Thursday, June 30, 2011

On the Road

Our former apartment in New Jersey is now a pristine empty box, and the keys have been returned to the landlord. All our worldly possessions are either in transit to England or in our cars. Our dogs have been deposited with our friend Marilyn, and yes, I cried, despite the fact that they seemed perfectly happy to stay with her. And now, Dave and I are homeless!

Dave's parents came to New Jersey on Sunday evening, towing a trailer behind their SUV. We spent all day Monday loading up the remainder of our furniture and the small items that we either aren't moving overseas or that we need during the transition (like clothes). I thought after the movers came and went that we were down to almost nothing, but when it came time to pack it all up, the stuff just kept multiplying! We filled the trailer and both Dave's Lexus and my little Florence.

We drove all day yesterday to get to Michigan, where Dave's parents live. They left first with the trailer; Dave and I followed about an hour later, each in our own cars. Fortunately the weather was nice and the drive was pleasant. I actually had a good time jamming to my iPod and enjoying the scenery -- central Pennsylvania is really beautiful. We stopped for lunch at Aunt Lu's Cafe in Clearfield, at a truck stop that also featured the above chapel carved out of a converted motel room. Purely by coincidence, we stopped at the same place last year!

Today the plan is to unload the trailer and get the furniture listed on Craigslist. (We had to bring it back to Michigan first because it's part of a set that includes other pieces already here.) I'm thinking it might be better to contact an auctioneer or a used furniture dealer who can buy everything at once, so Dave's parents don't have to negotiate with the shady Craigslist crowd.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder

I'm reading a book called "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure, a Chicago author who sets off on a physical and virtual journey to discover what she calls "Laura World," the social phenomenon of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her "Little House on the Prairie" books.

I read the first two books when I was a child, "Little House in the Big Woods" and "Little House on the Prairie." I loved their descriptions of pioneer life and remember them well -- the family's bout with "fever n' ague," the snowbound Wisconsin woods, the way the girls were happy at holidays to receive a shiny penny and a candy cane. McClure travels to many of the Ingalls' and Wilders' former homes, some of which are now museums, and she talks to many people about their own bonds with the "Prairie" phenomenon. (Many of them turn out to be more bonded to the TV show, which differed widely from the books, but oh well.)

Anyway, it's an interesting read. But it got me thinking about books that come in series, like the "Little House" books. I don't know why I never read beyond the first two, because I loved them, but I realize that's true of many books in series. I read the first two "Harry Potter" books and stopped. I read "The Hobbit" but never made it to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I read the first three "Clan of the Cave Bear" books but went no further. In fact, the only series I can remember reading to completion is James Herriot's "All Creatures" books, about his years as a veterinarian in northern England. (I read several of those sordid V.C. Andrews "Flowers in the Attic" books, but I don't remember whether I finished all of them.)

I'm just not much for sequels in general. I like a book to stand on its own, and no matter how good it is, sometimes I don't want to know what happens next. There's a beauty in the uncertainty, and when I turn to another book I like starting a completely fresh story with new characters and a new locale. Maybe I just have a short attention span!

(Photo: Hell's Kitchen, on Saturday.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brunch in the City

Yesterday I took a train into New York with my friend Bill to meet two other mutual friends, Dan and Carl, for brunch. I haven't seen Dan and Carl in months, and I really wanted to catch up with them before our move. (They, as well as Bill, are longtime journalism pals.) So we arranged to meet at Vynl on Ninth Avenue, in the heart of the mostly gay Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, because Dan said he wanted to go somewhere with "boys and margaritas."

Dan definitely got his wish. Hell's Kitchen seemed even gayer than usual, probably because it's Pride Weekend. The big march is this afternoon, and it's sure to be a crazy scene of celebration following New York's approval of gay marriage this week.

Anyway, we got caught up on all our news and had a fun time with bloody marys and mimosas (curiously, I don't think any of us actually ordered a margarita). I got something called the Vynl Scramble, which purported to contain watercress, but was basically just scrambled eggs flecked with unidentifiable green vegetation. Not bad, but not watercress-ish, either.

