November 2007 Archives

on headaches


I've been having a lot of headaches lately, and consequently I've been thinking about what causes them. People often talk about food triggering headaches, but I've never noticed that to be the case for me. Excepting of course getting much less caffeine than usual (whatever "usual" happens to be at any given time).

When I can identify a trigger, it's usually environmental. Loud noise, bright light, air pollution, even temperature, especially if the environment changes rapidly. For instance I learned long ago not to go to matinee movies in the summertime. Because the sudden change from a dark, cool, climate controlled room to the intensely bright, intensely hot, intensely humid outdoors always caused a killer headache, without fail. Stress also seems to contribute a lot and make it easier to get a headache.

Lately I've been trying to get better at recognizing the symptoms of a headache coming on, and remove the problem (or remove myself from it) as quickly as possible. Two nights ago at trivia at Dain's, when the trivia contest ended they turned the TV on so loud. And of course everyone started talking really loud, to be heard over the TV. I knew that if we stayed in that din for any time at all, I was going to get a headache. I insisted that we leave immediately, and in retrospect was maybe a little rude about it. But really, leaving abruptly and preventing a headache is better than sitting there and pretending to have a good time while my head is pounding.

Unfortunately I can't always remove myself from the situation. I always carry "excedrin migraine" in my bag, which sometimes isn't enough. Like for instance at work today. Sometimes there's nothing you can do, and you just have to tough it out. Well, I came home and Georg was wonderful (of course), made me tea and brought me dinner and was generally quiet until I felt better. Which I do now.

let's hear it for the girls

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November 27 movie: Let's Hear It For the Girls. Another collection of musical shorts, this one featuring women. Mostly female vocalists and also a couple of all-female orchestras. These were mostly not soundies the way I understand the term (discrete short films, like a music video forty years early). A few were soundies but most looked like clips from old TV shows, with the terrible image quality you would expect.

There were some terrific artists on there -- June Christy, Lena Horne, Anita O'Day, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Ethel Waters. There are also some little-known artists we'd never even heard of, like Ina Ray Hutton and Thelma White, and a few I was only vaguely familiar with like Velma Middleton. It seemed like maybe there was a problem with music rights. Because why would you make a DVD "Celebrating the Queens of Swing" and include three songs by Ina Ray Hutton, and none by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Ivie Anderson, Mildred Bailey, etc etc. On the other hand it was nice to see a few singers we weren't familiar with.

stalag 17


Nov 26 movie: Stalag 17. When I've seen a movie over and over, I try to look for / think about something different on each viewing. This time I watched [name redacted] even when he wasn't the focus of the scene. He never gives it away, never looks the tiniest bit suspicious. Not until late in the movie, when Holden starts needling him and he realizes Holden is onto him. If anything, the only giveaway is the lack of reaction: there are a few scenes where something happens that surprises the other inmates, and [redacted]'s face is carefully blank. Which totally makes sense for his character.

[Edited to remove major spoiler -- sorry!]

latin lovers


November 25 movie: Latin Lovers. Now this is what we were in the mood for! Ricardo Montalban and Lana Turner smoke up the screen in glorious Technicolor. Also costarring Jean Hagen! (Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain.) As I had heard, Hagen has a beautiful voice. But the movie is all about Montalban and Turner. What a great combination. It's too bad they only made this one movie together. Montalban also has a great dance number with Rita Moreno.

The sexual politics of this movie are completely appalling: Turner is a powerful, rich woman completely unsatisfied with her relationship with an effete New Yorker emasculated by psychotherapy. What she really needs is a manly Latin man with enough machismo to put her in her place. The trick to enjoying a movie like this is to ignore and/or laugh at the horrible gender stereotypes.

border incident

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November 25 movie: Border Incident. Sunday was Ricardo Montalban's birthday! Sylvia and I celebrated with dinner at Azteca Grill (I had frijolitos, it was good but not as good as the sopes) and we watched a Ricardo Montalban double feature.

