Reviewing the reviewers

My friend, Jim, loves reading one star reviews on Yelp.  And truly, the way he tells it, they do have a spectacular amusement value.  Frex, he told us about a review of Frontera Grill that marked the restaurant down because the bartender at this famously busy restaurant wasn’t chatty in spite of the fact that (are you ready?) the reviewer considers her/himself and his dining companion witty and engaging.

Dude, if you have to tell people you’re witty and engaging, you’re not.  It’s just that simple.

I couldn’t find that review, but I found a lot of other ones that filled me with the kind of schadenfreude reserved for the whining complaints of idiots.  There was the one guy who complained about hating mole.  To which I am tempted to respond: Which of the dozens of types of mole do you not like?  They’re not all chocolate, y’know.  (Why yes, I’m easily amused by this kind of thing.)  Then there are the people who are obsessed with Rick Bayless.  I lost count of the reviews, both good and bad, which mentioned him by name from the people who say things like “Rick Bayless is a god” to the guy who actually gave the restaurant one star because in spite of a good dinner he was disappointed by his interaction with Bayless.  No, I’m not kidding. Apparently Bayless didn’t want to be his BFF.

And then, predictably, there were the ones complaining about the service.  I realize that everyone’s experience is going to be different in any given restaurant on any given day, but if you read a review that complains about service, and then find that the person’s other reviews are similarly whiny… well I leave it to you to decide what the problem really is.  See, I tend to believe you pretty much get out of people what you put into them.  (Oh stop giggling, you know what I mean.)  I am unfailingly polite to servers and when they come to the table at the start of the meal, I always look directly at them when they greet me with the standard  “How are you doing tonight?” question and reply “Good, thanks.  And how are you doing?”   I don’t demand anything, I always request, and I always say “please” and “thank you.”  Usually that gets a big smile and some damn good service.  If the opportunity arises, I’ll engage the server in a short chat about the food.  Usually the result is at least informative and often it’s a chance to connect.  But I never take it amiss if the server is too busy to chat so long as they’re polite about it.  So to the people who cannot seem to get the kind of fawning service they seem to expect I say this:  If most of your life’s interactions are disappointing or confrontational or problematic in some other way, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that you’re the problem, not everyone else on the planet.  (Granted, I can get along with almost anyone, but I suppose this is the point where I should add “I rest my case.”)

And then there are the people who complain about the food.  Again I say that yeah, any restaurant can have a bad day, or produce a shitty recipe or even just serve something which sounds great but isn’t what you hoped it would be.  And if the food is bad, it’s bad and it’s up to a reviewer to say as much.  But do yourself a favor when you’re reviewing and don’t write things like “It’s better at Chili’s” because unless you’re reviewing Mickey D’s you make yourself look like an idiot with no taste buds.’s reviews often have a sky-high amusement value because, unlike Yelp, you can comment on someone’s review.  And then the fur can fly!  I’ve read some hilarious comment fights there, and it’s reconfirmed my belief that authors should never answer bad reviews except to correct factual errors.  No matter how smart or clever or good at communicating you think you are, you’ll always end up looking like a jerk if you take exception to a reviewer’s opinion.

If you’re going to read reviews — and I think you should before committing to a purchase or a visit to some business or other — remember one thing:  Nothing is so good that someone won’t hate it, or so bad that someone won’t love it.  Don’t just read the good ones or the bad ones.  Look for trends; frex if the majority of reviews both pro and con mention that one thing in particular was poor, then that thing is almost certainly poor.  If everyone recommends a particular dish, try it.  And if there’s one good review in a raft of bad ones or one bad one in a raft of good ones, check the odd man out.  Chances are he’s a shill, and won’t have many other reviews.

Online reviews can be really helpful.  And even when they’re not, they can be a lot of fun.