I always get a kick out of the bathrooms at Vynl, which as you might expect is themed to celebrate records and the music industry. Each of its four bathrooms is dedicated to a singer: Dolly Parton, Elvis, Nelly and Cher. Each features a huge tile mural and a glamorously costumed doll of the honored artist. (I assume so, anyway -- I didn't go inside the Dolly and Nelly bathrooms.) Above, for example, is Cher's special bathroom, and here are scenes from the Elvis loo:

It was only after I'd come back to East Brunswick that I realized this was probably the last time I'll go into New York. We've got some things to do today and tomorrow, both fun and not, before Dave's parents show up tomorrow night.

Both Dave and I are ready to go. Now that most of our belongings have been shipped, we feel like we're just kind of hanging around, and that lingering feeling can be frustrating. This entire adventure has been one long goodbye.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Scenes from the Big Move

So here's how things looked in our apartment yesterday. The movers came and packed our stuff, and did an amazingly thorough job of wrapping our belongings. I actually didn't even take photos until they were almost finished, and it's just as well, because initially things were pretty chaotic, with stuff everywhere.

In the photo above, the mover is wrapping my dining room table, one of the two large items we decided to take. (The other is our mattress, which is almost brand new.) I took the picture to send to my dad, who built the table in the early 1960s while he was in graduate school. I thought he'd appreciate how well-protected it is.

This is the living room. The large, flat box to the right contains one of my Gaia prints. Again, I was impressed with the packing job.

More boxes, with some stuff on our other dining room table (Dave's old table) waiting to be packed. Dave's table and our remaining furniture is going to Michigan for storage and sale.

This is how the table ended up, just before being loaded onto a truck. As we understand it, the items will go from truck to shipping container, and when the container is full, it will head overseas by freighter. We've been told our stuff should arrive in 30 to 45 days. Better later than sooner for us, since we don't yet have an apartment!

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The movers arrive today. We're just putting the last touches on our preparations -- basically making sure that everything that needs to be packed and loaded is in one place, and separated from the stuff we're leaving behind or carrying ourselves. I had a horrible night's sleep, partly because I was lying awake thinking about all the things still to be done.

I took a pretty big step yesterday, recycling my childhood encyclopedias. I've been hauling those things around for four decades, and I finally decided that even taking into account my sentimental attachment to them, saving them was absurd. They were woefully out of date, and my family members didn't want them either. No one could argue that we didn't get our money's worth out of them.

I'm still wrestling with what I should do with certain keepsakes -- yearbooks, old paper journals, letters, photo albums. I was going to store them at my mom's house in Florida, but then I thought, "Why shouldn't I just take them with me now, while the movers are here?" The answer is, because we have no idea how long this London gig is going to last. What if we're back in the states in a year -- why should I have paid to haul such items overseas? On the flip side, what if we never come back?

I'm growing more inclined to move such items today. What the heck. The worst that could happen is I pay to move three or four boxes of extra stuff.

Our intention is to move and stay. So I think I should keep that plan in mind.

(Photo: This is not my stuff! Just a pile of old furniture I passed in New York last Thursday.)

Me and my anti-shadow

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shocking News

Dave and I were at a party yesterday afternoon when a friend and former coworker called me and asked, "Have you heard the news?" When someone starts a conversation like that, you know you're in for a shock. And I was.

The company that owns the newspaper where I worked until June 9 laid off about 700 people yesterday, including a majority of the news staff in my former newsroom. I wish I could convey to you how shocking and absurd this is. We were already a skeleton staff, smaller than any newsroom I've ever seen and smaller than the small-town newspaper bureau (or satellite office) where I began working in the late 1980s. We were struggling to keep up with daily news. Now they have two reporters, one local news editor, a news clerk and a couple of photographers, all of whom are shared with other sister newspapers.

