December 2002 Archives

Top 10:

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  1. The Jam Compact Snap One of those discs that disappears from the rotation for a year or two and then suddenly I need to hear it over and over. "A Town Called Malice" was put to appropriate use in the movie "Billy Elliott" -- it's almost impossible to listen to without beating out the drums on the steering wheel and bop-bop-bopping along. The whole disc still sounds fresh after all these years, when some of the quirkiness of the other British Reinvasion groups (say, XTC) has worn thin. Could be that whomping bass.
  2. Sledding with the girls: took two blow-up tubes, one little blow-up "Swiss Luge", an old-fashioned, hard-bottomed flying saucer and the toboggan over to the golf course in Delmar yesterday and had a couple hours of screaming fun. They wore their ski helmets, which may have made them the dorks of the hill, but at least we didn't have to bring it all to a crying halt after one of them took a header. My old Adirondack toboggan, circa 1974, is still the fast and furious of the sledding hill, by the way, and I took a certain uncharitable delight in the failure of some yuppie parents to get their runnered baby sled to work for little whatever-her-name-was. Runnered sleds are for Christmas catalogs, NOT FOR ACTUAL USE. Pay attention, people.
  3. Gaudi Afternoon -- a completely unnoticed movie with Judy Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and Lili Taylor, directed by Susan Seidelman. A complete hoot set in Barcelona with a backdrop of Gaudi's architecture. Funny, interesting, fast-paced. The Spanish and/or Catalan isn't subtitled, but it doesn't need to be. There's even a bizarre magic act with erotic overtones that made me wish Seidelman had had the self-reference to put Steven Wright in the audience (see "Desperately Seeking Susan").
  4. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 for Playstation 2 -- please. Unlike THPS2 for Mac, you don't have to keep on restarting the game, you just pick up timed challenges when you feel like it and freeskate the rest of the time. Plus, many more songs, though I'm sure after a while I'll get tired of these, too. Hannah thinks that my character's top hat is the reason he's skating so poorly....
  5. Ofoto.com -- Really, it's a dead heat with Snapfish.com, but the point is I love digital photography, I love being able to play with my pictures in Photoshop and clean them up and/or mess them up, and I love inexpensive prints that I don't have to send back because some lab-monkey didn't bother to blow the dust off the negative. Spent the weekend getting a bunch of Thanksgiving photos cleaned up, cropped and ready for printing.
  6. Nick Tosches. Loved "Where Dead Voices Gather." Loved "Dino." Now I'm reading the most unlikely thing I can imagine myself reading, "Trinities," a Mafia/Chinese gangwar novel about the heroin trade. Too much exposition in places, but damn his writing is crisp.
  7. OLN TV -- okay, so maybe there's much more duckhunting than I really need to see, but there's also "No Boundaries," bicycle racing, kayak competitions and things you just don't get anywhere else. But really, guys -- if I want to see duckhunting, I'll dig out my Chuck Jones cartoons.
  8. Random blogs -- The nature of the web has changed back to what it started out as, narrowcasting of personal messages that somehow connect. On any given day, scouting through blogdom, you can find a message that you somehow relate to that hasn't been filtered through the profit motive by a corporate asshole.
  9. The Interregnum -- there is a short period of my life, just about to end, when there are no Nutcracker rehearsals, no ballet lessons, no swim lessons, no ski lessons, and no real work obligations. The house is a Christmasy disaster, there is too much food, a leaking faucet untended, chores that have to get done if we're ever going to build a new bedroom for Rebekah, but for right now, it's just time to lie about in it and rest.
  10. St. Helena Olive Oil. To die for. So good you want to drink it. Really.

How much snow?

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This much snow:

One birthday remembered

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I'm not good with birthdays. Beyond my immediate family, I'm pretty hopeless. Even if I remember what day they fall on, I'm unlikely to think of them around that time. But for some reason I have always remembered my great grandmother's birthday, which is today. It would be Grandma Hazel Smith's 108th birthday. As it happens, she made it to 102. In Hazel's last 10 years her health was strong but Alzheimer's had taken her, unfortunately, and she spent most of her days waiting for her husband Ernie to come and get her. Ernie, who had been dead since 1963. She was a sweet woman who baked a great apple pie. She stayed tight with her sisters, most of them, all her life, though there was some kind of a feud with her sister Mamie that rose to the level of being mentioned in Mamie's will. (My mother thinks Hazel stole Ernie away from Mamie. I guess we'll never know.) Ruth and Helen and Hazel spent the summers up at their houses in West Glenville, and Margaret was down in Scotia, and they saw each other all the time. They were an interesting group. They didn't come from any money -- their father was the town tinker and the town drunk. Helen, who took care of me and my sister when we were young, had a flamboyant affair with a married insurance agent who gave her some property that helped her get by. In the midst of the depression, she was able to lend a considerable sum of money to Hazel and Ernie, which they secured with everything they had, including farm equipment, an old car and 60 chickens. In addition to a rooming house in Schenectady, Helen somehow managed to get a summer house in West Glenville, just up the road from where she'd grown up. Margaret, similarly, had a lifelong boyfriend, and she worked at the Wallace's Department Store downtown and had a two-family house in Scotia, where she rented out the upper floor. I know that Ruth had worked and somehow she had the family house on Waters Road in West Glenville, but what she got by on is a mystery. Hazel was the traditionalist of those four, in the sense that she married a man who supported her. Ernie had various ventures in his life, but mostly it centered on subsistence farming and carpentry. He died from an accidental overdose of blood-thinning medication, and after that Hazel went to live with her daughter, Thelma, but spent her summers mostly up at Helen's house in West Glenville. All these labors and intrigues, ways of living and relationships, arguments so important they lasted a lifetime -- all viewed dimly through second-hand memories and some papers found in a wooden box -- all the rest is lost to us now.

