Christmas, Frankenstein and Avatar

I started off my four day weekend in my usual style by getting vaccinated. No, not really a normal thing, but Safeway in Herndon had gotten supplies of both H1N1 vaccines, and I got the shot and finished my shopping. We had Indian for dinner, than Jill was off for bed and I stayed up reading. Christmas Eve day it was just me and Illa, and we took a long walk in the morning, then I read and watched TV. I made a turkey dinner with all the trimmings that night, and we watched some Christmas specials while we wrapped gifts (the new Phineas And Herb one is quite good).

Christmas wasn’t as rainy as thought at first, so we got over to my mom’s without any problem. We brought appetizers to add to hers and helped prepare them. It was us, Mom, Dad, Sharon, and Sharon’s friend Kathy (whom we’d met at Sharon’s move out party), and the appetizers were the bulk of the meal, though we sat down for scallops and salad. Everyone liked their gifts – my big one was the new Beatles box set. I got Mom’s computer up to date, next problem is figuring out to merge in the new TV we got her to her current setup.

Saturday Jill was working, so once again Illa and I spent the early part of the day together. I’d wanted to go see Avatar that morning, but it sold out before I bought tix, so I bought one for the next morning. Jill got off work on time to come home and change, then we headed out to meet my family at Marcel’s, a French restaurant. They have a very flexible three course meal, and that’s what we did. I started with the duck confit ravioli, then a main course of lamb tenderloins in phyllo dough, finishing with a roasted pear with cream cheese ice cream, all delicious. Jill had halibut with mashed potatoes, bison with a sauce made with the same merlot she was drinking, and a cheese course with an aged goat cheese and bread.

After dinner we headed over to the Kennedy Center to see Young Frankenstein. I was psyched as the touring cast includes two of the Broadway leads, and it was as hilarious as I was hoping. Be warned it is from the mind of Mel Brooks, so includes some risque humor, but even my mom seemed to survive unscathed.

Today I went to see Avatar first thing. Director James Cameron said it showed best in IMAX 3D, so I headed over to Alexandria and got one of the last seats in the middle. Many reviews have harped on the story being cliched, and while true, you don’t think of it until later. The movie itself is a quantum leap in effects, making it feel like it wasn’t done in front of a green screen. I think looking back it will be seen as much a challenge to other filmmakers as the first Matrix was in 1999. For dinner I grilled burgers and baked sweet potato fries while watching the new Doctor Who, then watched the Skins game after dinner (argh) and read the paper.

Pre-holiday weekend in Holyoke

Late, but we’ve been crazy busy. Friday morning we drove up to BWI where I made possibly the best decision of the year by deciding to pay the extra money to park in the daily garage. There wasn’t much of a line and we were soon at the gate, but we soon got to experience something that’d never happened to us before: being asked to get off the plane. It wasn’t just us, though, everyone had to leave as the plane had a mechanical problem (previously those problems had been resolved one way or the other before we boarded). The good thing about being at a hub is they’ve got plenty of planes, and we got into Hartford only a little over an hour late.

We rented a car and headed up to Jill’s mom’s house in Holyoke, visited upstairs with Gram for a bit until I started nodding off. I guess 90 minutes of sleep the night before wasn’t cutting it, and we went downstairs and I napped for a bit. Jill was hungry and we drove over to Northampton and had lunch at Sylvester’s, where she had the black bean soup and I had the jalapeno cheese soup and a half of a roast beef, both decent. After lunch we went our separate ways to shop, as I wanted to spend some time in my favorite store. No one was home when we got back, so I had time to nap a little more.

That night Jill’s mom Sue took us over to her sister Melissa’s house, where she babysat the nieces and nephews while we went out with Melissa and her husband Dominic to Spoleto. They had a $20 three course menu, and we took full advantage. Jill started with soup while I had the Spicy Caesar Salad which was a regular Caesar with squirts of Sriracha, wonderful. I had the Mixed Grill for an entree, a nicely sized selection of meats, while she had the Penne Papillote, served in parchment. For dessert I had the cheesecake and she had the no sugar added cherry turnover, delicious. It was still early by the time we finished and we headed over to the bar at The Pizza Shoppe, where Dominic is a regular, to hang for a while and we may have overconsumed a bit.

Saturday we slept in a bit, then Jill’s sister Robin joined us and we went up to their father’s parents’ house and spent an afternoon with them, their dad and their aunt Dede. We exchanged gifts (I’d obtained some Eric Clapton/Jeff Beck tix for Jill’s dad) and chatted for a long time. When we got back to Holyoke, I worked for a while on loading some music into the phone Jill’s niece was getting soon, turned out to be more work than I’d thought. My sister Sharon arrived in the early evening and soon Sue made dinner for all of us, tasty shrimp scampi and asparagus. We worked on more gift stuff and watched TV after dinner.

