Sunday, August 01, 2004

What Brian did on his Summer Vacation

My nephew was laid off from Ford Motor Company a couple of weeks ago. He decided to take a road trip by visiting his New England-based aunties. He stopped here first, and we took him into New York City to see some of the sites. Then he headed to Natick, which is near Boston, just in time to encounter the Democratic Convention.

It was fun while he was here. We couldn't take much time off to do stuff with him (a day's notice is not enough to reschedule everything), which I was sorry for. We sent him off to Sherwood Island in Westport, where he got a dandy sunburn (at 19, he doesn't care about sunburn. Until afterward). He tried to go to Mystic Seaport, but got caught into one of those mysterious mid-day traffic jams the are seemingly caused by nothing and was forced to turn back (the Seaport battens down the hatches at 5:00, even during the height of the summer tourist season). They joys of I-95. So he turned back, and got a cracked windshield for his trouble (he got it replaced on Thursday). We took him to see I Robot (an awful movie -- a dishonor to Isaac Asimov) and Kill Bill Vol 2 (Tarrantino had two movies in him. This was not one of them.)

But we did manage to get into Manhattan last Saturday. Caught the train to Grand Central, where he got a small taste of what people mean by "As busy as Grand Central Station." We were impressed by the lower level -- lots of shops and a nice waiting area, sort of. We grabbed the shuttle to Times Square, then caught the #1 to South Ferry. Destination: Ellis Island.

To get to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, one takes the Circle Line Ferry. It's not a bad trip. However, we're there on a Saturday in July, and for some witless reason, visitors have to go through metal detectors to board the boats. The security is run by Wackenhut inSecurity (conspiracy theorists: have a field day ...) and a bigger joke we've never seen. It's one of those deals where very low-powered magnetrons are set up in a tent on the dock and they herd people through. The xray screens reveal nothing. They didn't even pick up the keys in Stanley's wallet or render anything visible in my backpack (keys, scissors, pocketknife, camera, etc.) All the screening did was waste time.

The trip out was uneventful, though pleasant. We circled Liberty Island but didn't get off there since it's not yet open again (not until August 3.) It was Brian's first close-up view of Lady Liberty though.


Ellis Island was the next stop on our 15-minute cruise. Stanley took this shot. Too bad it was such a gloomy day, though I was happy the sun wasn't out so I didn't turn into a neon glow.


This was our first trip to Ellis Island, ever. I'd been meaning to go there for years. I know my paternal grandfather came through Ellis Island because I found him in the archived manifests (and got a reproduction of it to give to my Dad for father's day a couple of years ago). I think my paternal grandmother came through as well, but I've not yet been able to find her.

I don't know what I expected. Some of the sense of history I got from visiting other places with lots of history, such as the battlefields of Gettysburg and Manassas, the Capitol, Fort Wayne in Detroit, the old cemeteries around here ... But I was hugely disappointed with Ellis Island. It is soulless. There is no sense of history here. Brian thinks, and I agree with him, that part of the problem is all the modern additions they added when "restoring" the place -- the light fixtures, the stairwells, the arcades.

Another problem is the exhibits themselves. Some were interesting -- the ones showing photos of what the place looked like before the "restoration," particularly since the objects in the photos were displayed in the same room. Stanley like the photos of the restoration itself. There were cases and cases of objects, such as clothing, household goods, toys -- but they weren't organized in any way and were badly lit so that you couldn't really see them properly. There were walls of documents, but they were impossible to read.

Then there were pictures of the immigrants themselves, and the places they came from. These are so large that any sense of intimacy is destroyed. They looked more like photos of Big Brother in the 1984 sense than anything meant to draw you into feeling any kind of a connection with a long-ago immigrant.

Everybody who's never been to Ellis Island thinks there's a wall there with each immigrant's name listed. If there is, I sure didn't see it.

I think the main problem with the exhibits is they weren't categorized in any way that would let you grab hold of a narrative thread. I wanted to see my grandparents' trail from Scotland to New York City, the ship my grandfather sailed on. I'm sure other visitors would want to see the paths originating in other parts of Europe. There was no path to trace, nor a timeline. It is a jumbled mess.

