February 2006 Archives

battleground

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February 4 movie: Battleground. War movie starring Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy and many others. I read on IMDB that the script was based on the writer's own experiences in the infantry, and a lot of the moments that seemed cliche (like the guy who keeps losing his false teeth, and then pretends to lose them to avoid a detail) were actually true stories. I mainly recorded it for Ricardo Montalban but unfortunately he gets killed early on. Which I should have expected: the plucky ethnic guy always gets killed early on. Still, I really enjoyed the movie. It was a nicely done portrait of living in a constant mixture of danger and boredom.

oi do i ache

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Previously I've only been able to manage about an hour with the sledgehammer, after that I'm too tired to continue. But with frequent breaks I stayed at it all afternoon and got a whole lot done yesterday. First I broke up all the concrete that had fallen into the septic tank, and moved it to the truck. Three wheelbarrows full. Then I broke up the last slab. It was over the second compartment, which is really deep, so I think I can leave it down there and just cover it with dirt. After that I broke up the brick wall which separated the two compartments. The brick is in decent condition and I think we can use it somewhere, in a path or border.

You know how people who own old houses sometimes find things? Sometimes really nice things, like slate paths hidden under weeds or beautiful antique fireplaces behind walls. The woman in Under the Tuscan Sun found an Estruscan basin under her house. (She put the basin outside on her patio and used it as an ice bucket to serve wine when all her rich American friends flew over for parties. Which pretty well encapsulates why I hated that book.) Well I've never found anything nice in my house. Only bad things, like a big chunk of hardwood floor that was replaced with cheap ass wood that doesn't match. Or a built-in bookshelf installed on top of crappy wall to wall carpet. So I think it's kind of funny that I finally found something attractive and useful, and I found it inside the septic tank.

By the time all that was done, so was I. I was exhausted and also had to clean myself up for dinner with my friends P. and J. The whole time I was working, I was so careful about safety. Goggles of course, and always paying attention to my footing, making sure I was on stable ground, making sure that whatever I was about to smash couldn't fall on my leg, etc. Then when I was all done and putting up the caution tape, I tripped, turned my ankle and fell. (Does that count as ironic? I think that's ironic.) Thank god I fell away from the hole and landed on the driveway!

Today I'm sore all over, which I expected, but I'm also having trouble putting weight on my ankle. It's not swollen so I don't think I need to worry, just take it easy today. Georg is getting home today and I was planning to make a nice dinner, but I think grocery shopping and then cooking may not be a good idea. Well, I'll see how I feel in the afternoon.

picadilly jim

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February 1 movie: Picadilly Jim. This was great. One of the highlights of Robert Montgomery's "Star of the Month" turn in TCM. Based on a P.G. Wodehouse novel, Montgomery plays a cartoonist whose father, Frank Morgan, is spurned by the horrible family of his would-be amour. So Montgomery does a satirical cartoon about the family to get back at them. Trouble is, the object of Montgomery's affection is also a member of the horrible family! This was very funny and fast-paced with biting satire. Very much what I want from a screwball comedy.

av geeks: greatest hits

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January 21 movie: AV Geeks: Greatest Hits. Does this count as a movie? It lasted for two hours, it was fiction, and I saw it on a movie screen. So I think it counts. This episode of AV Geeks was all films with catchy and/or annoying songs. My main reason for being there was Shake Hands With Danger, a Caterpiller safety film from the 70s full of guys falling off heavy equipment, getting their hands mangled, and so forth. And yes, it includes an obscenely catchy song, called "Shake Hands With Danger," of course.

The bad thing about the evening was a horrifyingly bad puppet show that Skip showed in its entirety before the program began. He said it was made by some friends of his. I'm sure they're nice people, but the show was awful. It was all shock value, no funny. The low points were so gross they made me feel kind of ill. He said he might do an entire program of the puppet show. I hope he does, because that will reduce the chance of him showing it before another regular show. I would walk out if that happened again. I would have walked out this time if I had known how bad it was going to be and how long it was going to last. Even though I was in Raleigh, a 40 minute drive away. The puppet show was that unpleasant.

petticoat fever

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January 30 movie: Petticoat Fever. Robert Montgomery plays a wireless operator alone in the Arctic wilderness. Myrna Loy and Reginald Owen crash land near Montgomery's station and have to stay with him until help can arrive. Loy and Montgomery immediately fall for each other and treat Owen rather badly, considering he did nothing except have the bad luck to be the antagonist in someone else's movie. I can't recommend this unless you're a Montgomery (or Loy) completist. And I would definitely avoid it if you're offended by offensive portrayals of minorities in old movies.

smash yeah

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It sucks when things suck. But you know what feels good? Smashing concrete with a sledgehammer. Especially if, instead of unintelligible exclamations as you swing the hammer, you say "you bastard!" and "fuck you!" to the concrete. Yeah.

caution

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Had a good meeting this afternoon, then came home and went after the septic tank again. First I removed two wheelbarrows full of dirt. It's a bit awkward to dig out because of the stooping and also because of all the rocks. Over the past few years, the septic tank lid was broken and soil was slowly falling into it, but I didn't know it. All I knew was there was this mysterious sinkhole in the side yard. I used to fill it up with rocks. Which I now have to dig back out.

