January 2006 Archives

more on the truck

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The truck is ready! Continuing his thoroughness, B gave me a list of everything he had done:

  • head gaskets & head bolts
  • intake gaskets, exhaust manifold gaskets
  • plenum [?] gasket, injector "o" rings
  • valve cover gaskets & grommets
  • valve seals (machine shop), freeze plugs
  • thermostat & gasket & flush cooling system
  • water pump * gasket (fan [indecipherable] new)
  • upper & lower radiator hoses & clamps
  • by-pass hoses & clamps
  • distributor cap & rotos, plus wires, plugs, fuel filter, air filter
  • serpentine belt
  • clean & degum throttle body, intake manifold & upper plenum & injectors
  • r&r intake & exhaust valves - clean/remove carbon build-up & re-seat
  • changed oil & filter
  • check air pressure tires
  • fixed tailgate & cover
  • machine shop: milled heads, checked for cracks & hot tank, installed seals, installed freeze plugs

Whew! The repair including parts and labor cost $835, plus $800 to buy the truck. I think we did pretty well!

My only regret is that I didn't get any photos of the work in progress. But he did it all over the weekend, while I was home attacking yuccas. Too bad I don't have a tag for it yet, or I could have driven it today. Oh well, I'll go to DMV tomorrow.

truck update

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So we own the truck, but it's not ready to drive yet. B at Stoneline was an auto mechanic before, and had worked on the truck before, so it made sense to have him do this job. He's replacing the freeze plugs and remilling the heads, and also replacing some other things and fixing the back gate while he's at it. He sent me to Advance with a big list of parts he had printed off their website. The list was great, it had all the part numbers so it was easy for the guy at the store to find everything. B advised me to "play the helpless female," which suggestion I did not take. To me that means feigning ignorance/inability to get people to do things for you. But I really am largely ignorant of auto repair. So I could approach the situation as I would approach any store in which I needed assistance. No need to "play" anything.

The guy at Advance made a couple of modifications to my list: he said I didn't need the water pump gasket, because it came with the water pump, but I did need a thermostat gasket because it didn't come with the thermostat. But when I brought everything to B, he said that he had asked me to buy a better water pump gasket than the one that came with it. Also he hadn't asked for a thermostat gasket because it comes with the head gasket. I offered to go back and get the water pump gasket but he said it wasn't necessary. I did return the thermostat gasket because I had to go back anyway and pick up the spark plugs, which they were out of the first time.

B has been great about telling me exactly what's going on. To the point that I sometimes don't know what he's talking about. But I appreciate his thoroughness. So the current situation is that he took the heads to a machinist last week. The machinist didn't know him (B worked as a mechanic in VA, so he doesn't know any vendors here) and wouldn't take a check. Which I didn't know until the day he had to pick them up, but between the two of us we had enough cash to pay the guy.

Unfortunately B wasn't happy with the job the machinist did. Specifically, he was supposed to clean the valves but didn't. B expressed some concern that he might have been sloppy in other ways too, and overmilled the heads. (The funny thing is, when explaining this B said "you know, like how C. sometimes gets a little too enthusiastic and oversands a table?" I was like, um, no, I'm not familiar with C's sanding habits, I almost never leave the office!) If the heads were overmilled, B says we'll have to get the manifest milled down too so everything will fit. I hope that didn't happen! B worked on the truck over the weekend so I'll find out tomorrow.

If everything went as planned, the truck will be driveable tomorrow! Except that I don't have a new tag for it yet. I got the insurance settled so I'll go to DMV on Wednesday. Georg and I already decided that the first thing we're going to do is tear down the shed behind the house (not the big nice one, the crummy falling-down one) and take it and all its contents to the dump. And then get lumber to build our vegetable garden. Yay!

i'm mr. heat miser

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National Arbor Day Foundation updates hardiness zones.

