Monday, July 30, 2007

I dig Graves.

Warning. This is a post in progress. If you read this warning it means I'm not through. I'm posting it because this has sat in my draft pile forever and it deserves better.


I'm a very, VERY huge fan of Michael Graves.


At some point in the late pleistocene, GQ Magazine had decided to offer a Man of the Year award. The award was designed by Michael Graves. This being 198...3? and me being, what? 19? meant I had no idea who he was.


BUT.


I liked what he was doing. At that time, a lot of the architecture I was seeing was that horrible Modernist stuff I simply cannot abide, and someone tweaking the Modern Enlighteneds struck me as brilliant. Besides, his stuff was whimsical and had a self-effacing attitude. Several years later, a client of mine's wife worked at the Dolphin Hotel in WDW and when I had to attend the annual PGA Expo in Orlando, we crashed there for a couple of nights. This solidified my enthusiasm for Michael Graves' design style.


Now, for a number of reasons, having Mr. Graves design a house at any moment in the near future for us is unlikely. But a lot of his stuff has become rather accessible through Target Stores and at fairly reasonable prices. Ironically, as items are discontinued, their price leaps heavenward.


That said, it's perfectly ridiculous -- even if one is a fan -- to outfit one's home in a wall-to-ceiling homage to anyone, regardless of brilliance. So, as much as I enjoy looking at MG's, say, the china service he designed for the Disney company, or bathroom fixtures, I think it wiser to limit myself to one area of the house for all the stuff, lest the whole house being to look like a shrine. I know I have a serious "let's get carried away" gene, and this is the only way I know of to keep it in check. (What makes it doubly difficult is that MG has designed tons of stuff for the Disney company, thereby engaging not only my architecture geek, but also my Disney geek...an awful synergy, to be sure. So I could easily see myself going utterly nuts, getting not only the plates and mugs and glassware, but also the coasters, napkin rings, etc., etc.)

I think I'll restrict myself to the kitchen.

So far I have picked up the MG measuring cups and measuring spoons, assorted utensils, the wall clock, the towel holder, and an electric coffee mill which I use for pulverizing spices. If I catch it on sale, I might pop for the egg timer. When the time comes to redo the kitchen, I'll get discreet little items such as drawer pulls and knobs and MAYBE a faucet.

Oh, and NOS demanded (and got) this for his previous birthday. I'm not sure this speaks more disparagingly of nature or nurture, but there ya go.

More on this later.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:34 PM 3 comments

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Take your leave of me for the nonce, I must think. I will be alone.

I think I have an idea.

More to follow.

-Mr. Cryptic

Posted by Joke at 3:23 PM 2 comments

Be warned.

I'm in a pissy mood.

There was a car I was in the process of buying. It was in mint shape, beautiful and rare and a freakin' steal inexplicably well-priced. As of Friday afternoon it was all go.

Just got an email to the effect the car's been sold. It strikes me as a bit odd, but nothing I can do about it. At least I didn't waste my time and money flying out to New Mexico. Aw, #$&.

NOT happy.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:50 AM 1 comments

"These are deep waters, Watson." (part 2)

As someone who keeps in touch with one's pals from one's former life (including one's rather miserable Wall Street life of epochs ago) it's fun to go out and have lunch and dinner. I had Becco and LondonBar on my schedule but I was open for the other slots.

So!

I was pleasantly pleased to be introduced to a place called Craftbar, of which I had heard in passing. Well.

Damned nice.

It's always good to go to these sorts of places with a regular, so that when he (or, in your case, possibly she) orders something offmenu nobody emerges from the kitchen with eyes rolling in a fine frenzy and stainless steel flashing menacingly. The item in question is a -- no, really -- carrot and crab soup. During the colder months, it's apparently made with parsnips and it's even more of a revelation.

At any rate, the base for this soup is very much like a variation of the Endless Carrot soup. So that's pretty much sorted out. There were bits of tart apple and, I think, jicama in there as well.

Of course, when I eat stuff like this, I IMMEDIATELY start trying to deconstruct the recipe in my head -- to all the foodies here, do you do that as well? Or is that just me? -- so invariably I get asked "Are you okay?" as my brow furrows and my face is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought. Some people do acrostics, or crosswords, or sudoku...I try to figure out the recipe for things I enjoy.

So, basically I'm telling you I'll be working on this.

Incidentally, the prices at Craftbar are "not bad...for New York." I also liked it that it had a sort of locals/insiders sort of vibe to it.