They should have left the place the way it was when it was abandoned in 1924, and maybe set up a visitors' center in another building. Such a shame -- a tremendous piece of our history "restored" to death.

Brian_ESB_shrine072404.jpgAfter we managed to get back to shore, we took the subway up to 33rd Street to go to the Empire State Building. I've been up to the top a couple of times, but neither Brian nor Stanley had even done that particular tourist thing. I love the building, the lettering, the marble so polished it's almost alight.

It was very busy. We got to the escalator that you take down to get tickets to go up, and the line mover guy said there was a 90-minute wait just to get a ticket. By this time, it was after 7:00 and we were all very, very hungry. We let Brian decide, and he said it probably isn't worth waiting 90 minutes to pay $12 each to spend ten minutes looking at the view. I think he was pretty tired at that point, and I know he had a headache.

So we decided to head over to Grand Central.

Walking up Fifth Avenue was fun, and we showed him the New York Public Library, watched the people, looked for a likely place to eat dinner. Which of course we didn't find.

brian_empirestatebuilding07.jpgIt's weird seeing all those Jersey barriers surrounding Grand Central. I guess it's plausible that a vehicle laden with whatever could plow into it -- I assume they're placed there to prevent this. It's also very yuck to see soldiers patrolling a train station, besides the 50 or so visible cops. It didn't leave me feeling any more secure than I did after going through the toy security setup to get to the Statue of Liberty.

We looked around a bit, but there wasn't much to see at 8ish on a Saturday at Grand Central. I really wanted to go to the Oyster Bar for dinner -- I love the food there and I just think it's a cool place. Fortunately, Stanley loves seafood (and I think he was pretty hungry). We had a good gasp at the prices, but decided we would count this as one of our long-delayed celebrations and, hey, what the hell. Neither of us drinks, and Brian isn't old enough to, so we knew the bill wouldn't break us. The food was great. It felt good to sit there and enjoy the place and I'd forgotten how much I like New York City water. We had a nice waiter, who filled us in on the labor situation there (they got a decent contract).

Then, time to go home. While we were disappointed with Ellis Island, and didn't make it to the top of the Empire State Building, it was an interesting day and I enjoyed it a lot. We had to wait more than an hour for our train, but I read the Sunday Newsday. The air conditioning was broken on our car, so it was a hotter than hell trip home, but I was just so exhausted I couldn't bring myself to move until we got to the train station.

Ginger, of course, thought we'd totally dropped off the face of the earth and that she'd never ever see us again, so she was deliriously happy for longer than she usually is when we come home. The demented cat yowled for a while -- I guess that's his way of yelling at us for leaving him with only the dog to keep him company.

Brian headed off to Massachusetts the next day, and the dog moped for days afterward. We'll see Brian once more before he heads back to Michigan -- he's going to be in Bridgeport to see the WWF, spend the night here, and then head home.
posted by lee on 08/01/04 at 01:12 AM

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Clients in the News—and all of it good

Glass artist Candace Held had two of her wonderful pieces in a show in Guilford, CT recently. She displayed Warrior and Digital Orange. The show, which was great (we went on opening day), received a great review, and Candy's pieces were among those highlighted in the review:

Fragile beauty: A medium shows its versatility at Guilford Handcraft Center

By Judy Birke (New Haven Register)
GUILFORD -- Nobody asked me ... but if I were approached to select the prize winners for the best works in the 2004 glass biennial at the Guilford Handcraft Center, hands down, I would choose Bandhu Dunham's "Lustrous Blue Basket, and Gina Poppe's Checkers. I'd give runner-up awards to Edward Branson's vessels, Penny Faich's bowls and Candace Held's fused-glass "Warrior."

... Helds fused materials blend the forms of the natural world with those of the human experience, achieving a muted sensibility that addresses the connection between person and place.

Very cool! It's great to see Candy getting the recognition her work deserves.