What this means is that no one will attend municipal government meetings, no one will be able to devote time to developing sources, no one will pound the pavement to find out what's really going on in the communities we covered. The paper's watchdog role, already severely strained, is entirely eliminated. My guess is, the reporters will be reduced to rewriting press releases that come into the office -- even when I was there, I was surprised by how much time we were all forced to be in the office rather than on the street. Readers are going to abandon the paper in droves, mark my words.

I feel sorry for the people who were let go, including some of the most connected, informed members of the staff. I have respect for the people left, but I wouldn't want to be them.

There are so many issues here. As CJR pointed out, the executives of the company make multi-million dollar salaries -- excessive in any industry but certainly in one struggling as much as this. The accumulation of wealth at the top levels of our society, and the elimination of wealth in the middle, is a poisonous development that is going to challenge our stability as a nation.

As for newspapers, they need to abandon the corporate business model altogether. Successful newspapers -- and maybe news organizations as a whole -- will be nonprofit entities freed from the demands of Wall Street and the analysts, traders and shareholders who demand 20-plus-percent profit margins. Or they'll revert to being family businesses.

I really am shocked by this development, especially so soon after the massive reorganization in February that required us all to reapply for our positions, and cut our staff by half. I have honestly never seen such a badly managed organization.

I was never uncertain about my decision to leave, but this clinches it. If I'd stayed, I likely would have lost my job yesterday anyhow.

(Photo: Chelsea, last Thursday)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Our final weeks are turning into quite the social whirlwind. I'm trying to see people before I go, and Dave is caught up in a whole slew of end-of-school activities and parties. We literally have something happening almost every day until we leave.

Last night some of Dave's coworkers and former coworkers came over for dinner. It was our final opportunity to play host, given that all our dishes and pots and kitchen utensils are going to be carted away on Thursday. Dave made shrimp in a beurre-blanc sauce, braised beef short ribs with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, and lemon creme brulee for dessert. Fab!

Also, Dave's birthday falls right smack in the middle of all this activity. (It's tomorrow.) He's pestering me to buy him an Aston Martin. Dave, if you're reading this, take note: NOT going to happen. I do have a birthday plan, though!

(Photos: Street art in SoHo, on Thursday.)

Monday, June 20, 2011


Our preparations for moving are finally coming to an end. On Thursday, the movers will arrive and haul away the many mostly small items we're sending to England (including my art, which you'll remember I was concerned about). A week from now, Dave's parents will come and we'll load up their trailer with everything else -- the pieces of furniture that we didn't sell -- and take it to their house in Michigan for storage and eventual sale.

Dave and I will then drive a few items to Florida in my car, for storage with my family. I'm still not clear on what will go to Florida, because I'm not sure what will fit in my car. It may turn out that we'll leave almost everything in Michigan. Poor overburdened Florence is really not very big.

The dogs appear blissfully unaware of what's happening, as you can see above. They're the most painful part of this process, at least for me. We found a great friend to keep them -- she's been a dog-sitter for us before, and they know her house and her other pets, so they'll have company.

But I'm very worried about how well they'll adapt to our absence, and how healthy they'll be during the next three months. You know Ruby (in rear, above) has had health problems for awhile, with her bad heart and arthritis. And last week we took Ernie to the vet because he's been losing weight, and we learned he has an egg-sized mass in his right lung that's probably cancerous. The vet says there's nothing we can do about it, though we're trying antibiotics on the off-chance that it's just some kind of infection.

As they lie in bed with us at night and I hear them snoring away, so warm and content, I feel such incredible guilt that we're about to shake up their world so dramatically. Ruby in particular seems to know something is amiss, with all the boxes and other changes in our household, and she sticks very close to me.

On the other hand, what are our options? Neither of them is yet in such ill health that we want to terminate their lives. We couldn't very well give them away -- talk about a shake up, and who would want them at this stage anyhow? And we couldn't not go to London just because of the dogs. This is too great of an opportunity for both of us, but especially for Dave.