Border Incident was first. It was a noirish police drama about Mexican illegal immigrants and the crooks who exploit them. Starred George Murphy as an FBI agent, and Ricardo Montalban as a Mexican federal agent. Also included Harold Da Silva and the wonderful Sig Ruman. The movie was good, but just not what we were in the mood for. The same thing happened with Mystery Street, one of my favorite Ricardo Montalban movies. It just didn't click when Sylvia and I watched it together. I'll watch Border Incident again some other time and give it a fair review.

or then again


This morning Thirteen was just like I had been talking about: sluggish, unresponsive, wouldn't eat a thing. This evening she had no accidents, she's lively, and she ate a cup and a half of food. Sometimes I don't know what to think.

the thirteen report


Thirteen seems to have taken a turn for the worse in the past few days. Her appetite dropped way off, in fact she refused to eat for a couple of days. Then we switched her back to dried food, which she seems to like again for some reason known only to her. At least, she likes it better than the canned. We can't get her to eat anything in the morning, but with extended coaxing we got her to eat almost a cup and a half this evening. Which is within the recommended amount on the package, though not as much as I'd like her to eat, especially after eating so little in the days prior.

Besides the appetite loss, she's thrown up a couple of times. And lots and lots of accidents, some of them quite messy (and that's really all you want or need to know). It seems that something is very wrong with Thirteen's digestive system, which is making her not hungry. But when we offer her different kinds of food, the change is appealing enough to make her want to eat again, at least until the novelty wears off.

It's happened several times now: she stops eating, I panic, we change her food and she starts eating again, for a little while. At her last weigh-in she was 38.3 pounds. Not low enough to be worrisome in itself, except that it's down from the time before. I've talked to the vet about this several times in recent weeks, and the conversation always goes the same way:

vet: "The next step would be an abdominal ultrasound, to see if [insert euphemism for cancer]."
me: "I'm hesitant to do that, because at Thirteen's age what are we going to do with this information?"
vet: "That's true, [insert euphemism for there's nothing we can do]."

I think at the next appointment I'm going to ask the vet realistically, what are the chances that it could be something besides cancer. That will help decide whether it would be worthwhile to do some big test like an ultrasound, or if we should assume the worst and look into palliative care.

the best years of our lives

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November 24 movie: The Best Years of Our Lives. I've raved about this movie before, and with good reason. It may be my favorite war movie ever. This time I paid attention to Myrna Loy's performance. Her character is in some ways the backbone of the movie. In a scene like the dinner party where Fredric March gives his speech, Loy is key to the scene without speaking a word.

She has a wonderful bit of dialogue in a scene where her daughter (Teresa Wright) accuses Loy and March of having had it easy all their lives, and not knowing what it means to struggle for happiness. Loy turns to March and says, "How many times have I told you I hated you, and believed it in my heart? How many times have you told me you were sick of me, and we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?" That's what I love about this movie. It's about life being complicated.

the man who shot liberty valance

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November 23 movie: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I think I'm cured of my John Wayne allergy. This movie was terrific. Really complex. Also starred Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin (as the villain, natch). Plus a non-speaking part for Lee Van Cleef as a henchman.

the band wagon

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November 22 movie: The Band Wagon. This is a great backstage movie, about making a Broadway musical. The basic plot is that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse are set to star in a comic musical, and an artsy director is brought in who transforms the play into a pretentious flop. It's up to our heroes to save the show!

The movie seems to have a lot of autobiography in it: for instance, the writers of the play-within-the-movie (Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant) are clearly based on Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the writers of The Band Wagon (and coincidentally, also the writers of Singin' in the Rain). George read that Comden and Green made their characters married because they didn't think audiences would buy an male-female writing team who weren't married. Even though that was what Comden and Green actually were.

There are several terrific dance numbers -- "Dancing in the Dark" and the one in the beginning about shining shoes are the best I think. There's also one really freaky dance number where Astaire, Fabray and the pretentious director dress up like babies, sit in high chairs, then dance on fake feet attached to their knees, and sing about how much they hate each other. "How I wish I had a gun, a widdle gun, it would be fun to shoot the other two, and be the only one!" I must say, Fred Astaire in his fifties, wearing a baby bonnet, white baby gown and pink makeup on his cheeks, singing about having a "widdle gun," it doesn't get much weirder than that.

singin' in the rain

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November 21 movie: Singin' in the Rain. This movie is such a joy. I was going to say that it's perfect from beginning to end, and then I remembered that endless "Gotta Dance" number which I can't stand. But now, thanks to the DVR, I can fast forward that number. And now the movie is perfect! Isn't technology grand.