Requiem for the taffy apple/The taffy apple manifesto

Okay, I get it. I get that my generation and the ones we spawned are populated by spoiled, egotistical idiots who made a lot of money way too easily and would spend any amount of that easy money to indulge themselves in ever-bigger and more lavish nonsense. But y’know what? There’s got to be a line in the sand, and for me that’s the taffy apple.

Quit fucking with the taffy apple!

I’m serious here.  It’s bad enough that when I find a good taffy apple for $10 or less I feel like I’ve found some kind of ginormous bargain.  What is up with these prices?  What can an apple cost?  Or sugar, assuming you’re not cutting corners and using high fructose corn syrup? Or those little wooden sticks?  And even if they’re dipped/drizzled/drywalled in chocolate, what can that cost?  Right, that’s what I mean.  What justifies a median price of about $11 an apple?  I’m eating an organic honeycrisp right now that is over a pound and I only paid $2 for it.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if I’d bought them by the bushel instead the pair, I’d have gotten a substantially better per apple price.  And honestly, I don’t need a 1 lb+ taffy apple, folks.  Five or six ounces would be sufficient.  I know, I know… I’m a traitor to Americans everywhere and the credo that if something is good, a bigger something will be better.  Especially if it costs more.  And if it’s covered with sugary fribble.  Because even the price isn’t as bad as the fact that I cannot seem to find a caramel dipped apple rolled in walnuts, pecans or even peanuts without it being covered in chocolate, chocolate chips, hunks of toffee, marshmallows, white icing, coconut, Snickers bars,  and M&Ms.  I don’t even know why they’re bothering with the apple at this point except maybe so that some people can convince themselves that it’s healthy.   Jeez, even Affy Tapple — a Chicagoland-based taffy apple producer, btw — has succumbed and started selling apples with (ugh) candy sprinkles.  n.b.,  I actually applaud Affy Tapple for staying reasonably sized and priced, and would buy them more often if it wasn’t for the fact that their apples are often bruised and occasionally mealy.

No, the real problem is the fact that plain old taffy apples are Just Not Good Enough these days.  They have to be mutant apples, the size of  basketballs and loaded with a whole candy store’s worth of sugary fribble.  And I hate that.  I just hate it.  See, taffy apples were part of fall for me.  It starts getting cold, the leaves start turning, and I think of things like apples and pumpkins and Halloween, and oooh, taffy apples which you get sometimes in your trick or treat bag if you’re lucky enough to hit up some cool person who knows that candy corn and those peanut-butter-flavored hunks of road goo in the black and orange wax paper wrappers just don’t cut it.  Real, honest-to-god crisp, juicy taffy apples, coated with a not-too-sweet caramel, and maybe rolled in salted nuts.  An apple that’s not so big that you feel like you really should share it with fifteen of your closest friends.

Those days are pretty much gone, I fear.  I just googled on taffy/caramel apples and the results were disheartening.  Amy’s apples, once so reliable, if rather pricey, seems to offer nothing but apples with troweled-on candy bars at an average price of $12 each.  And Mrs. Prindable sticks a blue ribbon on their apples and charges almost double that.  (They stick a tiny, cheap stuffed toy on top of the ribbon and charge $30 for it.  Is there freakin’ gold under that chocolate layer??)

I am declaring my independence from the commercial taffy apple.  I will buy apples and sticks and nuts and caramel and make my own.  I will make reasonably sized apples.  I will not glue whole York peppermint patties to them with melted chocolate.  And if I ever buy a taffy apple in a store, it’ll be because 1) It’s reasonably priced and 2) It’s exactly the kind I want.

Tomatoes, Zen Bees and Babies in Boxes

Tomatoes 9/26/10

So this weekend has flown by.  Yesterday Jim came by early with sweet rolls, so we sat on the sun porch and had them with coffee.  He wanted to go to American Science and Surplus, which we wanted to do, too.  Part of Halloween is finding strange things at AS&S.  Well… we found possibly the strangest thing yet:  Boxes filled with baby doll heads and torsos.  No arms or legs, mind.  Let me tell you, there was much hilarity involved in running up and down aisles to find the most obscene add-ons we could find for what we immediately dubbed “Tesla Baby on Wheels.”  The idea was to create something truly ghastly for a Halloween prop, but it’s grown well beyond that into a renewed enthusiasm for making dolls… though admittedly this is a new, uh, twist on my doll-making career.

