MARCH 2007
Friday, March 30, 2007
I had been craving chocolate chip cookies all week, and the other day we got a very (very!) nice engagement present of a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, which I had been wanting to try out. So, last night, when I got home from class, I fired up the mixer and made some cookies. And I have to say, that mixer is really quite the machine. I had heard people rave about them before, and of course I had seen the on the Food Network in those fancy studio kitchens, but I had never actually used one. The Kitchen-Aid was always out of my price range, so I always had one of those smaller, less expensive hand mixer deals, and while I wanted a stand mixer, I figured I just had to get along with the hand mixer, even though I like to bake and could probably have justified getting a stand mixer. But I didn't. I figured I could just get along without one. And I did, but that stand mixer is awesome! You just put the stuff in the stand mixer and walk away. You don't hurt your arm holding on to the hand mixer, and you don't get sugary bits of butter flying everywhere and sticking to the blender and the toaster and the cabinets (and yourself!), and you certainly don't have to worry about the motor buring out. (You may remember that I burned out a hand mixer motor on a stubborn batch of shortbread a few years ago. Or maybe you don't. You probably don't, but I do, and I did.) So I made my cookies and felt just like the Barefoot Contessa, with my fancy Kitchen-Aid stand mixer and my cavernous bungalow on the beach and my BMW convertible and my fabulous gay male friends who bring over enormous orange flower arrangements at cocktail time. Well, the stand mixer part, anyway.

So now we have lots of delicious chocolate-chip and pecan cookies in the house, which would normally be great and last for a few days, but we are leaving town tomorrow. We'll be in New York for some quality family time until late Wednesday, but I assure you that those cookies won't go to waste. I'm bringin' them with me, kind of as a pre-Passover treat. I'll try to write something here before Thursday. And for our Jewish friends, all of us here at extend our best wishes for a joyous and relaxing Pesach. For our non-Jewish friends, you just have a nice week, and don't be afraid to try the matzo-y treats that your Jewish friends try to push on you so that they don't have to watch you eat that bagel or cupcake or fried ham and cheese sandwich with extra bread. They're not so bad.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I hear lots of people talk about how hard it is for them to fall asleep at night, but I have just the opposite problem. I'm not narcoleptic or anything like that, but unless something is troubling me to the point where I just can't turn my brain off, I can fall asleep in probably 30 to 60 seconds. And, I can sleep more or less anywhere (except on a turbulent airplane, for what seem to be to be painfully obvious reasons). Here is an example to illustrate my point. Last night, I was getting ready to go to bed. It was 10:56 pm; I try to get to bed between 10:30 and 11 on school nights, which usually happens either intentionally or because I fall asleep on the couch. Anyway, it was 10:56, and I thought, okay, I'll put the radio on and listen to the 11:00 news and then go to sleep. So I got into bed, hit the radio sleep timer, and saw that it was 10:57. I never made it to the news. I fell asleep.

Monday, March 26, 2007
I finished a big project over the weekend and made my deadline and everything, and since the weather was so nice today, I got home at around three and took the afternoon off. I thought I'd throw open all the windows (it's 77!) and watch a movie. We had gotten in Running With Scissors, so I put it in. I read the book and thought it was shockingly mediocre, especially given the number of two-sentence raves on the front. And back. And the first four pages. But I thought I'd give the movie a try anyway. And you know, that was a bad idea. The movie was substantially worse than the book. It was just not good.

Let me give you several reasons as to why this was not a good movie. First off, and I had this problem with the book as well, Augusten Burroughs (not even his goddamn real name) tends to portray his mother as a source of comic relief, when in fact she has a serious case of mental illness. She is not at all well, but it seems that throughout his story, he takes every opportunity to point out just how crazy she is and how funny her craziness is. She's not crazy -- she's sick, and while some of the things she does (or he says she does) are just plain odd, it's not a joke. The woman has problems. (Kudos, however, to Annette Benning for a bad role well acted.)

Okay, second: the movie was one of those that relied so heavily on music that if the music were taken out, the movie would lose most of its meaning. Like, every time the script reached a point of higher emotion, here came the opening bars of a song by Manfred Mann, or Average White Band, or CSN, or whatever. Yes, it's the early 1970s. I got it. Lame, lame, lame. Okay, what else. Oh yeah: one of the stronger points of Burroughs's book was his descriptions of the quirks of his mother's shrink and his house and family, but that was all left out of the movie. The story wasn't interesting -- the details were!

