Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas week 2009

It's almost Christmas ... hard to believe another year has gone by. Will be sending out our email Christmas greeting on the 24th, after we take a family photo. We'll post it here, too.

I think nearly everyone wishes 2009 a not-so-fond farewell. Even though the new year is really just an illusion, maybe that illusion will be enough to propel everyone forward -- into a better economy, a better mindset, a better everything.

Even though times are tough, we still have a home, jobs, enough money to keep bill collectors from calling, and food on the table. What more does one need?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Howard's Mend?

Is Howard Dean on to something or just crazy when he says the Senate shouldn't pass the president's health plan in its present form? Well, I can safely say he isn't crazy, despite what Fox and others would have you believe. I spoke with him numerous times when I was a reporter in Vermont in the mid-90s. He's not whacked.

The WH press secty criticized the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate, who has a track record on health care: he's a physician, is married to a physician, and as governor created a plan to cover virtually every child in his home state. So, he speaks from experience and Congress and the White House ought to listen to his advice, despite the bad blood between him and Rahm Emaneul, the WH chief of staff.

And contrary to the way the media is spinning it this morning, Dean isn't trying to derail the health care bill. He's trying to change the conversation to improve the bill. This is a historic opportunity that will pass by the next election, when it's likely fewer Dems will be in Congress. We don't need a perfect bill, here, but Dean's right: it could be a hell of a lot better. There's been way too much compromise with Republicans, who have no intention of passing anything. Just look at the economic plan passed yesterday. No Republican support. They screwed this country the last 8 years and seem determined to keep on pumping away. Not that the Dems have been much better. Both share responsibility for the state of the nation.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slideshow of Christmas Windows in NYC

All Christmas parties should resemble this one, depicted in a window at Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue.

They had the best windows by far of any of the stores. Click the photo to see the slideshow I posted on Flicker. You'll need a Facebook account to view them. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Househunters Episode in Paris rebroadcast!

If you've somehow managed to miss the show the past six months about our Paris pied-a-terre, it's airing again on Monday at noon Eastern/Pacific on HGTV (episode link for more info).

Mary just got back from a week there and said it still looks great, after more than 50% occupancy the last 11 months. She said it hardly looks like anyone's been there. Credit out management company - Adrian Leeds - and designer - Martine di Matteo - for recommending quality furnishings and then managing it well.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cold Spring on just a cool day

Just a sampling of some of the colors we saw in Cold Spring today. As much as I'd like to say I rode my bike there, we took the more comfortable route via the train. Nice ride, by the way. A lot less effort than the bike...

Mary took the photo at upper right (click on it for a larger version. I took the one below left, as we were waiting for the train home.

There's not a whole lot to do in Cold Spring, but we enjoyed ourselves on a nice, cool day outside the city, whiling away a few hours drinking hot chocolate in the town honky tonk, meandering through a handful of the village's seemingly dozens of antique shops, and strolling by this picturesque Episcopal church at bottom right. At bottom left is a sunset I captured from the moving train on the way home, somewhere south of Bear Mountain on the West side of the mighty Hudson River.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

New cat and old habit

We have a new kitty from the pound coming later today to join Sophia and keep her company. We'll post photos soon with the new all-black cat.

In the meantime, check out this lame NY Times story: The Battle Between the White House and Fox News.

This story reminds me of the blue code - police officers always backing their colleagues, even when they've done a misdeed - as the NY Times media critic criticizes the president for not meeting with Fox News because they aren't a legitimate news organization.

Well, Fox News isn't a legitimate news organization. They get a lot of eyeballs - so does Internet porn - but let's be truthful for a moment, NY Times, instead of trying to be "balanced." Fox News is run by a long-time Republican strategist and insider targeting viewers who want the right-wing perspective. It's aim is not to report the facts like CNN or the networks (who fall well short of the goal, but at least they try). The administration does risk wasting time and effort on answering critics from the bleachers in this approach however, and may wind up feeding the beast. But I certainly understand the motivation behind trying to counter lies.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Good bye, beautiful Chelsea

Our lovely cat Chelsea died today. She was 17.

Chelsea was always everyone's favorite our of three cats (we lost our dear Emma in June of this year; Sophia is still with us). She was so sweet, and she treated everyone she met as a potential new friend. Whenever anyone met Chelsea, they would always say, "What a pretty cat!" Her personality matched the beauty on the outside.

She was never cross, and she was affectionate beyond words. Put out your hand, and she was there, ready for a pet and maybe a little "thank you" meow.

Her favorite way to show us that affection was what we called "the head butt." She would look us in the eye, then lower her head and power it into your forehead. Sometimes she would do it rather forcefully! But always with so much genuine feeling. And she purred ALL the time. It's hard to remember a moment in her life when she wasn't purring, even when she slept.

Chelsea also acted as Mary's alarm clock: her nose to Mary's nose, every morning.

So many wonderful memories ... Chelsea will be with us forever.

We love you, our beautiful Chelsea.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bruce Saves!