Tesla Baby Genesis

The wrongness of this cannot be overstated.   I came up with the backstory this morning, and it’s delicious, but I want to work on the project some more before I discuss it with anyone but Glinda.

So, to change the subject: Pancakes.  That was what was for supper last night.  We went out with Karen who was footloose because Mr. Karen was out of town.  We went up to Walker Brothers because he won’t ever eat “breakfast for supper.”  There’s a reason why I call him “Mr. Poopyhead.”  After that we watched “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” because Karen had never seen it.  She loved it.

And then today we went out and worked in the garden.  We’d gone to Meinke’s yesterday afternoon and picked up a big mum and some pumpkins for the front — which is looking pretty if a bit overwhelming — but the back badly needed our attention.  I ended up pruning back the tomatoes to a few main stems so that light could get to the fruit that was left and help it to ripen.  We picked herbs and peppers and tomatoes, and Linda brought us herbs and peppers, too, so we had stuffed peppers for supper with fresh tomato sauce.

While we were out there I took a lot of photos (Check my Flickr account if you want to see them.
Zen Bee

The one above is Zen Bee.  Either he was dying or napping, but he buzzed only very slightly, and mostly just hung on to the flowers and zoned out.  I can’t help but feel that if he wasn’t dying he was having one of those “Huh?  What?  I’m sorry, what was I  saying?” moments.  However that was great for me since I got some good photos of him.  There wasn’t a whole lot of hot bee-on-flower action this afternoon, which was odd because we usually have a bee convention going on over at the butterfly bush.  I guess it’s just getting too chilly out.

And indoors, too.  I’m actually quite cold and am about to knock off for the night to go read in the bath.  This weekend I’ve shopped, come up with an idea for a bizarre and possibly steampunk inspired figure, worked out the basic plotline for the third Nick and Davy novel, okayed the final edit on my story with Silver Publishing, created a new recipe, gardened and taken a raft of photos.  I think I deserve some down time with a book and some hot water.

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Anyone who knows me knows that autumn is my favorite season, in big part because of Halloween.  Mom was born on the 26th, and loved Halloween, too so we did up her birthday with H’ween decorations.  We even had a little Halloween tree to which I added ornaments every year.

HalloweenSo every year about this time I start thinking about decorating.  I’m lucky that Glinda loves the holiday too; it’s always so much more fun when you live with someone who is as enthusiastic about being six years old again as you are.  Apparently we’re not the only ones either.  Every year the catalogs I get have more Halloween goodies in them, and the Halloween magazines get better and more plentiful.  So today I want to share some photos and links with you in honor of the amazing holiday that’s coming at us like a werewolf in heat.

Glinda and I have two rules:  Nothing too cutesy (whimsey is fine, cute is not) and nothing gorpy with chainsaws and hockey masks.  We are olde skool scarers and don’t hold with all that Leatherface crap.  When I saw Gypsy Purple’s post on the Tomcat Studio, I was intrigued in spite of the fact that this stuff is a little sweeter than what I’d normally go for.  It has a kind of silly charm to it that’s undeniable.  If you love homier, less haunt-y Halloween decorating, it’s well worth a look.

This is Miss Pete, our transvestite pine. Pete began life as a ginormous pine orb, not unlike a huge green basketball. We decided to replace him with some other sort of shrub and cut him back to the trunk but Pete is fierce. He came back with a vengeance, showing his true form this time, so instead of digging him up, we gave him eyes (since stolen by the neighborhood brats) and some outrageous purple lights. This summer he got a rose vine boa, so now she’s officially Miss Pete, and will get eyes again this Halloween. We’ve promised.

