Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Quick reviews

First off, my sincere thanks to Joe at Magic Smoke for solving the simple but perplexing problem of loading pics from my Hometown account.

Secondly, I had the misfortune of seeing most (but God bless, not all) of Halle Berry's Catwoman last night. Truly, woefully awful. Bad computer animation, a goofy plot, and amateur-hour acting. What a tour de force.

I also watched The Fountain, a movie I was eager to rent. I'm ashamed to admit that either it's a convoluted mess of a film or I'm too stupid to figure it out. I can't even mold the plot into a coherent summary, so hit amazon or the like if you want to read up on it.

I polished off the third book in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles, The Lords of the North, while suffering through Catwoman.

Typical Cornwell: livid, action packed historical novels that don't beat you over the head with plot but keep you riveted throughtout none-the-less. I certainly would not have ever studied up on or learned to admire Alfred the Great if not for this series.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pics of My wife

Here's one of my favorite pictures of my wife, albeit one taken three years or so before I met her, when she was 15 or so. I would never normally have taken the time to upload it but with the new system it only took a minute, so here goes.

Most folks say she looks sad, but I think she looks beautiful. It appears to be taken at Six Flags Great America.

Here's a pic of her taken within months after we met. Man, I loved that shirt.


The Dance Recital

If it doesn't violate copyright laws (and it does), and if I can figure out how to do it, I'll post some video of the girls in action when the DVD arrives.

Meanwhile, let's try to upload some of the post-show pics directly off my flashdrive. This method doesn't allow me to tweak the photos - hence the red-eye - but que sera sera.

Lis sent me to get the girls a ballerina statue from Family Dollar.


Their Grandma Jeanne bought them each a rose, which they both broke. Thank heavens they broke at the same place, eliminating any arguements between the girls.

Here's Lu with her Grandpa Dennis.

and YaYa with my Dad

Here's the girls with Grandma Jeanne and Grandpa Jaspare


In attendence were all the grandparent's from my wife's side, my father and sister Katie, and Lisa's friend Chris.

After the show, despite being 10 at night, we took the girls out to Bella's Fat Cat for dinner and ice cream.

Both girls, btw, did great. I was genuinely surprised by how YaYa's moves actually looked, well, ballet-like and not just like a kid playing ballerina. LuLu continues to grow more outgoing, smiling and enjoying herself on stage.

I loved 'em, and so did everyone there to support them.

Quote of the Day

Naw, the problem with the uploads isn't fixed, but Joe aka the Journals editor, gave me a hint to work around it.

Anyhow, I wanted to post this quote up here. I found it in a sales magazine and immediately felt inspired:

Regret for wasted time is more wasted time - Mason Cooley

* * *

On an unrelated matter, I wanted to quickly post one recollection of the spring before it is lost to the ages.

My wife called me one day to say that YaYa had unbuckled herself, moved from the back of the van to the center, and opened the sliding door - ON THE FREEWAY AT 60 MPH.

Why she would do this was never explained to any adult's satisfaction, nor can I figure out how she overcame the supposed child-lock in place on the door (pretty plain that we'd somehow removed that before the incident).

I mean - yikes.

Friday, May 25, 2007

An odd choice for a picture experiment

AOL Journals has gone all fancy-dancy, allowing you four options to upload pics to your blog. The standard option, the one that allows me to post the masthead, is erroring out for over a week. [The Journals Editor is working on it, I believe] So here's two pics I did using the 'upload from your computer' option.

Last Saturday on the day of her recital LuLu decided [it was,by her own admission, for no discernable reason] to pick up a hot curling iron Lisa was using on YaYa and put it in/by her mouth.

A toy 'microphone' perhaps?

The result was a set of blistered lips that nearly landed her in the Urgent Care clinic. She toughed it out and went on with the show, largely forgetting about the injury. In fact, while at the show she changed her mind and asked for some lipstick.