During an otherwise fab weekend with Rob Landgren and Chris Rossi in Chicago, my football teams lost all around. Notre Dame won, USC lost and so did my beloved Steelers. We couldn't afford the $500 tickets for the NFL game, anyway, and then it rained so we were glad we didn't go. Was great to watch it on Rob's 75-inch plasma TV.

What saved the disappointment of the game from overshadowing the rest of the fun was what we did Sunday night. Rob's wife Teresa helped us get third-row seats to see Bruce Springsteen at the United Center!!! That's no misprint. We were in the third row left of the stage, so we had unobstructed views of the Boss (see photo above, taken with my camera phone).

While it was not the best Bruce show I've seen, it was still VERY, VERY good. Bruce on a bad night is better than almost all on their best night.

Thank you Brrruuuuuuuuuucccccce!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

OK, sometimes NYC is a cliche

Generally speaking, we encounter more nice people than rude folks here in NYC. On occasion, however, that generalization is severely tested.

We found ourselves treading water in a vat of obnoxiousness Friday night in several venues. At a free screening of the movie "Paris" we witnessed a tawdry trifecta. First there was a French guy seated in front of me playing with his Blackberry during the movie. To make matters worse, the guy seated next to me outdid him (see anger pictured at right - courtesy Wikimedia Commons - for a sense of this guy's outrage - only this bloke was short and not much of a threat physically to anyone, not even the diminutive aforementioned French guy). So the rude jerk (as I'll refer to the guy seated next to me from here forward), taps hard on the French guy's shoulder but says nothing. Getting only a glance from him, the rude guy proceeds to yell at him to turn off his phone, that he's bothering the people around him. Granted, I didn't notice the guy playing with his phone until the rude jerk informed the entire theater, and I'm not sure anyone else did either. Keep in mind, this is during the movie.

So, the French guy says something back and the guy yells again. He doesn't immediately put away his phone so the guy yells again. Finally, the guy puts away his phone. After the movie, they go at it again. At no point does either guy even hint at making a move to back up their words, but it was an annoyance nonetheless. Then the host of the evening - who only identified himself by name, not title, so we don't know if he was a NYU film prof or some dude from the line who volunteered or what. I'm thinking the latter, after he tried to prevent some woman in the audience from asking a question and then patronized her after she asked it and got her answer from the director. This all came after the host casually and obliquely remarked that Juliet Binoche would not be appearing as advertised, as if he were commenting on the weather. While the director was rather interesting, most people had come in hopes of seeing the Academy Award-winning actress. The film was pretty good, by the way.

Then on the way home, we encountered more obnoxiousness on the subway. I won't explain it, as it's just too stupid to get into. Really, this is a rarity to have multiple examples of obnoxiousness in a span of minutes here in NYC. People are mostly pretty helpful and considerate, but occasionally we are reminded how this city earned the reputation it has over the centuries.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Jeff's "new" 18-year-old bike

Well, no crashes on this morning's first ride on the '91 Merckx Corsa Extra, so that's a good start. Nobody else did and nothing broke. 3 for 3. My buddy Rob finished putting it together this weekend, so I was on it briefly yesterday to give it a little test before riding it for real on this morning's ride to Piermont. After buying the frame more than month ago and slowly collecting the components I was after, I was rather anxious to see what my patience and buck had purchased.

It was a great, smooth ride. It accelerates more quickly than my '89 Raleigh, so that's worth something. It will take me some time to get use to having STI (brake-lever) shifters, as I've been riding the Raleigh with down-tube shifters for many months now. I kept leaning down to make a shift this morning.

As you can see from the photo above, it's a rather colorful, distinctive bike (click on the photo for a larger view). As one my mechanic buddies said, they don't paint like that any more. I did get some long looks from some other older riders on steel-frames, today, including from a couple of guys who told me a couple weeks ago they wanted to buy it from me when they saw it the first time.

So, I can't complain. At this point, this is one sweet ride. My plan is to make this my weekend ride with the gang, and make my Raleigh my commuter bike.

Oh, why, you ask, do I ride old bikes? Well, if you're asking it's because you've never ridden a steel road bike or you've forgotten how it feels. It's just smooth. And this model - a professional level bike in its day - is a fraction of the cost of what the pros ride today.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New business?!

Oh, we forgot to tell you! We opened a little business! It's called Schiller's Liquor Bar, and handily, it's located right down the street from where Rachel now lives on the Lower East Side!

Naw, just kidding. But it is on our list of places to try. Rachel's new neighborhood is crammed with cool-looking bars and restaurants. We went to dinner last weekend at a nice, cute Italian place called Frankies 17. Very good food, moderately priced, good service. Can't beat that in NYC.

Schiller's appears to be a bit more ... lively. Every time we have walked by, it has been crowded with people (yes, mostly people younger than we are).

Wonder if Mary could get a free meal if she shows her driver's license?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Long time, no post: Subway reading

Been awhile since we have visited the blog. If you're still following, we really appreciate it!

It's amazing how much reading one can do on the subway. Truly a great way to block out the sensory overload that is summer on the subway.