Oh, as re. Alan Flusser, I'll be getting a tweed jacket which should be all tailored up in time for my autumnal travel season. This jacket is a LOT like one which is No More -- Poppy might remember it as the jacket I wore that time her car broke down and we were hijacked by the rogue tow-truck operator -- and since I'm actually fine suitwise, and since that fabric is damnably hard to come by, I pounced.

There.

Now you're up to speed.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:56 AM 14 comments

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Who came up with THIS?

Me. Miami International Airport. 6:45am.

Ouch.

-J.
P.S. Report later.

Posted by Joke at 9:27 PM 0 comments

Friday, July 27, 2007

Flashback Friday

Dunno who started it. Good one, though.

Getting to NYC reminds me of the "me" that was a mere slip of a lad at 23. I had entertained fond dreams of doing the Wall Street thing and here I was. In time, I grew miserable. The people with whom I worked were jerks, but, to compensate, so were the people with whom I didn't.

However, it was at this point and place that I started really noticing people, especially whenever their behaviors manifested themselves (consciously or otherwise) into herd-thought. Being the sort of guy I am, I noticed the clothes. The vast majority of the things worn were worn with the express purpose of being noticed for their cost. Hermes neckties, Trafalgar suspenders, Paul Stuart (for the youngish ones) or FR Tripler's (for the oldish ones) suits were in evidence. A few of us made the pilgrimage to Alan Flusser's back when it was at 16 E. 52nd and trying to scrape up enough to get a suit made. I remember, vividly, having enough shekel-wise to get an "initial order" of shirts. At the time, I didn't have the full coin needed for a suit...until I thought of a seersucker suit. Since that cotton fabric is a lot more reasonably priced than the hyper-gorgeous woolens I was able to get it made for the sum of $495ish, back when a "regular" suit would have weighed in at around $1000...back when $1000 was really something.

I loved the whole process and was able to finally (finally!) accomodate my assorted peculiarities (the pitch of my shoulders, the slope of my back, etc.) and all my crazy aesthetic requirements: double breasted, unlined, ticket pocket, etc., etc. Yes, the wearability was rather limited to the summer, but I had managed to outrace my fellows.

Ah, youth.

It was here I discovered that girls had become women (shut UP ya pervs) in the sense that things which didn't register all that much with them at age 18 made all the difference at age 22. I'll never forget that I was helping out a friend throw a party and I made a few appetizers (from scratch, we didn't have enough money to do it otherwise) . Some of the distaff side tasted them approvingly and my friend E. commented very casually that I had made them.

As clear as my keyboard is right now in my eyes, I have fixed the image of one of them who looked at me Very Seriously and said "You cook?" My mind suddenly discerned, almost as a revelation, that this was not a common thing. Especially in Manhattan where dinner, invariably, seems to arrive via a recent immigrant on an old bicycle. A voice in the back of my head piped up and said "Joke, me boy" (it was an Irish voice, for some reason) "this is a good thing you've discovered. Hold on to it. Trust me on this."

It was a win-win. I got to impress the Hell out of the young ladies who made up my target market, and do so on the cheap.

Eventually, the incompatibility manhattan and I felt for each other led to an amicable parting. I decided to aim for an MBA and Manhattan decided to remain crowded and expensive.

And here I am.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:58 AM 14 comments

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My plans for BlogHer.

Fly here.

Go here.

Get one of these.

Maybe a pair of these.

One or two of these.

Maybe something like this?

Eat here for lunch and here for dinnah.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 12:21 AM 17 comments

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Click me.

OK, my latest is up ovah at Vinapedia.net and I have been instructed to get my minions to issue proper clickage numbers.

http://blog.vinapedia.net/

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:08 PM 7 comments

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Zero Harry Potter content.

Today, you'll be pleased to note, the Handcrafted Tile Fairy arrived. She dropped off two and a half hernias worth of tiles and, as they say in the land of the fairies, immediately "buggered off."

The tiles themselves are pretty damned neat. They have a Caribbean blue/teal/semi-iridescent sort of color that works with both the whole bathroom and with the general aesthetic of the house. I am certain the Tile Fairy was involved because this aspect of the re-do came in right on budget and WELL ahead of schedule.

The problem is that now we have all these damned tiles taking up space we had earmarked for better purposes, and they'll remain like a bone in our throat until the bathroom is made ready for their installation. The date of which is something that is singularly elusive to pin down, owing to the fact that it seems there might be need for a voodoo priestess to come in an sacrifice some poultry in order to evict the evil spirit which makes the floor not exactly level.