AT THE CONVENTION editor Gordon Joseloff was featured in the Wall Street Journal in "Meet the Bloggers:"
Gordon Joseloff, 59, editor and publisher of, and Jessica Bram, 50, contributing editor of the site. Describe your blog. is not a "blog" in the sense of what many have come to think of blogs. That is, it is not a compendium of one individual's opinions or observations. It is a local Web news site for Westport, Conn. It's one of only a handful of such local independent news sites on the Internet that is not affiliated with a newspaper, broadcast or other type of media company. How do you plan to cover the convention? What kind of content can readers expect? Coverage will concentrate on delegates and guests from Westport as well as from other parts of Connecticut. Why should people read your coverage? If they are interested in a (Westport) hometown perspective, there is no other place to read it. ... Moment/speaker/event you're most looking forward to covering. Any doings involving people from Westport or Connecticut ...

We're looking forward to reading reports from Boston.

My niece is at the convention, as a volunteer. I think it's pretty cool that they're making space for 15-year-olds -- I hope she got to hear, in person, the great speeches by Gore, Carter, H. Clinton, and B. Clinton, etc. They were superb speeches. If the first night is any indication, this will be one hell of a good convention. Gives me hope.

We manage a site pro bono for [takes a breath] The Umbrella Movement to Counteract the Right (, a 501(c) organization founded by Norman Sommer. (Stanley actually manages it -- it's a long story you can read about on Puppet Press Journal if you're interested. I just help out a little with bits and pieces.) It's located at Anyway, Norman was singlehandedly responsible for outing hypocrite Henry Hyde during the Clinton impeachment days -- telling the story of Hyde's own adultery with Norman's friend's wife. You can read about Norman on the website above AND in the Miami Herald:

Posted on Mon, Jul. 26, 2004
Meet Mr. Nobody: Political junkie Norman Sommer
by Margaria Fichtner
... the 78-year-old Sommer knows he will need more than a belly full of hardy-har or scalding outrage to retune the rhythms of the universe. Especially now, given the pesky stenosis that has messed up his spinal cord, put him on a walker and dealt a cruel end to his tennis game. And, tell the truth, also given his fixed income, iffy health (''On March 1 we were having dinner . . . , and I wasn't feeling well, and Kitty reached over and took my pulse, and there was no pulse'') and penchant for solitary combat: ``I'm a voice in the wilderness. I've been working a-lone.''

Still, almost six years ago, Sommer -- yeah, that Norman Sommer -- had become a piquant footnote to the Clinton impeachment mess when he leaked the news to that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde once had indulged in an affair of his own. Sommer had heard the dirt -- fooling around with another man's wife -- from one of his tennis partners, the cuckolded husband himself. And even though the Republican leadership lashed out at Democratic White House worker bees for besmirching the white-maned Hyde, the besieged Clintonites were not to blame. Sommer was.

Within two days crews from major networks and a German newsmagazine show had elbowed their way into his small Aventura apartment, ''and then there were all kinds of radio interviews, and then the newspapers. . . . I had 15 minutes of fame.'' Long enough. If you check the index to Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, which devotes part of a chapter to those tumultuous days, you will find 27 references to Hyde, Henry but also three for Sommer, Norman.

Now, guess what. Mr. Nobody is at it again, this time gamely hoping to jerk his country, this land of the brave, home of the free, etc., etc., back to the left side of the political pigsty, away from what he calls, in the letter he will happily send you even if he has to use his own stamp, the far right's ''weave of nefarious programs, with pernicious outcomes'' that is sucking us all up into a . . . . Well, never mind. It is enough to know that Sommer, who tends to pronounce ''Rush Limbaugh'' with the same quiet grace he would use to utter ''spit wad,'' has a plan, a new nonprofit, nonpartisan, noncandidate, hopelessly nonlyrical initiative: The Umbrella Movement To Counteract The Right.

Norman is an interesting guy, his cause is righteous, so it's worth the time-sink any pro bono project turns into. It's our contribution to ending the coup d'etat. I hope I have as much drive and energy when I'm Norman's age. Hell, I wish I did now!
posted by lee on 07/27/04 at 04:36 AM

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

cops can’t search backpacks of demonstrators without probable cause reports:
New York City police officers cannot search the bags and backpacks of demonstrators at the Republican National Convention later this summer without showing both a specific threat to public safety and an indication of how blanket searches could reduce the threat, according to a federal judge.

