Category Archives: Zingara Travels

Looking for a Summer Writing Residency Experience?

Did you know that Converse College offers two non-degree seeking options for creative writers wishing to hone their skills?

If you are looking for an immersive experience and want a taste of what a writing residency is all about, Converse now offers the Brief Immersion Residency.

Immersion students join MFA students and MFA core faculty in the residency workshop as a non-degree, non-credit student. Work is discussed meaningfully and at length with all participants providing critique and feedback. Participants also attend craft lecture offerings and other classroom activities as well as faculty and visiting faculty readings.

Converse also offers a Lecture Pass allowing the holder to attend some or all craft lectures held during the residency session and is available to any writer holding a bachelor’s degree, or to any college student entering or currently enrolled as a senior. Lecture passes are also available to Converse alumni. Both full and half passes are available for a small fee. Lecture pass attendees receive no academic credit and they do not attend any writing workshop, only craft lectures with the half pass, or craft lectures and readings with a full pass.

Converse’s current and past core faculty include such notable and award winning writers as Denise Duhamel, Richard Tilinghast, Yona Harvey, Marlin Barton, Tommy Hays, C. Michael Curtis, Rick Mulkey, Robert Olmstead, Leslie Pietrzyk, Susan Teculve, Suzanne Cleary, Gary Jackson, Randall Kenan, Juan Morales, Tessa Fontain, Megan Hansen Shepherd, and Allan Wolf, just to name a handful (this list is FAR from exhaustive).

Converse is accepting applications NOW for this year’s Summer Residency scheduled for May 31 to June 8th at their Spartanburg, South Carolina campus. Apply here.

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS IS MAY 10TH FOR READERS OF ZINGARA POETRY REVIEW. Just say you learned about the opportunity here.

So what are you waiting for – apply today!

What is the Thing With Feathers and Where is it Now?

I wanted to write a blog post about hope today.

About how it is different, but related to, expectation, and of how difficult it is to keep.

Of how I’m often not sure what hope is and often feel as if I have none.

And of how Emily Dickinson’s poem sometimes restores me in those moments when hope feels the most nebulous:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity
It asked a crumb of me.

Ah, the salve of poetry on the soul. Words strung in a certain and deliberate manner creating a feeling of centeredness amid confusion and chaos.

Dickinson’s couching an abstract idea like hope within the apt imagery of “feathers” and “tune,” “storm” and “chillest land” is, of course, why her poetry has withstood time and fashion to resonate with readers today.

And there are no more fitting or contemporaneous events than those which took place in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend to prompt contemplation on the subject again. To ask, what does hope stands for?

Not unlike Dickinson’s bird, I see hope as fleeting, at best, and while it may in fact sing a tune somewhere beyond the wind and clouds of whatever storm is blowing through life at the moment, I am generally too busy dodging rain drops and lightning strikes to think about it, much less hear it. 

I guess all that running around is a necessary function of survival. The ego keeping me from doing something stupid during a downpour that might get me killed. The fight or flight response to a life-threatening situation helping me to survive that situation.

There was a time I rather liked the excitement and danger of running around in storms. These days, though, I generally prefer to stay out of the wind and rain, if given the choice.

But since I am speaking in metaphor, the kinds of storms I really mean don’t stop just because I’m inside, and they certainly don’t care what my past may have taught me about surviving,

Or loving.

Or hoping.

And they almost always require that I leave the comforts of home.

Other times, it’s just a big old-shit storm.

I mean, something ugly and racist, hateful and riotous. Something that gains frenzied, savage energy with every violent projection and slur. Something that thrives in the absence of rational thought and perpetuates fear with architectural precision.

The kind of shit-storm expressly designed to extinguish the hope Dickinson envisions, the kind of hope I choose to believe in.

I don’t know where that little bird may be right now, maybe off somewhere singing its tune as Dickinson suggests. Maybe beyond the clouds, maybe even over a rainbow.

But for now, I’ve grabbed a pair binoculars.

For now, I’m watching out.

My father tells me when I am married I will learn a new trick: by Tiffany St. John

to make the sun shine brighter

by my relative dimness, to reflect
the light of a lover, to speak

in the tones a cattail speaks in,
to be the plain, but not the wind across it.

