Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Inevitable Year-End Post: Highlights

Jeff and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

Despite a health scare, Spike is cured, and in good shape.

I passed an online Jeopardy test and was invited to audition. It was a lot of fun, although I doubt I'll get the call to appear on the show this year.

I've increased my gym visits by over 162 percent.

I've written more (too lazy to post word counts or pages) and done more creative things  i.e. Artist Trading Cards than I did last year.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Post-Christmas Calm

Things have been quiet for us this week after we got home Christmas evening. We've mostly just been hanging out. Today, we ran some errands: drug store, liquor store, fish market, and we took Spike to the dog park. Temps hit the mid to high forties--it felt almost balmy. The grounds were still damp, but at least there were no more puddles of water nor icy patches.

Jeff made trout for dinner tonight. It was delicious and we haven't had it in a long time. We also got baked stuffed clams casino and some cooked lobster meat for meals/appetizers over the next few days. I'm going to make buffalo chili tomorrow. I'll get it in the crock pot before I leave for two tutoring assignments and it will be done by the time I return.

We'll be staying in on New Year's Eve and are finalizing our dinner menu. I guess I'll make some kind of appetizer with the lobster. The parents of a tutoring student gave me a nice bottle of red holiday wine. It will go well with filet mignon and possibly duck breast. I also want to roast some peppers and make scalloped potatoes. (The potatoes I made for Christmas Eve were delicious--we had the leftovers last night.) I've also got fresh cherries to make a nice sauce for the duck and/or steak. Maybe a side salad. We have a Dancing Deer chocolate espresso cake for dessert; maybe I'll add some ice cream or cherry sauce. Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

White Christmas--Light

As we were eating dinner last night, it started to snow. It didn't amount to much; it was more than a dusting, maybe a coating--enough to look a little more Christmasy. I remembered that it snowed last Christmas Eve also. We woke up to snow then.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Quiet Moments and Thoughts of Future Christmases

It's Christmas Eve. Everyone but my niece Lindsay and I have gone to church. I called us the heathens.

We're watching Christmas movies on TV. Two of Lindsay's top three are have been on: Elf and The Polar Express. For the record, her third is Rudolph.  I must have seen Rudolph over the years, but this is my first time watching parts of Elf and The Polar Express. But then she's never seen Christmas in Connecticut. The generation gap.

Jeff and I have our own Christmas viewing traditions.This year we haven't seen It's A Wonderful Life. Yet. I know it's on TV tonight, but it's broadcast TV with tons of commercials I'm sure. Maybe we can watch it after we go home tomorrow night.

Tonight is our Christmas dinner with Jeff's family: beef tenderloin, scalloped potatoes, broccoli, peas and Caesar salad. (I don't know what's for dessert.) We'll stay overnight and open gifts in the morning. Then it's on to my mother's for a Christmas brunch.

I talked to a few of my friends who don't have Christmas day plans with their families. In some cases, their families are as dysfunctional as mine is. Sometimes it's just distance or work obligations that keep family members apart.

I foresee a future in which various friends stranded without family on Christmas Day come to our home to share the holiday with Jeff and me.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

TV Time

At the end of November, Jeff and I downgraded our Netflix membership from DVD's and watch instantly to just watch instantly. We had found that the recent releases we selected would appear on cable a few weeks after we received them. We can always add back the DVD component if we want to see films that we can't access instantly or on cable.

During a week of broadcast reruns, we started to watch Orange is the New Black, a Netflix original. We had the same reaction to the first episode. We weren't sure just what to make of it, but we were intrigued. We watched the first season in about a week-and-a-half. I'm in the middle of a re-watch, to see things I might have missed the first time around. I'm looking forward to the second season.

Last week we discovered that we can watch all the seasons of Homeland on Showtime on Demand. We're on Episode Eight of the first season and it's awesome.

We appreciate good TV.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Prep and Present Waiting and Wrapping

I did most of my Christmas shopping online this year. I went to a few brick and mortar stores, but completely avoided the mall. I got the last of my online order presents today. It was a relief. Now I just have to wrap them.

Tomorrow I'm going to an all girls party at my friend's.  I made ATC's (Artists Trading Cards) for everyone. I'm trying not to be too critical about the ATC's. I am just using them as name tags--they don't have to be perfect. It's been a long time since I've made any. It was fun.

I need to remember to have fun doing creative things.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


I was driving down Route 57 in Weston returning from a tutoring session this evening around 6 PM. I glanced at a deer crossing sign--a silhouette of a deer on a yellow background. Someone had added a bright red light as the deer's nose.

