Archive for » April, 2006 «

Some Good Customer Service

Hopefully, apoplectic this will be enough to get you started.

Part I: The Trip There and Arriving

Our trip there was uneventful and long. Matt drove us to Chicago and then our flight left from there in the afternoon to Frankfurt (overnight) for about a 5 hour layover until about 01:00 and then we flew into Minsk. There were the usual movies, gynecologist and airline food (which seemed better than normal) and cramped seats. We spent our time watching movies, eating and talking just a little bit. We tried to stay awake as much as possible so that we will be able to adjust to the time zone change better. Tanya slept for a few hours and I napped for about 1.5 hours. over the some 19 hour flight and layover. When all was said and done we had been up for over 30 hours. Needless to say we were quite tired. when we arrived.

I was dead tired and cranky by the time we arrived to Minsk. We both and were also not happy about the prospect of having to deal with the Belarussian government over the course of the next 2 weeks. That is enough to make anyone cranky! We left the plane tired and crabby and we walked and walked and walked, and then walked some more, and just when we thought our trip was not going to go so well. We saw them. We saw our girls with signs and a bugle. We went from irate to deliriously happy just like that. It was so good to see them all again. Lena, Banania, Ania, and Banania’s father and brother were there, Katia’s sister – Tanya, and their parents whom I miss very much. It was great to talk to them all to them and to hear their voices again. It was a moment that we had been looking forward to for quite a long time. Katia met us a little bit before we were going to leave the airport. She had a test at the university right about the time when we would arrive.

We hugged and talked for some time with everyone and then we made for Banania’s family’s flat (apartment) in Mogilev. Her father and brother drove us to their flat in Mogilev about 4 hours away. Banania, Ania and Lena went to Banania’s flat in Minsk to get her devil cat, Funt, do a little bit of shopping and then meet us at Banania’s family’s.

Part II: THE Passport Saga

I am going to open this up for all of my non-Russian readers – all two of you =) – by explaining a little bit about Russia (and their former Republics). An interesting fact is that they do not use ID cards like we do here in the US. They use their passports.

Passports as ID is an interesting concept. It may be practical as they have other countries near by that their citizens may find the urge to go see and do so often and might even have families in other parts of the former Soviet Republic. Russians have to obtain a few interesting things for their passports – they must Register where the live and a obtain a Travel Stamp to leave the country.

Why must they register where they live. That is a good question and I do not know the answer. I can offer some speculation as to why that could be. This is a remnant from the Communist Era where the government wanted complete control and knowledge of where everyone is. Registering where you live also helps for rationing water, food, and other services that were all govern mentally controlled and owned. Remember this is purely speculation on my part. If someone knows of the correct answer or a better reason please post your thoughts. I would appreciate some enlightenment.

Our first week was spent dealing with passport issues. This is something that has had both of us quite worried. The Russian people can be quite taciturn and antagonistic if you catch them at work. They seem quite pissed that you have approached them to ask them to do their job. If they can find a reason not to do what you are asking they most definitely will. This can be a harsh analysis, but please also remember that this is a gross generalization. We found a some people that were quite polite and desired to help and do their job, just not the majority.

We had to reregister Tanya’s place of “residence” and then obtain a travel stamp so that she would be allowed to leave the country as it had expired while she was in the US. The first step was to sign her out of the university where she was signed in. Then we had to sign her into her aunt and uncle’s house where she usually stayed when attending the university. We had to get signatures and stamps to here, signatures and stamps to get there. They were found in this building and that building, and then we had to go to this other building across town. Uggh! There was a lot of walking and a lot of frustration as we had only 2 weeks to finish all of this paperwork and still have time to see her family and our friends who are located in other mahor cities in Belarus.

