Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our 10 most memorable moments from 2008

In no particular order ...

- Visiting friends and family in California: love to all of you.

- Filming "House Hunters International" in Paris, twice, and the Bronx, once (does that count as 3 moments?)

- Welcoming Rachel home from Croatia and, later, Paris: two long and noteworthy adventures

- Making some new friends here in NYC

- Keeping in touch with our "old" friends by email and phone. Let's not lose each other. :-)

- Enjoying 2 delightful dinners of French cuisine, prepared by some new French friends in their homes: one in Paris, one in NYC (thank you Laurence & Emmanuel, thank you Claudine & Pierre)

- Staying in our very own Paris apt.

- Getting our first few rental bookings in our Paris apt. (Yay!)

- Voting for Barack Obama

- Watching Barack Obama win the election

Let's not focus on what went wrong in 2008. Plenty did, of course. But most of it was out of our control. So we plan to take control of what we can in 2009, live in the present moment as much as possible, and look forward to another year of Jeff and Mary's Excellent Adventure.

Tell us your most memorable moments from 2008!

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Equus" equals excellence

Rachel and Mary saw "Equus" on Broadway today. The play stars Richard Griffiths as Dr. Dysart and Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang. The play was staged beautifully: artful, simple, effective. The acting was very good, as well. Never once did we think of Harry Potter ... well, maybe once, when Radcliffe first appeared onstage.

But after that, Harry disappeared into the mist of the stables, and Alan appeared in his place. Both of us were affected deeply by Radcliffe's performance, and Griffiths was also excellent.

We were positively shocked that several people sitting near us left at intermission. Honestly, if they cannot appreciate a production like this, they shouldn't bother coming to the theatre. Not to sound like a snob, but this was a high-caliber show, with superior acting and staging.

Maybe they couldn't handle the sexual underpinnings of the play itself, mixed with religious fervor and confusion of man vs. beast. Were they offended by it? Was it just too weird for them to contemplate? Did it bother their religious sensibilities?

At intermission, Mary heard several people discussing the play, trying to make sense of it. It's not a difficult play ... but perhaps TV (we watch it, so we have the right to say this!) has made some people unable to see even the most blatant of metaphors.

An interesting afternoon, in many respects.

This Daniel kid has a future in the acting business ... Oh, right. He certainly doesn't need us to tell him that!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

It was, indeed, a white Christmas

But the weather outside wasn't frightful. In fact, it was quite pleasant--in the high 40s and sunny! We had some rain yesterday that washed away some of the slush, so it was just the perfect Christmas in terms of weather.

We hope everyone felt the Christmas spirit this year. Our daughter, Rachel, gave us a wonderful gift: a fancy-schmancy lunch at the French Culinary Institute here in New York. We'll be sure to provide all the details afterwards (it happens Jan. 2).

Tomorrow, Rachel and Mary see Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, in "Equus." Stand by for a review ...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bing Crosby can stop dreaming

Scenes from today on the Upper West Side of NYC and Columbia University ...

And supposedly there is another storm coming through on Sunday. Unless the weather really warms up, or we get straight-ahead rain, it looks like it will, indeed, be a white Christmas here in the city! No fake snow needed for the Christmas trees.

The view from Jeff's office window on Friday morning. The building across the street - 120th Street - is Teachers College.

Oh, and a cute kittie -- Sophia -- almost all wrapped up and ready for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Got our first booking at the Paris apt.!

We hope there are many more to come! Someone is going to rent it for a month, starting in Nov. 2009.


As for life in NYC, we are busy preparing for a party we're giving this Saturday night. Still a few things to do, like finish the decorations, do a little pre-baking and pre-cooking. But it's all fun, fun, fun.

Had some snow here today, but not enough to stick. Are we betting on a white Christmas? Definitely.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where's the tape recorder?

After enjoying "Frost/Nixon" (highly recommended!) and doing some grocery shopping at Fairway Market at Broadway/74th, we hopped on the No. 1 subway to come home last night. After about 30 seconds, Mary was wishing she had a tape recorder.

Two groups struck her as particularly rich fodder--for a novel, for a play, or an updated version of "Reality Bites."

One pairing was a couple of young girls who rode the subway only for 3 stops. One was telling the other that she had recently attended a "Be Yourself" party, where the goal of the evening was just to be, and give yourself credit for just being, and to talk about ways you have rewarded yourself for just being.

Ah, OK.

