Tuesday, February 27, 2007

We made it

After more than 3,000 miles, this is the best the state can do for us? You probably can't make it out, but the tiny sign - about 4x4 feet - says "Welcome to New Jersey." It was followed by about 20 miles of spine-crunching, pot-hole pocked highway that jostled our belongings - in every sense of the term - and may have damaged Mary's laptop computer. It's still working super slowly.

The Twilight Zone episode the night before continued a bit this morning at the continental breakfast. The hotel had the biggest spread of food of any of the places we've stayed thus far...all for just us. We were just finishing before we saw another soul who was not a hotel employee.

The day's driving was fairly uneventful but included some of the nicest scenery of the trip, with several inches of snow covering the fields of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and finally New Jersey. Click on the photo above to see some video of the Shenandoah Valley.

We relearned the importance of listening to the GPS lady, or Jane, as we call her. We were completely turned around as we entered the heavily industrial area around Secaucus, but we kept turning and turning and seemingly circling until we wound up right in front of the hotel. GPS lady don't lie.

The nice touch about the hotel room is we can see our new apartment building from the hotel window. We convinced our new manager to let us move in tomorrow morning at 11, a full day ahead of schedule!!! So, we'll be quite busy tomorrow moving boxes, opening boxes, moving them again, etc.
Should have some more interesting photos to go with tomorrow's post.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Twilight Zone

You remember that Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner and the devil-head question box at that odd cafe? We're stuck in a cross between that episode and the one where the couple find themselves in a vacant town. This is one bizarre place.

Technically, we're several miles north of a town called Lexington in Virginia. At least that's what it said on the map. Didn't actually see a town, so we'll go with what the road signs indicate. We passed Lexington by, since it was several miles off the highway, and stopped instead a few miles up the road where there were motels close by. Aside from a Pancake House and a Texaco filling station, that's all that's here. There are three hotels and about that many cars parked at each place, which have more than 100 rooms each...97 of them vacant.

There is one employee in this place - a chain-smoking 20-year-old named Jessica, who spends more time outside the front door than behind the counter. Pleasant though, and she gave us the heads up that the pancake house closed in 50 minutes, so we were able to eat dinner.

Kinda creepy walking around a road side stop full of places for people to stay without any people here. Kinda reminiscent of "The Shining," as well, without the snow or Jack.

Anyway, that was the most eventful stuff of the day. A long slog on Highway 40 through Nashville and Knoxville, neither town all that interesting looking from the highway. After more than 2,000 miles on Interstate 40, we finally turned north on Interstate 81. At least the weather was fine today, hardly any wind and just patches of clouds the entire way.

The forecast is for some light snow in New York tomorrow, but it is supposed to subside by the time we arrive in the afternoon. Wednesday night we talk with the co-op board for an informal meet and greet and then we move in Thursday morning. We're ready to be in our new place, as you might imagine. Just gotta get out of this empty town alive first.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Toad Suck Park and Bucksnort

First, an addendum to yesterday's post: Turns out the winds cutting across Texas were actually clocked between 70 and 75 mph. No wonder yesterday's drive was such a slog.

Today was much better. Perfect weather, very little wind, and mostly good roads. We left Oklahoma and found our way through Arkansas and into Tennessee. About the most annoying road condition we found were skunks.

The first part of the drive
into Arkansas, it was as if the skunk leader told his followers to commit mass suicide via Highway 40. There must have been 20 or 30 carcasses within just a few short miles. P.U. This photo happens to not have any skunk carcasses in it, fortunately for you. It was one of the few times we didn't have any within our view. Click on it to see a brief clip of scenic Tennessee.

We have decided that Tennessee has the worst drivers we have encountered so far. They are terribly impatient, they speed (even through construction zones), and they make unsafe lane changes every other minute. They'll pass on the right if they're in a hurry--even if that means driving on the shoulder to do so! And they don't know how to merge; in fact, we're wondering if Tennessee is one of those states where the merger, not the mergee, has the right of way.

