Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lakisha Jones or Melinda Doolittle

American Idol is a guilty pleasure. Much of the time, I watch it to see the hideous people who think they're Streisand but sound more like me (I'm not known for my singing!). It's like a terrible car wreck--you just have to look.

But sometimes there's some real talent on there. This season, there are two amazing singers. If this show has any value at all, one of these two will win: either Lakisha Jones or Melinda Doolittle.

The problem is that a lot of the voting is driven by dopey little teenagers, but that's not really a problem. If the Idol voters get it wrong, these two will still have careers in music. They're too good to avoid moving on to bigger things. Just ask Jennifer Hudson.

New job and other stuff

First, the job. Today was day three. In a way, it was more like day one, since the boss was at a conference Monday and Tuesday. Not that I didn't manage to keep busy for the first two days, but it doesn't really count until the boss gets there and starts really getting things rolling.

All three days went well. Everyone continues to be very nice, and I'm already doing good, productive work. One fun thing came today when I dealt with an employee issue in one of our Massachusetts offices. For many people, that would be absolutely nothing of consequence. One of my brothers jets around the world regularly as part of his job. But for me, a guy who has never worked in a multi-state company, this was fun. It's especially exciting to have responsibility for locations in so many states.

So, on to the other stuff. First a note from an article I read a day or two ago in the Times. It was about scandalous events in the NFL. The first name of one of the players it mentioned was Pacman. Yes, Pacman, like the game. WTF? What were his parents thinking?!

On a lighter note, I've found a new travel show I love (actually, we both love it). Our favorite travel guy in general is Rudy Maxa. I even read and comment on his blog from time to time. But, for travel in Italy, there's a new champion. His name is Francesco da Mosto, and his show on the Travel Channel is called Francesco's Italy Top to Toe. He does a wonderful job showing the most wonderful locales in Italy, and he does it with charm and intelligence. Most of all, his delivery makes it feel like a friend from Italy is telling you about his country. He could be with you in your living room, from the sound of his voice. Very comfortable and friendly. If you like travel shows, I highly recommend this one.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I love nice balls

Yes, there's nothing quite so tasty as big, meaty balls. Italian balls are a particular favorite.

So Marc and I bought some ground beef, and I got to work. (What? What did you think I meant?)

As I type this, a nice big pot of meat sauce, full of lovely meatballs, is bubbling away in the kitchen. I made the sauce first. A large can of crushed tomatoes, a medium-size can of crushed tomatoes "with Italian spices" (don't ask about the combo--it's what was in the cabinet) and two small cans of sauce went into the pot. Then I added dried oregano ("just the right amount"--don't ask me about measurements; I leave that to people like Bokey and Anita), chopped up a large onion & dumped that in, and then added about a half pound of the ground beef, broken up into little pieces.

While the sauce started to cook, I assembled the balls. Ground beef (nice fatty "80% lean"--and I love that they even use the word "lean") to which I added oregano, garlic salt, basil, a couple of eggs, a can of tomato paste and something else I'm forgetting right now. I do much better at remembering ingredients when I'm standing there making stuff. Okay, so we'll call that last part the secret ingredient. :)

Marc stepped into the kitchen to help at that point. I shaped the meatballs, and he started browning them in a skillet with a little olive oil in the bottom (you need a little olive oil to start, but the meatballs make plenty of grease themselves in no time).

As he was doing this, the smell from the big sauce pot was getting really good. (I should mention that intermittent sauce stirring is a good thing, even though it's cooked on low heat. Never can get too much stirring!) As the meatballs finished browning, we added them to the sauce. This was a large batch of meatballs, so it took Marc a couple of rounds in the large skillet to get them all browned.

Now it's all in one pot, slowly cooking its way to culinary heaven. I can't wait! Yum!

Update: We decided to chop up and add some fresh basil to the sauce (Marc's idea), as well as some black pepper (my idea) and salt (a joint resolution). The end result is fabulous. In fact, Marc officially declared it "fabulous!" :)

Virginia: on the cutting edge of civil rights

Breaking news: Virginia expresses 'profound regret' for slavery

I have nothing against such an apology, but it's Virginia's track record that makes such an apology appropriate. There are plenty of examples in recent history to show why this apology is important, but that's the problem--recent history.