Sometimes, he says, you can be completely invisible.

He tells me to be a toothless
lion, to wait

in the paleness of night for a brassy star
to overpower me.

Joy is in the sacrifice,
he says. My father says. My father

who has never been pollen, carried
from one stamen

to another, who does not lie like a needle in a pile
the size of a haystack, or been strings plucked

until the sound waves grew cancerous,
who has never steamed away, singular

into something plural, into pocket-sized ghosts,
who has never been erased from photographs

or been a moon.

Tiffany St. John is an eager pursuer and peruser of Poetry, Psychology, and Philosophy. She lives with her husband and two cats in Columbus, Ohio. She has been published in Black Warrior Review and awaits publication in the upcoming anthology Poetry on Loss through Little Lantern Press.

Exploring Coastal Carolina: Caw Caw Interpretive Center

DSC03133Today I purchased a Charleston County Parks “Gold Pass” membership that provides the holder with “unlimited admission to 11 county parks” for a full year from date of purchase. While I will certainly enjoy visiting Charleston County parks without having to pay the buck or so admission fee every time, I am most excited about the early morning bird walks offered twice a week at the Caw Caw Interpretive Center, also free to pass holders. Located just off South Highway 17, the Caw Caw, which boasts six miles of hiking trails as well as numerous elevated boardwalks, is considered the birding hot-spot of coastal South Carolina, an impressive boast considering South Carolina is itself host to multitudes of bird species.Awendaw

The appeal of the Caw Caw bird walks for me is that they combine at least three of the activities that I love: walking, appreciating nature, and learning the specifics of the environment in which I live. The Eco-tours I’ve participated in since moving here two years ago have included two guided walks on the Tibwin Plantation near Awendaw, a day exploring Bulls Island, an afternoon singing with dolphins on the Edisto River, and a morning hunting for fossils on Edisto Beach. Edisto Beach ShotEach tour has provided insight into the area’s eco-diversity and brought me face to face with such wonders as the ancient shell rings of the Sewee, the hard to find blue indigo bunting, and literally dozens of alligators sunning on a wetland bank (through which I had to walk), each time impressing upon me the fact that I have only barely begun to see, or understand, just how unique Coastal South Carolina ecology is.

Though I am excited to add these bird walks to my dossier of SC adventures, it will be several days yet before my new Gold Pass arrives in the mail — adding about a week to my anticipation. I will bide my time patiently, however,Bulls Island Shot looking through the “Birds of South Carolina” field guide I bought last year and drooling over digital camera equipment on the internet in hopes that, some day, I can add photography to my birding experience. For now, I’ll satisfy myself contemplating the wonder of how the hobby I’d given up pursuing years ago has returned to me just in time for the cooler, drier days of another Charleston October.

Highlights of the 2011 West 18th Street Fashion Show, Kansas City

Every year the Crossroads District orchestrates the West 18th Street fashion show pairing local and national designers with area models for the express purpose of showing off new designs. This year’s themes was “Summer in Paris” and featured designs ranging from upscale professional to positively wild and zany. The outdoor show is free, though those wishing to sit close to the runway may opt to pay the $35 or $100 ticket price for the privilege.  Whether a proprietor of a local dress shop or a casual observer, the fashion show provides a great opportunity to dress up and marvel at the creative visions of  up-and-coming or long-established clothing designers. Here are a few of the highlights:

The show began with a Flamenco dance…

introducing the first collection;

Whimsical children’s fashions:

Up next – short, hot and sassy;

El Toreador!

A lovely juxtaposition of metal and fabric in this collection:

This next collection looks as if inspired by Nilsson’s animated movie, “The Point

Next, fun with knitting!

Men’s fashions:

These next designs metamorphose…

My personal favorites:

For a really great slide show of all the designs featured in this year’s fashion show (taken by a professional photographer and not some poor schmuck in the crowd) as well as a list of this year’s designers, go to

Next year’s show is scheduled for June 9th.

Gary and Lisa’s Travel and Photo Journal for Jeju Island, March 2010

Jeju Island is located south of the Korean peninsula about an hour’s flight away from Seoul’s Gimpo Airport. Gary and I spent four days visiting the island during our vacation from Chungdahm the last week of March, 2010, and even though it was too cool for the beach, we found plenty of fun things to do around the resort area, all of it within walking distance of our hotel.