And finally, I liked Joseph Cross, the actor who played Augusten Burroughs (again, not his real name even), but I did notice that he was exponentially better looking than the real Augusten Burroughs. I guess if you're going to pick an actor to play yourself, you want that actor to be attractive, but jeez! It should be somewhat realistic. And, Cross looked so much like celebrity chef Tyler Florence that at any given moment throughout the very long two-hour movie, I half expected him to break the fourth wall, turn to the camera, and say something like, Okay you guys, now we're gonna make some awesome fried chicken, and it's gonna be totally rockin'.

In review: Running with Scissors book: mediocre. Running with Scissors movie: don't bother.

Friday, March 23, 2007
Feeling generally exhausted all day, even though it's a day off. (Day off!) I've had hardly any time to myself this week; I've had something going on every night, and yesterday we took our students to Ann Arbor, or Ace-Deuce, as some of the kids say, for a screening at their annual film festival. I always like going to film festivals to see what the independent, non-Hollywood-type filmmakers are coming up with, but something about the festival in Ann Arbor always seems a little strange. Almost all of the films they show fall into the experimental genre, which often means no narrative, odd technique, and concept over content. I want desperately to understand these films, but for the most part, I guess I don't. Most of them look really nice, but my feeling about the films we saw last night (and about just about all of the films I've ever seen at the Ann Arbor film festival, with maybe two or three exceptions) were just too long. I don't mind more abstract films, but look, if all you're showing on the screen are shots of nature that have something red in them, and there's no audio track whatsoever, I think 20 minutes is a little too long to expect people to sit there and watch, no matter how interesting your composition might be or how good the light is. Pick your best shots, make it five minutes, and end it.

We didn't get back last night until after 11, and I slept on the bus ride home. It was a yellow school bus, and I hadn't been on one in years and kind of forgot how uncomfortable it is to sleep all slouched down with your knees up against the back of the seat in front of you. Either that, or I didn't get as sore when I was younger. My back's a little tight this morning. But the kids let me sleep, and I guess I'm just glad no one drew on my face or anything like that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Ingrained associations: Yesterday, I was in a classroom listening to someone talk (long story), and she mentioned something about channel 13, and I had an immediate association of what that meant. Or, what that meant to me, rather. After about ten seconds, I realized that my association was wrong because, duh, television channels are not the same across the nation. She wsa referring to something local in Michigan, and I was thinking of publicly-funded children's programming.

My earliest understanding of channel 13 is of it being WNET, the PBS station in New York. When I was very young, it was more or less the only channel I watched, as it was the one that showed Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and the Electric Company (even though the opening yell of "Hey you guys!" used to really scare the crap out of me as a three-year-old). Occasionally I'd see The Magic Garden on channel 11, another local New York station, and I was allowed to stay up to watch "The Donny and Marie Show" (please don't ask and please don't mock), but other than those, it was channel 13 and only channel 13. Besides, channel 13 was like the only channel that came in without snow or static on the ancient black and white set we had in our kitchen. Remember when people had tvs in their kitchens? And then they didn't for a while? And now do again, except now they're all shiny and flat-panel-y and hung on the wall(-y)? Anyway, that's been my understanding from such a young age that now, whenever anyone mentions channel 13, I think of Muppets, learning to share, cardigans, and pledge drives, and especially that channel 13 Sesame Street giant tote bag that they gave people who donated money, because I wanted one so badly, but I never understood that they weren't really giving them as gifts in the free, childhood birthday party sense, even though they always said that it was "Our gift to you." I wanted my gift! Anyway, my channel 13 understanding was further reinforced when I was a teenager by the lyric from the Billy Joel song "Pressure" that goes like, "All your life is channel 13 / Sesame Street / What does it mean?" Of course, now I know that Billy Joel pretty much never left New York until he was like 30, but you can see how I never thought to question it.

But around here, channel 13 is an ABC affiliate out of Lansing, and a rather poor, low-budget one. (Actually, all of the local affiliates are rather poor and low-budget, but this one is especially so.) I guess the person I was listening to was making a reference to the channel's shoddy news coverage, but as soon as she said it, the first thing that came to my mind was Oscar the Grouch and Prince Tuesday and Spiderman.

Monday, March 19, 2007
All of the Dunkin Donuts stores near where I live closed a few years ago, so I can't take advantage of this Wednesday's free iced coffee day, but you can! Umm, provided you live near a Dunkin Donuts (or as I like to call it, Dunkey D's) and are willing to wait in line for your beverage. I imagine they'll give away a ton of free iced coffee, but even with all of that, Wednesday will probably be a record-breaking day as far as profits go, because they're not giving away donuts. I know of very few people who can set foot in a DD's and not get a donut, and with all of the extra people coming in on Wednesday, they're sure to sell a lot of donuts.