After digging out two wheelbarrows of dirt, I took the sledgehammer to the lid again. And now I can say that on Friday I seriously overestimated my contribution to the breaking up of the concrete. It went a lot faster when Georg and I were both working on it. I don't know if it's because he's that much stronger than I am, or because his arms are longer and he gets a bigger arc with the hammer. Probably both. Anyway it took me about a half hour to break up half of one slab. I started out with this vainglorious idea that I was going to break up a whole slab by myself, but common sense and my aching shoulders got the better of me and I quit after half a slab. And that was just cracking it up, not even moving the pieces. I let the pieces fall into the tank, which is fairly deep on that side, since the lid was solid over there and dirt didn't fall in. After the lid is all broken up I'll be able to climb down inside, break down the concrete into smaller pieces and lift them out.

I have to say, standing inside a septic tank is conceptually gross but not actually gross. After ten years of disuse, it's just a big concrete box full of dirt. (No, not "night soil," plain old dirt.) The part that wasn't full of dirt looks kind of creepy though. There's a metal grate down near the bottom and another chamber beyond it. It kind of looks like a dungeon for hiding kidnapped people or something. Can I say that or is it just too creepy? Because that really is what it looks like.

It's a good thing I stopped working when I did, because I barely had the energy left to put up a fence made of caution tape. My arm was shaking while I was hammering the stakes into the ground. But it had to be done. It's not safe to have a giant open hole in your yard, full of broken concrete and sharp wires. Especially since the gas and electric meters are behind the giant hole in the ground. I had a horrible vision of a meter man falling into the hole and hurting himself and suing us. At least the hole is outside the fence so there's no chance of the dogs falling in.

mt-keystrokes

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In my continued efforts to cut down on evil comment spam, I have installed the MT-Keystrokes plugin. Apparently this plugin requires that keys be typed in order for a comment to be posted. Thus blocking most comment spam, which directly accesses the comments cgi.

We'll see if it performs as advertised, but in the meantime please email me if you have trouble posting a legitimate comment.

the cole mill chain gang

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We started work on breaking up the concrete lid of the old septic tank. And I have to say, it went a lot faster than I expected! Don't get me wrong; it's really hard. Chain gang hard, as Georg said. You have to whack the concrete with a sledgehammer until it cracks, then whack it some more to break it into manageable pieces. And the concrete is reinforced with wire inside, so then you have to cut the wire with bolt cutters. The problem is that when the concrete cracks, it falls in on itself, which makes the wire hard to reach. So sometimes you have to whack at the broken places to open it up enough to cut the wires.

This is definitely the hardest thing we've done in the yard. The swinging the sledgehammer part is about as hard as chopping wood, except that you can place the wood where you want to hit it, but getting to the concrete can be awkward, especially if it's fallen in and you have to stoop down. Also, stacking chopped wood is a lot easier than moving chunks of concrete.

We had identified an unused area in the back where we could dump the concrete, but then we realized that Jane likes to ramble around that part of the yard. And we don't want her running around and over chunks of concrete with jagged wires sticking out of them. So we ended up dumping all the concrete in a hole I had been digging outside the fence, where the dogs can't get to it. It's unsightly but we'll take it all to the landfill when we're done.

Which won't take that long if we get decent weather! We worked for less than 45 minutes yesterday, completely removed the slab that was already broken, and also made good headway on one of the intact slabs. On the other hand, by the end of the 45 minutes we both collapsed. My shoulders are so sore. Maybe it's good that it's too cold to work outside today.

The good news is that the sides are made of hollow concrete blocks, and will be much easier to break apart than the lid. Georg thinks we might even be able to use the digging bar to pry the walls loose, instead of having to smash each block with the sledgehammer.

January 29 movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Whew, I think this is the most movies watched in one day since I started the movie list two years ago. Some cable channel was showing the theatrical version of this, Encore I think. This is the first time since the movie came out that I had watched the shorter version instead of the DVD. It was kind of weird because I kept forgetting there were two versions, and wondering what had happened to all those missing scenes. For a moment I was all outraged at Encore for editing the movie. It did lead to some funny moments, like Georg calling Faramir "Lord Not Appearing In This Film."

whisper of the heart

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January 29 movie: Whisper of the Heart. I believe this movie was written by Miyazaki but directed by someone else at Studio Ghibli. It was a wonderful story about two teenagers who meet just as their lives are both changing. It was much more based in reality than any other Ghibli film I've seen, but still had a magical sensibility. While watching I felt like magical things might happen at any moment, and maybe were happening just off screen, if that makes sense.

This movie wasn't much for the big drama of, say, Mononoke or Spirited Away. It reminded me more of Totoro in the sense of building a story out of small, beautiful moments. I don't want to give much away, but I loved how much books figured into their relationship. The girl develops a crush on the boy sight unseen, because she keeps seeing his name on the cards in the backs of library books. Then eventually she finds out that he'd been reading books he thought she might like, because he already had a crush on her. I hope this comes out on DVD soon because I really want to see it again.

down with love

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January 29 movie: Down With Love. While that idiot Ben Mankewitz was introducing Pillow Talk, he gratuitously dissed Down With Love. He said that Down With Love wasn't as funny as Pillow Talk (well, duh), and also it wasn't as funny as Tango and Cash. I haven't seen Tango and Cash but that sounds like an insult to me. So I pulled out the DVD of Down With Love and watched it again.