Speaking of poultry, while I was at Amazon.com getting the Book Which Must Not Be Named, they had a BBQ/smoker on sale. Seeing as how the lovely and gracious Badger had raved about Amazon Prime and seeing as how Amazon was extending a free trial thereof to me, I assented. This got the apparatus to my door in two days with no shipping fees and (most importantly to a right wing lunatic like me) no sales tax.

To a lot of people, a bit of equipment used to cook foods over live fire (coal, wood or gas) is a barbecue. But that's not exactly correct. A barbecue cooks by virtue of the INDIRECT heat of the live fire. It's meant for relatively tough cuts which require long cooking periods at very low temperatures, such as beef brisket or pork ribs. In the end, these emerge tender and succulent and perfumed with wood smoke. The advantage of this particular rig is that you lay down unlit charcoal (lump, not that weirdly processed briquette stuff with noxious fumes*) dump an equal amount of lit coals thereupon, some hardwood hunks, put the food on the grate and be done with it.

____ hours later you would return to a magical sort of food.

So I'm all excited now.

-J.

* The reason you have to wait until "regular" charcoal briquettes are covered with ash is because these charcoal briquettes have all kids of weird chemicals -- binders, ignition agents, etc. -- which must be burned off lest they give the food some VERY off flavors. If you had food over such coals, as in the process described above, the food would taste unplasantly like lighter fluid.

Posted by Joke at 11:40 AM 13 comments

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Day The Earth Stood Rather Still.

Well, I did it.

The HP#7 book arrived around noonish (fully 12 hours after the lovely and gracious Gina, among others, had received theirs) and with some breaks for caffeinated beverages and some edibles, I was done by 10pm-ish.

Capsule review?

I liked it a lot. I didn't quite love it. There were things in the story which didn't sit right with me, but nothing I can do about it.

At any rate there you have it.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:29 PM 5 comments

Assortedness du jour.

Have you ever done something that, at the time, you just KNEW would become some terrible thing you'd regret bitterly many years hence?

Well, I think I just had one of those.

NOS, who just turned ten -- and got a nasty case of strep throat on his birthday for his troubles -- has started to take an interest in the automotive form. I have a few rules about what sort of vehicle I want my sons driving.

My parents wanted me to drive a HUGE 1970s American tank of a car. And, regardless of my views on the matter, I did. At least I did so initially. But no matter. Their reasoning was that I ought be driving something which interposed as much metal between me and the outside world as was humanly possible. In looking over the specifications of my first couple of cars, I am speechless at the sheer mass and volume of them.

5000lbs/2300kg and flat expanses of sheetmetal that would better be put to use for landing aircraft. Huge.

Needless to say, I hated them. They were "plush" in the aesthetically stunted 1970s sense of the word. You weren't so much the driver as the "passenger-in-chief." But the idea was to keep me safe.

That's the idea I have for my kids' cars. Safe. But what I think of as safe is not what my parents thought of as safe. For a whole slew of reasons well afield of this post, I have no desire to saddle either lad with 2½ tons of barely responsive machinery. I don't think it's safe to have that sort of car.

So, what sort of car DO I want for them?

Glad you asked.

It has to have amazing brakes and amazing roadholding, and a safe structure designed to dissipate energy. Those 1970something behemoths seemed safe until you struck an immovable object, when you then realized the only deformable structure therein was the driver. The energy of an impact had to go somewhere and if it's not the brick wall, and not the 1974 Blimpmobile Virago...then it's the people inside who turn into "Spam in a can."

What it does NOT have is a lot of horsepower. Having been 16 my own bad self, I know that temptations are acceded to in direct proportion to the their accessible availability. I also don't want to be footing the fuel bill for a vehicle whose sole reason for being is to pass everything save a gas station. So nix the horsepower.

Also, because they will invariably run in circles where kids have ridiculously expensive cars given to them as gifts (Don't ask...just take this on faith. After all, this is Miami we're talking about.) the car also has to look cool...without costing me a kidney.

What we're talking about is a vintage-ish semi-sporty Euro something 2-door. Maybe a an Alfa or maybe a BMW from the mid1980s. Something with enough styling flash to stand out, enough prowess to avoid trouble, and enough structural integrity to survive any that cannot be avoided.

