Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wanna wash a house?

How about getting your string trimmer out and doing that while I wash the house? I got the grass cut yesterday but the string in the electric trimmer gave out, so before I do anything else it'll be off to Homo Depot for nylon string so I can finish that job. Before that, though, I have to write my weekly piece for the Rainbow Room, which is percolating away as I tap the keys here. (Multitasking? I guess so. I also have an email thread going!)

One thing we learned on our trip south last weekend is that our new North Carolina neighborhood is populated with folks from the first wave of retiring boomers, enjoying their just-retired re-adolescence, challenging their aging livers with hearty parties. I watched my parents go through that stage in their early 60s; they really had fun--but we've already done that regular Friday Happy Hour thing here, while we were in our 50s, and have seen the damage too much alcohol can do not only to individual bodies but to relationships as well. Don't get me wrong--we're as sociable and fun as the next guys, but we may be sitting some things out. We won't be building a 20-foot-square "party pier," for instance, so neighbors can tool around in their boats and pier-hop from drink to drink. Sounds fun, but been there, done that (or the equivalent...) (And we can't afford such a huge pier.)

Guess we'll be the standoffish gay guys. Not to worry. I'll wow 'em with my food!

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Official

No music this morning. I've whiled away too many hours already catching up with all my blog buddies after nearly a week out of the blogosphere, and now the morning is getting away from me.

But I wanted to let you know we now own the lovely piece of dirt pictured above, and in the process of making the purchase we also met some sterling people who made us feel very welcome. To our real estate's office mates we're known simply as "the guys," and Edenton being the tiny town it is, we were greeted with huge hellos every time we ran into one of them in our perambulations. The lawyer who handled the settlement offered his services for whatever else we may need--I know he wants our money, but he's a straight shooter, well-known locally, and it's nice to have somebody like him in our corner.

We talked to three builders and saw their work. They're all top-notch in every way, so our decision on which of them to go with will really boil down to price. We should make that choice in the next couple of weeks.

In the little time I had left here after writing and then heading to North Carolina, it never warmed up and it rained pretty much constantly, so all that painting and washing I talked about last week still have to be done. And because of all the rain and the recent warmer temperatures, the grass is ready to be cut. It's not much warmer, alas, but at least we're promised a dry next couple of days, so my week's work is cut out for me, especially if we intend to get the house on the market a week from today!

It's nice to be back with you!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Crunch Time

I'm afraid I won't be here much to kick around this week. I'm faced with a compression of "must-dos" brought on by a combination of circumstances: our being in North Carolina from Thursday to Sunday buying the land and talking to builders, and our real estate agent being on a long-planned vacation during much of April. The Realtor is coming today at noon to photograph the house for his brochure and the online virtual tour, so I've got last-minute cleaning and re-arranging to do.

Plants have to be taken out of the bathroom upstairs--their sun room--and then cleaned up after.

The porch spindles need another coat of paint--I'll do that when it warms up this afternoon. They're ranged at the moment all over the deck out back, so they'll have to be put someplace out of the way for the picture, then moved back so I can paint them.

The front of the house and the porch floor need to be hosed down and washed of all the urban grime collected since the last time we did it, five years ago.

And somewhere in the middle of this I've got to schedule the 40,000 mile service on my car, to be completed by Thursday.

I'll try to check in maybe Wednesday...wish us luck!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A good dinner and misspent youth

I'm the tiniest bit tired this morning after an evening with three very talkative ladies from Steve's job. At times it was a regular three-ring circus--amazing the noise just five people can make--but it was fun. One of our guests was someone with a very deep history with the company, and it was both fascinating and depressing to hear her take on how it completely screwed itself with the mishandling of this enormous project that Steve and these three in are in the midst of closing down. I had a lot of questions answered and was amazed.

The baked ziti and the carrot cake were both hits. I've sent them the recipes. (No, I didn't just send them links to the blog pages. Some people just don't care about my blog. The nerve!)

Something I read at Mark's place this morning reminded me of savings stamps, specifically the S&H Green Stamps that we used to collect
when we made purchases at various stores. You saved
them up, pasting them in a handy booklet, and then went to a Green Stamp Store to shop for things you could buy with your stamps. I seem to remember my family got a plastic bowl of some kind that we used for several years.