It took us a full week to get all of the stamps and signatures to sign her in to her Aunt and Uncle’s home. Once the registering was complete we had to apply for her travel stamp. Fortunately that process was simple. We dropped off her passport at an office somewhere and then pick it up the day that we left and that was it. Whew! There was some peace of mind knowing that this was almost done when we left her passport there, but there was still this overriding worry, concern, or fear that something was going to go wrong and that we would have to stay longer or have more problems than we already had. This of course detracted from our ability to enjoy our time there, especially Tanya, for she is my little bundle of stress.

To be continued…

I received an email saying that there is a low priority message waiting for me with my online banking site. I checked it out and it said that a specific person wanted to talk to me from my bank. I called her and she said that there were some strange charges being posted via my debit card from Ancestry.com. She had been trying to get ahold of me, this
but the phone numbers on my account were like 5 years old and very incorrect. She had canceled the card and is ordering another one for me. It does bother me that she canceled the card without my permission. I could have been in Europe or another part of the US and needed the card. If my phone numbers were correct this would have be prevented. They are looking out or me and I am thankful for that.

So, next I called Ancestry.com. I told them my story and they assumed it was a Fraud issue. She contacted the appropriate department and then let me know it was taken care of. They were great!

Someone got ahold of my debit card number and that bothers me quite a bit. I am very careful with all of my personal information online. I am a web professional and I like to think that I am more aware of the dangers and how to prevent ID theft. fortunately the people that were running my debit card through did not have any of my personal information and submitted garbled text for the name and so on.

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Our Trip to Belarus: Part II

Part II.5: When not Dealing with THE Passport Saga

The days of the first week passed mostly by working on getting her passport squared away. The nights were entirely a different animal all together and for that we are thankful. We spent our time with friends and family. Ania and Banania had the whole time off and spent every moment with us. Lena had other familial obligations and could not be with us as much as she would have liked. Katia was attending school in Minsk and was not feeling quite so well.

In Mogilev we stayed with Banania’a family who were great and I got to meet her grandmother as well. We also met 3 of Tanya’s friends from the university which was interesting. They are so shy to speak English. Endearing as it was their English was a hell of a lot better than my Russian.

Time in Minsk

We spent a single night in Minsk. We arrived at Katia’s parents house and Katia was there. Her family was getting food ready for everyone to eat. All the girls were there. Katia’s sister, decease Tanya, came after she finished her work and their cousin, Natasha, arrived after she finished her work.

It was soo very good to see Katia and her family. The last time I was here, alone and her family made me feel so very at home with them. I have missed them very mush since I have been away.

We went to a night club there called the Metro which was painted like a subway. IT had rooms that you could rent that had one way mirrors facing the dance floor. You could order food and alcohol so you could site on the comfortable couches and chairs in the rooms. Very cool! The club had an upper level with a cat walk like area and tables upstairs. American clubs and music sucks. This place rocks!

Cultural Notes

Public Restrooms

Here comes a major rant here. Public Restrooms. For the love of God and all that is holy can I please get a bathroom that has some sanitary consideration. Please!!!

Ladies who grew up in the former Soviet Republics all have strong legs because they will have nothing to do with actually touching a toilet there, and neither would I. Most do not have toilet seats and have not been cleaned in a very long time. It is in these moments that I am so very happy that I am a guy. Ugghhh!!

I ate as little as possible if I knew that we were going to go out on the town so that I would not have to go, or so that I would be able to wait. Arrrgghhhh! There were a few newer buildings that had cleaner bathrooms, but their best was probably as good as the average worst that you would find here in the United State.

When you went to someone’s home everything is normal. Whew! Thank God!

Social Gatherings

All social gatherings in Belarus have a lot in common: food, confections, Vodka and other alcohol. Almost every where we went there were salads, meat or pasta with cookies, cake or candy, and, of course, Vodka. Everywhere we visited we brought either wine, vodka or candy. It is common and polite practice to bring something as the host will have a meal or some sort of food set out for your visit. There is a common Russian reply after some one knocks on your door and it goes something like this “Who’s there?” – “A bottle of Vodka!”. This is not a good translation but it gives you an idea.