So where does today's blog title come from? Toad Suck Park was, indeed, a park we passed in Arkansas. And Bucksnort is a town in Tennessee just west of where we are parked for the night (Kingston Springs--just a few miles shy of Nashville). Who thinks up these names??

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sallisaw, OK (But what did Salli see?)

bleak [bleek] adj. The section of Texas through which Highway 40 passes.

Ever see the movie "Badlands"? Then you've seen this part of Texas. Nothing to write home (or a blog entry) about.

We caught a few snow flurries leaving Tucumcari, NM and into Texas (click photo above to see the slog through the snow), but it all cleared up rather quickly. Our biggest obstacle as we made our way through the Texas panhandle and mostly across Oklahoma: WIND. We're talking knock-you-down-to-the-ground-force wind. Driving Highway 40 isn't too bad, really, except when you can't relax for a second because you're constantly fighting 50-60 mph wind gusts.

And jack-knifing trucks! That's right: Mary was driving when all of a sudden, a semi that was passing us started to jack-knife. Mary had to swerve onto the shoulder to avoid being struck, and then the truck driver managed to stabilize it.

But then, he almost did the same thing to two cars further up the road! At least we know it wasn't personal. And we were unscathed, which is the important thing.

We saw some odd sights and tried to document them from the truck as it whisked past them. One was a huge cross, advertised as the largest in the western hemisphere (isn't everything in Texas?).

More interesting were the large power-generating windmills a few miles later.

We're spending the night just a few miles from the Arkansas border, and we're well past the halfway point of our drive.

Kitties are still doing amazingly well. Emma's very quiet the whole time we're driving; Chelsea and Sophia tend to be a bit noisy for the first 2 or 3 hours, and then they settle down and go into "the zone," as we're calling it.

Oh, and the GPS lady has a name: Jane. Jane keeps us on the straight and narrow. Tomorrow, she'll escort us into Arkansas and beyond ...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hail, hail Arizona

Woke up this morning to a mild, but chilly, hail storm. Fortunately, the hail "stones" were about the size of grains of rice. They were more annoying than anything else.

At left is what it looked like a few minutes into the day's journey. Looks fine, right? Well, take a look below.

Here is the same highway below, roughly 10 minutes later.

All of that dissipated a half-hour later once we got through Flagstaff, and it was clear sailing the rest of the day. Below is just some of the scenery we saw later in the day at 75 mph (that is the speed limit on the Arizona freeways).

Listen to what the cats had to say about all this at http://web.mac.com/jefflballinger/iWeb/Site/Podcast/94C82426-E817-

Yes, that is a velociraptor on the north side of Interstate 40. It was very still, so it may have been hunting.

We are spending the night in Tucumcari, NM, which is not far from the Texas border.

New Mexico is known for Albuquerque, Roswell, and ... a whole lotta nothin'. Yes, there are a few nice vistas along Highway 40 through New Mexico, but other than that ... not much to see. Except wind, this time of year. LOTS of wind. And trucks. Could count the number of actual cars we saw on one hand.

What we did see: the most kitschy of kitsch in a souvenir store at a place called Clines Corners--and we also saw a gen-u-ine cowboy there, complete with serious spurs on his boots. Let's just say we're hoping for more interesting terrain tomorrow as we venture into Bush country (should Mary hide her ACLU card?) and on into Oklahoma (Mary's brother-in-law's home state).

Hold onto your 10-gallons: the liberals are coming.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hello from Williams. AZ

We managed to cover a fair amount of road today ... made it all the way to Williams, AZ. The cats did very well, although we learned yet another valuable lesson: they do not need to be taken outside at all while we're on the road. We put Chelsea and Sophia on their leashes, and all Chelsea wanted to do was go places she shouldn't, and Sophia crawled along the ground on her belly, she was so scared (see photo at right). We didn't bother trying with Emma.