On previous viewings I was totally smitten with the retro vibe, and didn't really look any further. This time I noticed that the movie falls apart in the third act (actually Pillow Talk has the same problem, but not nearly to the same degree). A lot of the humor is incrediblyt juvenile, even moreso than Pillow Talk. And the retro stylings, while cool, are all over the place -- the movie is set in 1962 but the set and fashions at the ladies' magazine are all kind of 1968 Pierre Cardin. But you know what? I don't care. I still love this movie. It's worth watching for David Hyde Pierce alone. His Tony Randall is pitch perfect.

pillow talk

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January 29 movie: Pillow Talk. I love this movie, but I have nothing to say about it that I haven't already said. In fact the same is true of the next movie that day, It Happened One Night. What can I say, it was my birthday and I wanted to watch movies I knew I would love. One time I subbed Divaville on Claudette Colbert's birthday, and I played a couple of clips from the Lux Radio Theater production of It Happened One Night. Alan Hale wasn't in it, alas, but Colbert and Gable were. I think if I recall correctly I played the hitchhiking scene. Which played surprisingly well on radio.

new cell phone

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So I went to the Verizon store to see if they could fix my phone, and ended up walking out with a new phone. I didn't want a new phone, but it turned out that the discount I'm supposed to get on my next phone (because I got the 2 year contract) would expire on March 4. I think it kind of sucks for them to change their policy on people who signed up already under the old policy, but whatever.

My old phone was just fine (when it worked that is) so I got the newer version of it. The new camera is better I think: takes decent photos indoors, and in bright sunlight is damned impressive. One thing I really like about the new phone is a display screen on the outside, so you can take a photo of yourself and see what you're doing.

They tried to sell me on some kind of service to download MP3s to the phone, but I can't imagine I would ever use that. Also, transferring contacts from the old phone to the new phone now costs $10. What a rip-off! I can do that myself, thanks.

While I was out at Southpoint I also bought a new battery for my powerbook. The old battery has been draining really fast, and I'm going to need good battery life for the Houston art car parade. Speaking of which, I filled out my application! Yay! They have an online application now, so it was really easy. Except that I never got the out-of-towners questions. I need to write to them and ask about it.

ninotchka

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January 29 movie: Ninotchka. I love this movie! Very funny romantic comedy starring Greta Garbo as a dedicated Soviet who comes to Paris on government business, and falls in love with Melvyn Douglas in spite of herself. Great supporting work by the master comic actors Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach as the three degenerate Soviet agents Garbo is sent to bail out. Also features Bela Lugosi as the stern Soviet commissar. The movie was remade as a musical called Silk Stockings with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the leads, with Peter Lorre as one of the three Soviet goofs.

journey into fear

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Joseph Cotten and Dolores Del Rio star in a suspense film about Nazis trying to stop Cotten before he can get back to the US with some kind of military secret or something. I found the movie kind of hard to follow actually. It had good suspense though, and nice supporting work by Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead and Orson Welles (who was given high billing by TCM even though he's hardly in the movie).

executive suite

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January 28 movie: Executive Suite. William Holden, Walter Pidgeon, Barbara Stanwyck and Fredric March star in a drama about executives in a furniture factory jockeying for position after the founder and president suddenly dies. It was a good drama, with excellent acting. But mainly interesting for the (now naive) portrait of corporate ethics. Holden gives a stirring speech about the company's future, how they will only succeed if they value quality and worker morale over short-term profits. It's kind of sad to realize that this vision of American corporate practices has almost totally failed. I do know of companies that operate this way, but only very small organizations in a luxury niche where customers are willing to pay a premium.

vanessa, her love story

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January 26 movie: Vanessa, Her Love Story. Melodrama starring Helen Hayes and Robert Montgomery as a couple who separate for stupid reasons and then spend their lives pining for each other. It had some nice moments but my main reaction was "meh."

20,000 years in sing sing

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January 25 movie: 20,000 Years in Sing Sing. Spencer Tracy stars as a prisoner in Sing Sing who is allowed to leave for a day on the "honor system" to visit his sick girlfriend (Bette Davis) and gets blamed for a murder while he's out. Why the warden didn't send a guard with him on his outing, I have no idea. The movie was remade almost shot for shot with John Garfield and Ann Sheridan, but I like this version better. The title refers to the combined sentences of everyone in Sing Sing.

the big house

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January 25 movie: The Big House. Another one of the movies about prison. This one stars Robert Montgomery as a soft kid who gets sent to a tough prison and is slowly destroyed by it. Actually the latter half of the movie is more about fellow prisoner Chester Morris trying to turn his life around. Wallace Beery is great as one of the hardened prisoners.

ladies they talk about

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January 25 movie: Ladies They Talk About. TCM showed a series of movies about prison. This one starred Barbara Stanwyck as a gangster moll who goes to prison and falls in love with the guy who sent her there. He's some kind of evangelist and she blames him for a failed breakout, shoots him, then realizes she loves him. This was the second movie in recent weeks in which the girl demonstrates her love by shooting the guy. (Untamed was the first.)

electric edwardians

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January 23 movie: Electric Edwardians. This was an amazing show we saw on Duke campus: a series of short films made in Britain in the earliest years of movies. The purpose of the movies was to capture as many people on film as possible. They would set up a tent and show the movie, and all the people in the town would pay to see themselves in the movie. They filmed things like parades, college graduation ceremonies, workers leaving a factory at the end of a shift, etc. There were films from all over the British midlands, but nothing in Walsall (my dad's hometown). They did show a few minutes of a Manchester United game though.