In the past two weeks, Mary has read these books:

Lady Chatterley's Lover: Awesome. Still somewhat shocking, really.
Foreign Tongue: Chick lit (woman jilted, goes to Paris to mend her broken heart), but elevated by a philosophical discussion of translation.
French Dirt: True story of a New York man who, for a year, lives in a tiny town in the south of France and grows a garden. LOVED this book.
The Hours: Loved the movie. Loved the book even more.

Will try to post more often. City life is keeping us busy (plus Mary is going to the gym like a madwoman these days!).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Another celebrity sighting

During a rest break during Saturday's bicycle ride to Nyack, who should I spot walking unassumingly down the street of that quaint little town but actor/clown extraordinaire Bill Irwin (in a publicity photo at right from Topnews). I recognized him right away because he still had some facial growth like he does in this photo. "Waiting for Godot" (pronounced gawd-oh) runs through July 11, so he must retain his stubble. What a great show.

What I didn't recall was his name, until he was in the next block. If I had been thinking faster, I would have congratulated him on his incredible performance in Beckett's landmark play. As good as John Goodman, Nathan Lane and John Glover were, I thought Irwin gave the best performance. If you can't place him, he was most recently in the film "Rachel Getting Married," in which he played the father. You may also remember him joining Bobby McFerrin and Robin Williams in the 1988 music video "Don't Worry, Be Happy." He was the one wearing the top hat.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Familiar sites on morning commute

As I was pedaling to Central Park on 90th Street this morning, I saw Tim Gunn turning the corner north onto Broadway. He looks pretty much like this, at right, and like he does on Project Runway (which I've seen only because Mary and Rachel are big fans).

While I was riding in the park, I also saw some familiar names on the jersey of a fellow cyclist. If you look closely at the photo below, you'll see the name Bishop's Peak on the chest of a cycling jersey. That's the name of a winery in San Luis Obispo County, our former home. Oddly enough, the winery owners used the spelling not of the actual peak - named Bishop Peak - but of the misspelled Bishop's Peak Elementary School. The peak's name is without the apostrophe s. Oh well. I bet the wine is good.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Good bye, dear Emma

We had to say farewell to one of our cats today. Emma, the middle one, was 14 years old. She started to get very sick about 3 weeks ago, although she had been losing weight even before that (those of you who knew her know she had some weight to spare!).

Turns out she had a large tumor growing in her belly, so taking her to the vet today to be put to sleep was the right thing to do. Jeff and Mary were with her at the end.

Jeff got Emma from the animal shelter in Atascadero in 1996, when she was a year old. So she was part of our family for a long time.

Emma was a very sweet cat: good natured, easygoing, rather funny. She had a meow that sounded more like a bird chirping, kind of a squawk. She also loved to lick anything plastic, including bags or photos that happened to be lying around. Water was her favorite thing: anywhere, anytime. When Mary would take a bath, she would often stand with her paws on the edge and wait for bubbles to play with.

Chelsea and Sophia will surely miss their friend, as will we.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rerun Alert: Househunters International Program on our Paris Apartment

HGTV will rebroadcast the Househunters International episode Monday at 2 a.m. and 10 p.m.

For those of you who missed it, here's another chance to see what the place looks like. For those of you who have seen it once before and forgotten it, this is NOT the episode where Jerry, Kramer, Elaine and George get stuck on the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe. I hope you'll all enjoy it anyway.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Get "Up" in 3D

OK, you've got to go see this fun movie. Amazing effects, cool story ... you won't be disappointed. We saw it in 3D and it's worth wearing those funky glasses. Take my word for it.

Go see this movie, now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Parking Ballet

In an "only in New York" moment, I was lucky enough to finally capture an intricate dance that takes place each weekday morning on 120th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam.

Drivers remain in their cars and pull out in staggered formation just enough to let the street sweeper pass next to the curb. Then they put it in reverse and return to their parking spaces, get out and walk to work.

Everywhere else in the world such parking habits would provide a daily ration of ticket income for police, but here in what is supposed to be the hardest-assed city in the country people find a way to make it work. Who says New Yorkers are rude and nasty?

Well, some of them are...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More sonorous than the cactus

... was last night's performance of "33 Variations," starring Jane Fonda. The play itself was a bit trifling, but nonetheless very enjoyable--especially because it concerns Beethoven, one of Mary's favorites. And it was exciting to see such a big star up-close (from the second row, no less!).

She was nominated for a Tony award yesterday morning, so she was probably in a particularly good mood to step onstage for us.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Cactus Concerto

So, how exactly does someone "play" a cactus?

Very carefully, of course.

Certainly with less abandon than one plays chad. We heard both vegetation (vox vegi?) during a percussion performance in a Chelsea studio (where else?) the other night with Mary's friend and colleague Pierre and his mother, Claudine. Well, at least we had a good meal afterward. While I admire the performers and their earnest efforts, atonal sounds just aren't my thing. I guess my musical tastes are not that experimental. My brain keeps searching for a melody, and it just frustrates the rest of my body.