We stayed at the Jeju Hana Hotel (hana is Hangul for one) located in the Seogwipo-si resort area among a cluster of hotels, golf clubs, and tourist attractions. Our hotel was reasonably priced and had a bath tub, a luxury since most officetels do not have tubs, only showers.

Though the Hana Hotel has a nice restaurant, we were visiting during the off season and the restaurant closed in the evenings. This fact prompted us to explore the area for other dining options. We included in our search all nearby hotels and found Hyatt’s accommodations to be among our best. Of course, being open might have had something to do with that.

The Jeju Hyat is located down the road from the Hana Hotel and has a stunning view overlooking the ocean. Around its grounds are a number of scenic pathways built for strolling and enjoying the local plant life. Visitors can take advantage of these pathways as alternate routes to different parts of the resort compound.

The lobby of Jeju Hyatt also features and indoor koi and goldfish pond with a half-dozen small ducks waddling about. I’m not sure what kept those ducks from flying beyond the perimeter of the indoor pond (their wings did not appear to have been clipped), but they never did. Perhaps they intuited they would get cooked if they didn’t mind their territory.

Many of the other nearby restaurants were also closed for the season, but that didn’t stop us from walking around and snapping a few pictures. Many restaurants on the island offer horse meat and, of course, all types of seafood. Here are a few exterior shots of one traditional-style restaurant near our hotel.

Up the road in the opposite direction of the Hyatt are a number of tourist attractions. We visited the “Sound Island Museum,” which includes in its collection a number of  phonographs (circa Edison vintage), musical instruments from different regions of the world and a couple of rooms filled porcelain nick-knacks and dolls arranged in a kind of diorama. We never figured out exactly why these scenes were on display or their relation to sound and music but speculated that perhaps they are some kind of personal collection belonging to the museum the owners who have no better place to store or exhibit these things. Korean people are, after all, very efficient with space.

Photo courtesy of the Official Site of Korea Tourism

Later, we ambled over to Jeju-do Chocolate Factory, famous for being the only chocolate factory in Asia in the 10 top chocolate factories of the world list. It feature an impressive art gallery consisting of a number of miniatures and “paintings” rendered in chocolate.  It also features a ‘Bean to Bar’ showroom, which shows the entire process of chocolate beans’ transformation into chocolate. Finally, there is a showroom and gift shop where visitors can purchase Jeju Island chocolate. Since the area is also famous for it’s huge, delicious oranges (which adorn trees all across the island this time of year) visitors can also purchase orange flavored chocolate.

Jeju Botanical Gardens: Greenhouse

Jeju Botanical Gardens: Greenhouse

Not far from the Sound Museum and Chocolate Museum is the Jeju Teddy Bear Museum. Korean people have the corner market on cute, and so it’s not terribly surprising that there exists a museum celebrating cuteness as encapsulated by the iconic teddy bear.

The Seogwipo-si area boasts a spectacular botanical garden and is perhaps the best attraction in the area. The indoor compound contains a number of greenhouse gardens that including a simulated desert, water gardens, and a tropical plant and exotic fruit bearing tree greenhouse.

Cacti and Succulents

Kimchi Pots

Kimchi Pots

Banana Tree

Banana Tree

Inside the top

Inside the top

View from the Top

View from the Top

European Gardens

European Gardens

Italian Gardens

Italian Gardens

Japanese Gardens

Japanese Gardens

Korean Traditional Garden

Korean Traditional Garden

Not far from the Jeju Botanical gardens is a beautiful traditional style bridge with a view of a nearby waterfall.  There is also a lovely  Pagoda and fountain nearby, as pictured here.

