Sunday, July 31, 2011

G&T at the Movies

Dave and I made our first trip to a UK cinema yesterday. We saw "Horrible Bosses," which was filthy but also surprisingly funny. (We chose it partly because we love Jason Bateman in "Arrested Development" and Charlie Day in "Always Sunny in Philadelphia.") I was surprised to find that you can get cocktails in movie theaters here -- I had a gin & tonic from a can! Not the best G&T I've ever had, but worth the experience.

Dave had a Pimm's, which we'd heard a lot about since our arrival in London. It seems to be a local specialty, but we decided we're not fans. Dave describes it as a "fizzy chick drink."

Movie theater prices are even worse here than in New York. At the Odeon in Kensington, which seemed a relatively run-of-the-mill cinema, we paid £22.50 for our two tickets, which translates to about $36! (And that doesn't include the gin & tonic, the Pimm's or our popcorn, which tasted like packing material.) Guess we won't be seeing many movies in the UK! I hope Charlie and Jason appreciate our expenditure.

While movie prices may be more extreme, I'm surprised to find some strange similarities between the UK and Florida, believe it or not. Today I was out walking and found a house with a blooming Southern magnolia in its front yard. I've seen palm trees here and there -- the kind that tolerate more temperate weather -- and while we were staying at the house owned by the American School I was stunned to find blackberries growing more or less wild in the back garden. I picked some for breakfast one morning -- they were small, dark and sweetly sour little devils, just like the wild blackberries of my childhood!

(Photo: Arundel Gardens, a street a few blocks away.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Portobello Road Market

Just a few photos to show you how crazy our neighborhood gets on Saturdays, the day of the Portobello Road Market. The street is literally jammed with people, and all the shops have tables set out on the sidewalks laden with antiques and knick-knacks.

Other merchants come in just for the day, selling produce, bread, clothing, accessories, and jewelry. Fortunately, the crowds are confined mostly to Portobello Road itself, and the side streets remain pretty much free and clear.

There are also buskers and other performers out and about. These guys (above) set up right next to the entrance to our apartment complex. I don't mind -- they sounded pretty good! And it's exciting to have so much activity so close to home. Fortunately, our apartment remains quiet. We're inside with the balcony door open and I can barely hear anything from the market.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Sink, Bedsheets and a View

It's the little things that make settling into a new country so interesting. For example, this is our kitchen sink. To my American eyes, it's a very peculiar design. At first I thought, what's with that little sinklet in the middle? But it turns out that basin is perfect for rinsing when the large sink is full of soapy suds, and it's also a perfect place to pour out a cup of half-drunk cold tea.

Europeans seem very good at design-related touches like this -- small things that would never have occurred to me but that make life easier.

Speaking of European design, I mentioned yesterday my quest to buy bedsheets and the strange absence of a bottom sheet (or for that matter, a flat sheet) from my duvet cover set. It turns out that this leads to a much-debated issue, at least on the Internet. I think everyone uses a bottom, or fitted sheet -- it just has to be bought separately. But apparently some British folks see no reason to have a flat sheet beneath the duvet, while others -- particularly North Americans -- think of a duvet as a blanket, and one that requires the use of a sheet beneath.

I went back to Debenham's today and bought both a flat and a fitted sheet, though I'm kind of neutral on whether I really need the flat sheet. Above is the completed bed. Comfy!

And these photos show the view from our balcony. The middle photo is looking west to Portobello Road, which is where those colorful buildings are. The other two show buildings within our apartment complex -- our unit looks pretty much like these.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Settling In

Isn't that the most triumphant-looking goat you've ever seen? It's a proud goat, a Goat of the Empire. What it's doing standing on a pedestal of boxes outside the Spitalfields Market I'm not sure.

We're settling into our new pad, and I am SO HAPPY to finally be able to put our bags down and unpack. When it comes to moving into a new apartment, I am a whirlwind. I can't rest until everything is done -- every box unboxed, every shirt on a hanger, every gewgaw unwrapped and on its proper shelf. I'm running circles around Dave and probably making him crazy, but by golly, we do have a home!