One of the coolest places you can go for Halloween ideas is Martha Stewart’s Halloween Central There is seemingly no end to the ideas you can get from this site, and it covers every facet of Halloween costuming, entertaining and decor from cute to highly sinister.  Check out this ‘mouse motel’ for one  (of many) takes on non-traditional pumpkin carving.  However, at the Villa, we just let the local wildlife  carve out their own pumpkin niche.
Pumpkin Zombies Unmasked

This year I’ve been pretty impressed by the Grandin Road catalog’s Halloween collection.  I want this garland and wreath so badly I can almost taste it. (Note:  I am not affiliated with any of these sites/catalogs in any way.  Just wildly enthusiastic.)  You might want to check out their site for some wonderful ideas if nothing else.

Another great resource for otherworldly decor, and costumes in particular is The Pyramid Collection.  (I’m not even going to start on how much I hunger for the Highwayman’s coat.)  Check out the witch’s shoes; how much cooler could those things be?  To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel:  None.  None more cooler.

There is, in fact, a metric fucktonne of cool Halloween and autum-y stuff out there, and a lot of it can be found by googling on words and phrases like “Halloween Decorating

Halloween 2009
Happy Halloween!

Hail Bloglandia, happy land

Today, three of my favorite bloggers take the stage.  First up, Chez Namaste Nancy continues to discuss the Post-Impressionist show opening soon at the de Young museum.  This is one of my favorite eras, particularly in terms of the arts, so I’ve been enjoying her posts and the images she’s sharing.  Check it out.

Earlier this week she also posted about Tom Killion’s work on The High Sierra of California.  Mr. Killion is an artist I’d never heard of so it was lovely to see a couple of his pieces for this book.  Isn’t this print gorgeous?  It also represents a substantial investment in time and effort since multi-color block prints represent hundreds of hours of work.

Next up is Gypsy Purple who is posting today about Magnolia Pearl and the Magnolia Pearl airstream!  Talk about a magic carpet ride…

And finally, Tara Bradford (Whose blog was formerly “Paris Parfait” but whose scope has expanded considerably) continues this week with her wonderful posts about Paris, Delft and Seville.  Here’s one of her images:

Isn’t it gorgeous?  And I think it makes a nice counterpart to my earlier post on those pre-war Kodachrome images.  Black and white can be immensely powerful in the right hands.  Thanks, Tara!

Amazing pre-war images in Kodachrome

Mostly we think of the world prior to the 1950s or 60s in shades of gray, limited by the images we see in the media or even our own family albums.  But in the half dozen or so years before WWII, the Eastman-Kodak company began to revolutionize photography with Kodachrome, an expensive but beautiful film that produced highly accurate and beautifully saturated color.  For the few photographers who could afford to use it (The cost of one roll — before processing, which had to be done in Rochester NY — represented about a week’s wages for the average American.) the results were worth the price.

The Daily Kos’ Johnny Gunn has made a photo post today that is a love song to Kodachrome. The images, though clearly pre-war, are staggeringly modern to our eyes because the color is so precise.  In some cases, such as the above photo from the Vermont state fair, it’s almost as if we’re looking at a still from a contemporary film about the pre-war era.  If you love photography, you really should go check it out.  Here are a few more images:

There’s a lot of emotional content in these images, and Gunn puts a great deal of it into perspective.   Historians will love this post, too.  Gunn also links to photo archives where you can find more images like this.  Well worth your time today.

Thanks to Carol C. for pointing me in this direction.

Signs that I am not cut out to be a house painter

  1. There is apricot paint where the pink should be
  2. There is pink paint where the apricot should be
  3. There is black paint everywhere, including my hair
  4. I can’t use my bathtub until I finish the one wall and I don’t care.
  5. I wash the brushes in my bathroom sink
  6. The minute I hear the elotes cart I’m out the door with money in my hand for a mango (and it’s yummy, too!)
  7. I would rather stand there explaining (in bad Frencspangol) how similar French and Spanish are to the elotes lady who doesn’t give a damn than go back in and paint.
  8. I have convinced myself that watching Orson Welles and Loretta Young in “The Stranger” is far more important than having a finished bathroom.

