December 2006 Archives

breakthrough

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We had a minor breakthrough this morning: Thirteen walked up the ramp on her own. She was heading for the side like she always does, to try and climb the stairs but get trapped underneath. I followed her calling her name, which normally doesn't affect her much because she can't hear me and if I'm behind her, can't see me. But she must have heard this time because she turned around, gave me that scared look, like she knew I was going to grab her and pull her out from under the ramp, and then turned and walked up it on her own. Yay! It only took a week, honestly faster than I was expecting.

The only problem we've noticed with the ramp is that every time Jane runs down it, it bounces and shifts down a bit. Several times a day I have to go out and pull the ramp back up, to make sure it never slips off the top step. As the ground at the base of the ramp got pressed down by this constant shifting, it's been less able to hold the ramp in place and the slipping has gotten worse. Today we bought small metal stakes with a bend on the end (shaped like an upside-down "L") and hammered them into the ground at the base of the ramp. I think that will hold the ramp in place pretty well.

Home Depot had a fair amount of Christmas lights on half-price. Well it was pretty picked over, but not as bad as Target, which had almost nothing left. We looked at some cool LED icicles that change color, but decided against them. I had already bought a bunch of LED string lights to replace the lights on our outdoor tree, and we don't like to spend too much on lights each year. And it would have taken a lot of icicles -- maybe all they had -- to fill the space we'd want them. Maybe we'll get them next year. Or maybe next year they'll have something new and even cooler.

I'm very happy about the introduction of LED Christmas lights. They use so much less electricity than the regular incandescent kind, and they last longer too. I wish I could have found some for Undersea Mah Jongg, for which powering the lights has been an ongoing issue. Unfortunately the kind I wanted -- white or blue garland -- were already gone by the time they went on sale. Maybe next year!

seven samurai

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December 29 movie: Seven Samurai. I've been watching the Samurai 7 anime series (excellent by the way), but I'm between discs right now, so I watched the original Kurosawa movie on which the anime is based. It's still an amazing movie, so good I almost don't know what to say about it. It's about so many things: first and most obviously, it's the basis for countless war movies. Basically any movie about assembling a team owes a debt to Seven Samurai. But beyond that, it's about individualism, class conflict, changing social structures and outdated moral codes, male friendship, ... what am I missing. A lot, I'm sure.

What I owe to Seven Samurai is that it's the first movie to make me appreciate and really enjoy battle scenes. Before this movie I had trouble following battle sequences, and didn't much like war movies because of it. Seven Samurai showed me how much I was missing. For that I thank it.

sabrina

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December 29 movie: Sabrina. This movie has some flaws, notably the complete lack of chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, but I still love it. It helps to think of Bogart and Hepburn falling in love with freedom -- for her adulthood, for him escape from his corporate life -- rather than with each other. Plus it's great to see William Holden kick back and have fun. Come to think of it, the remake isn't a great movie either but I love it too.

shadow of the thin man

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December 30 movie: Shadow of the Thin Man. I think this is the last Thin Man movie. They definitely get weaker as the series goes on. I think it's the son. He's old enough to talk in this movie, and man is he annoying. Plus it creeps me out when Nick calls Nora "Mommy." There is one totally amazing thing at the end: Nora saves the day by flinging herself at a gunman who's threatening Nick, essentially shielding him with her body. Go Nora! The whole movie was worth it for that.

the time machine

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December 30 movie: The Time Machine. I thought I had written this up before but I can't find it. Anyway, I love this movie. It's an adventure story with a scientist hero (Rod Taylor) who hits just the right note of wonder, excitement, and loss as he leaves his whole world behind to explore the future. I understand that it diverges somewhat from the original novel (to my embarrassment, I admit that it's been decades since I read it and I don't remember it that well) but I think it's true to Wells' spirit. Especially the final line: "which three books would you take?"

There's a very nice scene where Taylor is wandering around trying to find someone in an apparently abandoned future world. He starts running, the music swells, and it really is quite tense. Even the flowers and fruit on the trees somehow look menacing. Taylor stops, gasping for breath, apparently giving up. Only then does he hear the Eloi laughing as they frolic in the river. I was thinking that if that scene were done in a movie today, he wouldn't have stopped. He would have kept running and burst in on the Eloi with a crescendo of music. The scene would definitely have had more punch, but I like it this way. It suits the thoughtful pace of the movie.

(In the paragraph above I was going to say, "if this movie were made again today..." but then I remembered that this movie had been made again, a couple of years ago, and it was terrible.)

one life to live: a year of days

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If you've never watched daytime dramas, you may not know that time is very flexible on a soap. One day on the show almost always takes more than a day of real time. During a big event (like a wedding or kidnapping, or both) a single day of show time can easily take two weeks. To deal with this, the shows tend to be vague about dates. They never say what day it is except for major holidays, and sometimes not even then.

For my own amusement, in 2006 I kept track of the passage of time on my favorite soap, One Life to Live. At times it was hard to tell when a day had passed. I looked for clues like costume changes and the amount of light in exterior windows. Sometimes food was a good clue. Or to be more accurate, drink: if people were hanging out in a bar drinking and then in the next episode, they were in the diner drinking coffee, that probably meant it was the next day.

The best counter-example was a continuous conversation: in other words, if an episode ended during a conversation, and when the next episode began, the same conversation was still happening, then a day had not passed. Except one time, that didn't work! There was an ongoing conversation, but all the other signs pointed to a new day. Eventually I decided that they must have stayed up all night and continued talking into the morning.

