november 2009



Here are our pumpkins from this year. I did the one on the right; there were some cool designs in the new pattern pack we bought, but I've been bothered by a crick in my neck for the past few days, so I picked something that would be relatively simple to execute.

Very disappointing Halloween this year in terms of the number of trick or treaters. We've averaged around 80 or so for the past few years, but last night we only got 48, far and away our low in 10 years of living in this house. It's true that a lot of the kids around here are growing up, but I think a much bigger factor on Saturday was the weather. Our neighborhood allows trick or treating from 6-8 on Halloween night, and what started as a light drizzle around 5:30 turned into a light but steady rain by 6:15 or so.

It started to clear up a half hour or so later, but it was hard to tell whether or when it would start up again, and I think a lot of the parents who were chaperoning their kids around the neighborhood didn't want to risk it and just stayed home. The rain also seemed to keep a lot of the kids who are really too old to be trick or treating off the streets, and I'd guess that we typically get 10-20 kids who fit that category in a normal year.

We'll see if the pattern holds next year. We've always bought more candy that we thought we'd need because we like to be generous and after the first year in the neighborhood when we nearly ran out, we've always been paranoid about not having enough. But if next year is a repeat of this year, I think it will be time to reevaluate our candy purchasing.

Ran out of pictures for my daily photos feature again. I thought I'd take more when we were down in North Carolina last month, but I only got a couple of weeks worth of shots. I likely won't have anything new until December, since I don't see myself taking any time to go out and shoot anytime before the Thanksgiving break.

One year ago today, the Bush nightmare came to an end. Not that I've been completely happy about the way things have gone under the new administration, but so much of what will hopefully be the first four years of this president will be spent trying to clean up the mess of the previous administration's eight years, so I'm still willing to give Obama some leeway for the first half of his first term.

Watched the first episode of the V revamp, and it felt a little scattershot. It also seemed like they might have revealed too much in the first episode, but I think they're trying to get into the action quickly out of the gate, because they can't afford to start slowly given the odd scheduling (the series will be on for only four weeks and then take a several month hiatus to reappear in March after the Winter Olympics).

It has potential, and for some reason I'm more open to this show than I was other sci-fi oriented shows over the past couple of seasons like Fringe and FlashForward, but it also has the potential to go downhill fast—there was nothing particularly impressive about the debut in terms of the writing or the acting, and the show could really go either way. I do like several of the actors—two ex-Firefly cast members and the woman from Lost—but that's not going to be nearly enough if the writing doesn't improve and it doesn't start to feel a little less cliched.

Two shows that I wasn't sure about that I've really been enjoying this season: the debut season of Community, starring Joel McHale from E's The Soup (orginally helmed by Greg Kinnear under the name Talk Soup ages ago) and Chevy Chase, and the sophomore year of Parks and Recreation.

I watched the first four or five episodes of Parks and Recreation last year, and while it had some nice moments, it felt like it didn't really know what it wanted to be (other than a civil service version of The Office, not surprising that its produced by the same team that brought The Office to America) but it was trying way too hard to be whatever it was that it thought it should be. But the cast and writing have really come together this year; almost every episode has been brilliant, and were it not for the newly resurgent The Office (despite the focus on Pam and Jim's wedding, the episode for which was handled just about as well as any wedding episode in sitcom history), I'd almost say that it had surpassed its model. The main character, Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope, is much less shrill and relatable this season, and we've been given enough peeks into the lives of her officemates that it feels much more like an ensemble show than a vehicle for Amy Poehler.

Community could have been a really big miss, but the writing is sharp, the cast have grown into their characters pretty quickly, and it really feels like this show could be in it for the long haul. I have no idea how it's doing in the ratings, and moving it to the kickoff slot for NBC's Thursday night instead of following up The Office (where it was positioned for its first few episodes until 30 Rock came back) probably lost it some viewers, but I really hope people tune in and give this one a chance. It's not quite like any other half hour of television comedy I've seen in a while—it has a much more mainstream feel than shows like The Office and 30 Rock (both of which I love), but it's clever enough and has enough quirky but well-developed characters to appeal to the critics and the fans of the rest of NBC's Thursday night lineup.

