February 2007 Archives

health update

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Health issues lately for almost everyone in the house: first Georg has been home with a cold. No fun, but he seems to be on the mend.

Next, Thirteen. Her back and leg are doing pretty well. The acupuncture really seems to be helping. It's crazy expensive to do it once a week; lucky I've had so much work lately and I can afford it!

Besides the acupuncture, we've had to start her on new meds for incontinence and for itchiness. The incontinence pills seem to be working; we just started the itchy pills tonight & will see how that goes.

Last, me. I have an appointment with a surgeon on Thursday to find out whether I'm going to have surgery. I had been hoping I could control the situation with diet, but I had another attack on Saturday night. I hadn't even eaten that much fat that day. I think that maybe by cutting way back on the fat in my diet, I've reduced my ability to digest fat. And a meal that would have been fine a month ago causes an attack now. I hate being afraid of food.

At least Jane is healthy! She hasn't needed anything more serious than a nail trim in months.

muqaddar ka sikandar

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February 26 movie: Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. The Bollywood movie night with Sylvia back in January was so much fun, that we did it again last night. Another Amitabh movie, this time a romantic melodrama. And by melodrama I mean an over the top, bigger weeper than Stella Dallas and Penny Serenade put together, get the extra box of tissues, we were tearing up before the opening credits, melodrama. Plus songs!

The first part of the movie features a boy with a remarkable resemblance to Amitabh, as an orphaned street urchin who gets a job as a houseboy working for a man so cruel that I would have thought it was ridiculous. Except that I once heard an episode of The Connection (or maybe The Story, those shows are basically the same) where Dick Gordon interviewed a man who had been a child slave in, I think Haiti? The poor kid was horribly mistreated by the family who owned him. Eventually the family moved to the US and he lived here in servitude for years before they found out that slavery was illegal in this country and turned him out into the street. He was an illiterate homeless teenager in a strange country, and somehow he managed to find a family to take him in, get a college education, get married and have a family of his own. And if that isn't a weeper beyond any movie, you are made of stone.

Anyway the life of the guy on the radio show was exactly how the boy Amitabh suffered in the movie. So if you've heard that show then you basically know the first act of the movie. The movie goes on to see Amitabh adopted, orphaned again, adopted again, get rich, meet a prostitute who falls madly in love with him, but it's no use because of his lifelong unrequited love for the daughter of the evil guy from act 1, who he forever calls "Memsaab." And that's just the basic set-up; it gets much more tragic later.

Several good songs, especially the first song which features Amitabh riding a motorcycle around Bombay. Also the prostitute has a couple of beautiful song & dance numbers. Sylvia and I were rooting for her, but we should have known that the hooker with the heart of gold cannot possibly compete with the pure love from childhood. At least, not in a weeper.

When I first started watching Amitabh movies I thought his success was just as a heartthrob, but he really is a fine actor as well. In this movie he wasn't playing dual roles like in Don, but he still showed a great range in the way he reacted to different situations and different characters. Every time he talked to his Memsaab, he transformed into the little boy from act 1. I think he must have have watched the child actor's performance to get the mannerisms down.

Overall I prefer the movies that end with Amitabh, his best bud and his girl dancing together and singing the title song. Rather than movies like this which end with everyone who isn't dead yet sobbing over Amitabh's body. Still, I enjoyed this a lot. I think we're going to make Amitabh Night a regular feature.

casablanca

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February 25 movie: Casablanca. This is one of those movies that's tough to write about. In fact, I have nothing to say about it that anyone would find interesting in any way. So I will just say that I adore Paul Henreid. Alas, his acting career was cut short by a HUAC blacklist, but it looks like there are plenty of early German language films I haven't yet seen. According to Wikipedia he was born with the name Paul Georg Julius Hernried Ritter Von Wassel-Waldingau. Now that's a name!

design for living

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February 25 movie: Design for Living. Ernst Lubitsch directs Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper and Fredric March in a comedy about a menage a trois. I had been wanting to see this movie since I heard about it in a documentary about pre-code Hollywood. It's delightful! It's based on a play by Noel Coward, though I hear that almost none of Coward's dialogue survived and the racy story was toned way down. Even toned down it's pretty outrageous for Hollywood in the 30s. Hopkins meets Cooper and March, best friends living together in Paris, and falls in love with both of them. She can't choose between them so they make a "gentleman's agreement:" Hopkins moves into their garret apartment, platonically of course, and helps them with their work. With Hopkins as their critic and muse, both men achieve creative success. Eventually she breaks the gentleman's agreement, first with Cooper and then with March. Still unable to choose, she runs off and marries Edward Everett Horton. But eventually the happy threesome gets back together.

There's a lot of talk about "the Lubitsch touch," and it's here in full force. The whole movie sparkles. I found myself laughing a lot: sometimes because the jokes were funny, and sometimes because the movie was just so delightful that it made me happy to be watching it.

elizabeth i

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February 22-23 movie: Elizabeth I. This was the HBO miniseries from 2 years ago, starring Helen Mirren as Elizabeth and Jeremy Irons as Robert Dudley. Mirren is outstanding. Irons is wonderful too, although I wish they had given him more to do. On the other hand, maybe it's better that his part was a bit, ah, restrained. He does have a tendency towards the mass consumption of scenery. The actors playing Walsingham and Robert Cecil were also excellent. Essex too, although his vague resemblance to one of the hobbits was a little distracting.

The movie covers the latter part of Elizabeth's life: the failed attempts to arrange a marriage for her, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the victory over the Spanish Armada, her relationship with Essex, his rebellion, and her death. That's a lot to cover in a four-hour miniseries. It's not totally accurate (for instance the movie shows Elizabeth having clandestine meetings with both Mary and James of Scotland, neither of which really happened I think). But as I read on another review, if you get all your history from movies then you have bigger problems!

I like to look up the characters on the internets while watching a historical movie like this. From Wikipedia I learned that Essex' weaselly friend & co-conspirator Southampton was a major patron of Shakespeare. There's even a theory that the sonnets were written for him. None of that comes out in the movie of course; there Southampton is just a moustache-twirling sidekick. The funny thing about Wikipedia is that I happened to hit Sir Francis Bacon's page right after someone had added phony information: the first paragraph said that Bacon had starred in the movie Footloose and had won a special Fancy Footwork Oscar. Under the "Early Life" subhead it also said something very strange about Bacon eating his great-grandmother due to her resemblance to a giant pink crustacean. Five minutes later I went back to the page so I could show it to Georg, and it was gone already.

