Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fast-forward on the calendar

Where do the days go? How has it been 15 days since my past post? How did I not think it worthy to share some thoughts on the radical change at work, the Mike Doughty show at Joe's Pub, our plans for Thanksgiving, the look back at Thanksgiving, Black Friday in the City, Christmas decorations and house progress? How do the weeks pass so quickly with the basement remaining so unfinished? How did we think we could tile that floor ourselves? How are we going to pay for having someone do it for us? (Actually, that one's easy: continue to not buy things with credit cards, which I've done a pretty good job of the past few weeks.)

Here's how Thanksgiving ended for me. Well, not ended, but at some point between dinner and dessert, I let myself relax a bit while I monitored the site for work. I may try to put in for more of the actual holidays in the future. I think there tends to be a greater chance that less will happen on those days, making for a relatively easy day "on call" than on other days during the holiday breaks.

Ambitious plans for tomorrow. Hopefully I can get my ass out of bed early enough to accomplish them all. No details yet, because then it will look worse if I don't get out of the house.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I don't have an iPhone, but I can tell you what it can't do. It will NOT get your flight from Chicago to Newark off the ground any sooner. I'm calling bullshit on that one. Newark is my home airport and Chicago is probably the destination to which I fly most often, and when you involve two of the 10 busiest airports in the country, you're not going to be able to go online and look at a Weather.com satellite image and convince anyone that it's OK to release your plane. Since it's a rather short flight -- not even two hours when you're flying east -- it's also an easy one to hold on the ground when air traffic gets backed up or a weather system moves through either area.

Sorry, Apple, you'll have to do better than that one.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Times may vary

If there's one thing I cannot gauge -- and I'm usually pretty good at gauging things, particularly driving times based on distance and traffic -- it is how much time and effort will be needed to complete a home-improvement project.

This whole homeowning thing remains new, as it will until May. In recent years, I've taken to considering things like jobs and residences new for the first 365 days, until I've spent every part of the year in the new spot. So while we're now learning the nuances of colder weather and keeping heating bills down -- which we never had to do in our seemingly self-heated, second-floor apartments of the previous five years -- we're also learning that things aren't getting done quite as fast as we thought they might.

OK, so maybe the "we" is mostly "me." More than a month after I ripped up the carpet from the stairs leading down to the basement, I finally found the drive to prime the bare wooden steps and install the self-adhesive vinyl tiles. Knowing that another delay could threaten the entire project, we decided to forgo a plywood layer over the wood-stripped steps (essentially rendering any warranty on the tiles invalid). So far, I've only done the steps themselves, not the risers (the vertical part of a step, you know), so they only look good from the top heading down. Coming back up, we're still forced to look at the old, unpainted (or poorly painted) wood. But I'll get to that soon. The tiling still took me two afternoons to accomplish, when I expected to be able to do the entire stairway -- risers included -- in a day.

But this weekend, we accomplished more overall than we had in months, yet still fell short because of one estimate that was way off. On Saturday, we cleared out the finished part of the basement, leaving me with no obstacles as I attempt to try my hand at interior decorating when I install paneling over the faux brick and shingled sections. Plus, the floor is clear for the tiling -- for which we may bite the bullet and hire a contractor, if his estimate is reasonable enough, just so that it will be done by Thanksgiving. We've already bought the bulk of the supplies, so hopefully the bulk of the expenditures are behind us. We shall see.

Today, however, the big outdoor project of clearing away the ivy that surrounds the house on three sides knocked us down a few pegs. Our house, as you can see, essentially sits inside a retaining wall because of its location on a mild slope. With such little space between the foundation and the wall, the previous owners went with ivy instead of grass or another landscaping option. But we're sick of the ivy (and its tendency to cling to the house) and want to mulch the area and put in shrubbery of our own choosing. (So long, rhododendrons; hello, lilac.)

I thought the ivy would come up with some determined pulling, but I forgot those seventh-grade science lessons about how strong roots are. Instead, it took us several hours of straining, cutting, dirt-inhaling work to roll back the ivy like a carpet, Casey doing the pulling and me the cutting -- at some times through some very thick roots -- until we'd rolled everything from the front of the house onto the sidewalk. With the afternoon getting late -- and our muscles aching -- we cleared only the front, and only the above-ground roots and leaves at that. In its place now is a series of bare, leafless roots tangled like strands of Christmas lights out of the box at the start of the season. We still have to clear the front section and pull up the two smaller -- and hopefully more manageable -- areas on either side of the house. What we -- at least I -- naively thought might be a one-day, or at most, one-weekend project will now certainly be a three- or four-day effort.

And we've still got to call the city and find out how to discard the tangled mounds of ivy, because we're not sure if they must be placed in bags (a difficult, if not impossible task) or if placing them at the curb and scheduling pickup will suffice. I'll have to get out tomorrow to take pictures of the front and the piles of ivy for the full effect. Hopefully, once the new landscaping is in place, we'll appreciate our effort.

Nice voice-over work, if you can get it

Movies will often have flashbacks or scene-setting narratives from the past to set up the main plot, but I've never seen one as hokey as what was used for the opening sequence in Space Cowboys: the old scenes featured young, obscure actors portraying the characters that are played by Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood and James Cromwell -- only they have Jones, Eastwood and Cromwell providing the voices for the young characters. So, in a live-action movie, three iconic, veteran actors are doing voice-over work. It's particularly jarring because all three have such distinctive voices; without looking up from my computer, I knew each of them immediately.

It makes for a strange scene. The look-back is in black-and-white, with young anonymous actors moving their lips to the lines, while the voices of three Oscar-nominated legends are coming out of their mouths. It's like watching some over-dub of a foreign-language film.

And Clint directed this? Jeez.