The hardiness zone map divides the country into zones based on average low temperatures. Plants are often sold by zone; for instance "hardy to zone 8" means that a plant will survive the winter in zones 8,9 or 10, but should be protected or treated as an annual in zone 7. Of course, this is important information for gardeners but not the only important information. Average high temperatures aren't considered in the zone map, nor is humidity, rainfall, etc etc. I gather that a zone in the West is very different from the same zone in the East, in terms of what plants can be grown and how to care for them.

I'm not any kind of expert on hardiness zones but as a novice gardener, I've been reading a lot about it in the past year and a half, as I try to figure out what to plant in my own garden. Since I started gardening I've found the zone map puzzling, because it didn't match my experience at all. Here in Durham we were in zone 7b, which means the average low temp could get down to 5°F. Well I've been keeping track for two winters now, and that's way off. Last year the temperature never got below 15°, which would put us in zone 8b. So far this year it hasn't dipped below 20°. I realize that the map shows average lows, and the lows might be higher or lower in any particular year. But my (admittedly rather vague) memory is that we haven't seen temperatures below 10° in a long long time here. I would call a 5° low in Durham a freak occurance, not an average.

So I wasn't surprised to see that the new map puts us firmly in zone 8. A full zone makes a big difference for selecting plants. For instance, there are plants (like dahlias and tuberose) that can stay in the ground in zone 8, but have to be dug up and stored over winter in zone 7. I hesitated to plant them because that sounded like too much work. But everyone I know leaves them in the ground every year, and never has a problem. I even know a woman who grows a huge bay leaf tree in her backyard. Granted, it's a nice protected spot between the house and a low wall. But still, that should be impossible in zone 7. Her bay leaf grows way taller than the protective wall and the branches never die back.

Since this map was developed by the Arbor Day Foundation rather than the USDA, I'm not sure what impact it will have on plant sellers, if any. Some plant catalogs ship live plants based on the customers zone, and I bet they'll probably stick to the old map. But at least I can read plant labels with less uncertainty, knowing that my suspicions were correct and we're really in zone 8.

I should add that while this change makes things easier for me personally, it's reflective of some not very good news on a larger scale. In other words, the dreaded "we all know it's just junk science and isn't really happening, right? right?" global warming. The Irascible Gardener has a good essay on the larger implications of so much of the country getting so much warmer in such a short time.

seed time

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Tomorrow is my birthday, but I'm celebrating today. First, by sleeping in. Second, no work today. Not even customer support on the big e-commerce site. If anyone has a problem, they can just wait until tomorrow. Next, if it warms up like it's supposed to, yardwork. I will defeat the yucca! (This time wearing glasses.) Finally, dinner at Nana's. We go there about once a year and always have a wonderful time.

The other fun thing I have planned for today is ordering seeds. It's that time again! I get the basics from the big box stores, and go to catalogs or internet suppliers for a few unusual things. We're trying to approach the garden plan logically, testing new crops every year and keeping the ones that work:

repeating the big winners from last year:
beets, chard, zucchini, tomatoes, poblano peppers, shallots

trying again where we think we can fix last year's mistakes:
pumpkins, brussels sprouts

adding some new things:
salad greens, sweet peppers, watermelon, cippolini onions

dropping whatever wasn't worth the effort:
yellow squash, tomatillos

We may (okay, probably will) add some things, but that's the plan so far.

The most fun part is picking the tomato varieties. Last year we grew 1 hybrid, Super Sweet 100, and a bunch of heirlooms. I had chosen the heirlooms based on 2 criteria: flavor and color. Unfortunately I didn't consider heat or drought resistance, and then placed the tomatoes where they were hard to water, and then we had a heat wave and a drought. And the Super Sweet 100 were the only ones that did anything for us.

Heirlooms grown from organic seed are all well and good, but not if we don't get any tomatoes from them! This year we're growing half hybrids and half heirlooms, and choosing the heirlooms based on taste and heat resistance. Super Sweet 100, Early Girl, Better Boy, Arkansas Traveler, Cuostralee, and Mortgage Lifter. They'll all be red, but who cares if they produce better than last year.

more fun than a poke in the eye?