Potty/food/drink in the morning, potty/food/drink in the evening, 'nuf said. Here's what the cab looks like with the three cat carriers (Emma is on the bottom, for obvious reasons like gravity).

We got our kicks on Route 66, too ... just for about 30 minutes, as we stopped there for lunch (hopped off Highway 40 at the exit). The photo below was somewhere just before the stop. That has got to be the most bizarre truck stop we have ever visited. It included aquariums that, perhaps in 1985, had live fish in them (but they still had the water from that date!). A couple of the aquariums actually did have fish--but they looked like something from the dinosaur age. Mary dared not look too closely while she was eating.

The fountains next to the parking lot looked like they hadn't worked since about 1950, and who knows what primordial ooze was growing in them. We didn't dawdle there!

Mary's photo at left is somewhere near Kingman, Arizona, where my barber Dennis (former, now, I guess), owns a rental home and hopes to retire some day. I can see the attraction. Too high for the hottest temperatures but not so high to have tons of snow.

We had planned to take a side trip to the Grand Canyon on our way out of town tomorrow morning, but the weather is not cooperating. Supposed to be a big Arctic storm (mostly wind, little snow) coming through Flagstaff at about 9:30 a.m., so we're hoping to blow past it before it kicks up its heels.

On the road again ... almost!

We managed to drive away from the house yesterday at about 5 pm. The new owner actually showed up with his two kids at about 4:45 but made a quick exit so we could finish up. But his kids were so cute. They both said, "THANK YOU FOR THE HOUSE!" as they ran back to their car.

After stopping at the dance studio to pick up one of Rachel's costumes which Mary forgot, and going to CVS to buy a small cooler since our other one was leaking, we finally hit the road ... and made it all the way to Pismo Beach for dinner at Gino's pizza joint.

Then it was a rather roundabout route to Bakersfield, where we landed at a Vagabond Inn for the night. We aren't sure why, but we ended up without a map of California, and the map we had indicated a freeway connection that simply didn't exist.

We learned a couple of valuable lessons. First, make sure you have the appropriate map in the car. Second, follow the Triptik you get from AAA. And third, listen to the GPS lady. We couldn't figure out why "she" (the automated computer voice) was telling us to turn off the highway--until we realized she was, in fact, correct--we had taken the wrong road.

We also learned that it's pretty darn funny to make the GPS lady mad. We had originally thought we were going to stay in another motel, so we asked her for directions. But Mary spotted a billboard that said Vagabond offered free wireless (hence this blog entry). When the GPS lady figured out that we had taken what she thought was a wrong turn, she got VERY insistent: "Turn around now." "Make a U-turn as soon as possible." "Go back NOW." Fuuunnny!

As soon as Mary gets her act together this morning (and stops writing this blog), we're on the road again, aiming for the Grand Canyon. Oh, and the kitties are all doing fine. A little whining in the car, but they settled down and enjoyed sleeping on their own bed in the motel room: what a treat!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Today's the day!

After one last dip in the Jacuzzi and a somewhat tearful night, we woke up this morning to a phone call from the management office at our new apartment building confirming our interview with the co-op board (6 pm, Feb. 28) and our move-in date (March 1). Hooray! That's finally settled.

That "wide load" at right is Jeff putting in the last item into the truck as we loaded it up this afternoon. I can use that term safely because it is I, not Mary, writing this graph.

That's Mary below putting Sophia into the truck, moments before we pulled out of the driveway for the last time.

So before we lose our Internet connection here at the house (and before we are up to our elbows in boxes), we thought we should post a short entry to bid farewell to San Luis Obispo.

We will miss our family (love you!), our friends (love you, too!), the weather (ahhhh!), the perfect mornings (beautiful for long bike rides), the gentle evenings (wonderful for Jacuzzi-ing), and, of course, our home. But we will take with us years' worth of memories, and we invite everyone--sincerely--to come visit us in the Big Apple. OK, so it's only Joisey. But it's right NEXT to the Big Apple. You can see it from there!

