MARCH 2006
Thursday, March 30, 2006
It's 68 degrees out! In July that won't sound like much, but right now, excuse me, I have to go outside.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
I hate Cheerios. I've hated Cheerios for as long as I can remember. I hate the taste, I hate the smell, I hate that if there's a baby in the vicinity, they get crushed under your shoes. When I lived in Buffalo, I hated the days that the General Mills plant would make Cheerios, because the smell wafted through the city and it made me gag. People have always told me that when I have kids, I'll learn to like Cheerios because the kids will eat them. But I would always respond with, never! My kids will never eat Cheerios because they are disgusting. They'll learn to like cornflakes and Rice Krispies and (on special occasions) Apple Jacks. But never Cheerios. Never!

Okay, so this has always been my stance on Cheerios. But then the other day at the grocery store, Cheerios were on sale two-for-one, along with about a dozen other cereals. I stopped at the display and looked for two boxes of non-Cheerios cereal I might want. (We go through a lot of breakfast cereal around here, so I always get the two-for-one dealies, because at around four bucks a box, cereal gets expensive!) I grabbed a box of Raisin Bran; it's not my fave, but I like it. And then I looked for something else. I usually stay away from overly sugary stuff; after a childhood practically devoid of any sugary cereal, I kind of OD'd on them in college and have since regressed back to not eating them. Cookie Crisp sounds like a great idea -- cookies for breakfast? why yes! -- but after one bowl, it's kind of nasty. Anyway.

No cereals were really jumping out at me, but then I saw this purple box with writing on it that read, "Berry Blast!" That sounded good, and it kind of looked like Berry Berry Kix, which I used to love. But upon closer inspection, I saw that the box was Berry Blast Cheerios. So I was torn. I stood there for like five minutes thinking about it: I wanted to try it, and I liked that it had dried strawberries and raspberries and blueberries in it, but it was still Cheerios, and that kind of grossed me out. I decided to buy it anyway; it was technically free after I paid for the Raisin Bran, and I figured Paul would eat it if I didn't.

So yesterday morning, I decided to give it a try. I opened the box, and that weird Cheerios smell came out. This doesn't look good, I thought. But it wasn't as icky as I remembered. So I poured a small bowl, poured some milk on top, got a spoonful with some of the dried berries in it, and tasted it. And you know what? It was actually kind of good. I finished that bowl, had a little more, and had a full bowl of it this morning. I couldn't believe it! Me -- eating Cheerios!

I have to say, this cereal is quite good. It's no Special K Fruit and Yogurt cereal (like the best cereal ever), but I am really surprised at how much I like it. I did notice that the Cheerios themselves look a little different than I remember them looking: smaller, and even a little glossy. They may have changed Cheerios since I last had them or inspected them closely, but I wonder if they slightly altered the Cheerios to fit the texture of this particular cereal, the way the little yellow Kix in the Berry Berry Kix were slightly different from the Kix in the original box. I'm still not buying regular Cheerios or Honey Nut Cheerios or anything like that, but this Berry Blast stuff is alright. Who knew?

Sunday, March 26, 2006
Today I went up to East Lansing to see a few screenings at the East Lansing Film Festival. The best thing I saw was a documentary called 10 mph about two guys who quit their corporate jobs to make a movie about riding a Segway from coast to coast. You know, a Segway Human Transporter -- one of those self-balancing scooter-type things that seems cool and revolutionary but is ultimately impractical. At first it seemed like a really contrived idea, since their main purpose in riding the Segway across the country was to make a movie about riding a Segway across the country. But after a while into the trip, it turned into a really nice all-come-to-look-for-America bit about the people they met up with along the way and how nice people were to them (though you have to wonder if people would have been as nice if they weren't making a movie). They never got at the environmental aspect of the thing, like, after riding over 4,000 miles, is the Segway a truly practical means of transportation for the average person, but it was shot well, and the resulting film was actually really enjoyable to watch.

I also saw this really beautiful, if not odd, experimental narrative short called Snow Petals. I'm not sure I completely got the whole story, but it was visually stunning (if you click on the link, you'll get an idea of what it looked like -- the dual screen thing was up the whole time) and really colorful.