Armagideon time for Joe Strummer

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Lost somewhere in the news over the weekend was the word that Joe Strummer of The Clash had died of a heart attack. He was 50 -- or, for those who keep track of such things, eight years older than I am. Okay, John Entwistle was no surprise, really, though one would think the boys would slow down after a few decades of drugs. Joey Ramone was hard to take, but he had been sick for a while. DeeDee, again, was no surprise, except perhaps that he had lasted this long. But now, Joe Strummer? Who's going to be left? At a time when I was very ambivalent about New Wave, hated the music of the '70s, and was still focused on some of the music of the '60s, The Clash were like a flash of lightning. I already knew and loved The Ramones, but they did what they did and that was it. It was brilliant and exciting and took people back to the roots and a little bit beyond. The Clash then took that and went all over the map with it -- since The Beatles there hadn't been a more musically inventive band, and I think they surpassed The Beatles in some ways. They combined ska and dub into rock 'n' roll and made it all make sense. They did hard-driving rock and deep, slow-tempo dubs. Nearly every song sounded different, and there was always something interesting going on. The big, triple-disc mess that was Sandinista goes through more musical ideas in one album than most bands do in their entire careers. Like all the good ones, The Clash were a band. They captured the restless, unsettled Thatcher years for England, and a lot of that spoke to the Reagan years here. ("A lot of people won't get no justice tonight" -- "Coke adds life / where there isn't any") Once they were done, they were done. After they came apart, Big Audio Dynamite had some success and was certainly fun to listen to; Joe's Mescaleros didn't make much of a ripple. It was the band, the time, the energy. Remember . . . to kick it over . . . no one will guide you . . . it's Armagideon time. . . .

The holidays

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If I were being honest, I'd have to say that I haven't really felt the same about the holidays since my father died, which was a long time ago. At some point in the very early '70s, Christmas eve became a gathering at our house to which all sorts of family, extended family, former family, etc. were all invited, and over the course of an evening 30 to 40 people might come and go. I'm not sure just when lasagna became part of it, but it is, and I remember a disastrous year when my mother decided she was not making 5 or 6 trays of lasagna and substituted something else -- grown men were practically in tears. My mom's sister started making creampuffs, and somehow they got there every year whether she did or not. So Christmas eve always meant family, lasagna and creampuffs. Individual faces changed, people came and went, but the core families were always there. It was a very informal gathering, though on occasion my father was moved to say a word or two. It was a chance to stay up late and listen to the grownups talk (my cousins were all much younger than I was), and to me it was as important as Christmas day; maybe moreso. The year my father died (he died in September 1985) was the first year I ever missed it -- Christmas fell on a Wednesday that year (like this year), and I was backed up at work and really couldn't take extra time, and it just didn't seem worth making the trip, so my mother and sister came out to Syracuse the weekend before and they went on and had Christmas eve without me, which was fine with me because the truth was that I couldn't face Christmas eve without my father that year. But the tradition went on, and the other men who had been important to me growing up were still there, and it was a chance to see them again, but I felt my father's absence acutely. We all started having kids, which brought some spark back to the thing, but there was more loss -- Hank died, then Jimmy. Duane moved away. Both my grandparents and my great grandmother died. Two years ago, my mother did something only slightly less unthinkable than not making lasagna -- she moved. Not far, but still, when someone shifts from a house she's been in for 40 years, it's surprising. Now Christmas eve is almost entirely made up of folks from my mom's side of the family, my cousins and their kids (though not all of them, depending on who has custody over the holidays. Modern life). And it is joyous. The girls dress up and scurry around, passing out little presents, getting each other all wound up, chasing their cousins up and down the stairs and staying up too late. There's lasagna and creampuffs (I abstain from the latter, but not the former). But running through it is the ones we've lost, the ones I miss, especially my father. I wish he were here to see these little wonders we're rearing, that he could have been some piece of their lives. I wish there had been more time for us together. But this is the way of things, meetings and partings, and we can't let the ghosts of the past prevent us from being in the present, hard as that may be sometimes.

