shirts there. In the end I got shirts for $1.90, etc. To celebrate we blew all those savings on mexican food and beer at the Mexicali Restaurant on Cortez Rd. It's a tough life :-)

    Tuesday 18 August - Off to the BEACH! Yep - today was the day! We drove to Manatee Beach on Anna Maria Island. This is the beach where we used to take the kids when they were small. Spent hours digging in the sand and finding small, spiral seashells. Dale set up her chair under the trees while I grabbed one of our big orange "noodles" (flotation device) and headed for the water. Not too warm - not too cold. I spent a couple of hours just floating around watching the huge, puffy clouds roll by, sometimes blocking my sun which was probably a good thing. I have a slight sunburn and nice rosy skin :-) It's actually been raining hard here almost every day but only for an hour or so, then the sun comes out again. Today was no exception as the dark clouds rolled in quickly, and the lifeguards started blasting their whistles to get people out of the water and off the beach. We went to the Cafe On The Beach, right on Manatee Beach, and had something to eat while the Cafe's employees rolled down clear plastic tarps to keep the rain and wind away while we enjoyed the lightning show (and huge thunderclaps).

    Wednesday - 19 August - After living here since 2001, we FINALLY drove to downtown Tampa for a visit! We drove over the Sunshine Skyway (Interstate 275 N) and met our friends Pat & Wes Brockway at the new Tampa Bay History Center on Old Water St. He had given me directions on how to get there from Bradenton but I missed the Gandy Boulevard exit so he had to "talk us in" on his cell phone. It was a "real adventure" as we drove up an "entrance only" road to a huge parking garage, turned around and came out the wrong way, then tried to go the wrong way on a one-way street .... ARGGGH! Finally arrived at the proper parking lot next to the History Center. It's a brand new glass and steel building right on Tampa's River Walk, right across from Harbour Island, with beautiful views. Pat grew up on Davis Island which we could see just a bit to the southwest. The "St Pete Times Forum" complex looms right next door(where the Tampa Lightning hocky team plays). The History Center has an old-time, huge wooden bar (like the Buckhorn Saloon in Texas) and a cafe run by the Columbia restaurant, the oldest Spanish restaurant in the USA. The original Columbia Restaurant is in Ybor City (we went there later) and they also have one in Celebration, Florida, which we visited with Adrienne & Wally Wahlbrink a few years ago. Anyway, we wandered through the History Center, learning about the two Seminole Wars and viewed excellent video presentations about the Port of Tampa, and even how the remnants of Florida oranges (after the juice is squeezed out of them) are turned into pellets for cattle feed. The History Center is so new that the third floor exhibititions aren't going to be ready for the public until September. So, we left and took an electric TECO-line streetcar to Ybor City. The streetcars are beautifully rebuilt, with lots of shiny wood and old time metal & wood seats. It gets its power from a pole that slides along an overhead wire, and the streetcar runs on its own railroad tracks separate from the Tampa-Ybor streets, and protected from the Tampa traffic by bushes and sidewalk-like buffers for most of the trip. When you arrive in old Ybor City, in some places you are driving right on the streets (on embedded railroad tracks). An all day pass usually costs $5.00 but Seniors (that's Us :-) get a pass at half-price, so we wandered around all day for $5.00 total for the both of us! Ybor City used to be the center of the cigar-making factories. They still have several cigar-making shops, like boutiques, on the main steet (La Setima -- Seventh Avenue). The architecture is old, a bit seedy in places, looking like New Orleans in some places with iron railings and covered sidewalks, with galleries, museums, theaters and small restaurants. Ybor City has many bars, and at night the young people come in droves, filling up the places, ready to PARTY! At the corner of La Setima and 20th Street sits the original Columbia restaurant. We went in and saw some beautiful old woodwork, large dining rooms, etc. Waiters and bartenders dress in black, tuxedo-like uniforms. The wooden bar was also huge with lots of windows and mirrors and, of course, paintings and other decorative and historical wall hangings. Professional waiters work their entire lives here, and when they retire after many years of service they are elevated to "Ambassador" rank. An Ambassador can give you detailed tours of the entire facility, through the kitchens and nooks-and-crannys never seen by the general public. They work for tips. One Ambassador had worked as a waiter there for 65 years!! Many others worked for 50 years or more. It's been run by the same family since 1905. After a beer and a Mojito we jumped on the streetcar and went back towards Tampa, but this time getting off at Channelside (The Aquarium is also right next door). Channelside has lots of restaurants and a movie theater. It sits right on the river and is next door to the Cruise Ship Terminal 2 and, if there are a lot of ships in port at the same time, the front of the Channelside will be blocked with huge ships. Next April we will all be leaving Terminal 3 (just a couple hundred yards north,on the other side of the Aquarium) on our Panama-Baja Mexico Cruise. The Channelside Bay Plaza has two levels, with a nice, open architecture. We had dinner at Gallagher's, an upscale, pricey restaurant. It was nice but next time we'll try Bennigan's, much cheaper and with nice views of the river from their second floor, waterfront level.