Instead of apologies that do little, there's a real need for education, social assistance and efforts that will let the disadvantaged in our society get a fair chance. Education is the most important piece of the puzzle.

As the simplest example, I like to point to the Intel finalists. Roughly the same thing happens every year, so let's look at this year's results. There are 40 finalists nationwide. 12 of them are from New York.

Why such a disproportionately large number? Despite what many parents around here might like to think, I doubt that kids in New York State are any smarter than the average kids in other parts of the country. Certainly, there are other states (like Virginia, which had only 1 finalist) with plenty of resources to educate their kids.

But that's the difference. We actually spend on educating our kids. Yes, plenty of people here complain about high taxes. I especially love the people who make no bones about saying, "our kids are grown up, so why should we keep paying high school taxes?" (Excuse me, but Marc and I don't have any kids in the schools--you never hear us complaining about our school taxes.) In other words, while we have cheapskates here, too, the overall view in this state is that good schools are worth the cost.

You may feel I've strayed from the original point of this post, but I don't think so. I don't really expect to see Virginia become a beacon of civil rights. Their recent history of legislating homophobia--and plenty of other examples of the prevailing attitudes of many in that state--make me pessimistic in that regard. Yes, there are bigots everywhere (and there were slave owners in New York--there just isn't much of a question around here that slavery was regrettable, while recent comments by a Virginia legislator helped spark this apology, 140+ years after the fact); it's just that some places seem to have more than their fair share of hatred and bigotry.

I try to be more pragmatic. We need to push for a better educational system in this country. Education is the one reliable way to progress as a society. Education is the route to tolerance and, while we're at it, to a more productive society.

If we had a whole country of kids educated the way the average kid gets educated around here, imagine what a powerhouse this country really could be! We wouldn't have to worry about cheap labor overseas, because the average American worker would be doing things on a much higher level, and there'd be no need for those jobs to remain here.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

All quiet

Not much to report from here. Marc has finally given me a break from the sexual marathon that is life with him. Wow, I'm worn out, but I thought I should at least tell you I'm alive and well.

Well, time to head back to bed.

(Are you buying this?) :)

No, I didn't think so. Well, years ago it wasn't too far from that, and a boy can dream of the good old days, right? Right!

Besides, I'm an optimist, and I hold out hope that we'll get back to three times a day or more. For now, I'll take anything I can get! (And he did say I'll be getting lucky tonight. So I'll take that!)

So what's really going on around here? Basic domestic tranquility. Running errands, paying bills, doing chores and so on.

We got a new HEPA filter for the Electrolux today. Isn't that exciting? Well, actually, it is for us. Getting the new HEPA filter brings the Electrolux back to its peak efficiency. If we actually replaced it when it was due, that might have helped. So now that we have a new HEPA filter, using the vacuum cleans up the place and leaves us with nothing but fresh air. With our allergies--and working against the three dogs--it's a very nice thing.

Right now, Marc's working on some stuff for his job, and I'm trying not to get too nervous about my new job with less than two days until I start there.

That's about it from here. Now I think I'll go see what I can assemble for dinner.

Hope everyone's having a good weekend!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Such exciting times

The sad thing is that I've had many blogging ideas over the past few days, but I haven't found time to blog and have now forgotten what those ideas were.

Anyhow, I'm now officially between jobs. The new boss told me to feel free to take an extra week off (that would be next week), and it's tempting. The old job would pay me severance for that week (as they're doing for this one), but I'm anxious to dive into the new job. So I think I'll start on Monday as planned.

I might be more interested in extra time off, but Marc can't take vacation time now, since he's only in his new job a few months. So it's not like we could be traveling.