So we're following the only viable path that I can see. It's very possible that one or both of them will die before we even get them to England, and I hope we don't saddle our friend with the horrible task of making grave decisions in our absence. It's also going to break my heart to say goodbye to them a week from now, knowing it may be the last time I'll see them. They are so completely trusting, and so dependent on us.

We just have to hope for the best, and plan for life. It's all we can do.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I went back into Manhattan yesterday to my doctor, to get the results of the tests he took last week for my physical. Everything was normal, hamdu'llah. I had a battery of blood tests, an EKG and even some x-rays, and I'm in good shape, which is a relief.

I'd been stressing a little about my health, I suppose in anticipation of this move. Dropping my health insurance and moving to a country with a national health care system that I don't really understand has been a source of anxiety, even though I've always been a perfectly healthy person. Now I know I'm in good shape.

The EKG was kind of strange -- the lab tech had to administer the test about four times, because, he said, something was wrong with the machine. I jokingly said, "You're sure it's not my heart, right?" He assured me it wasn't.

Off to England with a clean bill of health!

I also sold my meditation cushions -- I carried them into the city and met with a guy who bought them via Craigslist. Not that I'm never going to meditate again -- it just seemed silly to haul what are essentially two big pillows across the ocean. Dave seemed surprised that I wanted to sell them, but after all, a person can meditate anywhere. A chair is perfectly fine. There's nothing special about cushions.

(Photo: Trenton, on Wednesday)

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Yesterday I made a road trip to Trenton to do some photography. We'd seen some interesting graffiti from the car the last time we drove through, and I thought I'd try to find it again.

I decided to make the focus of my visit the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, a linear park and trail that runs along the old canal connecting the Delaware and Raritan rivers. It goes right through the middle of urban Trenton, and I thought it would be a good, public place to walk. So I drove into the city -- in an area that has probably the most ridged, rutted, potholed streets I've ever seen -- parked the car and walked to the trail.

To my surprise, despite being in the middle of the city, the trail is fairly green and wild. I never escaped the traffic noise, because it runs right alongside U.S. 1. But I could only rarely see the cars beyond a wall of greenery, and I wound up taking more photos of wildflowers, insects and nature than of graffiti.

I was virtually the only person on the trail, and I spent a couple of hours out there. I eventually found the graffiti that we'd seen from the car, and I shot it, but it didn't interest me quite as much up close. I think I may be losing my enthusiasm for graffiti documentation. These days I'm more interested in urban environments, architecture and nature, though I've continued to shoot and post street art, mostly out of habit.

Afterwards I made my way to a diner in Princeton, on the way home, for some pancakes.

In the afternoon, a financial planner from the local school district came over to talk to Dave and me about how to manage the retirement savings we've built up over the past few years. We both need to roll our employer-sponsored savings plans into traditional IRA accounts, so we arranged that.

And in the evening we went to see "Super 8," which was definitely a fun, riveting movie. It tries to be a little bit of everything -- action flick, love story, coming-of-age drama -- and it mostly succeeds. I liked it, but Dave seemed less enthusiastic.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I'm experimenting with Pandora, the Internet music service that programs your own individual "radio station" based on the music you say you like. I cranked it up and entered Joan Baez as my prompt for the type of music I wanted to hear. Pandora has so far done incredibly well choosing similar artists I might like -- Simon & Garfunkel, Jim Croce, Kate Wolf, Judy Collins. It's been a lot of fun to see what will come up next. I only questioned one choice, a foray toward country with a selection by Emmylou Harris. But I could even live with that. And it's free!

I also went ahead and bought an Internet subscription to The New York Times. When they first started their online subscriptions, I was hesitant to buy one -- I figured I could get similar news elsewhere. But you know what? That's just not the case. I read other major newspapers' web sites, and they were nowhere near as comprehensive and interesting as the Times. Besides, I want to support the idea that readers must pay for news, which I firmly believe to be true. If news reporting is to survive we have to move away from the idea that news is free for the taking.

So even though the Times laid me off, I'm beating the drum for them. I hope their subscription model works.