So, in discussing all this NOS asked for a specific car. This car, while more-or-less reasonable in today's market, is still mo' than I'm willing to pony up. Not dissuaded by my protest, he said "What if we buy one that's all beat up and we restore it together. Y'know, a father and son thing."

And I said yes, idiot that I am.

Given that I just spent about $120 on eBay for approximately a total 5 ounces of molded plastic, this doesn't bode well.

Maybe he'll forget?

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:04 AM 16 comments

Friday, July 20, 2007

Out on a limb. Now with SPOILERS!

Here is where I tally up my successes and failures of surmise...

As most beings from semi-vertebrate on up know, tomorrow is the release for the 7th and final book in the Harry Potter ouvre. There is much speculation as to what will happen and I have my own theories. So, that I may be held accountable, I hereby posit my predictions that all may come and cheer or sneer as circumstances warrant.

1- Severus Snape is neither loyal to Voldemort or Dumbledore. He has always had a "thirst to prove himself" as the greatest wizard ever and that entailed getting rid of the Champion (Dumbledore) and the #1 Contender (Voldemort). By being a double-double agent he is halfway there. This didn't work out as I expected and it was due to a VERY (IMCO) clunky and infelicituous plot device.

2- Snape repents and atones and redeems himself and dies, sacrificially, in the process. He did, but now how I envisioned. See above.

3- Neville avenges his parents and kills -- without meaning to go THAT far -- Bellatrix Lestrange. Not even close.

4- Harry "dies" by going through the veil. Except for the technicality of the veil, I was right.

5- Harry's scar (not Harry) is a horcrux. When he crosses the veil, the veil takes the fragment of soul contained therein, sparing Harry's life. See #4.

6- Having no spare bits of soul left, Voldemort crosses the veil himself and dies. See #4.

7- I fear the Weasley twins will die. But not before they invent something that is vital to Harry's success. I was 75% right about their dying, 50% right about their inventing something that'd help Harry. (I thought it'd be something new and impressive.)

8- Hagrid dies. Not even close, and that suprise me. I expect it was Hagrid who was reprieved.

9- Lupin dies. Yep.

10- Molly Weasley dies. Nope.

11- Malfoy is (partially?) redeemed. Yep.

12- We see Sirius and Dumbledore again, but not because they are alive. (See #4) Yep, although I thought we'd see Sirius in the same way we saw Dumbledore.

13- I don't believe in superstition about #13, but why take chances? I was right about that.

14- The fact that Voldemort has Harry's blood in his veins means he has an element of sacrificial love "as a mole" within him. This element will prove his Achilles' Heel. Dumbledore knew that. I feel very smug about this.

15- Jujube predicted the "Love Room" (oh, grow UP) at the Ministry will come into play with #14. I think she is on to something. Nope.

16- Ron and Hermione marry. Duh.

17- Harry lives, scar-free. Nope.

18- We see what the deal is with Grindenwald. YEP.

19- We see what made James Potter turn from the bullying jerk he seems to have been to a the hero everyone considers him now. No, and it is one of the major untied ends...unless JKR fears running through her eleventy gazillion dollars and needs to have a fallback.

20- Peter Pettigrew betrays Voldemort. And dies. Boo-hoo. Yes, but in a less spectacular way than I had expected.

There you have it. In a day or two we'll see how brilliant or abysmal I am at this.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:08 PM 4 comments

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Look! A cache of gold from a sunken U-Boat!

...the above are among the things you will never hear when renovating any part of a house. Another might be "Why, this is in even better shape than we expected!"

In renovation, as in marriage, there are no good surprises, ever.

Having restored a few bizarre cars in my time, I have learned to brace myself for projects where expectations try to run through the wood-chipper of reality. So it's TFBIM who has to shoulder the burden of surprise.

As I type, the plumber guy is fixing something Dire And Awful which they were not expecting to find. The particulars of what that may have been are irrelevant to me. The main drain could be a gateway to Hell for all I know. I just knew there would be several "uh-oh" moments, and this is but the latest to throw us (further) off-budget and (further) behind schedule. Which works, because the tile making guy is also running behind schedule, and the cabinet guy needs to have his chakras rotated or something.

So far the plumber crew (consisting of youngish, surly earrung lad who does all the loud stuff and an affable 50something guy who is forever with a cellular phone or a sandwich or coffee in his hand commenting sagely) has been here three days and they periodically call us in to show you what bestial savagery the previous bathroom install-ees committed. "It's in cubits! CUBITS! We'll have to recalculate the diameter of the googleplex demodulator."