    Thursday - 20 August - Chuck Crowell is 75 years old today! Happy Birthday Chuck! Nick, from Hub Air, came and changed our old, mercury-switch wall thermostat to a new digital one. The old one would not register a temperature under 75 or so and, although our air conditioning system did seem to cool the condo OK, we wondered if it would cool it further or if 75 degrees was as cool as we could get it. The outside temperatures here in Bradenton have been in the low 90s. I've set the new thermostat to 72 degrees and it now says that we're down to 73 so far, so it looks like replacing the thermostat did the job. We'll see. This afternoon we went over to visit Dale's cousin Janet, Tony and Alexa at their home in Panther Ridge, east of Interstate 75. Spent a nice time. Alexa grew three inches this last year! Spent some time in their pool and got out when the thunderstorms started to rumble by (that's what usually happens down here: thunderstorms in the late afternoon, then sunshine again :-) Had a nice dinner with them and I enjoyed myself so much I gabbed away until Dale indicated it was really late and we had to go :-)

    Saturday - 22 August - The new thermostat did the trick! We can cool the condo down to at least 72, at which point I quit because the place felt like a refrigerator. We now keep it at 76 and it is nice and cool inside, and the system does now cyclke on and off instead of running constantly! We got another invite to dinner with Geri and Larry Tyler tonight. Umm ummm good ! They are getting ready for a month long visit to their home state of Wisconsin. Really nice people!

    Sunday - 23 August - Now this may sound odd, but today I did something that I haven't had time to do in at least the past several years. I always have other "projects" that take up my time. I actually washed and WAXED my vehicle (truck) today. I used the old style paste wax (Turtle Wax) and it took me about four hours to do the whole truck. I always said that if I owned a Corvette that I would be washing and waxing it all the time. Well, I've had it for over seven years and I might have waxed it once. The only wax it has received is at those commercial, self-service car wash facilities where the last cycle of the spray system lets you spray liquid wax on the car. Anyway, the truck looks great and I've identified a few places that will need some heavy-duty gunk remover and elbow grease when we get back to Myrtle Beach. Dale called Cortez Kitchen and found out that they had musicians playing from 4:00PM until 7:00PM so off we went. It was a new band, three guys, one of them the lead guitarist who looked about 13 years old and scared (or bored) but MAN could he play!!! The bass guitarist also played a steel drum so they had a bouncey Caribbean sound. One of the local old guys knows how to play the harmonica and we've enjoyed listening to him over the past couple of years whenever the band calls him up to the stage. He was there tonight and played three songs, including a foot-stomping rendition of When The Saints Come Marching In. Then it was back to fast-paced rock-n-roll and great guitar riffs. We'll look forward to listening to them again.

    Monday - 24 August - Every monday the local Beall's Outlet Stores have Senior Day when you can get an extra %15 off their already reduced prices. Plus, once you fill up one of their cards showing $200 in purchases, they give you another %20 off your entire purchase (35% total !)-- and we had a filled-in card! So today when we went, I found some really nice polo shirts on the sidewalk rack that were 50% off the lowest marked price. Originally in the $38 range (IZOD etc) , I got them for $5.50 !! Oh yeah, Dale got some stuff too :-) We then headed to the local Sears. My new glasses came in (ON TIME: I am impressed)! And I can see much better with them. No glare. No fuzzyness. I'll use my old glasses when I'm working around the yard, since I'm sweating bullets in the South Carolina humidty and need to clean them off quite often. Don't want to scratch up the new ones! So, we spent the rest of the day at Manatee Beach. Bright sunshine and very soft, exceptionally white sand! I did my usual thing: floating with a noodle for hours. Dale went in after a while and pulled up her lounge chair, and read. We've decided to return to Myrtle Beach on wednesday the 25th, so tomorrow will be "cleaning day" and we're going to eat at Capalbo's, the italian place up the street that Geri & Larry Tyler brought us to a week ago last saturday. On wednesday we'll be traveling all day. Might even drive back via Daytona Beach and St Augustine. Bye for now.