But Southern District Judge Robert W. Sweet also ruled that "less intrusive searches," such as metal-detecting wands, would not violate the Fourth Amendment and would not be banned under a preliminary injunction he issued on police practices Monday.

The ruling was one of several by Sweet in three demonstration-related cases filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) Foundation. The lead case is Stauber v. The City of New York, 03 Civ. 9162.

Sweet also ruled on the use of "pens" by police to corral demonstrators during the Aug. 30 - Sept. 2 Republican National Convention, finding that pens may be used but they may not unreasonably restrict "access to and participation in demonstrations through the use of pens."

And they can use horses for crowd control as well, according to the judge. I have bad memories of that from my NYC union organizer days when the cops acted like fellow union members ONLY when it was contract time and they wanted us to help them.

I kind of wish we were going to be there demonstrating as well. But I'm also glad we're going to be on vacation during this convention since I want nothing to do with the spillover. (We don't live very far from Manhattan.)
posted by lee on 07/20/04 at 03:19 PM

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Stanley, by way of Abberrant News, sent me this link: EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES Punctuation Game. I got one wrong, but I disagree with the judge, or whomever it was that decided "no comma" is the wrong answer. I love the book. It's making me more aware of the punctuation I should and shouldn't use. The hard part about reading the book, though, is seeing the period used outside of the closing quote. This is a British thing and, to me, just looks wrong.

But the bad thing about the book is it's made me even more aware of how much punctuation is being mangled. I don't mind this so much on blogs, but in mainstream news it drives me nuts. If I read a badly punctuated blog, I can excuse it to some degree (though I never quite trust the content). But never a mainstream newspaper.

The Herald Sun, which hails from North Carolina, offers a U.S. Citizenship test. Other than the name of the governor of NC (who cares?), the test is so easy I have a hard time believing this is really the one used.

GasBuddy -- helps you find the cheapest gas around. I wonder how far people will drive to save a few cents a gallon?

The Lost Museum is yet another virtual museum exhibit, this one a recreation of P.T. Barnum's museum. The real one burned down in 1865. It's pretty annoying to get around this museum, which is done in Flash. Once you get to the actual information about the exhibits, it's pretty well done. The question is, often, is there more information here? In some cases, it's hard to tell -- just click the word "Archive" if the Flash artifact doesn't make it apparent. There are some cute effects, such as a rat running across the floor below one display case. A good place to poke around, particularly if you're curious about the weird.
posted by lee on 07/20/04 at 04:30 AM

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Monday, July 19, 2004

Smithsonian wired

HistoryWired: A few of our favorite things is an online exhibit. It's really interesting to poke around and see what's there. This is what they say about the exhibit: "Welcome to the Smithsonian Institution's HistoryWired: A few of our favorite things. This experimental site introduces visitors to some of the three million objects held by the National Museum of American History, Behring Center."

It's a java display based on the technology behind Map of the Market in SmartMoney magazine, which was created by Martin Wattenberg. Check out Wattenberg's Copernica -- it's quite fascinating.

And as long as you're poking around, go to Rhizome. It's free on a Friday, but if it really interests you, it's very cheap to join it.

I think that's enough for now.

My nephew is coming to visit for a week (from the Detroit area). I think he wants to go into Manhattan while he's here. The problem with going into Manhattan is deciding which of about a thousand things to do. Even though I lived there for years, I barely scratched the surface of things to do there. We'll see what he has in mind -- I'm actually looking forward to it even though I really don't have hooky time.
posted by lee on 07/19/04 at 05:08 AM

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Friday, July 16, 2004

furl it

Furl. Let's see, how can I describe what this is. It's kind of a favorites list that you can share if you want to. Sort of like a bookmark manager, but much much more.

I installed the FURL toolbar (it's pretty painless) to give it a whirl. So far, I think it's pretty cool since it's easy to categorize what I save and, once I need to find something, I can look at the lists by category or search them for something specific.

What I like about it is that I'm not locked into my computers -- as long as I know my FURL url, I can get to my lists. Also, FURL can keep copies of the pages if you want top so even if the original site drops into the void, you still have the information.