Pretty soon they'll tell us we'll have to demolish the house and start over.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 3:05 PM 9 comments

"A half life, a cursed life."

Dear Internet,

What, do you suppose, was the useful life designed into, for example, the right rear ashtray* hinge of an Italian car built in the mid1980s? Consider in your answer that almost all of the "fiddly bits" of Italian cars -- even eyewateringly expensive, gigabuck models -- have the most pedestrian of origins (i.e. Fiat).

Exactly.

This leads me to eBay. How people restored and maintained rare, weird old cars before 1998 is beyond me. When you think about the fact that, prior to eBay, if you needed to replace the disgronificator for your 1957 Blimpmobile Deluxorama, and the dealership (HA!) or mechanic who repaired same happened to have none, you were pretty much scrod. You'd call others in the area, maybe consult with the wizened sages at the National Blimpmobile Club, put an advertisement in the newsletter (which took 2-3 months to reach anyone) and hoped that if someone had the disgronificator, it'd be someone who belonged to the club.

With eBay that all changed. Now anyone with a digital camera, a garageful of hoarded stuff and an entrepreneurial spirit can make available to all what, less than a decade ago, was only accessible to the gnostic few. Even better, if you bring a modicum of linguistic skill to the mix, you may even expand your horizons to encompass similar-minded loons from all across the world. In half-jest, eBay has done more to foster the brotherhood of man in 9 years than the United Nations in 60+. Without taking up valuable New York real estate, too.

Anyway, this brings me to my current situation. As my teeming horde of longtime readers will no doubt recall, I have a decidedly non-standard taste in vehicles. This means that sometimes I am the guy looking for the weird bit for a weird car. When you have a car that is approaching a quarter century, some of those bits which were not the slightest consideration at the design phase have begin to disintegrate. Where do you go for an ashtray hinge for an Alfa Turbo from 1985? You go to eBay.

Keep in mind that if you are deranged in a manner similar to mine, it is imperative that your old, weird car looks (and remains looking) "showroom new." In fact, not having it thus is utterly unthinkable.

But even then it's not as if an avalanche of 1985 Alfa Turbo ashtray hinges happens to be pouring forth on eBay, either. I recall when I needed to replace a fuel tank cap on a previous model, purely for aesthetic reasons, as mine was faded and had a hairline crack. The 1987-later version (which fit perfectly but was "not correct") cost $22.65 at the dealership. But it looked wrong. I found one on eBay. New, too. Had all the correct boxes, paper stickers, etc. Even the key -- those being the days when siphoning was a concern -- was included. I figured I'd bid thrice the price for the current model, sure I'd win.

Well.

The damned thing went for...

for...

wait for it...

$355.00.

Because that style of gas cap is simply not available anymore, and Adam Smith shows up to remind us he is alive and well and throws in a handy reference to supply and demand and there you have it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because right now some bits VITAL to the almost-done restoration of my car are available on eBay. Not regular USA-eBay, but Far Distant Land eBay. And I'm sweating it out.

Many things we see on eBay are things we really want for whatever purpose. "Oh, look! A Rochefoucauld! The thinnest water-resistant watch in the world. Singularly unique, sculptured in design, hand-crafted in Switzerlandand water-resistant to three atmospheres. This is the sports watch of the 80's. Back then it was $6,995 retail. It tells time simultaneously in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome and Gstaad. Only $50! Cool!" We may find some things we have been after for a lower price, or even satisfied a collector jones (For example, I collect old ViewMaster reels, sue me.). But when there is something you NEED, and something you can only find on eBay that, even for eBay, is pretty damned rare...you perspire freely.

Thought I'd share.

-J.

* Italians, being Italian, designed the car with ZERO cup holders, but five ashtrays. Pause and reflect on that.

Posted by Joke at 9:36 AM 10 comments

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

...plus the cost of an attorney, child support, alimony and ancillary medical expenses.

Look at this. I'd dearly love to have one. I'd enter assorted ultra-glam events (Pebble Beach, Monterey Historics, Concorso, Greenwich, Mille Miglia, etc.) But my wife -- who has no compunctions about firearms -- would shoot me. Not to kill me, but for me to have to crawl on the ground looking for what used to be my kneecaps.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:12 PM 7 comments

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sure, scoff.

But there IS a God. Furthermore, we now have all the proof we need He loves us.

Here.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:31 AM 5 comments

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cheese-O-Rama.