I think my favorite actors in the movie are the secondary characters, Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen. Hagen in particular is the unsung hero of the movie for me. The whole movie relies on her. It can't be easy to play a comic relief character who's so unlikeable. And somehow she manages to make Lina Lamott sympathetic in places (for example when she films her first scene with sound and everyone is browbeating her) without softening the character at all.

the falcon in mexico

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November 21 movie: The Falcon in Mexico. The producers of The Falcon seemed to be running out of ideas by this point. This one featured Tom Conway going to Mexico and, well, being in Mexico. There's a detective story in there somewhere, but for the most part it was kind of like a travel show.

the falcon strikes back

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November 21 movie: The Falcon Strikes Back. One of of the second incarnation of Falcon movies, starring Tom Conway (George Sanders' brother) as Tom Lawrence, Gay Lawrence's brother. Conway does a good job as the Falcon, and looks (and sounds!) a lot like Sanders. This was a serviceable entry in the Falcon series, focusing on crooks selling counterfeit war bonds, a resort in the countryside, and a puppeteer.

the falcon takes over

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November 21 movie: The Falcon Takes Over. They've been showing serials during the daytime this whole month on TCM, and Wednesday was The Falcon. This one was based on the Raymond Chandler story Farewell My Lovely. Which I didn't know while I was watching it, leading me to wonder why this story was so much darker and grittier than every other Falcon story I'd seen. There's good supporting work from James Gleason and Allen Jenkins.

middlin' pie

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My pie was just okay. Not great, not bad either. Fair to middling.

On the downside, it was soupy. Maybe I didn't cook the cranberry sauce long enough. There was very little thickener in the recipe -- just 1 teaspoon of corn starch -- so I guess they were counting on the cranberry sauce being thick. Also, the bottom crust was gummy. Which I think was also caused by there being too much liquid in the pie.

On the upside, the crumb topping was great. It was basically a streusel with oats added. I will definitely try that again.

And the filling tasted really good despite its soupiness. Tart, not very sweet. It had 4 1/2 apples: two Granny Smith, two Jonagold, and a half a Fuji. Plus a batch of cranberry sauce, made from a bag of cranberries. And only 3/4 cup of sugar.

Come to think of it, the filling might have been thicker if there had been more sugar. Oh well, live and learn.

unturkey day

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So we didn't go up to Delaware, and we aren't having turkey, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving we're having a day of fine eating here. This morning we made corned beef hash and the best buttermilk biscuits in the world and watched the Philadelphia Thanksgiving parade parade. Which they show on one of the Raleigh stations every year, for some reason. This year I learned not only that the same guy who has been doing the weather on ABC news since I was a kid is still there, also he's the father of David Boreanaz. It was some kind of anniversary for the weather guy and they surprised him with a holiday message from Boreanaz to his dad. Aw!

After the parade I got in the holiday spirit by updating the Divaville Lounge website. I just realized that this year I'm not just subbing the show right before Christmas -- this year I have a whole month for Christmas music. Wow! I'm not going to play wall-to-wall Christmas music all month, just on the Dec. 23 show. Still, it's a thrill to realize that I don't have to sit down and figure out which version of, say, "Jingle Bells" to play this year. This year I could play it five times if I wanted!

Then in the afternoon we got out and did a little yardwork. It was so beautiful out, we just couldn't stay inside all day. Georg pulled out the tomato and pepper plants, which have finally given up the ghost. I did some weeding in the sunflower bed, which has gotten totally overgrown. To my amazement, I found several clumps of sunflower seedlings! I was hoping the sunflowers might drop some seeds and reseed next year. Unfortunately it seem like our balmy weather tricked them into sprouting now. Who knows, maybe we'll get another freakishly warm winter and they'll survive. Wouldn't that be strange, to have sunflowers in January?