I also like to see what other people are adding to their lists -- I've found a couple of cool sites that way.

Furl was started in the spring of 2003 by Mike Giles. Other than he lives in Massachusetts, there's not much information on his site about what else he does.

So check it out.
posted by lee on 07/16/04 at 05:28 AM

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Ann Telnaes at the LC

Humor's Edge: Cartoons by Ann Telnaes is a current exhibit at the Library of Congress. The exhibit notes say
"Humor's Edge celebrates Ann Telnaes's generous gift to the Library of Congress of eighty-one original drawings that represent the range of themes that engage this gifted artist who has recently emerged as a leader in American editorial cartooning. An artist who bravely criticizes the actions and words of powerful public figures, Telnaes takes stands on complex, divisive issues and affirms the editorial cartoon as a potent means of expressing opinions and illuminating issues of the day."

Telnaes is one of only two women to win the Pulitzer for editorial cartoons. You can also see a weekly cartoon by her on Women's eNews.

One of my favorite of her cartoons is below; I think she captured perfectly the obscenity of the cabal of rich white men imposing their ignorance and self-righteousness on more than half the inhabitants of this country.

The online version of the exhibit is annotated, providing some context, but weirdly structured and in some cases badly written (for example, the notes for one cartoon about the crowded field of Democratic candidates seems to be suggesting that Telnaes's cartoon, "Lose the Dead Weight," was responsible for two of the candidates dropping out.)

The navigation is confusing -- it took me a while to figure out how to get around the site. It's a pity the archivists didn't take more care designing and architecting the online exhibit. It's almost as if the author(s) don't understand the medium -- I also looked at the Pat Oliphant exhibit (he won the Pulitzer in 1966 for his editorial cartoons) and he didn't fare any better. Actually, looking at Herblock's exhibit, and I see a pattern -- as if the designer came up with a template and stopped thinking. Ah, yes, I see, .dwt (Dreamweaver template). Though I guess I shouldn't expect too much from a government site, which has its own set of rules (Section 508 etc.) Although the National Gallery of Art is a gov site, but has a good collection of well-done exhibits, both "quick" tours and in-depth studies.

The full list of LC web exhibits is here. Good synopses and examples, but no depth.
posted by lee on 07/13/04 at 12:54 AM

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Monday, July 12, 2004

when groundhogs attack

I would've laughed at this article if I'd seen it yesterday. But not after this morning. Rabies shots not required for groundhog attack victim.

"The tenacious animal tried to attack his two poodles, which were tied to a fence, and then charged at him after being shooed away. It charged two more times, after being kicked and hit by a shovel."

However, a groundhog tried to sink its fangs into Ginger's snout today, then turned its attention to rushing Stanley. I was stunned. Read about it, and see a picture of the creature, on Puppet Press Journal. Talk about feisty, geez.
posted by lee on 07/12/04 at 01:00 AM

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Sunday, July 11, 2004

what’s that weed?

Rutgets has a useful weed identification site. It lists many of the most common weeds found in New Jersey (and probably the entire Northeast), though is by no means exhaustive. Of course, one person's weed is another's wildflower, so ...
posted by lee on 07/11/04 at 02:29 PM

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ghost stories

I was longing for a good novel, preferably one of those good British ghost stories since the Brits seem to do those so well. I was at the library skimming one of those "Upcoming Books" newspapers that the libe always has, and came across a little article about The Ghost Writer, by John Harwood. It said he is Australian, and this is his first novel:
Gerard Freeman, at age ten, sneaks into his mother's room and unlocks a secret drawer, only to find a picture of a woman he has never seen before, but one that he will find again and again. His mother discovers him and gives him the beating of his life. Why this excessive reaction? She is a worried, paranoid, thin, and fretful type with an "anxious, haunted look." By tale's end, we know why.