There was another purveyor of coupons: Old Gold cigarettes. Each pack was sold with a coupon under the plastic wrapper. (I smoked Winstons when I first started. I probably inhaled enough of those babies to get a car, but Winstons didn't have coupons.) Same deal: if you endangered your health with enough of these tobacco sticks you could redeem these coupons for something from a catalog. I never knew anybody who did it, but plenty of people must have because the promotion stayed around for years.

When I was a kid I read as many of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries as I could get my hands on--I loved the old-fashioned language and manners described in the very early books from the 1920s and 30s. I got hooked by rummaging in the attic of my Aunt Ruth, where I happened upon a Nancy Drew collection that her daughters had read when they were children in the '30s. Nancy in her "frocks" and the boys getting into their "roadster" for a trip to town fascinated me, and the books infected me with the mystery bug. I spent one pre-adolescent summer sitting at a card table on our screened side porch writing a murder mystery about somebody poisoning the glue on S&H-type trading stamps. I was actually savvy enough at the time to realize I couldn't make them "S&H" stamps because of copyright and libel laws. (Oh the ambition!) Summer vacation ended before my story did, and I think the story itself was lost in a flood caused by Hurricane Diana. Too bad. But look at me, still writing!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Busy day ahead.......

I admit it, I've been futzing this morning. Doodling on the 'puter, browsing facebook, writing emails, following threads hither and yon, waiting for inspiration, or maybe just until my fingers work well enough to hit the keys reasonably accurately. (If you could see an unedited version of these writings you'd think the proverbial monkey at the keyboard really had a job, right here! Try instant-messaging me on facebook and you'll see...)

It's still gray and chilly outside, and outdoor spring chores are beginning to beckon. They're particularly important this year since we want the house to "pop," as they say in real estate...we are promised a bit more warmth and sunshine as the week progresses so there is still time. Our agent is coming on Monday to take interior pictures for his brochure and the "virtual tour" on his website. Miraculously, we'll be ready for him. He also wants to take a picture of the front of the house and is stymied in that because the porch is still dismantled for painting. I have this spectacular picture, but it can't be used with all those flags flying on it.... well, the gay flag, anyway. I'm asking a friend if he can photoshop them out. Wouldn't you want to live in this house????

Tonight's the night for the big office dinner--now smaller by two who had previous engagements. So it's fewer people but it's still major cooking. That's what I'll doing most of the day.

I'll post my songs now--two insrumentals--and get away from this screen!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

A great weekend!

We got a tremendous amount accomplished over the weekend--it feels like we took quantum leaps towards readying the house for sale. Steve is almost finished painting the kitchen--just a bit of trim left and this never-ending house-painting job is done. And as if that weren't enough, my sister Marie donated an entire room in her house for us to store boxes and a few sticks of furniture until we are ready to move. So Saturday morning while Steve painted, I loaded the SUV with boxes from the garage and the basement--in the process making those two spaces miraculously navigable again--and took them out to Marie's. (Sixty miles round trip.) We finished that job on a return trip later in the evening, during which we celebrated Marie's birthday--a dinner which I made. When I wasn't packing and moving boxes Saturday I was getting a dish of ziti ready to bake, making salad dressing and chopping veggies, Steve having painted the "business end" of the kitchen first to make room for me. (I'd already baked a birthday cake--carrot--the day before.)

I'll be finishing my part of painting the porch this week after the weather dries and warms, and Steve will finish the rest next weekend. Then it's a bit of siding repair, putting some leaf mulch in the gardens and a big house-cleaning, and we'll be ready to open the place up to the highest bidder.

Meanwhile, this is the last week that all of Steve's co-workers will be in one place, here in the DC office, so we're having a major dinner party Wednesday night. Guess what's on the menu? Baked ziti, salad, and carrot cake! I figure I've got all them down to an art by now. And the dinner party will necessitate more packing, because all the kitchen stuff is in the dining room while the kitchen is being painted. We'll decide what to return to the kitchen and what to box up. There's still tons more packing to do, of course, but from now on whatever boxes we fill up will be going with us when we go wherever we're going when we sell the house--either to a local apartment if it's before Steve job ends (in 87 days!), or to a rental in North Carolina.

We're coming to crunch time. I thought we'd never get here!

Friday, March 13, 2009

FOOD FRIDAY!