We ate a lot and drank a lot. I drank a lot or tea, wine, and vodka. When we returned home I did not want to see another bottle of wine, champagne, or vodka or tea.

Social gatherings are very … social. People talking, laughing, telling stories and sharing. Belarussians are a very warm and accepting people. I miss being there just because of how warm and wonderful my friends and family is there.

(This is all I could manage.)

Our Trip to Belarus: Part I

Hopefully, apoplectic this will be enough to get you started.

Part I: The Trip There and Arriving

Our trip there was uneventful and long. Matt drove us to Chicago and then our flight left from there in the afternoon to Frankfurt (overnight) for about a 5 hour layover until about 01:00 and then we flew into Minsk. There were the usual movies, gynecologist and airline food (which seemed better than normal) and cramped seats. We spent our time watching movies, eating and talking just a little bit. We tried to stay awake as much as possible so that we will be able to adjust to the time zone change better. Tanya slept for a few hours and I napped for about 1.5 hours. over the some 19 hour flight and layover. When all was said and done we had been up for over 30 hours. Needless to say we were quite tired. when we arrived.

I was dead tired and cranky by the time we arrived to Minsk. We both and were also not happy about the prospect of having to deal with the Belarussian government over the course of the next 2 weeks. That is enough to make anyone cranky! We left the plane tired and crabby and we walked and walked and walked, and then walked some more, and just when we thought our trip was not going to go so well. We saw them. We saw our girls with signs and a bugle. We went from irate to deliriously happy just like that. It was so good to see them all again. Lena, Banania, Ania, and Banania’s father and brother were there, Katia’s sister – Tanya, and their parents whom I miss very much. It was great to talk to them all to them and to hear their voices again. It was a moment that we had been looking forward to for quite a long time. Katia met us a little bit before we were going to leave the airport. She had a test at the university right about the time when we would arrive.

We hugged and talked for some time with everyone and then we made for Banania’s family’s flat (apartment) in Mogilev. Her father and brother drove us to their flat in Mogilev about 4 hours away. Banania, Ania and Lena went to Banania’s flat in Minsk to get her devil cat, Funt, do a little bit of shopping and then meet us at Banania’s family’s.

Part II: THE Passport Saga

I am going to open this up for all of my non-Russian readers – all two of you =) – by explaining a little bit about Russia (and their former Republics). An interesting fact is that they do not use ID cards like we do here in the US. They use their passports.

Passports as ID is an interesting concept. It may be practical as they have other countries near by that their citizens may find the urge to go see and do so often and might even have families in other parts of the former Soviet Republic. Russians have to obtain a few interesting things for their passports – they must Register where the live and a obtain a Travel Stamp to leave the country.

Why must they register where they live. That is a good question and I do not know the answer. I can offer some speculation as to why that could be. This is a remnant from the Communist Era where the government wanted complete control and knowledge of where everyone is. Registering where you live also helps for rationing water, food, and other services that were all govern mentally controlled and owned. Remember this is purely speculation on my part. If someone knows of the correct answer or a better reason please post your thoughts. I would appreciate some enlightenment.

Our first week was spent dealing with passport issues. This is something that has had both of us quite worried. The Russian people can be quite taciturn and antagonistic if you catch them at work. They seem quite pissed that you have approached them to ask them to do their job. If they can find a reason not to do what you are asking they most definitely will. This can be a harsh analysis, but please also remember that this is a gross generalization. We found a some people that were quite polite and desired to help and do their job, just not the majority.

We had to reregister Tanya’s place of “residence” and then obtain a travel stamp so that she would be allowed to leave the country as it had expired while she was in the US. The first step was to sign her out of the university where she was signed in. Then we had to sign her into her aunt and uncle’s house where she usually stayed when attending the university. We had to get signatures and stamps to here, signatures and stamps to get there. They were found in this building and that building, and then we had to go to this other building across town. Uggh! There was a lot of walking and a lot of frustration as we had only 2 weeks to finish all of this paperwork and still have time to see her family and our friends who are located in other mahor cities in Belarus.