Saturday, March 17, 2007
I just watched Half Nelson, and I liked it a lot, but I'm not sure I could tell you why.

Friday, March 16, 2007
So tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, which seems to mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people, but really means very little to me. I guess the way I feel about St. Patrick's Day is the same way that Irish people feel about Purim, but slightly more annoyed, since most Irish people don't know what Purim is, let alone when it is. Purim is a Jewish holiday with a good story behind it, but mostly, it's an excuse to get drunk. So St. Patrick's Day is like an Irish Purim, but lots of non-Irish people get drunk, and it seems like not so many people know the story.

But I guess it's fine with me if people want to go out and get drunk tomorrow night. I generally make a point to stay in on St. Pat's to avoid the drunken crazies who think they can still drive after eleven pints of Guinness. No one can drive after eleven pints of anything. Oh, and that brings me to what really bugs me about St. Patrick's Day: Guinness. It's dark and bitter and I don't like it. But that's not what bothers me about it; I don't really like lambchops, but I don't get annoyed when people eat them. I guess I don't like the whole aura that goes along with getting a Guinness. It's like, people who order a Guinness are usually Guinness snobs. When they talk about Guinness, they do so with a bloated kind of reverence typically reserved for expensive champagne and small-batch single malt Scotch. When they do this, I roll my eyes. It's just a fucking beer.

But there's more, of course. You can't just open a can of Guinness, or pour a draft of Guinness. No no no. It's like a whole performance. If you're at a bar or tavern and they serve Guinness on tap, they have to pour it in stages, and then everyone else at the table with the Guinness orderer has to wait for their drinks because ooh, ooh, the Guinness is settling and is not yet ready to be served. And then some showy bartenders will put like a shamrock or something on the head of the Guinness, and the orderer of the Guinness will be all like, oh, that's such a perfect pint of Guinness and will make everyone else at the table admire it. And then the person with the Guinness will take that first sip and talk about how awesome Guinness is, and how can the rest of you drink that Corona and Labbatt and, fuck, Bud Light when you all could have had a Guinness. And then the people with the non-Guinness beers will all say something about how maybe Guinness is a little heavy, or a little bitter, or just maybe not what they wanted, and the Guinness drinker will make some kind of hand motion and/or face gesture as if to suggest that the non-Guinness drinkers just don't have refined taste buds, because if they did, they would surely order a Guinness. I hate all that crap.

Oh, and then if you are somewhere where there is no Guinness on tap, but they have it in cans, there's the whole performance of opening the Guinness can, which sounds kind of like holding down the nozzle on a can of Reddi-Whip because of the nitrogen capsule in it that's supposed to help the Guinness form the familiar Guinness head. They have to open the can at the table and pour it in front of everyone, and no one at the table can talk because, shhh, there's Guinness being poured. Then when it's settling, the person who ordered it never fails to point out that oooh, there's nitrogen at work! And then the whole above conversation takes place, with fairly consistent results.

Maybe if I liked Guinness, this wouldn't bother me so much, but gaaaaaah, this whole cult of Guinness just really irritates me. It's not specific to St. Pat's, but it seems to come up more around this time of year, seeing as how Guinness is like the official Irish drink/food or something. Please: if you order Guinness, just be quiet and drink your beer. No one wants to hear how good it is. No one wants to taste it. No one wants you to feign disbelief because your friends didn't order one. Drink it and enjoy it and keep your mouth shut. If you tell me how good it is, I will not share my nachos with you. Yes, I know nachos aren't Irish. Neither am I.

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Heh. This is funny. My domain name and site hosting came up for renewal recently, and I realized, I don't have any real income from this site. So I decided oh, what the heck, I'll put some Google ads on this page. They're relatively small, and I figured in a year, maybe I'd make enough back to pay for the hosting of this site. I knew that these ads work by site content. Like, if you mention the word "burrito" a bunch of times, one of those ads is likely to lead you to something related to burritos, should you choose to click on it. But I just looked at what kinds of sites the ads were for, and I see that there's one for the Poop Scoop King of Michigan. And yeah, based on the word content of this site, I guess that's appropriate. It's embarrassing, but I'm sticking with the ads for now. Dogs poop, and I suppose it's nice to have someone to clean up the mess. If that were my line of work, I don't know that I'd go around calling myself the Poop Scoop King, but I suppose it's the name that landed him on my site, making his advertising dollars go further. Yeesh.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Ugh. I feel sick. Not from a virus or the flu or food poisoning or anything like that. No. It's this: A little while ago, I had a Shamrock Shake.