CARROT CAKE WITH MAPLE CREAM CHEESE ICING

What a difference a day can make. We finally got over a major hurdle yesterday: we closed on the line of credit that will make the purchase of the North Carolina land possible. This means all the things we've planning for the weekend of the 27th of March will really happen. We'll close on the land, we'll meet with all the builders--things will start moving. Suddenly the future isn't as foggy as it was just yesterday. Amazing (and selfish) how bright the whole world can seem when your own place in it makes some sense!

This is a repeat of a great favorite. I had every intention of giving you a new recipe today, but the one I had in mind definitely needs work. It was an old recipe for a meat and potato casserole, written to the standards of the 1950s, and it left a lot of things out. All the added veggies gave off their juices and there was no place for them to go, and the potatoes never cooked through, even after 1 1/2 hours in the oven. It's got potential as a cozy and delicious meal, but not now.

So without further ado:

Cake :
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated, peeled carrots
1/2 cup white raisins
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained completely
1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger

Icing:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon maple flavoring, or 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, preferably dark

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Oil bottom and sides of a large (approximately 8” x 12") rectangular baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon to blend. In larger bowl, whisk sugars, oil and buttermilk to blend. Whisk eggs into sugar mixture 1 at a time. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just blended. Stir in carrots, raisins, pineapple and ginger. Pour batter into prepared baking dish.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Cool cake on rack completely.

For the icing: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until creamy. Beat in maple syrup. Spread on cake.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thoughts on the times

I'd bet that virtually every person I know around my age (you Baby-Boomers and "cuspers" like me), if asked if they'd ever been poor, would answer with words to this effect: "we were never rich, but we never went without, either." When I was in college and just after, I "lived poor." In fact, we all affected a certain level of poverty as a sign of rebellion from the comfortable, middle-class conformity of our parents. Little seemed more important than to look past the crass materialism we had been surrounded by as we grew up to the more lasting and meaningful aspects of life. Jeans and T-shirts became our uniform, the cruddier-looking the better. To be called plastic was an extreme insult, and by the same token, being found authentic was a high honor. Somehow torn clothes gave us authenticity. So did folk music, the music of the people. It's no accident that a Joan Baez, dressed in shapeless shifts, with no make-up and no hair styling, became the rage. She was a personification of that "authenticity" we all sought. The fact that her unadorned singing voice in those early years was other-worldly in its beauty only gave her, and by extension us, more credence. See how perfect we can be in our unembellished humanity?

Of course, most of us knew that if things ever became truly rough, we could run back to those materialistic, but secure, parental homes and be safe. Smothered, maybe, but never hungry.

The fact is that most of us alive today, at least in this country (and that's a huge qualifier), have never known anything close to poverty. Oh, yes, some of us joined the Peace Corps and saw true human misery. Others went to Viet Nam and had similarly jarring experiences (though much more dangerous and, at times, soul-searing) but most of us knew that if we were lucky, these were mere detours in our lives, that we'd be returning to good old American comfort before too long. (Those of us in the Peace Corps even had the luxury of choosing to live that way.)

So the present financial turmoil is terribly frightening. So many peoples' incomes are either partially or entirely tied to the stock market that the national mood is one of foreboding, we fear a true financial cataclysm in which the bottom literally falls away. It's a nightmare, really, and nobody feels safe from it. My personal income comes entirely from a federal pension. I've been given no reason to worry that those funds will one day run dry, but I can't imagine why that's impossible, given the rest of the economy.

I don't really know where I'm going with this except to give voice to the worries that most of us have these days. Our blogger friend E. just lost his job, and it hits home when it happens to such a decent guy. And its in my own family--Steve is about to be forced onto his 401K, a coerced retirement because his company will no longer be doing the work he was hired for. We took out an income insurance policy, but we have no idea how that will play out.

We all hunker between the walls we bought or rented in flusher days, wondering when things will return to the way they are "supposed" to be. Is there a lesson here? Will we learn anything from this experience and be better people for it? We can only hope.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rambles

These early March days have us on a roller coaster. Last weekend I was wearing shorts and sandals and I was outside long enough for my face to get some color; since then we've been back down into the 30s, and today we are promised a high in the upper 60s before another cold front blows us back down. With any luck, if the anticipated wind doesn't blow everything away, it will be warm enough later today for me to prime the sanded areas on the porch balustrades, those long, skinny pieces of wood that make up the decorative railing. It's just spot work that won't take long--and I won't have to do deep knee bends to accomplish it.