The main series of movies were from England, and they also showed some similar movies made in North Carolina in the 50s. The main difference between the two that I noticed was people's reaction to the camera. In the NC films, a fair number of people covered their faces or turned away from the camera, 15-20% maybe. But in the British films almost no one did. I only saw one person in all the thousands on film who covered their face. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. In 1904, most of the people in small British towns had probably never seen a movie, much less a movie camera.

john loves mary

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January 22 movie: John Loves Mary. This is one of those wacky farces based on a tissue of lies that's simultaneously funny and cringe-inducing. Ronald Reagan plays a WWII vet who helps out a war buddy (Jack Carson) by marrying the buddy's long-lost British girlfriend to get her into the country. Why didn't he just write Carson and tell him that he found the girl? Because then there would be no movie. Reagan was already engaged to Patricia Neal, a senator's daughter. Why doesn't he just tell her what's going on? Because then there would be no movie.

This was funny, but totally wrong for Patricia Neal. She's much better as a serious actress than in a silly movie like this. On the other hand, Reagan was scarily appropriate for the GI who lies constantly but with the best of intentions, and is forgiven by everyone when he gets caught and flashes his "aw shucks" grin.

January 22 movie: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai in the Eighth Dimension. I loved this movie to death when I first saw it years and years ago. Hadn't seen in it all that time, and then discovered that I still love it just as much. This is a rare and wonderful thing. I love the corny jokes, the cheesy props, the parade of 80s fashions. I can even live with the near total lack of female characters. (Penny the damsel in distress hardly counts.) What a shame that it was a flop and they never made the sequel.

sahara

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January 22 movie: Sahara. Humphrey Bogart leads a ragtag group of soldiers who try to hold a deserted outpost against the Nazis in Africa. It was a good movie, very tense, though there's a level of sadism --Bogart taunting Germans who are dying of thirst with a well they don't know is dry -- that I found a bit hard to take. But there's a twist at the end that makes things okay. [major spoiler: the Germans shell the outpost, hit the well and cause the water to start flowing. So when the German soldiers surrender to get the water, there really is water for them.]

i swear officer, he looked like a quail

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When I read on Supergee's blog that Cheney shot someone, I totally thought he was kidding. (Supergee, not Cheney.) Until I saw it on the news. Cheney really did shoot someone! He was out quail hunting with friends and one of the other guys got into the line of fire.

I'm not up on hunting etiquette; who was at fault? Cheney for shooting when he knew one of his party was wandering around in the brush? Or the other guy, for approaching without calling to them so they knew he wasn't a quail?

nice rainy day

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When today began I thought it was going to be a lousy day. I fell asleep really early last night -- around 9 pm -- then woke up at 2:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. Needless to say I was tired and cranky when the morning finally rolled around. (On the bright side I did watch a great movie in the wee hours, The Thief of Baghdad). Plus the weather today was horrible, rainy and cold, and I so much did not want to leave the house, but we had tons of errands to run, really too many. But as it turns out, we got everything done and everything went great.

First we took the pet portraits by David to the frame shop. He had given me one of Jane yesterday, so now we have the set. We went to Arete because we wanted to match the beautiful frame they had done a couple of years ago for the uncut sheet of the tarot deck. There were a few scary moments where we thought that the frame we wanted had been discontinued, but then the guy found the right sample on the wall, whew! We're having all three matted together and put into one frame. It's a little expensive, but good quality framing always is. I think it will be worth it in the end.

Holly (the owner) remembered me from when I used to work across the street years ago -- good golly, it's been almost 10 years now! But we were helped by her husband, who I hadn't met before. They brought us into the back to show us their new computerized mat-cutting machine. It was amazing. They type the inner and outer sizes into a computer, and the machine leaps into action. They can cut decorative shapes into the corners and even cut the mat into shapes besides rectangular. The computer came with all kinds of pre-programmed shapes, and they said they could install Corel Draw and have it cut any shape they wanted. It kind of reminded me of those computerized sewing machines that do embroidery. They let me pick a shape for it to cut for me; I picked the mongoose. Why on earth someone would want a mat cut into the shape of a mongoose, I don't know. But it was still really cool.

(I can imagine practical uses for the mat cutter, for instance if you had a portrait in an oval frame, you might get a mat cut to silhouette the shape of the person's head. But I think that kind of thing would be really rare. He didn't even suggest the decorative corners as an option, so I'm guessing they don't do much of that either.)

After the frame shop we met Alicia, who gave us videotapes of the current season of Project Runway! Yay! I have a lot to say about this show, but I'm saving it for another post so this one doesn't get too long. We hung out with Alicia at Caffe Driade, and besides the videotapes she also gave me a bottle of BPAL Sugar Cookie. Double yay! Alicia rocks!