Because, as you all know, I am all about being Green as well as an Omnivore with a Dilemma, I decided to make mozzarella. Well, technically it's called fior di latte, as I'm using cow's milk as opposed to water buffalo milk, which -- because I'm also all about the local thing -- is hard to come by on the fringes of paradise. At least from the local buffaloes, water or otherwise.

I used Saveur's recipe, as opposed to Barbara Kingsolver's because:

1- I already had Saveur's (from their Authentic Italian issue of a while back)
2- I didn't have BK's
3- Yes, the lovely and gracious BabBab & Gina did, but I didn't have my laptop in the kitchen, as it was recharging.

For all intents and purposes, it's pretty much the same damned thing.

The only differences are:

1- I used organic raw milk. I found a place that sells it "for non-human consumption" which is how the Nanny State demands conscientious legislators of our fair state request it be labeled.

2- I did NOT THROW OUT THE WHEY. This is key, and Saveur makes it a point of emphasizing same. You need the whey to make ricotta. (Basically, you simmer away all the moisture from the whey and drain the remains.)

Since BabBab posted pix of her cheesiness, you don't need to see mine, other than I am posting the ricotta phase of the process. Think of this as my Bells of St. Mary's to her Going My Way.

Stay tuned.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 6:03 PM 6 comments

I obviously made a vocational error somewhere down the line.

The party was a big hit.

The bags were a HUGE hit. In fact, if anyone wants the stencil, and the files, etc. just email me. All you'll need is a small group of amenable people (small children under your direct authority work particularly well) to do the actual stencil work.

Like I mentioned previously, we found all kinds of HP stuff on eBay at absurdly low prices. The trick is to look with a bit of time on your hands. If you start trying to gather the materiel with a week to go, you're scrod.

We managed to score the Harry PotterTM stuff as previously noted (Chocolate Frogs, Cockroach Clusters, etc.) and some of the other non-HP goodies were "explained away" in the packing slip as being "replaced with Muggle equivalent in keeping with the Muggle Protection Act." One bit of advice: if you can find Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, snatch it up immediately. It has been discontinued.

At any rate, we all gathered up to view Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

[Spoilers to ensue]

Keeping in mind that as the books get longer, squeezing them into 2 1/2 hours of film becomes progressively more difficult. I mean if the first film's rough cut was almost five hours and the book on which it was based was barely 312 pages (USA paperback version)...imagine how hard it gets with 896 pages (USA paperback version) but the film's practical limit remains fixed.

Anyway.

It was pretty good. Some things were condensed pretty nicely. Harry's unbearable, PMSy teen angst thing was toned down sufficiently. I still don't like the look of the "new" Dumbledore, who looks like a crazy grandmother with a ZZ Top beard. Gary Oldman made Sirius Black WAY more attractive to me as a character than he had been in the books, and that was good. I especially loved the use of flashbacks in the film.

My biggest grievance with the film was the underwhelming scene in which the Weasley Twins depart from school. In the book, that scene was a very triumphant one, where the twins give Umbridge the wizard version of the Unidigital Salute and depart making her life a nightmare. In the film it was just...there. That was a letdown. I didn't like the CGI-ed Grawp, who looked RIDICULOUSLY cartoonish. (Much like Lupin's werewolf in #3, who looked like a rabid greyhound with a pituitary condition.)

Also, the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort was not at all like I visualized it. In the film, we see Dumbledore having to struggle in the duel, while in the book, he is far more serene.

Still, I give it a B+.

Now you know.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:46 AM 9 comments

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Be prepared!

There is nothing learned quite the same way than "lessons learned the hard way."

Example?

I'm casually traipsing through the aisles of an edibles emporium I quite like even though it's rather far, but since I had to be over that way for a client, I took the small detour. Of course, I happen upon a GORGEOUS full rib roast. On sale. $5.XX/lb. Of course, I have a horrific rush hour traffic jam staring at me and standing in traffic for what would likely be two hours (and very possibly three) with a huge lump of unrefrigerated cow doesn't appeal to me.

So I had to let it go.

LESSON: Take a decent sized cooler and put it in the trunk of the car. Because you never know.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:10 AM 9 comments

Friday, July 13, 2007

Embarrassing as it may be to admit.

Those damned HarryPotterTM goody bags came out great. I thought it especially clever to conscript the underage contingent to do the actual stencil-work...thereby freeing me therefrom.