So anyhow - here's two pics of the aftermath. They've started to heal nicely now.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some more reviews

I've spent the last few weeks enjoying a newly cleared library card and a resurgent interest in Netflix.
Naturally, I feel compelled to share my opinions of these books/movies with you.
Blue Screen, a Sunny Randall book  by Robert B. Parker was a decent read that overcame a weak plot and a stereotypical prostitute turned actress. What made the book sing for me was the brief (and largely inconsequential) baseball subplot involving a woman trying to break into the Major Leagues.
[On that note: my God are the Yanks having a bad start to the year. This might be the year they stay home in October, although it is far to early to make that call. On the other hand, despite a recent rough patch, the Brewers continue their lead in the NL Central. They've been fun to watch]
The Watchman by Robert Crais started slow for me, then picked up steam before ending on a sour note. I like Crais a lot, and his Elvis Cole and Joe Pike characters, but this had the feel of the awful Spenser novels from the 'breakup with Susan' era;  Rambo like invincibiltiy and a death every other page. Even so, I'd take a Crais novel over most reads any day.
Fair Ball by Bob Costas. This was an audiobook presented to me by my sister Katie, and it managed to overcome my natural distaste of the format to become the first audiobook I've ever completed. Costas is a heck of a writer, even if he would keel over if forced to use anything less than a $50 word. His plans are by and large outdated and ludicrous, full of sentimentality and crotchety ol' "Back in MY day' nostalgia that he tries in vain to distance himself from by arguing that he's just a logical, unemotional spectator. Uh-huh.
Pete Rose? Wrong. DH? Wrong. Wild Card? Wrong. Salary Cap on teams and players? Smacks of socialism when it's coming from Costas mouth.
Look, the guy loves the game. He just needs to get a grip on the fact that it really is a business, and anything 'more' is icing on the cake.
Scavenger by David Morell. Looking over these and other reviews, I always come across as a nitpicking no-it-all who seems to never truly enjoy anything. Nothing could be further from the truth, but at the risk of reinforcing the misconception . . I thought this was a piece of junk. The Amazon reviews don't think so, and the author blurbs are raving testimonials, but screw 'em all; they're wrong.  Like the last Morell book I read the plot is NOT - repeat is NOT - anything more than standard TV fare. The dialogue is awful, with people spouting detailed info in scenes where their characters should be silent or curt,and the majority of characters REEK of Red-shirts, folks put in the book just so there's someone to kill. Might I point out that the forced negativity between two of the male Redshirts was laughable, and should never have led down the road it did . . .
Rocky Balboa, the 6th installment in the movie series, surprised me. It was actually quite good, full of nostalgia but with enough energy to propel the characters forward and not just tread water. Recommended.
Music and Lyrics - cute movie. I liked it, even if the ending was forced. Drew is . . well, Drew, and the less said the better. But Hugh Grant proves again to be that lovable bloke that I enjoy watching, and he does a marvelous job aping an '80's rock star. A fun couple movie.
Spider-Man 3 - I took YaYa to see this Monday and we were both bored. Too much going on in one movie, with Sandman, Venom, the black suit, and the New Goblin all fighting for screen time. Spidey's also fallen prey to the Superman syndrome, where you can beat him to your heart's content and he walks away with a torn costume and nary a scratch. He's pinned down and Venom takes a steel pipe to his head, and he's not only OK but able to talk and struggle? What????
To top it off, both Peter and MJ kiss other people, which was odd to see. And what bugged me the most is that I took my daughter to see a movie where Peter starts a fight in a bar and physically knocks his girlfriend to the ground (while under the influence of the symbiote). At the conclusion of the movie he walks into the same bar (what, no one yells 'hey, that's the guy who started the brawl! Call the cops") and she rushes over and kisses him.
Nice to teach kids it's ok to have your boyfriend wup on you, so long as he says sorry later.
I don't know. YaYa is fond of the Junie P. Jones books too, and that little girl leaves a lot to be desired as a role model. What a world.
Children of Men - an excellent Clive Owens movie based on the P.D. James novel. It is 2027 and for 18 years no child has been born on Earth . . until now. Not your typical Hollywood fare, but I liked it quite a bit and recommend it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The House on Nostalgia Ave - the mortgage wait