Good Luck Fountain

Good Luck Fountain

Pagoda Palace

Pagoda Palace

View of Falls from Pagoda

View of Falls from Pagoda

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Falls

The Falls

View of Falls Through Decorative Cutout in Bridge

View of Falls Through Decorative Cutout in Bridge

Perhaps the best part of our vacation was hanging out with Korean tourists. We are used to living and working among Korean people and Korean children and in general doing all the normal daily stuff right along side them.  Our days are made up of the uninspiring stuff that make up daily living, like taking out the trash, getting groceries, taking public transportation and paying bills at the ATM. But we got another glimpse of Korean people while on vacation – Korean people as tourists- and they are a blast. Especially the older folks, who are definitely out to have a good time (the odor of soju on their breath confirms that fact). We were approached several times by folks wanting us to take pictures of their groups. They always offered to take our picture as a return favor. Sometimes people would come up and start a conversation, never mind that we can’t speak the language. They kept talking and explaining things to us even when we gestured  our incomprehension. Really, there may be nothing more endearing in this world to me now than a tour group of vacationing older Korean women dressed in matching pink out to have a good.

I spied one fellow in particular who was dressed elaborately, especially by Korean standards, hanging around the area offering to take pictures for tourists. Koreans are  quiet homogeneous and rather prefer things that way. I mean, they dress alike on purpose and stick together. However, this man was clearly an individual, and I tried several times to take his picture on the sly. None of them came out very well though. I’d given up when he came over and offered to take a photo of Gary and I – it’s the one at the heading of this blog post (it was his suggestion that we put our hands up in the air). After taking our picture, he voluntarily posed for a picture with Gary so even though my previous efforts at capturing his digital likeness was a failure, in the end I was granted the perfect opportunity. Here’s the pic:It’s Gary’s favorite pic of the batch.

Photo Journal: Building 63, Seoul S. Korea

Yook-Sam Buidling 63

Yook-Sam Buidling 63

In March, 2010, my friend Cereba and I spent a day at Building 63, also known as the Yook Sam building. It would be our last “girls day out” before her return home to the states. While it was windy, cool, and as you can tell from the photo, cloudy, we found plenty of fun things to do inside.

Building 63 is a landmark skyscraper in the Seoul area built in 1988 for the Olympics and has, as you may have guessed, 63 stories. These 63 stories distinguished Yook-Sam as the tallest building in Seoul until 2003, when the Hyperion Tower was built. Then, in 2009, the Northeast Asian Trade Tower was “topped-off” and is currently considered the tallest building in Seoul.

Building 63 features “The World’s Tallest Art Gallery” on its 60th floor, an aquarium, wax museum, Imax theater, and myriad shopping opportunities. On a clear day, you can see this golden tower from as far away as Incheon (though, there aren’t many clear days in Seoul).  According to wikipedia, “The 63 Building is an iconic landmark of the Miracle on the Han River, symbolizing the nation’s rapid economic achievement in the late 20th century. 63 refers to the building’s 63 official stories, of which 60 are above ground level and 3 are basement floors.

After grabbing a bite to eat at one of the restaurants in the building’s food court, Cereba and I bought a “three-attraction pass” and headed for the aquarium. Being that is was a Saturday, the place was packed with families and children. In Korea, if you linger in any spot for more than a minute, a crowd will gather – so we tried to keep moving. I joked with Cereba that we should stand near something we did not really want to see, then as soon as a crowd gathered, dash over to whatever exhibit we were really interested in – at least until another crowd gathered.

Aquariums are fascinating and seem fairly harmless to their inhabitants. I mean, fish don’t seem to care where they swim, and, I’ve hear, forget where they’ve been only seconds after being there. I was a little surprised, though, to find that the Building 63 aquarium features penguins, sea otters, and miscellaneous reptiles in addition to all forms of fish. The fellow pictured here is one of the featured exhibits. You can get a sense of how he feels about the whole situation.

The penguins were cute, and seemed content to preen and groom themselves, and were particularly cute and had a pretty interesting set-up, including a number of glassed-in areas between which were suspended transparent tunnels in which they could scurry from one area to another – very entertaining for spectators. There was also a small cut-out in the barrier of the central exhibit where one could feed the otters small minnow-like fish from a nearby freshwater tank. The otters’ antics sometimes humorous, sometimes desperate.

My favorite exhibits were the jellyfish and octopi, whose liquid movements are mesmerizing.

After getting our fill of observing watery creatures, Cereba and I headed for the Sky Gallery on the 60th floor. We had to stand in line and take turns to ride the elevator in small groups. The elevator features an outward facing glass wall allowing passengers to enjoy the view while making their way upward.