(Photo: Chelsea, last week.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This feather has drifted lightly around the top of our living room bookcase for at least a year. I found it in the field behind our apartment one day last spring. Today I think I'll take it back outside and return it to nature.

I've never felt comfortable throwing away natural items. In years past I've found seashells or beach pebbles among my belongings, for example, that I decided I really didn't want anymore. But I couldn't just put them in the trash. I had to take them back to the beach and return them to the waves. It just seems appropriate to allow them to become sand.

I have some large shells that I've owned for many years -- probably since I was about 13, when I found them on the beach at Sanibel Island. Now I'm wondering what to do with them. Do I take them all the way to England? Or should I return them to Florida and throw them back in the Gulf of Mexico, where they belong?

This compulsion is all about my sense of order. Everything has its place -- the place where it was created, the place it dies and returns to the earth. All the travels in between don't change that order. And throwing a rock or shell or feather in the trash, along with the coffee grounds and the Chinese-food containers, seems to violate nature.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Niagara Report

Well, we survived our trip to Niagara, though my car is full of dog hair and kibble. What a weekend!

We drove all day Friday and stopped in Grand Island, a town just south of Niagara Falls and the location of our hotel -- a Holiday Inn with no discernible business plan in a very remote setting. We were up early on Saturday -- in fact, that's the sunrise from our window above -- and we made our way over to the falls.

Remember how I said we'd have to stick to the New York side of the falls because the British Consulate still had our passports? Well, by some miracle, our passports arrived via UPS delivery about 1/2 an hour before we left home on Friday morning. (Which means, yes, we got our visas. Whew!) So we were able to take them with us and go to Canada after all.

We went for breakfast in a ridiculously overpriced Perkins on the Canadian side ($47 for the two of us!) and then walked along the Niagara gorge. I see why Canada is a better vantage point for the falls -- they come off the American side of the gorge, so if you were in the U.S., you couldn't see them straight on. But I could have done without all the tacky commercial development, which easily rivals the most touristy parts of Orlando and other meccas.

We paid a ridiculous amount for parking ($25 for two hours!) and drove back to the states. That afternoon we headed down to a riverfront bar in Grand Island for lunch (kielbasa on a bun!) and asked about local attractions. One of the other customers told us about an art show going on in Buffalo that weekend, in the "bohemian" neighborhood. So when we finished eating we shuffled off to Buffalo, made a drive-by visit to one of Frank Lloyd Wright's houses, and took a quick walk around the art show.

By this time the dogs were exhausted, so we came back to the hotel and spent a quiet night there. The next morning we went back to the falls to visit the American side, which was almost more impressive. Even though you couldn't see the falls in their entirety, you could stand right next to them, so you got a much better appreciation for the quantity of water involved. Pretty incredible! (And by the way, I'm told that fish survive the plunge over the falls. Apparently they land in the water below and just keep on swimming, unless they're unlucky enough to hit a rock.)

We hopped into the car and drove back, via a scenic route through Wyoming County, NY. Lots of hills. Poor Florence was straining to make it.

All in all, a terrific trip, and exactly what I wanted -- a chance to see the falls before we left the country. Today I get to vacuum my car!

Friday, June 10, 2011


I passed these flowers while walking in the city on Wednesday. I'm so impressed that some of last year's petunias apparently managed to escape the flower box by going to seed and coming up from the cracks in the sidewalk. Who knew ornamental plants had such vigor and tenacity?

My last day at work was relatively uneventful. I wrote two daily stories and was happy to leave with a feeling that I'd done pretty much everything I had to do. There were stories that never got written, which I passed on to my successor, but none of them were hugely pressing. I turned over what information I had about the beat and left about 4 p.m., which got me home before rush hour. Woo hoo!

I feel good about leaving. It seems a little unreal -- as does our entire move, still -- but I'm not particularly sad. Maybe a bit adrift in the vast, empty sea of possibility, but not sad.

Today, we're off to Niagara!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Yesterday I went into the city to visit my doctor. I wanted to get a physical before I head overseas, particularly since I'm going to be giving up my private health insurance. The British assure me that their National Health Service is very good, and I don't doubt it, but I'll feel better having a clean bill of health.

