Return to the frozen tundra

On Sunday morning we set out north to return to Kentucky for a few more weeks before we pack up all of our stuff and move it down to Florida at the end of December.  We drove from Port Saint Lucie to Atlanta, and it was a painfullly long 11 hours.  The drive should have taken about 9 hours, but traffic was terrible since it was the weekend following Thanksgiving.

We did end up making it into our hotel room just in time for The Amazing Race.  We ordered room service and went to bed shortly after our show ended.  On Monday morning we got up and headed out fairly early because we were already tired of driving and just wanted to get it over with.

We stopped at Griff’s Deli in Bowling Green for a late lunch, and the drive went smoothly, taking about 8 hours.

Getting back to Kentucky was a little shocking because instead of relaxing and 75 degrees, we have to rush and finish getting ready for the big moves to Florida and then Malaysia within 4 weeks, plus it is MUCH colder in KY right now (20’s at night and 40’s during the day).

I haven’t posted any videos of Zoe lately, so here are a couple of our favorites:



To hell with HSBC

We called HSBC today and asked for our $200 “fee” back because they are completely incompetent.  I won’t go into the details, but multiple people working for HSBC in both Boca Raton and their Internaional Business office in Buffalo, NY, exhibited pathetic customer service and ultimately cost us a significant amount of time for absolutely nothing.  Stay far away from HSBC if you value your time (and sanity) because they will waste it without batting an eye.

The good news is that after we reached our point of tolerance with those idiots, I was able to finally relax and enjoy my time off from work with my family.  We took Zoe to a beach back behind Indian River Plantation in Stuart (at least it used to be called Indian River Plantation – I’m not sure what it’s called any more).  We tried again to visit the Bathtub Beach, but it was still closed while they build the sand back up.  The beach we went to had some big exposed rocks where the crashing waves would spray about 20 feet into the air.  It reminded me of La Bufadora near Ensenada, but don’t worry mom, what Stuart’s beach made up for in beauty, La Bufadora surpasses it in both character and music.  Zoe loved the ocean water spraying on us!

Here are the pictures from our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday and some from our beach outing today:

Relaxing in PSL

Since we got back from the Keys we have been relaxing around Port Saint Lucie and getting everything taken care of for our move to Florida, our new home.

We have been to the beach several times, we’ve taken Zobug to a local mall to play with other kids in the food court’s play area, we’ve been out for sushi (Zoe loves sticky rice), we’ve visited several banks and storage facilities, and we’ve spent time at our condo’s pool and laying around the house.

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving by taking Zoe to the beach while Jean put together a big spread.  Jean sure can cook!  Our Thanksgiving meal was delicious, and Zoe even tried a little of everything (green bean casserole, mac & cheese, dressing, rolls, key lime pie, and a nibble of the ham and turkey).

Here are some pictures from this week since we got home from Key West:

Butterfly paradise before another long haul

We woke up early on Monday morning, checked out of our hotel, and headed into downtown Key West.  We parked at the same south end of Duval Street where we’d parked on Sunday because it was close to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.  Supposedly TripAdvisor picked this attraction as the #1 thing to do in Key West, Jean enjoys photography, and Zoe had fun at the butterfly place we visited in Malaysia a few months ago, so we decided to check ‘er out.

We had some $2 per person coupons, so for $10 per adult (Zoe was free), we listened to a lengthy lecture about being careful to not crush or allow escape of any of the conservatory’s inmates, then we proceeded through the double doors and into the atrium area.

Overall this place was kept up much better than the one near Melaka in Malaysia, but the Melaka butterfly place had quadruple the volume of butterflies – so many that they were constantly landing on all over you.  At this place in Key West I don’t think a single butterfly landed on me during my 45 minutes in the conservatory.  Also, the place in Key West was only about a tenth of the size of the one in Melaka.  The good thing about the Key West one was that it looked much nicer, it smelled better, and it was just generally kept up better.

They had plenty of beautiful butterflies, my favorites being the shiny blueish ones.  Zoe liked watching the tiny flightless birds scurrying around everywhere.  At the end of our tour she sat on a little wooden stair while laughing and pointing at the birds until they came running up towards her, then she lifted her legs up and started shaking her hands furiously and yelling “no, no, no, no, no!” at the birds.  She clearly didn’t want them climbing up on her.