For dinner tonight we're having cochinita pibil, pork shoulder slow-cooked in annato and sour orange. Georg went to the Latino supermarket and got real sour oranges for the marinade! Usually we just use regular oranges and add a lime for tartness. We're also having fried green tomatoes with the last of the tomatoes. (Yes, our half-dead tomato plants still had tomatoes on them! We haven't had any ripe ones in a while, there's just not enough sun or heat for them to ripen.)

Dessert will be our nod to Thanksgiving tradition: an apple-cranberry pie. With a crumb topping. I hope it's good! The recipe sounded great. It called for cranberry sauce, which we didn't have, so we made some from fresh cranberries, honey, apple cider, spices and orange zest. We also made the pie crust earlier today. I'm going to get up in a minute and peel the apples.

maybe it sounded better in japanese

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I got the most current season posted on my Ninja Warrior site. This season wasn't so great in terms of competitor performance, but did have a lot of humorous moments, intentional or otherwise.

This was the best:

the god of cookery

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November 19 movie: The God of Cookery. Last night we were with a friend at Elmo's and ran into Calvin. Which was great. I've been reading his LJ regularly but I don't think I've seen him in person for years. He joined us for dinner and we had a nice time catching up.

At some point Calvin asked me if I had stopped writing up movies, and I had to confess that it wasn't intentional. I've hardly watched any movies in awhile because I've had less TV time in general, and also because I've been catching up on TV series like Battlestar Galactica and Project Runway.

Still, I have watched a few movies here and there, and haven't been writing them up. Which I feel bad about; I liked doing that. So I'm going to try to start again, with tonight's movie: The God of Cookery by Stephen Chow. Years ago when I worked for an Asian film festival, we tried to get this movie for the festival and it didn't work out. And I've wanted to see it ever since. We'd been checking Netflix every few months and they never have it, so finally I broke down and bought it on Amazon.

It was great! Well worth the wait. In a lot of ways it's basically mining the same territory as Shaolin Soccer, except about cooking instead of soccer. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Chow clearly loves classic HK martial arts films and has made a career out of funny, affectionate parodies/tributes to the genre. We especially liked the way the chefs would call out the names of their arcane techniques during the cooking competition. It was like Iron Chef with Shaolin warriors.

My only real criticism of the movie also applied to Shaolin Soccer: the female love interest has a serious disfigurement (in this case, a large scar across one eye and metal teeth that distort her face) because of which Chow's character rejects her in not a very nice way. Then he regrets it after it's too late, or so he thinks, but she shows up again at the end, her disfigurement magically gone. So now she's beautiful and it's OK for them to be together. For once I'd like to see Chow's character realize he was wrong to reject the plain woman, find her and reconcile with her, and have her still be plain. Yeah, I can keep hoping.

cuckoo in the clock


The Johnny Mercer show today was one of the most exhausting shows I've ever done. I thought it would be easier than normal because I had a set list planned out in advance, but I felt like I was barely hanging on from the beginning until the end. I guess because of the cold I must just not be that alert & not up to my normal speed.

Normally I like getting phone calls but I was a little short with one caller today, who wanted me to read off the last set for her because she was trying to figure out what one particular song was. I told her to go online and read the playlist on the website but for some reason she didn't want to do that, instead she wanted me to list every song title and artist for her right then over the phone. I really didn't have time for it, I was trying to cue up the next song and only had a few seconds. I don't know, maybe she was in a record store, had to buy that song immediately and couldn't wait until she got home to look it up.

Despite how I felt, I think the show went pretty well. Somehow I got through it without any flubs and with things basically going the way I wanted them to. I tried to play a good range of songs from throughout Mercer's career, from his first published song ("Out of Breath and Scared to Death of You") to his last hit ("Summer Wind"). I had to drop a couple of songs in order to finish on time, and in retrospect I think they were both okay to lose. I mean neither one was indispensable to a Johnny Mercer show. And I got my favorites in there, like "Cuckoo in the Clock" sung by Mildred Bailey, "Glow Worm" by the Three Suns, and "Friendship" by Judy Garland and Johnny Mercer, which is the most deranged song about friendship I have ever heard. What can you say about a song that includes the line "If you ever took a bullet in the brain, I'd complain! It's friendship!" I finished with a set of all the songs for which he won Oscars, which allowed me to wind up the show with "Days of Wine and Roses." Such a beautiful song.