Today is my last day of work. I'm relieved, I must admit -- my office has been in almost constant turmoil since I started last August, with a massive reorganization in February that required us all to reapply for our jobs and the more recent installation of a new computer system. I feel like I've lived two years in the past ten months.

It's been fun reporting again, but I'm not sure I have the same energy for the job that I had when I was younger. Reporting is often a young person's game -- at least at smaller newspapers -- and after you've covered 50 parades/car crashes/city council elections you just lose your appetite for them. They become routine. I found myself fighting an urge to gloss over details that might be new and interesting to someone younger -- and those details can sometimes lead to a better story. My experience made it easier to spot news, but I had to battle a constant fatigue that made me less likely to pursue it.

Also, the economic climate of newspapers these days requires one reporter to cover so much ground, I was left with a sinking feeling that I couldn't keep up. Especially after the reorganization, which expanded my beat to four municipalities and the county government and limited my access to meetings and my face time with sources. I think I did a respectable job, but I was always aware that I was skimming the surface, which left me feeling guilty and a little irresponsible.

I will miss the social interaction of the office. Being unemployed can be an isolating experience, especially now that I've cancelled my gym membership and we're cutting other ties to the community where we live.

It won't suck to sleep in and read more, though.

(Photo: Chelsea, yesterday.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Books I Love

As I prepare to move to England, I've been cleaning out my books. When I was in college, one of my professors said that every time he moved his book collection got smaller. At the time I marveled that he could ever get rid of a book. I had hundreds of books back then.

But sure enough, each time I moved, my collection got smaller. Now that I have to box them up and send them to England, they're going through an even more thorough purging.

But there are some books I just can't bring myself to sell or give away. Here are 15 that I expect to always keep.

1. "The Sheltering Sky," Paul Bowles. This is the quintessential North Africa book, and it connects me to my experiences in Morocco -- though happily I didn't go through anything as traumatic as the characters in the book. I first read "The Sheltering Sky" while living in a Moroccan village, and I was awed by Bowles' writing and my total immersion in that landscape.

2. "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face," Edna Buchanan. A former reporter for the Miami Herald, Buchanan wrote this book about her years of crime coverage in Florida's most exciting, colorful city.

3. "The Martian Chronicles," Ray Bradbury. I latched on to Bradbury in the seventh grade, and I've never let go. A brilliant book not only about space travel, but about the follies of humanity and the hope that our better selves will persevere.

4. "The Bell Jar," Sylvia Plath. It can be a tough book to read, but Plath's autobiographical novel about descent into mental breakdown is fascinating -- and she's one of the best writers ever.

5. "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald. Undoubtedly one of my favorite novels.

6. "The Sun Also Rises," Ernest Hemingway. Another favorite, and one that inspired me to try to live and travel abroad. (And drink.)

7. "A Passage to India," E.M. Forster. Not only a terrific novel, and another one that inspired me to travel -- my copy also has personal significance. I bought it in college for a term paper, and it's full of my notes and highlighting.

8. "Letter from New York," Helene Hanff. Best known for "84 Charing Cross Road," Hanff wrote these sketches about life in New York City for the BBC. They're terrific accounts of everyday life in the Big Apple, written in her simple, charming style.

9. "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," Joan Didion. A must-have book for any journalist, Didion's collection of essays distills life in the 1960s in California into brilliant, descriptive prose. Once again, my copy has significance -- a vintage paperback that I picked up at a memorable used book sale in college.

10. "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote. Another must-have for journalists, this book will scare the hell out of anyone.

11. "Valley of the Dolls," Jacqueline Susann. I have a vintage hardback copy of this, the best-selling novel of all time. The essence of camp, and yet, an incredibly good read.

12. Three books by E.B. White: "The Points of My Compass," "One Man's Meat" and "The Second Tree from the Corner." Books of essays that White wrote for The New Yorker and Harper's in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. He's one of the best writers ever, a god to people who aspire to write, and always a pleasure to read.

