Monday, June 30, 2008

Images from Croatia

Rachel took lots of photos on her month-long trip to Croatia. Here are a few (not sure where these were taken, to be honest!). The first two weeks she volunteered at an area that is a bear preserve, hence the bear photo. The second two weeks were an adventure tour: kayaking, rafting, rappelling, boating, swimming, you name it!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Free Faller

My 80-year-old father stepped out of an airplane the other day - at 18,000 feet. Fortunately, he had a parachute on.

Below is the video proof of his adventure. Enjoy. Marvel. Gape in astonishment.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our apartment

It occurred to us that we hadn't posted any recent photos of our apartment, now that it's basically together. You can see the kitchen is still as small as ever, but we re-did everything but the floors: new cabinets, countertops, appliances, everything. We expanded the pass-through, added cabinets there and made that counter larger. Underneath it, on the living room side, is the Murphy bed.

The funny thing is, Mary is now so used to cooking in this kitchen, a larger space would feel a bit weird!

We filled the apartment with our photography--Rachel's too, Some of hers are featured in the hallway (see close-up here of three photos).

When Rachel is home, we try our best to allow her some space in the living room, since she doesn't have her own room. We wish that we could have bought a larger place with a second bedroom, but we felt that being able to own two properties had to take priority--especially because Rachel will be on her own before too long.

She turns 20 next week. Hard to believe! We'll probably post some photos soon from her trip to Croatia, as she is coming home Saturday. Can't wait to hear about all of her adventures.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Look out below!

A photo from Jeff's dad, who writes this to us via email today:

"Well I'll bet you never thought you would see me jumping out of an airplane at 18,000 feet.
Well I did it yesterday and it was a blast. Sharon encourages me to do everything I ever wanted to do, and at 80 I thought I had better get to it. Next may be bungee jumping, if my doctor approves knee handling the pressure."

--Glenn Ballinger

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The birthday gal

Mary, in silhouette, on the east side of the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park, with the skyline of Central Park West in the background across the water.

Click on the image and you'll see a larger version of the scene (if Blogger is working properly, that is).

Happy Birthday to Mary!

Today is Mary's 47th birthday! This photo of her was taken right across a small plaza from ... the Plaza Hotel. What an ideal location for a hotel, adjacent to Central Park and next to all the action of Fifth Avenue.

Rachel is still away in Croatia, having a wonderful time. So Jeff and Mary had a relaxing day exploring the city. We started in Central Park and took a few photos (shown here). The weather was just about perfect, with low humidity and the temperature around 80. We understand it has been unbearably hot--record breaking--on the Central Coast of California, so all of you reading this who live in or around San Luis Obispo, we're thinking of you!

We stopped for a hot dog and a yummy ice cream and then visited The Frick Collection, which is housed in the former home of the Frick family. It's quite an amazing private collection of art, with works by El Greco and Goya, Rembrandt and Renoir, Turner and, famously, Vermeer. Neither of us had ever seen a Vermeer in person before (we didn't get a chance to see the museum of Dutch masters in Amsterdam a few months ago). So that was a special treat.

After the museum, we took a leisurely walk through the Upper East Side and enjoyed looking into the windows of the designer stores. We stopped for lunch at a nice little deli and then continued our walk down toward Carnegie Hall. The area was bustling with activity, with a couple of street fairs going on and people reveling in the first official day of summer.

When we got near Carnegie Hall, Mary went into Joseph Patelson Music House and bought two books of piano music: Hanon (gotta keep up those chops!) and a book of six sonatinas by Muzio Clementi.

We walked a bit north up Broadway and stopped at one of our standby places, Cafe Europa, and ate some cake in honor of Mary's birthday. Well, actually two cakes: carrot and double fudge (we couldn't decide, so we got both!).

As for gifts, Jeff bought Mary three nice items at The Frick Collection: a Parisian cookbook with a French music CD to accompany dinner; a book called New York for New Yorkers, a Historical Treasury and Guide to the Buildings and Monuments of Manhattan; and a fun pack of cards related to NYC that ask, "What happened here?"

Here's example: What happened at 11 West 4th Street (right near NYU) on April 11, 1961--just a couple of months before Mary was born? Answer: Bob Dylan gave his first paid performance in Greenwich Village, at Gerde's Folk City.

Thanks to all of my family who called me today: my sister Carolyn and her husband Ted, my brother Tom, and my dad Hank. Thanks for the cards, too (very thoughtful, Bonnie!) and for the good wishes from Jeff's dad Glenn as well as my nieces, friends and co-workers.

Here's to many, many more birthdays!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Anyone else nervous?

We're old enough to remember some hard financial years. At the time we graduated with our undergraduate degrees, headlines blared that it was the worst time for college graduates since the Great Depression. We can both attest to that fact with our patchwork job histories during that time.

But honestly, things seem worse now. It's almost like a "perfect storm" of economic woes. It's not just the housing crisis, which is horrible enough as it is. It's also crises related to oil/gas prices, the stock market, inflation, unemployment, layoffs, wars, health care unavailability, climate change. And let's not forget education. Our greatest resources are going to waste in an antiquated educational system that is letting us down in nearly every way possible, including our ability to compete globally.

There's probably more, but that's enough for us to start shaking in our boots.

Right now, we feel lucky to have jobs, a roof over our heads, a little money in the bank, and the prospect of an investment property that may help ease our retirement. Lord knows we don't have any other retirement funds to speak of. We have worked hard for what we do have, so we try to see the glass as half full.

We support Obama's candidacy and his idea of hope for America. But it's going to require a lot more than hope to turn this country around.