Sunday we woke up to only 2″ of snow, nothing close to the two feet they had gotten back in Virginia. Sue made us a big breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon and French Toast. We tried to go to Jill’s nephew’s basketball game in the afternoon but got stuck in traffic on the highway and turned around after the game finished, stopping so I could get some accessories for the phone I was working on and some groceries for the evening ahead. Everyone showed up for an early dinner of pork roast, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes and green beans. Afterwards the kids opened their gifts first (and we told them of our upcoming trip to Orlando), then we opened ours, some nice Blu-rays, and this fabulous painting of Illa by Gram.

Illa by Gram

When Jill was running errands Saturday, she called me from the liqour store and asked if I wanted anything. I asked for the Samuel Adams Winter Classics and told her to buy a bottle of Utopias if they had one. She called me back a minute later and asked me if I was sure, since it was $189. I was sure, since I’ve heard of sellouts in areas where it’s priced at $250. So Sunday night I opened it and passed tastes around. I think I was the only one who really enjoyed it – it’s closer to a cognac than a beer. Almost everyone left to go to Bright Nights, Dave and I were left to watch sports and chat. Later on the ladies returned to watch “White Christmas”, almost finishing it.

Monday we saw Sharon off, then headed over to Melissa’s house as she had an appointment in bureaucracy hell and no one to watch Ava, my niece and goddaughter. I didn’t mind too much, as I hadn’t spent too much time with her. We watched videos including two I hadn’t seen – Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas was cute, but too advanced for Ava as we only watched 30 minutes (and maybe I’m coming to it too late, I like my Muppets more frantic). It was amusing to finally see the Jetsons episode where they perform Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah as I know the cover of it by the Violent Femmes well from incessantly playing the covers of Saturday morning cartoons when I had the record store. We also took a walk around the neighborhood and played some hide and seek.

Ava & Jill

Sue took a break from work and picked up Melissa and dropped her off, then we followed her into Springfield. We had lunch at Chef Waynes’s Big Mamou, a BYOB Cajun restaurant. Jill had the Gumbo of the Day while I tried the Thunder Thighs Jerked, a spicy Nawlins take on Buffalo wings. I had the Big Mamou, a delicious special with fried chicken and crawfish while Jill enjoyed the New Orleans Red Beans. We were way too full for dessert (and I didn’t eat again until midnight). We headed back and packed, then headed to the airport (with a brief detour in East Granby to see where Jill lived). No problem with our plane this time, just delayed coming from BWI.

The trip back was fine, but BWI was incredibly crowded due to the snow cancellations. We got our bags and got out to the car where I knew my decision to park in the garage was a good one by viewing the cars outside. The trip home was ok, no delays, and soon we were in our parking lot, where it took us nearly three hours to shovel out my space, Jill’s car and our steps. We only had time for a snack and a beer before falling asleep.


Tonight’s holiday concert was Winterbloom with Antje Duvekot, Anne Heaton, Meg Hutchinson & Natalia Zukerman at Jammin’ Java. Their new EP is a really good mix of originals and traditional classics, and the show was them in the round trading songs, both ones from the EP and their own albums. It was very enjoyable, but we’d both had a long day and tomorrow is even longer, so we left after the first set.