Skiing on slopes with girls

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Had a magnificent day skiing Mount Snow with the girls and their aunt on Monday. (Lee's out for the season with a stern warning from the bonesetter against taking even a single fall.) Less sunny than Wednesday, so it felt a little colder, and there was some serious wind on the lifts, but on the slopes it was all nice. Conditions were excellent, and even though the place was plenty crowded, we really only had to wait in a serious lift line at the very outset; after that we stayed away from the main lift and were fine, and things thinned out in the afternoon. I had been nervous about Bekah, who after all is only six and has been skiing only seven times, all for her lessons last year. So I figured she'd be going too fast and crowding the edges, like Hannah used to, and not really be in that much control. But Bekah's more of a natural athlete, and this skiing stuff seems like second nature to her. Didn't once feel like she was out of control or in any kind of trouble, even though she was bombing down the hill. Had to keep reminding her to turn, turn, turn and then turn again . . . she had a kid's natural tendency to just keep going down the hill. But she was great, and I could even see her doing some natural edging on her turns. Started out on the easy easy stuff and then took some intermediates, and now I'm convinced she could go on almost any intermediate I'd go on. And that makes it easier, because I'd like to be able to take them both out again, even if I didn't have their aunt's help. And despite the drive -- really, it's 75 miles but two hours, despite my desire to make it less -- I'm really coming to enjoy Mount Snow. The facilities are in great shape, it's full of good intermediate trails, and I always have a good time there. Buzzed through Bennington for the second time in a week, made me think of my old roommate Dan and his family. Learned from e-mail that yes, his folks do still live in the same place (which I could find in a hearbeat). Bennington hasn't changed all that much in all these years, although the fringes have gotten suburbanized (it's amazing how small a town in Vermont that can happen to) and Walmarted and so on, but the downtown is still healthy and pretty. Always liked visiting there. Suddenly flooded with searches for gravestone pictures. It's Christmas so our thoughts turn to . . . tombstones? Maybe it's the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come at work, but I think it's odd that all of a sudden I'd have quite a number of people coming to the site searching for headstone shots. "Headstone Shots" -- could be a nasty alcohol promotion. Better copyright that, pronto.

White Christmas, my ass!

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Well, we all want a white Christmas, but not quite this white, and not right ON Christmas day. My mother called on Monday night to see if we wanted to change all our plans because a big storm was a-comin'. Since she is entirely in the thrall of the weather-fear mongers, I treated this with the same personal concern I have for sea level rise -- if it happens, I'll deal with it. Then on Christmas Eve, as all anybody could talk about was the coming storm, we decided we'd better have a backup plan if it actually hit, and that backup plan did not include getting stuck in Rotterdam ("A Nice Place to Live") for an extra day. So Christmas with my mother and sister has been put off until tonight. Did the other side of the family yesterday morning, and then had a slow but not treacherous slog home around 2 pm, then spent the afternoon trapped in the house watching the snow drift. It's now up to the top of the tires on the Xterra, so any thought that I'm going on a road trip this morning is out of the question right now. They said it was our first Christmas storm since 1978, and it's a doozy. Heavy, slippery, and plenty of it. On the upside, perhaps conditions will stay good for tobogganing on Saturday. I'd take the kids today, but . . . oh, maybe I'll take them today anyway. The girls were magnificent, and Christmas morning was nigh onto magical. Santa brought them some very nice things, and in a couple of cases their parents chose to take the credit for giving them what they really wanted. Hannah finally got her American Girl doll, which she has been lusting after for a couple of years, and which it occurred to me there was no reason on earth she shouldn't have except that they're expensive. I wouldn't think twice about spending that much on a toy for ME, so I finally realized she should have it. Rebekah had wanted a real magic wand, despite several counseling sessions in which she was told that Santa probably couldn't give away his magic. She had promised only to do good things with it, too. As an alternative, she wanted flying pills. She got 2 new sets of fairy wings to wear around the house, which she said was even better than flying pills. More when I can. Much snow awaits my shoveling....

Cultural references, filtered

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I was sitting outside Nutcracker rehearsals yesterday. Another dad was sitting with his son and younger daughter, who took classes there but wasn't in the Nutcracker. At one point the studio door opened and the music spilled out, and she exclaimed, "Barbie In the Nutcracker!" A pause, and then, "I never get to dance to Barbie In The Nutcracker music...." Well, I'm sure Tchaikovsky, P.I., would be, at the least, confused to find that a child of the Aughts thinks his most famous work was produced for, or possibly by, an 11-inch plastic doll with a serious shoe fetish. Popular culture used to be a doorway to "higher" culture, and I think some of that has been lost, especially in cartoons of today. Shows like "Rocky & Bullwinkle" and their subsets were loaded with references to historical events and the arts that formed the basis of my understanding. I had seen some form of the Mona Lisa in cartoons dozens of times before I ever saw a picture of the real thing. There was an entire arc of Bullwinkle that featured "The Ruby Yacht of Omar Kayam" -- believe me, it was YEARS before that meant anything. Bugs Bunny, with less wit and success, did a few historical cartoons as well. Nowadays there is a little bit of that again in shows like Spongebob Squarepants and The PowerPuff Girls, but that's after a very long drought. So, if a little girl thinks that the Nutcracker music (which can be just as brain-sticky as "Holly Jolly Christmas") came from a highly annoying computer-animated feature that has almost nothing to do with the original Nutcracker story, that's fine. Someday she'll discover the original and it will already be full of associations for her.

Enough with the wood rosin already!