    Thursday - 27 August - Yep, we drove back to Myrtle Beach via the I-4 yesterday. We didn't stop at Daytona or St Augstine this time, and we found that it was about 20 minutes faster going this route than our usual I-75 & US-301. On the other hand there were no traffic backups on the I-4 or in Orlando, and we were driving at 75-80mph :-) We made it to Litchfield, SC, just about 15 minutes from home when we had a rear tire go flat! We have not had a flat tire in decades! It took me an hour to find the jack, read the instructions, and put the spare on. We were happy that the spare actually fit, because we hadn't checked it before. Also, we have had an annoying shimmy since we bought the truck, and replaced two of the original tires, hoping that that would solve the problem (nope). Today I took the truck to Pro-Tech Auto and bought two new tires and had them placed on the front, and the remaining "two best tires" put on the rear axle. Now there is no longer a shimmy (yet :-) !!

    Dale picked up our mail from the post office and we had a huge surprise! Weeks ago we had received an unsolicited offer from our Mortgage Company, Taylor, Bean & Whitaker (TB&W), to refinance our home to a 5% mortgage rate at no cost to us under a government "TARP" program . It sounded "fishy" so I wrote to them telling them that we didn't qualify because we weren't behind in our payments, our house was worth much more than we owed, etc etc. They responded that we did qualify, so what-the-heck, we applied, were approved, and we closed on the new mortgage with the lawyers on 31 July. Our first payment was due on 01 October and was $200 less than our current payment. Yippee. No mortgage p[ayment for two months. So, when we opened our mail and found a 20 August notice that our old mortgage had been bought on 12 August by another mortgage company, and our August payment was due, you can imagine our surprise. What's going on? No one answered the listed customer service phones at our old or new company. Same for e-mails sent to them. The lawyer who did the "closing" here in South Carolinba advised that the new company was "assigned" to service our mortgage. I then Googled TB&W and found that they had been shut down by the government earlier this month! Hundreds of people lost their jobs immediately. Third biggest mortgage company in the USA. Fraud alledged. Lucky we had the money to pay the August & September payments that weren't supposed to be due. Dang!

    Friday, Saturday & Sunday - 28/29/30 August - After two weeks in Florida our lawn actually didn't look too bad but still needed my careful, loving touch :-) ! This year I've been cutting it "high" and lived through several weeks when it looked "scraggly" until it finally filled in, nice and very thick for the first time since we've lived here. But there was still lots of yard work to do, and I filled the old Chevy S-10 to the gills with clippings, tree branches (etc) and made a dump run. Karen watered my plants while we were away, so everything lived :-) I tried to cut a 4x6 inch pressure-treated pole with my hand-held circular Skilsaw, but it wouldn't work -- I need to replace the brushes, which I've ordered for $5 on-line from a company on the Internet. Better than paying over $80 for a new one. Planted three Leyland Cypress trees and three more Knockout Rose bushes that I bought on sale! They'll grow fast and in a couple of years they'll be beautiful. I also finally planted all of my "leftover" trays of flower seedlings that are now full-fledged flowers, especially the vinca and marigolds. Just in time, since a lot of the other flowers, like petunias, had finished their blooming cycle and needed to be removed and replaced. Saturday we went to a surprise 40th birthday party for Artie, one of Karen & Chuck's best and oldest friends here in Myrtle Beach.

    Monday - 31 August - Another "Things-To-Do" item off my list! Whenever I think of another "project" I add it to my list (written or not) of things-to-do. Often these don't get accomplished for months, or even years, but eventually I get around to it. Today I dug a two foot-deep hole next to our outside water faucet and filled it with a pressure-treated four foot high post, concreted it in, and attached an easy to use hose reel. Now we can quickly and effortlessly reel in a 100 foot hose from this spot and use it to water the entire front garden areas. This water line is on a separate water meter that charges us only for water used, since it's our underground irrigation/pop-up sprinkler system. If I water the garden from a faucet attached to the house, we have to pay sewer fees for that water also -- and sewer fees are at least double the cost of water itself. In the future I plan to dig long trenches around the entire lot and install water lines and faucets at the more "remote" parts of our yard, tapping into the existing outdoor faucet feed lines as the source (e.g. no sewer fees).

    Remember when we had windows installed on Dale's porch? The owner/saleman told us that they would qualify for a tax credit too. We've been trying for weeks to get information as to what kind of documentation we needed to make that claim when we fill out our taxes for 2009. After no responses I finally dropped in to his office today. They apparently made a mistake and we don't qualify. All they had to do was tell us that when we first starting asking, instead of dragging it out for so long! We love our new windows but this company has a real problem with customer service. It took them several months on multiple visits, trying to rectify a broken window and screens with holes found during the original installation. They finally got a company representative to come and he did the job with only one visit!

Love,     &nbs;       Regards,
Dad & Mom     &nbs;       Barry & Dale