She gave an example of a guy who was 29 and feeling guilty because he really didn't have a clear career path yet, he didn't have a "real" job, and he just felt down on himself. His reward, he explained at this "Be Yourself" party, was to skip a business function one evening and spend the time hanging out at home, instead. Taking it easy.

Ah, OK.

And wouldn't you know, said this young woman, the next day, he got offered a "real" job.

Is this "The Secret" rearing its ugly head? Mary believes you reap what you sow, but not in the same way that Oprah et al. believe--just can't go there, sorry.

The second group of young people was a little more ... colorful. Three of them: all white, all seeming to have some money (thought not rich rich), one guy, two women (one of them thin and pale, one of them large and pale), all wearing lots of black and a few well-placed piercings. Nose rings being the popular choice.

After listening to them talk from 72nd Street all the way up to Dyckman--trust us, that's a long time--we asked ourselves, "Do they ever have anything nice to say about anyone?" They talked about their slutty straight girlfriends, their slutty lesbian girlfriends, their skuzzy guy friends ... loudly and a tad drunkenly. It was torture to listen to but would have been great on tape!

We have a book titled "Overheard in NYC." Think it's time to write our own version.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like ...

Well, more like FEEL like winter. The chill has hit the fan here in NYC. We had a couple of weird weather days last week, when it was actually in the 50s and 60s, but no more. Today's windchill brings it down into the teens.

More power to him, Jeff keeps riding his bike to work (and often takes a lap around Central Park on his way there). Any day it isn't raining or snowing, he's out there, braving the elements. Almost like the postal service.

As for Mary, she trudges along on some lengthy walks, bundled up and trying to ignore the fact that gradually she can't feel her legs anymore. (It may soon be time to bring out the long underwear.) On the weekends, Van Cortlandt Park and the neighborhood of Fieldston are her stomping grounds.

The big news over the coming few days: Prepping for our party next Saturday night, which we hope will be great fun for everyone who attends. Hope they don't mind being squished into a tiny space. :-) And next Sunday, the 21st, Rachel comes home from Paris! Big plans ensue, with a possible Christmas Eve party at a friend's, a family celebration on the 25th, "Equus" on Broadway (with Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter) on the 26th, and Rachel's friend Katelyn arriving in NYC on the 27th.

Whew! Can't wait!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Princess and the Pea? Or a letch?

So a guy is sitting in the subway this evening--a very crowded car, with people packed in--and he's taking up 3 seats. He's not fat, he's just lounging. Lounging guy.

Mary decides this is unacceptable.

She slithers in between him and the man to his left, squeezing into about 2/3 of a seat.

Becoming uncomfortable at the, um, lack of space between all of us but also aware that people need room to stand more comfortably, too. If the train is packed and there is a seat, you betcha she's gonna take it!

So lounging guy casually says to Mary, basically right into her ear, "You know, I would make more room for you. But I'm uncomfortable when I sit on the little ridge between the seats."

Mary felt like screaming, Who are you?? The princess and the pea??

But instead, she says, "It's fine. I'll just get up and stand again."

To which lounging guy replies, "Oh, you don't have to do that."

And Mary thinks, Oh, yes, I do.

Especially when, a minute later, a man sits down into that 2/3 of a seat and lounging guy moves over to give him plenty of room.

Not a princess. A plain ol' letch.

Sometimes the physical closeness of other people on the subway can be a little weird.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Celebrity sighting!

Today, Mary went to lunch with a couple of colleagues at a restaurant across from her office called Le Monde. Who should be sitting at the table directly across from Mary? Cynthia Nixon, most famous as one of the gals in "Sex and the City."

The only reason Mary recognized her was because she heard her voice. Her appearance certainly wouldn't have given her away. (Perhaps she was just trying to be incognito--we'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Let's just say she didn't resemble the photo here!)

She was having lunch with an elderly woman. Mary thought for a moment about asking for her autograph but decided against it--not that big of a fan of hers, although she certainly is a fine actress and has been honored for her work many times.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Back in NYC ... And Jeff has some cool news

I'm experiencing some culture shock along with my jet lag, says Mary.

I think the two trips to Paris in quick succession have thrown me off rather severely. Just riding to work this morning on the subway was a trip, no pun intended. It was crowded, more so than the Metro in Paris, and people were talking a lot more than the Parisians do. The subway car was cruddy and old, as were the subway stations--which in Paris are pretty clean and well kept (although many do smell like excrement in places!).

Then just hearing people speaking English instead of French was strange. That always throws me for a loop, but for some reason, this time it has seemed even weirder. Go figure.