Here is our new address, as of March 1:
380 Mountain Road, #1807
Union City, NJ 07087
Land line phone: 201-751-5497
Cell phone numbers will stay the same, for the time being
Email: jeffballinger@yahoo.com
mary@maryschiller.com or maryjschiller@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An "extra" post for Feb. 20

Mary has submitted a Viewpoint article for possible publication in The Tribune. Not sure if it will make it into the paper, so here it is. Comments welcome. :-)

If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere

By Mary Schiller

My final memories as an L.A. resident are not pleasant: fiery smoke, National Guard troops in tanks, and countywide curfews—all creating a post-Armageddon setting that left me wondering if it was worth it to stay.

For me, it wasn’t. The 1992 riots pushed me out of the city I had called “home” for 13 years, and I moved to San Luis Obispo in August of that year. As a single parent, I felt San Luis Obispo could provide a level of security, in all respects, that Los Angeles simply could not.

I received my first reality check when I began looking for a job here. In L.A., I was between jobs and had been working as a temporary legal secretary, earning $16/hour (yes, in 1992). After calling several temp agencies in San Luis Obispo, I realized my life here was going to be tougher than I thought. My rent for the same-sized apartment was only $100 less per month than I paid in L.A. But the pay was half—just $8/hour—for the same job.

It was time to make a decision: Should I go back to L.A., where I could make a better living but would sacrifice our quality of life? Or should I stay and figure out a strategy for making money?

I chose the latter. It has been a long, tough road to find some level of financial security here. I have been in and out of serious debt, paying for graduate school and trying to maintain some standard of living. No job I have held here—despite my now having two graduate degrees—has paid a wage equivalent to my professional experience and education. And over the past several years, I have struggled to secure some freelance or telecommuting work based outside of San Luis Obispo, simply because it pays better.

As a result, I have made a decent—not great—living, but it has come at a cost. First, since much of my work has been based elsewhere, I feel little connection to the SLO business community. Second, I have had to work so many hours to make ends meet, I haven’t had time or energy to volunteer for local nonprofits.

I don’t want to paint a picture of continual hardship. I have made some wonderful friends and worked with amazingly talented people. I met my husband here, and we managed to buy a home, as well.

But that story of home ownership doesn’t have an altogether happy ending. Facing the cost of sending our daughter to college and realizing our wages and savings won’t keep up, we have been forced to sell our home. We would love to keep it—especially since our families live close by. But we simply must move to an area where we can find better-paying jobs. So we’re sacrificing our home and using the proceeds to finance our daughter's education and a new life in a major metropolitan area.

I confess that I envy people who manage to “make it” here: entrepreneurs and others whose professional goals coincide with this area’s needs. Or perhaps they have just learned how to squeeze their goals into San Luis Obispo’s narrow opportunities for the privilege of living in such a beautiful place.

After more than 14 years of trying to fit into the SLO mold, I am exhausted. Frankly, I want to live somewhere that places a higher value on people like me and strives to keep us around.

And San Luis Obispo has changed a lot in the past 14 years. Many people have decried any growth here at all, saying SLO will become another Santa Barbara. I hate to break it to them, but it already has. How many companies have left (or refused to consider coming here) because employees can’t afford to live here? How many wonderful college students leave the area once they graduate, for the same reason? And how many people like me? My singular presence may be missed by only a few people. By my cumulative presence—everyone who cannot afford to come here, or cannot afford to stay—will definitely be missed.

Although my final memories of SLO are more pleasant than my visions of a burning Los Angeles, my answer to the question—is it worth it to stay?—is, unfortunately, the same.

Counting down ...

This will be our last night at 2247 Bushnell Street in San Luis Obispo.