I'd load the typical masthead here, but AOL Journals is still screwy.
The rest of October was nuts.
Here we are in the midst of preparing for our vacation to DisneyWorld, we're trying to get pregnant, I was in the process of interviewing for another job, and we're trying to land a house, a house I didn't think was worth the effort.
And every day, EVERY day, was another obstacle towards getting approved for the 203K loan. It was a month of review this, check that, oh by the way we need this or that, etc.
I set a frantic approval date for our anniversary on the 25th, but that came and went without progress. (we did however, dine in the restaurant across the street from the house)
All the while we now heard whispered rumours of another interested party. I never fully bought into the idea, but I was told someone who wanted to 'flip' the house was now in the mix.
A week after our anniversary we got the news - we were approved for the 203K.
In theory.
In actuality I have no idea what 'approved' is defined as by the mortgage company, because we had yet another two months of hell in front of us. Daily calls, weekly requests for lists of documents, and so on. It is impossible to reduce the constant tension, dread, fear, embarrasment, and anger involved with buying that house into less than a book length piece, so please, trust me: It sucked.
Keep in mind that at this point we were not PRE-approved, we allegedly had it lock stock and barrell. In fact we had a conventional loan for twice the house's value sitting there unused and untouched. This was all about getting the 203K rehab loan.
In the meantime I needed the house inspected for the purposes of the loan. 
Eryk was the second guy my broker recommended, the first setting off a deep and instinctive warning bell inside my head. Begininig to end he - the first guy, not Eryk - sounded creepy and untrustworthy.
We scheduled a walk-through with Eryk. He saw potential in the house, but a lot of work too. The North and South foundation walls would need to be replaced in full, as would the electrical. There were roof problems I hadn't noticed, and lead paint throughout the house, a lot of it in cracked or peeling condition. He also encouraged me to get the water tested for lead, which I did in the days preceding our vacation.
No doubt; a lot of work lay ahead.
Meanwhile, believing I had the loan I contacted my cousin for some advice on how to write up and offer and called the lawyer.
Only to be told the house had received a bid.
Now to this day I don't believe 100% that that was the truth. A large part of me instantly screamed 'negotiating ploy' [well, really my head screamed "F**K', but this is a family blog]. So we upped the ante a bit and submitted our bid.
It was accepted.
A tentative closing date was set for the 30th, and as we left for vacation it felt in large part like a celebratory trip.
One closing note: that water sample? When we returned from vacation a message was on our answering machine. To paraphrase it:
"Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Slapinions, this is X from XY labratories. Normally we just mail a result to a client but in this case I felt it was too dangerous to wait. If you are drinking the water you submitted STOP. The maximum allowable lead level is .15 u/gl. Your sample came in at 259 u/gl. It is highly dangerous and if you have kids I strongly suggest you DO NOT drink the water. Please call me back at XXXXXX."
So in essence, our water was lead with a smidge of water tossed in for good measure.
We now needed to replace our entire water supply too.

Shooting Death

A 4 year old child, who it appears is very distantly related to my wife, was killed in a drive-by shooting here in Milwaukee.

The mayor had some strong words on the subject. I originally saw them buried in an article and they resonated with me. Apparently I wasn't the only one, as the statement headlines the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this morning.

"A 4-year-old girl died last night. A 4-year-old girl was shot and killed last night in our city. ... Some gutless thug decided he would solve his problem by shooting a 4-year-old girl. What a tough guy. He can brag about that to all of his buddies, that he took out a 4-year-old girl." - Mayor Tom Barrett

Strong words, and honest, devoid of the usual scripted political cliches.

It might, honestly, have bought the man my vote in the next election.