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I don't know about a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but I can say with some authority that a poke in the eye with a yucca leaf is no fun at all. It feels like I have an eyelash in my eye all the time. Except if I touch or rub it, in which case it hurts. Last night by the time I went to sleep it hurt pretty bad, and I was concerned that I might have the tip of the yucca leaf still in my eye. It's creeping me out just to write that. But this morning when I first woke up, it didn't hurt at all. Whew! I guess it was just a scratch after all. Of course, after about five minutes of blinking and looking around it felt like there was an eyelash in there again. But if I can stop myself from touching it then I might be able to, you know, get things done today.

i love north carolina winters

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Why was today a great day? First of all, it was so warm that on the way back from getting the title transferred on my new truck, I had to roll down my car windows. But wait, it gets better! Got back to Stoneline and discovered the power was out in the entire complex. Had just enough time to get hours from all the guys and calculate their paychecks before the power ran out on the battery backup. Then discovered that the power wouldn't be back on until after 5, so there was no point in my staying.

I thought I ought to go to the DMV and get the new tag & so forth for the truck, but the phones were out at Stoneline too, so I couldn't call the insurance company to get the truck insured. And you can't go to DMV until you get the insurance, so what do you know, I had to put off the DMV! Dang!

It was still insanely warm when I got home at 3:30, so I went outside with the dogs and did yardwork for about an hour and a half, digging up those blasted yuccas from the bank along the driveway. This year the yuccas are definitely my nemesis. They're invasive and have big tuberous roots that go really deep, and if you don't get the whole thing, they just multiply. I found that out last year when I dug one out but left a few bits of root, and ended up with four new ones in the same space.

Well, last year my nemesis was the wild brambles, and after a focused attack on my part, they seem to have been vanquished pretty well. (They still pop up occasionally but they're nowhere near the problem I thought they would be.) And so it will be, I hope, with the yuccas! I had started on them before, and in ninety minutes today I was able to get an entire plant out, plus about half the root of another I had been working on before. It's really hard work: solid clay, except for all the rocks. But on the bright side, because of all the rain lately the clay is soft and relatively easy to break up. And it's much more satisfying if you say "Take that, you bastard!" or "I got you, motherfucker!" every time you unearth a big section of root.

It felt so good to get back out into the yard, even if only for an hour and a half. I didn't get an enormous amount done or anything, but I got enough done to convince myself that I'll be able to get the rest of the bed done before spring.

Speaking of spring, the new daffodils are starting to sprout! It's a bit early, I guess because it's been so warm lately, but I'm still excited about it. Daffodils grow in really cold climates too so I think they'll be fine when/if it gets cold again here.

The only bad thing that happened this afternoon was when I got poked in the eye by a yucca leaf. Yes, this nemesis fights back! I think it must have scratched my eye a bit because the eye still hurts a little and has been watering on and off since it happened. But I can see just fine so I don't think it's anything to worry about.

Now I should be cooking, but I really don't feel like it. On the other hand, I don't feel like going out either. What to do.

untamed

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January 10 movie: Untamed. Joan Crawford's first talkie! Fairly lame movie, I must confess, plus the sound quality was terrible. It wasn't quite as bad as "The Duelling Cavalier," but it was in that territory. The best part of the movie was Crawford's pet monkey, who clearly pees on an actor in one scene. (The guy doesn't react to it, so I'm guessing it wasn't part of the script.) From then on the monkey wears a dark-colored diaper. Ha! I know, I'm twelve, but I thought it was funny.

The movie features Crawford as an hieress who grew up in the wild with her father, and adventurer. After Dad dies Crawford heads for the US and falls madly in love with the first young man she meets (Robert Montgomery, in one of his first movies). Crawford wore a short sundress that would be cute today, no shoes, and threatened to punch anyone she didn't like, male or female. She must have seemed positively feral at the time. And Montgomery was so skinny! He takes his shirt off at one point and he has tiny little arms.