One final note about Elizabeth I: the gore level is very high for a costume drama. I counted two head-choppings, one hand-chopping, one hanging, and three unbelievably graphic depictions of the Babington conspirators being hanged, drawn and quartered. In a way I'm almost glad to have seen it, because I didn't know before what that meant exactly. And now I do know. Exactly. In horrifying detail.

blue skies

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February 19 movie: Blue Skies. Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby play friends in love with the same woman. This was more mature followup to Holiday Inn, with the two men asking the object of their affection to make up her mind, rather than locking each other into closets and so forth. It wasn't the best outing for either Astaire or Crosby. Lots of good songs though, and they have a fun comedic rapport.

the glenn miller story

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February 18 movie: The Glenn Miller Story. This was a charming, though not terribly historical, biography of the famous big bandleader Glenn Miller. Lots of great music, and good performances by Jimmy Stewart and the always delightful Harry Morgan. And I have to admit that June Allyson is also good, even though she irritates me. The movie also includes non-speaking musical parts for Miller contemporaries like Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa.

on the issues

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If you're trying to cut through the PR bullshit and find out what the presidential candidates actually stand for, I highly recommend OnTheIssues.org. It lists quotes and voting records on a variety of issues for each candidate, all laid out in a clear format so you can easily compare positions.

This page lists all declared presidential candidates and links to their positions. Only Democrats and Republicans so far, but in 2004 they also included third-party candidates. I assume they'll do the same next year when we get closer to the election.

the teacher says...

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My favorite Ralph Wiggam joke goes, "The teacher says I wouldn't get so many nosebleeds if I didn't put my finger in there!" This morning I learned that the same goes for your ear.

Yes, I somehow managed to scrape my eardrum with my fingernail. What can I say, I didn't know it was possible to get my finger in so far. The ear bled a little, but not much, and it hardly hurts at all. Just a twinge like you would feel from any small scrape. And I'm not having any trouble hearing, which suggests no lasting damage.

On the downside, I got the worst headache I've had in ages, and I feel like I'm going to throw up. My friend the MD (it's great to work with a programmer who used to be an MD and doesn't mind giving free medical advice) says that by damaging my inner ear I messed up my sense of balance and that's causing the nausea. He says it will go away soon. I certainly hope so!

In the meantime I'm just sitting here feeling stupid and waiting for the headache pills to start working. And also kicking myself for not having gotten around to filling that Imitrex prescription. I was planning to do that this evening, really. Although I don't even know if Imitrex would have worked in this situation. I took an OTC pill called "Exedrin Migraine" (well to be precise, the store brand version of Exedrin Migraine) which is just acetominophin, aspirin and caffeine. Which generally works pretty well on my headaches.

I think I'll make a mental note not to re-enact any other Ralphisms. I'd particularly like to stay away from "It tastes like burning!"

grow light

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I've been kind of bummed about not being able to garden the past few weeks, so I indulged an indoor gardening project: a DIY grow light. I built it out of PVC pipe and fluorescent shop lights.

I used this plan and parts list, with one modification: the plan shows the lights hanging from one length of PVC. I thought that might not be enough to support three shop lights, which are surprisingly heavy, so I made two parallel supports and connected them with T-joints at the base. I didn't connect them at the top because I was concerned about my ability to get everything exactly square. Which turned out to be a valid concern; in fact, nothing is square. I don't care; it's not like it's a house or something. All it has to do is hold up the lights, and it does that quite well.

The big surprise of the project was opening the shop lights and discovering a mass of loose wires instead of a power cord and plug. Oops, the plans didn't say anything about that! I guess the shop lights are meant to be hung from the ceiling. I had no idea how to deal with that so I called my dad for help. He told me what to do and with his advice, I was able to wire all three lamps. (I confess, I took the easy way out and didn't ground them.)

Turns out the hardest part of wiring the lights was the sharp edges all over the metal box, which left me with tiny cuts all over my hands. Too bad I didn't know about the black pepper home remedy. Once wired up, the shop lights are held together with a simple wooden frame, and then hung from the PVC frame with a chain that can be raised or lowered. I read on the Gardenweb forum that regular "cool white" fluorescent bulbs work just as well as special grow lights.

Voila: a working grow light. And it only took 6 trips to the big box store! One to buy the PVC pipe. The second to buy the PVC joints, lights, and hardware. The third to buy the second PVC pipe, after I realized the frame needed to be sturdier. The fourth to buy the wiring, which was missing from the parts list. The fifth to buy S-hooks, also missing from the parts list. The sixth to buy another bag of S-hooks, because the ding-danged bag held 3 hooks and I needed 4. By that point it was almost comical.

I finished the plant light last week but didn't have the energy to turn it on and sow my seeds until Sunday. What can I say, it was a long week. I have tons of seeds this year, thanks to a gift certificate for Johnny Seeds from my folks. I'm going to direct sow most of them but some need to be sown indoors ahead of time. And to my amazement, the yarrow and the basil are coming up already! Good grief, it's only been 3 days! I can't wait to see what comes up next. I'm experimenting with some plants I've never grown from seed before. I won't be crushed if some of them don't sprout, but of course I'll be thrilled if they do. We have a lot of new flower bed space to fill, and growing plants from seed sure is more economical than buying them in pots.

(One final note: The PDF plan says you can build a grow light for under $60. That may have been true when it was written, but it sure isn't true now. My lamp cost about twice that. Still, that's about half what I would have paid for a commercial grow light of similar size.)

seven brides for seven brothers

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February 18 movie: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This movie is a conundrum. The plot is repulsive: first, a mountain man tricks Jane Powell into marrying him, not telling her that he lives with six brothers and he really wants a free laborer to cook and clean for the seven of them. She teaches the six bachelor brothers how to court the ladies in town, which they do with partial success, then they get tired of trying to win girls the old fashioned way and kidnap the objections of their affections. Turns out the girls liked being assaulted and literally dragged from their homes, and like being trapped up in the mountains even more. When spring rolls around they marry their kidnappers as soon as the pass is clear and they can get a pastor up there. The End!

