Thursday, January 31, 2008
Last year, my brother gave me big poofy slippers with gorillas on them. They are very warm. However, our cat is afraid of the poofy gorillas on the slippers and kind of goes into freak-out mode whenever I walk near him. Because I like to mess with the cat, I am having fun with this. Who knew walking could be so much fun?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008
When I was younger and my parents would have people come over, my mom would always put out cheese and crackers. The crackers were usually Sociables, and the cheese was usually a slab of that spreadable cheddar swirled with port wine. Some people call it pub cheese, and sometimes it comes in a crock. This came in a Styrofoam tray like ground beef. It appeared to have been packaged by the supermarket deli. I think it's just called port wine cheddar, but I'm really not sure. But I do know that I loved it, and so did my brothers, but we weren't allowed to have too much of it whenever my mom put it out, because it was really for the company. And, my mom never bought it when we didn't have company coming over. So because we were young and honestly didn't know any better, my brothers and I called this cheese "company cheese." I honestly thought that's what it was called. It wasn't until maybe 20 years later when I bought a slab, spread it on some crackers, and offered one to my roommate. He asked what it was. I told him it was company cheese. He laughed at me and said what the hell is company cheese? And then I felt dumb.

I don't know why I just thought of that, but there you go. Actually, company cheese sounds pretty good right now, and that's a good sign, because it means my cold is receding and I'm getting my appetite back.

Sunday, January 27, 2008
Ugh. After thoroughly wearing myself out on Wednesday night by staying up too late and driving home through slippery snow (for three hours), I got myself nice and sick. Well, not too bad, but I have a cold, and I know I got it because I just got too tired to fight it off. So the last few days have been mostly sniffly and full of naps. Seriously, I've been getting like 14 hours of sleep a day. Sadly, I had a bunch of stuff planned this weekend, and I didn't want to cancel any of it, so I'm still tired, but I think I'm feeling better. But just to be sure, I'm going to bed soon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
An awful, messy day. It snowed pretty much all day, and I'd say we got about 6 or 8 inches of snow, but because it didn't really get going until almost daybreak, school was still on. (Easy joke: "It's not the inches -- it's the timing." "That's what she said.") Anyway, I did avoid going up to Grand Rapids for class, which gave me a few hours off. How did I spend them? Glad you asked. I shoveled the driveway. Big fun, huh?

Oh, a good movie to go see is The Savages. It's sad (and I heard someone describe it as "indie," which apparently means that it does not have a happy ending), but it's a good story, and the acting is good, I think. I'm not sure I can always tell good acting, though I can tell bad acting, and this definitely wasn't bad. Oh, and on the way into the theatre, you can take a look at the movie poster, which was drawn by Chris Ware (of Jimmy Corrigan fame, although "fame" might not be the best word here). One thing that bugged me about the movie, though, was that a character said that he was going to drive up to Buffalo from New York City so that he could spend the afternoon with another character. See, a lot of people think that Buffalo is relatively close to New York City, when it fact it's a good seven or eight hour drive (depending on which route you take, because the fast route isn't direct, and the direct route is most certainly not fast, and I know, because I've been a passenger on the trip from Buffalo to just north of New York City many times). So this movie does nothing to dispel the common notion that Buffalo and New York City are close. I don't know, it just bugged me. You don't drive up from NYC to Buffalo for an afternoon. Actually, the opposite might be more appealing, but still, it's not a drive you make to spend an afternoon. Yeah, I get bothered by the little things. But other than that, good flick!

Thursday, January 17, 2008
I have several college application letters I need to write for a few of my students, but instead of doing that this afternoon, I went to see Juno. I kept reading such good things about it, and I had been wanting to see it for some time, but Paul was really uninterested, so I figured I'd just go by myself. Besides, another one of my students -- one for whom I don't even have to write a letter -- gave me a $20 gift card to the downtown movie theatre. So, I swiped once for a ticket, swiped again for popcorn (because I cannot resist movie theatre popcorn), and sat down.

The 20 minutes of trailers for what looked like bad movies sort of pissed me off, but the movie started off well, what with Rainn Wilson as the clerk in a convenience store and all. I know Dwight Schrute is just a character he plays, but I'm sorry, to me, he's always that character and therefore very funny. He's funny anyway, but especially so when I start thinking hey, that's Dwight working at the Circle K!

