Sunday, December 26, 2010

The BB (Big Bathroom) Project

After months of preliminary planning (waffling on my part), the big bathroom project is officially underway. Cheryl and I found some tiles and a design plan that we both like--these are green Huichol handmade tiles from Mexico. Unfortunately we found them in Arizona and will need to ship them to Florida (expensive). Oh, well.

We had expected to use a more traditional Talevera-type geometric pattern, but the wavy watery design of the running border tile grows on you. There's a cute sink that goes with it, too. When we get back, I'll do the dimensions and place the order.

Deciding on the tile was crucial, but it will be weeks before they actually get set into place. When I think of all the prep word that needs to be done, I am sorely tempted to throw up.

-- First, I'll draw up the detail tile plan.
-- Then we'll strip everything out of the bathroom, including the toilet and sink.
-- The existing tiled walls come out completely, down to the 2 x 4s, a huge and nasty job in itself. If I'm correct, I will then need to remove and replace some of the termite-eaten and water-rotted framing.
-- I'll need to sand or strip the old door frame.
-- The old, cracked tile floor will come out. I'll be replacing this with oak.
-- I'll remove the old plumbing and install the new. We'll get some cute old-timey faucets, and I'll fix the overflow drain so that the overflow no longer pours down into the kitchen. (I wonder who thought that was a good idea?)
-- The cement wallboard then goes in for the tiled areas, and sheet rock for the painted areas.
-- The door frames, walls and ceiling will get some paint.
-- Finally the tile will get set onto the wallboard. We're planning to frame in a mirror with the decorative pieces. Then I'll grout and finish the tile.
-- The oak floor goes in.
-- I'll need to find a nice table or stand for the ceramic sink, fasten this to the wall and plumb.
-- The toilet comes back.

All done.

Excuse me while I throw up.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Party

Our Christmas party on Saturday went pretty well. Cheryl and I started with the food mostly on Friday, with trips to three grocery stores to get everything we needed, including the 60 fat poblano chilies: 30 for the soup and 30 for the stuffed poblano entrees (stuffed with shrimp, small bits of apple and almonds).

Here are some of the chilies roasting on the grill. These weren't particularly spicy--you just never know with poblanos. I cleaned out all of the poblanos from one Mexican grocery while the produce manager gave me the stink eye.

We had spicy appetizers, poblano soup, followed by heart of palm tart, spicy pork in banana leaves, the stuffed peppers, a salad, and some garlic and chili black beans. Bob and Suzanne helped us out with the banana leaves (we had already decimated our tree when we made the dish a few weeks ago). As usual Patrick brought some great deserts: a berry pie, cheese cake and a chocolate cake.

If there's one thing Cheryl and I agree on, it's garlic. We probably used 3 or 4 heads of garlic in all. The more, the better.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Violin

As an anniversary present, Cheryl took my old violin to have it fixed by a violin guy in Tampa. I quit playing it over 20 years ago, though I've taken it out occasionally, usually just for few minutes before sending back into isolation in the closet. Sad, because of its pitiful condition and because of my ever-compounding inability to play it.

Here's my Hopf, back from the restoration job.

It's a Hopf violin, 150 or 200 years old, and it would be worth some money today if not for me. I haven't been a good friend to it at all.

I bought it while in college. Folk music and bluegrass were in a revival, and it was cool to play Nitty Gritty Dirt band and other acoustic music. I took lessons from Dr. Carl Forsberg, a great guy, played in the university's orchestra and string quartet--a whole world of music that was new to me. And then, somehow, my violin and I found ourselves playing cheesy country music in smokey bars, for money, and this went on for much too long.

Then one night, as I was playing some yee-haw thing or another, my Hopf literally exploded in my hands. The neck came loose from the body and the tension of the strings snapped it two. Even the lid came loose from sides. It was violin suicide, I believe--the old guy couldn't stand one more note of that crap.

Being broke and single-minded in estimation of my abilities, I took it upon myself to do the repair. But it never was the same. A hollow thin sound was all I could get, the raspy voice of a sick old man.