With such a hateful story, why is this movie so charming? Beats the heck out of me. To be honest I enjoyed it in spite of myself.

the life and death of colonel blimp

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February 18 movie: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Michael Powell movie that follows the life of a career soldier from a brash young man fresh off the Boer War to a stodgy old general who discovers during WWII that the world has left him behind. I found this movie thought-provoking and emotionally affecting, but I'm honestly too tired tonight to talk about it in any depth. I did read that Winston Churchill hated the movie because he thought it referred to himself. "Blimp" was not the main character's name, but was (I hear) a dirisive term used for the old guard in the British military at the time.

that is just wrong

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Tonight we saw an AmEx commercial featuring the song "Gimme Some Money" by the Thamesmen. Also known as Spinal Tap. I think that is the weirdest ad music I've ever seen.

but i wasn't listening

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I had a fun show covering Divaville yesterday. As usual I forgot to announce it in advance. I figure as long as I don't forget to show up, the rest can take care of itself.

The playlist is here for anyone who's interested. Particularly fun for me was Tallulah Bankhead and Danny Kaye singing "How Could You Believe Me," a funny song I knew from the movie Royal Wedding. Bankhead's voice is amazing, and she sang the "male" part, the "baby leave us not forget that I'm a heel" part. Great song. (I don't think she says "Stop bending the suit!" like Fred does in Royal Wedding, alas.) I also played a song from the Bring Crosby/Fred Astaire movie Blue Skies, which was playing on TCM last night, and made sure to announce the movie. (And coincidentally, I'm watching it now!)

The schedule changed, and the show before Divaville is now a bunch of high school kids talking and reading poetry and such. Which was the cause of a bit of embarrassment for me, because I didn't know about the schedule change, and the doorbell is broken, and I didn't have a card key (I always borrow Georg's and he was out of town). So I stood below the MCR window and threw pebbles and yelled "AYDA!" at the top of my lungs, thinking Ayda was there and would let me in, but it was the high school kids instead. Oops!

There were so many of them I had to wait in the next room, and I overheard a hilarious conversation between the one who seemed to be in charge, and the one who seemed to be her main assistant:

"Now I did want to mention a couple of things ... when I asked you to backsell, I didn't mean the whole hour, just the couple of songs since our last talkset."
"How was I supposed to know that?"
"We just did training a few days ago, remember?"
"But I wasn't listening!"

Sometimes honesty is so refreshing.

the devil's advocate

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February 17 movie: The Devil's Advocate. Oh lordie. What can I say about a movie that stars dueling hams who think YELLING is the best way to show emotional intensity. And not one, not two, but three twist endings. Two of which you could see a mile away, and all three of which were totally stupid.

The most interesting thing about this movie is its role in an important copyright law case. That big sculpture on the wall in Pacino's loft was an unauthorized reproduction of a sculpture at the Washington National Cathedral. I read that the infringement was considered particularly egregious because the sculpture was not only duplicated, but modified in a manner considered offensive by the creator (when it comes to life and "writhes erotically").

qurbani

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February 16 movie: Qurbani. Another Bollywood movie featuring a deep funk soundtrack by Kalyanji-Anandji. Not quite as good a soundtrack as Don, but then what is?

Here's a clip of the title theme (approx. 2 minutes long).

The movie was hard to follow, and a bit draggy. Which is frankly a problem in all Bollywood movies for me. Difficult to avoid padding in a 3 hour movie. On the plus side, Zeenat Aman stars. She's not a vengeful kung fu chick like in Don; here she's the lead singer of a nightclub act. Basically the Indian Abba. She's still my Bollywood girlfriend even when she's not kicking ass.

I tried for about an hour to rip a clip of her big number to MPG, Never did get it figured out, so I'll have to settle for the screen shot at left. Take it from me, it's a pretty amazing number. The backup singers in ill-fitting white bodysuits and silver gogo boots are what really make it.

[ETA: Thanks to the magic of Youtube, I found the disco dance number! It's flagged as questionable content, which is bizarre considering it has no violence, no nudity, and no subtitles. Just beautiful Zeenat Aman shaking her booty.]

Other nice scenes are a dance number by two the two male leads, wielding swords; an extended set piece in a garage, the point of which is the crash a car as badly as possible; and an extended intro dedication to Indira Ghandi's son, who died in 1980. His name was Sanjay but in the movie he was identified as "The Sleeping Prince."

the spy who came in from the cold

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February 16 movie: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. I came across this while flipping channels tonight, and didn't intend to watch the whole thing because I had just seen it recently, but I got sucked in. Some suspense movies suffer on second viewing but this one is even better. There's a moment where Richard Burton's character is talking to a German agent who drops some information that seems trivial at the time, but means a lot if you know where the movie is going. With barely noticeable changes of expression Burton reveals the beginning of understanding: his eyes open a bit wide in surprise, then shift to the left, then down. Such a tiny gesture that reveals so much: comprehension, resignation, depair. I had seen Burton in another movie (can't remember what now) and found him kind of overblown and hammy. His performance here is total opposite: tightly restrained, razor sharp. Now I understand why people thought he was such a great actor.

the story of dr. wassell

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February 12 movie: The Story of Dr. Wassell. Inspirational wartime movie about a Navy doctor saving the lives of twelve injured sailors who had been left behind on Java. Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as the unassuming country doctor from Arkansas who doesn't set out to be heroic, but winds up there anyway.

kiss me, stupid

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February 11 movie: Kiss Me, Stupid. This was supposed to be a comedy about Dean Martin as a Vegas singer (conveniently named Dean Martin) seducing a town full of women. It somehow shifted into a movie about an insanely jealous would-be songwriter played by My Favorite Martian, trying to keep his wife away from Martin. I found My Favorite Martian's character unpleasant rather than funny. Martin does a nice rendition of "S'Wonderful" at the beginning of the movie.

the beam in thine own reptilian eye

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Early last year I read the Aubrey-Maturin series (Patrick O'Brian's historical novels set in the British Navy in the early 1800s). Then I read a briography of O'Brian, and for the past few months I've been working my way through audiobooks of the series. Audiobooks of books I've already read may be the best use of the format, for me at least. Since the contents aren't new to me, I'm not completely lost if I get distracted and miss a bit.