But then it got sort Not bad, definitely good, and I'm glad I saw it, but I guess after all of those rave reviews, I was expecting to be blown away with some morality tale or something. I liked it, but ultimately it was a movie about a teenager who gets pregnant and has to deal with it. I've read a lot of reviews praising the language of the film for getting the teenage lexicon and inflection so dead on, but it all sounded a little forced and scripted to me. Not bad, again, but way too literate. The teenagers I know (and I know quite a few) don't have such good vocabularies. And instead of saying cool, the characters in the movie said "wizard." What the hell does that mean? It felt like the writers were trying to get a new buzzword going. I hope it doesn't get picked up, because it's just really stupid.

I'm not saying to skip the movie, because I did like it. It's worth seeing for the opening credits alone, a three-minute montage of photocopied stop-motion brilliance that I had heard about a few months ago, even before I had really heard of the film itself. And the two lead actors are excellent; the girl who played Juno is good enough to carry the movie, and Michael Cera's awkward sheepishness really works for him. And that silly little Moldy Peaches song that's in the soundtrack a few times is actually kind of enjoyable. It's a good movie. But just don't be surprised if it doesn't live up to the hype. All the hype.

Okay, now I have some letters to write.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Starting to feel busy again. And maybe a little sore in the throat. This never happened in Puerto Rico!

Sunday, January 13, 2008
Tonight I was thinking about all the great food we ate in Puerto Rico, so I tried, with some success, to recreate a few simpler dishes at home. I didn't get too fancy, and I didn't spend a whole lot of money, but I guess the big thing that I bought that I've never bought at the store before was plantains. These are everywhere in Puerto Rico -- you get them with just about every meal, or you can order them as a side dish. Or, your meal is largely made up of plantains, as in the case of the delicious mofongos we ate. Mofongos are hard to describe, but think of a thick pancake made of mashed plantains and a little garlic. Now imagine that pancake is sort of bowl shaped and filled with chicken or shrimp or pork, and then covered in a tomato-onion gravy/broth sort of liquid, and you've got a mofongo. It might not sound great, but it's so delicious and unusual, especially if you've never really had Caribbean cuisine before (which I had not). Anyway, I didn't make that tonight, but I did saute some ripe plantains, much like the ones we had when we were down there.

And to go along with it, I made some rice and beans. Not a big deal, I know, but rice and beans, or arroz y habichuelas, comes with every meal, much like meals in American restaurants come with your choice of potato. Anyway, the rice is short grain pearly rice, which I was able to get in the interational aisle of our local supermegamart. And the beans were usually flavored with onion, cilantro, lime, and pork. I skipped the pork (for health reasons, and because I really ate a lot of pig when we were down there), but I love cilantro and beans, so that sort of made up for it.

And I made some quick garlic bread, which we got at just about every restaurant we went to. I'm not sure how or why garlic bread is so common in Puerto Rico, but every time we sat down to eat somewhere, someone brought us a basket of soft bread slathered in butter and garlic. I always figured it was an Italian thing, but I guess everyone loves garlic bread. Or a lot of people do, anyway.

It's hard to explain what was different about the food down there. I guess it was just the inclusion and exclusion of little ingredients that made the difference -- things like short grain instead of long grain rice, different bread, plantains instead of potatoes, odd fruit flavorings, and so on. And of course, the pina colada I had with just about every meal made everything taste good!

I think that's about all I want to say about our trip. It was just a great time, and honestly, I'm a little sad to be back. Not distraught or anything, but we just had such a great time, and the weather was so perfect, and it was so nice to get away that being back seems a little less fun. Plus, it's hard to wake up to cold and snow when there were palm trees out our window for ten days. So I'm maybe feeling a little like Jack in last season's Lost finale, because I just really want to go back to the island. Maybe next year.

Friday, January 11, 2008
Tiny Paul, big wall. The National Park Service maintains the two forts in Puerto Rico: San Cristobal and El Morro. (More here.) These are, of course, no longer used as military stations, but they're incredible places to visit. Both places are enormous, and the architecture is amazing, especially when you consider that some of it is more than 400 years old. And, there are huge walls around the city, which you can really appreciate at El Morro. Look: here is Paul, who is by no means a small person, standing in front of one of the walls. (He is the speck in the lower left of the photo.) Wow. That's a big wall! Anyway, we walked all over the two forts and enjoyed the sun and the breeze. There are lots of little steps and inclines from one level to the next, and I kept thinking how some of my students would kill to skateboard there. It's like a giant 15th Century skate park in Old San Juan. But I digress.