While there is a gallery on the 60th floor, it is the view from the 60th floor that is the most impressive thing about visiting. You can see all of Seoul from there and in every direction. While it wasn’t the clearest of days, the distant horizon was still discernible. As is always the case whenever I get a panoramic glance of Seoul, I was impressed and humbled by the size and density of the city.

Pictured here are various apartment buildings, officetels, skyscrapers, office buildings, and different shots of the Hahn River. Very domino-esque.

Cereba and I decided to take a rest at the coffee shop on the 60th floor and to enjoy the view in a leisurely fashion. I had a hot tea with milk and a bit of sugar while Cereba has a smoothie and a container of dippin’ dots. All around us there milled tourists, most of them Korean, but a few European and westerners too. And like at the aquarium, there were a lot of families. One little Korean girl, dressed cute as a play- doll (as all Korean children are) ordered some dippin’ dots too, but just after reaching her chair, she’d dropped the container. Little balls of dry-frozen vanilla and chocolate ice cream scattered all over the black marble floor and began melting almost immediately. The little girl’s eyes grew wide with astonishment, for it was quite a site to see, all those little balls rolling around on the shiny floor.  But she knew she had made a mistake too, so seemed unsure of how to react.  Fortunately,  the coffee counter clerk saw what had happened and came quickly with a pile of paper napkins to clean up the mess, and all was well.

Cereba and I finished our beverages and decided to move on to the next attraction. We made sure to give our table to a group of three senior-aged eastern Europeans who were casting about for a place to sit. They were very gracious in accepting and we felt pretty good about offering.

Last on our itinerary was the Wax Museum. Truly, wax museums are kind of cheesy, but they are a fun kind of cheesy and a good way to spend the afternoon with a good friend, and everything you do with a good friend is fun and interesting.

Meeting Obama in Korea

Meeting Obama in Korea

When standing up close to a wax figure, it’s pretty obviously fake, but they are great for snapshots like this one. Except for the awkward hand gesture, this is a pretty convincing image of Obama – right?

Anyway, we saw all kinds of campy portrayals of famous, semi-famous and downright obscure historical figures. One thing Cereba and I noticed about most of the figures, particularly those of western icons, is that their heads are a bit too large for their frames, and we wondered if this was intentional, or simply how Koreans see westerners.

The highlight of our visit to the wax museum, however, was the “scary, haunted house” exhibit. We were eager enough to accept the invitation to see “scary exhibit” from the young Korean man promoting the attraction and thought it would be a real hoot.

We entered the darkened area and immediately I commented on the fact that this is the kind of situation that begins many horror films – here we are, a couple of confident spectators underestimating the danger of the situation we have just entered.

After a couple of mildly gruesome displays of wax figures being tortured and coming round a few dark corners, we came upon an exhibit that was an obvious set up. Upon the floor and lying across the path was a wax “corpse.” Near its feet a dummy sat in an electric chair. I came to a complete stop and pointed out the obvious set-up to Cereba. If we tried to jump over the corpse, I felt, the corpse would jump up and grab us. If, on the other hand, we walked around the corpse’s feet and near the dummy in the electric chair, the dummy, who I began to doubt was really a dummy at all and figured to be a real person, would be the one to grab us.  I didn’t like my choices, and in a flash had made the decision to run ahead without looking back – consequently leaving Cereba behind.

What Cereba experienced, but I did not look back to see, was the dummy jolting briefly out of its electric chair to the accompaniment of a series of loud pops and bangs. I guess now we truly know the answer to the hypothetical question of what Lisa would do in the event of a zombie invasion (she would run like hell and not look back). Poor Cereba had been abandoned and had no idea where I had gone – and I had GONE.

We both had a good laugh over the incident at the time, but got to laughing  even harder when we realized later that we were probably being watched from CCTV. The operators must have had a good laugh at us while choosing the exact right moment to trigger the dummy in the electric chair.  I wish we had a copy of that tape!

So that was my last “girls day out” with my friend Cereba. Now she is back home in the states and I miss her very much and feel lonely without her. But, we will meet again when I get back home, and for that day I cannot wait!!