It took us a full week to get all of the stamps and signatures to sign her in to her Aunt and Uncle’s home. Once the registering was complete we had to apply for her travel stamp. Fortunately that process was simple. We dropped off her passport at an office somewhere and then pick it up the day that we left and that was it. Whew! There was some peace of mind knowing that this was almost done when we left her passport there, but there was still this overriding worry, concern, or fear that something was going to go wrong and that we would have to stay longer or have more problems than we already had. This of course detracted from our ability to enjoy our time there, especially Tanya, for she is my little bundle of stress.

To be continued…

Half-way There

Last night we made an offer on a house and it was accepted so we are half-way done with our new foray into the realm of home ownership. At this point we have our financing approved it is just a matter of getting the interest rate locked in, gerontologist getting a VA assessor out there to get and appraisal and we should be close to done, look and home-owners insurance. I will arrange to have the septic system inspected and a home inspection this week or early next week, myocarditis hopefully.

Description of the Hizzouse

It is 700 square-feet which is about 300 less than I want. In truth, if they
would have put the square-footage in the advertisement I would not have wanted
to even looked at it. I am happy that they didn’t do this. The redeeming factor
for the lack of space is that the basement is very usable and could be used
for a bedroom/office and such – not quite making up for the missing 300 square-feet,
but it works. All in all it is smaller than the apartment, but yet better.
Currently the house is being rented and the current occupants have put a Bar
and entertainment room in the basement which we will have as well. The tenants
have until June 1 to move out so we have plenty of time to pack and save money
for new things for the house such as: dishes, silverware, washer and dryer,
lawn mower and such.

It is a 2 bedroom, 12 year old house with an attached garage. It has a about
3/4 an acre of land. We will have plenty of land to build if we want to, and
plenty of a yard to have barbeques and parties as well. The downside with so
much land is that….. I will have to mow a very large lawn. That will be fun
– not. I will have to purchase a riding lawn mower so that it will be easy
and quick to mow. The cabinets are all Oak and there is one moveable Island
(a moveable counter/cabinet) for our convenience. I really like that idea.
I have thought that this is something that I would want if I were to build
a house.

In Closing

We have looked a wide variety homes in various conditions. From “Holey Crap!
shouldn’t this be condemned” to “I need another job so we can do this!”. We
have looked at duplexes and 2 bedroom houses. We have looked a a commercial
property, the old Baraboo News Republic building, which is a gold mine waiting
to be bought up. I just wish I had the money available to snatch it up. They
are asking about $99,000, but it needs about $60,000 in work to make it rentable.
If you could get it for about $60 or 70k it would be a great deal. Unfortunately,
my VA loan does not cover commercial
properties. If it did we might still be considering it. The potential that
this building has made my heart race. This house was priced to sell and I am
glad that we got to it before someone else did.

Other Notes

I am still trying to find time to work on a post detailing our trip to Belarus.
A good portion of the post is done, but their is still a lot to go. After the
house buying is done I will have more time for posting and other things that
I have been putting off until we get settled in..

Category: House  2 Comments

May 7th, Day of Angels

Siete de Mayo; Dia de Angeles; May 7th, side effects Day of Angels – a new holiday started by …. Me. =) Why?? You Ask… To celebrate the Angels in my life. Find the Angels in your life… the people who have lifted you up when you have fallen, geriatrician those who have given you strength when you were weak, those who have given you hope when all is lost – and thank them… Show them that their support made a difference! Tell them that without them and their support things would have been very different.

We don’t always know how the things we do affect people. We do not know how much we help and sometimes it is the little things, the innocuous things that we do that can give hope or inspiration – something as simple as a smile can renew the soul. There are Angels in your life find them, and let them know!! (I do not typically put personal stuff here, but I am making this an exception)

Celebrate the Angels that are in your life. I am happy to say that I have many that have made a difference in mine. This is third year that I have celebrated it and thee first year that I ahve made this public. So celebrate with me and spread the word.