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I'm not trying to be informative or anything, but if you came here looking for glycerol ester of wood rosin (I mentioned it in passing in one blog long long ago, but it took me high in the search engines' rankings), I suggest you look here, or consider this excerpt from that site: The Health Canada approval allows up to 100 ppm of the wood rosin derivative in beverages. The product improves the stability of citrus-oil flavor concentrates and beverages and is used as a weighting/clouding agent in such beverages as sports drinks. Most thrillingly of all, this tremendous improvement meant consistency in beverage production worldwide. PowerAde in San Francisco and PowerAde in Beijing are guaranteed to have the same level of clouding. Think of it! Enough!

Burl Ives must die

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It is time to end the tyranny of "Holly Jolly Christmas," a song which gets stuck in the heads of millions each year, driving them to a slow, sputtering insanity, and if desecration of the grave of a beloved old leftist folksinger is the only way to end this, count me in. For starters, I always hated that "Rudolph" special. For some reason, the animation always creeped me out; plus, it was the same animation used for the electric shaver ads featuring Santa riding a Norelco, an image I could neither understand nor wipe from my mind. So, that's one strike. Also, I could never stand Burl Ives. I didn't like his voice, I didn't like his fatness, and as a child I suspected there was something more than slightly evil about the guy. (And that was before I knew he had played Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," big blubbery hand on Maggie's belly, raging about mendacity.) On top of that, one of the only record albums we owned when I was a kid was a Burl Ives platter of "children's songs," horrifying ditties rendered in that jaunty Burl Ives style, including a bowdlerized version of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" that, even with the removal of references to "little streams of alcohol," was a completely inappropriate song for children. Cigarette trees? Jayzus. Two strikes. And then, there's that hideous, unstoppable song, which seems to be nothing more than an endless loop of the chorus. Once in your brain, it never leaves. It'll be April and a few bars of it will still sneak out. I hesitated even to name it, for fear of infecting others. The song must die. And the singer with it. This is my fatwa. (Great, now I'm going to get Googled for fatwa.)

As I was saying...

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Crazy day. Reminded me why I needed to take yesterday off. But that crisp, cold air is still in my lungs, and there's a little bit of weariness in my quads, so I can feel like I still have some of the mountain with me. I only started skiing two years ago. I had done it a few times in high school, with a few Exploring friends up at Oak Mountain in Speculator. I was decently good at it, but it was hellishly expensive (for instance, if I recall, the lift ticket and rental together were $12. Well, that was about 6 hours work at the time.) Then I moved to sunny Syracuse, home of plenty of snow but inadequate hills, and I much preferred to blow my money on alcohol and rock 'n' roll than on skiing. Did a little cross-country now and then, but that was about it. Then we moved back here, and there was much more of a ski culture around, and the Nagano Olympics piqued my interest. Then, after several winters stuck inside with little children in various stages of sickness, resulting in raging cabin fever for me, I decided that Hannah and I were going to take ski lessons and be forced to get outside on a regular basis. So we looked at all the programs around and picked the one that was cheapest and closest, over at Bousquet in Pittsfield. Small mountain, very friendly, and enough steep terrain to terrify a beginner. Then last year, Bekah and Lee started in, too, and we'll do it again this year. We've added some occasional runs to Jiminy Peak or, more often, Gore, and now I'm really coming to enjoy Mount Snow. I've gotten good enough to get in over my head, and I've got skis that are too fast for my own good. Let's see, started skiing AND running at 40, re-started biking at 42 . . . starting to look like a midlife crisis? Only to the untrained eye. I think that when the average guy turns 40, he gains an unprecedented interest in running and the Civil War. Not sure why, but it's happened to many people I know, including me. Besides, it's not like I started shopping for sports cars.... I've been doing in-line skating since I was 34, so that's in no way implicated in this discussion.

Winter wonderland

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The main problem with skiing in Vermont is driving into the sun all the way out, and driving into the sun all the way back. But in between, it's magnificent. Went to Mount Snow, a longer drive than usual because I got stuck behind the Sysco truck headed for, of course, Mount Snow. But I wasn't in a hurry and the place was pretty much empty. 14 degrees when I arrived, but the sun was out and there was no wind, the conditions were fantastic and there was virtually no one on the slopes. Ice on the trees was crackling and falling, the air was clear and sweet, and on the first run I remembered where all those muscles were and how to use them. Paradise. One of the most peaceful places in the world for me is on a chairlift, all by myself, breathing it all in. It's church, outside where it always belonged. Mount Snow is great, lots of interesting intermediate trails, though I do find the naming conventions could be a little more informative. Got in over my head just a little on a couple of trails -- tried the bumps and fell in so deep I had to dig out the tail of my ski; ended up staring at a part of Committed for about 3 minutes before deciding I didn't like any of the lines available from where I stood, so I walked up and across the trail to improve my drop-in, and then everything was fine. I skied hard and got in a little over 3 hours on the slopes, but then my quads were screaming and my feet weren't turning exactly when I told them to, so I had to invoke the No Injuries Policy and get out of there before I took a fall. Great fun though, and a couple of good conversations with some older guys on the lifts. Went hard and went home.Still a bunch of signs up in the area honoring Kelly Clark, last year's snowboarding gold medalist, and that for some reason fills me with that aw-shucks-ain't-this-country-great sort of feeling, the same sort of feeling that Jim Shea has pouring from him. Very cool to see a town support its local athletes, and very cool to see the definitions of athletics constantly being pushed to encompass more and more human endeavor. More tonight.