After seeing Alicia we had to stop at the supermarket to pick up a couple of things for dinner. We happened to notice a jewelry store next door to Whole Foods and stopped in. And we found our wedding rings! I promise I won't go on and on about it, because there's nothing more boring than people talking incessantly about their wedding plans. I think that's even boring for the people in the wedding.

Anyway, we really didn't know what we wanted when we walked in, but somehow the second set of rings she showed us were perfect. The rings are on this page, mouseover the ones called "Simple Bands" (the ones on the top right and bottom left). The price tags were well out of our price range & we were concerned about that, but then she offered us a substantially lower price, much closer to our budget. It really couldn't have turned out better.

Tomorrow we're going to go to one other store and see if they have anything we like better, and then if not I'll go back to the first place on Tuesday morning to place a deposit. I have to take Thirteen to her acupuncture that morning, which would have me driving right past the store around the time they open.

After all our successful errands, we came home to a big pot of chili that we had put on before we left, and Georg made awesome cheddar biscuits, and now we're watching Project Runway. What a great day.

dodsworth

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January 21 movie: Dodsworth. This was a nice melodrama about a retired couple who go to Europe and fall out of love. My only criticism is that I could have lived without the conceit of it being all the wife's fault. I suppose it does sometimes happen that a marriage ends entirely because of one's person's problems, but it seems to me that's pretty rare. Usually both people take their part in messing things up. Anyway, Mary Astor is in it as a sensible women, so at least they didn't portray all women as shrill and selfish.

diary of a madman

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January 20 movie: Diary of a Madman. I had heard of this as one of the better Vincent Price horror movies, but I wasn't that into it. Price plays a judge who convicts a killer, not knowing the killer is possessed by the evil spirit. The spirit jumps into Price and spends the rest of the movie forcing him to do horrible things. I didn't enjoy it. Over and over Price tries to fight off the evil impulse, and fails miserably. There's not a lot of tension when you know that the awful thing is going to happen, every single time.

my neighbor totoro

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January 20 movie: My Neighbor Totoro. Another brilliant movie from Miyizaki. He has such a strong understanding of how kids behave and think and different ages. A lot of times kids in movies act like tiny 40-year olds. But the girls in Totoro truly behave and react like the ages they're supposed to be. Also, the cat bus is the coolest thing in the world.

spirited away

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Jan 19 movie: Spirited Away. Georg was away when TCM aired this one, so we watched it again together. It really is an amazing movie. We agreed that one of the best parts of the movie is the sequence on the train: you get to take a break from the tension and plot, just pause and enjoy a few moments of mesmerizing images. Georg commented that the sequence has an Edward Hopper feel to it. I opined that it was the silhouettes of men in fedoras.

the masque of the red death

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I'm so far behind on writing up movies, I feel like I'll never catch up. But feeling that way makes me not even try, which is the only way to ensure that I never do catch up. So here goes.

Jan 18 movie: The Masque of the Red Death. Sometimes you're just in the mood for something deliciously awful, you know? Well, I do anyway. This filled the bill perfectly. I know I've said this before, but Vincent Price is kind of a sad figure to me. He was such a great actor, and he ended up making movies like this -- and this was one of the good ones. He always gave a certain dignity to his characters, no matter how stupid the movie was.

This was a very stupid movie, with only a tenuous connection to the Poe story. My favorite part is the very end, when the Red Death finishes up and meets up with his colleagues: the Yellow Death, the Green Death, the Purple Death, the Blue Death, etc. It's a colored Death convention!

daffodils

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Our first daffodils are in bloom! Actually they opened up last week, but today was the first day I was home to take a photo while the sun was out.

These aren't the ones we planted last year; those are coming up but not blooming yet. These are a few that have been there since we moved in. They're right under the exhaust vent for the water heater. I was worried that the exhaust would give off fumes that would hurt plants, but it seems like maybe the warm air encouraged the daffodils to bloom early. I'm going to plant a bay leaf right by that vent in spring and see how it does.

Speaking of spring, some more seeds arrived today! The dwarf sunflowers and the tall zinnias. Which makes me all the more anxious to get that bed ready in the side yard. I got another hour's work done on it today. The bad news is, I found another slab of concrete. That makes three intact slabs, one missing, and one partly broken. Each one looks to be 2×6', which makes the whole septic tank 6×10'. I wonder how deep it is? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

The good news is, I got the new slab almost completely uncovered in an hour. The clay was almost perfect today: still damp enough to break up easily, but not wet enough to be quite so heavy. While I was dumping soil I saw the little girl next door. She asked me what I was doing, and I told her I was moving dirt. We agreed that moving dirt was hard work. I told her I was using the dirt to fill in holes the dogs had made. She told me I should save some dirt in case the dog had a bone to hide and dug another hole. I thought that was pretty clever!

barbecued ribs

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We tried our hand at barbecued ribs tonight. We improvised somewhat and they turned out pretty good, so I'm writing down what we did in hopes that we can remember next time. Instead of J's roasting instructions I tried a recipe I got from Epicurious. The ribs are rubbed with spices, I used the "Barbecue of the Americas" from Penzeys. Then you put them in a roasting pan, pour in a bottle of beer, seal it up and steam them.