For Mary, this is the home in which she has lived the longest, ever: 9 years. For Jeff, it's the second longest period of time he's lived in the same home. Suffice it to say, it has been our comfort zone, and we have gone through major "ups" and major "downs" inside these four walls.

But it's time to close this chapter and open a new one. (We're just full of cliches tonight!)

Tomorrow morning, we'll return our one-day rental car (a white Mustang, no less) and trade it in for our rental truck. Then, we'll do our best impressions of moving men as we shlep our boxes, bikes, and bits and pieces into the truck.

One more entry before we hit the open road tomorrow afternoon. Are we nervous? Nah. Excited? Definitely!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Gas on

Whew! Although it did get a little cool last night, it was certainly no hardship, especially after we realized the outdoor shower next to the spa was on an electric water heater. Ah! Hot water.
One step forward.
The gas company woman arrived before 8 a.m. this morning to turn the gas back on, so we are toasty once again.
One more in the right direction.
Did our last load of local laundry at the laundromat on Laurel and ruined an expensive pair of Mary's jeans by putting them in the dryer.
OK, one step back.
On to today's errands and lunch somewhere. One can only stretch cheese and crackers so far, eh? Nine more days and counting living out of suitcases and an ice chest. Life could be so much worse. We have so much to be thankful for: family, true friends, each other...need I go on?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gas still off

We made it through the night OK. Thank God the weather wasn't like it was two weeks ago, as we would have been quite cold. It stayed in the 50s overnight - down to 66 in the house - so we lucked out. Today is overcast and low 60s, so it should be cooler tonight. We'll survive, for sure.
The buyer of our home did his final walk-thru this morning, and everything went well. His two kids, ages 9 and 7, are very excited about the pool.
It is rather odd sitting on our outdoor metal chairs in the living room that is virtually bereft of furniture. Forgotten the echo rooms have without furniture in them. Kind of eerie, having made this our home for the past nine years.
Last thing left to do is sell the car. Anyone interested in a 2004 Scion xB with only 31,000 miles? I'll make you a deal.
Yesterday was the last ride with the K-Man cycling club I've belonged to for nearly 3 years. I've made some life-long friends over that time, and banked some memories that will sustain me on the backroads of New Jersey and the bike lanes of New York City.
The weather was fabulous for mid-February, with temperatures soaring into the mid-70s. I even got a mild sunburn. The last two nights we've had fantastic dinners at Mike and Peggy's and Len and Katrin's. Although I had more wine the previous two nights than I have over the past few months, I will remember the evenings clearly for years to come. Great food and conversation and friends for life. Like the commercial for bad beer, it doesn't get any better than this.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Gas on, gas off

Thank goodness the weather has warmed up--first, because it's beautiful outside, and second, because we won't have any gas at our house until sometime on Monday.

Key Termite was delayed in getting the tent off of our house, so they told us we couldn't come home until 3 pm today. What they neglected to mention was that The Gas Co. was going to show up anytime between noon and 5 pm, and someone had to be here to let them in.

So we got home around 3:15 to find a note on the door saying The Gas Co. had been there at 2:30 and, since no one was home, we needed to call and reschedule the turn-on.

Needless to say, we are more than a little peeved at Key Termite for not being clearer with us.

Sometime between 7 am and 8 pm Monday, a Gas Co. employee will come turn the gas back on. Like that timeframe? Wonder how Mary's writing clients, and a daily newspaper, would like that type of "window" for work to be completed!

Friday, February 16, 2007

The best laid plans

Jeff and Mary hit the road yesterday ... but only to Atascadero, to stay with friends Mike and Peggy Zappas while the house is being tented for termites. On the way, Mike called Jeff and said that 11--yes, 11--college kids were descending on their home this weekend! Probably not the best time for us to stay with them.

But amazingly, Mike had already made other arrangements for us. We were going to be staying with another couple that Jeff met through the K-Man bike club: Len and Katrin Colamarino, who, coincidentally, live just around the corner from Mike and Peggy.