I went out today to buy bedsheets for our guest bed. Although we shipped our mattress and sheets, none of that has arrived yet -- so we needed bedding for the bed that came with the flat. I bought a "complete bed set" from Debenham's, which appears to be the JC Penney of England, and it came with two pillows, a duvet and a mattress pad. I also bought a "duvet sheet set," including two pillowcases. One would think that's all I would need, but apparently a "duvet sheet set" doesn't include a bottom sheet. I am mystified by why this is true, but in any case, I now need to return to Debenham's.

While I was shopping, Dave had our television -- which we got for free thanks to a departing ASL teacher -- mounted on the wall in our living room. It looks pretty great, and it's so nice to have it off the floor.

During my unpacking I found a mailbox key from our old apartment complex in New Jersey. I mailed that back to the management office this afternoon, which may seem silly, but I know from my days on the co-op board of my New York building that mailbox keys are expensive to replace. Plus it gave me an excuse to go for a walk and find the post office.

We live in an incredibly fancy neighborhood. Jude Law, Brigette Nielsen and Sienna Miller are reputed to live nearby, according to some neighbors I met last night. Someone who's dating one of the "Top Gear" guys reportedly lives in an apartment in our complex. (How's that for an obscure almost-brush with fame?) While I walked to the post office today I was marveling at all the tony shops, the designer boutiques and expensive salons. I am plagued by a nagging feeling that we can't really afford this neighborhood! I mean, we worked the numbers a hundred ways and it seems perfectly doable -- but how can that be true? How can I be Jude Law's neighbor?

Are we going to wind up in British bankruptcy court? I doubt it will come to that, but if so, we'll certainly be stylish on the way there!

Our apartment is less expensive than much of the surrounding real estate because it's on a former Council Estate, which as far as I can tell basically means public housing. The complex has been converted to private ownership, but fewer than half the current units are still occupied by former council residents, my neighbors said. Still, it's pretty posh around here.

Our landlords, being amazingly nice guys, not only supplied us with furniture and many amenities, but they left a bottle of pink champagne for us in the fridge. So yesterday evening Dave and I had a little celebration in our cozy new home!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Moving AGAIN

Just thought you'd like to see a pic of the cream pitcher I bought in Brick Lane. Pretty great for three bucks, I'd say.

Today we're moving to our real apartment. We're supposed to take occupancy at 10 a.m. Meanwhile I've got to run around and get things packed here, and then we have to load everything into a cab and make our way over there. (We'll need a big cab!)

Fortunately some of the previous ASL teachers have left lots of electronics and household items behind to donate to the new staff. We've scavenged some of that and found lots of items that we need -- clocks, a lamp, even a television. That will help greatly with expenses!

Monday, July 25, 2011

London Street Art

Yesterday was our first bright, sunny day in about a week. So I set out for London's east end to photograph some street art around Brick Lane and the Spitalfields market.

I knew about these areas from my friend Sally's now-dormant blog and her Flickr photography, but I wasn't quite sure what I'd find when I got there. Turns out Spitalfields is a vibrant marketplace with lots of shops, cafes and outdoor entertainment, and Brick Lane is thriving with vintage stores and all sorts of food stalls. (At least on weekends.)

I had a terrific day wandering around the neighborhood, and returned with more than 100 pictures, which I am slowly uploading to Flickr. I recognized the work of many artists who can also be found on the streets of New York. I felt very much at home!

For lunch I stopped at a vegan food stall and had a cassava leaf stew with rice, which was fabulous. I will definitely find those folks again the next time I'm in that area!

I also had fun browsing the vintage stores. I was amused to find they're full of American t-shirts, from random roadside destinations like a tiny general store in Michigan. Sports teams and those tacky shirts with intricately painted wolves, deer and other wildlife are also popular. Basically, the stores look just like second-hand shops in the states.

The only thing I actually bought was a cool mid-century china creamer from Staffordshire, in excellent condition but in bad need of a cleaning -- for just £2! (About $3)

All in all, it was a terrific day. I hadn't been able to wander much during the past week, with all the rain, so it felt great to get outside and see what's what. The temperatures, by the way, were perfect -- low 70s, low humidity, lots of sunshine. I couldn't ask for better.