By my reckoning, 2006 comprised 49 days on One Life to Live. The typical day lasted just over a week of calendar time. Right at the end there was a run of very short days, with only 6 episodes covering Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, and New Year's Eve. I guess they went through them so fast because they didn't want Christmas and New Year's Eve to happen on the same day. Soaps aren't always so fastidious about holidays: I have heard of one legendary season on, I think it was Guiding Light, in which Thanksgiving and Christmas happened on the same day. One Life didn't even have Thanksgiving this year, which bummed me out immensely. They didn't have a Fourth of July either. Well, there was bunting visible in the background in a few scenes, but no one ever mentioned the holiday.

These were the identified days in 2006: New Year's Eve 2005 (day 1), Valentine's Day (day 6), May 26 (Todd's execution, day 19), Munoz-Rivera Day (I have no idea what this is, but there's a Puerto Rican family on the show so I guess a Puerto Rican holiday -- day 24), September 11 (day 31), Halloween (day 38), Christmas Eve (day 46), Christmas Day (day 47), New Year's Eve 2006 (day 49).

It wasn't enough for me to simply record the dates, oh no. I had to write down very short recaps of what people were doing all year. I tried to only record actual events, not just people saying the same things over and over again. Otherwise the recap would have been about 10 times longer and would have included "Antonio acts like a smug asshole," "Spencer acts like a smug asshole," "Natalie rolls her eyes and whines," and "Evangeline acts like a smug asshole," every single day.

Because most people are probably not interested, I'm putting the details behind a cut. I don't know if I'm going to keep doing this next year. It did make the show more interesting, but it meant I had to pay more attention than I normally would. Anyway, if for some bizarre reason you care about what happened on One Life this past year, click to find out...

the price of honesty

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Today the going rate for honesty is $95. That's how much I paid for this exchange at the vet's office:

"Your total is $145."
"That's all?"
"Yep, $145."
"Including the x-ray?"
"Oh! ... Your total is $240."

I'm cheap enough to feel a twinge at spending $95 more than I had to, but not dishonest enough to regret correcting their mistake. Cole Park has been really good to Thirteen and they deserve to be paid for their work. Especially something like an x-ray, where they have material costs to cover.

So we have some answers on Thirteen. I thought she had hip dysplasia, but her hips are actually fine. What she has is three vertebrae compressed together & pressing against the spinal column. Today she failed a neurological test that she had passed a month ago: one at a time, Dr. Pagel turned a back foot under so the top of the foot was on the ground and the toes pointed back. A month ago she immediately turned the foot right-side up, but today she just stood there. That means that she's losing her sense of where her feet are and what they're doing. (She still turns her front feet up right away.)

The pressure in the spinal column is affecting the sciatic nerve, and causing pain in her back and hip. I guess this is why she's gotten so aggressive about wanting us to scratch her back and stomach all the time; it must make her feel better. Also she's chewed a big bald spot over the right hip which is probably the location of the pain.

I feel strangely relieved. It's not good news, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. (I was fearing something along the lines of bone cancer in her leg.) The worst case scenario is that she'll eventually become totally paralyzed in the back half of her body. Dr. Pagel said that was a possibility, but she didn't sound like it was the probable outcome. Since Thirteen seems to be worse when it's cold, she may even get somewhat better in the spring.

Because of her age she isn't a candidate for surgery. So our treatment options are mainly limited to reducing the pain. we're increasing the acupuncture to once a week, and Dr. Pagel showed me how to massage her back. She's at a good weight now, 42.5 pounds, and we're going to cut her food back a bit and try to keep her from gaining any more. The lighter she is, the less pressure on her spine. Also I'm going to start exercising her to try and build up muscle strength. We're going to start small, walking down the length of the yard and back. If necessary we can put her on prednisone, but we're going to try to avoid that because of the side effects.

home again

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What a drive. Traffic was backed up from Baltimore to Richmond. Enough said about that! I'm home finally, and Thirteen seems okay. Gimpy of course, but not falling.

Speaking of falling, I guess the evening wasn't complete, because a few minutes ago I went up to the shed to turn off the outdoor light, and on the way back slipped on the leaf-covered path and fell flat on my back. Luckily the leaves cushioned the brick steps so I didn't hit my head too hard. My head feels a little funny though. Not hurting, just strange. I wasn't planning to eat dinner since it was so late, but I decided to go ahead and eat anyway. Good thing we have nice leftovers.

Unfortunately I don't think I'm up to giving Thirteen a bath tonight. Guess the vet will just have to deal with her being stinky.

jack frost nipping at your nose

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I'm not much for the heartwarming Christmas stories, but just read a great one about Mel Torme that's worth sharing. Thanks to Ozarque for the link.

my favorite christmas movies

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A day late, and in no particular order, here's a short (an probably incomplete) list of my favorite Christmas movies:

  • Holiday Inn. Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby fight over two women whose names I don't remember, and sing and dance their way through Irving Berlin songs for every major holiday, plus a few minor ones. This is deservedly at the top of most holiday movie lists.The origin of the song "White Christmas."
  • White Christmas. Sort of a follow-up to Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby again, Danny Kaye instead of Fred Astaire, and Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen instead of the two women whose names I don't remember. If they could have gotten Fred Astaire this would be the greatest holiday movie ever made.
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner. Monty Wooley is a famous "man of letters" and extreme prima donna who falls on the ice and is forced to spend Christmas in the home of an upper-middle class Midwestern family. Also stars Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke, Mary Wickes, and some English guy who should have been Noel Coward but wasn't. Very mean-spirited and very, very funny. A bit stagey, but I love the movie so much that I forgive it.
  • Christmas in Connecticut. TCM gave this two and a half stars. Are they on crack? When I'm watching this movie, I always think it's my very favorite holiday movie. (But then I think the same thing about every movie listed above.) Barbara Stanwyck stars as the "domestic goddess" author of a famous magazine column about the perfect home life on her farm in Connecticut. Except she's a fraud who isn't married, doesn't like kids, can't cook, and lives in a walk-up apartment in Manhattan. The movie follows her attempts to fool her publisher, Sydney Greenstreet. Also stars S.Z. Sakall, Una O'Connor and Dennis Morgan.
  • Since You Went Away. This is an epic war-wife melodrama, not a Christmas movie. But the grand finale happens at Christmas so I guess it counts. I've written about it bunches of times so I'll just say it's perfect if you're feeling sappy around the holidays. Get out the hankie and indulge yourself.
  • The Shop Around the Corner. Like Since You Went Away, this isn't a Christmas movie per se. But Slate.com did an article on why it's a better Christmas movie than It's a Wonderful Life and they're right. Slate mentioned the Nora Ephron remake You've Got Mail but forgot the earlier remake, In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson.

i love cole park

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We have an appointment for 10 am Thursday morning. I was worried this week would be hard to get an appointment because everyone is off work, but apparently not -- I pretty much had my pick of times. I picked 10 so I won't have to rush Thirteen to eat and go outside before we leave. (Getting her to eat is never a problem, but I like to let her wake up a bit before making her go outside.)

hooray for careless neighbors

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Specifically, hooray for careless neighbors with open wireless networks. Sitting in the Pattersons' living room, if I hold my computer just the right way, I get a signal just as good as in my own living room.

So we've arrived on Staten Island. Much holiday cheer being had by all. We missed the Yule Log, but we got to watch a few minutes of it while getting ready to go this morning. The flight was surprisingly not crowded. I bet it was a lot worse yesterday. I forgot to bring a book but the in-flight magazine had an article about Threadless.com. The article had that annoying "gosh gee whiz" tone of all articles about dot coms, but it did have some interesting info, like what do t-shirt designers get if their designs are chosen (answer: $1500 and a $500 gift certificate) and what are the 10 most popular designs ever (answer: the Communist Party shirt that was just reprinted, and 9 others I didn't recognize).

Unfortunately, Thirteen's leg has gotten a lot worse in the past few days, so much that we didn't feel comfortable leaving her alone for five days. Sometimes she's okay and can hobble around mostly, but sometimes she can't even stand up. We've decided that I'll drive home early, on Wednesday, and Georg will stay and come home Friday as planned. Tomorrow I'll call the vet and try to get an appointment for Thursday or Friday.

She was much better yesterday, after we put in the new ramp, and I started wondering if I was overreacting and shouldn't have changed my plans. But then this morning she could barely walk again. When we took her outside, she fell and skidded all the way down the ramp. I wonder if the rain makes her leg worse. Or maybe she just slipped on the astroturf because it was wet. Anyway, I'm sorry to have to cut my visit with the in-laws short (and also to miss the day in Manhatten we had planned) but I think we made the right decision. I couldn't take it if something happened to Thirteen while I wasn't there.

a world of magic all my own

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Well the first half hour of the show was fairly chaotic, due to some equipment problems (and also my unfamiliarity with all the new songs I had collected in the past couple of weeks). The worst flub happened when CD1 ate a disc, and I ended up with about about 15 seconds of dead air, followed by the wrong song being played. Agony while it was happening, but not the end of the world when I listened to the recording. And I got the disc back, and CD1 behaved itself for the rest of the show, whew!

Once I got over the stress and into the swing of the show, I really enjoyed myself. Ross (the next dj, practically an XDU institution) even paid me the amazing compliment when I wrapped up the show of saying that I had made him cry and he wouldn't be able to go on. He was kidding of course, but it was still a nice thing of him to say. I have to confess, I actually choked up myself while introducing the first Christmas message from the King. I felt like such a goof! I was talking about how much we take information for granted, and how it must have felt back then, to know that you were hearing the same voice that other people were hearing all over the world, at the same time. I was going to add that it was the first time the vast majority of Britons had ever heard the King's voice, much less simultaneously, but I was afraid I wouldn't get through it. What a sap I am.

Anyway there were a lot of funny and/or goofy songs, notably "Merry Christmas You Suckers" by Paddy Roberts (the British Tom Lehrer), "I Want a Television Christmas (A World of Magic All My Own)," and two, count them, two songs about Santa flying a rocket ship instead of a sleigh; a few serious songs, like a wartime Christmas set which I wish I had done more of; and of course, some koo-koo crazy swinging Christmas songs too. I had the greatest time. The playlist is here, if you're interested.

ramping dog

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We made Thirteen a new ramp today. We had bought her a nice one, called Pet Step II, but she wouldn't use it. I guess it was too narrow. I had to half-steer, half-shove, half-carry her up it. Which became an ordeal as you can imagine.