The ride home was long, but it was almost 2 hours shorter than the ride down, so it wasn’t too bad.

Here are some photos from the butterfly joint in Key West:

Coast to coast in Key West

When we finally got to our hotel in Key West on Saturday night, I decided that I wasn’t ready to spend another day in the car on Sunday, so I booked a second night in the rental condo as I checked us in.

On Sunday we woke up and went into downtown Key West, which was about an 8 minute drive from our hotel.  We walked around downtown from 10:30am until 4:30pm.  We parked at one end of Duval Street, about 5 parking spaces from the ocean on the south side of Key West (near the corner of Duval and South St).  We spent the majority of our 6 hours walking northwest for the entire length of Duval Street, from the south side of the island to the north side – from water on one side to water on the other.  We did take a detour to see the monument for the southernmost point of the US, and we walked back to the car from the north side on Whitehead Street instead of Duval.

Some of the things we did were as follows:

  • posed for photos next to the marker for the southernmost point in the US
  • bought funny t-shirts and onesies from some of the many souvenir shops along Duval St
  • ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe Key West
  • had some Sloppy Ritas and mojitos at Hemingway’s old haunt, Sloppy Joe’s
  • watched a juggler in Mallory Square
  • pet a baby alligator in front of the KW aqaurium
  • feed several of the free range roosters and chickens running roughshod over the island

Just as our paid parking ran out we made it back to the car and went back to the hotel, where we relaxed for a little bit before heading back to the beach to watch the sunset around 6pm.  Pelicans were repeatedly diving to catch fish while we took photos and Zoe played in the sand.

We were all tired after walking around all day long, but we all had fun.  Key West seems like a laid back version of one of our favorite cities.  Perhaps it’s laid back because the revellers are older, but the music, food and intoxicants are all similar to those found in a place we love to visit as often as possible, New Orleans.  I really enjoyed sitting in Sloppy Joe’s, even if it was only for 45 minutes to have a couple of drinks.  We didn’t really enjoy the nightlife because we were exhausted from our day out and because it isn’t really something we feel comfortable doing with the little Zobug.  I don’t mind the music and atmosphere with Zoe in tow, but drunks are too unpredictable and I can’t risk someone falling over and hurting Zoe or something like that.  I would really like to return for New Year’s Eve some time in the not too distant future once the Worman is old enough to dodge the adults more effectively.

By the way, the weather was perfect!  It was around 76F with a constant breeze and no humidity all day long.

Here are the photos from our day on the town in Key West:

The slow road to Key West

On Saturday morning we tried to wake up early so we could drive south through the Florida Keys, and spend 1 night in Key West.  We ended up not leaving until 10:30am, our normal lack of preparation being the reason for a slow start.

We took the FL Turnpike down to Homestead, where we got off the highway to check out what my dad had found on the internet to be a local attraction, the Coral Castle.  The Coral Castle ended up being a bust because they wanted $15 per person, and we refused to pay that to see an old building with no real significance.  We did manage a few photos through the fence though in case you’re interested but don’t want to splurge either…

We stopped in Key Largo for a late lunch, where we all had fresh fish.  The “Matecumbe” style Mahi-Mahi was excellent.  We also stopped to pick up some cheap t-shirts and the Disney Princess Crocs Jean has been searching for, plus we made a quick stop near our lunch restaurant to check out the original African Queen (the boat used by Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the classic film).  Before leaving Key Largo we pulled over to get a picture of a hammerhead shark hanging from a crane, and later we stopped briefly to get some gas in Marathon.

To get from Port St Lucie to Key West, the last island in a string of “Keys” that lead southwest from the southern tip of the Floridian peninsula, took us 8 hours.  It’s a long way, but it takes even longer to drive because the speed limit through a good portion of the Keys is 45mph, and the rest of it is only 55mph.