13. "Out of Africa," Isak Dinesen. Another quintessential Africa book that inspired my global wandering. I never fail to tear up at this passage: "If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?" I wonder that about Morocco. How much of me is still there?

14. "Slaves of New York," Tama Janowitz. When I first read this book in the mid-'80s, I knew I had to live in New York someday.

15. "The Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger. Who can't identify with the adolescent frustration and confusion that permeates this book, and permeates all of us well into adulthood?

I love these books so much, I'm mailing them all across the ocean.

Nigeria scam

We've all heard about so-called Nigeria scams, wherein a heretofore-unheard-of person from Africa writes us offering fabulous wealth and riches if only we'll first transfer a modest $15,000 to an overseas bank account as some sort of absurd "deposit," right?

Well, I got one of those notes today in my e-mail. I'm always so amused by these schemes.


This is to inform you that I came to Nigeria yesterday from London, after series of complains from the FBI and other Security agencies from Asia, Europe, Oceania, Antarctica, South America and the United States of America respectively, against the Federal Government of Nigeria and the British Government for the rate of scam activities going on in these two nations. Open the following link to view my United Nations profile: XXXX

Sincerely, you are a lucky person because I have just discovered that some top Nigerian and British Government Officials are interested in your fund and they are working in collaboration with One Mr. Richard Graves from USA to frustrate you and thereafter divert your fund into their personal account.

I have a very limited time to stay in Nigeria here so I would like you to urgently respond so that I can advise you on how best to confirm your fund in your account within the next 72 hours.

Sincerely yours,

Ms. (Name Redacted)
United Nations.

Am I really supposed to believe that some official from the United Nations is writing me? What is this mysterious fund I am supposed to possess? Who is Richard Graves and why is he trying to frustrate me? You know it's bad when even Antarctica is complaining.

Color me perplexed -- and not scammed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Washington Monument

More photo scanning! This is one of the first abstract photos I ever took. I was at the Washington Monument with my family in 1976, and I stood with my back to the monument and bent over backwards to take a shot looking up. Everybody talked about how cool this photo turned out. (Three weeks later, that is, when we finally developed the film and got the photos back -- how did we ever stand that delay?)

My biometric appointment yesterday went smoothly. It was nothing like what I expected. I thought I was going to an office that processes exclusively British visas -- I pictured a small office with one or two people, who would be drinking tea and having crumpets (whatever those are). But no, this was a huge office run by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. I guess the UK has some sort of agreement with USCIS to do its biometric screening here in the states. I was literally just a number amid of a crowd of largely Spanish-speaking people seeking to renew green cards and whatnot. Very interesting!

However, the woman just in front of me was there for exactly the same purpose I was. I heard her tell the technician that she was getting screened for a UK visa. I said, "Oh, I am too!" Despite my normal reluctance to be too chatty around federal authorities, we had a little talk about our plans -- turns out she's going to Scotland to study. "The beer is warm in London," she warned me.

I suppose I can live with that.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Today I have to drive to Elizabeth for my "biometric" appointment for my visa. For those of you unfamiliar with the word -- as I was until I started this process -- that means they'll take my fingerprints and my picture. It apparently doesn't take long.

We've compiled all the paperwork we need for our visas and even paid for priority service, so hopefully we'll get them within a few weeks. Certificate of civil union, apartment lease showing we live together, bank statements, diplomas, old passports, multiple copies of myriad's enough to make my head spin. I hope to finally squeeze it all into a FedEx envelope after my appointment today and get it shipped off to the British consulate in New York.

I always worry when dealing with bureaucratic entities like immigration offices that I've done some little thing wrong -- forgotten a document or not made enough copies of something -- that will torpedo my application. And what about timing? Is it possible to get the visa too early? We won't be traveling for another month, but I assume that won't hurt us.

I feel myself getting snippy and short-tempered as I struggle with all this paperwork. Note to self: Just do the best you can. It's all you can do.