Len and Katrin appear in the photo at right flanking Mary, during a peace March in October in downtown San Luis Obispo.

What Mike didn't happen to mention was that we had our 3 cats in the car. No matter: Len and Katrin have been extremely accommodating, and fortunately, the cats have been quite content to keep to themselves in one of the guest rooms.

Here is a photo of Mike from the same peace march, with Mary's sign above his head.
A huge thanks to both couples for being so kind to us.

We return to the house Saturday to get ready for the buyer's final walk-through Sunday morning. We're still scheduled to close escrow on Wednesday, so the real countdown has begun until Jeff and Mary blast off on their excellent adventure across the U.S. of A.

Look for some fun posts coming up, complete with more photos, audio, and perhaps even some video!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Termite time!

Sometime today, we will be banished from the house while Key Termite puts up a circus tent and blasts the heck out of the termites that have found a home in our home. Luckily, there are only a couple of tiny areas that they have infested, but that's enough to warrant the tent.

Jeff's bike club friends Mike and Peggy Zappas have generously allowed us--and all 3 kitties--to stay with them during this process. Thank you, Mike and Peggy.

After this step, there's not much left for us to do except to sell the car, which Jeff's dad may do for us, get the check for the house proceeds, load up the truck and go! Everything is packed already, so we're right on schedule.

Stay tuned, though. The road trip will be the REAL start of the adventure. What do you bet we'll hit some snow along the way?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

So let's take a look around ...

When you sell or give away almost all of your belongings, especially your furniture, life gets interesting real quick. We still have a few days left in the house, but we have no refrigerator, no washer/dryer, and our seating arrangements are ... well, let's just say they're spartan.

Jeff is using the desktop computer on a built-in counter top--standing room only. Mary is using the top of the kitties' house as a desk, and her chair is, technically, patio furniture.

We still have our bed and two sidetables, which we are moving with us. But taking so little furniture has its advantages. First, we plan to do some major shopping at Ikea (need we say more? Ahhhh! Ikeaaaaa!). And second, we'll have the chance to start over with a new style, if you will. We're looking forward to it--especially Mary, who enjoys decorating.

So while we look around this house and see very little of ourselves, at this point, we still see our memories: Rachel's dance clothes and pointe shoes lining her closet (and floor!); Jeff's stack of New York Times magazines filling our bookcase; Mary's photos decorating many of the walls. And of course, we can see the faces, and hear the voices, of our dear friends and family, everywhere we look.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How can two people generate so much trash!?

It's the battle of the bags today. Trash bags. They're coming out our ears! The garbage company charges $5.35 for each bag you leave at the curb that's not in your garbage can. The dump is much cheaper, but there's only one problem: We don't want to transport garbage in our newly detailed car that we're trying to sell.

So ... it's pay through the nose to dispose.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bed, back and beyond

As Mary and I savored one of our last nights in the Jacuzzi tonight, my back was definitely feeling it. Although we've managed to reduce our belongings to less than 400 cubic feet (the truck we've rented is just 381, so we'll be squeezing it in somehow), it's still a heck of a lot of stuff. With 30 years of books each - two English degrees between us, mind you - we've got a few volumes, mostly paperback, thank God. We had quite a bit more, before liquidating many boxes full at a yard sale a while back. We just have clothes to take with us, along with our bed and bed frame, a small bedside table, and the perfect end table my Uncle Jimmy made many years ago. Oh, and our bicycles, of course.
We're looking forward to the trips to Ikea in New Jersey and Room & Board in Soho. Seems like a good excuse to get some new stuff, eh?
Our only disagreement may be in the size of the LCD tv. I'm leaning toward the 32", while Mary thinks thte 26-incher is OK. What would you go for, if it were up to you? Help us solve the faux-dilemma. If that's all we've got to argue about, we're doing OK.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Everything but the car

Surprisingly, we were able to sell or give away everything that we wanted to--so no need to call 1-800-GOT-JUNK (although we have used them in the past, and they're quite good--we highly recommend them).