It's oh so tempting to make sweeping assumptions about fictional events in a book and how they relate to an author's personal history, especially an author with a history as complicated as O'Brian's. I try not to do this to excess -- I do, after all, know the difference between fact and fiction -- but I find I can't help but see Stephen Maturin as an alter ego for O'Brian, at least to some degree. They share a job (military intelligence) and a hobby (zoology), though Maturin is far more talented and even internationally renowned in both. They also share qualities of temperament (a certain cantankerousness, lack of affection for children), personal background (Maturin was Irish, O'Brian pretended to be) and plot details as well: Maturin's fortune rose with O'Brian's; Maturin's wife died when O'Brian's did; etc.

There's also a shift in point of view that seems to reveal something of O'Brian's sympathies: in the early books of the series, he does a pretty good job of balancing the point of view between the two main characters, Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey. By the end of the series the story unfolds mainly from Maturin's point of view. Aubrey is still a critically important character, but he's seen more through Maturin's eyes than his own.

I wouldn't go so far as to call Stephen Maturin a Mary Sue. O'Brian was an excellent writer, and (by my definition at least) Mary Sues are the sole provenance of bad writers. Still, I was highly amused to realize that Maturin carries the hallmark Mary Sue physical characteristic: a strikingly unusual eye color, which is always described with the same adjective. Of course, a Mary Sue is likely to have violet or silvery grey eyes which enhance her remarkable beauty. Maturin's very pale eyes are called "reptilian" and make him even more unattractive. I don't think most creators of Mary Sues could bear to see their avatars as cranky and ugly. Royal Society membership or international man of mystery not-withstanding.

Anyway, I'm in the middle of The Commodore, the 17th book in the series. And I've come to a place where I'm kind of sorry I read the biography. Because much of the first half of the book is taken up with Maturin coming home after years at sea and discovering that his daughter is severely autistic and his wife has run off, abandoning the girl and him. Maturin's "gentle giant" Irish manservant comes home too, and within a few months cures the daughter's autism, simply by being nice to her and speaking to her in Irish. It's a complete and total transformation, from a child who speaks so rarely no one knows if she's capable of it, to a bouncy outgoing girl who shrieks with delight and makes friends with everyone she meets.

I know nothing of autism and I have no idea if this is possible, or was thought possible in 1995 when the book was written. But I have to say, it's not plausible. It rang false when I read the book last year, and it's bothering me much more now that I know O'Brian's personal history. Which included him abandoning his first wife and two children, one of whom was a baby girl with spina bifida. O'Brian walked out on his family and never looked back, leaving his wife to deal with their child's death by herself.

O'Brian's real daughter died only a little younger than the age of Maturin's daughter at the beginning of The Commodore. Except that in the book, it's the feckless wife who abandons the sick child, and our hero Maturin who provides the magical cure. I know this is incredibly unfair based on slim public information, but it's hard not to see the two children as connected. Hard, in fact, not to see the fictional child as O'Brian's attempt to rewrite rather despicable events from his own past, the way he created a romantic Irish family history for himself.

All of which is to explain why, although I'm mainly very glad I read the biography, in a small way I'm sorry I did. It's too easy to make these kinds of connections between fiction and reality. Good golly, I'd hate for someone to look at my Tarot deck and invent ugly revelations for my past. Good thing I'm not famous and no one would care enough to make up crap about me.

news is no news

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Well, I have gallstones. "Stones and sludge" to be exact. But like justice, the wheels of medicine move slowly. I thought that the purpose of today's appointment was to review the ultrasound, discuss my options and decide whether or not I need surgery. But no, the purpose of today's appointment was to tell me that they are going to refer me to a surgeon who will discuss with me the option of whether or not to have surgery.

I'm a bit cranky because, why did I rearrange my day and give up most of the afternoon for a conversation that could have been handled with a phone call? There was no reason for me to be there. They didn't know the answers to any of my questions -- what are the options besides surgery, how long would the recovery take, what foods besides fat should I avoid, are there any foods that could help prevent another gallstone attack. And they didn't even schedule the appointment with the surgeon. I was told that I "will be contacted when the appointment has been scheduled." Nice.

Anyway, enough complaining. There was some good news too. There's no inflammation, so it sounds like I'm not an urgent case. And in the meantime, I guess I just keep eating low fat and hoping not to have another gallstone attack. I hate being afraid of food.

department of obviousness

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I like to browse Epicurious' "most popular recipes" page every couple of weeks for ideas. Today I found a dilly: Salted Water for Boiling. Seriously, this is a recipe for how much salt to put in water before you boil it. Which somehow made the list of most popular recipes on the entire site.

The best part is the reader reviews. I haven't read all 761 (!) but on the first page is one advising that the recipe is especially good if you substitute scotch for the water and soda for the salt, and don't bother boiling. Now that's good advice!

no news is no news

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So I had my ultrasound on Tuesday. Should have written about it at the time but the time I would normally spend websurfing and blog-writing, I've been knitting my binary scarf. Which is turning out pretty well, considering I've never worked with two colors before, but is slow going for the same reason.

Anyway, the ultrasound. An MD friend warned me that the technician doing the ultrasound normally will not tell the patient anything. Which is exactly what happened. I can understand that they don't want a tech saying something that scares a patient, or encourages them to treat themselves with possibly harmful results. But still, it would have been nice to have some idea what was going on. I could see the screen but I didn't know how to interpret it. It just looked like white and black swirly patterns. And sometimes they added blue and red colors, and then took them away. It was groovy, man.

At one point I asked the tech if something was a stone, but she would only say "Your doctor will get a full report." I had tried to break the ice with her at the outset, by making a joke that I just hoped she didn't see a baby in there. Which went over like the proverbial lead balloon. She rolled her eyes, offered a weak smile, and then went back to work. She barely spoke except "Take a deep breath and hold .... .... and breathe." Also, I didn't think ultrasound was supposed to hurt at all but she pressed that thing so hard into my side that it was kind of painful.

I think she must have been a new trainee or something. Because when she was done someone else came in and did the whole procedure again, only much faster and no pain. And she was friendlier and chattier, though no more willing to give up information. At one point she asked me if I was OK and I said yes, I just wished I understood the image. She chuckled and agreed, and then let it drop. Dang, I was hoping she'd maybe respond by explaining it to me, but no such luck.