In the meantime, I'm getting little things done. Today, I started with a visit to the dentist for my semi-annual cleaning. I also was due for x-rays. I just love that. I have a strong gag reflex, especially for pieces of x-ray film. For some reason, other things aren't quite as bad on my gag reflex. ;)

Anyhow, all was well with my teeth. The dentist keeps commenting on my old fillings. He did them--and he did a good job--but they're getting quite old. I'm not looking forward to their going bad. I have enough silver in my mouth to make a tea set, and it's going to be a lot of uncomfortable and very expensive work when those fillings finally need to be replaced!

After the dentist, I went to Kinko's to make copies of various documents (W-2s, etc.) before giving the originals to the accountant so he can do my taxes. This will be my first time using an accountant for my annual tax return, but things are a little more complicated this year, due to some residual filings related to my Mom's estate. So I'll skip Turbotax this time. I just hope this isn't too expensive. (Anyone have any idea what's a reasonable charge for an accountant to prepare an individual income tax return?)

After that, I went past the veterinarian's to drop off some Sentinel (anti-tick, flea, etc.) pills. Our little boy changed strengths last time, and the vet is giving us a credit for the unused old ones.

Then I came back here. I'll head out shortly to meet Marc for lunch. After that, I'm running into Manhattan to check out a place for a dinner I have to organize for later this year. This year, I'm the President of the leading healthcare HR organization for the NYC area. (At least my colleagues respect my work, even if it wasn't enough to save my last job!) As part of my tenure I'm trying to upgrade both the educational programs and the social events. The dinner is one of our main social events, so I'm seeing if I can get it set for a nice restaurant in midtown. A lot depends upon the space they have for private parties and the cost per person. I know the food is good, since Marc and I love this place, but the rest is up in the air. We shall see.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mister Fixit

This morning, I woke up early. I'm happy to say we had an active evening, in celebration of Valentine's Day, so it's not because I couldn't sleep soundly (such evenings almost always make for sound sleep). ;)

No, something was wrong. As I woke up, I realized what it was. It felt cold in the room. Too cold to be explained by the strong winds and cold temperatures outside. In such weather, certain rooms of the house sometimes get too cold, since the temp near the thermostat may be different from those rooms (outside walls, windows, etc., play a role, even in a recently remodeled house).

But this wasn't just a couple of degrees. It was truly cold. I got out of bed and checked the nearest thermometer. 61 degrees. Okay, that's not right. I opened the door and went to the thermostat in the hallway. It said the temperature there was 63 degrees. Not good. So I stepped into the bathroom and touched the nearest baseboard. Cold to the touch. Bingo. No heat.

Wonderful. So we'd probably have to wait for the plumber.

Before doing that, however, I decided to see if I could manage to get things fixed myself, preferably without blowing up the house. (On tonight's "News at 11," we go live to the scene of a house explosion on Long Island. Officials think some dumbass tried to fix the furnace himself…)

Clearly, I couldn't do anything too complicated. Still, why not go kick the tires? :)

So down I went. I took off the cover of the furnace. (Yes, that much I know how to do.) It clearly wasn't firing. It is an efficient, but high-output, model, and you can tell when it's running. It doesn't roar like an oil-fired furnace, but the whoosh of it is clearly audible with the cover on, let alone with the face of it open.

So what now? Well, I noticed some writing on the inside of the cover. It had a long list of items under a heading containing the word "Instructions." Now, I know this word. "Instructions" is a Latin word meaning, "never read these." And I'm normally steadfast in my conviction to follow that warning. But we were desperate.

Marc went to get a flashlight and some matches (matches are always exciting to have around when dealing with natural gas). Then I dared to read these mysterious and frightening "Instructions."

I removed a plate inside the furnace, so I could see the actual burners. I followed each step, shutting the power to the unit, setting the control knob to "Pilot," lighting a match and then holding the red button. *cue ominous music*

I brought the lit match in closer, and then the house exploded, we were killed and I’m blogging from the next life and then held it near where the pilot was supposed to be. Lo and behold, it lit! Yay!

I continued to hold the red button down for a full minute (that was one of the listed steps). When I released it, the pilot stayed lit. That was a good sign. I then replaced the aforementioned plate that goes in front of the burners, turned the control knob to the on position (as opposed to "Pilot") and turned the power to the furnace back on. With that, it gave an audible whoosh, and we listened as it ran up to full power. (It's really amazing how much power this thing has.)