Europe doesn't have all the answers, and we know that. But if you think that America is the most advanced country in the world, you haven't traveled to Europe lately. As a recent column in the NY Times mentioned, traveling from JFK to a European airport is like traveling from The Flintstones to The Jetsons. We are so far behind in nearly every area we listed above, it's frightening.

We understand that it's difficult for some to relate to our desire to grow old elsewhere. The truth is, if we believed the U.S. was headed down a good path in all of those things, we would stay.

Here's the "but": We're nervous about growing old in this country. We want more security. We have no problem paying taxes in order to get it. The average American probably pays the same overall in taxes as people in Europe. Income taxes, payroll taxes, Social Security taxes, business taxes, gas taxes, sales taxes, property taxes. Are we forgetting anything?

We are eyeing France, of course, but also Scandinavia (Sweden is a beautiful place). We need to be thoughtful about this, and we are already laying the groundwork for our next move.

Yes, we love our country and are proud to be Americans (except when our president authorizes illegal wars and torture). Unfortunately, we no longer believe that this is the best place for us to live out the rest of our lives. Maybe if we were multi-millionaires, we would think differently--hard to know for sure. But should that be the only way to feel secure about old age? Having millions of dollars in the bank?

A society has an obligation to its people. The United States has forgotten that. But we haven't, and we need to find a country that still believes that making sure everyone has their basic needs met is more important than capitalism. It's more than a money issue for us. It's a moral imperative.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Celebrity sighting!

As Mary was walking across the Columbia campus this afternoon on her way to the subway, she spotted a very famous TV newsman, walking/talking with what appeared to be two young television producers.

It was none other than Dan Rather!

He looked good: snappily dressed in a navy blue suit, he walked with a straight back and sure steps.

According to, Mr. Rather will be 77 this coming October. Hard to tell if he has had any plastic surgery, but if he has, it doesn't show in an obvious way. Hats off to him!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Still not quite in the swing of things

(This is Mary.)

I know that France has its problems--believe me, I really do know. Union strikes can shut down public transportation or other services, as anyone who has ever traveled there probably has experienced.

But my pain with the subway yesterday made me yearn for a union strike. At least it would explain why I, and hundreds (maybe thousands) of other people, waited 25 minutes for a subway train to show up. There is a P.A. system in the subway, and it did a good job of announcing service changes/rerouting due to construction--which we all know intimately by now.

As the platform began filling to well over its capacity, however, there was NOT ONE announcement as to why there were no #1 trains running for nearly half an hour. We saw plenty of #3 and #5 trains running on the #1 track, but #1 trains were nowhere to be found.

And of course, it was hot and humid, so everyone was sweating like crazy and getting impatient--although to our credit, we all behaved nicely. With every non-#1 train that stopped at the station and let off more people to wait for the #1, the temperature rose along with people's blood pressure.

Would it KILL the MTA to use the P.A. system to make an announcement? Like, "We expect a #1 train within 15 minutes." Or ... "The #1 trains aren't running, so take the bus or a cab, instead."

And half the time when you're inside the trains, you cannot hear or understand what the driver is saying.

I wrote another posting a long time ago at how shocked I am at the state of public address systems in this city, especially after 9/11. It's appalling. Every American, whether you live here or not, should be OUTRAGED at the state of the poor systems here. Why? Well, if it's this bad in NYC, what's it like where YOU live?

I'll leave you w/this photo I took yesterday, to lighten the mood. It was at a shop in the West Village called Le Petit Puppy. How much is that doggie in the window? In NYC, probably more than we pay for two months' mortgage!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Still jetlagged, but ...

Wanted to write another short entry about our trip to Paris. We enjoyed several good meals with some fun folks. For instance, after we signed the final papers on the apt., we went out with Adrian, Mary Ellen and John--all instrumental in helping us find and buy the apt.--to Chez Omar, a restaurant in the Marais. Delicious food and even more delicious conversation!

For some reason, we never seem to tire of French pastry. Bring on the croissants, viennoise and pains au chocolats. Every morning is just fine with us. And we're still amazed at the multitude of yogurt choices in the supermarket. It's literally mind boggling! Yogurts of every flavor, texture, and calorie count adorn the shelves ... from fruits (from everyday to exotic) to sweets (caramel and chocolate and coffee, oh my!). Makes our choices look quite paltry, by comparison.

And the French media--and perhaps the French people?--love, absolutely LOVE, Barack Obama. His face is EVERYWHERE. All over the papers, every single day. Could Obama be the one to bring the U.S. back into favor around the world, starting with France? One can only hope.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bonjour de Paris!

Jeff and Mary have been in Paris this week. We signed the final documents on our teeny-tiny apt. (yes, even teenier and tinier than our place in Riverdale) and have been working on everything that comes next ... lots to do!

As you can see by the photo of Jeff and the Eiffel Tower, the weather has been a bit ... unpredictable. Not much rain, but lots of clouds; temperatures in the 60s, with a breeze at times. Overall, though, it's been pleasant in all respects.

We have also been filming an episode for HGTV's show "House Hunters International." Isn't that crazy?! With the help of our property consultant in Paris, Adrian Leeds (in the photo with us), we got the opportunity to be part of one of our favorite home shows! The producer and the crew have been awesome (see photo: Frederic with the camera, Dave the sound man, and David the producer).

How our lives have changed in such a short amount of time! We looked at each other tonight and thought, Holy cow! What are we doing? And what have we done?? Buying this apt. in Paris has been a huge commitment and a bigger leap of faith. But so far it has done nothing but bring us joy, so we're confident the sacrifices (read: eating lots of beans and rice for the next, oh, several years) will be worth it.

Here a couple more photos for you ... including one of a huge merry-go-round horse, one of the millions of items for sale at the biggest flea market we have ever seen, happening just down the block--and around several more blocks--near our apt. here.