I do think I saw stones though. At least, I saw both techs making notations on little white spots. In any case I have the follow-up appointment with my doctor, who allegedly got a full report, later today. At which point I will find out whether I do indeed have gallstones and if so, when will the surgery be scheduled. Or if.

I have to say that for me, the worst possible outcome will be if I do have gallstones but they don't want to operate. I haven't had a gallstone attack since I went on the low fat diet a week ago. So they may say I can control it with diet, and they may be right. But I hate being afraid of food. I don't know yet whether it's truly just the fat content that causes the attacks, or if the total quantity of food and lateness of eating affects it too. There's a lot of uncertainty so I worry every time I eat. I would hate to live like that permanently.

thirty seconds over tokyo

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February 11 movie: Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. I said before that this is one of my favorite war movies, and I stand by it.

While watching, I was thinking about wartime movies, and the odd fact that the men who played soldiers and sailors during the war, the ones who inspired the homefront, were the ones who didn't themselves serve in the military. Van Johnson was injured in a car accident and was ineligible for medical reasons. I don't know why Robert Walker and Robert Mitchum didn't serve. Probably medical as well. It's not like being an actor could get someone out of the draft, although it could on occasion get a soldier a safe, relatively cushy stateside job, like certain ex-presidents I could mention. Heck, at least Reagan served. Unlike certain current presidents I could mention.

flying tigers

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February 11 movie: Flying Tigers. Jaime Weinman said that some people are allergic to John Wayne, and that describes pretty well how I feel. But I'm trying to get over it, and this is a good place to start. Anna Lee, who I love, is it in. It's about mercenary flyers in China, fighting against the Japanese for money before the US got into the war. Lee is a nurse working in a mission right near the airfield.

second chorus

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February 10 movie: Second Chorus. Fred Astaire and Burgess Meredith star as perpetual college students who play in a college band. When they're forced to graduate, they try to get jobs with the Artie Shaw band, and vie for the affections of Paulette Goddard.

There are a couple of decent scenes, notably when Fred leads the band and tap-dances, but the movie is mostly ridiculous. I mean, the very idea of 41 year old Astaire and and 33 year old Meredith as college roommates going on their seventh year in school.

stagecoach

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February 10 movie: Stagecoach. I think that "31 Days of Oscar" is my least favorite TCM feature. Almost every movie is either something I've already seen or something I have no interest in seeing.

I'm not typically a fan of Westerns. But, I really enjoyed Fort Apache when I watched it a few months ago, so I decided to give Stagecoach a try. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I expected to. It didn't have the character depth or moral ambiguity of Fort Apache. Still, it was exciting, and I'm glad I saw it.

(By the way, Fort Apache is an amazing movie and I highly recommend it, even if you don't like Westerns.)_

the 40 year old virgin

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February 10 movie: The 40 Year Old Virgin. Kevin said that I would like this movie, and he was right. It wasn't great, but it was good. Funny, mostly unsentimental, sweet when it needed to be. And it did have moments of hilarity, like the big "Age of Aquarius" musical number, I like Catherine Keener a lot, and I think my favorite secondary character was Jane Lynch as the boss, who seems like a total hardass at first, but turns out to be cool .. maybe a little too cool.

My only criticism is too many jokes based on bodily fluids. Any is too many for my taste, and this one had about a half-dozen (pee and vomit). At least there weren't any jokes about poo. I would have had a hard time recommending the movie if there were.

jet li's fearless

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February 9 movie: Jet Li's Fearless. Georg already wrote the movie up, so I'll just add a few details. I found some information about Huo Yuan Jia online, and it sounds like the melodramatic parts about his family dying are not historical, but the parts about him founding the famous wushu school (I wonder if that was where Jet Li studied wushu?) and fighting foreigners to regain prestige for China are true. It's also true that his death was blamed on poison, but it may actually have been due to misuse of Chinese medicine. And the main character in the classic Fist of Legend (also by Jet Li) was supposed to be a student of Huo Yuan Jia.

Also, while Li said at the time that this would be his last martial arts film, he's got another one in production right now. Maybe he meant that this would be his last wushu film.

I really enjoyed this movie. Georg mentioned that it was less arty than the Zhang Yimou movies like Crouching Tiger and that's true. Also, it's hard for me to articulate but it "read" more like a classic Chinese martial arts film, but with a bigger budget. Crouching Tiger seemed more .. more Western I guess. Jet Li's Fearless reminded me very much of Jet Li's Wong Fei Hung movies. Or like Fist of Legend now that I think about it.

And can I say that Jet Li's Fearless is a really dumb name for this movie? I can understand why they didn't want to call it Huo Yuan Jia in the US, since no one here knows who that is. (I'm kind of into Chinese movies and I had never heard of him.) But "fearless" doesn't describe any of the themes or motivations of the movie. It's not about conquering fear at all.

madlibs

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Had a restless night's sleep, full of bad dreams about not being able to get everything done, being late for everything, forgetting tasks or key components of tasks. Coincidentally the next couple of days are going to be really stressful. Lots of rushing around trying to get from one place to another & too many things to keep track of. Gee, my dreams are usually less overt than that, you know, more metaphoric. But then I guess anxiety dreams are generally literal like that. I used to have bad dreams about dead air on the radio all the time.

At least they weren't all like that. I woke up to a strange dream in which I learned that most genre fiction is written "mad lib" style: the authors write everything except the nouns, which the publishers fill in so they can publish the same books over and over. This was told to me by a big name fan of fantasy/sf (not a real person, but in my dream he ran a major fantasy website) who was trying to stop this trend and get back to each book being written individually.

I asked him how it was possible that books could be written like this, and he gave an example where an author had created a complicated fictional variation on a bow and arrow, which was interchangeable with either a sword or a gun in terms of functionality. That way her books (or book templates I guess) could be re-used for almost any era or level of technology. I thought to myself that this seemed like more work than just writing each book as a one-off.

(I know where this dream came from too, at least the madlib part: Kip_W's hilarious Dennis Miller Mad Lib.)

odds and ends

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Had a nice weekend taking care of odds and ends. First and most importantly, I finished my big DIY project building a plant grow light. Which I will write up in detail, with photos, probably tomorrow.