Friday, July 22, 2011


For our anniversary, I took Dave to Bibendum, a restaurant that has intrigued me ever since I read about it in Metropolitan Home magazine about 20 years ago, when it first opened. It's in the former British headquarters of the Michelin Tire Company, and the Michelin Man -- whose name is apparently Monsieur Bibendum -- figures prominently in its decor. Sir Terence Conran, one of the owners, and the Conran Design Group are behind the restaurant's design and it is truly a beautiful space, with huge stained glass windows featuring Monsieur Bibendum himself.

The windows are apparently replacements for the original stained glass, which was put away for safekeeping during World War II and subsequently lost. In fact, Michelin has declared a stained glass amnesty program that encourages anyone who has the windows -- or pieces of them -- to come forward and return them, no questions asked. Here's Dave, reading the menu beneath an image of Monsieur Bibendum doing a sort of kickboxing move.

The restaurant is celebrating the building's 100th anniversary with these fanciful dishes (below), depicting the Michelin Man himself. In our case, the dish was used to serve butter. One wonders about the wisdom of the knife placement (or was it intentional?) but I do think they're great dishes.

Unfortunately, we can't say the same for the food. Both of us found our dishes significantly lacking. I was torn between two options and asked the advice of the waiter, but he only laughed. Maybe he knew something we didn't. Anyway, I wound up with the soup of the day, a green vegetable potage that had no readily identifiable taste, and a soggy scallop dish that bordered on the genuinely horrible. Dave had an over-salted fish steak that came with several very large bones, offending his French Culinary Institute training, and came surrounded by tomato salad -- which the waiter should probably have mentioned when Dave ordered an additional tomato salad, leaving us aswim in tomatoes.

Interestingly, the restaurant has four stars in Time Out London, and other diners rave about it online. So maybe someone was simply having an off night. In any case, I found the decor and the building the main reasons to go. (And we did have a good wine, a French chablis.)

Housing Update

We're no longer living in a hotel, thank goodness. That was fine for a while, but being confined to a single room with no kitchen and no real space can get pretty tiring. Even with the city of London at our disposal, we were getting a little stir-crazy, and we were ready to move out when our employer-paid reservation there ended yesterday morning.

But we haven't yet moved into our new apartment, either. We did sign the lease, and we're waiting for information from the landlord to send him the deposits. It will be available on the 26th. We're excited to have a place!

So for a few days we needed temporary living quarters. Fortunately the school owns a three-story house adjacent to its campus, used for meetings and storage, and we're temporarily living there. It's very comfortable, with a furnished apartment downstairs and not one but two kitchens. Dave plans to cook tonight, ending a long dry spell that would be difficult for any dedicated chef.

We're now even closer to The Beatles' "Abbey Road" crosswalk, which I visited when we first arrived. It's literally right around the corner!

(Photo: A leaf on the sidewalk in St. John's Wood.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


What do you think of when you hear the words "spa facial"?

You probably think of someone with green goop all over their face and cucumbers on their closed eyelids.

Well, yesterday, that was me.

Dave treated me to a "gin & tonic" spa treatment yesterday afternoon at the Chancery Court Hotel, a swank establishment in Holborn. We descended the hotel's marble stairs into a glowing, golden, herb-scented "relaxation room" that reminded me of the set of a science fiction movie. Round and columned, it looked like a courtroom on the planet Vulcan.

We were then taken into separate treatment rooms where I got the best massage of my entire life. First we were scrubbed with a salt-oil mixture including juniper berries (part of the "gin & tonic" theme), then we showered and were treated to a lengthy massage. Finally we each had facials involving repeated applications of various hydrating creams, toners and who knows what else.

I'm not sure whether any of these creams were actually green, but I really did get cucumbers on my eyes. At least, I think that's what they were, since I couldn't see them.

I'm making fun of the experience, but it really was terrific. Thanks to Dave for the first anniversary (!) present, which definitely felt like something Edwina and Patsy would do in "Absolutely Fabulous"! Our actual anniversary is tomorrow, and my present is still to come.