The Ravens really could have used another win this week, but it was not to be. Playing the Bengals (who beat them a few weeks ago in the final 30 seconds of the game) in Cincinnati, this was there chance to redeem the earlier loss in Baltimore, but the first quarter was a complete disaster, and even after the defense settled down a bit, the offense never really got going.

In their other three losses this season, the games were actually very close and hard fought, and it wasn't inconceivable that the Ravens could have been 6-0 instead of 3-3 if a few calls had gone differently or if they'd just had a little more luck, but they were completely out of their depth on this one, looking nothing like the team that took down a previously undefeated Denver last week in Baltimore. Yes, the officiating really didn't go in their favor—there were some obvious non-calls on the Bengals and some calls on Baltimore that were questionable—but it wouldn't have mattered, because the Bengals were in control the whole game (the 17-7 score doesn't really reflect the just how much difference there was between the two teams, and speaks volumes about the Baltimore defense's ability to rebound and take some measure of control even after getting beat up during Cincinnati's first two possessions).

Probably the most disturbing thing about the team's poor performance was the blown field goal attempt by new kicker Steve Hauschka. In a situation eerily similar to the kick the lost them the game at Minnesota a couple of weeks ago, Hauschka was brought on in the final few minutes to kick what should should have been an easy layup of a field goal that his team desperately needed to have a chance of winning, and he kicked it just to the left. It didn't end up mattering in this game, because even if he had scored, the Ravens still would have needed another touchdown that they didn't get in order to tie the game, but knowing how critical those high-pressure, game-winning field goals are for a playoff team, Hauschka's performance so far is beyond disappointing. And the two he's blown in late-game, must-make-it situations have been from very manageable distances; you have to imagine that if he were asked to kick one at the edge of his range in that kind of scenario, the coaches at this point might consider just going for the first down no matter what the yardage, because how can they have any confidence in their kicker to get them those points?

The next few weeks will likely decide the season one way or the other for Baltimore. They've got what should be an easy game at Cleveland next week, but the rivalry between these two towns and two teams is intense, and even when one of them is having a terrible year (as Cleveland is in 2009), the games are rarely easy. After that they host currently undefeated Indianapolis, one of those teams that they've always had trouble with (hell, who doesn't have trouble with Indy?) and Pittsburgh, another major rival who also happen to have a good team this year. Those two games are followed by a game against the Packers in Green Bay in December, which is never easy.

If they don't come out of that set of four games with at least two wins, their season is pretty much over (and really, even if they win three out of the four, they'll just be hanging on by their fingernails). It's not time to give up on them yet, but if they want to have a shot at the playoffs this year, they need to play a lot more like they did in their game against Denver last week than in their game against Cincinnati yesterday.

Countdown day! You know, 11, 10, 9.... Not quite as exciting as the all-the-same days (like 9-9-09) that get a lot of attention, but still, a calendrical oddity that only occurs in the first dozen or so years of each century.

It also happens to be my brother's 30th birthday today, so I hope he has a good day. This will be the first time in several years that we haven't celebrated his birthday with him, but we're expecting to see him in a couple of weeks at Thanksgiving, so I'm sure we'll celebrate then.

Is this the only federal holiday that they haven't changed the observance of to make it a three day weekend? Not that it matters to me anyway—just another Wednesday as far as my job is concerned.

Sammy Sosa's new bleached skin is just about the weirdest thing I've seen in a while. Salon has a nice article about how whitening creams are popular in countries with dark-skinned people just as tanning creams are popular in countries with light-skinned people, but it's still very strange for someone whose face is so well-known (especially in his native Dominican Republic) to undergo such a radical transformation.

(And yeah, yeah, I know Michael Jackson also fits into that category, but we all also know that he was crazy in a way that Sosa doesn't seem to be—or at least hasn't seemed to be up until now.)

Friday the 13th is still a Friday. Maybe we should change the superstition to a fear of Monday the 13th.

Our oldest cat Spot, the only one still living from when we lived in Charlottesville, died in his sleep last night. He's been limping along for a while, but other than the fact that he didn't eat much last night, we weren't expecting that last night would have been his time any more than any other night over the past few months.