I ended up talking much less than I had intended, both because my voice wasn't up to it, and because there were so many Mercer songs I wanted to play, I just didn't have time for lengthy talksets. I forgot a few things that I had intended to say, for instance I was going to explain the origin of the line "my huckleberry friend" from "Moon River," since everyone always wonders what that means.* Alas, I forgot entirely. Oh well, overall I think it was probably good that I didn't talk so much. Because the show is about music, not me talking.

Now I think I might skip Iron Chef America and go to bed early.

*When Mercer was a kid his family owned a summer house on an island near Savannah. Every summer he and his friends would run and play down by the river on the island, and spend all day picking huckleberries. That's where "my huckleberry friend" comes from.

things that suck

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Know what sucks? A big, yucky, messy cold. What sucks even more is missing Thanksgiving because I have a big yucky messy cold and can't risk giving it to my parents. Also having a radio show in which I have to do a lot of talking, while having a big messy cold, that kind of sucks too.

Okay, the whining is over for the day. I hope. On the bright side, at least I don't have to call in sick because I already arranged to take the whole week off work.

too marvelous for words

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I'll be doing a special all Johnny Mercer show on Sunday. Mercer had an enormous impact on popular music (over 1000 songwriting credits to his name) and I've greatly enjoyed learning about him. The only hard part was narrowing his catalog down to just 35 songs for the show!

Tune in if you get a chance. 3-5pm eastern time, 88.7 if you're local, if you're not.

too much is never enough

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Because I don't have enough to do, and because I am a glutton for punishment, I have started a fan site for Ninja Warrior (Sasuke). See, G4 finally aired the most recent two seasons, 18 and 19, which were the first new Ninja Warrior material we've seen in ages.

While we were watching it occurred to me that it would be nice to be able to compare past and present seasons and see how the course has changed over time. I couldn't find a site that let me do that -- in fact I couldn't find a Ninja Warrior fan site at all -- so I decided to make one myself.

(Since then I did find a fan site with pictures of the obstacles, and also discovered that Wikipedia has added a chart showing exactly what I wanted: a season-by-season comparison of all obstacles. Which effectively removes my reason for making a Ninja Warrior site. But by then I had already started working on my site, and had gotten too firmly attached to the idea of it to give up.)

I figured out how to get screen caps from a TV show -- duh, I have a DVD burner. All I have to do is record the show, pop the DVD into my computer and then screen cap away. I feel kind of stupid that I've had the DVD burner for months and only just figured this out.

I haven't done any site design at all in terms of appearance or functionality. So it's a bland MT default style right now. I was focused on content first and I got a complete recap of season 18 up. I've posted photos and a brief description of each obstacle. I also have season 19 burned and will add it shortly. G4 airs the show continually so it will probably take me a couple of months to get the whole show recapped. No video clips yet, as I don't know how to do that. Seems like it can't be that hard since so many people do it.

This may not make sense to anyone who isn't already watching the show, but here it is:

that's good eating


We've had much good eating lately. On Sunday we had dim sum with D. and S., at China One in south Durham. It was our second time there, and I think we only repeated one dish between the two visits. D. and S. are much more experienced with dim sum than I am, so I appreciated their advice on what to get. Only one dish was less than wonderful: the roast pork (char-siu) was cold, which made the fatty parts a bit tough. Everything else was outstanding. I particularly liked a little dumpling filled with pork and leeks, and another dumpling filled with shrimp, corn and carrots. We ate quite a lot of dumplings now that I think about it.

Occasionally I had trouble understanding the waiters well enough to know what a dish was, but every time we asked for something they understood us well enough to find it for us (excepting red bean paste buns, which they were sadly out of). We noticed a couple of carts which were only going to the tables with Chinese customers: one with chicken feet and beef tendon (and probably other things but those were the only two I heard identified), and one which I think had congee (rice porridge) and tripe soup. The staff judged us well: we all agreed that we didn't want any of those dishes.