So at our pet sitter's suggestion, we made her a new ramp. Very low tech, just a piece of chip board with astroturf stapled to it. It's much wider, so it fills the doorway, and also longer, so the slope is less steep. And to my utmost relief, Thirteen finds the new ramp much more agreeable. She walked right down it without hesitation. Up is still a bit confusing: she tries to go around it, and ends up trapped underneath. Sigh. Not the sharpest tack in the box, my girl. But when I pulled her out from under the ramp and put her on the base of it, she walked right up, no steering or forcing required. What a relief.

Jane isn't so sure about the ramp though. She's tall enough to jump up kind of around it, so she only has to step on it once at most. Going down she tends to run as fast as she can, which causes the ramp to bounce hard and make a banging noise, which scares her & turns into one of those vicious things. It is bouncier than the other ramp, though we nailed a strip of wood to the underside to try and reduce the bounce. I'll add rails to stabilize it after I get back from Staten Island.

I tried to get a photo of Thirteen going up the ramp, but I had to put down my camera and rescue her from being trapped underneath. Maybe this evening.

In other news, I finished burning and labeling all my CDs for the Christmas show this afternoon. I think it's going to be a fun show. It looks like I could do the whole two hours without playing anything I've ever played before. But I have to play at least 2 previously played tracks: I have a request for "Jingle Bell Cha-cha" by Pearl Bailey, and I always close the show with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland. I may start ten minutes early, because Ayda (the DJ before Divaville) ran late one of the last times I did the show, and she offered to let me start early this time. I'm not going to push it though; only if she remembers.

and to you, the merriest

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I will be on air tomorrow, doing the all-Christmas edition of Divaville, from 3-5 pm eastern time. 88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

This year's show will focus on "Christmas obscura," (apparently this is the music geek term for obscure and sometimes weird old Christmas music) because that's mostly what I've been listening to this holiday season. My early favorite is "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle," an obscenely catchy and strangely literal tune about a bell that couldn't jingle, until Santa gave it a new ringer. At which point it could again jingle.

In case you can't listen tomorrow afternoon but you're still interested in weird and wonderful old Christmas music, here are my favorite online sources. All free, but the download facility kind of sucks unless you pay for premium.

http://www.falalalala.com/
http://ernienotbert.blogspot.com/
http://musicyouwont.blogspot.com/

the place to be

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Apparently Piedmont is the place to be in Durham. We had dinner there tonight for our six month anniversary, or "halfiversary" as you might say. Right after we sat down, D. and S. came over to say hello. Which was hilarious because we had tried to go to Piedmont with them a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't get a table. We ended up at Thai Cafe instead.

Anyway, coincidentally they decided to try Piedmont again tonight, and so did we, but they had just finished their meal when we got there. Georg and I were sitting there talking about how neat it would have been if D. and S. had gotten there a bit later, or if we had gotten there a bit earlier, and we could have eaten together. Just then, Charo was seated right next to us! And she told us she was meeting Christa for dinner! We pushed the tables together and all four had dinner together. Georg and I were slightly ahead of them -- we ordered first and got our food a few minutes earlier -- but still close enough that we could enjoy the meal together.

What nice serendipity. And the food was wonderful too. I had a minestrone, which was good but nothing to write home about, and a ravioli which was definitely something to write home about. I'll be comparing all other ravioli to it for a long time to come. Georg had mushroom bruschetta and pork belly over butternut squash. Both of which were spectacular. And we shared a dessert: olive oil cake with candied grapefruit and rosemary syrup. The cake was good, and oddly reminded me of foccacia due to the olive oil and rosemary. (Georg didn't get that association.) The sharp, tart grapefruit was a really good complement to the cake.

I definitely want to go to Piedmont again. Next time maybe Lisa and Phil will show up!

the dog ate my

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Thanks to links from a few kind websites, and also possibly a book somewhere, I get a steady stream of messages about the copyright for collage web pages. I never got one like this before:

"what's the poor man's copyright, and whata are 3 things that can be forced to do if successfully sued for copyright infringement? whata are two examples of situations where using someone else's work is protected by copyright as "fair use"?"

Hmm, I sense ... a term paper in someone's near future? For obvious reasons I'm not going to answer this message. One of the most obvious reasons being, all of her questions are answered on my site. There's even a link at the top of the first page right to the info on poor man's copyright.

I supposed I ought to be annoyed that some girl wants me to do her homework and can't even say "please," but in fact it's highly amusing. For years I've admired the rec.arts.books.tolkien group "Tolkien Sarcasm Pages" for their creative approach to rewarding dedicated scholarship. I ought to do something like that for my copyright pages. But ... that would require effort. (The Tolkien folks' misdirection was so good, it even fooled the London Sunday Times!)

merry christmas to me

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Today we set up my Christmas present to myself: the chipper shredder! What fun! The Amazon customer reviews warned that it ws hard to put together, and they weren't kidding. But we finally got it set up, with only 2 casualties: first, Georg got a small cut on his hand. We think probably not from the blade because the cut would have been worse, but from the spinny thing above the blade. He must have scraped his hand against it while we were trying to attach the legs to the motor. Second, my favorite pair of sunglasses got crushed beyond repair. My stupid fault for leaving them on the ground right in the work area. I confess I was pretty upset about it at the time, but later on we went to Target and I found a new pair that, I feel a little disloyal to my old sunglasses for saying this, because I loved them, but the new pair are more stylish and I'm looking forward to wearing them tomorrow.