The recipe said to cook them this way at 400° for an hour and a half, then broil with sauce for three minutes. Instead we put them in at 275° for an hour and a half, then poured off the beer and coated them with sauce, and baked for another hour and a half. They were amazingly tender, but a bit moister than I like ribs to be. Next time I think I'm going to uncover them sooner, and also do a lighter & more frequent baste of the sauce. So they get more of a glaze. It would be really nice to get a wire rack so they could sit over the beer, and steam without getting soggy.

The part that really turned out well was the sauce. The recipe from Epicurious was totally lame -- it was just a bottle of sauce with extra sugar! -- so we made up our own sauce. Let's see if I can remember what we put in it. A can of plain tomato sauce, half a big onion pureed in the food processor, a fair amount of worcestershire, the juice of a lemon, some artifical brown sugar (so sue me) and a small amount of real maple syrup, a big spoon of espresso powder, a small spoon of cocoa powder, a small dash of liquid smoke, two spoonfuls of adobo liquid from chipotle chilis, a dash of salt, and most of the braising liquid (beer and pork juices). It was great, if I do say so myself. The adobo and the braising liquid were key, as was the espresso, but I think we could have skipped the cocoa and maybe the liquid smoke.

dog art

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My wonderful and talented friend David Terry gave me the most wonderful thing today: portraits of Lina and Thirteen. They're a thank you gift for some work I did on his website. I'm so happy with them! He really captured them both. I gave him a photo of Jane so he can paint her too, and then I'm going to have all three framed together.

Just last week I found out that another client, from whom I was planning to commission a set of pet portraits, isn't doing them anymore. I was feeling really bummed about that, and then David gave me these! What perfect timing.

temper temper

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As Georg mentioned, for some time we have been trying to resolve a crap net connection here at home. (since I work from home, this is a serious problem.) He kindly didn't mention the shouting match I got into with Road Runner tech support yesterday. The guy basically came right out and told me that he was blaming it on our router because then Road Runner wouldn't be responsible. I told him that I had already eliminated the router as the source of the problem, but he either didn't believe me or couldn't hear anything that didn't fit in with his script. He also didn't believe that I didn't want to go through recycling everything and renewing the DHCP lease not because I was "refusing to do troubleshooting" but because I had already done it, and nothing had changed.

I hate tech support guys who are obviously reading from a script, but I hate them even more when they act like I'm a liar just because I know enough to do some troubleshooting before calling. Maybe Georg is right and it's a testosterone thing. As in, I don't have enough and so I must not know anything about computers. At the time I was bummed that I didn't get to talk to the clueful tech support guy, but in retrospect it's for the best. I was so angry already, I couldn't even have talked to him. It would have been like, "Thank you for calling Road Runner, how may I help --" "YOU BASTARD!!" I just don't understand why when I call, they say "We're checking your connection and everything's fine, it's fast and wide open," and when Georg calls the guy can see the problem immediately.

Now I'm waiting for someone to come to the house. Someone who is supposedly going to fix our net connection, even though the last guy who came out here did nothing. He's supposed to be here before 5, and I've been sitting here waiting since before 1. I couldn't even go outside and get any digging done because I'm supposed to wait by the phone. All I can say is, he better show up. I am in no mood.

what is up with wunc?

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I think WUNC has cut too many staff or something, because I've been hearing some fairly egregious goofs and I don't even listen that much anymore.

A few weeks ago I heard dead air for several minutes. Soon after that, I was listening in my car and instead of their regular programming they went to someone reading the time for almost 15 minutes! I didn't listen for the entire 15 minutes -- I had an errand after a couple of minutes, and when I got back to my car it was still going on. At that point I had to keep listening just to see how long it would be before someone noticed.

The time was actually kind of hypnotic. It took the guy 15 seconds to read it, and he had four slight variations, so you'd hear the time four different ways each minute. Someone at WUNC figured out what was going on and cut off the time at almost 15 minutes. Then there was dead air for a little while, probably less than a minute, and then they went right into whatever program they were supposed to be airing at the time.

Then just now they started Fresh Air and Talk of the Nation simultaneously! Both shows played for about a minute, then there was a short dead air, and now they're running the news. Come on guys, even WXDU is more professional than this!

a new experience

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I did something today I'd never done before: watched the Superbowl. Georg and I went to a party at J and P's house, and I have to say I had a great time. Not just for the company and the food but, to my surprise, the game as well. I enjoyed a football game! Has the world gone mad?

The last time I tried to watch football was many years ago and I couldn't follow it at all. I couldn't see where the ball was; to me it looked like a bunch of guys would run around, and then they'd all stop, and then the announcers would say stuff. Incomprehensible and boring.

Either TV coverage has vastly improved, or my visual comprehension has. Because I had no trouble following the ball tonight (or at the playoff games two weeks ago, which we also watched at J and P's house). I didn't always know what was going on, but Georg and I sat in the back so he could explain things to me without interfering with everyone else's enjoyment of the game.

I don't know if experts would consider tonight's game particularly well-played; in fact a couple of experts in the room had some harsh words for Pittsburgh in the first half, and Seattle at the end. But it was perfect for me: close enough to be exciting and even a little tense, but I didn't care about the outcome so I never got worked up over it. (The hosts were rooting for Pittsburgh so I professed to do the same, but I secretly thought it would have been nice for Seattle to win since it was their first time.) I don't know that I'm going to become a sports fan overnight or anything, but at least I can better understand why people do.