We were very sad to see him go, but we've been saying goodbye to him for the last several months, as he's grown weaker and weaker and been affected by more and more ailments. He didn't ever really seem to suffer or be in pain, but he had definitely slowed way down, and it was obviously a real effort for him to do even simple things like hop up on the bed at night or walk over to the food dish.

We'll miss him dearly—he was a very special and unique cat, very intelligent and very crafty (he taught himself how to play fetch, but he would only do it with a particular bring of plastic ball with a bell in it)—but we're glad that he passed peacefully.

The digital cable we got after we bought the new TiVo a few months ago gave us access to a lot more channels that we used to have with the basic analog service (in addition to restoring Cartoon Network, which vanished from the analog lineup last spring). One that I've been watching a lot of is BBC America, mostly reruns of the British version of chef Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, where he visits struggling restaurants and helps them redo the menu/decor/attitude.

He seems much less like a lunatic than he does on the American version, although there's still plenty of swearing and yelling at people. Since the show has been on there for years and years and BBC America reruns several episodes a week, I've been gorging on it a bit, watching 3-4 episodes a week for the past month or so. I know the formula by now—get rid of the tacky, outdated decor, revamp the menu to include simple, hearty dishes using fresh, local ingredients, and get rid of or completely retrain the incompetant chef/manager/owner—but I can't get enough of this show.

Happy birthday, mom.

I took my team out to lunch yesterday for a well-deserved reward after a tough few weeks—we've been sorting out the usual technology issues that accompany the start of the application reading cycle. I'm really happy with the state of my group right now—I've got two solid employees who I feel very comfortable delegating significant tasks to, and all three of us get along pretty well on a personal level.

My only complaint is that I need more people—my team has remained steady at three people for eight years now while the amount of work we're doing has increased significantly, and we're reaching the breaking point where I won't be able to take on any new projects without new personnel. The economic climate right now isn't conducive to adding staff—there has been a hiring freeze in effect since March of last year, and no one got a raise this fiscal year—but we simply can't take on any more. We either need more people or we need to drop some of the things we're currently responsible for if we want to take on any new projects.

After hosting Thanksgiving at our house every year since 2003 (except when my sister got married the Saturday after Thanksgiving a few years back), we're once again returning to the original tradition and driving down to my dad's house in Wilmington. It will be a small crowd this year—my sister Carrie won't be able to make it up from Florida with her husband, and my brother canceled at the last minute and will be staying in Ohio with his girlfriend, so it will just be my dad, my stepmother, my sister Tori, and Julie and me.

Thanksgiving got moved up here after we decided one year that it was too stressful for us to make that drive in some of the worst traffic of the year and all our parents volunteered to come up here instead, but now we have enough vacation time that we can avoid the busiest driving days. And it's a really meaningful year for Rachel to play host again: she spent most of the year receving treatment for cancer that she was diagnosed with only a couple of weeks after last year's Thanksgiving celebration.

Everyone enjoy the holidays and your time with your family. It's going to be nice to get away for a few days before we hit the December crush of work that always comes with the Early Decision letters being mailed out and the increasing flow of Regular Decision applications in advance of the January 1 deadline.

Good visit for Thanksgiving, although it was our smallest celebration in years—besides Julie and my parents, only my sister Tori was able to make it this year (my brother was supposed to come with his girlfriend and her two children, but they unexpectedly cancelled a couple of weeks before the holiday).

And since Tori didn't arrive until Wednesday, we had a few days to spend with just my parents, which gave us a chance to do things like play golf together (and Julie and Rachel a chance to go see New Moon, since they are both horrifyingly taken with the Twilight series and there was no chance in hell either my dad or I were going to go with them).

We also just relaxed a lot—I caught up on my sleep, read a couple of books, and had a couple of low-key days, which I really needed. And it was great to have a long visit, especially because we're not sure if we're going to be able to make it down to Wilmington for Christmas (we spend most of our time visiting Julie's parents and my mom's side of the family, and rarely have the time/stamina to take an extra day or two to drive down to my dad and stepmother's).

december 2009
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