Stuff I Like

Amazing Encounters

Yes, I know, normal people drive a few hours to relax at a beach house for vacation. I simply don’t fit that mold, which is why I just returned from a stay halfway around the world in the Timbavati private reserve section of Kruger National Park in South Africa, near the border with Mozambique. This is deep in “the bush,” animals roaming freely without fences across an area that totals about 7,500 square miles (bigger than Connecticut, smaller than New Jersey). My base camp didn’t even have fences. Monkeys stole bananas at breakfast, and guides walked me to my tent each night in case hyenas or leopards were lurking. It was exhilarating, and I can’t wait to go back. Here’s a look at just a few of the amazing encounters I was privileged to experience. All photographs Copyright 2015, Imagine Media LLC

Allow Me to Tempt You…

In just a couple of weeks, the December issue of Yachting magazine will be on newsstands. One of the features includes my take on the latest must-have toy for superyachts: the personal submersible. I descended to more than 500 feet below sea level in the $3 million machine shown below. (That’s me in the orange T-shirt, in a seat normally reserved for Smithsonian Institution scientists.)

Seriously—they pay me to do this stuff. Wow!


My Favorite Boating Article in a Long, Long Time

thresholdThe August issue of Yachting magazine, out this week, contains my favorite article in a long, long time. I got to write the story of a couple’s travels aboard their 54-foot sailing yacht—which they have cruised some 38,000 miles around the world since the year 2000. I learned about them in a press release from the Cruising Club of America, which gave them its Far Horizons Award earlier this year. I was absolutely thrilled when they agreed not only to be interviewed, but also to share lots of photographs from their travels with Yachting‘s readers.

This couple really inspired me. They are not what you might expect from people being featured in Yachting magazine, where we often write about boats owned by the world’s multimillionaires and billionaires. Instead, he’s a retired airline pilot, and she’s a physician assistant. They were able to build their dream boat thanks to some good fortune in the dotcom stock market. They don’t have a captain, and they don’t have a crew. They are real do-it-yourself adventurers, seeing the farthest reaches of the world at the helm of their own boat, by their own wits, and of their own strength. They are down to earth, practical people who are out there living the dream that so many people share, but upon which so few people act. I absolutely loved talking with them and writing about them. It was truly my privilege.

I hope readers will enjoy this article as much as I enjoyed creating it. Please, grab the August issue of Yachting and turn to Page 38. If these folks have the same effect on you that they had on me, then you might just be inspired to set your own course for a far horizon.


My Two-Week Hurricane Sandy Blackout

That was me that you saw on your television, or at least somebody whose life looked an awful lot like mine after Hurricane Sandy hit my home state of New Jersey. Ironically, you saw the devastation before I did. My power went out on October 29—and stayed out for two full weeks. I couldn’t see television, couldn’t get online, had no phone service (even the cell towers were damaged), and couldn’t even get a newspaper because the trucks couldn’t get through the debris to deliver. My days became filled with basic survival, everything from waiting in hours-long gas lines to keeping the firewood stacked for warmth after the sun went down. The local food stores, at least the ones that managed to reopen, looked like they had been looted bare. The shelves are still only half-full as I write this fourteen days after the nightmare began.

Even still, I feel thankful that my home was spared the worst of the storm’s destruction. I have a roof over my head, my power is finally back, and nobody I know was seriously injured or killed.

In that vein, I took some time to make note of all the good things that came with Hurricane Sandy, at least the way I experienced the storm. I’m going to try to remember these, as opposed to the so many frustrating moments of the past two weeks:

  • As the house gets colder from lack of heat, the wine becomes perfectly chilled.
  • No WiFi + no telephones + no cell service = reading, uninterrupted.
  • Neighbors helping neighbors, and becoming even better friends.
  • Fire-roasted potatoes.
  • Watching seasons one through four of “The West Wing” back-to-back via DVD on my laptop, as if my Aaron Sorkin idolatry required any further stoking.
  • Getting to swing an axe like Paul Bunyan to break up and remove downed trees all over the yard.
  • $12 plush squeaky toys sitting idle while the dogs went crazy for fallen sticks and branches.
  • The sheer bliss of an occasional hot shower.
  • Noticing that my stinky, loud, gas-guzzling generator’s refill cap is audaciously labeled “Fresh Start.”
  • People waiting politely in gas lines that were one, two, or three hours long.
  • Local handymen and electricians doing work at fair prices instead of gouging their community.
  • The fact that Nicola’s Pizza, somehow, was the only building left with power after the storm—and that the owners showed up to serve three hot meals a day, never knowing what would be available for them to cook.
  • My Dad scouring his own area for gas cans, which were sold out for sixty miles, and then delivering them to me so I’d have a three-day supply to keep the generator going.
  • Rediscovering long-forgotten sweat shirts at the bottom of the drawer, when doing laundry became impossible.
  • Happening to be at Lowe’s when a truckload of Crock-Pots arrived—and having a single working kitchen outlet to use one.

Apparently, I Go Gaga for Celebrity Chefs

One of my new cookbooks. Lots of good stuff inside, including Bobby Flay's autograph.

My sister’s Christmas present to me this year was two tickets to Mohegan Sun Winefest—specifically, to Winefest on the day that a number of Food Network stars were scheduled to give demonstrations and sign cookbooks.