It's kind of funny how aesthetics have changed in the past 75 years. Besides the lack of steroidal overdeveloped upper bodies, there's also a softness around the face and jawline that you would never see in a male movie star today. It's most obvious in a clinch: when the man leans in for the kiss in an old movie, he often gets a bit of a double chin. Movie stars today have like 5% body fat, so you never see that .. well I was going to say excess flesh, but it's not actually excess. Just the normal result of bending a normal neck.

after office hours

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January 10 movie: After Office Hours. Clark Gable and Constance Bennet are a newspaper reporter and a socialiate who solve a murder mystery on Long Island. It was a decent movie but nothing exceptional.

our blushing brides

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January 10 movie: Our Blushing Brides. This was a decent pre-code Joan Crawford vehicle. By which I mean a sleazy romp with premarital sex, crime, and lots of young ladies in lingerie. Robert Montgomery plays Crawford's love interest, but he's hardly in the movie.

woman of the year

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January 8 movie: Woman of the Year. Okay, now I remember why I don't like Tracy/Hepburn movies. Hepburn is a driven, highly successful career woman, a political reporter who would have world leaders on her speed dial if speed dial existed back then. But the celebration of her success only lasts for the first act. The rest of the movie is spent humiliating Hepburn, exposing her as a failed wife, mother and woman.

I was hoping this movie would be about Hepburn and Tracy learning to accomodate each other to make their relationship work. But no, that would be a very different movie. (It would be Designing Woman.) This is about stand-up guy Tracy putting up with selfish shrew Hepburn until he can't take it anymore, tossing her over, and then grudgingly allowing her to beg his forgiveness for having a life of her own. He's like a fricking Promise Keeper.

The message of this movie is summed up when Hepburn's mentor, another successful woman, gives up her career to get married. The mentor explains it by saying, "I got tired of winning prizes. Now I want to be the prize." Ugh. Just, ugh.

the women

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January 8 movie: The Women. This was just what I needed. A witty comedy, a good antidote to the emotional movies of the previous day. The TCM intro mentioned that the all-female gimmick wasn't just the cast, but also the art on the walls and even the animals. I never noticed the art (did they mean female artists or female subjects?), and of course I have to take their word for it with the animals, but I did notice on a previous viewing that all the books on the shelves are by female authors.

princess mononoke

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January 7 movie: Princess Mononoke. I had intended not to watch this movie -- it's brilliant, but emotionally wrenching, and I was by myself because Georg was out of town. But I started watching the intro with John Lassiter, and then I was hooked and had to watch the whole movie.

It's just as amazing as I remembered. I love the depth of Miyzaki's characters. No one in this movie is completely good or completely bad. (Well, actually, Jiro is uniformly bad now that I think about it.) It occurred to me on this viewing that Ashitaki is the hero because he's the only character with empathy for all sides of the conflict. Eboshi is a villain because her compassion is so limited. She's profoundly generous to the people within her community but couldn't care less about anyone outside it.

I don't know if I was just feeling maudlin because of being by myself or what, but between this and A Night to Remember I was a basketcase that night. I mean it, I was sobbing while I brushed my teeth and made the bed up.

a night to remember

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January 7 movie: A Night to Remember. This is an amazing movie about the sinking of the Titanic. Based on a well-researched book of the same name, almost every word of dialogue is taken from survivor accounts. The movie is incredibly affecting. I think the part that got to me the most was the officers of the Carpathia, racing to get there as fast as possible, knowing they won't get there in time.

spirited away

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January 6 movie: Spirited Away. TCM's Miyazaki series begins with one of the best. This is not just one of my favorite animated movies, but one of my favorite movies of any kind. Everyone has probably already seen this and discovered for themselves how wonderful it is, but if you haven't yet I won't spoil it for you. I'll just say briefly that the story is about a young girl who stumbles into a magical world. The movie is intended for kids but with a total lack of dumbing-down that makes it worthwhile for adults as well.

The TCM series features nice introductions by John Lassiter of Pixar, who is apparently friends with Miyazaki. The series is well worth watching just for the intros, even if you've already seen the movies.

play girl

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January 6 movie: Play Girl. Like Life Begins, this was a Loretta Young melodrama about a down-on-her-luck young woman. I guess she must have made a lot of these during the Depression. There was another one after this, in which Young's husband George Brent is out of work, and resents Young for having a job. That description reminded me too much of the hateful Front Page Woman, so I didn't watch it.