Less compelling but still rather good was No Child Left Behind. You can guess what it's about from the title. It really got at the idea that the government is more interested in testing than in teaching and learning, that a single standardized test for students isn't a fair or efficient tool to measure schools' effectiveness (duh), and to a lesser extent how the federal government isn't really doing anyone any favors with this initiative. And, the filmmaker is a teacher (or was a student teacher -- I'm not sure if he still is a teacher). It reiterated a lot of what the left has been saying since Bush got into office, but it was still good to watch, and I think a lot of people in the audience learned that as part of the No Child Left Behind bill, the military gets the names and addresses of all high school students. (What does that have to do with education? Nothing! Why is it there? Why do you think? We're at war here.) The best part of this one was one of the school administrators: she was really amusing in her stance against No Child Left Behind, and she even wrote a song about it. I can't remember all the words, but the part I do remember is about the huge standardized tests that students have to repeatedly take. It went, "And if we test their butts off, there'll be no child behind left." Awesome.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Last night in my Japanese History class, we watched Grave of the Fireflies, and it was just about the saddest thing I've ever seen in my entire life. It was about this boy and his little sister during the firebombings in Japan toward the end of the second World War, and how they lost their parents and had nowhere to go and suffered from severe malnutrition and found comfort in really simple, trivial things like a piece of candy or a firefly between two cupped hands, and it was unbelievably beautiful and heartbreaking. In fact, I really had to fight the urge to cry in class while we were watching it, and I was relieved when the movie ended just as class time was up, because I ran out of the classroom and racewalked through the parking lot and got in my car and more or less started bawling. And I cried all the way home, and when I pulled in the driveway and walked in the house, Paul thought something really bad had happened to me to make me cry like that, but I was just like, no, we watched a really sad movie and I've been trying not to get hysterical for the past 90 minutes.

Did I mention that the movie was anime? A cartoon did that! I'm usually not a huge fan of anime, but I keep hearing all kinds of raves about Miyazaki and feel like I should watch his films. I guess I don't buy into the whole fantasy aspect of anime, or what I assume is the fantasy aspect. But Grave of the Fireflies felt more real than most regular, live-action films. It was just really incredible, and you should see it as soon as is humanly possible, and if you don't cry, you might want to get your heart checked. Please.

Monday, March 20, 2006
I am a little sad that Bill Beutel died. You may not know who he was, but he used to anchor the ABC news in New York during my entire childhood (and even after that), and at the end of every newscast, he used to say, "Good luck and be well." That was at the tail end of the time when news anchors needed a tag line. I thought it was cool. Anyway.

Thursday, March 16, 2006
When I was little, we'd go visit my grandma and grandpa in Florida. Usually we'd go in February, which was right about when honeybells were in season. My grandma used to make a big deal about honeybells. They're oranges, but really they're a hybrid variety -- a cross between some kind of tangerine and a grapefruit. That might not sound like the greatest combination, but it is! Somehow, they have a little bump on the top, like a bell, and they're really sweet and really orangey, and my grandma loved them and used to make a big deal about them when we came to visit. "Look," she'd say. "I bought some honeybells! Have some! They're delicious!" And we did, and they really were. I've always liked oranges a lot, but these were just better than regular oranges.

The season for honeybells is really short, like maybe three or four weeks, and back then, you could get them only in Florida. I guess they didn't truck well, or there weren't enough to ship, or something along those lines. So she always had a big bowl full of honeybells for us, and I got to really liking them too. What's not to like? (Actually, that is something my grandma would have said.) And I think once she even mailed us a box from one of the citrus groves when we didn't make it down in February that year, and I think she made a big deal about sending us a box full of Florida, like she was sending us the sun and warm weather and water wings for the swimming pool at her condo in the box as well.