Me for skiing

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Off tomorrow. Thinking Mount Snow. It's going to be cold, but I take what I can get, and the conditions are supposed to be fantastic. First ski day of the season! Very psyched. Passed a very pleasant hour last night watching running on OLN (Outdoor Life Network). Coverage of marathons, triathlons, and a duathlon, which I wasn't familiar with. It's 5k run, 30k bike, 5k run. Leave off that last 5k, and I could definitely do it. Hoping today's therapy session will kick out the ITB problems, which my therapist actually thinks originate further up my thigh. She gave me a couple of new stretches to try, though it's hard to stretch such a long muscle. I'll get at it tonight. More work on the Indo Board, too, which has been good for my legs overall and has strengthened me up around the knees. I just keep letting myself get out of balance by slacking off on parts of my body that I think are in good enough shape. But now, having watched some world class running -- not something you see often on TV -- I'm psyched once again to get back into it and get over these injuries. But tomorrow, the snow! Time for some fun.

Good day

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My advice is that one should always start the day with a therapeutic massage, grab a cup of Starbucks on the way in, then arrive fashionably and casually late to a meeting on philosophical issues (as opposed to actual crises). This will, in my experience of the last several hours, set you up for a very pleasant day. Transitions around here, which will be going on for a while. Last night was the sendoff for a treasured colleague, of the sort they don't make 'em like any more (and if they did, they'd be subject to any number of lawsuits, I'm sure), a great person to shoot the breeze with, and one who always reminds me to get home to the kids. Lots of nice tributes of just the right tone. I was going to say a few sarcastic things but I just couldn't do it. The Governor came for a bit, which was very touching and a real testament to how important this guy has been to our program here for the past several years. Real shot in the arm just to listen to the Gov for a few minutes -- he has a tremendous ability in a few words to remind us why we got into this and what we're trying to do here, the legacy we want to leave for New York's environment. AND, even cooler than that, other of my treasured colleagues brought me a signed copy of the bill we got through Congress late this summer, which just blew me away. For one thing, nobody can even remember the last time we got a stand-alone bill through, and it was against tremendous odds, caught up in various national political agendas, and a very tricky thing to craft. But we got it done. And while these days it may not be all that hugely impressive to have something I worked on signed by W, someday the politics of it all will have fallen away and the idea that I was an integral part of that process will be all that remains, and I think that'll be cool. How many people get their work signed into law? And I got paid to do it... And now it's hanging up in the dining room -- Stephanie had it framed for me. She's too good to me. The absolute key moment, when I knew we had the wrapped up, I wasn't even in D.C. I was at home, talking on the cell phone while herding the kids to the school bus on one of the first mornings of school. I don't like to divide my attention when I'm with them like that, but sometimes it's necessary, and since I couldn't be in DC at the time, it was the only way to get it done. Felt very odd to be negotiating legislation while standing on the corner with the neighborhood kids, waiting for the bus to come on a sunny September morning.

Nutcracker, survived

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Very interesting drive to Taconic Hills, as we did not get the threatened combination of sleet, snow and freezing rain, but instead got plain old rain, which when combined with a big pile of fresh wet snow on the ground creates a tremendous fog in the valleys of the Taconic Parkway -- and the fog on the way out, which kept visibility down to about 200 feet in the afternoon light, only worsened once darkness fell. Beautiful, thick, white fog, like a deep snowstorm without the graininess. Got there and back without incident, but as I've said, no one falls asleep on the Taconic. The performance was perhaps the best I've seen, and now I've seen a few of these. Hannah was good as a pink polchinelle (a clown, for those not immersed in Nutcracker-speak), and the rest of the show sparkled. I took a lot of pictures, of which maybe a dozen came out well, which ain't a bad ratio considering the limitations of shooting a lighted production from a seat. After the show, Hannah and I had dinner at the Martindale Chief Diner ("A 1958 Silk City Diner"), which is one of those diner landmarks you're never quite sure about . . . could be great, could feature the original food. Well, it was about what would be expected, but it was fine. Very odd that a roadside diner in Claverack would be hit with a post-theatre rush. Lee went to my niece's birthday party with Rebekah while we were out in Taconic Hills, and we all hit the driveway at the same time. Got the girls in bed as quickly as possible and hit the couch together, where we watched, and, I'm ashamed to say, laughed at, "Dude, Where's My Car?" I just want to apologize....

Kathleen, so serene...

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Kathleen Turner's in rehab? Well, I know, Mrs. Robinson was a drunk. But I'm shocked. And disappointed. As if that weren't enough, Meryl Streep has been forced to appear with Nicolas Cage. Hmm... and Kathleen Turner has also been forced to appear with Nicolas Cage. Coincidence? (Title reference courtesy of Tommy James and the Shondells. Really.)