I laughed out loud--a Rudolph crossing. Wish I had the opportunity to take a picture.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Veronica Mars Re-Watch: Season Two Episode Four

Green Eyed Monster

Veronica takes a case behind Keith's back: a woman suspects her boyfriend is cheating on her.

Update on the bus crash: Weevil tells Veronica that he got an anonymous call claiming Curly Moran caused the bus crash to punish PCHer Cervando on behalf of the Fitzpatrick gang. Veronica discovers that the call came from Logan's house.

Meg, the only survivor of the bus crash, remains in a coma. Veronica learns that Duncan's been visiting her every day. One night, Meg's sister Lizzie stops by Duncan's hotel room for help getting Meg's personal files off her laptop. She can't let her parents see them. It's Mac to the rescue; she moves Meg's personal files onto a thumb drive that she gives to Duncan.

Alicia sees the guy from Chicago in Neptune and asks Keith for help. She claims he's an abusive ex; he's also a police officer. In the final scene, Chicago guy tells Wallace he's his father.

The bus crash developments are thought-provoking. The revelation of Wallace's father is also a surprise. But this mystery of the week is weak. The client's too cartoonish and I didn't care for Veronica posing as flirty college girl to see if the boyfriend could be tempted. The mystery is only interesting as a parallel to Veronica's interest in Meg's and Duncan's relationship (and Meg's files.)

Veronica Mars Re-Watch: Season Two Episode Three

Cheatty Cheatty Bang Bang

Veronica has two mysteries this week.

Cassidy "Beaver" Casablancas hires Veronica to find proof that his stepmother Kendall has violated her pre-nup agreement. She gets pictures of Logan and Kendall. More importantly, she finds proof of fraud in Dick Casablanca Senior's REIT. Dick Sr. flees the SEC taking off from his office helicopter pad.

Veronica is also trying to find why Curly Moran had her name written on his hand. Curly's the guy who Lamb found dead at the end of the second episode. Veronica learns he was a stunt coordinator for an Aaron Echolls film, which featured a truck veering over a bridge. Veronica is convinced the bus crash was meant for her.

In other developments, Duncan and Logan have a fist fight. Keith takes Alicia to Chicago where a man with a badge calls her Cher, and tracks her to Neptune. Veronica is unhappy with Wallace's interest in Jackie and with Jackie dating another guy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Decorating: 2013

I'm always running behind the times....to quote Joni Mitchell in Just Like This Train.  I had hoped to do the Christmas decorating early this week--Monday or Tuesday. But I had planned to do a thorough cleaning of the living room last weekend. That didn't happen so things got pushed back. (A nice passive way to put it.)

We set up one tree in the window and put other decorations around the living room and dining area. We have many trees: two wax candles, accordion Christmas card holder, glass candy dish, glass tree, wooden tree, and tree facsimile with needles and snow. We have a few Santa's, candles and angels as well.

A few of the decorations that stand out to me: Gummy's angel--Jeff's sister named their grandmother Gummy, and she made three beautiful gold angels--each of her grandchildren have one; a photo of Jeff's father and my stepfather from one Christmas--Jeff's dad Jim is wearing a red sweater and green pants, my stepfather Albert is wearing a green sweater and red pants (this was not planned); a candle of Snoopy in a Santa hat lying on his red doghouse with a wreath on the side.

Having only one five-foot tree, we had to be selective with our ornaments: New York Mets, Merwinsville Hotel, Grateful Dead, beagles, Simpsons, St. Thomas seashell, House of the Seven Gables, Cranbury Park (Norwalk), New York City, Bette Davis, Spike on Santa's lap, hand-knitted ornament from Elaine. Elaine may have knitted the tree topping angel too.

Things look good.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"That's a Cute Sweater...

the little dog has on."

That's what a man said to me this evening when I was outside with Spike.

It got me thinking--Spike hasn't objected to his Fido fleece the last couple of days. Later I asked Jeff; he said Spike didn't fight him but was like a dead weight when he put the fleece on him.

Last week we went to Cranbury Park and saw Hunter, a German short haired pointer who used to frequent Taylor Farm. We've seen him a few times in the last few months. He remembers us, which makes me feel good. Hunter was wearing a green coat. His human told us that he had purchased the coat for another dog who hated it. So had Hunter when he was younger.

Hunter is around 10 and Spike is 13. I wonder if they are more sensitive to the cold now. Maybe they realize how much we care about them. Maybe they just got tired of fighting us.

Whatever, it's nice to have a warm dog. Here's a picture of Spike in his Fido fleece from last year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

First Snow Day

We've had a few snow showers this season, but today is the first snow with any accumulation. One-to-three inches are predicted. No big deal, but you wouldn't know it from the hyperbole of the TV weather broadcasts last night.

