Saturday, December 27, 2014

What I'm Reading: Total Recall

I've read many of Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski mysteries. For some reason, I stopped somewhere in the middle. (I've also missed a few of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone alphabet mysteries.)

I've been checking out books from the retirement home's library for my mother. She used to exclusively read true crime, now she's reading standard mysteries. I checked out Total Recall for her. Even though I hadn't read it, I suspected she wouldn't like the book, because I told her I liked the author. It's almost her tradition to find fault in food I make or things I like.

Well, she didn't care for it. But I decided to borrow and read it: I liked it.

VI is a great character: a lawyer turned PI, a feminist, an opera lover, a cook, a dog lover; a liberal if not a progressive. VI is smart and tough.

Total Recall weaves together the WWII past of VI's friend Lotty, Chicago politics, an insurance claim and the recalled memories of a Holocaust survivor.

I have two quibbles. The wealthiest characters in VI's mysteries are always the worst, most evil villains. The second quibble is with the mystery structure itself. I heard this in a writing seminar: the primary and secondary cases have to be related. If I ever write a mystery, I would have two unrelated mysteries. Oh maybe, there would be some kind to thematic relationship, but not the perps themselves. You can break the rules if you can make it work.

Two Good Days

We've had two days of unseasonably warm weather--around 50 degrees. More importantly, Spike has been in much better shape; he's not wheezing as much and seems stronger.

Jeff and I took Spike to the dog park the last two days. It had been a few weeks since his last visit. He clearly enjoyed his time there: sniffing out new scents, greeting other dogs and humans, even running around a bit.

We have to take things day by day, and enjoy all of Spike's good days.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Challenges

I had wanted to write about the Winter Solstice, my friend's girls only Christmas party, and Festivus----for the rest of us. But I never got around to posting. It was a busy week; I felt as if I were just running from one appointment or chore to another. I took my mother to two doctors' appointments--found out that she has two vertebrae fractures, and needs to get a MRI next Monday. I picked up one of my mother's repaired hearing aids and dropped off a second broken one. I did her laundry as well as ours. I had four tutoring sessions. I finished my Christmas shopping, and did our food shopping.

On the 23rd, I had my last tutoring session, and planned to finish cleaning and wrapping all my presents. But then Spike had a bad evening--he was wheezing loudly and often.We actually got into the car to go to the emergency vet around 9 PM. But then Spike stopped wheezing. We headed back home, but were ready go to the vet's if Spike got worse.We barely slept that night. The next morning, we took him to his regular vet. He had to have the pericardial sac aspirated again. Spike feels better after the aspirations. As the doctor describes it, it's buying him more time and making him more comfortable.

I'm tired--exhausted--and scared. I didn't want to go ahead with our family Christmas Eve plans. But we were committed. I had promised to make a salad and twice baked potatoes. I had a mishap with the first batch of potatoes. Jeff shopped for more. While he was out, I finished the salad, packed and finished cleaning the kitchen. We managed to have a nice Christmas--marred by a few comments about Spike's health (some well-meaning, some insensitive--but not anything we wanted to hear at Christmas.)

As I write this, I hear Spike wheezing again. It's tough to hear him struggle.I want to comfort him, but it's frustrating that I can't do much to help him. I can love him, but that's not enough.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Soup's On

After procrastinating for a few weeks, I finally made this curried red lentil soup. I must have clipped the recipe when Jeff inexplicably was a subscriber to Martha Stewart Living a few years ago. I had used part of a can of coconut milk to make a variation of the coconut chicken from this book.  That gave me a good reason to finally try the soup.

We loved it although I made a few variations. First: no cilantro because Jeff is allergic. Second: I didn't have any safflower oil. I didn't bother with the idea of pouring half of the soup through a sieve and then pureeing the rest. It seemed too much, especially because I like texture in my soup.

I'll definitely make it again.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another Anniversary

I was waiting to get my oil changed today and caught a newscast that today is the 25th anniversary of the first Simpson episode. It's also the origin tale of Santa's Little Helper. 

I'm sure I didn't watch the premiere episode. I hadn't even heard of the Simpsons because I didn't watch Tracey Ullman. When Jeff first put on The Simpsons, I thought it would be silly or immature. It didn't take the show long to make me change my mind.

We're still watching. The quality of the show has deteriorated, but some of the individual segments are good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who Cares about GWTW?

This morning I checked out Jezebel and found this article. Then over to this critique.

Lots to think about.

Monday, December 15, 2014

75th Anniversary

I heard on the radio that today is the 75th anniversary of the film premiere of Gone With The Wind. The film used to be among my top ten favorites. I always preferred the book to the film (which is usual for me.) There is so much more detail, so much more history, so many more memorable characters in the book than in the film.

Despite my preference for the book, the film has much to offer. The scene in which Scarlett is searching for Doctor Meade among the dead and dying Confederate solders is beautifully shot. Another beautiful (though problematical) is a quick shot near the beginning of the film: two small slave boys rotate a giant bell to signify quitting time for the field hands. I love all the Twelve Oak barbecue scenes; they provide an overview of antebellum society among the plantation owners.

The acting is quite good. While I don't think Leslie Howard looks like the Ashley of the book, Howard does a decent job. Similarly, Olivia de Haviland is too strong-looking for the slim, child-like Melanie, but her performance makes up for the physical discrepancies.

I read somewhere that Margaret Mitchell pictured Basil Rathbone as Rhett. That would have been an intriguing choice. I haven't read the book in several years, but I do think Rhett is described as bigger than Rathbone. It could be that I just see Clark Gable in the part. Fan magazine polls at the time would not accept anyone but Gable.