My only criticism of the service was the pacing. All the carts seemed to come at us at once, and we didn't want the food to get cold. So we only took a few things at first, passing over others that we still wanted, just not at that moment. We kept saying "not yet" but they must have thought we meant we were full, because later in the meal it was hard to get them to come back. I would have preferred fewer carts approaching us at the beginning and then not having to flag them down later on.

I work with a guy who lived in Taiwan for a couple of years, and I asked him how to say "come back in 10 minutes" in Chinese. He couldn't remember how to say "minute" so he taught me "come back in 10 hours" and left it to me to look up "minute." He said it was a literal translation and probably not at all what a Chinese person would say in that situation. I think that's for the best. Because, although it's been a long time, I did speak Mandarin pretty well at one point, and my accent is still ... well not great, probably not even good at this point. But still better than someone who never studied the language. And so if I knew the correct idiom, I would sound like I actually knew how to speak Chinese, and then they would try to talk to me, and I wouldn't understand them at all, and that would be embarrassing for everyone. I think I'm better off knowing a clunky, awkward phrase that still gets the message across.

crazy pills


I think last week I may have made the Thirteen situation sound worse than it is. Her appetite has been good lately; she eats her whole portion with little coaxing most of the time, and she's steadily gaining weight. Which is a huge relief. They told me to keep her weight on the low side because of her arthritis, but I'm inclined to let her gain a bit. That way if she stops eating again, she'll have a little something to fall back on before the situation gets dire.

In other good news, starting in December I'll be working at home most of the time. Because one of my jobs rented my office out to somebody else. So, I have no place to work there, and I have to work at home. Oh darn! It will be so good to be home with Thirteen. It's been weighing on me these past few months, leaving her alone every day.

The latest crisis has been her selegeline, aka the crazy pills. We call them that because they make Thirteen not be crazy. Last week when we went to refill her prescription, the vet said they were out. In fact they said it's out everywhere; selegeline is on backorder. And they had no idea when it would be back in stock.

I don't understand how a drug can just go on backorder like that. It's not like a store running out of peanut butter. And humans take this drug too! It's used to treat Alzheimer's disease. And I was a little annoyed that the vet didn't suggest any options or alternatives. They just said "we're out, backorder, sorry!"

We ran out of selegeline on Monday. At first Thirteen seemed totally normal, and I wondered if maybe she didn't even need it. By late in the week, though, we definitely started to notice a difference in her behavior. I guess it took a few days for the drug to make its way out of her system. She wasn't that bad, just restless and agitated. Still, it was just the way the craziness got started before. I remember what she was like, when it was really bad, before we put her on the selegeline. She would pace all day -- 10, 15 hours straight literally without stopping -- pass out for a few hours, then get up and start pacing again. It was horrible. All she did was pace and drool. She'd be so tired she could barely put one foot in front of the other, and she'd still keep pacing.

I'm not going to let Thirteen get like that again. With her health the way it is now, it would kill her. I called the vet's office on Saturday, and they tried to give me the same "backorder" runaround, but I said I wanted the dr. to call me back to discuss alternative medications until selegeline is available again. The office (not the dr.) called back about 3 hours later to tell me they had found a pharmacy in Durham which could get 2 bottles of selegeline for me. I was kind of like, "what -- huh? Wha? Oh ... thanks!"

Georg picked up the selegeline today and we got Thirteen back on it. We're starting her at the minimum dose, at which rate the two bottles will last for 2 months. I hope it's back in stock by then!

music notes

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I've had a delightful few days working on cataloging the music collection. Making sure all recent purchases have label cards and are in the database. Also correcting a few bad CDs I've found here and there. I guess that shows what a nerd I am, that this is fun for me.

On Georg's recommendation I've been listening to at work. You "seed" it with songs and artists you like, and then as it plays songs for you, you rank each one with a thumbs up or down. I set up a station of Divaville Lounge type music, hoping to get ideas for the show. I must say I was surprised at how quickly it learned my taste. After only a few hours its suggestions were almost all good, and now it almost never gives me a thumbs-down song.