So, just chalk it up to one of those interesting experiences one finds pretty much only in NYC. At least it was spent with good friends.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Last Sunday

Last Sunday, Jeff and Mary went on a hike with our friend (and Mary's colleague) Pierre and his mom, Claudine, who is visiting from France (she lives near Paris). It was warm but not "overbearing" at Bear Mountain, which is about a 1-hour train ride from the Bronx. It was nice to get outside--Mary has been a bit of a couch potato lately. A big "merci" to Pierre for helping Mary up the mountain. His expert climbing skills came in handy.

This weekend won't be quite so scenic. First of all, the weather is supposed to be rainy (yuck). Second, we are starting to move Rachel out of her dorm, so we'll be packing boxes and loading them into a rental car most of Saturday afternoon.

Saturday evening, however, we are spending once again with Pierre and Claudine, seeing a little concert at an art gallery. That's something we've never done before!

Next week will be a whir of activity. Tuesday night we are seeing Jane Fonda in a Broadway play called "33 Variations." Our run of luck with plays has been very good lately, so we hope it continues with this one. And how often do you get to see Jane Fonda in person, anyway?

After that, we will finish moving Rachel out of the dorm and take off for California for 10 days. Busy times ahead!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Early birthday present ... Maybe I have found what I'm looking for

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsIt's far from September, but I've already purchased my birthday present - tickets to see U2 at Giants Stadium on Sept. 25, one week exactly after the nearly-big 49. Been following this amazing band for 25 years but never seen them live. Felt like I had after seeing their concert movie last summer, but live is something else. Should be an adventure.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 17, 2009

Baby Girl Anderson born yesterday!

Still no name for Mary's newest little relative. Her niece, Debbie, and Debbie's husband Wyatt are the proud parents of a baby girl.
Congratulations to Debbie and Wyatt. And to Mary's sister Carolyn and brother-in-law Ted: grandparents, finally! :-)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Waiting for Godot

We saw "Waiting for Godot" last night on Broadway. It hasn't officially opened yet (still in previews), so the tix were quite reasonable.

It stars (from left in photo) John Glover, Bill Irwin, Nathan Lane, and John Goodman--all well-known actors outside of their stage careers.

Bill Irwin (Vladimir) and Nathan Lane (Estragon) were excellent at counterbalancing one another in the lead roles. John Goodman was larger than life, as you might expect, but excellent as Pozzo. John Glover was decidedly scary as Lucky. (Our only concern was that Goodman has grown so ... huge. He is a serious candidate for a heart attack or stroke!)

This play really takes on additional meaning in the current times. Although it has always been open to various interpretations, Beckett once said decisively that Godot does not stand for God (especially because he wrote it first in French, and Godot has no relation to the French word for God, which is dieu).

However, the religious idea of redemption is clearly present, as is human beings' constant search to make meaning out of, perhaps, meaninglessness. We all want believe our presence here on this planet is significant.

At the very least, we want someone to know we were here.

P.S. The theater where we saw the show is called Studio 54, the site of the infamous nightclub.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Another life is about to begin

As we write this, Mary's niece Debbie is one day past her due date. Baby Girl Anderson will be born sometime soon. Something to celebrate, even within our grief for the loss of Mary's dad.

So, we wait ... and are so looking forward to meeting this new little person!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Henry Gustav Herman Schiller, 1918-2009

Mary's father died this morning. He was sitting in a chair in his hospital room, and he simply went to sleep for the last time.

He was 90 years old, and had been in very good health until this past Christmas. He had been hospitalized since late February with a couple of major problems that were competing with one another: blood clots in his legs, and a bleeding ulcer. We think his body, and his literal and figurative heart, were finally too tired to go on.

He and his wife, Maryann, had moved from San Luis Obispo, Calif., to Florida in September. Mary's brother Tom had visited in Jan. Carolyn (Mary's sister) and Mary saw him in March, which was when this photo was taken.

Rest in peace Dad/Grandpa/Great-Grandpa/Hank. We love you and miss you so much already.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

French frustration

(This is Mary.) I am at that point in studying a foreign language where the progress feels sooooo slooooow. My current teacher, Mme. Sorg, is very good. She is from Paris, and she has been a stickler for solid pronunciation and doesn't hesitate to correct us when we make a mistake. All good.

But there comes a point when you are learning the fine details, and trying to acquire more idioms, when it just feels like you have hit a wall and are slowly trying to climb it without the right tools. I climb up, then slide back down again.

I am trying not to let this frustration dissuade me from continuing. I am determined to get my French to a good level over the next year. And if I am honest about it, I really can see an improvement since I first started studying it again last fall. Talking with Rachel helps, and I may enlist the help of my friend Pierre more formally.

Meanwhile, I continue to watch one or two French movies a week, listen to French TV, read as much French as possible and hope that one day, I will approximate an American speaking decent French!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Night out

We rarely go out to fancy dinners in NYC--for two reasons, really. Neither of us is a real "foodie." I mean, we recognize good food from bad, of course, but our palates are not extremely sophisticated. (How many Americans' are?) And second, it is very expensive to eat at anyplace more than a diner, basically!

But last night we made an exception and accepted an invitation by Mary's colleague and friend, Pierre, to go to dinner with him and a few other people: a friend of his from California, Christine; his cousin Vincent, in town on a business trip; and two of Vincent's friends (whom Pierre had not met): Paul and Stephanie.