After maybe junior high or so, we stopped going down there in February, and so we didn't get to have honeybells, but I never forgot about them. And then a year or two ago, I was in the local supermegamart, and in the produce section by the citrus was a bin marked "Minneolas." And when I looked closer, I saw that they were really bright and had little bumps on them. They were honeybells! I was really surprised, because I didn't think you could get them out of Florida, though I guess you can get anything anywhere these days. (Sidenote: Kind of like 20 years ago when no one knew what the hell a kiwi was, and then all of a sudden kiwis were everywhere, and everyone went nuts over them and was like, have you tried these kiwis? Like that.) And I guess I never knew they were technically called minneolas, because my grandma never used that word. So I was very excited and bought some, but I think at that point it was the end of the season, because I didn't see them on my next trip. But then a week or two ago, they were back! I buy a bag of them every time I go to the store, and some days I eat two. They're so good, and they really do taste exactly as I remember them tasting: intensely orange and super sweet and just a little tart and really really good. In fact, you know how sometimes you get a navel orange that just has no flavor? That's never happened to me with one of these honeybells. Their flavor is amazingly consistent.

Unfortunately, I think the season for honeybells (or minneolas) is just about over, since this is the third week I've bought some. If you can find some in your local shop, I would encourage you to get a few. Or, I think you can still order them from the groves that do mail-order. They're really good (and good for you, my grandma liked to point out).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Naked statue. Now that I've given you all of the nasty travel details of our trip to Athens, I can tell you about Athens. Let me tell you about Athens. Athens is great. (Umm...I should re-state that I am talking about Athens, Georgia, and not Athens, Greece, a place I've never visited but hope to one day.) The first thing I did when we got there was take off my socks! Why? Because it was 70 degrees and rising, and I don't wear socks when it's over 65. It's just a little rule I have. I even painted my toes in preparation.

The city of Athens is more or less centered around the University of Georgia, or UGA, a school that dates all the way back to the Eighteenth Century (!), and also where Paul's friend is a professor. This statue is in the campus's large garden, which was pretty close to full bloom and smelled so good and fresh. The downtown is fantastic, like a lot of college towns that are really connected to the college they're near. In fact, it might be better, because there really aren't any chains or franchises there. I think everything in the downtown area, with the exception of one or two hotels, is independently owned. Bookshops, record shops, oddity shops, restaurants, everything. And it's great for walking, especially when it's nice and warm out. Did I mention that we had great weather? On Sunday it was 84! In fact, it was a new record for Athens! 84! I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and sandals, and it rocked.

The food is also great. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to go to Weaver D's Fine Foods, the Athens landmark that is well-known among R.E.M. fans because its slogan is "Automatic for the People." Oh, R.E.M. is from Athens. You knew that. You also probably knew that the B-52s are from there too, and so was a lesser early-'90s band called Dada (after the context-driven art movement, yes). Anyway, the food. Weaver D's keeps limited hours, so that kept us away. Too bad. We also didn't hit any Waffle Houses this time. I know the Waffle House is totally low rent, but it's a guilty pleasure of mine. I think I just like to say stuff like scattered, covered, smothered, chunked, and diced, and then get a big plate of potatoes. Besides, we don't have them in the north, so it's a novelty. My name is Amy, I am a Yankee, and I like Waffle House. Deal with it.

But we still ate well. (I always eat well!) We hit a lesser-known Athens landmark called The Grit, an all-vegetarian place that I've heard is co-owned by either Berry, Buck, Mills, or Stipe, but I don't know which one and I'm not sure if that's actually true anyway. My friend Chris from college drove all the way out from Atlanta to meet us for dinner, after he'd been up since 5 for work and had to get up at 5 the next morning too! Is that friendship or what? Paul and I had eaten there on our last trip to Athens, and we remembered the food being really good and hearty and satisfying, especially given that it's all vegetarian. We also hit Big City Bread for both breakfast and lunch. Their bread is really good! I guess that's why they're called...oh, forget it.

Our favorite place was the Five Star Day Cafe, where we got some great and surprisingly healthy soul food. As in, a lot of it didn't contain bacon or ham hocks or any other rendered pork fat. Now, I'm not going to pretend that the fried green tomatoes I had were healthy by any stretch, but I don't think they were friend in bacon grease, and the hoppin' john on top was fresh and bacon-free. I also had some collard greens, which weren't soaked in pig grease (some call it "pot liquor"), and the chicken Paul got was baked instead of fried. And it was all so good and so cheap, and we got big glasses of sweet tea with free refills, and that was about as full as I've been in a long time.