Besides the game itself, the party was great. They have a beautiful house out near Pittsboro. It's a long haul for us, but the drive is through some really nice country. J put together a huge spread: bratwurst, veggie trays, fruit, and the most amazing ribs. She wouldn't give me her sauce recipe but she did provide the roasting instructions. I brought my special spicy eggplant dip, which everyone seemed to like except for the people who don't like eggplant. As an added bonus, J & P got a humongous flat screen TV just in time for the game. 60" maybe? Definitely the biggest TV I've ever seen outside a store.

Georg and I had a funny conversation walking to our car after the party:

Georg: Listen to how quiet it is out here.
Me: We should stop and appreciate this for a moment. You never hear this in town.
Both: ....
Georg: *burp*
Me: Okay, the moment has passed.

busy day

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Today was pretty busy. First we drove out to the farmer's market to get firewood, like I already wrote. Then we got the truck. Yay! It drives really well. The only problem I've noticed is that the driver's window is hard to roll up all the way. But that's pretty minor, I can live with that.

After the rain stopped this afternoon, we worked some more on digging up the septic tank. We got so much done! I'm starting to think that we might actually have our cutting garden ready to plant by spring. The septic tank was covered with four concrete slabs. We got two of the slabs completely uncovered, plus the third slab is missing and we made a good start on digging out the soil that fell in. It's good that it's already partly open, as we've been warned about noxious gases that can linger in a septic tank. But I think it's been open since we moved in. There was always a sinkhole in that spot, and I never noticed a bad smell. So anyway, we just have to uncover one more slab and then we can start on breaking up the concrete.

A year ago I put newspaper and mulch down over this whole area, to cover and kill the weeds. Well it turns out to be a great idea, but only if you have halfway decent soil underneath. If it's horrible clay that you're going to dig out eventually anyway, then you're just making things harder for yourself. Because you end up with horrible clay that has to come out, with a half inch of beautiful black compost on top. We've been trying to scoop the compost off the top and save it, which is a total pain in the butt.

The clay is being used to fill in holes & uneven patches in the front yard. It's pretty clear that we're going to run out of holes before we run out of clay. I don't know what we're going to do then. How does one get rid of excess clay?

Besides all the digging, Georg also took down the christmas tree from the front porch. Better late than never! At least we didn't have the lights on after New Year's. And I made a nice big pot of that pork shoulder braised in apple cider that we love, and we ate until we were replete, and then we watched another Studio Ghibli film, Only Yesterday, and some Bollywood videos. What a great day.

winter is finally here

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Looks like yesterday was the last freakishly warm day for awhile. I had to work on several projects and go to the DMV and do training at the radio station, but I still managed to get in about an hour in the garden.

I got started on digging up the horrible clay by the sunny side of the house which is going to be our cutting garden. It doesn't look like I got much done because that clay is so heavy and hard to dig. I have to chop it up with a mattock first, and then use the shovel to lift it out. But I managed to remove 3 wheelbarrows full in the hour, so I feel pretty good about it.

The hardest part is digging up the clay over the old septic tank. It's only about 6 inches under ground, so you can't dig as you normally would, with your foot against the shovel. It's more like scraping the shovel along the concrete surface. It's kind of hard to explain but the motion uses more arm strength, you can't shift as much of the work to the body. I have puny arms so this is hard for me. Although now that I think about it, breaking up the septic tank with a sledgehammer is going to be much harder than removing the clay from above it, so I should enjoy this while it lasts. But I haven't gotten to the sledgehammer part yet.

I finished digging just in time to eat lunch and head out. And I have to say, the meal right after doing heavy yardwork is the most satisfying meal ever. I love to work and work until I feel shaky (takes about 1.5 - 2 hours with a job like digging clay), then get out of my sweaty clothes, drink a big glass of water and eat right away. You can practically feel the energy from the food going through your body. My favorite post-yardwork snack is cheese and crackers because it's easy to make. I like those Finn Crisp crackers: some starch for immediate energy, but it's nice whole grain fibery starch.

DJ training was fun as usual, especially since Whig Hill was one of the trainees! Training is always better if I know someone there, because they feel comfortable talking to me and asking questions, which gets the other trainees talking too. The only time I don't like training is when they all stand there staring at me, won't ask questions or say anything, and I have to talk at them for two hours. But last night was great. We only had a few equipment problems -- no needles on the turntables, and the "cue" function went horribly, horribly wrong -- but otherwise everything was OK. I think the worst training session I ever did, in terms of equipment, was the time that the CD players wouldn't autostart, cue didn't work, the turntables didn't work, and the mic was broken. There was almost nothing left to do that time!

Today we were going to try out the new truck by hauling junk to the dump, but the rain made that impossible. So we went to the farmer's market to buy firewood. It was pouring by the time we got there, but luckily there weren't many people there and the firewood guy let us pull the car all the way in under the roof. That way the wood didn't get wet while we were loading it.

where is the dmv?

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So this morning I went to Northgate get a new tag for the truck, and the DMV was gone! Where the heck is it? The mall directory said it was still there, but their space was boarded up.