But here's the cool news: Jeff got published on The Huffington Post! Look for J. L. Ballinger (they already have a Jeff Ballinger on there, whom Jeff actually knows!).

So make a comment, share it, do something to show your support, and get him more Huffington Post gigs!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Some photos from today

I went for a walk again today and took a few photos. The weather was sunny but chilly, but I enjoyed the blue skies.

Au revoir!

Last day in Paris

It's about 9:30 am, and Maxim is here in the apt. finishing the last work in the bathroom. I have a couple of errands to run today--to the post office and, once again, to a bank--and then plan to see a few more sights. This afternoon and evening I hope to see Rachel again, before I leave for home in the morning.

So ... was it worth cashing in all my miles to pay for this ticket? Absolutely. With all the banking procedures and things left to do in the apt., one of us had to be here in person. But now, things should hum along (with the occasional hiccup, I'm sure), and Jeff and I can get back to our regular routine in NYC.

I have to say, the news from home is scary: that the U.S. has been in a recession for a full year already is mind boggling, especially because it only seems to be getting worse.

That said, the U.S. always manages to rebound, and I am confident that we will.

Out I go ... the sky is a bit brighter here in Paris this morning, so I had better take advantage of it!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rachel and Kelly (and Mary) in Paris

(This is Mary again!) I spent some time with Rachel and her good friend Kelly, whom she has known since she was 5. Kelly is a dancer based in L.A. but was here in Paris on a tour. The funny thing is, she was in NYC on the tour last week, and Jeff and I saw her perform there! Small world, isn't it?

Anyway, the three of us had a grand time tonight. We all met up at Rachel's apartment, then headed out for some fun and frolic. We went to Trocadero for a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower, then caught the Metro to the Pigalle area (think Moulin Rouge) and had dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant, where the wait staff and chef were a mix of French and Italian. Wonderful food, including huge desserts (always a plus).

After that, we decided to see if this new Ferris Wheel was still open, and it was! So we took a ride, three times around. The photos are a bit blurry, but you'll get the idea of the view: all the way down the Champs-Elyse'es (Place de la Concorde is in the foreground), with the Eiffel Tower toward our left. Magnifique. I shot a very short video on board. Take a look!

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Here are a few photos I took today. (Click on them for a bigger view.) I decided to go on a very long walk this afternoon. The "Brocante" is happening again--we were here in the summer for it the first time this year, the huge, blocks-long flea market up and down the Marais, near Rue de Bretagne. Also off that street is a market called Marche' Aux Enfants Rouges, with organic produce as well as fishmongers, florists and other foodstuffs.

I walked through the Marais and noticed a few political symbols. If you look closely at the copycat poster of President-Elect Obama that depicts Pres. Sarkozy, you will see that "Yes We Can" refers to things like: "Create 3 million non-displaceable jobs" and "produce clean and durable engergy."

Also thought you might like to see an example of the teeny-tiny cars people drive here!

After strolling through the Marais and past the Centre Pompidou (modern building here), I went by Le Louvre (see Pyramide), then to the area near the Opera House (see the building with the gold statues). The Christmas Tree is inside Galeries Lafayette, a big department store. A cute French lady helped me choose a stylish winter hat. Sorry! No photo of that here. :-)

Tonight I plan to go see some city lights, perhaps on the Champs-Elyse'es, where the lights are designed to look like melting icicles. It's not as cold tonight as last night, and the sky is clear, so it should be a pleasant evening here in Paris. Just wish Jeff were here with me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mary arrived in Paris this morning

... and is feeling pretty exhausted. Those redeye flights aren't easy. The plane was half empty, which probably isn't surprising considering it was Thanksgiving evening.

It's now nearly 4:30 in Paris. I have already seen Rachel and her friend from NYU, Tia (who now attends USC film school). Rachel seems to be doing a bit better--feeling well and looking well.

I started the process of dealing with the bank here. And when I say "process," that's exactly what I mean. The system here is a bit, well, antiquated. In my opinion, France needs to update its banking procedures in order to keep pace in the world. Otherwise, people like us will switch banks to one with a more international focus--which is exactly what we did. The banker wasn't surprised at all when I told him, interestingly enough.

The apt. has, like, three minor things that still need to be fixed but could be done in just an hour or two, so I would say we are set for launch in about one week. Yay! Still haven't decided on a name, but we are zeroing in on a couple.

Will post pictures when I take them. The weather here today was quite cold. With the wind chill, it was about 30. Brrrrr!