NOS came up with some funny additions (i.e. a "packing list" from "Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes") and all sorts of stuff. He is quite eager for this event to launch off. Not all of his friends are THIS crazy about HarryPotterTM, but most of them like it well enough. So that's good.

In another twist that serves as a monument to my spectacular (if erratically intermittent) cleverness, I purposefully omitted the "where" on the invitation. I only specified the time and the phone number via which guests might R.s.v.p.

That's it.

"Why is this so damnably clever?" I hear you ask?

Well, since people are so abominably mannered that they show up without R.s.v.p.-ing these days, I wanted to leave them no option but to R.s.v.p. otherwise they'd have no idea where to be at the appointed hour. That is, they had to call to ask "Um, where are we going for the HarryPotterTM film?"

Oh, I smirked freely over this.

Now, the only remaining issue is the matter of where to adjourn post-film for lunch. We settled on a classic Burgers-and-Ice Cream (not together) sort place that's but a mere block from the movieplex. We'll stick ten clandles on a wading pool-sized ice cream platter and that would be that. Normally we'd all come home and do that here, but since the bathroom redo seems to mean the household is in near-shutdown mode, we must seek more accomodating circumstances.

Now, about the bathroom. A tip. From me to you.

Do not just say "yes" to something just because you like its looks. Don't ever -- and I mean EVER -- forget to look at the price. In other words, if you love A just a touch more than you do B, but B is one eighth the price, then you'd probably go with B. Or, at least you'd KNOW what going with A entails. So, when TFBIM asked me if I liked Faucetry A and I said yes with no further questions, I really dug my own grave. I should have asked if the Faucetry would prove to be 50% of the expenditure.

Stop and reflect. HALF of the money we will have spent on this thing will have gone to faucets. No, they are not solid (or even plated) in precious metal. The cabinets, ancillaries, tiles, plumbing, lighting, demolition, drayage and labor combined will cost the same as two sink faucets, a showerhead and its attendant handle-knob thing. H-A-L-F.

Madness, I tell you.

In other news, I think I am 90% of the way to ideal oven fries. The short version:

1- Cut them so the indivdual pieces are roughly the size of your index, or smaller. Use russet, i.e. "Idaho" potatoes. (or whatever you have that works the same...anything starchy/mealy that you'd bake whole will work)

2- Soak the pieces and change the water, at least twice.

3- Drain the potato bits, pat them dry and then air dry.

4- Use a heavy-ish roasting pan (or whatever can stand in for this), with a decent splashing of oil (peanut, EVOO, whatever) and preheat -- 375F seems to be the magic number -- it along with the oven. This is key. You want to get some immediate sizzlage going on when you throw in the potato bits, no more than one layer's worth.

5- Halfway through, give the rack a vigorous toss and then place it facing the opposite way. (Front becomes back, etc.)

-J.

Posted by Joke at 3:08 PM 7 comments

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Because rest is apparently poisonous.

Those of you who know me in some detail will recall that NOS's birthday is nearly at our throats. NOS, incidentally, is a serious fan of Harry PotterTM* and as such has demanded a Harry PotterTM party. Which works out well, as we have the 5th Harry PotterTM film opening this week.

So the plan is very simple. We told NOS to let us know 5** friends whom to invite and we sent out some very cute invitations. May I boast?

Thanks!

Here's what I did. I just went and bought envelopes and cards in a parchment finish. Then I found a JPEG file of a wax seal, tweaked the center of it until it had the correct "H" and then printed same so that it'd land on the back of the envelope, right on the middle of the flap...pretty much where a real wax seal would have gone.

The invitation proper was simple. I put a HogwartsTM crest up on top as letterhead, and then I downloaded the three "official" Harry PotterTM fonts and wrote and printed same. Effective but simple.

Gathering the goodies for goody bags was simple, and I'd like to extend my thanks to eBay for all it helped. Stickers, patches, Chocolate FrogsTM, Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, pens, etc. were found -- criminally cheap, might I add -- and have now been gathered. The only toughie so far were the goody bags themselves. The thing was a puzzler until I ran across plain navy bags at the "dollar store" which were then decorated with gold star stickers and the Harry PotterTM name in the proper font stenciled (the stencil was made with the official fonts, printed out, glued on stiffish cardboard and the letters cut out with an ancient X-Acto knife) with a metallic silver marker.

Voila.

Now, all I have to do is have to loiter with 14 kids for a 2.5 hour film followed by lunch.

-J.

* The Harry Potter name, logo and all related indicia are copyright J.K. Rowling & Warner Brothers.