And one sign that I either rock or spend way too much time reading:  I identified all three guys in this photo without even thinking about it.

Allrighty then… ow

I just spent the last 90 minutes or so painting in my bathroom.  Originally the whole bath was hot pink, but I just painted two walls and the window enclosure a vivid apricot.  Walking into the room is a trip and a half, really.  But now my back hurts and I believe I’ve lost about five pounds of water weight in sweat.  And there are big, messy splotches where there shouldn’t be and a couple of places where I couldn’t reach the corner to paint there.  The splotches will eventually probably be covered with wall decals that sort of echo the button mosaic, or painted over with the black I’m using on the woodwork.  And a couple will just… show.  Yes pink, orange and black.  It’s that sort of bathroom.  Apart from that, not much doing.  I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo, and the leading contender for subject is a sequel to Suffer the Little Children.  It’s the only thing that really shouts out to me at the moment.

Glinda’s brother passed away on  Thursday.  She ended up staying home on Friday and we talked a lot, sat outside and drank coffee and looked at family photos.  It’s all good therapy.  I’m not sure which is worse though, someone healthy and happy being cut off in the middle of a good life, or having death come as a relief.  Either way it sucks.

On Saturday we did some shopping.  She felt the need to be productive over the weekend, so we went to Home Despot and bought paint and hardware.  I got materials for a collage I want to work on for Charles, and we bought a lot of fall plants for the front of the house.  Still the prettiest!

Our squirrels are turning into monsters.  Today one of them knocked a potted rose into the hostas, shattering the pot.  Yesterday I heard Glinda shouting “You little bastard!  Get out of here!!”  Turns out she had an apple on the porch and looked up to see a squirrel running off with the apple in its mouth.  Actually I wish I’d seen it; sounds hilarious.  They’ve been using the shelf in front of my windows as a superhighway all week, and digging up plants to hide their stash.  Little shitheads.  They really are funny, though.  I’m hard pressed to dislike them.

And now I’m hungry but almost too tired to bother with food.  Blah.

Givin’ it up for charity

The Torquere Charity Sip Blitz is live with twenty-eight short stories all of which have a medical theme.  Why?  Because for a year all the royalties from these stories will benefit Medecins sans frontieres/Doctors without Borders.  In addition, Torquere will match all funds.  So it’s a deal, right?  You get great stories, and people in need around the world get medical attention that they might not otherwise have gotten.  And your donation is effectively doubled!  How much cooler could that be?

My sip is entitled “The Pavilion” and it’s a story that came out of a prompt fic I wrote for my last turn as guest blogger on the Torquere Happy Hour Live Journal. What started out as a particularly scary proposition has turned into something I’m really happy about.  It’s a story about how grief and guilt can overwhelm you on the loss of a loved one.  And it’s a story of getting past all that to find that you still have a good reason to live and to fall in love again.  Here’s a taste:

What Eliot hadn’t said, what he could never say, was that Clive’s death had shaken him to his core. Where he had previously had certainties, now all he had was questions, and that was a bad place to be if you were a doctor. It led you to second-guess everything.

He also had begun to second-guess everything about his emotional life which paralyzed him with fear if he even considered seeing anyone. He avoided his friends and found he could barely even stand to see his parents anymore because he saw the spectre of death in their faces. How had he ever had the hubris to think he could be a doctor? To think he could save anyone? He couldn’t even save himself.

Until he could regain his balance, not only as a doctor but as a person, he knew he couldn’t be good at either. So he was separating himself from his old life in hope that without any anchors, any safety nets, he would find his footing again. And if not… well it was a new world. He would survive.

So you’re all going to run out and buy a copy, aren’t you?   Yeah, I know you are.  Because it’s a good cause and a good story.  C’mon, people.  Give it up for charity.  I did. *g*