It turned out to be a very nice evening. We really enjoyed meeting some new people, and you couldn't have asked for a nicer group to hang out with for a few hours. Vincent and Paul both work in finance; Stephanie (Paul's fiancee) works in a relatively new field, which is marketing for law firms.

We ate at Craftbar, near Union Square, which is owned by the bald judge on Top Chef (Tom something-or-other). The food was good, but pricey--it is New York, after all. The wine was a bit more notable than the food, in Mary's opinion. Afterwards we went to the West Village to a very nice bar called Ditch Plains (the name seems to refer to a surfing spot off Long Island). Mary actually flew solo for this part of the evening; Jeff had gone home already to rest up for a long bike ride Sunday.

Anyway, the previous night, Pierre and Christine had spent some time in the bar sitting right next to Kiefer Sutherland. Alas, no celebrities appeared while we were there Saturday night. But we did enjoy some crackling conversation.

Mary would like to take a moment here to dispel a myth, one which--if all the transit cuts go through--may prove to be true soon! But for right now, it is a myth that it is completely unsafe to ride the subway late at night, at least to where we live (yes, even to the Bronx!). At 2:30 am, the subway was filled with people. When Mary got off the subway, as usual there were police cars nearby because the stop at 242nd is right near the train yard.

We do wonder, with all the budget cuts to the MTA and the police force, how the city will change in the next couple of years. What always amazes us, too, is how little Bush was willing to do for New York City after 9/11. The whole way the money for increased security was doled out ... remember that? And with the recession and all the ensuing problems, it seems like this city is in for a drastic change.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Our TV episode

We were able to watch our House Hunters episode this weekend (thank you, Robert, for recording it for us!).

Not too bad ... actually, we were pleased with how it turned out. Amazing, though, how much footage they actually shot vs. how much finally appeared on the show. Six days for 23 minutes' worth!

Thanks again for all the fun emails you sent us. Too bad we don't get residual checks for the reruns!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

While we were on TV ...

... we were actually attending a magnificent Broadway play, "Exit the King."

Not only is the play itself a master-piece, so is the production. If you have a chance to see it, you absolutely MUST go (it runs through mid June).

Geoffrey Rush was astonishing. Susan Sarandon, too--as was the whole cast. It was a small group, and each actor brought something wonderful to the play.

Standing ovation at the end. As well as a few tears.

Here is the NY Times review.

We have heard from some of you!

Apparently we were actually on HGTV last night, as several of our friends and family have sent us messages about the show. We are watching it tonight at our friend Robert's place downstairs — he was kind enough to record it for us.

A commenter here asked us what we did during the renovation. We do have some "before" photos, which you can view here on our Flicker page.

Basically, we took what was a squished one bedroom apartment and made it a large studio (that's large by Parisian standards). We actually did not change the original floorplan. The only structural change, other than taking down the bedroom wall, was enlarging the bathroom and moving the bathroom door around to the other side. Originally, when you walked into the apartment you walked straight into the bathroom! So we extended the bathroom a few feet toward the front door and then moved the bathroom door around to the right side, facing into the living room (but you cannot see the throne from there!).

Otherwise, the layout is the same as it was before, mostly to try and save some Euros. We did feel, though, that the place would feel larger without the bedroom wall. It may seem illogical to turn it into a studio, but it really seemed like the best choice, considering the layout.

Then, we literally replaced every single thing in the apartment except the windows, which were already very nice: heavy-duty and double-paned. Floors, fixtures, toilet, sinks, cabinets, everything was ripped out and replaced. We also wanted to make the apartment romantic, so we chose the decor with the help of our designer, Martine di Matteo, and got a lot of advice from our consultant/property manager/, Adrian Leeds. See them both on this YouTube video talking about design plans for Adrian's apartment on La Place des Vosges.

Welcome to our petit nid d'amour!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tomorrow night on HGTV ...

Friday, March 27, 10 pm Eastern and Pacific: Mary and Jeff will be on HGTV's program House Hunters International!

If you watch, leave us a comment ... but be kind! :-)

Friday, March 20, 2009

It SNOWED today

I guess the weather gods didn't know today was the first day of spring. The snow stopped pretty early, probably because those same weather gods got an earful from all the New Yorkers who were angry about WAKING UP THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING AND SEEING SNOWFLAKES!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Examined Life

Last night, Rachel and Mary took the subway down to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to attend a screening of a film called "An Examined Life." The filmmaker, Astra Taylor, was on hand to take questions afterwards, as was Peter Singer, a well-known philosopher interviewed in the film and pictured at left.

Oh, and by the way, Rachel ADORES Peter Singer! He teaches at Princeton, one of her top choices for grad school.

Here are some notable ideas and quotes from the film, which included interviews from several noted philosophers on such questions as meaning and morality.

Cornel West:
Philosophy is about exploring our finite situation: desire in the face of death, wrestling with dialogue, dogmatism, democracy, and power.

"A philosopher is a lover of wisdom."

It takes great courage to examine yourself and your life.

Truth (small "t") means allowing suffering to speak. The question is, how do I sustain my journey to truth once I surrender myself to my fallibility?