Anyway we finally got the chipper shredder set up, and then set to work on a big pile of sticks and bamboo. Oh man that was fun. The shredder is fairly small, and electric, and it tended to jam up on leafy stuff like the tops of the bamboo. Clearing it is easy, but time-consuming: go inside and unplug it, come back out and unscrew the top part to reveal the blades, clear off the chopped up leaves and twigs, screw the assembly back together, go back inside and plug it in again. Kind of tedious. But it happened less and less often as we got a feel for the machine and how much it could handle. Later in the afternoon I saved a good sturdy stick, and after a bunch of leafy stuff went through I would put the stick up into the out-take (what is that called? the opening that the chips and shreds come out of) and make sure it was clear. That helped a lot. (I should add that the out-take had a sharp bend which prevented the stick from getting up near the blade, so this was a safe maneuver.)

Anyway, while it had some trouble with leafy material, it was great on sticks. It chopped sticks of up to about 1" diameter, and never backed up the way it did with leafy bamboo. It was much noisier on sticks, though perfectly tolerable with earplugs in. And best of all, the noise scared the dogs away so I didn't have to worry about them getting too close to the machine and getting hurt with a chunk of sawdust in the eye or something.

A couple of times we put a stick in that was too big, and it blew the surge protector in the house that we had plugged it into. The chipper shredder is supposed to have a circuit breaker inside it, but apparently the surge protector in the power strip is more sensitive. We thought about plugging it right into the wall outlet but we were afraid it would blow the circuit at the breaker box, and then we'd have to reset all our clocks. Next time maybe we could try plugging it in inside the shed. The shed has its own breaker box and used to be a woodshop, so the power looks pretty good.

We got through most of the brush pile, taking turns with one stripping off the side branches and the other shoving them into the chipper. We were at it for a couple of hours, and by the end of it we were both exhausted! I thought it would be easy, just picking up sticks and feeding them into the machine. Actually it was kind of hard work. Not as hard as digging out stumps, but not trivial either. We rewarded ourselves with a big barbecue dinner at the Q Shack -- best post-yardwork meal ever -- and then a stop at Target for my replacement sunglasses and a few other things.

Now I'm curled up on the couch and I think Georg is asleep already. What a great way to spend a freakishly warm December afternoon.

tonali

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This evening we had a wonderful meal at Tonali, a Mexican restaurant on Shannon Road we hadn't eaten at before. The menu was small, and everything on it looked scrumptious. The menu reminded me of Jibarra in terms of inventive use of Mexican techniques and flavors, except much less expensive.

They started us off with freshly made tortilla chips, still hot! with a nice salsa. Georg and I shared two dishes: chicken pibil, and a vegetarian entree of cauliflower and mushrooms. There were lots of vegetarian choices, and all of them sounded really appealing. Which is saying a lot from a confirmed carnivore like me. (I almost bought myself the Meat is Murder. Tasty, tasty murder. T-shirt from Threadless, but I don't generally wear message shirts, and it only came in pink.)

The dishes were small, and if we had been hungrier we would have been better off splitting three entrees. But we had eaten lunch really late due to all the Christmasy errands, and we found that two were just right. And I have to say, I'd rather have a reasonable portion of excellent food for a reasonable price, than a massive portion for a massive price.

All and all it was a great meal. I definitely want to go back and try the rest of the menu.

i hope i hope my hope comes true

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Today was all about Christmas spirit, despite the September-like weather. First we listened to Christmas music, wrote cards, and wrapped presents. Then we had to run errands so we took the dogs with us. I would have hated to kep them shut up in the house on a beautiful afternoon like this.

We stopped by my friend David's house, which is brimming with Christmas cheer. His whole living room is filled with outgoing presents for friends and family members. And they hadn't even decorated yet!

He has a rose bush for me that his father, a lifelong gardener, had brought for me. David's father has been very kind over the years and brought me many perennials, notably a huge stash of daylilies a couple of years ago. So this rose wounds perfect for me. David is growing it too. It doesn't get black spot, has a long bloom season, and grows just the right height to train along a fence.

Unfortunately I couldn't take it right then because it's going to go in the new bed, which won't be ready for weeks, maybe months depending on the weather. So I admired it, but left it in its happy home in David's back yard. He told me the name of it but I forget. I think it's a "knockout" rose, and it has white flowers.

After that we mailed our cards and packages, and I stopped at PetSmart and bought one more little present. They had a Santa there so you could have your pet's photo taken with Santa. I would love to have Jane and Thirteen's photo with a Santa, but it would be a disaster. They're both so skittish with strangers.

After today's errands, I'm just about done with Christmas gifts! Still have one package to mail tomorrow, and one thing to buy, and then I'm done.

odds and ends

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The weather continues to veer insanely between "Christ it's cold!" to "Open the windows, it's stuffy in here." Today was the latter. I had the doors open all afternoon and even managed to get some yardwork done. Not a lot, I had eaten a big lunch and the exertion made my stomach a little upset. But I dug out a big clump of raspberry brambles (which in eight years never produced a single berry, but provided a home to multitudes of japanese beetles) and some vines.

Last night we got out most of the Christmas decorations. We don't do a lot, but we do set up small trees on the dining table and coffee table, and hang stockings over the fireplace. And I have a glowy Santa thing that changes color, which my aunt gave me a couple of years ago. It's all nice and cheerful, although it seems a little weird to have Christmas decorations up when it's so warm the front door is open.