The accident also further damaged the exterior, which was in a very sorry shape, so one night I decided to strip the varnish and put on a new finish. A dumb idea but I just didn't care. I read about a formula that called for boiling down shrimp shells in lye until they become a sort of varnish. Then you're supposed to put in some human blood for color. A friend of mine owned a seafood restaurant, so I had the shells. I wasn't too keen about the blood. In the end I just used some tung oil. Of course, by removing the original varnish I also stripped away the collecter's value if I ever try to sell it.

So, I didn't have much hope that the violin guy could really fix it. But Cheryl wanted to give it a try, and that was present enough for me.

When I pulled it from its case and played it yesterday I nearly cried. It looks good. It sounds as good, maybe better than ever. Now I just need to learn to play again.

Read about the violin guy in Tampa.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Make Something Up - Part 2

"Crap," John said. "Make something up."

The three college students were getting antsy--one of the girls stood up to leave but was coaxed back onto the couch by the other two. John had promised them I would play some real jazz if they came over to the party.

Except... John was a country boy from Corinth, Mississippi, raised on grits and country music, and nothing made him happier than music that allowed him to clap his hands and laugh and stomp his right foot. He didn't have a clue about jazz, and neither did I (other than I couldn't play it).

He and I would go to big bluegrass parties on Wye mountain, with guitar players and banjo players and fiddle players in the big back yard of our friend's house. John was the master of ceremonies, the person who told jokes and yelled things like "Hot damn" while we were playing. At the time I was learning to play bluegrass fiddle. I wasn't particularly good, but I'm pretty sure that John didn't realize this. Music was just music to John.

Purists, on the other hand, have a different mindset--they are on a mission, and it doesn't matter what has captured them: sound systems, motorcycles, jazz, wine. They can be a little... critical. These three students were jazz purists. I had listened as they argued over the relative merits of Bud Powell and Bill Evans, and I had shrugged my shoulders as if anyone knew who was best, when in fact I didn't have a clue.

I was boxed into a corner. Who knows, maybe I could play something that would entertain them. I did know a jazzy version of "Someone to watch over me." I moved toward the piano bench.

Here's Art Tatum playing Little man you've had a busy day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Make Something Up

Years ago our band was playing music in a seedy nightclub, the kind of place you'd never ever go--an ugly concrete box on a dirty street in a mean section of downtown Little Rock where only bikers and construction workers felt at home--when, just as we were playing our last song, my roommate John T. came into the club followed close behind by two girls and a guy, the three them huddled closely together.

John had met these three at a college party and discovered they were jazz lovers, so he convinced them to come with him to see us play. In particular he told them several lies about me--how I was such a great jazz player (when I fact our band just played cover tunes and I could not play real jazz piano at all). John was a first-class liar.

I could easily have set the record straight but it was late, I was depressed about the dull, sad state of my life, and I was a little jealous of these brightly polished people out on a break from medical school and never before in a nightclub and certainly never in a place like this. Why not let them like me a little? So we all talked jazz, how we liked Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, and I was very cool about it.

About an hour or so later, 30 or 40 people had gathered in my house for a party, yet another party fueled by John's excessively enthusiastic personality. I had my grand piano in the living room. The three students were there, still stuck closely together and now sitting on the couch a few feet away from the piano. An assortment of drunks and other musicians wandered about in their normally stupid fashion.

John and I stood at the far end of the room, far away from my piano. "I told them you were going to play," he whispered into my ear like a kid on Christmas morning. He didn't have a clue about jazz or my inability to play it. In Vietnam, John was a general's assistant, so he never saw combat. "Vietnam was a big party for me," he liked to say.

"They're going to leave," John continued, still grinning his goofy grin. He was always smiling. "Play something."

"I don't know any jazz, John," I said. "That's the problem."

"Crap, make something up."


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Bread

I cut myself this morning. Not bad. I was preparing the toast portion of my morning coffee and toast break with Willow when the bread knife just slipped off the top of the bread. I have a nice, sharp serrated bread knife but it suddenly seemed very dull. When I pushed harder, the knife skimmed over the crust of the bread and hit my other hand. The crust of the bread did not show a mark at all.

Just yesterday I cut a piece no problem, so I wondered what could have happened to my knife. OK, then. I pulled out a butcher knife. Since this is a flat bread loaf, I thought I'd just chop off a few pieces (keeping one hand behind my back).

Then I decided to get the video camera.

Oddly enough, the bread tears apart with no problem and is tender on the inside. Tastes good, too.