All that's left to sell is the car!

That's not all that's left to do, however. There's the termite tenting, and the packing (still!), and the cleaning. And don't forget about the utilitity companies--must call them soon or we'll be paying someone else's bill. And where do we put our last batches of trash ... we may have to get creative on that one.

But the light is getting brighter at the end of this looooong tunnel. That would be the Lincoln Tunnel. :-)

Our going-away party

Today we hosted a "going-away" party, and it was wonderful to see so many of our friends and family here. Mary's sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and Ted; Mary's niece and her husband, Debbie and Wyatt--the four of them drove down from the Bay area. Mary's brother Tom was here, as was Jeff's dad, Glenn.

It truly means a lot to us that so many of our friends and colleagues visited, too. We will never be able to replace the warmth and caring that you have brought into our lives. And we really mean it when we say the door is always open to you if you visit New York City. Our apartment may be small, but we'll make room for friends and family any time.

We love you all very much. Thank you for spending some time with us today and for giving us so many well wishes as we journey forth into this new life of ours.

Time for bed ... our last garage sale is happening tomorrow morning, rain or shine ...

Friday, February 9, 2007

Jeff's last day at The Tribune

After nearly 11 years, Jeff has reached a milestone: he is saying good bye to The Tribune today.

Jeff's career there has spanned quite a few "beats," including writing about the North County and, most notably, education--which he covered for most of his tenure there. The past year and a half or so, Jeff acted as the Web editor and brought the paper's Web site into 21st century--well, almost. He did his best with what tools he was given and increased the site's traffic exponentially: http://www.sanluisobispo.com.

For all the ups and downs, The Tribune has been pretty good to Jeff. After all, he met his wife there :-) . The California AIDS Ride in 1997 stands out as one of Jeff's great achievements at the paper. Not only did he complete the 7-day ride, but every day he wrote two stories for The Tribune, chronicling the journeys of those doing the ride as well as his own. He won numerous awards over the years, both within the paper and from news organizations and other groups.

But those are not Jeff's greatest achievements. His life is governed by a sincere desire to work hard and treat everyone he meets with kindness and respect. He always provides a good example to others and has been a mentor and friend to many people at the paper and in our community.

The next chapter of Jeff's professional life has yet to be written, but there is no doubt that he will bring integrity, enthusiasm and joy to whatever he chooses to do.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

They cashed the check!

Well ... we haven't received a phone call from Troy Towers saying that they approved our application, but they cashed our check today. We figure that constitutes a contract. Hooray! We have a place to live! What a relief.

We'll fill you in on the details when we get them--like our exact address and when we're officially allowed into the apartment (probably March 1).

On another note: Saying good bye to friends and family is really hard! Mary went to dinner last night with three of her best friends here in SLO: Angela Phillips, Linda Neugent, and Helen Anderson (left to right in photo). We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Mo's (the best barbecue anywhere!), and had some laughs, as we always do.

Mary hid her tears until she got home. Oops ... here they come again.

The French have a phrase that describes people who are both attractive and unattractive at the same time: jolie-laide. Mary developed a new French phrase that describes how she and Jeff feel: heureux-triste.

How is it possible to be happy and sad at the same time?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Still waiting ...

The co-op board is meeting sometime today, so we should find out later today or tomorrow whether we've been approved for the high-rise apartment with the amazing view.

If not, we do have a back-up: a 3-BR place just a few blocks away, also in Union City, NJ. No view, but a lot of space, a Jacuzzi tub, our own washer/dryer, a deck, and it's also the top two floors of a townhouse: http://www.libertyrealestate.com/public/listingSingle.do?listing.listingID=217206

Still biting our nails ... Which one will it be??

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Does it ever end?