Started on my photography project today. Actually yesterday, but yesterday I spent the whole day reading manuals and setting up equipment. Today I started taking pictures. It's nothing glamorous -- just photographing frame samples -- but it's exciting to me because I haven't worked with strobe lights before. Just figuring out how to use the light meter almost stumped me! It's one of those newfangled digital thingies. I like my old school analog light meter, but it doesn't have a flash setting so it doesn't work with strobes.

Thirteen's health seems to be tied to the weather more than I thought. The past week or so has been pretty bad for her: she falls all the time and I've been carrying her up the steps because she just can't manage it. And last night's bath, making her stand in a slippery tub, (trying to keep her standing up is more like it) was an ordeal for both of us. I've been feeling really discouraged about her future. But today in the warm weather she did so much better. While the door was open she went outside on her own initiative twice, and got back up the steps on her own both times! It gives me hope that if we can get her through the winter, she'll be all right.

On the other hand, now that it's evening she's stumbling and falling again. Maybe she overtaxed herself this afternoon.

Zarf update: Zarf is acting suspicious and making himself into the early suspect of a murder plot. Which means he clearly didn't do it. And his real name was Freddie before he became a rock star. Also, he kissed Bianca the lesbian. Who's still a lesbian, and still doesn't like kissing men, but found the experience "strangely moving." Also, the actor who plays Zarf was in an off-Broadway play about Boy George. He played George's boyfriend/rival, transvestite and club kid Marilyn. Which sounds like pretty good experience for this role.

dear santa

| 2 Comments

We had a great time this morning at the Chapel Hill christmas parade. UMJ is in no shape for a parade, so I was planning not to go this year. But the Newbug Carolinas group kindly let us drive with them. We drove Spacepod, all dressed up to look like a reindeer!

I must say it was a joy to participate in a parade where all I had to do was show up, decorate and drive. Many many thanks to Lisa for organizing the group, and Marie for planning the decorations. The antlers were held in place by the sunroofs, and worked really well. Although one of ours bent over about halfway through the route. But all the others stayed in place.

On the way home from the parade we were listening to WXDU, which should have been the world music show, but we heard Marty (the DJ before) come on the air and say that the world DJ hadn't shown up. So I dropped Georg off at the station to fill in and then returned Spacepod home.

I had planned to spend the afternoon setting up outdoor decorations, but I didn't sleep well last night and I was exhausted. So I napped instead. I felt like a lazy slack-ass, but I think I staved off a cold. Which was definitely worth it.

anything but zarf

| 2 Comments

I wish I hadn't heard about the All My Children transgender storyline in advance, because I enjoy soaps a lot more when I don't know what's going to happen. I end up dreading the spoilers so much that it ruins the current episodes. I try to stay as spoiler-free as possible: if I can avoid them, I don't even watch the TV commercials which show teasers for the coming week or two (they give away a lot!). Although I do watch the "on the next episode" teaser at the end of each day. Those are usually misleading so I don't mind watching them.

In any case, I did hear about this storyline in advance and the basic outline is that an androgynous goth rock star named "Zarf" falls for the show's lesbian, Bianca, and realizes that he too is a lesbian, only the "trapped in a man's body" kind. My first reaction was, for crying out loud, Zarf? I'm used to soap characters having dumb names because they used up the normal names decades ago. But did it have to be "Zarf"? When I told Georg about it I misremembered his name as "Frick, or Frack, or something." Maybe I should start calling him "Frickafrack" instead of Zarf.

Georg pointed out that as described, the storyline seems guaranteed to piss off everybody. Which it probably will. Gay positive viewers will see it as a thinly veiled excuse to get Bianca in bed with a man, and people hostile to gays hate the show already.

I'm inclined to agree with the thought that, at least in some part, this is a convoluted route to converting Bianca from St. Bianca the Celibate Lesbian to a nominal bisexual whose relationships are all with men. I guess I have to give the show props for making a core character -- Erica Kane's daughter -- a lesbian at all. But it's frustrating that while the straight characters screw around like proverbial bunnies, Bianca's sexuality is limited to occasional innuendo, a few soulful looks and one kiss. Otherwise, in the years Bianca has been out, her few romances have been entirely off-screen. Her only physical relationship is with her sister, since I guess it's "safe" for them to touch each other. They hug, hold hands and kiss (on the cheek) so much that there are fans of the sisters as a subtextual romance. Actually I think the actresses playing the sisters have ramped up the physical affection in their scenes together, in response to those fans.

Anyway, a romance between a lesbian and a MTF transgender will be out there for daytime, but the "tab A into slot B" mechanics of the relationship will probably be purely heterosexual. I doubt they'll go so far as to show Zarf having hormone therapy, much less surgery. Daytime viewers may be ready for an androgynous man who says he feels like a woman, but they're definitely not ready for an androgynous man sprouting breasts.

I don't know what kind of press the storyline has gotten because, like I said, I try to avoid spoilers. But I did read an article about it at Slate.com The author admitted upfront that he had never watched the show before, and he made a few mistakes, like identifying Babe as Erica's daughter instead of Bianca. (Babe's staggering selfishness and sense of entitlement rivals Erica's, so I can understand the confusion.) The funny part was when he went to the SoapCentral.com board and found the main reaction was an expectation that since the writers fuck up everything else, they'll fuck this one up too. I can't argue with that.