Anyway, Play Girl. Loretta Young is a department store girl who gets married, finds out her husband is an inveterate gambler, kicks him out, becomes so destitute she has to turn to gambling herself, and then somehow reunites with her husband. Who may not be gambling anymore, but since he abandoned his pregnant wife to abject poverty I can't very well call him reformed.

Increased freedom of content didn't make the pre-code movies better films per se, in fact a lot of them are silly, sleazy trash. But I love the gleeful sexiness of them anyway. This one has a great line: one of Loretta Young's old friends from the department store comes to visit her, admires the dainties in her lingerie drawer, and then reminisces about "the old days, when we one had one pair of panties apiece." Imagine a 1950 movie getting away with dialogue like that!

comfort food

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Tis the season for staying home, bundling up and making comfort food. Around here that means stews and roasts and casseroles. We've been trying to expand our cooking repertoire with new recipes from Epicurious.com. They have a nice range of recipes, from simple to elaborate, the search function works pretty well, and the reader review feature is wonderful. People post what they liked, what they didn't like, and how they modified the recipe to make it work better.

Last Sunday when Georg came home from his trip, I made pork shoulder braised in apple cider. Which turned out pretty amazing, if I do say so, and was really easy to do. The cider only came in gallons, and I only needed a cup and a half, so I used good unfiltered juice instead. It turned out great. The onions cooked down in the apple juice to make a wonderful sweet sauce. Why do pork and apples go so well together?

The pork shoulder was way more than we could eat in one night, so the next day Georg used some of it in a soup with kale and chickpeas. It was supposed to be made with chorizo, so he added some poblanos (from our garden! Georg had roasted and frozen the last of them back in November) to spice it up. Yum! We don't make soup very often, but every time we do, I think we should more often.

A couple days later I used up the rest of the pork shoulder in a highly modified version of this traditional Dutch stew. It was supposed to be potatoes, kale and kielbasa. We used cauliflower, broccoli raab (which is botanically unrelated to broccoli, did you know that? I just read it) and the leftover pork shoulder. I fried the pork with some mushrooms for a good long time, to give it a little texture. It turned out pretty good. But then again, with all that cheese how could it not?

That Dutch recipe put me in the mood for kielbasa, so last night we made a simplified cassoulet. I've never made real cassoulet, but according to Julia Child it's a long, complicated business. This one was much simpler, only took a couple of hours. We made it with kielbasa, chicken and white beans. And it was good.

i heart tcm

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Have I ever mentioned how much I love TCM? I don't know what I would do for entertainment if we didn't get it. Probably I'd buy World of Warcraft and fuck up my wrist gaming all the time. And then I wouldn't be able to work and then where would I be.

Anyway, the point of this post is TCM. I just saw their "This Month on TCM" ad for January and it is amazing. It was shots from Miyazaki movies cut together with shots from other movies they're showing this month. A pan across the Giant Warriors from Nausicaa followed by a pan across German WWI soldiers (from a movie I couldn't identify). The biplanes from Porco Rosso followed by a biplane air battle from Darling Lili. Deborah Kerr opening her windows in Black Narcissus followed by Sen opening a window in Spirited Away. That sort of thing. Besides Miyazaki they also showed clips from several Robert Montgomery movies (including a shot from The Divorcee that made me sorry I declined to record it last week), some Michael Powell, Vincent Price, and a bunch of other movies too.

It was a wonderful promo. I'm going to watch it again and see how many movies I recognize. And then I'm probably going to watch it another time.

life begins

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January 6 movie: Life Begins. This was a nice little melodrama starring Loretta Young, about women in a "waiting ward" in a "lying in hospital." Translation, they had a whole hospital just for ob/gyn and in that hospital was a ward where they stuck all the hugely pregnant women to wait for labor to begin. The movie was mainly interesting for the portrait of obstetrics in the 30s. It seemed really dangerous. I though that childbirth became much safer when they started using anesthesia, which was long before the 30s I thought. (Queen Victoria had anesthesia for her last few deliveries, and that was in the 1850s.) But in this movie all the women are terrified of dying during childbirth. The women were treated like invalids as soon as they got there, not allowed to walk at all, even if they were perfectly healthy and not even in labor yet. I wonder how much of that was accurate.