I do have a few -- well not criticisms, that's too strong. Let's say critiques. First of all, the music catalog could be bigger. I've heard a lot of songs I like, but not that much which was new to me. There's a much higher ratio of unfamiliar music on the big band channel on digital cable. Too bad there's no "classic jazz vocalist" channel on cable. And oh man, if there was a lounge/exotica channel on cable with the same depth and breadth as the big band channel? I'd never leave the house again. Speaking of lounge/exotica, Pandora's collection is so small I abandoned my attempt to create a lounge station. It doesn't recognize the Three Suns, Lenny Dee, Ethel Smith, the Harmonicats, Arthur Lyman, Perrey & Kingsley or Enoch Light. (Though it does know Yma Sumac and Martin Denny.) I read an article about Pandora which mentioned the problem of getting music into their catalog. They have a staff who are reviewing music as fast as they can, but still, there's only so much they can do.

Also, there's way too much repetition. I thought I had seeded my station with plenty of music, but I still get songs repeated on the same day. This afternoon it gave me the same song three times in forty minutes! (To be fair, that was unusual). It also tends to serve music in "sets" of 4-6 songs that are very similar, too similar at times. I really don't need to hear five songs by Django Reinhardt and his imitators (i.e. Hot Club of San Francisco or Pearl Django) all in a row. Or, say, the Andrews Sisters followed by the Boswell Sisters, then Bing Crosby with Connie Boswell, then Glenn Miller featuring the Andrews Sisters. That's a bit too much sameness.

The repetition annoyed me at first, and then I started to see it as instructive. I probably wouldn't have played any sets as repetitive as the ones I mention above, but I would have played 2-3 songs in a row from the 20s, or from big bands. Since I started listening to Pandora I have been making more of an effort not to do that anymore. Because if I play one song from a subgenre that a listener doesn't like, no big deal, it's only 2 1/2 minutes. But if I play four songs in a row just like that, I'll really irritate that listener if not drive them away entirely. So it turns out to be helpful as an example of what not to do.

Quibbles aside, Pandora does seem like an impressive achievement. It's kind of hard to believe a computer is selecting the music for me, and getting it so right most of the time. It's too bad Pandora's lounge selection is so bad. Still, there's always SomaFM's Illinois Street Lounge channel for an unbeatable lounge/exotica extravaganza. I had stopped listening to SomaFM because I listened so much, after awhile I had heard everything on there. But I went back today and they've added some new material. That Illinois Street Lounge channel has made many a work day bearable. It's like an ice cream sundae for the brain.

the thirteen report

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Thirteen continues to eat well, now that we're giving her the super expensive canned food. Her favorites are duck and salmon.

And also cake! In Asheville we stopped at a dog bakery and bought two little pieces of doggie cake for them. I don't remember what it was made of, but it looked like cake, complete with icing, and smelled like dog food, so we thought they'd like it. It was kind of a goofy thing to do, buying doggie treats at the doggie bakery. They almost never get treats though, and it's nice to give them something once in a while.

Jane's reaction to the cake was hilarious. She sniffed it once, gently licked the icing, then snapped the entire piece up in her mouth (I use the word "snapped" literally, her jaws made a snapping sound, it was like a cartoon crocodile) and ran out of the room to eat it in the hall. Thirteen ate more slowly, but she did seem to like it.

Lately we've been having trouble getting Thirteen to eat her pills. She's on a lot of medications, so this is a problem. For years we've been wrapping the pills in cheese and putting them on top of her food, and she eats them right up. Lately though, she's been eating around them and leaving the pills behind. We even tried putting Nutrical on them, which works sometimes, but most of the time she licks off the Nutrical and leaves the pill behind.

Cole Park suggested Pill Pockets. Which are little dog treats shaped like a tiny cup or pouch. You put the pill inside and moosh it together. I tried them with Thirteen about ten years ago and she hated them, but her eating habits have changed so much recently that I thought it was worth a try. I got the smallest ones, in chicken flavor, and she seems to like them. The woman at the front desk also suggested putting the pills in something sticky, like cream cheese or peanut butter, and then sticking it to the roof of Thirteen's mouth. The idea is that she'll swallow it while trying to get it off the roof of her mouth. We'll try that the next time the Pill Pockets don't work.