One other thing: I have had to use my limited French skills quite a bit in the one day I have been here. The bank tellers didn't speak English, which was fine. (Thank goodness the manager did, as that's a more complex conversation!).

I also had to speak with a young man who, like me, was having trouble operating the front door of the building. The sensor wasn't working, so our electronic keys wouldn't work. Finally a third person showed up, and for some reason his key DID work--and then ours did, too! I was SO happy, because standing around outside was getting pretty uncomfortable in the low temperature.

I'm going to take a nap, then go do a little grocery shopping and plan my Saturday. A free day in Paris with no commitments--finally! I can't wait. :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back to Paris!

No sooner have we written the previous post, "Back in NYC," than Mary has to go back to Paris! (We realize "has to" is a bit presumptous!)

To make a long story short, we decided that one of us should go back and inspect some final work that is to be finished this coming week. Also need to take care of some banking stuff in person. Plus, we had enough miles on one of our credit cards to cover the cost of one ticket, so there you go.

This time, Mary hopes to have a bit more free time to enjoy the city and spend some more time with Rachel. The irony is, two of Rachel's friends will be there at the same time: Kelly, our dear friend from SLO, and Tia, Rachel's friend from NYU who now attends USC film school.

So Jeff and Mary's Excellent Adventure continues. The apt. should be listed as a vacation rental by the end of the first week of Dec., so we are getting much closer to the end of this very long tunnel. Believe us when we say, you will definitely know when it's available. We plan to blast the Internet universe with photos and information!

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back in NYC

Recovering from jet lag and getting used to much colder temperatures, we are back at work here in NYC and once again managing the Paris apt. renovation from afar. We have high hopes that it will be completely ready to go in a couple of weeks. You can rest assured that as soon as it is ready to rent, you all will be the first to know!

Seriously, winter is upon us. Snow was forecast for today but didn't materialize along with the cold temperatures. Time to break out the down coat ... the farmer's almanac predicts a bad winter here.

Been thinking a lot about the fires in California. One of Rachel's friends lives in Diamond Bar (she attends UC Davis), and her parents had to evacuate. Seems very strange to be talking about wildfires in November.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"House Hunters International": It's a wrap

After many, many days of shooting--in June in Paris, in August in the Bronx, and now in November again in Paris--"House Hunters International" is finally a wrap. We have to wait about 8 months, yes, 8 months, to see our episode. But here's the final shoot crew: David Stein, producer (tall guy with Jeff); in other photo, Chuck (sound guy), Mary, Jeff, Fre'de'ric (cameraman), Mathieu (assistant--hope we're spelling his name right). Frederic and Mathieu actually went to school together as kids in Paris. Mathieu still lives in Paris, in the neighborhood of Belleville, while Frederic makes his home in Venice Beach. Chuck and David also live in L.A.

As soon as we know the air date, we'll be sure and let everyone know!

A few sights of Paris

We haven't had a ton of time for sightseeing, but here are a few photos we managed to snap.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Some apartment photos!

There is still some work left to be done in the apt., but we hope it will be completed within the next two weeks. In the meantime, here are some photos of the Paris apt. We're considering the name La Toile de Joie ...

A lovely dinner

We had a beautiful dinner a couple of nights ago here in Paris. We were invited to the home of Laurence and Emmanuel Dousset. Laurence is the sister of Mary's colleague, Pierre. She and her husband made us a several course meal which, as you can tell by Jeff's position in the photo, also included some excellent, um, spirits! All of which were delicious, by the way--especially Armanac, which neither of us had tried before. We highly recommend it. And the food they served was amazing, including a rhubarb tarte, one of Mary's favorites. Merci beacoup, Laurence and Emmanuel.

One of Laurence's paintings--she is an artist--now makes its home in our apt. Here is a close-up view. It makes a lovely addition to the sleeping area. Sweet dreams!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bonjour de Paris!

We arrived here Friday and have been running around like crazy people, trying to pull together the last bits and pieces of the apt. before the House Hunters TV crew arrives on Tuesday. We will post photos very soon, but the apt. is divine! We love, love, love it. The architect/designer did a brilliant job, and it has everything we--or vacationers--will need.

We just have to come up with a name for it ... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Barack Obama Elected President of the United States

What a night!

What a victory!

What a way to tell the "leadership" of the past 8 years, Get the hell out and let us back in!

Congratulations to President-Elect Obama and Vice President-Elect Biden. We can't wait for Jan. 20, 2009!