I've been wasting some time this morning playing a few computer games that Distributorcap NY posted on his site yesterday. The "most common words" game is a terrific and frustrating teaser. You're given 5 minutes in which to think of the most commonly used words in the English language and write them into blanks provided. Some of them are obvious, while others you come up with may be common to you but not to the majority of English speakers ( and you get no points for them). The game itself gives you instant feedback, telling you if you are right or wrong. I confess I didn't do so well. I hate racing a clock.

And then just try to think of all 17 of the Beatles' number 1 hits!

There is little today to inspire me to timeless prose. Real estate issues are not dire but not interesting, either. We're just waiting for the bank to approve our loan for the North Carolina land--well, supposedly we are approved, but there was a glitch on paper work that should have been caught weeks ago and wasn't, so everything screeched to a halt last Friday until a corrected document is retrieved. We are making appointments with people in North Carolina for the weekend of March 27 (including settling on the land purchase), assuming all will be straightened out by then.

If you're interested, I wrote a piece about relationships on the Peace Corps site yesterday. If you read it I'd love a comment or two, yay or nay. Since there is as yet no way to count hits on the site, the writers there have no way of knowing if we are attracting any audience at all.......

It's Hump Day! Hope yours is good.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Painting the Porch

This early morning spell is a prelude to more painting. Time and season have overtaken us and a big job we were hoping would not be necessary--painting all the gingerbread on our front porch--announced itself ready to be done. Oh, it had been maybe five years since we'd touched the paint and it was beginning to peel and chip. But somehow when you're showing a house in the dead and drear of winter, chipped paint doesn't seem to matter all that much. Now, though, the days are brighter and longer, the birds are chirping, perennials are breaking ground, and the dowdiness of our painted lady couldn't be overlooked. And since we're trying to move this home improvement project along, and since Steve is occupied on the inside, the work fell to me, the non-painter.

Don't get me wrong. I'm overjoyed to be contributing to the sweat equity, and the look of the newly colorful pieces of wood is delightful. But the work requires me to assume positions I didn't know I could, using balancing and stooping muscles I forgot I had. I'm sore today. But the show must go on.

Essentially, this Gets broken down to this And I do this Note the gloves on the hands and the paint on the feet. The gloves were an idea I got after my first few hours, when my hands and fingers took on the look of an artist's palette. My feet got a few more spots on them and my knees didn't completely escape attention, either. But the job is moving along and I'm proud of it.

You see I'm sitting on a bucket. It's obvious that kneeling before the long slats would be the most efficient position to be in, but my knees object to that pressure. And the slats are so long that I can't paint an entire one from just one position. So I spent much of yesterday getting up and moving from one bucket to another, constantly re-positioning the pieces of wood, stepping between and over them, using balancing and knee-lift skills this out-size corpus of mine doesn't really like, never did.

The sacrifices we make for a few thousand bucks! But the work is moving fast and soon enough it will be done, never to be repeated, at least not by Ralph or Steve. And the porch will once again be gorgeous.

Friday, March 6, 2009

FOOD FRIDAY!


KITCHEN SINK SALAD

I'm so certain that you've got the same kind of thing in your own repertoire that I almost didn't post this. But it's so good I thought I'd give it a shot anyway, if only to show you how I make my standard salad dressing. I won't give the ingredients in regular recipe form--that is, I'll list what I used in this one but let you decide on the quantity. There are just four must-have ingredients: steak, potatoes, cheese and salad greens. (Plus the dressing, of course.)

The genesis of this salad: I was hungry for a "big salad," as made famous by Elaine in "Seinfeld." I had a couple of gifted Omaha steaks--small filets mignons--that had been mouldering in the freezer for so long I knew they'd be inedible on their own, plus, they were too tiny to make a meal of by themselves. I had a few Yukon Gold potatoes that also had to be used or they'd go bad. And I've started buying whole heads of romaine lettuce these days instead of the pre-picked bags, to save money. That was all cleaned and dried and ready to use.

So here you go. In the dressing, use any kind of vinegar you have, but champagne vinegar adds a special flavor.