It's pretty clear -- even I have to see it -- that Thirteen is in her final decline. Both of Thirteen's vets (at Cole Park and at St. Francis) have gently suggested the possibility of cancer. I think they're probably right, but I don't want to do the ultrasound they suggested. Because really, what would we do with this information? I asked both vets this question and they both admitted the answer is "not much." The dog is 16 years old, for crying out loud.

I'm less upset about this realization that I would have expected. Not to say that I'm blase about it. On the contrary, I'm sure I'll be a wreck when it happens. Just that, I don't know how to put it. I'm not feeling the fear, the heart-clenching anxiety at the thought of her death, the way I did with the last scare, a year or two ago. When Lina died so suddenly, I was glad for her that it happened so fast, but for us it was such a shock. I've been thinking a lot about Thirteen's death in the past few months, trying to prepare myself for the inevitable. I guess it's working because I can think about it, and sometimes even talk about it with some composure. She's had a long and happy life, and I'll do my best to see that she keeps on, as long as she's still happy to be with us.

an exciting morning

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My exciting morning began when my car key snapped off in the lock. I was in the Whole Foods parking lot at the time, having just bought my lunch, ready to get to work.

The real problem was that I hadn't wanted to lug my big heavy computer bag into the store. So I had taken my credit card with me, and locked everything else in the car. Phone. Wallet. AAA membership card. All locked in the car.

Whole Foods has a courtesy phone so I called work, then called Georg for the AAA information. Unfortunately he didn't have his card either. Then I called the nearby Mazda dealership, to ask if they could make me a new key. They could, they said, but they needed to see my registration card to prove that I own the car before they would make me a key. Okay, that's fair, but that meant I needed to get inside my car. And did they have the number for AAA? No, they did not. They did have the number of a local tow company which works with AAA, and might have the 800 number on hand. I called them, and it must have been a really small company because I woke up some poor woman by the sound of it.

The sleepy woman at the tow company had no idea what I was talking about, and while I tried to explain -- again -- that I needed the number of AAA because I had locked my membership card inside my car, a kind Whole Foods customer took pity on me and lent me her AAA card so I could write down the phone number.

Once I had the AAA phone number it was smooth sailing. They looked up my membership number from my name and address, and called it in to unlock the car and tow me to the Mazda dealership. The tow guy got there in 20 minutes. He was the awesomest of awesome. He arrived in a car, not a tow truck, and told me that they were backed up and it would have been a couple of hours before the tow truck could get to me. So he had come over in his car to see if he could fix it without the tow. I think he must have been the manager or owner, not one of the tow guys.

He got my car open, called the Mazda dealership for me (he said he knew them), gave them my VIN number over the phone, and then drove me over there. I had gotten Millenium Mazda (out by South Square) confused with Performance Subaru (right down the road), and said I could walk, but he insisted on driving me out there. And was I ever relieved about that when we sailed past Performance and I realized my mistake.

To my amazement, the key was ready when we got there. All they needed was the VIN number! They have a computer which tells them how to make a key for any Mazda. The tow guy told me that older cars aren't in the computer, and I was lucky because mine (a 1991) is near the edge of being too old. I always think of my car as being pretty new, probably because my prevous car was a 1978 Corolla. I guess a 1991 model is now 17 years old, which is pretty old for a car, at least the way most people see it.

The Mazda people gave me 2 keys, and they didn't even charge me! Amazing. I just had to sign something and then we were done. The tow guy drove me back and waited while I checked to make sure the new keys worked. He said it could be a problem, especially for "old cars" like mine, but UMJ started right up. It is a bit sticky in the lock, which is less important because I rarely lock the car. And the tow guy told me some WD40 would take care of that.

And that was it! What seemed like it was going to be a nightmare ordeal ended up being resolved in a little over an hour. I got lucky several times: first, the broken key did not get stuck in the lock. Whew. Then the dealership was able to make me a key from their computer. And finally, the new key worked. WHEW!

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