(Photo: A block of flats off the high street in St. John's Wood.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Elephant and Castle

Dave and I spent the weekend doing touristy things, like going to Buckingham Palace and walking around near Parliament, Big Ben and Trafalgar Square. The tourists were out in force on Saturday -- and far be it from me to scoff, since I'm essentially still one myself. The crowds were unbelievable, and they all seemed to be Italian teenagers. Go figure.

We got soaked waiting for the Changing of the Guard at the palace, which was canceled anyway because of the rain. So we wandered into a nearby pub called The Phoenix and had a couple of pints near the fireplace, which seemed cozy even though it wasn't lit.

Yesterday we went shopping for a voltage converter so I can charge my camera batteries, since my chargers all fit American outlets. (They're just about the only things we brought that have a plug.) While wandering near Oxford Street I was happy to realize we were close to Goodge Street, immortalized in a Donovan song from the mid-'60s as "Sunny Goodge Street." I was even happier that it was raining, as it gave me the opportunity to have Dave photograph me beneath the Goodge Street sign holding an umbrella -- a '60s music joke that most people probably wouldn't get. (Dave told me I was born at the wrong time.)

The journalism world in London is exploding at the moment, or perhaps imploding, with the fallout from News Corp's phone hacking scandal. The allegations that reporters for The News of the World, and maybe other Rupert Murdoch publications, hacked into the voice mail messages of everyone from crime victims to the royal family have deposed several News Corp executives and now the chief of the Metropolitan Police.

It's interesting, though, that most of the heat seems to be coming from politicians and media outlets. People on the street seem unfazed by the scandals. I haven't spoken to anyone in depth, but I never hear it being discussed around us in restaurants or bars. It's as if people just expect this sort of behavior from reporters.

I find it all a little boring too, I must admit, despite my journalistic background. Of course the hacking is appalling, and it's appropriate that heads should roll. But this is just more bad behavior from a corporation that's devoted to bad journalism, skewing its news to the right and pretending to be objective. Are we at all surprised that Rupert Murdoch and his minions will go to such lengths? I'm not.

(Photo: Off Oxford Street on Friday, when it was still sunny.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hyde Park

As I was waiting for our phones to be repaired on Friday, I walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Together, these adjacent parks are more or less the Central Park of London, full of big, grassy spaces, fountains, ponds, statues and trails. Almost immediately after I entered the park at Victoria Gate I was just about the only person around. The trail wound through a large, unmowed meadow where insects buzzed and wildflowers grew among the tall grass. I was impressed that the area had been allowed to go somewhat wild.

Eventually the trail came to a pond known as the Long Water, which I could see only through a gap in the trees. A bench sat at that spot, dedicated to a man named Rudolf Steiner, who apparently loved it there. I sat for a while in Rudolf's company.

Then I walked on and found a more populated area, a set of fountains where people were sunbathing and children in school uniforms were eating ice cream. On a map I saw that a monument stood nearby to John Hanning Speke, the first European credited with finding the headwaters of the Nile in the mid-1800s, so I decided to go see it.

It turned out to be somewhat lackluster, just a big obelisk. Speke stands out in my mind because of that scene in the 1990 film "Mountains of the Moon" -- about him and his partnership and, later, rivalry with fellow explorer Richard Burton -- when he jams a pencil in his ear to kill an insect that has made a nest there. The Nile may be his claim to fame, but I remember him more for that crazy self-mutilation, which may or may not have really happened.

Anyway, I walked on to the southern shore of The Serpentine, the largest body of water in the park, where boaters were rowing and people were lounging around a peculiar ring-shaped fountain dedicated to the memory of Princess Diana. I had lunch at a cafe called the Lido -- a salmon salad with peas and beans -- and then walked back via Marble Arch to the telephone shop.

Fortunately, the apartment we're in the process of renting is close to Hyde Park, so I hope to become even more familiar with it!

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Have you ever awakened to a day that you knew from the outset would not go well?

That was pretty much my day yesterday. I got up, made a cup of tea, and promptly spilled it on the nightstand as I got back into bed. It was like a sign from the universe that my day would go awry.

