Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lifestyles of the rich and homeless

Published Aug. 27, 2007

Did you ever see that show "House Hunters?"
Homebuyers are shown three homes in their price range with the amenities they are after and they pick one of them to buy. It's as if you are house shopping with some friends - often, some very rich friends.
"House Hunters" is the most popular show on Home & Garden Television - HGTV - and it's addictive.
You get to see a bunch of cool houses in different parts of the country and then you get to play a guessing game - in my case, against my husband - to see if you can figure out which one they will pick.
We're relatively late to the game. The show premiered in October 1999, but we just discovered it about a month ago.
The good news is - between regular "House Hunters" and "House Hunters International," which is the same show except the houses are all over the world instead of all over the country - you can watch the show at least three times a day.
And if you have one of those snazzy DVR or TiVo gizmos like we do, you can stack up so many episodes on your recorder that if you don't like a particular one, you can just delete it and watch another.
I set my DVR to record every instance of the program so that I can switch on the TV and call up an episode of "House Hunters" whenever I want to - usually about 10:30 every night.
This is how it goes: I turn on an episode and get about halfway through. In other words, the couple has looked at one or two of the houses. Then my husband wanders in and sits down and starts asking questions. Instead of answering him, I push the rewind button and we watch the show together.
Despite me getting a second look at most of the show, he still guesses right more times than I do.
A couple of days ago, the first episode I chose began by showing a family - a youngish couple with three small children, all of whom were scurrying around and climbing their parents' legs like they were trees.
The announcer began, "Joe and Mary Smith are looking for a larger home for their growing family ..."
And then he went on to say they didn't have much money.
While I appreciate the fact that Joe and Mary are looking for an inexpensive house for their three darling children, I've been there, done that with two kids of my own.
Oh, no. I want something more exotic, more expensive. I want to dream, not re-live.
So I delete the Smith episode and go back to my list of recorded programs.
The next one I play is about a childless 50-year-old couple, both real estate agents, who live in a swanky Washington, D.C., suburb and are looking to buy a vacation house on the North Carolina coast.
Ah. That's more like it. I want to watch people who are looking for granite countertops, not a place for a swing set.
The real estate agents ended up choosing a waterfront house with a boat slip - and a yard big enough for their two little sweater-wearing dogs - for close to $1 million.
I was looking on the HGTV Web site and found a "casting call" for potential homebuyers and real estate agents. You can be on the show.
There is an application to fill out that asks you things such as "Why do you want to move?" and "What kind of house do you want to buy?"
There is no stipend mentioned and there are lots of warnings about how much time it is likely to take.
So you might wonder, "What's in it for me?"
Well, what was in it for one homebuyer was a huge new house a stone's throw from the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for $225,000.
Could you get that deal without going on "House Hunters?"
I guess not knowing the answer to that question is the whole appeal of the show.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whoever said 'thrill of the hunt' should be shot