And the tasks just keep on coming! Sometimes Jeff and Mary wonder if we'll ever actually get on the road. Seems like the "to do" list keeps on growing, and growing, and growing ...

We learned the other day that we need to sell our car. We had thought Jeff's dad was going to buy it, but he went another direction--so we have 2 weeks to sell our little silver toaster (Scion XB).

If you know anyone who's looking for a fun, reliable car, let us know!

What else is on the "to do" list? Finish packing, get the house tented for termites, sell almost all of our remaining furniture (we're only moving a couple of small pieces), confirm the rental truck reservation, make sure our heads are still screwed on ...

Still waiting for final approval on the apartment rental. We should know something by tomorrow or Thursday. Until then, Mary's still biting her nails. What nails she has left, anyway.

Sometimes you have to look back to see where you've come from, in order to have courage to look ahead. That's what we keep telling ourselves, at least! Some days it works. But it helps to remember Mark Twain's comments about courage being "resistance to fear, mastery of fear--not absence of fear."

Today's a day to resist.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Jeff is back in SLO

Jeff was able to fly standby on an earlier flight out of NY, so he got home early enough to watch the (soggy) Super Bowl. So far, the halftime show has been the best thing about the game!

So now, we just have to wait for the co-op board to approve our application for the apartment in Union City, NJ. Fortunately, the landlord (the man who owns the unit) already approved us and signed the lease, so that bodes well for us. We also paid a hefty deposit that has been put into an escrow account--that should show them we're serious.

The co-op board meets on Wednesday, so we'll probably hear Thursday whether it's a "go" or not. If not, well ... not sure what we'll do, but we'll figure it out.

In the meantime, we're busy working and packing up the last remaining bits o' stuff around here. The weather was so nice today: literally 3 times as warm as it was in NY when Jeff left this morning (25 degrees vs. 75 degrees)! Yeah, we're gonna miss the sunshine ...

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Gaining some perspective

Every once in awhile, when we get stressed out about moving and starting over--new home (which we still don't have for sure), new jobs (which we don't have yet), new furniture, new everything--it helps to gain some perspective.

All we have to do is turn on the news.

There are people in the world who can't go to the store without the fear of being blown up.

And we're worried about what sofabed to buy?

Friday, February 2, 2007

Jeff is loose in NYC!

It's still wait-and-see time. Jeff feels confident that we'll get the high-rise apartment with the incredible view (Troy Towers). Apparently, the agent, who has lived in the building for 19 years, wrote a cover letter with the application and vouched for us. Her word might carry some weight with the co-op board.

Jeff also left a message for another agent he had worked with, telling her we were still interested in an apartment she showed him (and that we applied for), but that it was our second choice. So we may, at least, have a back-up in case the Troy Towers apartment doesn't come through.

So while these decisions are being made, Jeff is having fun! He went to the movies last night and is going to a track meet at Madison Square Garden this evening. And of course, he's going to take Rachel shopping. :-) Not only that, he's considering going to the opera tomorrow afternoon.

Watch out, New York: Jeff's in town!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Dare we hope ...?

Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity in trying to secure this apartment in Union City, NJ. Mary rushed around gathering tax returns and all sorts of documents and reference letters, faxing and then Fedexing contracts to the Realtor at Troy Towers.

The Realtor told us the co-op board has to "approve" us but intimated that she didn't see any problems. But we won't know officially for awhile, so Mary's still a nervous Nellie.

Rachel was able to see the apartment this morning. She liked it and figured out where she could store her stuff in one of the main closets. If we get the place, she'll be sleeping on a sofabed (a nice one--we're getting one with a Tempur-Pedic style mattress: http://www.relaxtheback.com/catalog/productdetail.cfm?group_id=6388629) and will wake up to this view every day. Could be worse! Pretty amazing--would love to see it at night when the sky is clear like this.
So, we wait for approval ... Cue the "tick tock" of the clock ...