Artists To Watch 2010

Band Song Next area appearance Why them
01. A.J. Roach Chemicals My favorite new discovery at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (FRFF) this year, it starts off slow but I love the chorus: “They say that love is just a chemical reaction, I say that makes this all too hard to explain.”
02. K.C. Clifford Raise Your Voice 4/10/10 Panzer House Concert My second favorite new discovery at FRFF.
03. Tinted Windows Kind Of A Girl 2009 was a good year for supergroups. Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne writes great pop songs, and Taylor Hanson is a good singer.
04. Mates Of State The Re-arranger Our favorite discovery at the Virgin Festival, a great poppy duo.
05. Mika Blame It On the Girls I really enjoyed his last album, and the new one is more of the same.
06. Adrianne You Make It Look So Easy I don’t know how I was unaware of her before, her new album was cowritten with Nate Borofsky of Girlyman.
07. Drivin’ N Cryin’ (Whatever Happened To The) Great American Bubble Factory Wow, first album in 12 years and it’s just a barn burner for these Southern rockers.
08. The Droge & Summers Blend Sad Clown I’ve liked Pete Droge since his first album. He’s been working with Elaine Summers for a long time, and they got married this year, releasing an EP to celebrate.
09. Yonder Mountain String Band Complicated While the band is bluegrass based, this song is not very bluegrass at all – but I like it.
10. Girlyman Storms Were Mine 3/13/10 Jammin’ Java I almost went with “Everything’s Easy” for the clashing harmonies, but this is the strongest song on the CD.
11. Jake Armerding Harry/Sally 1/16/10 Birchmere I knew Jake was a fiddler extraordinaire, but until this year I wasn’t familiar with his original songs.
12. Winterpills You Don’t Love Me Yet Dark chamber pop with a gorgeous chourus.
13. Mark Olson & Gary Louris Bloody Hands The Jayhawks singers return with a album of duets including this tasty murder ballad.
14. Bob Schneider 40 Dogs (Like Romeo And Juliet) A lot of good songs on his new album, but the single is the best of the lot.
15. Liz Longley Rush 4/24/10 Birchmere A FRFF find, a truly impressive voice.
16. Anthony da Costa I Am Way Too Much 4/17/10 Birchmere Another FRFF find, this tune’s off his fourth album, pretty impressive since he just graduated high school.
17. Todd Wright Giving Up 12/22/09 Jammin’ Java 40×40, 40 songs in 40 weeks by his 40th birthday. Impressive goal, and all proceeds go to The American Diabetes Association.
18. Greencards The Avenue I’ve been following them for a while, and we finally got a chance to see them at the Austin City Limits Music Festival this year.
19. Los Paperboys Rain On Me A great Paul Simon-esque tune from these guys. Eddie from Ohio fans know lead singer Tom Landa as “Tommy the Canexican”.
20. Chickenfoot My Kinda Girl My favorite Van Halen singer is Sammy Hagar, so when you take him and Michael Anthony on bass and backing vox and add a world class guitarist (Joe Satriani and drummer (Chad Smith of RHCP), I’m sold.
21. Them Crooked Vultures Dead End Friends Last, but only because they’re so heavy it’s a little out of place in the other tracks. Best new live supergroup, Josh Homme on vox and guitars is good, but Dave Grohl on drums (and backing vox) with John Paul Jones on bass are just unbelievable.

Leftovers (in no particular order):
Anne Heaton – Crystallize
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers – A (With Love)
Carbon Leaf – Miss Hollywood
Matthew Sweet – Byrdgirl
One EskimO – Hometime
Beth Patterson – Red Giant
Dream Theater – Wither
Ellis Paul – Annalee
thenewno2 – Yomp
Assembly Of Dust – All That I Am Now
emmet swimming – Waving At Cars
Lentic – Burn
Lucero – What Are You Willing To Lose
Rusted Root – Suspicious Minds
The Bittersweets – Goodnight, San Francisco
Kelleigh McKenzie – O Mother
Miranda Lambert – I Just Really Miss You
Alice In Chains – Lesson Learned
Rachael Yamagata – Sidedish Friend
Matt and Kim – Lessons Learned
Benjy Ferree – Fear
Porcupine Tree – Remember Me Lover
Slaid Cleaves – Cry
Antje Duvekot – Vertigo
Alberta Cross – Taking Control
Alternate Routes – All That I See
Meg Hutchinson – Ready
Sister Hazel – Take A Bow
Collective Soul – You
Caroline Herring – Tales of the Islander

Holiday Party and GrooveLily

Friday night I was pretty beat. I’d only gotten three hours of sleep the night before between going grocery shopping, making dinner, making chili for a cookoff at work (unfortunately didn’t win or place) and finalizing my Artists To Watch CD. I had to get up early so as to get home early for an appointment for Illa, and after that I made the salad for dinner and zoned out on the couch reading papers and comics and watching concerts until Jill came home. I grilled filet mignon and baked some sweet potato fries, then we did some cleaning. I had to get my new computer going as my old wouldn’t burn CDs anymore, but it didn’t take too long to do all the audio CDs.

Saturday morning I had the HOA walkthrough we’d had to postpone due to the snow last week. I got my section done quickly, then returned home to vacuum and clean. Later I headed out to Costco, Target and Total Wine to pick up food and drinks for the party and took a quick shower once I got back. We managed to finish everything before the guests showed, better than usual. We got almost 20 people over the course of the night, and the party went well, saw folks we hadn’t seen in a while and had lots of food and drinks that we didn’t come close to finishing.