"I'm a jazzman in the world of ideas."

"I'm a Christian, not a Puritan. Pleasure has its place."

The whole notion of harmony, wholeness is a Romantic idea that we can never really reach. We have this idea that we can somehow create harmony, and when we can't, we suffer great disappointment. Forget this idea! "Ride on the dissonance. Begin with the wreckage, like a bluesman does." "The blues is personal catastrophe lyrically expressed."

"Why do you need the whole thing? You can't have it all, so just put that idea aside."

"Making sense of meaninglessness is a discipline in and of itself."

Avital Ronell:
Regarding the search for meaning: "I'm very skeptical of this promise of meaning, which has led to a quick grasp to things like God and religion." "The search for meaning has been socially devastating."

“Leave things open, admitting we haven’t understood. It’s frustrating, but necessary.”

Peter Singer :
Moral problem today: What should we spend our money on? (He has written a new book on this topic: The Life You Can Save.)

Applied ethics is an example of making academic studies more relevant to the questions of today. It's risky, though, because often it challenges common-sense morality and accepted ideas.

"We make life meaningful by connecting with a cause."


Here is a review of the film:

And here's a clip:

And finally, here is a list of the philosophers who appeared:
K. Anthony Appiah
Judith Butler
Michael Hardt
Martha Nussbaum
Avital Ronnell
Peter Singer
Cornel West
Slavoj Zizek

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

French, French, French

We are both taking French classes right now, through the Chazen Institute at Columbia Business School. The classes meet once a week (2 hours) for 8 weeks. Mary is in a high intermediate class, and Jeff is in a "fast track" beginner class that does a quick review of some basic grammar.

Mary took one last semester, as well, and has really noticed a difference in both comprehension and speaking. Over the summer, we intend to keep taking classes somewhere ... still investigating possibilities.

In the meantime, Mary converses in French with Rachel whenever she can. Rachel's French is way better than both of ours, and she freely corrects Mary's goofs!

One of these days, instead of calling us the Ballinger/Schiller/Dlugatch family, you can simply call us the "French" family. :-)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What the ...????

A.I.G. to Pay $100 Million in Bonuses After Huge Bailout

Read article here:

Back from Florida

Mary returned to NYC Thursday afternoon. Her dad is doing a bit better and should be going home from the hospital this weekend.

NYC is friggin' cold! What the hell is going on here? It's mid-March, and yesterday with the wind chill it was 17 degrees when Mary walked to the subway!

Jeff is going to get a rude awakening when he returns from California this evening. Hope he drank in all that warmth, because he will need it.

The good thing is, at least it has been sunny. Guess one can find the bright side of any situation if one looks hard enough.

Here is some good news: Rachel is home for spring break! She and Mom are going to hang out and have some fun this weekend. Maybe see a movie this afternoon or just walk around the city together. It is supposed to be a whopping 48 degrees today, so maybe we can put the down coats away for awhile.

Bragging for a minute: Rachel is having a STUPENDOUS semester at NYU. Straight A student. Grader for a logic class. Starting to prepare for PhD applications. What a great kid we have!

Friday, March 6, 2009

This week ...

has been a bit intense for us. Mary's dad has been in the hospital for awhile, and she is leaving Sunday to go visit him in Florida for a few days. He turned 90 last August with very few health problems. Never been in the hospital for anything serious, never had any chronic and difficult conditions. So we feel very fortunate about that.

But now, things seem to have changed rather dramatically, and Mary needs to see what is happening and talk to the doctors.

Will try to keep up the blog.

The weather in NYC was absolutely miserable this past week. You may have heard that we had a terrible snowstorm at the beginning of the week. It stayed cold and windy, but today it finally warmed up to about 50. Maybe we have started to turn the corner toward spring??

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Two years ago today

Today marks the two-year anniversary of our move to the East Coast. Hard to believe, really. They always say that time flies, but it's more than that. Life flies.

When we moved here, our daughter was a freshman at NYU, trying to figure out her life's path. Now, she is a junior planning to apply to PhD programs in philosophy to pursue her dream to become a philosophy professor.

As for Jeff and Mary, two years ago Mary was working as an online teacher while we sorted everything out. We had no full-time work and weren't sure of much of anything. Now, we both have good jobs at Columbia with amazing benefits. We own a small but comfortable co-op apt in Riverdale and an investment property in Paris. Not bad for two years!

Like everyone, we are feeling the pain of the recession, both in our own lives and those of our friends and family. Amazing what just two years can do in that regard.

Which makes us hopeful that two years from now, the economy will be turning around, and our lives may be even better than they are today. We are looking forward to seeing what a new administration will do, and whether or not our country can put itself on a better path.

The only thing that hasn't changed for us in two years is that we miss our family and friends so very much. Yes, we have started to form new relationships here. We have met some lovely people with whom we hope to have long-lasting friendships. But that does not mean we have stopped thinking of the people we left behind in California. On the contrary, we think of you every day and are thankful you are still in our hearts, and we in yours. Thank goodness for email and cell phones!