Phyllis Freeman, Gerard's mother, was happiest when speaking fondly of Staplefield, her childhood home, where there were things they "didnt have in Mawson [Australia], chaffinches and mayflies and foxgloves and hawthorn, coopers and farriers and old Mr. Bartholomew who delivered fresh milk and eggs to their house with his horse and cart." It's the sort of childhood idyll that the timid and lonely Gerard believes in and longs for. He strikes up a correspondence with an English "penfriend," Alice Jessel, when he is 13 and a half, living in a desolate place with a frantic mother and a silent father. She is his age, her parents were killed in an accident and she has been crippled by it. She now lives in an institution, whose grounds she describes as much the way Staplefield looked. They go through young adulthood together, in letters only, thousands of miles apart, eventually declaring their love for one another.

Interwoven with the narrative of Alice and Gerard's letters are real ghost stories, the creation of Gerard's great-grandmother, Viola. At first, they seem to be scary Victorian tales of the supernatural. Then, we see that they have a spooky way of mirroring, or preceding, events in real life, off the page. Gerard comes upon them, one by one, in mysterious ways, but clearly something, or someone, is leading him. The stories seem to implicate his mother in some nefarious goings-on, but the truth is far worse than Gerard imagines.
I guess an Australian writing about British ghosts is close enough. A quick check of the card catalog and I find that it is in, somewhere among the recently returned books. The librarian dug it out of the pile for me and I stashed it for a couple of days. I started reading it last night, about 2:00 am, after I finished getting up a placeholder page ( that turned out to be a little more complex than I'd anticipated (part of it is in Spanish). I figured I'd read for an hour or so.

At 7:30 am, I put the book down. The spirit was willing to keep reading, but the eyes just wouldn't stay open. I'm finished with Part One and looking forward to the rest of the book. The writing is quite good, especially considering it's really two styles of writing: modern day and Victorian era, by a Victorian woman no less. The main character's grandmother, or I think it was his grandmother, wrote ghost stories, which Harwood actually provides instead of alluding to (which I think is great). And he's good at writing in the styles of both eras.

I rarely read the night through any more, mainly because my "Want to Do, Need to Do" lists are longer than my days. I succumbed last night, paying the penance today of a not-enough-sleep headache. The book just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I'm at the point where I'm wild to finish it (though I can't read through the night again -- have to get up early tomorrow), but also dreading the end. Because it will be over. I hope the second half is as good as the first half promises.

This site looks very interesting, and I'm trying to remember to explore it more: Renegade Gardener. The RG is Don Engebretson.

One of the RG's 10 Tenets of Gardening is "Renegade Gardeners come to realize that lawns are essentially a dumb idea." Which I agree with. I love our backyard when the mowing gets pushed off (either due to lots of rain or extreme busy-ness) and turns into a meadow. This spring it was gorgeous, with all kinds of wildflowers that I don't remember seeing in the yard before. I would love to get rid of even more of the lawn area by planting tall grasses and more wildflowers. Maybe along the edges.

My father, on the other hand, works diligently to make his lawn ever larger. But that's another tale.

Anyway, the RG is really geared for gardeners in zones 2-4, and we're in zone 6, but there's a lot of good information there, and tips on landscaping that I wish more people would read.

We're going out to brunch with our friend Helene and, hopefully we'll get to the Town House Museum here in Norwalk, which currently has an exhibit about the Great Fire (I think it's when the British burned down the town during the Revolution). It's only open on Sundays between 1 and 4. I've been thinking about going to this little museum area for only about ten years or so. It's actually part of the Mill Hill Historic Park and Museum, run by the Norwalk Historical Society (the website is horrible, but it does have some information about the place) and has a name that's much grander than the square acreage of the site itself. It has three buildings: Town House (c. 1835), Little Red School House (c. 1826), and Governor Fitch Law Office (c.1740). I know nothing about these buildings, yet, or much about local Revolutionary War history. Norwalk is famous for being the birthplace of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which pre-dated the Revolution by 20 years.

I hope the visit is interesting. I wonder if they have more information about our house, which was originally an outbuilding on the Norwalk Poor Farm, built c. 1826. It's a true Yankee house now as owners over the years have added to it as necessary, in the most economical way possible -- not shoddy, just Yankee. It's got a bit of a bizarre layout to it, but I think that's what I love about it. I would love to find some old sketches or photos of the house, preWWII or even earlier would be wonderful.
posted by lee on 07/11/04 at 01:30 AM

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