Tropic of Cancer

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It seems difficult to believe, but I'm having a bit of a hard time slogging through Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer." Maybe I'm just not in the mood for it, or the right place in my life. When I was 20, I thought it was brilliant. I read some Miller again when I was about 30, but then I was in much more of an Anais Nin mode. Now a good chunk of it seems like shock for shock's sake, and more than a little sad. Perhaps it was always that way, and I just couldn't really perceive the sadness. When I was younger, my affinity for grit, dirt, decay was much stronger. I still like the rough edges of urban spaces, but I know that you can't live on the edge forever. You stop being edgy and eventually become pathetic. Not that Miller's brand of promiscuity ever looked attractive to me anyway . . . I'm afraid I'm a little too fastidious to thrill to back-alley acts with Parisian whores (great -- now I'm really going to get Googled by freaks). I'm also a little too fastidious to read "Tropic of Cancer" on the couch at the ballet school, so instead I took a biography of Lincoln with me last night while I waited for Hannah. Ended up sitting out in the hall and nodding off more than a few times. Noticed this morning that the book had won "The Lincoln Prize", which hardly seemed a surprise at all. I couldn't seem to find a bio that took the middle-ground on detail, so I erred on the side of too much and now I'm paying for my mistake. I finished "Dino" last week, a much more interested read than one would expect, and strangely, I find that I now have knowledge of Dean Martin in my head. Knowledge that must be shared. Let me tell you, when you broach the topic of Dean Martin in casual conversation with your peers, here in 2002, you can get some very interesting looks. And then the backing-away thing....

Top Search Terms

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When I started tracking hits on my genealogy and Essex County history sites, I had no idea there would be so many people seraching for information on Nathaniel Mallory, Zadoch Nichols, and the history of Mineville. Granted, in this case, "many" means "more than 5", but still... I thought I'd get a lot of hits for the abolitionists John Brown or Gerrit Smith, but not so. I get a LOT of hits looking for Mineville, a lot for Keene, some for Jay, and quite a few for North Elba, but it seems they're actually searching for Elba, NY, which is out in the western part of the state. (No, I don't know why it's North Elba.) The most searches come for the history of Crown Point, which is the most extensive of the histories and has the most names, so that makes some sense. I also get a lot of hits for "old school photographs" or "old college photographs," which is just what I've titled those pages, but it makes me wonder just exactly what people are looking for when they Google those terms. I've had several hits for "Bennington College photographs" -- I can produce any two of those search terms, but not all three, sorry to say. I had one hit not too long ago for "plastic surgery disasters photographs" -- that person went away disappointed, I'm glad to say. And I picked up a hit from someone looking for information on "rosin allergies" -- again, I can tell you about rosin (well, about glycerol ester of wood rosin, anyway), and I can tell you about allergies, but if you're looking for a synergy of those terms, you're gonna have to look elsewhere. I've also attracted a few hits from people looking for some bizarre porn, but I can't imagine that when they see a summary of the sites that they would think they've found it here. Worried about what kinds of people might turn up now that the words "Nutcracker" and "Mother Ginger's skirt" are in my blog, but these are the chances you take. Maybe it was better not to know....

Nutcracker trouble

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The snow day yesterday meant the school where Saturday's performance is being held (and if you think a school is an iffy venue, you haven't seen the very handsome auditorium at Taconic Hills High School) wasn't available for the construction of the sets, which means that has to be done tonight, which means NO DRESS REHEARSAL. The kids are just going to go on, have one very quick runthrough so they can get the sense of the stage, and that's it. We're going to have the same situation at The Egg next week. Hannah has played her role before, and has been on the Taconic stage twice before, so she shouldn't have any trouble. But for Bekah and the others who haven't danced it before, they're going to come out onto an unknown stage, unable to see anything because they're inside Mother Ginger's skirt, go running out from underneath her skirt and then god only knows what will happen. Hope for the best. Nasty weather predicted for tomorrow, too, which always makes the Taconic Parkway (aka "The Little Highway That Cried") interesting. It is one of the loveliest roads in the state, but a 55-mile-per-hour road with grade crossings and CURBS makes for an intense driving experience. There is never a fear of dozing off while driving the Taconic. Deer through the windshield is another matter. My mother is concerned that our Christmas present will be too big to take home in the Xterra. This frightens me.

Big slushy snowballs and The Monkey Trail

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Wet, heavy, perfect snow for snowballs and snowmen. Not so magnificent for sledding, but we gave it a shot down at the school anyway. Lots of snowball throwing and good silly fun. Not much that's better than giggling girls in the snow. The best, slickest run on the steepest hill is, of course, right up against the school building, so the whole time they're on it I'm watching with a parent's trepidation that they're going to go headlong into the bricks. They were careful and it didn't happen. Made me remember our favorite toboggan trail when we were kids, The Monkey Trail. It was at Collins Park in Scotia, which generally had some good, long slopes -- nothing extremely steep, but you could get some nice long rides in the right conditions. What seemed like a million of us guys would drag our rigs -- toboggans, sleds. battered flying saucers, and one of the first of the plastic contraptions, known as "The Kitchen Sink" -- all the way up across Mohawk Avenue and to the park behind the library, where there was a long ridge that led from the parking lot and picnic areas down to the lake. Local legend had it that this had once been a Mohawk torture ground (no, I'm not kidding). It was a great sledding hill, and it attracted a lot of people, but it wasn't much of a challenge. We would build ramps and jumps and so on to make it more dangerous. But when those weren't enough, we would wander down to the extreme edge of the park, to a little space about three feet wide that ran along the park fence, down the hill toward the lake. The trail was a little twisted, quite bumpy, and had some significant tree roots in the way. There was a chain link fence on the left and trees on the right, and in order to deal with the roots we had to pile up snow on them and make little jumps. It was fast as hell. It was The Monkey Trail. It was generally too dangerous for unsteerable things like flying saucers, but with a fully loaded toboggan of boys, you could go so screamingly fast you could almost make it to the lake. It was very cool. And like any good parent, I'd kill my kids if they ever went down something like it.