Here's a URL to the story; AOL Journals is acting up and not allowing me to incorporate it properly.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Parker chatter

Lisa just called to say I'd have to remove the dryer vent when I get home. 

"Why?" I asked, a little pissy. The thing had just been installed, then taken out and replaced when the contractors sealed the new glass block windows.

"Because you hadn't replaced the outside cover yet, and so Parker decided to dump two pairs of shoes down the vent," she said.

That little bugger . .I'm sure he will be the class clown. He always has a smile on his face and THE Hollywood-perfect look of mischief in his eyes.

He's even begun to tolerate me, throwing a shoulder against me (his best version of a hug for his Daddy) when his Mom asks him to, but still grunting and barking when I ask him on my own.

He's Momma's boy right now, always quick to hug and cuddle with her.

We've still got him in his crib, tho' he FINALLY crawled out of it on his own shortly after we moved into the house. We've since installed the handy dandy crib tent to confine him.

He's also very behind on his speech. He will say 'mom' and 'bye', and as recorded here he once said 'lub  you too', but that's it. He doesn't speak - he grunts.

He knows what's going on and understands you just fine, and I believe he thinks in sentences. He just doesn't say it.

More on P-Diddy Wee Diddy later.

Jerry Falwell Dead

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority and built the religious right into a political force, died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, a school executive said. He was 73.

I'm not sure why I'm writing about Falwell's death, since I know next to nothing about him. I was simply shocked to see the headline on Drudgereport and felt the need to repost it here.

I'm serious when I say I don't know much about him, or any televangelists for that matter. My Mom sternly forbid us from watching so much as a second of the 700 Club as a child, or any of the host of preachers on TV in the '80's.

Weird - even today I feel strongly creeped out about the subject, like it would be akin to watching a cult.

The things that stick with you from childhood.

[admission: Sometimes I do watch Pastor Scott for a minute or two on cable, but not for the sermon. She's just pretty yummy. Shame she's probably as upright and pure as she seems :)]

Friday, May 11, 2007

YaYa's K5 picture

Here's YaYa's kindergarten photo. Personally, the wife and I think she looks goofy, and for that reason we orginally skipped getting a copy. A month or so I got to thinking that it would look awkward having a one-year gap in the photo record so we ordered a copy directly from the photographer.

We toured another school, a public one, this morning. It was, honestly, awe-inspiring. Less impressive building, older interior, crowded classrooms, a more casual dress code . . and Kindergarten work on the walls that blew the socks off of our current school.

I'm talking about full page stories the kids thought up and wrote down in nice, neat handwriting.

Because her birthday is past the cutoff point YaYa might have to repeat K5 if she goes there but that might be for the best. We went in there bragging to their staff about YaYa being able to read and write. Then we walked straight into that homework display.

It was like bragging about your fastball and then running into Roger Clemens on the playground.

So why go there at all? A myriad of reasons, not the least of which is my kids are/probably always will be the poorest at her current school.

Some folks there drive Lexus's, others brand new Toyota's. I drive a '94 Aspire.

But that isn't the only reason. I guess I'll shut up about it unless/until we decide for sure to move her, but my faith in private school is certainly shaken a tad.

Lots to think about.

BTW - today is the 16th anniversary of my confrimation in the Catholic Church. [17th? Naw, I'm sure it was '91]. No real reason to remember it, save for the fact that my wife and I were talking about how rapidly my life changed at 20. I told her I actually had two epihanies, one then and one on a retreat before my confirmation when I realized I didn't want to be the quiet, reserved guy anymore; that all the people I admired were outgoing and talkative.

I never quite made the jump, at least not fully, but it marked a sharp turn in my life.

Amazing what I guy remembers.

How our purchase of Nostalgia Ave affected LuLu

First off, I'm not sure if it should read 'effected' or 'affected'. Reckon I should have checked on that before making it the title of the post.

We're going to skip ahead a little bit because an event of this week ties in with what transpired Feb 1st.