I know I'm not here to give out travel advice or anything like that, but if you're in the Atlanta area, Athens is just over an hour away, and it's surprisingly nice. We had a really good time walking all around and checking out all the shops and (of course) eating). Oh, and we sampled a pint of Terrapin, the local hoppy brew with the Maryland-sounding name, and it was also great. If you can make the trip, I'd say it's worth it. We're looking forward to going back soon.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
So! I am back. Athens was very nice, and the wedding was also nice, but before I get to all that (it will probably be tomorrow before I get to all that), let me tell you about our travels. Oh, this is a good story. You will laugh. Well, probably.

Anyway, on Friday morning, at like 5, we went to the airport to meet our connecting flight to Chicago. The airport is right down the road, and from there, you can get to about five different cities directly. When we got there, we found out that our 6 a.m. flight to Chicago was running late. No big deal. But then the man at the gate said that there was one direct flight to Atlanta, and it was leaving at 6:40, and there were open seats, and he would just put us on there so we could get in early. Awesome! I hate flying, and I especially hate take-off, so one less round on a plane was fine with me. We got on the tiny little regional jet, and after a somewhat bumpy take off (you feel everything in those little planes), we sailed right through to Atlanta. I even slept a little. (Of course, I was going on four hours of sleep, but still.) And I kept saying to Paul, they'd never offer that to you in a big airport. At LaGuardia, they'd make you wait. They'd never hook you up with a direct flight. Wouldn't it be great if we took only one plane home? (The ironic and unbeknownst-to-us foreshadowing of that statement shall soon be revealed.) We got in to Atlanta at like 8:30 in the morning, rented a spiffy new Malibu, drove to Athens, and had a fantastic lunch. Then we took a walk, and then I had a nap. Apparently, I wasn't easy to wake up. You wouldn't be either.

Then we were in Athens. More on this another day.

Okay, so now we're to yesterday: our return trip. Paul set it up so we could sleep in a little, go have a good southern-style breakfast, and not have to rush back to Atlanta for our 3:30 flight to Chicago, and then for our 6:50 (CST) flight back to Kalamazoo. Well. I had a lovely bowl of grits and eggs, and a lovely biscuit, and some lovely sweet tea, and just about when I was thinking, I could really live in the south and eat this stuff all the time, it was time to leave for the airport. We drove back and returned the Malibu, and I was impressed at how well the car-rental industry appears to function. (They scanned the car when I drove in and then greeted me by name! It's the little things, I guess.) Then we took the shuttle to the terminal.

When we got there, we saw that we were delayed about an hour. No big deal, except we knew it was weather related. Remember those tornadoes in the Midwest over the weekend? Yeah. That front was moving right between Atlanta and Chicago. We had to fly over it. When we got on the plane, the pilot told us, "There are no alternate routes, and there are no smooth routes to Chicago." And then he said that the flight attendants wouldn't be getting out of their seats because of all the turbulance we'd encounter. Oh, and that take-off would be rough because of the surface winds. Oh, and you know how Chicago is the windy city? It would be windy there too, so landing wouldn't be fun either. My panic level was on like 12.

So it was a bad and bumpy flight, and the engines on that stupid MD80 were whirring like crazy, and we were bouncing for a good 20 solid minutes. But you know what helped me? I closed my eyes and pretended I was on the ferry to Mackinac Island. It honestly felt like we were splashing through waves. But then I opened my eyes and I was scared again. The feeling in Paul's right hand is probably just now returning, and I think he might have a bruise on his arm.

Landing was bad. Listen to your pilot. He speaks no lies.