Does anyone know where I can get a license plate?

the man in possession

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January 18 movie: The Man in Possession. This was a great movie which requires some explanation. According to the movie, in England, if a person owed money, the bailiff could post someone in their house. And the debtor would have to let the person stay in their house until they paid the debt. Can anyone who lives or has lived in England confirm if this was true in the 30s, and if so is it still true now? It's kind of hard to imagine.

Anyway, Robert Montgomery is the guy who has to stay in the house, he falls in love with the woman who owes the money, P.G. Wodehouse did some of the writing, and do you really need to know any more? I enjoyed Robert Montgomery month immensely, especially this one.

mr. blandings builds his dream house

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January 18 movie: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. In retrospect it was a big mistake to watch this movie right after all those gritty Depression-era melodramas. I kept wanting to shake my fist and yell "Bourgeois pigs!" at the screen. After Robert Montgomery and Tallulah Bankhead laughing and dancing around their one-room hovel because he stole food so they have something to eat that day, it was a bit hard to sympathize with Cary Grant's trauma at having to share a bathroom with his wife, who clutters up the vanity with her beauty products, and never puts his socks in the sock drawer! For the love of god, why can't she put the socks in the sock drawer? How can anyone live like that?

Okay, I'm selling this movie short. It is funny, especially if you've ever had to do any home building or renovation. Just don't watch it right after Faithless or The Easiest Way or After Office Hours. Or any movie that acknowledges the Depression existed.

faithless

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January 17 movie: Faithless. Tallulah Bankhead and Robert Montgomery star as a socialite and a .. I can't remember exactly but he had some kind of respectable career. Anyway it's about the two of them sinking to the absolute bottom during the Depression, and finding love with each other on the way. Montgomery tries to get work as a scab truck driver, but the union truck drivers attack him and he's horribly injured, forcing Bankhead into prostitution to pay his medical bills. But Montgomery forgives her. He does that a lot in those early 30s movies. Seems like he's always the guy who forgives the woman for prostitution or being a kept woman or whatnot. I enjoyed the movie, mainly for getting to see Bankhead on screen. Her voice was amazing.

another language

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January 17 movie: Another Language. Helen Hayes and Robert Montgomery elope. Then they go home to start their lives and Hayes is crushed to discover that her new husband is totally under the thumb of his horrible family. This was a great romantic drama, with good acting by the two leads and also the family. I particularly liked Margaret Hamilton as Montgomery's sister.

private lives

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January 16 movie: Private Lives. I enjoyed this a lot more this time than the first time. I stand by my statement that it's about two people who stay together because they're too horrible to inflict themselves on anybody else. But they're funny, so it's worth it. Also Norma Shearer wears a very revealing gown in the first act. Hubba hubba.

the easiest way

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January 16 movie: The Easiest Way. Another one of those sordid pre-code movies. The title refers to the "easiest" way for a woman to make money. Constance Bennett plays the kept woman, Adolphe Menjou the cruel rich guy who exploits her, Robert Montgomery the nice guy who falls in love with her, and a very young Clark Gable as the obnoxiously self-righteous brother-in-law.

Robert Osbourne said the movie was based on a much more explicit play: in the play the main character is a prostitute, not a kept woman, and at the end she goes off with another man, unrepentant. In this version they tacked on a "happy" ending where she reforms. Blah, blah, blah.

laputa: castle in the sky

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January 15 movie: Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Another great Miyazaki movie. This one is more of a "ripping yarn," and turns surprisingly violent at the end. But I love it. My favorite character is the crazy older woman who leads the air pirate gang. She's crass and bossy, but she loves her gang, keeps them together, and does the hardest jobs herself. The best part is a scene in her room, where you get a brief glimpse of a portrait of her as a smiling young girl, happy and sweet. It's just onscreen for a second or two but it gives a whole extra dimension to her character.

nausicaa of the valley of the wind

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January 14 movie: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I really wish I had written this up in a more timely manner. I remember I had lots to say about it the day we watched it. Oh well, it's probably better for everyone if I keep it brief.

This is a relatively early Miyazaki film and in a lot of ways it seems like a precursor to Princess Mononoke, with a lot of similar themes -- the environment, two communities with opposing relationships to the natural world, a girl heroine with a special ability to communicate with animals -- but not as much depth. There are also visual parallels -- the attack of the Ohms is a lot like the rampage of the boars, for example, and the death of the spirit of the forest reminded me a lot of the death of the giant warrior.

If I had to pick only one, I'd probably watch Mononoke because the characters are more complex. But of course it would be better to watch both!

seven seas to calais

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January 12 movie: Seven Seas to Calais. Oh lordie, I'm behind on the movie list. This was Rod Taylor starring as Sir Francis Drake. And I must say, Rod Taylor was the most unconvincing Drake imaginable. He had the exact same hair as in The Glass Bottom Boat, except they added a little goatee. The movie follows Drake to the new world and against the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth in this movie wasn't as memorable as Bette Davis, but she wasn't bad. The most interesting story was Drake's sidekick, whose stupid French girlfriend gets stupidly mixed up in the Babington plot against Elizabeth. The girlfriend carries messages to Mary Stuart; in real life the messages were smuggled inside a beer barrell! Not very flattering to the girlfriend.

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