** Somehow TFBIM managed to have this list grow to, um, 14 kids. Don't ask.


Posted by Joke at 7:37 AM 13 comments

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Exiles In Dullsville.

Dear Internet,

It's been a s-l-o-w week at Chez Joke. The gaping span of time left behind by the trip-that-wasn't, the fact that Independence Day landed on a Wednesday making summer camp activities (at least ovah heah) grind to a halt for the whole week all contributed to a surfeit of ennui.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind ennui, but it's murder when the two lads have to be entertained. Compound this joy with the fact it has been raining buckets (2"/5cm a day, on average) for a week, and you have all the makings of wacky fun.

NOS was really enjoying Library Camp, which is basically huge reading group, broken off by age and reading level. They (NOS's group) are getting ready for Harry Potter #7 and as such have been (re)reading some of the older ones, as well as other books which show some influence on the whole HP ouvre. Greek myth, Sherlock Holmes, Narnia, etc. NTS has been going to swim camp, which is excellent as it leaves him too tired to terrorize the household.

The problem, NOS asserts, is that reading his books at home "isn't the same." So he makes me take him to the library so he can read them there. The problem with our library is the singular lack of beverage availability. Even a smallish espresso machine tucked in a corner somewhere, or a teakettle whistling merrily would be a huge hit. If Starbuck's ever figures out how to station espresso carts just outside libraries, they might as well be allowed to print money. (If they do, you read it here first and I deserve a huge cut of the action.)

So, other than watching NTS tangle with computer games, and NOS wrap up Jason & the Argonauts and waiting for tiles to arrive...it's been slow.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:45 PM 8 comments

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Mr. Joke Goes To Washington Nowhere

Oy.

I was supposed to have gone on vacation this week. Instead I have spent it at home dealing with the bathroom re-do which has involved aesthetic disagreements with my beloved and dealing with the people doing the redoing as well as the new people that I've had to call in when the people doing the redoing -- while in mid-redoing -- freeze in their tracks to mutter "uh-oh."

The plumbing guy discovers something that requires new masonry, the masonry guy discovers something that requires a voodoo clergyperson, the voodoo guy discovers something the air conditioning guy needs to fix, etc. And they all say "Y'know, while we're at it..." as they perform delicate surgery on my wallet.

We were supposed to go to Washington DC, though. We were going to lunch with Jujube, see musea of all description, visit monuments, tour Very Important Buildings, etc. In fact, we were so set to go that it was at the airport this minor nightmare began. We showed up a bit early on the appointed date (Friday, June 29, in the morning) because with a name like Joke, security takes a while. I went up to the self check-in machine only to be told our flight had been cancelled. And we were rebooked for Saturday evening. Which, considering we were flying back midday Monday, hacked off a good 40% off our touring. So we were placed on standby for the next flight. Us, and 62 other people. You may readily imagine where, along the spectrum of the 66, we were nestled.

The other flight, of course, was fully booked and 4 people of the total of the 66 managed to board. The flights into Dulles, Reagan and Baltimore were all booked solid, compounded by the fact the airline had to find ways to accomodate those whose plans had been thwarted by their cancellation of the flight. They told us our flight had been cancelled because the airplane could not depart to arrive at our airport due to weather conditions. But weather conditions had already cleared up by 11 a.m.-ish so why that plane couldn't take off then, alleviating the snarl, was something the very harried gate agent (because, you see, the airline brilliantly saw to it there was only ONE gate agent left to deal with 62 very displeased people) could not explain.

The choices were simple: get shuttled off from standby list to standby list until we managed to get a flight -- whenever THAT was (the agent strongly hinted it would be a flight next evening into Baltimore) or scrub the trip entirely. NTS was holding it together, but we could see a meltdown was in the offing. We scrubbed. As it was, we had a very tight schedule to see all we wanted to see, our return date was fixed and not moveable, and losing 36 hours of touring time would have, really, just made the whole thing a colossal waste of time, energy, patience and money.

I have never felt my sons' disappointment in circumstances to keenly. NOS, in particular, was so eager to visit the Air & Space Museum as well as a couple of others. They were dejected. I was dejected. TFBIM was dejected. We pretty much were a living conjugation of the verb "dejected."

I don't want to "out" the offending airline, cast aspersions on the airline, nor the benighted cretins who run it, but let me just say it's surprising to see such manifest incompetence from an (cough, cough) American enterprise.

So there.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:51 AM 9 comments