Mustard vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a mortar and pestle, crush garlic and thyme against salt until a paste is formed. Add mustard and vinegar and stir until well mixed.

Empty contents of bowl into a shaker container and add olive oil. Shake to form an emulsion and set aside.

Salad:

4 small Yukon Gold potatoes
2 4-oz. filets mignons
1 tablespoon olive oil
crumbled feta or blue cheese
finely minced shallots
finely chopped celery
1 carrot, grated
1/4 cup roasted red pepper from a jar, coarsley chopped
1/4 cup parsely, chopped
marinataed artichokes, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup seeded kalamata olives
handful cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
two sticks hearts of palm, chopped into bite-size chunks
about 10 oz. torn romaine lettuce

Steam potatoes whole, skin on, until a fork goes into them with some pressure. (They shouldn't be mushy.) Allow to cool until you can handle them, then slip off skins and cut into quarters.

Salt and pepper steaks. Heat olive oil over high heat in a skillet until shimmering, add steaks and sear on one side 3 minutes, then turn and sear the other side 2 additional minutes. Remove steaks and tent with foil 15 minutes to allow juices to settle, then carve into bite-size chunks.

Toss all ingredients into a large bowl, ending with the romaine. Add dressing, toss well and serve.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hungry?


A friend says maybe I should post something from here tomorrow.

Matt Alber: the End Of The World



This song presents one of those blog opportunities where I can share a new talent with you that I think is truly sensational and throw in a little cultural insight as well.

Matt Alber is an artist so new to the scene that he doesn't even have a wiki page yet. He says he's been in choirs all his life and is clearly musically trained. He lives in San Francisco, where his most recent choral gig was with Chanticleer, a top-notch and nationally known male chamber group. A friend on Facebook brought him to my attention.

I characterize Matt as "Rufus Wainwright with a vocal coach." He writes his own music, as does Rufus, but he's clearly a more laid-back performer, less flamboyant. A first album is often the easiest one of an entire career because an artist has literally his entire life to write the material for it. By the same token, the second is the most important and often the most difficult because it shows whether or not that career has legs. Writing memorable music as a pastime and landing a recording gig is one thing; writing the same quality of music on deadline and while managing a life on the road is quite another. Matt's style is dangerously close to the saccharine banality of Josh Groban (an utterly wasted voice, in my opinion--sorry, fans) but nothing on this first CD, Hide Nothing, slips into that territory. May he keep to that standard.

And now to the cultural insight, to raise this above pure self-indulgence on my part: There's no queston from this video that Matt Alber is gay. Call the entire performance manipulative, schmaltzy, clich├ęd--it is. But the video brings tears to my eyes and to those of my gay friends because it's been made! You don't know you've missed something until you see it unexpectedly there in front of you, and then you say, "Wow!" Suddenly you're affirmed, your life has such validation that it can be demonstrated even in this corny way. It's overpowering. Wainwright is affirming, too, by the sheer force of his talent and his personality. But he's infected with the irony of our jaded age, as well, so he's a bit stand-offish. Matt Alber offers nothing more than himself, his songs, and his beautiful voice. I fervently hope he can keep that quality.

Two virtual worlds

Sorry I was absent yesterday. I was writing, but not here. Since the new Peace Corps Worldwide site is up and running now, I felt a responsibility to put something there besides the introductory post I'd written months ago, and that took up all my writing mojo for the day. I've added a link to the new site over on the sidebar under "check these out ("Ralph's Notes From The Rainbow Room"). If it's a weekday and you don't see me here by 11 AM Eastern, check over at the other site if you're so inclined. At this stage I'm thinking that'll happen maybe once a week. Yesterday's post was a re-do and slight expansion of the one I did here a few weeks ago about gay marriage. It's better.

It's a whole different blogosphere over there, where things are actually expected of me (as opposed to here, where I just do what the hell I want). I feel I should be more focused and professional in tone, less chatty than here, and that speaks to the quality of the wonderful friendships I've gained here at Transition. You make me feel welcome--over there I'm expecting to feel judged. It's all very new still, and as far as the actual writing goes, I welcome the opportunity to exercise some new muscles. One thing is sure: I won't be bending the eyes of that audience with my ongoing real estate soap opera. What else is Days of Transition, after all, you lucky people?