After we bought the house we realized that it was impractical to keep LuLu in her school. It was 10-12 minutes north of our old place, and would  be a 20-25 minute ride once we made the move.

Also part of the discussion was the financial end of things. That $200/month tution looked mighty large once our housing payment tripled in size.

With reluctance - with sadness and regret - we decided to pull her out of K3.

Her last day was Feb 1st, a Thursday during Catholic Schools Week. That afternoon the school held a dance. We came in the midst of it and went with her class back to their classroom.

We had homemade cupcakes coated in Nerds candy.

 [Lu was/is cupcake obsessed. For 9 months or more she has consistently brought up the subject of her upcoming 4th birthday and the cupcakes she desires to celebrate it. If you anger her or hurt her feelings she will quickly announce "You not have any cupcakes on my birthday!"]

Then I led the kids in the TootyTot dance. It's a ridiculous song where you wind up with thumbs up, knees together, elbows back, feet apart, tongue out, eyes shut, and spinning around.

The class seemed a little confused at the sight of a 300# man acting like a fool.

Part of my sadness that day was the strong feeling that we would have bit the bullet and kept YaYa there if it had transpired two years ago. A part of me thought we were shafting Lu, but I know in my heart that it was both impractical and foolish to keep running across town for of all things a K3 class.

This is Lu with her teacher Ms. Weiser

This Monday Lu and I returned to the school, to keep a long held promise that I'd have her visit with her old friends. They were all happy to see her, from the kids to Ms. Weiser to the office staff and the music teacher, but Lu herself played shy and didn't say a word to anyone.

What was worth noting was that despite saying she didn't miss school for these past three months, once she set foot in the building she was eager to show me all the different ways to get her or there, and which door led to what room, etc.

She even seemed to get over some comical anger at her friend Autumn. Lo' these many months she was quick to say "I don't like Autumn. She not my friend. She a tattletale."

But once we saw her, it was "Can she come over?"

Lu also talked constantly about her 'friend' Montarian. In truth her teacher said they rarely talked and even more rarely hung out together, but Lu seems fascinated with the name itself.

After the school visit Lu and I went to the Washington Park Library, where she gave a puppet show in the giant wooden robot/stage they have there. We then went to the West Allis police station to pay a parking ticket and got McDonalds.

A nice day together, just Lu and her Daddy.


Dance Pics 2007

Here's this years crop of official dance portraits. This is LuLu's first:

and YaYa's 3rd.

I'm not sure why they loaded so small. When I'm done with the post I'll try to correct the problem.

I have no idea what dance YaYa's doing but Lu does a charming little "Hey Daddy, I want a diamond ring, bracelets, everything, etc" number.

Today she sang out "Hey Mommy, I love my Daddy" to the tune. :)

[Lisa herself took dance on Monday's, the same as the girls, but recently dropped out as the pregnancy progesses. Man let me tell you, the months have flown by with this pregnancy. Six months in already? Wow.]

[The 6th also marked my 6 month anniversary without a cigarrette. I celebrated by gaining another three pounds]

Their recital is coming up so look for more pics of the crowd at the show.  


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lost: The Man Behind the Curtain

A hell of an episode, start to finish. Heck, I even liked Locke now and then!

So Ben is a disturbed killer who murdered his own father and played a role in slaying his people, the members of the Dharma project - an event called the  'Purge'. The Others are really the "Hostiles" and may or may not be both immortal and descended from the Black Rock.

Jacob is real, but invisible to all but Locke and Ben - or can Ben not seem him either? That would explain the anger that led to his 'murder' of Locke, since it would seem Locke is the one destined for Other greatness, not Ben.

Jack is still on the right team, and still in command of the Losties. Good for him, and the show.

I really enjoyed the episode, and I'm pleased to hear the show is renewed through 2010.

On the other hand I have ignored the final season of the Sopranos. I'll probably watch it, but right now the idea of sitting  in front of the tv for it just makes me ill - and I don't know why.