Snow came!

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Just enough to get me out of my travel obligations for the morning, which was fine with me. Cancelled that, rolled out late to start the shoveling -- heavy stuff, but I wasn't in a big hurry, so it was fine. Girls were out for about two and a half hours messing around in the snow, they couldn't be happier. Now they're tired and full of hot chocolate, just as they should be. Wish we could go tobogganing over at Albany Municipal Golf Course later on, but we've got dance class in the late afternoon. Well, maybe we can work it out anyway. Made a great label for the new Christmas CD. Got my final addresses for the Christmas cards (lost my address book in the great crash of Labor Day). We'll Nuke YouI'm of very mixed feelings about all the sabre-rattling. I think the case is there to be made, but that the administration hasn't bothered to make it. I think that you can't threaten to go to war without being ready to go to war, so all the preparations in that direction certainly are necessary to show our resolve. But I've gotta say that the message from the administration, as filtered through the New York Post yesterday, was a little alarming: "WE'LL NUKE YOU". That may not be the message that causes moderate Iraqis to join the fight against Hussein. On the other hand, it's not ambiguous. And I'm a little sick of people who think this has all happened of a sudden, that Bush was handed a perfectly stable set of circumstances and mucked it up. There were eight years between Bushes, when we essentially acted as if none of this were happening. That's my political contribution for the day.

Snow's coming! Take cover!

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Jesus, people, it's the Northeast. It snows. Sometimes a whole bunch. Get over it... I think the media are to blame. Anyway, freezing rain and sleet, with a bunch of inches of snow on top, coming tonight. Looks like I'm NOT driving to Newburgh tomorrow (field trip to look at some kind of burning technology). We'll see if it's possible to get off the hill in the morning or not. Did I mention that I got ALL my Christmas cards done? Written (pithily and with brevity). Rubber stamped (messily and with Christmas colors). Mailed (expeditiously and with extreme prejudice). Okay, so I've got a couple of stragglers, but ALMOST all of them are done. Burned a new Christmas CD last night, too. It was hard to decide if using little snatches of William S. Burroughs narrating "The Junkie's Christmas" was too dark, but in the end I decided to go with a few of them. I love the story, but others may not quite get it. So I reduced it to three snippets, odd and out of place, such as: "'Merry Christmas, Doctor.' The doctor said nothing in return." Why couldn't I just love Celine Dion like everyone else? On the upside, some real new Christmas songs, including Cracker's kickass "Merry Christmas, Emily" and the long-sought "Sock It To Me Santa" from Marshall Crenshaw. Gotta run and get home before the storm hits. Panic! Panic!

Zoiks, what a day!

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Non-stop. Running from one meeting to another. Tomorrow I am actually triple-booked at a couple of times, including a meeting with a major famous pain-in-the-ass. Hopefully, he won't actually show. We've gone from zero to sixty around here, which doesn't bode well for sneaking some days off for skiing. But I'm going to -- I got virtually no time off at all last year (and an abbreviated summer vacation), so now there will have to be some give. Mount Snow is pretty much completely open, so I MUST get over there next week. Ice on the river today, quite lovely -- the ice breaker came through and broke things up pretty well, but it looked like it was reforming quickly. (My office has a beautiful view of the mighty Hudson.) Our lake is frozen, and if it doesn't snow it may make for decent skating, though I'm sure the kids' skates no longer fit. We didn't skate at all last winter, mostly because we were skiing, and partly because I really need soft-booted skates and can't justify the expense to myself. But the old stiff boots do bad things to my heel, and they do it much faster than my ski boots. It's supposed to warm up on into the week, so who knows if the ice will be thick enough this weekend. The lake was frozen a lot last year, but the surface was never great, and the year before it was constantly snowed on.

Song of the day

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"Carmelita." Zevon. I pawned my Smith-Corona....

Old School Shout Out

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Okay, so it's a little undignified for a 42-year-old white dad to say, "I wanna give a shout out to...." But to any of the folks who are browsing the old school pics, drop me a line if you haven't already. Love to hear from you. The link's on the left somewhere. I was going to try to make something of the fact that the pics were old, of an old school, and on film (an old-school medium), but I got to the point where wise words of a colleague, spoken as I was reaching desperately for a pun, rang in my head: "It's not supposed to be work!" So, consider the associations made, and pun 'em if you've got 'em.