Travel Trivia: Details of My Journey to South Korea

After packing, repacking and weighing my luggage a dozen times on bathroom scales, turns out my bags each weighed a bit over 50 lbs. Fortunately the attendant wasn’t worried about it and I was not charged anything extra.  (I would still have to drag the damn heavy things through Seoul though).

I made it through airline security with my bamboo knitting needles, but never once got them out to knit; there simply was no elbow room.

Alan Arkin was traveling on the plane as Gary and I from ABQ to LAX. He and a female companion were seated just a few rows in ahead of my and Gary’s seats. At LAX, while waiting for their luggage to appear on the conveyors, Mr. Arkin and his female companion were quite affectionate with one another, which was very endearing. It was one of the few times I kind of wished I had twitter.

We did not have to pick up and transfer our luggage at LAX; United and Asiana airlines took care of that for us. We did have to get tickets for our flight from LAX to Seoul, however. (They talked me into signing up for Asiana Frequent Flier Miles).

Gary and I ate at LAX. We both had “Asian” food.

There was a family in line in front of us to go through security before boarding the plane in LAX who were so dramatic we thought for sure they were filming a Novella. There were tears and hysteria and lots of photos and hand grasping over ropes – at least until LAX Airport Authority tired of them and put an end to it. That only caused the drama level to increase.

Just as were were attempting to go through the metal detectors, a child belonging to a large family in front of us decided to throw a full-out fit. I mean, lay-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming-fit. Security scuttled around trying to keep the line moving and lots of folks were getting antsy. The mother was simply horrified and I felt bad for her. I was also glad it wasn’t me having to deal with that kid.

There are video monitors on the back of each seat on Asiana Airlines’ Airplanes, so each person can choose to watch what he or she wants. Available choices included movies, Asian TV shows, informative clips and video games.

Gary and I had seats in the center section of the plane.  Our seats were in the middle of the row. This meant we had to disrupt the people sitting on the aisle seats on either side of us every time we wanted to get up to use the bathroom. I tried to get up when the woman next to me got up to minimize disruption. Unfortunately, she had a bladder of steel.

I watched three movies during the flight from LAX to Incheon: Monsters vs. Aliens, which made me giggle, The Soloist, which made me cry (a lot) and (part of) She’s Just Not Into You – the last of which was too stupid to tolerate, even as a free in-flight movie, and kind of pissed me off.

When I ran out of appealing movie options, I read the first third of Julie and Julia, which was better than the last two-thirds. Now I don’t even want to see the movie.

I wasted a good 90 minutes playing a mindless video game that gave me a headache.

The row in front of us was occupied by American Frat boys who found the flight a perfect opportunity to drink all the free beer they wanted.

I had my first Korean meal on the plane – Bim-Bap. Unfortunately it was “Airplane Food Quality.” (I have since had much better authentic Korean food.) I was not crazy about the side dish that looked somewhat like coconut flakes, tasted salty-fishy and, I later noticed, had eyes. I liked the kimchi alright – but again, I’ve tasted some wonderful varieties of Kimchi since then that put the airplane variety to shame.

We beat the sun to S. Korea by about one hour.

Temperatures were taken at Incheon as we dis-boarded the plane and before we went though customs. The now drunk frat boys who were sitting in front of us were as obnoxious as you might imagine. One Hispanic guy threatened to tell the attendant taking temperatures that he was from Mexico. (Ok – I admit, I snickered at that one.)

Incheon Airport is every bit as impressive as everyone described. I may go back there some time just to shop.

VISA Debacle I: The Apostille

The first step for acquiring  S. Korean work VISAs was to gather and mail a number documents to Aclipse recruiting agency in Boston, who in turn forwarded them to Chung-Dahm Learning Center, the school in Seoul where we will be teaching. The list of necessary documents included such items as sealed transcripts from the schools we attended, our original diplomas (which they promise they will return at orientation), copies of our passports, passport photos, signed contracts and consent forms, and background checks with Apostilles attached.

We pretty much had most everything on hand except the background checks. So, one day during my lunch hour (before I had announced I would be leaving my job), Gary and I went to a local fingerprinting establishment, filled out some paperwork, paid our $25.62 processing fee, waited in a small, stuffy waiting room with a few others for over an hour, had our fingerprints taken by a crass woman with a smoker’s voice and finally left with our fingerprint cards and instructions on where to send them in hand.  This took much longer than my hour lunch break, but luckily no one at the office seemed to notice how long I’d been gone, or maybe they just weren’t worried about it, so I never offered an explanation.