The best character was a modern woman who dressed like Isadora Duncan, proudly announced that she was single, quoted psychology, and had all the best lines. Like this exchange with a sweet, matronly woman on the ward:

"You never know, he might grow up to be President of the United States!"
"Well, maybe. But I'm going to try to raise him right."

tom, dick and harry

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January 5 movie: Tom, Dick and Harry. Ginger Rogers plays a telephone operator trying to find love. I found this movie rather dull, except the dream sequences, which were creepy. Burgess Meredith plays one of her possible suitors.

darling lili

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January 5 movie: Darling Lili. Note to self: "I wonder if this is as bad as everyone says" is not a good reason to watch a movie. Especially if the movie is indeed as bad as everyone says. If you're thinking about watching this, I've got four words for you: Julie Andrews shower scene.

(Actually the bump-and-grind burlesque number may be even worse than the shower scene, just because it lasts so much longer. Either way, just because Blake Edwards was married to the woman didn't mean he had to inflict this on the rest of us. I'm sure he found his wife very sexy, and that's nice for them, but I do not want to think about Julie Andrews that way. Ever.)

elizabeth r

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January 4 movie: Elizabeth R. Seeing the Cate Blanchett version made me want to watch this miniseries again. I watched it over about 3 days, but since I already wrote about the series in detail I'll put the whole thing in one post this time and just say briefly that it is excellent, very engaging & not at all dry while still fairly accurate to the historical record.

There are 4 DVDs but the miniseries is on the first three. Disc 4 is special features, which as I recall are not that great. Anyway the miniseries comprises 6 parts:

  1. Elizabeth's struggle to survive before she becomes queen (the first episode begins near the end of Young Bess);
  2. her relationship with Robert Dudley;
  3. efforts of the privy council to marry her to a French prince, and more with Robert Dudley;
  4. the execution of Mary Queen of Scots;
  5. the Spanish Armada;
  6. her relationship with the Earl of Essex (also covered in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) and Elizabeth's death.

My initial recollection was that Elizabeth (the Blanchett movie) had made up a bunch of stuff about Robert Dudley, but on rewatching I see that actually they compressed events from a couple of decades (episodes 2 and 3 of the miniseries) as if it all happened early on. For instance a big plot point in Elizabeth was that she can't marry Dudley because he's secretly married. Well he did secretly marry, which did make her very angry, but that was his third wife, decades after Elizabeth and Dudley had given up any idea of marrying each other. She knew all about his first wife; she was even at the wedding!

Also, I thought Elizabeth made that up about her French suitor being a transvestive, but there was a germ of truth to it: actually the older brother, duke of Anjou, was a transvestite. The younger brother, the duke of Alencon, was the one who courted her. Also the movie made it seem like Elizabeth was never interested in the Duke, but in the miniseries she very much was, or at least acted the part.

make your own bed

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January 4 movie: Make Your Own Bed. This is a weird little movie about a rich guy (Alan Hale!) who can't keep servants. He entices a struggling detective (Jack Carson) and fiance (Jane Wyman) to take the job, by pretending that his life in is danger from Nazi spies. Then Hale hires a bunch of actors to play the spies, so Carson will stay interested in the case and keep posing as the butler. Problem is, Carson is a lousy detective and Wyman is a lousy domestic. Wacky hijinks ensue!