The Slate.com guy also found that hostility towards Zarf was based not on his sexuality, but on his near-worship of Babe. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that. He said a character who incessantly praises another character to tell the viewers who we're supposed to like is called a "propper." Um .. on the board I used to read before I gave up spoilers, that was called a "fluffer." Babe is a hateful character who the writers decided to make into the show's big heroine, so she has a lot of fluffers.

winterize me

| 2 Comments

Seems we got winter a bit early this year. I can't remember it being this cold in early December since ... well since that huge ice storm when we had no power and the low was 17°. When was that, 2002? That sucked so bad.

Come to think of it, it hasn't ever been that cold since that storm. I'm pretty sure because I've been keeping track of winter lows for the garden. Since I started gardening it hasn't dropped below 22°. Which is about 17 degrees above the coldest lows we're supposed to expect, according to the hardiness map. Because of this, I've been risking flowers that aren't supposed to survive the winter here: dahlias, gerber daisies, and a bay leaf to name a few. Which meant I spent yesterday afternoon rushing to buy winterizing supplies and rushing to get them in place. Note to self: check weather forecasts in advance in wintertime!

I was actually most concerned about the hydrangeas. They're not supposed to need winter protection here, but it's been so warm the past few weeks that they've all budded out. Those buds are next year's flowers, and if they freeze now we may not get any flowers at all in spring. The gerber daisies were also sending up new flowers, all of which probably died last night. But I'm not as concerned about that because if they survive the winter, they'll come back fresh in spring and bloom again.

You can buy winterizing supplies, like little plastic tents which cover plants, but that seemed like a waste of money so I improvised. I got a sheet of clear-ish white plastic (actually a painting tarp, 6 ml thick) and a bale of wheat straw. I wrapped the plastic around old stakes we already had, making a sort of plastic box around each hydrangea, and the bay leaf. Filled them up with loose straw, and covered the top with more plastic. Then I used up the rest of the straw by pilling it on top of the gerber daisies, pansies and dahlias. It was dark by the time I finished and I missed a few pansies. I hope they're OK. They're in shade in the morning, which is good. If plants freeze overnight, I've heard that morning sun can actually kill them by warming them up too fast.

It was too dark when I finished to get any photos, but I'll try to get some--well it will be dark tonight too, so maybe tomorrow. Anyway they're not the most attractive things in the world, but who cares if they keep the plants warm. I took the covers off this morning so the plants wouldn't overheat, & will replace them this evening.

Hmm, maybe I should have done the new fig too. I didn't think of that. Dang. It's in a protected location, in front of the white wall of the shed. I hope that's enough.

so many roses

| 4 Comments

The gardening continues. We're still working on clearing the new bed in the front yard. It's going well; we're almost done except for the stump of doom. Which is frankly scaring me. At the rate we're going, we could spend all winter chipping away at it and still not be rid of it. Today I broke down and bought a chemical stump destroyer. You drill holes in the stump, pour in these pellets, and add hot water. My friend Jason suggested I should blow the stump up. Mmm, I don't think so!

So over the weekend I had the brilliant idea to plant a climbing rose on the south side of the house. I've always avoided roses because they seem like so much work. Like temperamental babies which need constant pampering with chemical fungicides to survive. But I've heard that there are hardy & healthy varieties which don't require constant maintenance. And I've been looking at pictures of cottage gardens, and am totally smitten with all those pictures of climbing roses rambling over cottage walls.

When dipping my toe into a new hobby, I like to research it to death. (Overthink things? Who, me?) And with roses, there's a scary amount of information out there to obsess about. I typed "low maintenance climbing roses" into Google and went from there. The best resource was the GardenWeb forum, where people from all over the country post their experience with all different varieties. From that group I figured out pretty quickly that no one rose is going to be absolutely everything we want, & we'd have to figure out what was most important. These were my priorities:

  1. No spraying. I'm willing to spray an organic like Neem or dormant oil once or twice a year, but that's it. The thing where you spray horrible chemicals every week all summer long? Right out.
  2. Size. The space will look best with a 12-15 foot climber. Big enough train up the side of the wall and over the awning above the window, but not aggressive enough to overwhelm the building.
  3. Repeat bloomer. I'd rather have some flowers throughout the warm season than an outstanding display for two weeks, then plain green vines the rest of the year.
  4. Color. The house is white, so white flowers wouldn't stand out enough. And Georg isn't fond of pink. So we settled on yellow, orange or red.
  5. Fragrance. Would be nice, but less important than the items above.

I have to say, after spending a few days reading obsessively about roses, I can understand why people get so obsessive about growing them. We thought we had found a nearly perfect rose, an orange climber called Royal Sunset, and I almost ordered it yesterday. But then I did more research and found out that hybrid teas are really susceptible to black spot, and that's what Royal Sunset is. I even stopped by Witherspoon (did you know that we have a major mail order rose retailer right here in Durham?) and asked them, and they told me that if I didn't want to spray, I should definitely not plant a hybrid tea. So much for that. They also told me I'd do better by growing the rose on a trellis a foot away from the house, so it gets good air circulation.

Unfortunately the English roses, which seem very popular with the GardenWeb people, are also reportedly hard to grow here. It's too bad as they're beautiful, but I'm not surprised that roses bred for the English climate wouldn't like a sticky North Carolina summer.

After that disappointment I decided that I should narrow my research by variety. So I focused on an antique variety called "noisettes," which are supposed to do really well in this part of the country. They are really beautiful. The colors tend to be a bit lighter than what I was hoping for, but not unattractive, and color wasn't the top priority anyway. Enough GardenWeb people from this region talked about growing noisettes without ever spraying to convince me. One person even mentioned finding one thriving in an abandoned park, with no maintenance at all!