Our main objective yesterday was to get telephone service. We were directed to a shop in the St. John's Wood High Street, but when we got there, the manager said he couldn't help us until we had our iPhones unlocked. (They were set to work only with AT&T.) That, unfortunately, was not a service the store provided. So he sent us to Edgware Road, where among the Middle Eastern restaurants and newsagents he said we could find plenty of people willing to unlock phones.

Dave had a meeting at school, so I set off for Edgware Road myself. I found several business promising phone unlocking, but when I asked, none of their phone technicians were at work yet. (This was around 10 a.m. I guess iPhone unlocking is a late-hour business.) I finally wandered nearly all the way to Marble Arch before finding a guy who could do it, and he said it would cost £25 (about $37) per phone, which I found appalling. But compared to a new phone, it was a drop in the bucket, so I conceded and left the phones with him for an hour.

I killed time by going to Selfridge's, which seems to be the local Bloomingdales. I found two terrific Ted Baker shirts on sale at a very reasonable price, including one spattered with tiny gray and blue lobsters. What's not to love?

When I went back to the phone man, hoping that he wasn't using my phone to make illicit calls to Pakistan, he told me he'd been able to unlock Dave's. Mine, however, used an older operating system (probably a result of my general refusal to run updates) and he would have to reinstall it, which would erase the contents of my phone. I weighed the value of my photos and apps, and agreed to go the nuclear route. I left the phones for another hour.

I went walking in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which was a refreshing break, and had lunch at a cafe near The Serpentine, a large lake in the middle of the park. (More about this later.) Then I went back to the phone man and picked up the phones. Mine was depressingly generic.

Dave and I took them back to the phone store -- rather humorously called the Carphone Garage, or something like that -- and bought some pay-as-you-go access service from a provider known as 3. Then we went to lunch and I found I couldn't call or text Dave. We went back to the store. Turns out Dave mistakenly read -- and gave to me -- the wrong phone number from his receipt. Oops.

By now it was mid-afternoon, but at least our phones worked. We went back to the hotel and found that our wireless Internet access had spontaneously crashed. Of course we hadn't been able to check e-mail or do anything else all day, with our phones dead and/or being erased, so I was exasperated. After many calls and about ten minutes on the phone with a mysterious "help desk" contracted by the hotel, I eventually found that I could sit in the hallway and get service. (Apparently my bed is an Internet black hole, and it's true that as I lie here and type this, I have no Web access. I'll have to go out in the hall to post.)

Even accessing the "help desk" was dramatic. Dave was able to call on our hotel land line, but when I called a few minutes later, I got only a bizarre tone. What the hell? Finally we figured out it must be the British version of a busy signal. (At least, we think so.)

I sat in the hall and worked online for an hour or so, and wrestled with getting a photo of Ruby -- my wallpaper on my pre-nuked phone -- from Dave's phone to mine, since apparently our 3 service does not allow us to text photos. Through a complex phone-computer-phone transaction I finally figured it out, and my phone once again at least looks like it did.

All in all, a day of technology nightmares! But at least we now have functioning phones, so I can call Dave and not leave him wondering where the heck I am, as he did yesterday while I was wandering around Hyde Park waiting for my phone to be nuked.

(Photos: Top, a wall down the street from the hotel; bottom, an old gate on Edgware Road.)

Friday, July 15, 2011


I'm lying in my hotel bed under an exceedingly warm comforter-type blanket, sipping a cup of English Breakfast tea. (Milk and Demerara sugar, naturally.) I'm not giving up coffee, but I could get into this tea habit. It's much gentler than that vat of Chock Full o' Nuts that usually starts my day.

We got to London yesterday morning, having slept about an hour and a half on the plane. Needless to say, I was bleary-eyed all day. I willed myself to stay awake, though, so as to avoid the jet-lag, and when I did finally go to bed last night I slept soundly until 6 a.m. Perfect!

We were picked up at the airport by a driver provided by Dave's new employer, the American School in London. That was a good thing, because we were struggling with five large suitcases (one of them about 65 pounds). After a meandering ride through south London, we managed to get ourselves and our bags checked into the Danubius Hotel - right around the corner and down the street from the American School - and set out to find a place to live.