Also spent much of Saturday driving around running errands. Which sounds kind of sucktastic, but actually it was fun. I've been working so much lately that I haven't had time to take care of those little details. It was great to have a whole afternoon where I didn't have anything to do except tool around town.

One of my errands was replacing Thirteen's bed. She's having problems with incontinence, and we couldn't let her continue sleeping on that bed. I like the beds with really thick orthopedic foam, and the only one they had like that was huge! 3 × 4 feet! Thirteen would be better off with a bed half that size, and I thought about making one. Then I realized that it takes me 2 hours to earn enough money to buy the big bed. It would take much longer than that to make one, plus materials. So I bought the damn bed. Also got a pack of those training pads. Put a pad on top of the bed and pinned a towel over the pad. This way if she has another accident in her sleep, we can throw away the pad and the bed won't be soiled.

I also bought yarn to make a new scarf. I found a page with dozens of patterns (who knew there were so many ways to make a scarf?) and ended up picking the binary scarf from Knitty.com. I know, I should have started weeks ago, & by the time I finish it will probably be too warm to wear it. It's still fun to work on now. I've never worked with two colors before and it's been a challenge.

a case of the good neighbors

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A month or so ago, a tree fell in the empty lot behind our house, landed on our clothesline and part-way crushed our fence. Ever since I've been meaning to call someone to come and cut it up. I didn't want Georg to try because the tree was hung up on the clothesline and that can be really dangerous.

I was thinking that I might get someone to come while I'm home for my surgery. But then today, a truck pulled up in our driveway, two people popped out and said they were our neighbors and were here to cut up the tree! It's kind of sad that I didn't even know what the neighbors from 2 doors down look like. It's not a very neighborly kind of neighborhood. I mean it's a busy road, no sidewalk, not much opportunity for foot traffic.

It turns out that isn't an empty lot behind our house. The neighbors from 2 doors over have an L-shaped yard. They can't see the far side of it from their house and they didn't even know about the tree until the neighbor between our two houses told them about it.

So anyway they hopped out of their truck with a bunch of tools, and went into the back yard where a third person was waiting on the other side of the fence. They chopped up the tree with their chain saw (scary, but he seemed to know what he was doing, or at least he got lucky and it fell away from his foot), threw it over the fence into their yard, and then fixed the fence! They brought out a length of pipe for the top, cut it to size with some kind of power hacksaw, mooshed the chain link back into shape, and done! It all happened so fast. You can't even tell anything ever happened to the fence. They even offered to take the bent pipe with them, but we have to go to the dump anyway so we kept it.

Jane came and checked them out, but when they said hi to her, she ran away. Poor Jane, not so good with the strangers. She likes new people but she needs about 20 minutes to get used to them.

the president's analyst

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February 8 movie: The President's Analyst. James Coburn plays a psychiatrist hired to psychoanalyze the president. At first he loves the prestige of the job, but soon the stress and isolation start to get to him. He cracks under the pressure and tries to quit, only to discover that his most outlandish fears are true, and then some. This movie is utterly hilarious and supremely paranoid. I can't even describe how much I love it.

Part of my affection for The President's Analyst comes from the friend who introduced me to it. A wild man who styled himself Dr. Anubis Atomsmasher and was possibly even more paranoid than the movie. I will never forget how he lit up at the scene where the phone company makes its play. Like that made everything make sense. I love that crazy son of a bitch.

Unfortunately, though the phone company delivers some of the best humor in the movie, it may not translate well for anyone much younger than me. I remember when Ma Bell was broken up, but I was too young to have ever paid a phone bill myself. I wonder if that part of the movie would make any sense to someone in their 20s.

gold diggers of 1935

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February 7 movie: Gold Diggers of 1935. Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou and Alice Brady star in this installment of the Gold Diggers series. The plot is totally ridiculous, but of course the point of a Gold Diggers movie isn't the plot, it's the Busby Berkeley musical numbers. This movie includes the famed "Lullaby of Broadway" number, but my favorite was an earlier number featuring synchronized rows of ladies at pianos, swaying and undulating to the music. (The rows of pianos were undulating, not the ladies.)

how galling, part 2

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I really appreciate all the comments (public and private) from people who've had gallbladder removal surgery or know someone who has. It's hugely helpful to know how it has affected real people. It sounds like there isn't generally much long-term effect. Although my mom had trouble eating chocolate right after the surgery, and my aunt could never eat dark chocolate again. Today I bought a Vosges Barcelona bar -- dark chocolate, almonds, and sea salt -- and will have a square every night until my surgery. I'm not a chocoholic, but I will miss it if I have to give it up forever. Speaking of which, I wonder if there is a hereditary tendency to gallstones; it turns out that my mother, aunt and grandmother all had them.

Of course, I won't know for sure until the ultrasound that I even have gallstones. But the more I learn about them, the more convinced I am. Wikipedia has a page about gallstones and their description of a gallstone attack is exactly, exactly what's been happening to me. It also includes the helpful tip that drinking a glass of water at the onset of an attack can reduce the pain. I hadn't been eating or drinking anything during an attack, because I thought it was an ulcer and eating or drinking anything would make it worse.

On another website I read that gallstones usually happen to overweight, middle-aged women. And isn't that flattering to my self-image. I mentioned this to my friend Marc, an MD, and he said in school they were taught the mnemonic "fat, fertile and forty." Hey, I'm not 40 yet! One thing I like about Marc: he never sugar coats anything. (Actually it is one of his better qualities, because when he says something comforting I know for sure that he isn't lying to make me feel better.)

In the meantime I'm eating a fairly low-fat diet. Not extreme like the Ornish diet or anything, but much less fat than I would normally eat. I've been trying to "treat" myself with really nice foods so I won't feel deprived. Like sushi for lunch, and a low fat version of jambalaya for dinner. The jambalaya turned out really well if I do say so myself. It had chicken, turkey sausage, and shrimp. Probably a bit too much shrimp, actually. I guess the recipe went heavy on the shrimp because it has less fat than sausage. But with turkey sausage instead of pork sausage, I don't think there's any need to skimp. I would love to find a recipe for the rabbit jambalaya I had in New Orleans last year. It was outstanding.

come and get it

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February 6 movie: Come and Get It. Edward Arnold plays an ambitious lumberyard boss who falls in love with a saloon girl (Frances Farmer) but ditches her to marry the boss' daughter. Decades later he meets the saloon girl's daughter (also Frances Farmer), falls for her and competes with his own son (Joel McCrea) for her! Freaky!