I wouldn't have watched this except, you know, Alan Hale. It's nice to see him in a major role. In most of his movies -- at least the ones they show on TCM -- he just gets a few scenes.

three loves has nancy

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January 3 movie: Three Loves Has Nancy. Nancy is a Southern belle (played by an actress I didn't recognize) who goes to New York in search of the good-for-nothing fiance who had disappeared on her. Somehow she ends up staying at Robert Montgomery's apartment. She turns out to be an amazing cook (and also an extremely annoying woman) so naturally Montgomery and Franchot Tone spend the rest of the movie fighting over her. This wasn't a very good movie but what the heck, I like both Montgomery and Tone.

forsaking all others

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January 3 movie: Forsaking All Others. This was a serviceable romantic comedy starring Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery. Montgomery is a cad who leaves Crawford at the altar to marry another woman, then gets tired of the other woman and wants some action on the side with Crawford. Gable is the good guy who loves Crawford from afar and gets her out of the mess with Montgomery.

happy birthday, dr. bloody bronowski

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Today was Jacob Bronowski's birthday. Thanks to my dad for the link.

(The post linked to above has a very nice biography of Dr. Bronowski, though the comments include the frustrating information that The Ascent of Man is available on DVD, but only for the European region.)

safety tip

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I was driving home last night and saw someone walking along the road. They were doing the cleverest thing: they had a flashlight in one hand and were swinging it back and forth as they walked. It was way more visible than a reflector because of the back and forth motion. Cole Mill is not a safe road for pedestrians, but that person made sure drivers could see them. If I ever have to walk on a road without sidewalks at night, I'm going to take a flashlight. Thanks, random pedestrian, for the great idea!

con air

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January 2 movie: Con Air. I like a dumb action movie as much as the next person, but sometimes enough is enough. This is just too stupid, too overblown, too preposterous. In fact I think that Con Air was the movie that put us off seeing every big dumb action movie. After this we realized that lots of stuff blowing up was not enough to make a movie worth watching.

I've often heard New Yorkers complain about movies that film in New York and mess up the geography, and I never really understood their annoyance before Con Air. The final set piece was filmed in Las Vegas, and yes, they get it all wrong. In this version of Vegas, the strip is nowhere near the airport, is only a couple of blocks long, and stops abruptly with the Sands at its end. Glitter Gulch has a long tunnel at one end, and the other side of the tunnel is blocked by the Debbie Reynolds casino. And best of all, right in front of the Debbie Reynold casino is a giant hydraulic poundy thing that operates even at night with no workers there. What the heck is the poundy thing doing in front of a casino? It doesn't make any sense!

the clock

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January 1 movie: The Clock. This was a sweet, simple movie about Judy Garland and Robert Walker falling in love while he's on a two day leave before being shipped out for WWII. This movie wasn't a watershed event in the art filmmaking or anything, but I enjoyed it & was glad I watched it.

It was a perfect role for Robert Walker: an awkward, vulnerable kid. Judy Garland was a great costar for him. The best thing about the movie was the vivid picture of 1940s New York. I read online that the entire movie was filmed at the MGM studios in LA, which shocked me. I thought most if not all of the movie was filmed on location. The scenes in places I had been, like outside the Met and in Penn Station, looked totally real.

the great escape

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December 30 movie: The Great Escape. Ending the year on a high note, with one of my favorite war movies. I've written about it on previous viewings, so this time I'll just add that over the summer Georg and I saw a PBS special about the real events that inspired the movie. The special was fantastic. They had a team of archeologists excavate the third tunnel which the Nazis had never discovered. The team found all kinds of artifacts stashed inside the tunnel, like passport stamps made out of shoe soles. Then the show brought several survivors who had participated in the escape back to visit the site of the tunnel. They closed by showing a stone monument the survivors had made at the time, with the names of the 50 soldiers who had been killed. It was an amazing show. I highly recommend it especially if you've seen the movie.

rock star

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December 29 movie: Rock Star.

"Georg, what band is this based on again?"
"Judas Priest."
"That really happened? Their lead singer quit and they replaced him with a guy from a cover band?"
"Yep."
"That's kind of pathetic."
"We are talking about Judas Priest here."

dream wife

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December 28 movie: Dream Wife. Wasn't I just saying that I liked movies about women who were good at their jobs? Well that's only true if the movie isn't repulsive. Deborah Kerr plays a high-ranking member of the State Department who's working on negotiations for a critical oil deal with an Islamic country. Strangely prophetic job for the 1950s. Anyway, Cary Grant plays her fiance, who pitches a fit because he can't stand being with a woman who has something in her life that matters besides him. To get back at her, Grant proposes to a princess from the Islamic country, who has been trained since birth to be the abject servant of her future husband.