Sunday we headed over to Arena Stage’s temporary home in Crystal City to see GrooveLily’s musical Striking 12. We’d seen them do a couple songs from it the last time we saw them, but this was the first time they’d done the full musical in our area, it was really good. We ran into Luke Brindley and Storm afterwords, then headed over to Best Buns Bread Co (they make the bread for Sweetwater Tavern) and I had a salami and havarti sandwich and Jill had some of their corn chowder, both good.

Jill headed out again when we got home, and I watched the Skins game (finally a win, although the team wasn’t that great) then I heated up some leftovers and we watched the rest of Alice as we’d watched the first half earlier in the week and thought it was pretty good as well as the Sunday ‘toons (Simpsons was really good this week).

Proof and holiday concert #2

Last night I got out of work early, picked up Jill and headed into DC again. We had reservations at Proof and were seated promptly. They specialize in artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, and we decided to share the Plate of House Made Pates, Terrines & Cured Meats, of which we both enjoyed the Pate de Campagne. For our first courses, Jill had the Grilled Eggplant with Arugula & French Beans while I had the Spicy Little Meatballs. The meatballs were ok, but with the goat cheese ravioli were stunning. Next I had the Crispy Duck Confit with Grilled House Made Lamb Sausage – I preferred the duck while Jill liked the lamb sausage (unusual for her). She had the Warm Flatbread with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta and liked it, but added some of the sausage to her last slice.

I had a Belgian Christmas Ale along with dinner, and it complimented everything nicely. Afterwards I had an Ex Ex cocktail, a dangerous mix of tequila, rye whiskey and liqueurs that was complex and smokey. Jill ended up trying both a white wine and red wine flight with dinner. We were too stuffed for dessert, and ended up walking around the holiday market for a bit. It was almost time for the show, but there were still long lines to get in and I had a feeling they wouldn’t be starting on time, so we ducked into the bar at Legal for another drink.

We timed it just right – about a minute after we got into our seats, the house lights dimmed and soon we were experiencing the holiday spectacular that is a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. The first half is as always their first album, and while I enjoy the songs, they’ve got two other Christmas albums they never play the whole way through (although Jill enjoys hearing them). The second half is where they mix things up, playing non-holiday songs as well. That’s what I was looking forward to and they did not disappoint, especially on the tunes from their new Night Castle. They’re planning on touring it next spring, and I hope they play Verizon Center as I’d never seen the video screens all around the arena (that are used for ads during sports games) used as part of the show before. It was great seeing Chris Caffery again and I thought violinist Anna Phoebe was a great performer as well.

12/09 TSO

I don’t know how we scheduled it, but we’re going to at least one holiday concert each week in December. The next show is Striking 12, the musical by GrooveLily that’s based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”.

Stew and beer, Pizza and beer, and a beer brunch

Friday I had defrosted some beef but didn’t have a lot of time to make a traditional stew, so I improvised a quick one on the fly. I used some stew beef we had in the freezer, as well as a potato and the rest of the cabbage from the CSA. It was decent, went down nicely with a Kona Wailua Wheat Ale (brewed with passion fruit). After dinner, Jill was wiped out and headed for bed – I stayed up and surfed and watched TV.

Saturday we on the HOA board had managed to schedule our twice yearly walkthrough then so that was canceled due to the snow, but we still had some interviews of management companies, and that took the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon, after which I stayed inside reading newspapers and watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary shows as the snow came down.

Saturday night my mom was performing with The Reston Chorale, and we decided it was better to go out early in case the roads started icing up. They played Vivald’s Gloria and a variety of holiday songs and it was nice, then we headed over to Flippin’ Pizza in South Lakes for a pie. It was our first time there, but I’d read we should get a whole pie, so we did, the Brooklyn and a salad. It was very good, filled us up quickly and we still had a half a pie for leftovers. I had a Moretti beer with it, hit the spot.

Later we cleaned the carpets. We usually go with the pros, but tried to save money by renting a Rug Doctor. I’m not sure how well it worked compared to the other guys, but we did get some mighty dirty water out of it.

Sunday we headed down to DC for brunch. I found out Friday afternoon it’s sometimes worth it to get on a waiting list as I was alerted we got into the Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada four-course, seven-beer brunch to celebrate the first collaborative beers from both breweries, Life and Limb. We go to Dupont Circle early, but the farmer’s market happened to be open, so we wandered around (and Jill bought some wool). We still had some time to kill after that and it was cold, so we headed into Second Story Books where I found a Tom Holt book and Moxy Früvous CD I didn’t have.