So we were in Chicago, and we saw that our connecting flight to Kalamazoo was delayed. We had seen the forecast earlier, and the temperature in Kalamazoo was dropping rapidly, and there were really nasty winds, so this wasn't a surprise. When we got to the gate, we met a woman who was on the earlier flight to Kalamazoo, and she said that they got there, tried to land, found it was too windy, and then turned around and came back to Chicago! So we knew it was bad. And then the delays kept coming, and we thought they might cancel the flight. But then at around 8:15 (really 9:15 eastern time), they started to board us on the plane. And we were like, finally! We all got on quickly, and put stuff where it's supposed to go, and got all ready, and then we sat. For like 20 minutes. And we were like, okay, let's go already. And then the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said that it was too windy to land in Kalamazoo for the type of (small) plane we were on, and that the flight was cancelled. And then everyone groaned.

I should mention: that was the last flight out to Kalamazoo until 9 this morning. The airport here is quiet between 11 p.m and 6 a.m. so the people who live near it can sleep. No flights in, no flights out, no exceptions.

Since Chicago is less than three hours away, we figured we could just rent a car, get a cup of coffee, and drive back. We hooked up with another couple and a woman who lived near us, and we proceeded to call every car rental place at the airport. We thought we'd compare prices. But what actually happened is that no one would give us a car for a one-way trip. No one! The airline was offering hotel vouchers, but they wouldn't give us our luggage, so we had no fresh clothes or anything, and honestly, I just wanted to get home. Then the man from the other couple suggested a limo. I thought that was nuts, but he called and got one for $350. Paul and I kind of balked at the price, but the others talked us into it. So we took a limo home! At first it was funny, like we were all going to prom or something, and then there were these lights in the back that kept changing color, and we were like ooooh, dance party in the limo! And then we found the cooler with complimentary adult beverages, but at that point it was really late and everyone had to be at work in the morning and no one felt like drinking. The novelty of the limo got old really fast, and we just shut up and fell asleep. In the limo. In our stupid limo ride back to the Kalamazoo airport to get our cars and go home and go to sleep, because the plane couldn't land in the crosswind. We got home at like 2:15 in the morning.

In a way, this is all kind of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale. One flight down, one flight back. Only the second time, it kind of sucked. But it worked out, and I picked up our bags today after they came in on the first flight from Chicago, and I guess it could have been worse. We could have had to sleep at the airport.

Thursday, March 9, 2006
Tomorrow morning, we leave for Athens, Georgia for a wedding. We leave early. Like, our flight is 6 in the morning. In a way, that sucks, because we have to leave the house in like seven hours. But in another, more significant way, that's good, because then I'll be really sleepy and will hopefully sleep on the flight and not get so anxious. I really hate flying. But it's supposed to be 80 and sunny this weekend. So once we get there, I should be good. Back Tuesday or so.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Am I too interested in food? I used to think my interest was healthy and curious, but now I'm not so sure. Why? My first thought upon reading this article about a new crustacean found by scientists in the south Pacific was, "I wonder if it tastes good?" (It looks like a lobster -- how bad can it be?) Perhaps I need a new hobby.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Now that I'm back into taking college classes and studying, I'm gaining some insight as to how my memory works. It's like this: I read a bunch of stuff that I don't know and take lots of notes; somehow, writing things down (as opposed to typing them) helps me remember details. Then, right before an exam or a quiz (I have a quiz in one class every week), I try to memorize as much as possible so I can get a good grade. Then, one week later when I get the quiz back, my grade is high, indicating that I must have known the right answers, yet none of it looks familiar -- none of it! -- and I wonder how I ever remembered all of that stuff. Apparently, all of that information becomes displaced every week with new information that I'll be quizzed on.

Or does it?

I remember this pattern from undergrad and grad school: lots of memorization, only to forget it all within a few days. Only, after a while, something else happens. The stuff I once memorized and then forgot suddenly reappears in my memory, and I have complete access to it: dates, names, everything. I couldn't tell you what my last quiz was on, but I feel fairly confident that I can carry on a somewhat intelligent conversation on Bartolome de las Casas's In Defense of the Indians, a book that I haven't touched in about ten years and that I couldn't fully discuss on the final for the class I had to read it for. Which begs the question: where does all that information go in the interim? It's like it takes a while (weeks, months, years) to get written to permanent storage in my brain, and during the time that it's being written, it's not accessible. Weird!