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Another Boring Book Review - High Profile

I just finished Robert B. Parker's High Profile, a Jesse Stone novel.

While it is true that I normally binge on an author's work before tiring of him and moving on, it just happens that I picked up this book because of it's pretty cover.

Gotta love that Library glossy plastic dustjacket.

It's a pretty good read. As usual, Jesse needs to kick his kooky ex to the curb, and as usual he doesn't.

Beyond that, a fine little mystery set in fictional Paradise Mass.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Weight Loss, Lost, Misc. Junk and Baseball

So I now weigh 5 pounds MORE than I did 50 weeks ago when I started Weight Watchers.

On the plus side (no pun intended) the 6th of May will mark 6 months without so much as a drag of a cigarette.

I suppose it's time to 'recommit'. I need to stop using the smoking as a (legitimate) reason to stuff my face and get back on the program.

Oh, man will that suck for awhile.

* * * * *
Lost is back on track, and answering questions at a startling rate. Now granted, some of these 'answers' have long been deduced by diehard fans (Locke's Dad is the 'real' Sawyer? Oh my, didn't see THAT coming) but its still great to see the confirmation.

So is there new life - again, no pun intended - in my theory that the characters are dead and in purgatory?

Probably not - the 'crash' scene was probably a ruse to divert attention from the true site, and all these 'you're dead' lines will wind up being so many red herrings.

My theories:

1. Kate is pregnant by Sawyer.

2. Cooper is either a) a manifestation of the island and not real  b)soon to be resurrected by the isle and/or c) both

3. Jack and Juliet are in cahoots in an end-around against Ben and his plan.  Possibly a wheels-within-wheels plan between Ben and Juliet in there too - we'll see.

4. Naomi is another Henry Gale, an inflitrator for the Others.

I'm enjoying the season and can't wait for the finale.

* * * *

The Yankees are looking mighty pathetic so far this year. It's too early to say adios to the season, but they need to turn it on.

On the flip side the Brewers are rocking the National League Central. I guess every 25 years - 1957, 1982, today - the city manages to produce a winner.

I hope :)

* * *

I am deeply disappointed with my home office. It is everything I thought it would be, but I feel disconnected from the family when I use it. I'm used to having the computer in the living room with the TV; now it's in a seperate room all by it's lonesome.

That'll take some getting used to.

The Possum

Here's some photos of YaYa at my work. Sometimes it made more sense to bring her back to work with me after school, rather than journey all the way back to our old house.

Here's my bulletin board. Note all the girls' drawings/photos and the horrid reminder of my term as AOL's First Guest Editor. The dinosaur is from LuLu.

Normally she'd snatch something to eat and then go on,, or on my laptop.

This particular day a possum was out in the parking lot. I've seen deer, hawks, possums, snakes (caught one and had YaYa hold it), Praying Mantis, and coyotes in my years there.

Which is dang odd, considering I'm smack dab in an established commercial area in the midst of the city.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hundred Dollar Baby

I just finished Robert B. Parker's Hundred Dollar Baby. 

April Kyle, a troubled teenager Spenser turned over to the care of a NY Madam decades ago (over the course of two novels) is now a Madam of her own. When her high-class brothel is threatened by goons looking to extort her she hires Spenser to take care of the problem. What follows is a web of  lies, murder, and tragedy.

In my opinion, this is a fine return to form after years of watered-down, predictable  novels. The writing is sharp, the normally nauseating Susan-Spenser love surprisingly tender, the plot engaging (for this character driven series) and the expansion of April Kyle's character entertaining.

As usual, in a nod to his own two gay sons, Parker uses the homosexual Teddy Sapp in the book. Unlike previous efforts, when he beat you over the head with it to prove a point,the character's sexuality is not much of an issue.  Some might also say Susan is annoying - and she is - but for Pete's sake she's been around 30 years; give up on Parker dumping her character, will ya?

A highly recommended book. Check it out.