There's still snow on the ground but the temperatures are inexorably rising. They're prediciting the 70s for the weekend. I was hoping we could have the house sold before I had to get out and do any landscaping work, but it looks like I'll be mulching and putting a few annuals in before long. I'm also going to be doing something I never do: paint! We've decided that the front porch, chipped and fading as it is, must be spruced up before we can show this place with any confidence, and Steve just can't do everything by himsellf. I'm happy to be able to contribute, and there's not too much I can do wrong. I may need an extra gallon, though, just to make up for all the paint I get on me instead of the wood!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Contemplating new adventures

Yesterday was an excellent day. The final step in the loan processing finally happened, so we should settle sometime this week. And we had a very encouraging conversation with a builder in North Carolina. It's looking like the integrity of the house design we labored over with Dale in Delaware actually can be maintained within our budget after all, if we drop a few truly extraneous bells and whistles and can do some of the labor ourselves, such as build the deck. (That'll be fun!) Suddenly it feels OK again to make a few plans. We're headed back to NC at the end of the month to have a conversation with yet another promising builder, and we're starting the bidding process on the land in the picture up at the top. The last piece of the puzzle will be results of the house appraisal we had done last week.

So today I contemplate my "job." The e-zine I'm supposed to be writing for, Peace Corps Worldwide, is finally up and running--and it's turned into a collection of blogs! So now I'll be writing two blogs, but they'll be different. The one for the Peace Corps will be only sporadic, and more topical than what I usually do here. But the reason I'm not more topical here is not because I don't want to be topical; it's because issues that are "burning" for so many blogosphere bloviators seldom get me running to the point of having anything interesting to say about them. (And of course, bloviation is never my purpose for writing anything at all...)

On the other hand, I do work well "on assignment." Even though Peace Corps Worldwide took me on basically to fill the "gay Peace Corps" niche, I'm not bound to stick with only "gay" or only "Peace Corps"--the fact that whatever I say comes through my personal prism will apparently suffice.

So here's a request. Is there anything you're interested in that you'd like me to write about? Or that you think I should write about? I'm serious. I need some ideas. I've already covered gay marriage here and will write about it at the other site, but otherwise I'm coming up empty. I realize this is a stab in the dark and requests for specific responses here seldom bear fruit, but what the hey....I work so much better when another brain is consorting with mine.....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Better late than never!


It took until winter is only three weeks from being officially behind us, but we got our snowstorm. What you see in the picture is just about what I'm still looking at through the window, except the sun's higher now, so we have a bright gray sky now instead of dark gray. The snow continues to fall, and the sounds of people digging out are all around. I guess I'll be doing that, too, at some point today, but I may as well let the snow end first. Anyway, I doubt if I'll be venturing out in the car.

We went to the "The Reader" yesterday. It had been sort of a sleeper on my radar, I guess because it didn't get as much media attention as the other important films of the season, "Milk" and "Doubt." I'd heard about Kate Winslet's performance, but didn't really know anything about the movie. It's about a teenage boy who finds himself in an affair with a woman 21 years his senior in 1960s Germany; the woman turns out to have worked for the SS during WW 2, and the story infolds from there. The entire cast is excellent, including (especially) the actor who plays the boy, Michael, and Ralph Fiennes, who plays Michael as an adult. It's psychologically compelling, uses silence eloquently--a mark of consummate acting and directing skills. Do yourself a favor and see it. It's already on my list of all-time favorites.

Today will be spent taking care of some business. The loan we're trying to finalize in order to move on with real estate plans is ready to go but for one thing: the bank can't get anybody in the HR office of Steve's company to return a call to confirm his employment. I've got an idea: can they use email as an initial contact to set up a call? If so, I want to get that set up.

Later, we will have a phone meeting with one of the builders in North Carolina who has submitted an estimate. The cost is still too high, (lower than the first) but this guy comes highly recommended by all the locals who know him, and he is very approachable. His will be a good brain to pick.

Aside from the movie, work finally got started on the kitchen this weekend, and Steve says the drywall is going faster than he thought it would. Once the kitchen is done, that'll be it for the inside. As soon as the weather clears and the temperature gets back into the consistent 40s, I'm going to start painting the front porch. This place may still be on the market by the end of this month!