In any case, tonight I sat through two and a half hours on the Meiji Restoration in late 19th century Japan. I studied all the relevant information, and I think I got the quiz questions right. Tomorrow, I won't remember any of it. But if you'd like to discuss Japanese politics of this era with me, try me in November. By then, I should have it all back.

Surely there has been some research as to how this all works. It reminds me of a social cognition class in undergrad, and Wyer and Srull's bin model of memory, which, if I remember correctly, suggested that memory is like a series of bins, and like real bins, we only have access to what's on or near the top. But that never seemed to account for short term memory loss, even though the professor of that particular class seemed to think the model was accurate and brilliant and dead-on. See? I wouldn't have remembered those names ten years ago, but now that it's not relevant to anything I'm studying, there it is. Anyway, I don't remember reading anything about my particular situation. But it's probably out there somewhere.

Monday, March 6, 2006
This morning I realized that not only did I not have to work a full week last week, I don't have to work a full week this week, and actually, I don't have to work a full week for over a month. Let's see: last Monday, school was closed (I'm still not sure why). This Friday, Paul and I are leaving for Athens, Georgia, and we don't get back until Monday night, making this week and next week 4-day weeks. Then schools are closed on Friday the 24th (don't know why) and again on Friday the 31st (again, don't know why). And then the next week is spring break! So the next five-day week that I'll have to work is April 10-14. This rocks!

Wednesday, March 1, 2006
On Monday, we woke up super early and headed for Chicago for a day of doing whatever we wanted. We woke up so early that it almost felt like I was going to work!

We took the South Shore train from Indiana, which was actually very nice. It cut the driving in half, the train was about as much as parking would have been, and it gave us an hour to read and stare out the window. We arrived just as the Art Institute was opening its doors, and went to the lower level, I think to check out a small photography exhibit, but then we wound up in the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Have you seen this gallery? It's full of, for lack of a better word, dioramas! Remember dioramas from, like, fourth grade? Remember making them out of shoe boxes? (And wanting to make them out of a name-brand shoe box, and not the box from the really cheap, lame, loser shoes?) But these dioramas are really nice. In fact, even the photos of them on the website look like photos of actual rooms, and not miniature rooms. They're all scaled-down versions of different rooms from different periods in British and American history, right down to the last detail: crown molding on the ceiling, tiny fruit in tiny fruit bowls, the angle of the afternoon sunlight coming in through the windows. In one of the rooms, there was a mirror over the mantle, and as you looked in, you could see your reflection, like you were a giant peering into this little house. Anyway, I thought it was about the coolest thing ever. And that kind of surprised me, because I was never ever into doll houses or anything stupid like that (the elevator in the Barbie Dream House was cool, but I never actually wanted one), and that's essentially what these were: doll houses. If you're ever at the Art Institute in Chicago, I really recommend a visit to this gallery down in the lower level, which I never even knew existed until the other day. It's surprisingly awesome.

After traipsing around the museum for a few hours, we headed out for some Chicago pizza. I like Chicago pizza. What's not to like? The crust is really good, and there's lots of cheese. But after a while, it's too much cheese. And then you're like, why am I eating all this cheese? Nobody should be eating this much cheese. It's disgusting to eat this much cheese. It was tasty and all, but I still say New York pizza is far superior to its overly-cheesy Chicago cousin. Do you disagree? If you disagree, let me know, and we'll settle it with a ten-meter dash, and I will win, because you will be loaded down with the weight of all that Chicago pizza cheese and won't be able to catch me!

Big face! On the way back to the train station, we went by Millennium Park, which I hadn't really seen before. And we found out that they have ice skating there! And it's free! I wanted to skate, but Paul didn't, and I didn't have my skates with me, and we had a train to catch anyway. But check out this super cool video installation sculpture thing! That's Paul in front of it, just to give you an idea of how ungodly large these faces are. There are two of these, and they face each other, and they each have a different giant face on them, and every few minutes, the faces change. It looked especially good in the dark, but I want to go back during the day to see the rest of the park, and also to check out the similarly giant shiny blob they call "the bean." Apparently, the reflections of the city and the lake are amazing.

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