We had a lead on an apartment that sounded promising, being offered by a departing staff member at the school. So we went to check it out. It's in Notting Hill and it's rather posh - for me, anyway - but I think we're going to take it. It will help us avoid the hassle of finding a place and making applications with references, and the owner is comfortable with the dogs. I think we can swing the cost without too much pain, and we can then take our first year to get to know the city better. If we want to move to something more affordable later on, we can always do so.

We're also under a bit of a time crunch, because we need an address we can provide to our movers. Our belongings are scheduled to arrive at the port of the Thames on July 24, and after some time for unloading will be delivered to our door. The new place also comes tastefully furnished, which eliminates the need to go buy new furniture.

I haven't had a chance to do much else. Yesterday evening, in an effort to stay awake, I walked down to Abbey Road Studios to see the famous crosswalk where The Beatles shot their "Abbey Road" album cover. It was about 6 p.m. and there were knots of people taking photos of themselves crossing the street. I didn't think to bring my camera because, after all, it's a crosswalk! It was fun to see, though. Also, I sampled "Bangers and Mash" for lunch yesterday - not bad with a cool pint!

(Photos: Hotel life!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Wow, I am such a weather wimp. I lived in Florida for 30 years, but the summer heat is just about killing me. We went to the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg yesterday, and then went to lunch at a pub on nearby Beach Drive, within a stone's throw of Tampa Bay. Just the short walk from the car seemed suffocating.

The museum (blessedly air conditioned, of course) was terrific. The art collection, while extensive, is small enough to be taken in in a single trip, and the architecture of the new building is intriguing, with its bulbous glass geodesic structure atop a concrete hurricane-proof bunker.

When I was a senior in high school I skipped school one day to go the Dali Museum, then in its former low-lying building. What a nerd I was. All my friends were at the beach. And then I got nabbed because I forged a note in my mom's name and the school checked up on me. (It was probably a bad forgery.) I had to pick up trash on the football field on a holiday morning. All in the name of art!

(Photo: The sun's reflection in the surface of the lake off the end of our new dock. Hot, hot, hot!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Just another photo from our recent trip to Michigan. We were in Fennville, going to dinner, when we walked past a retail space under construction. I shot this through the window. The light was beautiful that evening!

I'm just too busy to write much today, but the trip is going well. Spending lots of time with friends and family. Today is my mom's birthday, so we'll be off to celebrate. Tomorrow we fly!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I miss a lot of things about home -- the smell of the sandy Florida soil after a summer afternoon downpour, the specific varieties of grassy weeds in the yard, the gray dawn light in my childhood bedroom.

For some reason on this trip I've especially noticed the sounds of home. For example, we have a pocket door in the hall that leads to my bedroom, which my parents would close every night after they put me to bed when I was little. That door makes a very specific sound. There's a little catch as you pull it from the wall, and the tone and timbre as it slides into place is always the same. (My parents never closed the door all the way, so I didn't hear the soft thunk it would make upon contact with the wall.) I closed that pocket door on Friday morning to let Dave sleep, and it struck me how familiar that sound was.

When I was a kid, I loved lying on the other side of that door and hearing the indecipherable murmur of the television in the living room. I knew my parents were there and I was safe.

At my Dad's house, there's a grandfather clock in the living room. Like most grandfather clocks, it chimes every quarter-hour and then bongs out the time on the hour. When my brother and I visited as children, we often slept on a fold-out couch about four feet away from this clock. Needless to say, it became a kind of love-hate relationship.

There are so many other examples of familiar noises -- the air conditioners, the squeak of the front door on its hinges, even the way the toilet flushes in the acoustical environment of my bathroom. These sounds are unique to my family home. I'm enjoying hearing them all again.

(Photo: A window ornament I bought my Dad and stepmother years ago, hanging in their dining room.)

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Just a quick note, with a completely unrelated photo, to say we've arrived in Florida after a couple of days of driving. I always enjoyed road trips, but I can see how Dave dislikes them -- driving from Michigan to Florida was definitely a challenge in places. We endured an hour-long traffic jam in Kentucky caused by a truck fire, a downpour while driving on a winding road through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I got super-frustrated in the heavy traffic of Atlanta. But we got to stop in Asheville to visit with an old friend and now we're back in rainy, humid, summery Florida.