Now, I’m happy to admit that I watch the Food Network all the time. I love to cook and learn new recipes. And, yes, I also love to watch chefs build 7-foot-tall cakes that come crashing down in the heat of competition. I’m even happy to occasionally attempt a competition myself. What I didn’t know about yours truly until this past weekend at Winefest, though, is that I’m also a huge fan of celebrity chefs themselves. I apparently get as excited in their presence as Los Angeles tourists do when Brad Pitt saunters by.

I first realized that I had a problem when I arrived at the table of cookbooks for sale. I immediately bought three—for the primary purpose of having them autographed later that day. I then, at regular intervals throughout the afternoon, abandoned the all-you-can-drink wine tasting area for the stand-in-line-and-get-a-signature area. I felt positively drunk on life as Bobby Flay, Robert Irvine, and Mary Ann Esposito (of PBS fame) all gave me their John Hancocks. I even managed to make Flay and Irvine laugh by asking them about another celebrity chef, my all-time favorite, Anne Burrell.

The moment when I knew for sure that I am some kind of junkie came as I was leaving the autograph line with Robert Irvine’s “Nice smile, Kim!” forever emblazoned in black ink on the inside cover of his cookbook. I still had it in my hand as I turned to see another Food Network star nearby.

“There’s Iron Chef Marc Forgione, right there!” I shouted pretty much directly into my friend’s ear.

She looked at me as if I were her teenage daughter screaming about Justin Bieber.

So there you have it. I’m a borderline celebrity chef groupie. And here I thought I was just a fan of home cooking and great recipes. Go figure.

Citi Cards Fraud Protection: Creepishly Effective

I received a robo-call around 6 o’clock last night from the computer at Citi Cards fraud protection. It said the company had seen some unusual activity on my credit card account and asked me to call immediately. I dialed and got to a human being, who verified my identity and made sure I had my card with me.

“When was the last time you used your card?” the woman asked.

“This afternoon at lunch, around 2 o’clock” I answered. “The bill was about $35.”

“Well, we have a charge here from just over an hour ago of $82.93 on a website called Dr. Jays,” she said. “Did you make that charge?”

“I did not,” I said. “I’ve never heard of that website.”

“Oh, look at that—they’re trying to put through another purchase right now,” the lady said. “Let me cancel this card immediately. Somebody has gotten hold of your number.”

I was of course thankful that Citi Cards had caught the fraudulent charge and notified me so quickly—literally within two hours of the thief using my credit card number for the first time—but I was surprised that an $82.93 charge to a website would trigger the system. I use my credit card all the time to buy things online, including everything from e-books for my Kindle to much more expensive items like plane tickets for my travel-writing assignments.

“I’m just curious,” I said to the woman, “about why a charge of that amount would set off your system. How does that work?”

“The charge did not fit your normal spending pattern,” she said, without elaborating further.

It’s definitely approaching defcon creepy on the Big Brother scale to think that Citi Cards is keeping track not just of what I spend, but also of the types of websites where I spend it. But then again, it’s also really impressive on the consumer protection scale that they were able to catch the thief who stole my credit card number after a single purchase was attempted.

So I think kudos are in order for Citi Cards this morning, with a small side dish of paranoia that they’re reading this blog before I even get it posted online.

Thanks, American Tourister, for a Disgusting Job Well Done

If you, like me, have a dog, then you, like me, occasionally have to deal with some pretty disgusting stuff.

Yesterday, I had a doozie. A Realtor was en route to show my house when my 15-month-old dog Blue started to vomit. I’m not sure what he’d found in the yard that had so violated his tummy, but within five minutes, I was cleaning up messes in the bedroom, in the dining room, and dripping like a waterfall down the staircase. There was no time to waste before the Realtor arrived, so I had no choice but to put Blue into the back seat of my car, upset stomach and all.

It’s an eight-minute drive to the nearest park, and Blue vomited four times in those eight minutes. He kept tossing chunks in the back seat on the passenger side. I opened all the windows and urged him to move to the other side of the back seat so that he wouldn’t smell the mess quite so much, but he refused to shift to the empty space behind me on the driver’s side. Then we got to the park, I opened the back door, and I realized why—because while Blue had been puking on one side of the car, he’d been having explosive diarrhea on the other.

Now, Blue turned out to be just fine. Whatever it was that got inside his belly worked its way out during our walk, and he’s been eating and playing like a champ ever since. But the beige leather seats in my six-month-old Honda CR-V? About them, I was highly concerned.

As it turns out, I had no reason to worry. My sister had given me an American Tourister Car Seat Cover for Christmas, and Blue had been emptying both sides of his intestinal tract directly onto it, instead of onto my seats. Here’s a photo of the product, complete with a nice-looking, non-puking dog who has a bright future with a modeling agency:

Not a speck of anything seeped through this seat cover, and all I had to do was unclip it and toss it into the washing machine one time with a little detergent to get it clean. It came out good as new, smelling a heck of a lot better than Blue himself at that particular moment.

I don’t typically write blog posts that might be mistaken for paid product placements, but I’d just like to say kudos to American Tourister for making a quality product that lives up to its promises. If only it came in a shape that I could place on my staircase at key moments before real-estate showings…