We checked into our suite in Key West just after 6:30pm, and we were all relieved to get out of the car.  We did enjoy a beautiful sunset as we crossed a long series of bridges just before getting into Key West, but once we got to our hotel we just relaxed.  We ordered a pizza from a local joint and watched some college football.  I’m happy to report that the top two college football teams (Kansas State and Oregon) both choked and gave up their chances at the BCS National Championship.  It looks like Alabama is back in it, most likely to play Notre Dame for the NC in Miami!  The Tide still needs to get through UGA in the SEC Championship, and this weekend they should destroy Auburn.

By the end of the day we were closer to Havana, Cuba than Miami, Florida…

Here are the photos from our drive down through the Keys:

HSBC S-U-C-K-S

This morning we woke up early once again and headed south to Boca Raton so we could open up a Malaysian bank account.  I was told by a co-worker who is already working in Malaysia that HSBC is the best choice for banking in Malaysia because you can open your account without much hassle before you leave the country.

I’ll cut to the chase on this one.  HSBC is pathetic.  HSBC’s customer service is beyond pathetic, and after having been a member of 4 different major (multi-national) banks and 3 credit unions, HSBC is by far the worst one.  They were openly hostile at the local branch today when we tried to open the account, and that was aftering charging the absurd amount of $200 just for processing your application.  If I had it to do over again, I would say to hell with a global bank and open an account with a Malay bank once we got to Malaysia.

Anyhow, here are today’s pictures, including a few shots of Zobug at Coconuts in Ft Lauderdale, where we ate dinner tonight.

ps – “Boca Raton” means “rat’s mouth” in Spanish…

Zoe takes a dip in the Atlantic

Zoe can now add the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast of Florida to the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California and the South China Sea on the eastern side of Malaysia to her list of waters that she has hopped around in and giggled as it washed over her tiny feet.  Zoe LOVES the beach.

Here are some shots Jean took as Zoe played with her PeePaw and I on a beach between Jensen Beach and Stuart:

Headed to our new home

We finally made it down to Port St Lucie on Tuesday, our final destination on this trip.  We slept in a little bit on Tuesday, then after checking out of our hotel we stopped at a store to get Zoe some Disney t-shirts, next we took the Florida Turnpike south.

When we pulled into my dad’s complex, he was walking back from the trash dumpster and guided us over to the guest parking lot.  We toured his place and then went out driving around.  We went to Jensen Beach for a few minutes, but it was windy and pretty cool, so after stopping by Publix to pickup some food for Zobug we just drove around and looked at some of the old places from my childhood.  I spent 5 years in Stuart, FL, from first through fifth grade, so I wanted to see our old houses and school.

We eventually made it back home and went to sleep at a reasonable hour.  Yesterday we woke up early because we had several errands to run.  Jean and I have decided that we aren’t sure where we will live once we finish our assigment in Malaysia, but we do know it won’t be in Kentucky.  We have no desire to move back to Kentucky, so we are moving to Florida for the foreseeable future.  We changed over our drivers licenses and got auto insurance for Florida, and we also opened up new savings accounts because we closed down our Kentucky accounts.

We had lunch at the local mall, where Zoe ran around like a nut with a bunch of other kids.  After lunch we dropped Jean off at the condo for a nap while my dad and I took Zoe out.  We tried to go back to the beach, but it started raining.  Once again we ended up driving around and reminiscing about the old days here in South Florida.

Today we got going early once again because we needed to register our car in Florida.  It cost around $440 to register and tag the car we’re keeping, but it’ll be worth it when we come back because we won’t have to buy 2 new cars.  It would have been cheaper to keep registering it in Kentucky, but since we wouldn’t have a physical address there and we don’t plan on ever living there again, it only made sense to register it our new home state.  We thought about selling off both cars when we first found out we’d be moving to Malaysia, but I’m glad we decided to keep the newer one.

After we got our errands finished, we took Zobug to the beach.  She loves standing on the sand where the waves break, letting the water rush over her legs.  My dad and I stood in the water with her for about 30 minutes before she changed up and started running around in the sand and chasing birds.

After the beach we drove down to Fort Lauderdale.  We stopped for dinner at a Cuban joint Jean found on Yelp, then we spent about 3 hours walking around a huge outlet mall (Sawgrass Mills).  Jean bought some linen pants, but that was it…

Here are pictures from our Tuesday and Wednesday; I’ll post shots from Thursday’s beach and outlet mall trips tomorrow.