Published Aug. 20, 2007

We are always on a mission for something.
It seems we never have the right stuff, enough stuff or the stuff we have needs to be replaced.
Our most recent mission was for a new bed.
You may know the drill. One morning you crawl out of your bed and you realize you just had a pretty lousy night's sleep on a pretty lousy mattress.
And before you know it, you are obsessed with a hunt for a new bed. You pore through the pile of glossy ads that spill out of your Sunday newspaper.
And, I don't know how it happens but it seems that those Sunday advertisers always seem to know the object of your hunt-of-the-week.
For every other ad that spills onto your kitchen table includes a page of mattresses on sale.
We studied those ads but after a couple Sundays, brand names and prices all began to run together, sending me into the second stage of the hunt.
The Internet.
There, "customer reviews" offer insight into brand names and prices. Theoretically.
Trying to figure out what bed is best by what customers say online is like trying to find out which bed you want to sleep in based on what Goldilocks has to say.
And so, finally, you are at the third stage of the hunt: Getting in the car and actually going to the store.
And, in our case, once we started lying down on mattresses, brand names, customer reviews and even prices were of little consequence.
We fell onto one particular bed and we knew it was the one we wanted - even if it was a brand I had never considered at a price I had been unwilling to pay.
But we bought it and finally our mission was accomplished.
You see, we bought a king-size bed to replace a queen-size bed, therefore setting up another series of hunts, starting with sheets.
The drill was the same. Look in the Sunday ads. Look on the Internet. Go to the store and buy some on sale.
And then we needed pillows.
You see, king-size bedding needs king-size pillows.
"Let's go the mall," I said to my husband late Saturday afternoon.
"The mall, I don't want to go to the mall. Why do we have to go to the mall? I don't feel like ..."
An hour later we were at the mall standing in front of a wall of pillows. I'm not kidding. As far as the eye could see upward and outward were pillows - down pillows, alternative-down pillows, down-surround pillows, firm pillows, medium pillows, soft pillows.
Some cost $7; some cost $27 and some cost $157.
It was a hunt for a master hunter. I pulled down a pillow and squeezed it. Then I smashed my cheek against its plastic sleeve. My husband was doing the same at the far end of the wall.
Two hours later as we were trudging out of the store laden with bags of pillows (they were buy one, get one free), I lost sight of my husband.
I put down my pillows and looked around.
I could see the top of his head across the furniture department so I made my way over to him.
He was sitting on a sectional sofa.
"You like this?" he asked, brushing his hand across the seat of the sofa.
"I think it would look good in our living room."
And so begins another hunt.
But we should be able to pay for this one with the proceeds from that garage sale we plan to have.
A garage sale sure to include an old sofa and lots of queen-size bedding.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Table for two? Yes, a man and his crazed wife

Published Aug. 13, 2007

Summers sure are a lot hotter these days.
It used to be that on a warm summer day, a person would look at the thermometer hanging on the side of his garage and say, “Whew! 90! It’s hot outside!”
Then some weather guy factored the humidity into the temperature, inventing the “heat index” and turning that 90 into 94.
And then another weather guy decided you can’t ignore things like wind speed, sun intensity and elevation, either. And so was born “real feel” temperatures and that 90 was now 96.

We were down in Key West last week.
Who goes to Key West in August? Crazy people, that’s who. My husband and I.
The same two adventure seekers who fly into Fort Myers so they can drive across the Everglades and the Keys.
In a convertible.
I donned a visor, sunglasses and 30 spf sunscreen for the five-hour voyage. It wasn’t so bad, especially when I turned on the air conditioner when my husband wasn’t looking. Each time, I managed to cool off a bit before he switched it off. (“It wastes gas.”) On. Off. On. Off. It was our little car game on the way to Key West.
One day, we walked 10 blocks or so to have lunch at “Blue Heaven,” a famous Key West restaurant, but it wasn’t until we got there that I realized all the seating was outdoors in a sweltering, er, shaded garden.
When it hit me that my trek was not going to end in an air-conditioned restaurant, I got a little panicked.
“You eat outside?” I asked my husband.
“Yeah, is that OK? Look, it’s nice back here,” he said.
I couldn’t see anything except the half-dozen or so standing fans that were strategically placed around the tables.
Look at a fan. Look to see where it is blowing. Look to see if anyone is sitting there.
Look at another fan. Look to see where it is blowing. Look to see if anyone is sitting there.
As we stood — my husband admiring the place, I taking stock of the fans — a waiter came up. He was carrying menus and two bundles of silverware.
“Hello. Would you like to sit here?” he gestured to the table nearest us.
I was off like a shot. I saw a fanned location.
My husband was right behind. The waiter behind us.
“Here then?” he motioned to the table where I had stopped.
Again, I was off like a shot. I spotted what looked to be a better place. I wriggled around seated diners on the mulch-covered ground. My husband was behind me. The waiter behind him.
“She’s looking for a table with a fan,” I heard my husband try to explain my behavior to the waiter.
“Well, here,” the waiter said. “Why don’t you just take these?” He handed the silverware and the menus to my husband. “Just sit wherever she decides.”
And then I had to make a decision: Yank out of their chairs a rather large couple seated directly in front of the best fan in the place or take an empty table nearby.
I decided I was probably already pushing my luck with my husband, so I took the open table.
Two glasses of ice water and two glasses of iced tea later, I was composed enough to realize that I had just led a chase around the outdoor dining room.
I started laughing and then my husband started laughing, too. We laughed so hard I forgot how hot it was.Now, if I can only figure out a way to factor into that real feel temperature the speed at which a diner scurries around a patio with a husband and a waiter in her wake.