After we get the visa, we can finally buy our plane tickets. I'll be glad when I finally get off the plane in the UK!

(Photo: Street art in Williamsburg, on Friday.)

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I'm working on scanning a bunch of my old photos. I have about 20 photo albums full of pictures, and I don't see any reason to schlep them all the way across the ocean. I figured I'd just save the best of the best in electronic form. Paper photos seem so old fashioned!

It's been a lot of fun, because some of the older photos are horribly discolored. I can tweak them on the computer and watch them literally come back to life. It's pretty amazing!

The photo above is one of my favorites. It's from Taolagnaro, also known as Ft. Dauphin, at the southern tip of Madagascar. I went there in 1999 to visit my friend Kevin, who was working in the capital, Antananarivo, at the time. During my visit, I took a little prop plane down to the southern coast on my own for a few days, and stayed in a bleak little motel with this spectacular view of the beach. Those are old, rusty ships that have been abandoned on the shore, presumably awaiting scrapping. (They've since been removed, according to Google Earth!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Perfect Day

Yesterday was my day off, so I got into the city for a long walk around Brooklyn. I wanted to see several streetart pieces in the Greenpoint neighborhood, so I got off the subway in Williamsburg, fortified myself with a pain au chocolat from a nearby bakery, and started walking.

Yesterday was about the best weather a person could ask for -- clear, sunny and cool. I walked all around the Williamsburg waterfront and then up into Greenpoint, which is not easily accessed from Manhattan. (No direct subway.) I found the streetart I wanted to see, and lo and behold, a bunch of cars were parked in front of it, so I couldn't even photograph it. Oh well! I got lots of other cool shots instead.

Had lunch at a little diner on Manhattan Avenue and coffee at the legendary Cafe Grumpy, which is now a small chain of New York coffee shops. Then I skedaddled back to Penn Station for the 3 p.m. train home.

A perfect day!

Friday, June 3, 2011


I'm happy to report that my campaign to plan a trip to Niagara Falls has succeeded. Dave agreed to go with me, though I know he dreads the car trip. He hates long road trips, and it's a 7-hour drive from where we live. And this two weeks before we get in the car and go to his parents' in Michigan -- and then we're driving from Michigan to Florida! The poor guy is going to be a wreck.

Planning where to stay was a bit of an adventure, because we're taking the dogs, and that of course narrows our hotel options. I started with, and found what looked like several good places, but I suspected that they were on the Ontario side of the border -- unacceptable for us, because the British Consulate will have our passports and we won't be able to get into Canada. I called and they insisted the hotels I was looking at were on the American side, but when I looked them up on Google maps, they really were in Canada. Ugh!

So I booked a Holiday Inn in a place called Grand Island, which is actually several miles from the falls and definitely in New York.

I happen to like car trips -- I like the changing scenery and driving with my music on. Even better that Ernie and Ruby can come with us!

(Photo: Asbury Park, last weekend)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I wish I could tell you I have something cohesive or even interesting to write today, but I really don't. I'm focused on limping through my last two weeks of work and getting things ready for our big move. I lie awake at night sometimes thinking about all the things we have to do, ranking and prioritizing and wondering what will happen if we don't get things done on time.

The good news is, Dave's coworker has agreed to take Ernie and Ruby until we can come back and get them in October. That removes a major psychological burden. Figuring out how to accommodate the dogs has been the most stressful part of this experience so far. (Wait 'til we go apartment hunting!)

In the middle of all this, I have the insane urge to take a trip up to Niagara Falls. I'm trying to talk Dave into taking a day off work and going with me for a long weekend. I'd like to do something to celebrate my final days of work, and I want to seize the opportunity to see the falls while we're relatively close. After all, even if we do come back to the states someday, we don't know where we'll land -- it may be nowhere near here.

I'm glad the Memorial Day weekend is over. I had to work two of the three days, so it was no holiday for me! I suppose none of this is very Zen -- worrying about the future and being happy to be rid of the past. But what can I say. It's where I am these days.

(Photo: Cape May, May 6)