The snow started earlier than predicted. In the first hour I was up, the snow covered the roads and sidewalks.

Spike didn't resist when I put his Fido fleece on him. After we went outside, he stood on the front steps for few minutes surveying the situation. We took only a short walk which was fine with me.

As annoying as snow can be (especially for travel) it is also beautiful. I reminded myself to notice beautiful snow dusted tree branches.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

TCM Catch-Up: Juarez

Juarez is a good film from perhaps the greatest year in American film--1939.

Bette Davis gives a solid supporting performance as Empress Carlotta. She's especially poignant in her scenes despairing of her inability to bear an heir and her confrontation with Napoleon III. Carlotta faints and sees Napoleon as a devil when he attempts to revive her. She runs off down an increasingly darkening hallway, symbolizing her descent into madness. Designer Orry-Kelly also darkened her costumes to symbolize her madness as the film continues (white to gray to black.)

Claude Rains is brilliant as Napoleon III. The film opens with him and his advisers coming up with the plan to set up Maximilian as Mexican emperor. Gale Sondergaard as Empress Eugenie is instrumental in the plan. Rains plays the pompous ass to perfection, posing on a wooden horse for a portrait, while meeting the American minister.

Brian Aherne plays Emperor Maximilian as a well-meaning dupe of Napoleon III. Maximilian is legitimately shocked when he learns that the plebiscite bringing him to Mexico is fraudulent. We see his form of idealism when Maximilian meets the imprisoned General Diaz (John Garfield.) The scene provides a good background of the political situation.

Although Paul Muni is the title character, his Juarez is rather dull--too stately and stoic to make an impact. He has a few good scenes--continuing to walk towards a squad of men ordered to fire on him. Another is when General Diaz discusses Maximilian's offer to make Juarez Prime Minister; Juarez dismantles Maximilian's argument that only a word, democracy, separates their beliefs.

The cast also includes Donald Crisp and Harry Davenport.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Self Assessments

Earlier this week I had to complete a self-assessment as part of a performance review. This is a relatively new process at my current company--only the second year. It had been about 15 years since I went through the process.

Self-assessment can be tricky. You need to blow your own horn, but you have to be realistic. It helps if you can quantify your accomplishments. That's relatively easy to do in my current position.

Another component is identifying the areas you need to improve. That was also relatively easy for me to do. But I have the same weak area as last year. I'm not sure if I've made enough progress there.

The harder self assessment will be of my personal goals for the year. I'm running out of time. Maybe this article will help.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Veronica Mars Re-Watch: Season Two Episode Two

Driver Ed

Neptune is reeling from the bus crash. Many are looking for an easy answer and find a scapegoat in the bus driver. They say he caused the crash to kill himself.

The bus driver's daughter Jessie asks Veronica to prove that her father didn't commit suicide. Veronica proves it to Jessie's satisfaction, but not to Sheriff Lamb's. Seeing Lamb act like an ass to Jessie causes Keith to decide to run for sheriff.

The episode introduces new regular Jackie; she's not very likable. Except to Wallace. He solves the mystery of who hit Jackie's dad's car on his own.

The final scene of the episode is the best. Lamb finds a dead body on the beach with "Veronica Mars" written on his palm.

A few small moments I liked:

"Magic Bus" plays as Veronica sees bus crash tee-shirts, coffee cups and hat souvenirs for sale in a convenience shop

Kevin Smith appears as the convenience shop clerk

When Wallace calls Veronica about Jackie's dad's car, he tilts his head and asks "What you doing?"

Dick telling Logan no girl wants to go to Casa de Killer.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

TCM Movie Reviews

Last night we watched The Searchers. Ironically, we've had that recorded on our DVR for about two years, but watched it live on TCM.

We were both disappointed. It's not that there's something horribly wrong with the film. Maybe the hype was just too much. I will say that John Wayne was mesmerizing. At one point, his glare blazed through the screen and almost scared me. Jeffrey Hunter is also good. Overall, we liked the film; it just didn't live up to our expectations.

I'm not a huge western fan. My favorite western is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which also stars John Wayne and Vera Miles (who has a supporting role in The Searchers.) It has a twist on the usual western (print the legend.) I also like Bad Day at Black Rock. That may not be a traditional western, but it's a modern tale in a western US location. Stagecoach is another western that I enjoy--now that's traditional.

A few days ago we watched Bonnie and Clyde. We had both seen it before but it's been a long time. When I originally saw it, I didn't realize how influential it would be in American film. Re-watching it, I realized that it was probably the first time I heard Earl & Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I still find the death scene powerful and tragic. But maybe those weaned on torture porn find it tame.