Eventually Grant gets tired of of the princess. Because he realizes how empty and demeaning it would be to have a slave rather than a wife? No, because Kerr teaches the girl about Amelia Bloomer and Harriet Beecher Stowe and she gets uppity. I kid you not, the movie is that bad. I felt dirty after watching this.

the bachelor and the bobby-soxer

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December 28 movie: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. I've noticed recently that I'm drawn to old movies about women who have jobs and are good at them. It's sadly (though not surprisingly) rare in the 40s and 50s. Myrna Loy is a judge in this movie, and she's terrific. Cary Grant plays the shifty local character who plays off against her, and he's totally unconvincing as a shifty local character, but it's Cary Grant so who cares? The one thing that really put me off this movie was Shirley Temple as a boy-crazy teen with a crush on Grant. The conventional wisdom that the viewing public couldn't handle Shirley Temple as a sexual being was definitely true for me. It was creepy.

On the bright side, Grant had funny bit of back and forth dialogue: "You remind me of a man. What man? The man with the power. What power? The power of hoo-doo. Who do? You do. Do what? Remind me of a man. What man? ..."

eddie izzard: glorious

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December 28 movie: Eddie Izzard: Glorious. I think now we've seen all of Eddie Izzard's movies. This was a great one, probably my favorite next to Dressed to Kill. Which, as Georg said, will always be the funniest to us because it's the first we ever saw of him. Anyway, Glorious was filmed in England, and I'm guessing he wasn't thinking about selling the DVD in the US, based on the amount of British-specific humor.

wings of desire

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December 27 movie: Wings of Desire. I love this movie, but I don't like to see it too often. It's rambling & unfocused, and too frequent viewings make problems like that harder to ignore. But I hadn't seen it in a long time, so I was able to appreciate & enjoy it as much as ever.

recipe for a great evening

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  • Check mailbox. Find 2 Netflix DVDs and a box from Black Phoenix.
  • Get home. Clean up dog accident (okay, that part wasn't so great). Feed dogs. Change into pajamas.
  • Heat up chili from the Q Shack, bought yesterday in one of my rare moments of preparedness.
  • Build fire.
  • Test all my new BPAL.
  • Make hot cocoa.
  • Settle in on the couch for an evening of movie watching and blog writing.
  • Ahhhh.

(First impressions on the BPAL:

Pink Phoenix. Nice, but not at all me.

Three Witches. Why oh why does BPAL cinnamon go so wrong on me?

The Bow and Crown of Conquest. Nice, not too strong, though maybe a touch masculine for me due to the leather.

The Great Sword of War. Citrus, black tea and red musk. Yum! It's sort of like a winter version of Embalming Fluid: similar notes, but darker and warmer. This is the only one of the bunch that I know I'm going to wear again.)

we have heat

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The furnace was fixed at about 5:30 this evening. Today was the first time that I felt like the Griles team was not all they should be. The guy was late, first of all, and secondly he did not have the necessary tool to put together two parts that he brought with him. They told me beforehand that they were going to do this assembly at the shop.

He and I spent about a half hour searching my house for allen wrenches. Everything I could find was either too big or too small. At one point I found myself apologizing because I couldn't find one the right size, and then I was like "why am I apologizing? He's the one who didn't bring the damned tool!" Except I didn't say that out loud.

Finally we found one the right size, in this little box of weird wrenches that I have for my computer. The only problem was they weren't L shaped like the typical allen wrench. They were little tiny tips that you fit onto a long handle. Like a screwdriver. But the handle didn't fit inside the part that he needed to tighten. So he had to use the little tiny tip by itself, and use pliers to turn it. Which I guess I shouldn't gripe about, because at least it worked.

So anyway, we have heat. Yay for central heat! Do you know how wonderful it is to pee in a heated bathroom? I think civilization would not be possible without it.

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