I recorded this because of Joel McCrea, but it turns out he only has a small part. The movie is really about Arnold and Farmer. Also Walter Brennan, who plays Arnold's Swedish best friend. The title card at the beginning suggested the movie was going to be about the negative environmental impact of unchecked logging. Which seemed pretty forward-thinking for 1936. But the movie completely dropped that angle in favor of the soapy melodrama.

the maltese falcon

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February 5 movie: The Maltese Falcon. I was reading an article somewhere about this movie, I think comparing it to Satan Met a Lady. The article made me want to see the movie again, so much that I put it into my Netflix queue. Then I realized that by the time it got to the top of my queue, I probably wouldn't be so hot to watch it anymore, and I should just wait for it to come around on TCM again. And then it did, just a few days later! What perfect timing.

[ETA: Turns out I wasn't the only person who watched this movie on Tuesday!]

the dirty dozen

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February 4 movie: The Dirty Dozen. I spent Sunday afternoon watching this movie and working on a craft project. What fun, and what a cast! Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas, and especially John Cassavetes. The best part is the team's triumph at the war game. The end gets pretty dark, and I have to say I think Telly Savalas' character is overplayed (hmm, the psycho mass murder turns out to be a psycho mass murder! Imagine that!) but still, this is a great movie.

naughty but nice

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February 4 movie: Naughty but Nice. Dick Powell plays a priggish small-town college music professor who gets seduced by that devil swing music. Powell gets a few funny scenes, but isn't really used to his full potential. (A movie about songwriting, and he only sings once!) For me the ensemble cast was best thing about this movie, especially Helen Broderick (Ginger's best friend in Top Hat) as Powell's wild and crazy hep cat aunt. Her best scene is when Powell first meets her. She hosts a jazz party and jams with the band, first on trombone and then on drums! Other standouts include Maxie Rosembloom as Broderick's butler, an ex-boxer named "Killer," Ann Sheridan as a scheming singer, Zasu Pitts as a daffy maiden aunt, and Allen Jenkins as an incompetent lyricist given to malapropisms.

Apparently in 1939, "panties" meant "short pants." This movie includes the line "You'd think that Donald still wore panties and a Buster Brown haircut!" Which was intended to mean, stop treating Donald like a child, but sounds very different now.

zanjeer

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February 3 movie: Zanjeer. This was the movie that made Amitabh a superstar, and started him playing the "angry young man" characters that were his trademark in the 70s and early 80s. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I was expecting to. Amitabh's performance lacked the swagger of later movies like Don or Amar Akbar Anthony. I guess maybe because he wasn't yet a superstar when he made Zanjeer.

The highlight of the movie was a red-headed Muslim criminal (played by Pran, the tightrope walking dad in Don) who reforms and becomes Amitabh's best friend. A very fun, larger than life character. Also the music was really good. By Kalyanji-Anandji, it didn't have the deep funk vibe of Don, but it was catchy and enjoyable. Those guys rival R.D. Burman for my favorite Bollywood composers.

[ETA: I forgot one funny thing. The female romantic lead in the movie is played by Jaya Bhaduri, who went on to become Mrs. Amitabh Bachchan. She's a very small woman, and Amitabh is very tall, and he towered over her in their scenes together. At one point Georg and I had this exchange:

me: "Look at that height difference! He must be a foot taller than her!"
Georg: incredulous stare
me: "Oh right, you're a foot taller than me. Whoops!"

I think that Amitabh must have been more than a foot taller than Jaya. Because I come up to about Georg's shoulder, and she looked much shorter compared to Amitabh. If she's 5 foot even and he's 6'4", which could easily be the case, then there would be a 16 inch height difference.]

how galling

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A few times in recent posts I've alluded to not feeling well, but I haven't gone into any detail because I didn't know for sure what was going on. For the past month, about once a week I've been waking up around 2 am with a sharp pain in my stomach, high up, just below the rib cage. The pain lasts for a couple-three hours, and then by 4:30 to 5 am it's diminished enough that I can get to sleep.

I thought it was an ulcer, so I've been trying to treat it with over the counter pills (Zantac and Tums). Which didn't help, so I finally broke down and went to the doctor. I had been putting it off because my old doctor had left the practice, and I didn't know who to go to, and didn't want to go to a random person. I got a recommendation from a friend of mine who goes to the same place, and my new doctor seems really good. Easy to talk to and receptive to my concerns, even the oddball questions. I never felt like she was blowing me off, which I did get sometimes from my old doctor. I feel very comfortable with the new person.

That's the good news. The bad news is I probably don't have an ulcer; I probably have gallstones. Gallstones, for crying out loud. What this means is, first of all, a lot more doctor's appointments: next week an ultrasound, and then a followup visit, and then (if the ultrasound shows that I do indeed have gallstones) surgery to remove my gallbladder.

In the short term it means I have to eliminate fat from my diet as much as possible. [gross medical details ahead:] The problem is probably a stone blocking the opening of the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores bile, and bile is needed to process fat. Less fat means less bile production, means less pain. After the surgery I'll be more or less normal, but will have to avoid extremely high-fat meals forever, simply because without the gallbladder there isn't enough bile to deal with all that fat.

Damn, I love fat. Fat makes everything taste better. On the bright side, after the surgery will I have less gall? I'll certainly have less bile. I guess a classical physician could tell me what this will do for my disposition. Will my four humours go out of whack? Does the gallbladder store black bile or yellow bile?