Mickey Mouse lost out to a fancy sprinkler

Today we were at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom from 8:50am until 6:20pm.  It was a long day, but we had a good time.

There was a good sized crowd, so the wait times for the attractions were longer than I would have liked, the cost was too high for what you get, and the food at the park was horrible.  Other than those 3 things, it was fun.  The music was good (Zoe danced a lot), the weather was perfect (makes sense that they’d build one in Socal and one in central Florida), Carolyn got to ride some roller-coasters, I enjoyed watching Zoe have fun, and Zoe had a blast playing in the misting machines.

I hadn’t been to Disney World since the mid-80’s, but it hasn’t changed much since then as far as I could tell.  We rode several rides, like the magic carpet thing (Jean freaked Zobug out by moving our carpet up and down too quickly), Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, and a few more.  Jean rode Space Mountain twice, and Splash Mountain once.

Zoe met Cinderella and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), but she was terrified of them.  She preferred to hug Jean’s legs instead of even looking in the direction of the princesses.  They were both really sweet, but Zoe didn’t want anything to do them.

For me the highlight of the day was actually the last thing we did, which was watch a parade right in front of Cinderella’s castle.  Zoe came out of her shell some and danced with Carolyn and I, especially when the characters got off the floats and invited everyone into the streets to dance.

After we left Disney I dropped Jean off at the Premium Outlets next door to our resort, then Zobug and I came back to the room and hung out until we picked Jean up at 10pm.

Tomorrow we’re heading further south to Port Saint Lucie, our final destination for this trip.

Here are the photos from today:

Detoured for a peanut

We left Atlanta this morning, heading south on 75.  Our destination was Orlando, but we ended up adding an additional 2 hours to our trip because near Macon we detoured over to the west of I-75 to visit Plains, Georgia.

President Jimmy Carter is from Plains, GA, and I wanted to check it out since we missed his Presidential Library in Atlanta.  Jean and I agreed that it was strange to visit two separate Republican libraries in California (Reagan and Nixon), and then visit a Democrat (Carter) in Georgia.  Typically people associate the South as a Red block and California as blue-blue-blue.

Anyhow, all of these guys are part of America’s history, so we enjoy checking it out.  I was surprised just how far off the beaten path Plains really is.  We drove over an hour from I-75 to Plains, and the only thing along the way was field after field of cotton.  We saw a few pecan farms, but mostly it was cotton.

Plains is a 1 stop light town, and they’re obviously very proud of their peanut farmer turned President and Nobel Peace Prize winner.  We stopped at a little convenience store to take some photos of a huge peanut with a big Carter grin, and when I asked the guy tending the store if Carter ever stops by he said “yea, I thought you probably just saw him because he drove right past you all while you were posing with the peanut”.  The store clerk said that Carter teaches at a church just a couple 100 yards away, but that he leaves about 10 minutes before the end of the service, and he had driven by us while we were at the road coaxing Zoe into smiling like a 13-foot tall peanut.  I really wish he would have pulled in for a Coke so I could meet him, but the actual highlight was that I was able to purchase a huge cup of boiled peanuts for $2.99.  They were excellent!

We ended up making it to our hotel room in Orlando right at 7:50pm, just in time for The Amazing Race.  Zoe enjoyed pulling pans out of the room’s kitchenette, and Jean went out exploring the complex.

Here are some photos from today:

Vacation begins! First stop, Atlanta.

On Friday afternoon we took off on our vacation trip to Florida.  Things were crazy in the final 2 days of the week though, so it didn’t go off quite like we had been planning for several months…

We had planned on driving Carolyn’s car to Florida, but that choice was questioned Thursday evening because Carol and Zobug were rear-ended by someone on Thursday afternoon in Louisville.  The damage appears to be only to the rear bumper, so hopefully we don’t break down during our vacation due to some more serious damage we couldn’t see.