Warm California Sun

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Well, it was warmer than 6 degrees, anyway. It got up around 60 in Sacramento, we saw some sun, and there were oranges in the Capitol park, but I couldn't figure out how to free them from their bondage without having to explain myself to The Man. There are some things state agency executives Just Don't Do, and rustling oranges at another state's capitol building is probably one of them. There's a certain agreeable rhythm to a cross-country flight -- takeoff, movie starts (Spy Kids 2. Seen it. Twice.), drinks, food, drinks, bathroom/leg stretching break, drinks, end of video, last break, and then just as you're getting restless and tired of listening and reading and solitaire on the Palm Pilot, you touch down. Of course, you touch down in Philly or Pitt, so you've got another hour of this nonsense before you're home, but right now, it's okay. I think this is the seventh cross-country trip in the past couple of years, one of the few perks of the job. If it's a perk to worry about being stranded, having to reroute from Philly to Pitt, and spending hours in the nearly abandoned USAirways terminal at SFO with zero food or drink options. Oddest thing ever : in order to balance our unusually empty Airbus 321, which had a cargohold full of lettuce, we all had to sit behind row 18 until we'd hit level flight. Odd, no? Never heard of this on a jet before, but we did it, and I took my patented takeoff nap so it wouldn't matter much whether they'd really managed to make the right calculation based on "average passenger weight for wintertime." They really told us that. Anyway... Not much play on this trip. Stayed at the new Sheraton Grand in Sacramento, nice but still ironing out the kinks. Didn't even try out the pool. But Thursday afternoon we took the Land Shark (Lincoln Town Car, The Car That Doesn't Feel The Road) up to Napa, via the back roads, and had a nice time touring wineries and an olive oil tasting place. Shipped home a bunch of stuff for Christmas, flavored oils and so on. Weather was agreeable (especially considering back home was getting socked). Up around 60, but cool at night. Got in one run, and hit the ileotibial band wall right away. Not happy about that. Adjusted badly to the time change, and now I'm having a hard time adjusting back. Didn't even see the ocean this time. Newly discovered old Zevon: "We made mad love, shadow love, Random love and abandoned love Accidentally, like a martyr The hurt gets worse And the heart gets harder"

Pikachu Eats Times Square<

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Pikachu Eats Times Square! New York Thanksgiving Pikachu eats Times Square, yes? Bright pink tongue, happy. That's my haiku for Thanksgiving in NYC, which was fabulous expensive fun. Now I've done New Year's Eve and Thanksgiving in New York (albeit 22 years apart) -- what else could there be? The girls were wonderful, the room at the Dumont Plaza sparkling (though overheated), the weather chilly but not frigid. We saw the inflating of the balloons, a very enjoyable little stroll around the Upper West Side. Got up not so very early on parade morning and made our way to Times Square (where potties were available, if necessary, in the hotels), and after a while, through some attrition among the underdressed, and some good will, Lee was able to squeeze Hannah up to the front where a batch of kids was sitting. I held Bekah, all 60 pounds of her, up for a while, and then there was space for her, too. I am not a person for crowds or mass spectacles, but if you've ever watched the parade on TV and thought it would be fun to be there in person, all I can say is, save up all your bread and fly TransLove Airways to [END outdated Animals reference] New York City. There was such energy, such a friendly, joyous buzz in the crowd, spontaneous bursts of applause for New York's Finest and New York's Bravest (though the real heroes of an event like that are New York's Strongest, the Department of Sanitation -- and yes, that's really what they call them), and the balloons. The balloons are huge. Gigantic. Just amazing. The day was fairly windless, so we didn't have any dangerous excitement, but even so, when a giant yellowish mac-and-cheese-box dinosaur starts drifting over your head . . . well, that's a New York experience. Lovely dinner with sister-in-law in Brooklyn, who put on huge amounts of food, and it was all good. Friday was spent on the tip of Manhattan -- over to the Statue of Liberty (cold and windy!) and Ellis Island (lovely, and coincident with Hannah's school unit on immigration, so she was thrilled). Then we went to Ground Zero, partly to show some of what I do, partly to show the girls that I could be involved in a response like that and I'd be okay. Bekah was very interested and had wanted to see it all along. Hannah was very skittish about it. Then we went to the Winter Garden, which I'd never been in. A very special space to a lot of New Yorkers, and nice, though not all that much of a garden. Still, palm trees in New york, and beautiful. Plus, there was ice cream. Then we went up to Union Square and walked through the Christmas flea market, which was fun. And on Saturday morning we went to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, strolled through Macy's, had lunch at Grand Central and were on our way home. I've never been such a tourist in my life. And all these things were fabulous, they're all New York, but they're not all that makes it so magical. There were so many little moments, such as all the subway and street musicians. Bekah had a ball dancing along to a pair of roots blues players in the subway. There was a man dancing with a doll in the 14th St. 4/5/6. There was a delightful busker who could speak snatches of numerous languages, to the delight of the Japanese and Germans in line for the Liberty Island ferry. Rebekah marvelled at the windows of the button stores on Broadway, oohing and aahing over the variety of buttons and trim and plastic tiaras. Just a delight, and truly, so much city they had to name it twice.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2002 listed from newest to oldest.

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