The next several days will be full of family and errands until we depart on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

(Photo: Balloons in New York under the Manhattan Bridge, two weeks ago.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Dave and I had a small-town Fourth of July yesterday. We went to Saugatuck, on the shore of Lake Michigan, and spent the day browsing in little shops and watching the local Fourth of July parade. I'd spent the morning groaning about how boring parades are, but then I watched this one in its entirety and thought it was a hoot. So much for my preconceived notions.

The weather was spectacular. About 80 degrees, beautifully sunny. You couldn't ask for better. We popped into the local Tabor Hill Winery shop and bought a few bottles, and had a light lunch at Pumpernickel's, a restaurant on the main drag where we could see the parade from an upstairs patio.

This is our second visit to Saugatuck. When we went last year we had the dogs with us. This time we were able to walk and browse much more freely, though of course we missed our slobbery companions.

Last night on the way home, we met some friends at "Salt of the Earth," a restaurant in Fennville, for dinner. We liked the entrees -- I had lake whitefish with a corn and crab relish. But I give a big thumbs-down to my dessert, a modified S'more as big as a twin-sized mattress and waaaaaaay too sweet. The size alone was almost disgusting. Note to chef: Bigger doesn't always mean better.

(Photo: On the patio at lunch in Saugatuck.)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Western Michigan

Our purging activities have temporarily stalled as we visit Western Michigan, where Dave lived and taught before moving to New York in 2008. We're staying with his friend Annie and her family. They're terrific hosts with a beautiful house, and we're staying in their finished basement, which is nicer than any living room I've ever owned. The accommodations are quite plush.

Two nights ago we had dinner with our friends Kellee and Stephanie, as well as Kellee's boyfriend Brian and Stephanie's brother Neil. Stephanie, who like Dave attended the French Culinary Institute in New York and lived there for a while, made dinner.

Last night we grilled salmon at Annie's and ate on the patio by the pool with her husband and son, trading stories about our lives and our families. Apparently Dave's father had an episode yesterday with previously undiagnosed glaucoma, which we learned only by chance when we called to find out whether our furniture was selling. But he had an outpatient procedure and he's doing fine.

I went walking in downtown Kalamazoo yesterday, where I took some photos and had a good time, despite the fact that nearly every business was closed. (Not only Sunday but also Fourth of July weekend!)

I'm not sure what's on the agenda today. Maybe a little local road trip.

(Photo: Kalamazoo, yesterday.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Past Lives

We spent yesterday unloading furniture from the trailer and moving it into Dave's parents' basement, where I photographed each piece and listed it all on Craigslist for sale. We also listed several items belonging to his parents. I'm handling all the listings and communication, to spare his parents all the spam and the headaches, and we already have several bites. If we're really lucky we'll get a few items sold before we leave tomorrow to visit some friends in western Michigan.

Dave dislikes this process more than I do. For me it's sort of fun to comb through things and purge. As I've mentioned many times before, I view it as a cleansing, an opportunity for a fresh start. But it can be tedious, and a lot of the stuff that Dave has stored here at his parents' belonged to his former partner, who passed away five years ago -- items as diverse as china and glassware, a huge record collection, office supplies and jewelry. Understandably it's harder for him to open up boxes and rediscover all those items.

In fact, we got a surprise back in New Jersey when we moved a dresser and found a hidden drawer. (Dave knew it was there but I had no idea, and I'd been using this dresser for more than a year.) The drawer was full of jewelry, identification and other items belonging to Bruce, his former partner. It was kind of like a visit from a ghost. We took the jewelry to a precious metals buyer and sold what was valuable, and I kept some European coins, figuring we might be able to spend them. I also kept a smooth, shiny pebble that probably had some significance to Bruce. I'm not sure why.

Still, we're moving nearly everything toward the Craigslist/future-yard-sale pile. What better opportunity to start fresh than moving to England?

(Photo: Shadows and reflections in our empty apartment, a few days before we left New Jersey.)