After deciding to go ahead and use Jean’s wrecked car, our next big issue was with the dogs.  We had decided that we were going to have to put the dogs to sleep before leaving on this vacation because we aren’t able to bring them with us to Malaysia, and there was no point in paying $500 to kennel them during our vacation if we had to put them to sleep right after getting back.  We’ve been upset about this decision for a long time.  Jean and I tried everything we could to think of for alternatives, but nothing worked.  This last Wednesday afternoon a friend of a friend said they’d take both dogs because they rescue Jack Russells in Louisville, so as of Thursday morning we decided to give them the dogs.  Carolyn was pretty upset about this decision because she wouldn’t know what ever happened to Tank, but I was happy because they wouldn’t be put to sleep and a caring family would find them good homes.  In the eleventh hour, Carolyn’s mother decided that she would keep the dogs, so our plans for our vacation changed.  Instead of driving directly to Atlanta for the first stop of our vacation, we had to go through Birmingham first to drop the dogs off at Nancy’s home.  It added 3 hours to an already long trip, but it was worth it because we will now get the dogs back once we return from Malaysia.  Thanks for watching our dogs, Nancy!

The final hiccup came around 12:30pm yesterday, as we were rushing to pack the car so we could begin our trip.  I noticed that my driver’s license wasn’t in my wallet.  I’ve never lost an ID in my entire life, but it was gone just as we were ready to set out on a 36 hour round trip driving marathon.  I called our local DMV, and luckily after only $12 and a 5 minute wait, I had a new license and we were off.

We picked up lunch before leaving Louisville, and we stopped at the Huntsville welcome center so everyone could use the restroom and stretch their legs.  We dropped the dogs off in Birmingham, then we pressed on to Atlanta.  We got checked in to our hotel around 12:40am, and we finally fell asleep around 2am.  Zoe wasn’t really in a mood to sleep after resting for most of 11 hours we spent in the car.

This morning we woke up at 6:45am, got ready and headed into downtown Atlanta to visit the Georgia Aquarium.  The aquarium was nice, but we both agreed that the Monterey Aquarium in California is nicer.  I was also disappointed in the ridiculous prices – $75 for 2 adults, $7 for two small Cokes (and it is right next door to The World of Coke Museum!), plus $10 for parking.  Is 3 hours in an aqaurium worth $100?  We could go to hours and hours of movies for that, or we could join the Newport Aquarium for a year for that amount.  It wasn’t all bad though because they do have some creatures you never see if normal aquariums, like beluga whales and several whale sharks.  The aquarium was really nice, but it was a bit of a disappoint after everything I heard about how spectacular it was.  It ain’t no San Diego Zoo of the aquarium world…

Besides the whales at the aquarium, the other upshot was that Zoe had a blast.  She pointed out everything and then looked up to whomever was close by and said “fiiiiiish”.  She enjoyed putting her hands in the little pools to pet the anemones and skates/stingrays, and she had a lot of fun running around with a little girl in front of the big ocean tank with the whale sharks and manta rays.

Zoe may have loved it, but she contributed to my disappoint with the visit to the aquarium because she went completely bananas several times, mostly whenever we were ready to move on to the next exhibit.  She wouldn’t be ready to leave and she’d started screaming, fall day so we’d have to drag her up off the ground, and if we picked her up she started kicking and wiggling like crazy.  It was like the brattiest kid you can imagine – pitching a fit whenever she didn’t get her way.  A mother told Carolyn, “I know how that feels”, so I’m guessing we weren’t the only ones there who’ve had a kid melt down, but since it was the first time Zoe ever acted like that it was a shock to us.  I’m actually reconsidering our planned DisneyWorld visit in a few days because if she was inconsolable over leaving leafy dragons and red piranha, I can’t imagine how she’ll react to leaving magic teacups and Minnie Mouse.

After the aquarium we went outside and there was a Veteran’s parade going past the front of the aquarium, and several skydivers were landing in the grassy patch between the aquarium and Coke.  We eventually got in the car and drove to Buckhead, where Jean let me reminisce as I drove around my high school and the surrounding neighborhoods where I spent many Friday and Saturday nights.  We ate lunch at one of my sister Amy’s favorite joints, Fellini’s.

After lunch we made our way back to our hotel and all crashed for several hours.  When I finally woke up I noticed that I had missed about 35 text messages on my phone.  I started reading through them and realized, sadly, that the Crimson Tide was finally knocked off their perch atop all FBS college football teams.  It’s hard to stay undefeated, but the Tide is still in the hunt for an SEC Championship, and best of all they still have a great shot at destroying Auburn.  Roll Tide!