About an hour later, as we finished getting ready for work, the house, parts of which (like the library and sunroom) had gone down into the 50s, was almost back to the preset temps. Most importantly, the upstairs—where we were getting showered and dressed—was at a comfy 68 degrees. Like I said, it's a powerful furnace (when it's running!).

I just hope the problem doesn't repeat itself. Since I was able to fix it myself, I think it was a fluke (or a flounder or something like that). We had high winds last night. It's possible that a gust down the chimney blew out the pilot light when the main burners were off. The pilot's so small that that's probably possible. Since it has a damper that closes when it's not running, that's not likely to happen, but it could occur during the times when the burner is coming on (and the damper is opening before it fires) or when it has just gone off (so the damper is closing but not yet closed fully).

Yes, that's a completely uneducated guess, but it makes sense. It's also partly a prayer. A prayer, because I don’t want this to happen again!

Update: So much for that. When we got home, it was cold in the house. The furnace was out again. So I re-lit it again (and the house has warmed up), but we called a plumber, too. He's here now, seeing if he can figure out what's wrong.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ice, ice, baby (and other things)

This weather is ridiculous. When we went out this morning (“we” being me, Bernice, Mandy and Dodger), the precipitation seemed to be what the meteorologists call “freezing rain.” The dogs hate it, but it wasn’t horrible. If anything, it encouraged them to do their business quickly and get back inside. Fine by me.

Marc drove me to the station this morning, so I wouldn’t have to walk from my parking space—usually about 10 miles from the platform (okay, I might be exaggerating slightly)—in this nasty weather. It was cold on the platform, and the train was running late, of course. Even so, I could deal with it.

The ice storm on the cake came when I exited the subway. I don’t have far to go from the subway exit to the hospital entrance. Truly. It’s perhaps 150 feet. Not a big deal ordinarily, but today brought a special joy. The wind comes around the hospital very hard, probably due to the way the crosstown streets converge here. Added to that, the freezing rain had moved up to full-blown sleet. The high-speed sleet HURT! I walked out of the subway and was hit with pellets that struck with enough force to elicit repeated epithets. So there I was, trying to keep from falling on my ass, walking with my bag in front of my face and saying, “Ow! Fuck! Geez! OWWW!” the whole way to the door. Such a lovely start to the day.

In other news, I went to the conference for the new job. As I mentioned a week ago, it was in Fort Lauderdale. That was a nice break from the cold, and they seem like a good group of people. They work hard and are serious about their business—and that’s a good thing. More importantly, they seem genuinely nice and welcoming.

The return trip had a bit of excitement. As my plane (well, it’s not really mine; it’s JetBlue’s, but they let me sit in it for a fee) hurtled down the runway, the pilots got a warning. So we went from full-throttle acceleration to standing on the brakes in a heartbeat. I’d say it was exciting, etc., but the truth is that it was over before I realized what was happening. They pulled onto a taxiway, checked in with their maintenance people, reset something (which I think translates into, “we gave the instrument panel a good kick”) and went back to take off. The total delay was perhaps 10 minutes.

Yesterday was a big day for Marc and me. It marked 10 years of living together. We dated for about a year and a half before he moved here and we got a place together.

Ten years ago, Marc and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment in a nice village called Roslyn. We lived there until we bought our first house. When I came home yesterday, I found two dozen roses he’d bought to mark the occasion, as well as an early Valentine’s Day, and that night I found a very, very sweet card tucked under my pillow.

There will be more celebrating tonight, but it would be hard to beat the sweetness my baby showed me yesterday. I’m certainly a lucky man, but I’ve known that since I met him.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Poor Shirley!

I've probably mentioned our cats at some point. Yes, we're a "dog family." Cats aren't my favorite animals (they kill, even if they've been well fed, they fight, they piss on things & make them smell nasty, etc.), but there are feral cats that live under the back of our house--a mother and son. They're definitely our cats, and I do worry about them. Despite their not being my favorite type of animals, I like all animals.