Let's finish up the main cast by reviewing Vivian Leigh. She deservedly won her first Oscar for this role. But she was classically beautiful. In the book's first lines, Scarlett was described as not beautiful. But you forget that because of her charm. I watched screen tests of Paulette Goddard; I think she could have been a great Scarlett.

It's harder for me to watch the film than it used to be. (That is the topic of a post that I started in 2012.) I appreciate the positive qualities of the film, but now watch it more critically. That's the point of the other privileged post.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What We're Watching--Marco Polo

By chance, I read yesterday that a new series was released on Netflix--Marco Polo. I had to work early this morning so we only watched one episode of 10 last night. Tonight we watched two more episodes. We're intrigued.

I read that this series was designed with the production values of Game of Thrones. It certainly looks good to me. I'm enjoying the acting as well.

One of the last scenes we watched was one in which a "loving" uncle broke the bones in his niece's foot so he could bind her feet to make them beautiful. That's only one of his crimes.

I want him dead. Because he's fictional, I don't have to worry about mitigating circumstances or the sanctity of  life. He's much more barbaric than the Mongols.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Here Comes the Sun

It was still cold today, but the winds have died down and the sun came out. It was actually quite pleasant.

Spike must have agreed. He took me on a long walk today: down the hill, around the hospital, up to Blue Cactus (his favorite deli), over to our cross street and back down the hill to our home. I was worried he might get too tired when we were four or five blocks away from home, but he was strong and energetic

It gave me hope that Spike felt well enough for such a long walk (about eight block lengths.) He's not ready to give up on himself; we won't give up on him. Spike is awesome.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Countdown: Two Weeks to Christmas

I'm always behind schedule. Cue one of my favorite Joni songs. I need to jump start my Christmas spirit.

Last night, Jeff and I discussed the gifts we've already purchased (only a few, unfortunately.) We looked through some catalogs to discuss gifts for some family members. We also made a few decisions.

I brought the Christmas decorations from the bin today; I also washed the holiday towels and napkins. I didn't have time to decorate tonight, but I did place a few candles.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Canine Cardiac Condition

It's been a rough few days.

Spike saw a cardiologist yesterday. He has a tumor on his heart. It had been bleeding into the pericardial sac around his heart. The vet drained the sac on Monday.Yesterday's sonogram didn't show any more bleeding.

Now, it's wait and watch and see what happens.  He could be fine for several years, he could bleed into the pericardial sac again and require another aspiration. He could suffer a heart attack. We just don't know.

We just have to continue to love him.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"Spikie's in Heart Arrest."

That's what the vet told us today: bedside manner much?  She's my least favorite doctor of our practice--and not just for her dramatic statement today. (Couldn't she have told us in a less shocking way?)

Spike is diagnosed with pericardial effusion. He had fluid around his heart aspirated. Fluid around his stomach remains. Tomorrow a cardiologist will do a sonogram.

Spike is 14 years old. I expect health problems; I've tried to prepare myself for his decline, for his death. But today's diagnosis threw me. Besides his bad leg, Spike has seemed healthy and strong.

Please let Spike pull through this.

Day of the Lunas

We have two Luna's living in our condo building supporting this list. (Just disregard the dead "joke.")

Both girls have been barkers. Today was the first time that black Luna didn't bark at us. She and Spike had a friendly sniff-around the other day--I guess that was enough. Or maybe it was the Santa-inspired coat that she wore today.

White Luna came out a few minutes later, barking up a storm. I've been trying to cultivate her, to get her to trust me. I've made progress, but we still have a long way to go.

TCM Movie Night: Nicholas and Alexandra

I recorded this film on Spike's birthday (11-5) but Jeff wasn't up to a 3.25 hour film. I watched it this weekend when Jeff was away. I've seen it probably twice before. I like well-made historical films--this is one of them. The acting is stellar. One of the things I like about this film is that it portrays a history of the Russian Revolution from a personal perspective.

A few facts I learned from the TCM introduction:

Nicholas was Michael Jayston's third film role
Alexandra was Janet Suzman's first film role
Lawrence Olivier recommended Tom Baker for the role of Rasputin.

In his introduction, Ben Mankiewicz said that this was a prestige film that has been forgotten. That's too bad, because it holds up: it is a good film.

I like to think about how small differences could have made major changes in history. For example, what if Fidel Castro had made it a major league pitcher? Would the Cuban revolution have occurred? If so, how would it be different?

In this film, in this part of history, what would have been different if Alexis, the Tsarevich, had not been ill with hemophilia? Surely, Rasputin would not have gained his influence over the royal family. I don't think Nicholas would have been a good ruler, but things might not have turned out so badly.

I hope that this film will be re-discovered.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Life Jumped the Track...

As I lie awake around five am this morning, I was thinking about all the things that I needed to do today and in the next few days. It's so easy to get distracted and off-track, which got me thinking about this song and its line in this post title.

That got me thinking even more--what is my life's track? The American stereotypical track is to grow up, maybe go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children. I did most of that. Am I on track enough?

Why am I still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up?

When I later checked my email, I found 12 Days to a Happier More Productive Life.  I especially like Day 2: Work on your List of 100 Dreams. That should get me on the right track.

Monday, December 1, 2014


It's hard to believe it's December 1st when the temperature rose to 65 degrees. By tomorrow morning, it will be more seasonable--in the thirties.

Driving home on Friday, I saw the first Christmas trees of the season--selections of trees for sale as well as trees strapped on car roofs. Tonight I saw the first displays of Christmas lights.

I complain when Christmas items start appearing in stores before Halloween. But it's December; the holiday season is here. The pressure is on; I've got to focus on Christmas shopping and decorating. At least I don't have to bake. Try to enjoy the season without letting holiday stresses get to me.