So here is a virtual toast to two years in NYC!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday, March 27, 10 pm

That is when our episode of "House Hunters International" airs on HGTV!

Two things about this:
1) We no longer have TV, so we can't even watch it at home
2) We aren't able to watch it even at a friend's house, because it is the same night we are going to see Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon in the play "Exit the King"!

HGTV will send us a DVD about a week after it airs. Maybe we can find someone here to tape it for us, so we don't have to wait quite so long to see it.

Mark your calendars! We just hope we don't look too ridiculous, that's all. You know how they edit these, um, reality shows to make things more interesting ...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kitties are fine and healthy

Chelsea (16), Emma (nearly 14) and Sophia (8) are weathering the NY winter better than we are, as evidenced by their perky appearance above. I think it helps that they've been indoor kitties all their lives. No dodging cars and varmints for these felines. Nothing but constant warmth for these fuzz balls. Click on the photo and you'll see a larger version of the trio.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Excuse me"

Our NYC lesson for today.

On the NYC subway, the words "excuse me" never mean "excuse me." They always mean ... well, here's a selection of possible meanings:

1) Get your fat ass out of my way so I can get on the train
2) Get your fat ass out of the my way so I can get OFF the train
3) Take those ear buds out of your ears so you can hear me ask you politely to get your fat ass out of my way so I can get on/off the train
4) Move your crap (aka backpack--which should NEVER be worn on a crowded train; giganto purse; giganto briefcase; giganto purse, briefcase and backpack; overflowing grocery bags; suitcase) so you can get your fat ass out of my way so I can get on/off the train.

That about covers it.

It also works when trying to shove oneself into a seat surrounded by people who are, frankly, taking up more than their fair share of space.

"Excuse me" said twice would include all of the above plus a curse word in front of "fat ass," "way" and "train."

So now you know what "excuse me" means on the NYC subway.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Teeny tiny computer

Mary is typing this blog entry on a teeny tiny computer she just bought--a Dell Mini, with an 8-inch screen. The keyboard is pretty small, so it is taking some time to get used to it. She bought it to take with her to work so she could write at lunchtime. Her old Dell laptop is very large (it is a widescreen) and really too heavy to carry around, especially with her back troubles.

So she decided to buy a used Dell Mini from the Dell Outlet. Didn't even know there was such a thing until recently.

It certainly doesn't appear to be used; it's in really good shape. Has everything she needs, including wireless Internet access and even a tiny Webcam (Skype, anyone?).

Amazing that a computer can really be this small. It is still amazing that we can have computers in our home! Remember when they took up whole floors of buildings?

The times, they are a-changin'. Well actually, they have already changed!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Working out

No, we don't make resolutions. But Mary had decided a few weeks ago that she wanted to possibly join a gym. Never a gym rat, though, she has always been the type who enjoys exercise classes, walking, playing tennis, swimming and such.

But there may be a gym she's willing to join: the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan. She decided to do a trial run by buying a card worth 10 classes, just to see how she liked going there regularly. So far, she has been taking two classes a week. And what a pleasure they are! Not only are the teachers good, but all the people she has interacted with have been really welcoming and friendly.

After her card is up, she may decide to fork over the $ for a membership. It's an amazing facility, complete with a gorgeous indoor pool, huge fitness room, clean-as-a-whistle locker rooms and more. Check it out here:

Suppose you could say, the gym is working out!

The goal is to replace a few pounds of flab with a few pounds of muscle, without losing any major weight. Can she do it? We'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Kobe Bryant Show

Last night, Jeff, Mary & Rachel saw the Lakers play the Knicks! It was the first time Rachel had seen the Lakers play live, and the first time for all of us to see Kobe in person.

What a player. It was like watching a ballet. Any move he wanted to make, he made. Any shot he wanted to take, he took. He was absolutely mesmerizing--all of us are still in a beautiful haze created by watching Kobe Bryant on the court.

He scored 61 points, the most any player has scored in Madison Square Garden. Needless to say, the Lakers won the game, 126-117.

Here are a few quick snapshots from last night. GO LAKERS!!! KOBE--MVP!!!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A few views from the weekend

A bit of whimsy for the weekend with the ice cream and duck. The winding sidewalk is our view every day as we head down to the subway (Manhattan College is inside the fence on the left). Mary just thought that building looked cool (on the Upper West Side, near 76th/Broadway). The colorful chairs are outside Rachel's dorm downtown.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Mary just watched the movie "Manhattan" for, oh, about the 500th time. The first time she saw it was in the theater, when she was in high school. She went back and saw it a second time and has been in love with the movie ever since.

If you are one of the few people on the planet who hasn't seen it, you must. It's such a beautiful depiction of the city itself; Woody Allen's love for Manhattan shows in every frame.

There are times when the city feels pretty gritty and not so beautiful (for Mary, it has had that quality lately), and it helps to take a step back from it and see it through an artist's lens. For example, last night Mary went to a movie with her friend Pierre at the AMC Empire, on 42nd Street. While not exactly "gritty," that area of the city is really tough to take: overwhelming and flashy and artificial. It's always a shame when someone visiting the city spends so much time in that part of town, because it's just not what New York really is.