For dinner we drove to Smyrna, where I grew up from 6th through 12th grades, and ate at a “Greek” restaurant.  The service was good, but the food wasn’t…  After dinner we drove around my old neighborhood and I showed Jean how far I used to walk to go visit my friend Jim in Vinings Glen.  I still remember him riding around on a bike in his cul-de-sac while I threw the football to him.  Blue-32-hut-hut-hike!

The Video Club was now a Tae Kwon Do shop, but the entire area has several new businesses, but I imagined myself driving around in a red mail Jeep, preying it wouldn’t break down before I got to within walking distance of wherever I was headed.

Here are the photos from today, plus a couple from this past week:

Indiana storage hopping

This morning we managed to get up and ready for the day in record time.  By 9am we were out the door and headed south, but not before Jean and I made 5+ trips upstairs in order to bring some boxes and crates down to the garage to make the move a little easier.

We drove down through Louisville and across the Ohio River, into Indiana.  We decided to store our belongings in Indiana for the next couple of years because when we move back to the US we may try living in a farm in Indiana, like our friends Nathan and Amanda.  We also talked about living in a high rise condo in Cincinnati, but we’re leaning closer to the farm thing right now.  Two years is a long way off, so it’s hard to have any idea where we will live when we return to the US because we have so many options with 3 different states surrounding my job.

We drove around for about an hour, and we checked out 4 different public storage places.  The first place didn’t have anything available in the size we need, the second place was a strange setup where you never meet with anyone because all transactions are handled through this ridiculous little ATM-looking kiosk where it calls someone on a phone who manages it from somewhere else, the third place we never found even though our GPS assured it we were right in front of it, and the fourth place was a winner.

Hopefully this week we can iron out most of the details of our move, such as storage, movers, exact date we leave, health insurance coverage, and so on…

After we found the place where we want to store our stuff, we drove back across the river and went to the Zorn Ave exit off 71, and we ate at Kingfish, a seafood restaurant.  The service was good, but the food wasn’t.  After lunch we drove just down the street to a park, where Zoe ran around on the playground for a while.  She loves the slides, but absolutely hates swings.  She let us put her in a swing, but after about 3-4 back and forths she started screaming and wanting us to get her out.

We walked down to the river so she could get a closer look at the ducks.  Speaking of which, Zoe knows the word “bird”, and will point to them if we say it.  She said several new words this past week, like “toys”, “pants”, “mine” (clutching something she didn’t want us to take away), “get” (to the dogs), “door” and “bed’.

Here are some pictures from the weekend, including a couple of gems like a Billy Ray Cyrus double cruising alongside my car on a scooter (notice the mullet and shades), and also some shots of Zoe sharing some cereal on the floor with Charlie and Tank:

Breather before we head south

Last week was tough.  I had a big project going on all week, so I worked last Sunday and then 12+ hours on several days during the week.  Yesterday the project was finally finished and everything was working correctly.  Tuesday was brutal though because nothing went right, it was like 38F, rainining and windy, and I was outside in it for 10 straight hours.  Miserable…

Now for the reward!  This next week I plan on focusing my attention on our big upcoming move.  In less than 2 months we will be moving to Malaysia for two years, and we haven’t really done anything yet because we’ve been waiting on some answers from my company.  I think I’ll get most of the answers I need, and hopefully some support and direction, during the next week.

On Friday we will be loading up in Jean’s car and driving south for a couple of weeks.  Our two week vacation will take us through Atlanta, Orlando, Port St Lucie, Miami and the Florida Keys.  I’m really excited about the trip, but it’ll but so much more relaxing for me if we have a lot of the details and planning for our move done before we leave.  That only gives us 5 days to get some stuff done!

Today, Jean has been getting our place cleaned up so the landlady can come by to take pictures since the place will need to be put up on the market once we leave at the end of December.  I’ve spent time this morning getting rid of old papers, like Sprint cellular phone bills from 2002!  I also finally canceled our web-hosting account on ipage since I’ve moved everything back to hostmonster.  Zobug has run around quite a bit, taken a nap, cried, yelled, thrown some stuff, and also eaten some rice.