These cats are descended from a long line of feral cats that began with one pregnant cat back when I was a kid (remember, Marc and I now live in the house I grew up in, having remodeled it after my Mom's death). We care about animals in this family, so we had to help out. We fed the pregnant cat, and we've had cats in the yard ever since.

So now we have Shirley and her son. They're the last of the line, having been fixed, but they're hardy. Shirley is an old cat, but she keeps on going. We've lost track of her age, but we know she's into double digits. Pretty good for a feral cat.

Anyhow, tonight I put their food out, and Shirley was a little slow showing up. When she finally came into view, something was dragging along beside her. At first, I couldn't tell what it was. Then, as she came closer, I could see what was going on.

A grimy plastic bag was wrapped around her neck. It was twisted and stuck there. I know it wasn't there last night, but I have no idea how long she's dragged it around since then. Thank God she didn't get it snagged somewhere, panic and strangle herself. Still, she looked so depressed, and she may have had to endure some true panic today.

Fortunately, she's mellow enough that she let me pet her and slowly slip it off of her neck. She's fine, but I can't help but feeling sorry for her. The poor girl.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It figures

I'm still working at the old job. I'll be there until the end of next week. Most of my work this week has been in planning the restructuring of HR.

So one of the upper management people comes to visit me late today. He thought I'd find this amusing/gratifying: in a planning meeting they'd just finished, they adopted pretty much everything I've recommended so far. He said practically every subject they discussed ended with, "as per Jess' plan."

And I'm one of the people they let go. Not that I didn't already feel this way, but what's wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Nice things about the new job

Okay, I won't even start the new job for a few weeks, and I don't want to jinx things. With that said, I already found two things to like.

For one, I won't be taking the train anymore. Tonight, on the way home, I was reminded of the joys of mass transportation. I was sitting near a woman who spent the whole ride talking on her cell phone in Russian. I suppose it would be annoying in English, too, but that just seemed like an added irritant. Aside from that, she apparently had a bit of a cold. Unlike some of the clods out there, she covered her mouth when she sneezed. I'll give her that much. But she turned toward me when she sneezed, instead of away from me. When I noticed her do that, I about blew a gasket. I kept my temper in check, but one more time and she would have gotten a chewing out that would translate to any language.

Another good thing--they want me to come to a conference they're holding. They know I'm still working at the "old" job, so I'm not going for the whole thing. Just one day. Still, it's in Fort Lauderdale. Let's see. The temperature here was 9 degrees this week (and a balmy 18 this morning). The high today in Fort Lauderdale was 79. Yeah, I think I can handle a short trip there.

Actually, the conference is a good opportunity, and the timing couldn't be better. They only do this conference every couple of years, but it draws people from around the company (and this is a multi-state operation). Since I'll be working with many of these people, it's a great chance to meet many of them before we start spending time on conference calls and such.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Clappy as a ham

Got it! No unemployment benefits needed this time. :)

I went in today for more interviewing, and then I was offered the job. It seems like a good company. I just hope this is more stable than my current place. I'm tired of the employment ground shifting under my feet!

Anyhow, I have a new job! Yay! The place seems good. The people seem nice. The commute isn't bad--should be shorter than my current one.

So the news is good!

Thanks to everyone who has written, called or commented to support me during this craziness!

Dick Cavett is wonderful

I'm the type of person who cringes when he hears our language being mangled. I'm particularly irritated by people in positions of importance and power who apparently skipped grade school English classes (a certain President comes to mind).

Today's online version of The New York Times has a column from Dick Cavett's blog (and I didn't even know that he has a blog). Rather than try to excerpt it here, I'll just include this link. It's well worth the time to read, in my humble opinion.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

If you like 50s-era art...

This is a fun site. It's described as a "a family-friendly Web site dedicated to the commercial art of mid-century America." While anything described as "family-friendly" these days makes me hesitate, there doesn't seem to be any agenda here, and the fun of this site is looking at the artwork.

They're trying to sell prints and such, but there's no need to buy anything. Just look through the pictures. For anyone who likes commercial art of this era, the site is a great diversion.