We also took a half-day excursion to the El Yunque rainforest, though it turned out to be more like three-quarters of a day, but that's fine. When we were planning our trip, I learned that there was a rainforest in Puerto Rico, which I never knew. Anyway, we did a bus tour, and our tour guide was this really nice Puerto Rican man who said "okay" a lot and kept referring to everyone on the tour as "friends." Anyway, the rainforest is pretty well maintained, so it's not like you're just out in the wild with monkeys swinging and bugs swarming. In fact, there were hardly any animals at all, which surprised me. We did one of the trails, but again, it was well maintained and paved, so we weren't trodding through mud or anything like that. There were some great waterfalls, too. People were swimming in one of them, and I wanted to go in, but I didn't want to be in this little waterfall with all those people, so we walked along a little bit more and found another waterfall area. No one was in that one, so we took off our shoes and went in up to our knees. Not a full immersion, no, but the water was a little cold, and the ground was rocky and slippery, so we thought we should maybe take it easy.

Yeah, there's more. I'll get to it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Some stuff about our trip, with more throughout the week:

When we got to Puerto Rico the day after Christmas, we noticed a few things immediately. First of all, it's hot. I guess that's no big surprise, but it's something you can feel as soon as you get off the plane, even through no one actually steps off a jet into the outside air. You can feel it through the jetway thing that you have to walk down. It was a sensation I remember from way back when we used to visit my grandparents in Florida during the winter -- as soon as you step off the plane, you notice the difference immediately. Also, it's humid there, which I guess is also no big surprise when you consider that it's a small island surrounded by tropical waters. The humidity was great for our dry skin and our winter-sore noses, but let's just say I didn't have one good hair day when we were there. (Though I swear my hair started to get used to the humidity and got somewhat better toward the end of our stay. Maybe I was just imagining things, though, because it is not like my hair to behave.)

We also noticed that people there are very friendly. Not suspiciously so, but graciously so. Even people who aren't in the hospitality and service industries (which I guess is a nice way of saying people who work at the hotel and in restaurants) were friendly, as Paul noted. It's one thing for people who are paid to be friendly to in fact be friendly, but everyone was friendly. People smile and seem unstressed, and a few days into our vacation I caught myself walking slower and smiling at people I didn't know. It was actually really nice. And not surprisingly, this attitude seemed to affect the driving and road conditions. I don't think people in any congested city are particularly good drivers, and we did see some close calls on the roads, but no one really honked their horn or got pissed off at other drivers or pedestrians.

Arched doorways in Old San Juan. We stayed in the Isla Verde area just east of San Juan, but we did get into the city five different times, and we liked how colorful it was. Most of the homes we saw, both in the city and outside of the city, were painted in bright, fun colors that looked great against the blue sky. These homes are in Old San Juan, and are fairly typical of what you'd see down there. (Though sadly, it was overcast on the day I took this photo, so you cannot see the blue sky.) Also, the bricks on the streets of Old San Juan are blue. Yeah, blue, and not red. It's amazing how subtle that difference can appear, and I think we didn't even notice it the first time we walked around the city, but the tour leader on our rainforest excursion (more on that in a day or two) told us about the blue bricks, and then we couldn't not notice them. In fact, we told a few other people about the blue bricks, and they hadn't noticed them either. So it was kind of like we were helping out fellow tourists.

There's so much more to tell, including, yes, our day at the rainforest, the beach, the forts, Casa Bacardi (yeah!), and all the delicious local food. Oh, with the exception of one thing: I bought a tin of guava paste to take back with us. We opened it just a little while ago and gave it a taste. It was unfortunately gross. Oh well. I was hopeful. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008
So! So yeah! We got back just fine from Puerto Rico, after spending ten days in sunny, 80-degree weather. It was a great trip, and I am maybe ready to move there. I will talk more about the trip in the coming days, as there is much to talk about, but for now, if you are interested, here are some photos I took on our trip. As you can see, it's a colorful place! And seriously, if you are looking for a place to visit, especially during the winter, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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