Within a week or ten days, we received our Federal Background Checks back in the mail, each  with a “No Arrest Record” stamp on them.

With background checks in hand, we set out to discover how to get “Apostilles” attached to them. Now, neither one of us had ever heard of an Apostille, but according to the checklist the recruiting agency sent us, it has something to do with the Secretary of State’s Office. (The dictionary definition of apostille is “a marginal annotation or note” – not a terribly helpful piece of information.)

I called the Secretary of State in Santa Fe to find out how to attain an Apostille and learned that all we needed to do was to send our notarized background check to the Secretary of State’s Office along with a check for the $10.00 processing fee and a self addressed stamped envelopes. Once they received our request and checks, they would attach the Apostilles to our background checks  and send them back to us within ten days.

Sounds easy enough, I thought. There is a notary on the third floor of the building I work in and Gary could easily get a notary at his bank to sign off on his background check. Only, when Gary (who was first to get around to it) went to the bank to get his background check notarized, the notary told him she could not notarize it. Why? She sited a couple of reasons; 1) There was no appropriate location to place the notarization and, 2) the FBI form clearly states that notarization is not required.

After a little further investigation and one or two somewhat frantic emails to and from our recruiter, I learned that what the recruiting agency and school really needed from us were state background checks. And here I thought Federal background checks complete with fingerprint cards would trump any silly state background check; simply not true.

Turns out the state background check is very easy to acquire. All one has to do is print off a form from the state’s website, fill it out completely, send it with a $10 processing fee and a self-addressed-stamped-envelope, then wait ten to fourteen days for a response. We quickly got the forms filled out and mailed them the day before Gary was to leave town for Paolo Alto (where he spent three weeks teaching eleven-year-old talented youth for Johns Hopkins’ CTY summer program). This was early June, well ahead of the June 24th deadline.

Gary’s background check came back in the mail within two days, a quicker than expected turn around, which seemed auspicious and promising.

After ten days had lapsed and I still had not received my state background check (and had endured comments about my integrity from Gary), I decided to call the appropriate office to inquire after it. This was on a Friday, and, in quintessentially New Mexican fashion, (NM is the land of manana), the woman suggested I wait until Monday, and if it still hadn’t arrived by mail to give them another call.

Monday came and went and still no state background check. I called the state again Tuesday morning and told the same woman that the background check had not yet arrived by mail. She placed me on hold, returned to the line and said that it would have been sent with Gary’s, since they were coming to the same address. I assured her that my background check was not in the envelope with Gary’s background check. At this point my phone call was transferred to another woman who defensively insisted that once something leaves their office they are not responsible for it’s delivery. I assured her I really didn’t care about all of that, that I just wanted to find out how to get my background check – that I had to have it for my job. After a heated back and forth she finally understood what I wanted and told me to fill out another request along with proof of payment and another SASE and they would get another one to me.

And they did.

The following Tuesday I took the morning off from work and Gary and I drove to the Secretary of State’s office in Santa Fe to get Apostilles attached to our notarized state background checks (turns out an Apostille is a letter written on very nice bond paper which bears the Secretary of States seal and is attached to the background check with a fancy brass grommet).

While we could have sent our background checks and request for Apostilles by mail, I wanted to hand deliver everything and be available to address concerns or problems in person. Also, we were past the deadline at this point. And, as it turned out, going in person was a wise choice because the woman who helped us questioned the background checks we had; she thought they typically had two pages instead of one. I assured her all we received was one page. She seemed to accept my explanation and disappeared down the hallway to do whatever it was she needed to do. I stood in the waiting area with Gary imagining the nightmare that I may have avoided by being present to address this seemingly minor question;  the woman’s concern over the correct number of pages that a background check should have might very well have been enough for them to return our background checks back to us without  Apostilles attached, thus delaying our VISA process even further.

Upon our return to Albuquerque that afternoon, we “over-nighted” our background checks and Apostilles to our recruiter in Boston to add to the packet of information we had sent ahead, thus beginning our tense wait for VISA codes…

which will be the topic of a future blog.