Then you watch a film like "Manhattan" and you see the magnificent skyline, the lights, the parks, the streets with their interesting storefronts ... the place hasn't changed much since the movie was released in 1977. And then you can step outside and look, really look, at what's around you with a new appreciation for it.

So today when she takes a trip downtown to see Rachel, Mary will bring her camera and catch a few shots of the real Manhattan. Stay tuned for this "artist's" point of view on the city this weekend.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Arianna Huffington, Nora Ephron, Gwen Ifill ...

Over the past few days, we have attended two events at the 92nd Street Y. Now, if you clicked on the link, you'll notice that this is no ordinary Y. This place has amazing events all year long: guest speakers, for example, on any and every topic you can imagine.

Last week, we attended a panel discussion led by Arianna Huffington, who brought along several of her most popular bloggers, including Nora Ephron, Erica Jong, Craig (of craigslist) and others. It was an interesting discussion of current events, and Mary even asked a question of Arianna: what did she think of the future of traditional media? Her answer wasn't surprising, which was that traditional media will survive ... but only if they have a significant online presence. Overall, it was a fun evening, rather light in tone--Nora Ephron had a few zingers.

Last night, however, was really great: Gwen Ifill was interviewed by (her best friend!) Michelle Norris, of NPR. We have admired Gwen Ifill for a long time, and it was wonderful to see her in person and hear her perspectives on current events and the future of minority politicians, specifically those she wrote about in her new book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

Anyway, she has a funny sense of humor and responded wonderfully to many questions--had some pithy, but non-critical, comments about the debate she moderated between Biden and Palin! You may recall she had a broken ankle at the time. Her favorite moment occurred before the debate, she said, when Sarah Palin's father came up to her and said, "I hear you've got a bum hoof!"

It's exciting to be in NYC and have access to events like this (tickets are relatively cheap, too). We intend to see more at the 92nd Street Y!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama and the Steelers!

It's almost too good to be true. Obama's in the White House and my Pittsburgh Steelers are in the Super Bowl. Granted, the first one actually matters to each of us, the entire country and perhaps every other living thing on the planet.

Just so we don't get too caught up in Obamamania that we harbor unrealistic expectations of what he can do with the colossal mess Bush has left us with, let's not forget that the new president is a real human being. The photo above of Obama's early cycling days is proof, eh, and worth a grin

I found this on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, a very cool Web site dedicated to "Streetstyle and bike advocacy from the world's bike capital." The Steelers photo is from ESPN's story, Are the Steelers the greatest franchise?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Busy week!

The blog got put by the wayside this week. Aside from being a busy workweek, Rachel was still at home and very sick, so no time for blogging! Fortunately, she is doing better now and will be able to move into her dorm this weekend, since school starts Tuesday.

It has been bitterly cold in NYC this week, and of course, there was the crash of the airplane into the Hudson River. Thank God everyone survived! Great photo here by the AP. Click on the photo to read the latest story.

Friday, January 9, 2009


This morning, when Mary was about to board the subway (which makes its final stop at 242nd Street, where she boards), the first 4 cars each had 2 homeless men sleeping in them. She went to the 5th car and found "only" one sleeping there.

Yes, we routinely see homeless people on the subway, and we did last winter, too. But not this many, this often.

Last week, Mary saw a man on the subway without shoes, when it was probably 20 degrees outside. If her feet had been the same size as his ...

One of Mary's co-workers said that Penn Station has really started having a problem with homeless people, and the police have had to crack down. More and more of them beg for food as opposed to money, as well.

Our theory is that the shelters are becoming more crowded because of the economic disaster, forcing the "career homeless" into public view. Here's a lede from a NY Times article from October 2008: "More families entered New York City’s homeless shelter system in September than in any other month since data has been collected." The article says that in Sept. 2008, nearly 1500 families entered shelters in NYC: a record since they started keeping track 25 years ago.

The city feels as if it's walking a tightrope right now, teetering on the brink of falling back into the destitution of recent decades. If that happens, frankly I hope all three of us are able to move somewhere else.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A good start to the new year

Rachel gave us a wonderful gift for Christmas: lunch at L'Ecole, the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute in NY. The meals are prepared by the student chefs and served in a lovely setting in the SoHo area of downtown.

Here are some photos of the food, just to make your mouth water. Jeff started with smoked salmon, Mary with a squash terrine. Main course: Jeff, a beautifully prepared pork chop, while Mary chose the monkfish with lentil side dish. Dessert was a chocolate souffle with vanilla sauce and a creme brulee made with pistachios and chocolate. Highly recommended, especially for the price. It truly was a gourmet meal.

In the evening, we had a lovely dinner at Pisticci with Rachel's dear friend Katelyn and her mom, Carla.,who had been in NYC all week. Rachel and Katelyn have been friends since they were 5! (Carla's mother also made the trip but unfortunately was a bit tired and couldn't join us for dinner.) Katelyn now attends UCSB and wants to spend her life working with animals. Carla lives in SLO and works for a company that runs 42 blood banks throughout the country. It was so wonderful to see them.
Happy New Year, everyone!