We were one of the first in at Pizzeria Paradiso, but were quickly seated. They started us with a cream of zucchini soup and some zucchini bread french toast that was paired with Sierra Nevada Kellerweisse and Dogfish Head Theobroma. The latter was brewed with chocolate and paired wonderfully with the french toast. Next up was an arugula salad with Camembert and a creamy avocado dressing paired with Sierra Nevada Celebration and Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu. The hoppiness of the Celebration went nicely with the peppers in the salad, but the grapes matched the grapes in the Chateau Jiahu.

My favorite course was next. The brunch frittata was pretty good, but the pizza with potatoes, sausage, blue cheese and a fried egg was perfectly balanced, and paired well both with the Sierra Nevada Estate Harvest and the two year old Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. The dessert course of cinnamon coffee cake was ok, and I liked the Life and Limb, but it was hard to measure up to the previous course. We also had fun chatting with the guys at our table, some of whom were very knowledgeable in beer (and I don’t think I’ll ever have a beer as the wallpaper on my phone).

We weren’t quite ready to head back, so we walked around Dupont Circle a little and headed inside Teaism. Jill got some black tea, while I got some that was supposed to improve digestion (it seemed to help). It was crowded, but we found some seats upstairs and chatted until we finished.

We stopped at Home Depot on the way back to pick up a Christmas tree (less than half of what we’ve been paying at a lot in Sterling). When we got home I brought the tree in, then watched the Saints eke out a win in OT against the Skins (so close), then made hamburgers and grilled them while I baked some sweet potato fries and sauteed green beans (and one more beer, good ol’ Magic Hat #9).

Fall TV Review

The Simpsons/The Cleveland Show/Family Guy/American Dad
Also known as 3/4s of the Seth MacFarlane evening. I thought spinning Cleveland off of Family Guy might make a weak show, but they came up with a good new cast. I still find most Simpsons funny, and American Dad has really grown on me. B

Curb Your Enthusiasm
I’ve only watched one episode before this season (not really loving the comedy of discomfort), but I did like Seinfeld and wanted to check out the reunion. Unsurprisingly, I really liked the ones with the Seinfeld cast and was meh about the others (Larry needs strong foils to bounce off, and Jerry and Jason are best against him). If you only watch a couple, be sure and see the last two. C (season), A (Seinfeld cast)

Metalocalypse expanded to 30 minutes this year, and it’s only better. In a world where a metal band is the seventh largest economy on Earth, they are idiots and the show is hilarious, Spinal Tap on a bigger level. B+

The Prisoner
The original? Fantastic. This remake? Horrible. Way to jettison all the great ideas from the old series, guys. D

The Daily Show/The Colbert Report
Some people thought with the executive and legislative branches leaning left these shows would miss a step. Not a chance, they still make me laugh as often as they did last year. A

Oh Heroes, why can’t I quit you? At least this season is the best since the first – please don’t bring Mohinder back again. C+

I’d prefer to have more Firefly, but if I can’t I’ll happily take this Nathan Fillion mystery show with my favorite family on TV. B+

I don’t like it as much as I liked the original miniseries, but it’s a pretty good remake. Judgement not final, only four episodes aired so far. B

The pilot was incredibly good, and the tone varies on episodes based on which creator is writing. Still, I never thought I’d be watching another show set in high school and I’m hooked. B

Cougar Town
I certainly wasn’t expecting this to be my favorite new comedy, the only one I’m keeping, but maybe I should have since it’s from the creator of Scrubs. B

Soon to be canceled, but I tuned in because I love the movie, and it was a decent take. C+

Best new show, and with “Believe” showed the emotional core that positions it as a worthy successor to Lost. A-

30 Rock
The more absurd it gets, the funnier it gets. B+

Last season was ok, but this season has been promising so far as the big bad is unpowered Kandorians. Clark is using his powers at last, even though his uniform isn’t the version we know. B-

I wouldn’t say this is my favorite Joss Whedon show, but it’s the only one he’s done where there are no clear heroes and villains. Everyone is damaged in some fashion and it has rich, morally complex storytelling (see “Belonging”). Looking forward to seeing the rest. B+

The second season didn’t start out so great by killing off my favorite character, but they’ve gone in some surprising directions. B-

Stargate Universe
I hadn’t watched any of the other Stargate series, but hearing that John Scalzi was consulting on this made me watch. I think I should stop and go back if he starts writing. C-

Legend of the Seeker
The first season was ok, but suffered from episodes of wildly different tone. Season Two is darker and all around better. Adding Cara, a Mord’Sith, to the team was a great idea, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s easy on the eyes. Most improved show of the year, gone from try to watch to must watch. For all fans of fantasy series. B

Erratic as usual, but a couple have been great. Bring back Taylor and Justin, please. B