[ETA: I looked it up and according to Wikipedia, yellow bile is produced in the gallbladder, and there is no actual bodily fluid corresponding to black bile. Yellow bile it is! I wonder if that means I'm choleric, because I'm having a problem with yellow bile. Or maybe phlegmatic, because that's the opposite of choleric and my yellow bile is blocked. Why is there never a 17th century barber surgeon around when you need one?]

funny face

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February 2 movie: Funny Face. I love this movie, but I don't much like the first part, where Audrey Hepburn is working in a bookstore and minding her own business, and the fashion people descend on her. On Friday night I happened to turn the movie on right after that scene. What perfect timing!

the professionals

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February 2 movie: The Professionals. Georg recorded this movie, and it was terrific! A Western starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Jack Palance and Ralph Bellamy. It would have been perfect if James Coburn had also been in it. My only quarrel is with TCM: the movie before ran late, and The Professionals cut out about a minute early! We knew how it was going to end, but still! Damn you TCM!

more than a secretary

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February 1 movie: More Than a Secretary. Light comedy with Jean Arthur working as a secretary for George Brent, editor of a health and fitness magazine. The movie is worth it for the parody of 1940's fitness freaks alone. Besides that, Arthur and Brent have good chemistry, and somehow manage to rise above the ridiculous plot. This movie is silly good fun and I highly recommend it. Also features the earliest use I've ever heard of the term "land yacht." It's used to describe a small trailer Arthur uses to tow her stuff when she leaves New York in a huff.

the spy who came in from the cold

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February 1 movie: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Talk about mental whiplash! This will sound stupid, but I had never heard about this movie before (nor the book), and the info guide said something about a British spy playing games with an East German spy, and when I saw that the top billings were Richard Burton and Claire Bloom I somehow got it into my head that this was going to be a sexy, fun movie about a male spy and female spy being devious and sexy. (I think I was unconsciously thinking of that Kids in the Hall sketch about the East German lady spy and the high school physics teacher, whose hot love mingles with the cold war until both reach a state of equilibrium.)

Needless to say, the movie isn't like that at all. It's dark, gritty, ambiguous, and cynical. It's also brilliant. I'm really glad I saw it. I just wish I had had some idea what I was in for.

the garden of allah

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February 1 movie: The Garden of Allah. Sometimes I'm glad I have the movie list. Because it gives me something to write about when I'm in no mood to write about my personal life. Like today! I could whine about not feeling well, or the weather, or a dozen other things. But instead I'll write up movies and we'll all be much happier.

The Garden of Allah is a romantic drama starring Marlene Deitrich and Charles Boyer, who meet in the North African desert and fall in love. It's a very silly movie, overwrought and melodramatic. I usually love Deitrich, even in bad movies. But she talks in this high-pitched almost whisper that's completely unlike her powerful, throaty, sexy voice. It makes her seem .. tentative, unconfident. Which doesn't suit her well. At least she has nice costumes.

yojimbo

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February 1 movie: Yojimbo. I'm very annoyed with Netflix. The listing for Yojimbo clearly shows the DVD is from the Criterion Collection. And the Criterion discs always have great commentaries. I learned so much from the Seven Samurai and Ran commentaries.

So I put Yojimbo in my queue, and it arrived yesterday, and the disc is from Criterion, but no commentary! Dag nabbit! It's a great movie so I watched it anyway. But man, I was really looking forward to that commentary.

the clairvoyant

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February 1 movie: The Clairvoyant. Claude Rains plays a phony mind-reader working in music halls, who suddenly develops clairvoyance for real. The movie shifts tones fairly drastically, and could have ended up silly, but is held up on the strength of Rains' performance. He was such a good actor.

the mating season

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January 31 movie: The Mating Season. This was a very funny movie starring Gene Tierney and John Lund as newlyweds, but the real star is Thelma Ritter as Lund's heart-of-gold working class mother. Ritter is amazing. She avoids the wedding because her snob son is ashamed of her. Then when she finally goes to meet her new daughter-in-law, Tierney mistakes her for the new cook. Tierney is in a jam, and Ritter, feeling sorry for Tierney and also lacking confidence in herself, goes along with the mistake and poses as the family cook. Miriam Hopkins is also excellent, playing the shrewish mother-in-law with scary perfection, and the movie also features Cora Witherspoon as a snotty queen bee.

tempest in a teapot

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The promised snow and ice turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. Light snow for a couple of hours, that never stuck to the roads, and then rain all day. I have to say, of all the possible types of weather here, 34° and raining is one of my least favorite. It's so dreary. At least if it had snowed or iced over, that would be interesting.

On the bright side, I spent the day in my jammies, I have a fire going and we had a great cold-weather dinner: pork shoulder braised in apple cider and onions. We don't have it often because it takes so long, but it's worth it.

On the even brighter side, I just heard out of the blue from my best friend from high school, to whom I haven't spoken in almost 20 years. Hi, Thomas!

super klutz

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I am the super klutz these days. On Monday I spilled half a bottle of BPAL Dorian. I was in a hurry, and stupidly set the bottle down on the ironing board, and it tipped right over. No big deal, I still have about 1/4 of the bottle. And it was lucky that the spill was on the ironing board, the cover of which I could throw away. If it had been on the couch or the comforter or something, the whole house would have reeked.

Then yesterday was a more ambitious spill: I dropped my lunch. A whole Tupperware container of lamb curry. All over my skirt, socks, shoes, the chair, and the floor. It came out of the office carpet surpisingly easily, but I haven't washed my clothes yet. I was lucky it was a thick curry. If it had been soup I think my feet would have gotten burned. It's too bad; it was a good curry. And I have to say, sitting down to work when your clothes are crusted with dried curry is no fun.

I'm kind of afraid of what spill-related disaster will happen next. Maybe I better stay off the roads during today's incoming weather. Like I would go out anyway. I don't mind driving in snow, but I can't stand driving in ice. The roads are bad enough, but the other drivers terrify me. It's not so much the Southern drivers -- they mostly stay home, like me. It's the displaced Northerners who can't seem to get it through their heads that these roads aren't salted, sanded, or in many cases even plowed; that their SUV doesn't have snow tires; that regardless of the marketing hype, it (their SUV) is neither an all-terrain vehicle nor a sports car; and that all these things affect one's ability to drive on ice and snow. I don't much care if some idiot driving too fast on the ice, with a cell phone in one hand and a cup of Starbucks in the other, crashes their SUV. But I'd like to prevent them from taking me down too.

My, that was cranky of me. I suppose that's what I get for posting when I wake up early. At least I'm snug and warm under my slanket. Unlike Georg who had to go to the radio station this morning. At least he'll probably be done before it starts snowing.

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