We settled on Crepuscule, a soft yellow/apricot noisette. This rose guy says it appears to be completely disease free, plus the name sounds like a disease. A creepy pustule! That's the rose for me. I ordered it tonight, to be delivered the first week in March.

I guess I may have been bitten by the rose bug. While looking at all these beautiful roses, I had another idea for how to deal with that steep bank by the road: we could plant climbing roses at the top of the slope, and let them tumble down the bank. They won't get as good air circulation there as on a trellis, but hanging down the bank (full sun pretty much all day long) they'll be drier than if they were lying on the ground. If we can keep them healthy, it will look really nice as they grow big enough to spread and fill the bank.

When I placed the order for Crepuscule, I ordered a few noisettes and also an antique tea (not a hybrid tea!) in a range of pastels: white, pale pink and pale yellow. Here's what I ordered:

Awakening
Sombreuil
Mme. Alfred Carriere
Lady Hillington
Reve D'or

I don't expect them all to thrive. It would be nice of course, but I'm generally not that lucky in the garden. I'm hoping to treat it as an experiment: we'll try them out and see what works. Even sad, droopy roses will look better than the rampant weeds and wild brambles we have now.

how did all these people get into my room

| 1 Comment

Had a fun time at Divaville this afternoon. Playlist is here if you're interested.

After the show Georg and I had a quick dinner at the Q Shack and then went to "The Rat Pack Live at the Sands," a Rat Pack impersonator show. It was great! They did almost all the songs we wanted to hear, and lots of gags and routines from real Rat Pack shows. We've got several real shows on CD and we recognized a lot of the jokes. I was surprised that they didn't flinch from the politically incorrect nature of the humor -- even including gags like Dean picking up Sammy and thanking the NAACP for the trophy.

The guys playing Frank and Sammy were outstanding. The Frank guy had it all: he looked like him, sounded like him, sang like him. And the Sammy guy, well he wasn't physically quite right -- stockier and taller than the real Sammy -- and he couldn't dance as well, but really, who can? His physical impersonation of Sammy was very good, and even though his dancing wasn't to the same level he made it work by doing simpler movements in Sammy's style. And his voice, my goodness, if you closed your eyes you could almost believe it was Sammy. The program said that Sammy Davis Jr. called this guy the best impersonator of himself that he had ever heard, and I believe it. I was most impressed when he started doing impressions, which the real Sammy did of course, and he managed to sound like Sammy impersonating John Wayne, Louis Armstrong, etc. Now that is talent. I could even forgive him for singing an anachronistic song like "Mr. Bojangles." Especially since he also did my favorite Sammy song, "Falling in Love Again," which I had coincidentally played on Divaville just a couple of hours before.

The Dean guy was weak in comparison, but not nearly as bad as, say, Ray Liotta in The Rat Pack (that HBO movie a few years ago). This guy wasn't nearly that bad; he just didn't look like Dean (way too short) and didn't sound like him (about an octave too high). He did have Dean's vocal mannerisms, but his voice was just too different to carry it off. Georg and I agreed that he sounded more like Dino in the spoken parts of the show. Most of the time though, I felt like I was watching Frank, Sammy, and some guy trying to imitate Dean.

Still, that's a minor quibble over a wonderful show that we enjoyed very much. And the best part is, the annoying talking people shut up when I asked them to! And stayed quiet for the rest of the show! Wow, I love when that happens.

on air

| No Comments

I will be on the air this afternoon from 3-5 pm, playing the Divaville jazz standards show. 88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

I will probably not play any Christmas music. Excepting a few songs about winter weather which aren't really Christmas songs, but no one ever plays them except for Christmas time. Oh, and also a fun song I just found called "Santa's Birthday" which honors December 6, St. Nicholas' Day. That's just three days away so it's too good to pass up.

bless your heart

| 9 Comments

There's an interesting discussion in the comments thread of this week's Slacktivist Left Behind post. The comments usually diverge into other discussions pretty quickly; sometimes it's a topic I find tedious and annoying (for instance last week was bike paths and Critical Mass demonstrations) and sometimes it's just as interesting as the post, if not more.

This week is a good topic: whether or not it's rude for a Christian to tell an atheist or agnostic "I'm praying for you." There are a lot of interesting points of view expressed. My personal feeling is that at best "I'm praying for you" means "I care and I think I'm helping you." I don't believe prayer has any real-world benefit, though I do recognize that as a form of meditation it can benefit the person doing it. In that sense, someone praying for me is a useless, though harmless and kindly meant, gesture. Kind of like getting ugly socks for Christmas from an elderly relative.

That's "I'm praying for you" at best. At worst, it means "You are going to hell." There's something spiteful about telling someone that you have a pipeline to a diety you believe will send them to eternal torment. This version is more like getting ugly socks for Christmas from a parent or spouse: an actively hurtful message thinly disguised as a gift.

Someone on Slacktivist compared it to the Southern expression "Bless your heart." Which, if you've ever lived in the South, you know that means "There's something seriously wrong with you." Because of the art car, I get this one or the younger version, "That's nice," all the time. When someone looks at my car and says "That's nice," it's generally obvious whether they mean "I like it" or "You crazy freak." But either way, I always pretend like they meant it in the good way and reply, "Thanks!" I suppose that probably confirms their opinion that I'm a crazy freak, but what do I care? It makes me feel better than trying to cut them back would.

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