I don't know why the hell I thought it would be good. I guess maybe because I've been hearing my students talk about how much they love the Shamrock Shakes at McDonald's, and how they're so awesome, and how they've had one every day this month, and I guess after a while it started sounding kind of good, and I didn't consider that I was about to take culinary advice from people who drink Mountain Dew for breakfast and think Little Caesers is good pizza. And then there's the whole thing about the Shamrock Shake being a specialty item, and for a limited time only, and all that jazz, and I thought, I'd better get one soon before they take them away for a whole year. A whole year! And then we were out for a walk earlier, because it's so nice out, and there's a McDonald's just a few blocks away, and I wanted something sweet, and in a moment of weakness, I told Paul I wanted to go there and we started walking in that direction.

So I got the shake. I got a small, because no one needs more than 16 ounces of artificial semi-frozen goo. Paul got a strawberry sundae. We sat and consumed our treats. I sipped at my straw. First comment: It tastes like that chalky antacid stuff. Like, kind of minty, but not overly so, and sweet in an artificial way, and creamy in an even more artificial way. But I kept sipping at it, and soon enough I was two-thirds of the way done and starting to not feel great and to question why I thought getting one would be a good idea. Paul had finished his sundae, so I asked him if he wanted the rest of my shake. He took it and popped off the lid (apparently he doesn't like to drink those things through a straw -- too difficult), and that's when I saw what color it was. Oh god. It was so unnaturally green. "It looks like something you'd use to unclog your sink," Paul said. I looked away.

So listen: I am here to tell you that these Shamrock Shakes are no good. Don't be fooled by the juvenile squealings of teenagers, or the whole limited time only scam, or any of that hype. It's all a lie. A Shamrock Shake is just a big cup of chemical goo that tastes vaguely of Mint and sits in your stomach like so much wood pulp. I used to kind of like chocolate shakes from McDonald's, and I have many fond memories of getting them with my mom and my dad and my grandma, but now I don't think I want one of those every again either. And when I was little and got chocolate shakes at McDonald's with my dad, he would always tell me that one day I'd be older and I wouldn't be able to drink shakes anymore, and while I think maybe he was right, I think it's not for the reason he thought it would be. I can't drink those things because they're unnatural and sludgy and just plain not good. Stay away. You have been warned.

Monday, March 12, 2007
Put it in the car. One of my favorite movie clips ever: The Spanish Inquisition from History of the World: Part I. This cracks me up every time, and I have caught myself on more than one occasion singing this song. Also good: don't get saucy with me, Bernaise.

Friday, March 9, 2007
After a long day, we went out for a light tapas dinner with some friends, and everything was going well, and the food was really outstanding -- ooh, I had this duck salad that you would have liked a lot, provided, of course, that you like duck -- and we were talking and having fun, and then we ordered some chocolate lava cake for dessert, and that was like decadence solidified with a soft velvet center, and we were gushing over how good everything was and how nice it was to get together, and we were about to wrap up an enjoyable evening, when these three fat chicks walked in, stood at the bar, near which we were seated, and all lit cigarettes, wafting smoke and stink in our direction and completely souring the lovely chocolate taste lingering in my mouth, and making me wish the governor, the state legislature, or someone, anyone, would just hurry the fuck up and ban smoking in restaurants in Michigan. Seriously. It's disgusting.

Thursday, March 8, 2007
I miss my car.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007
While I was home for my grandma's funeral, I didn't get to have most of the native New York food that I love (it wasn't that kind of trip), but I did get to eat some good New York bagels. On Sunday, my whole family and I sat and had a late lunch/early dinner of bagels and appetizing, and we were all saying how good the food was, when my cousin Karen brought up an interesting point: Outside of New York, no one uses the word appetizing as a noun. (For the non-grammarians in the house, it's usually an adjective.) Karen lives in San Francisco, and she said that she'd never heard anyone use it like that out there. I've never heard anyone use it like that in the Midwest. The rest of my family, all of whom live within 60 miles of Manhattan, found this confusing. What do you mean, no one says appetizing?

So of course, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and sure enough, appetizing as a noun is used mostly by New Yorkers, and mostly by Jews, and it refers to any non-meat item you might eat with a bagel. Appetizing does include fish, though, fish being considered dairy (and not meat) in Jewish cuisine. Appetizing also includes cheeses, salads, and any combination of traditional dairy products (sour cream is big), vegetables (onions are big), and fish with gills (the bottom feeders are big, though smoked salmon is always popular) that can be scooped into a plastic container or layered on wax paper and sold by the pound. Fish without gills, such as shellfish, is not considered kosher and is therefore not part of the traditional Jewish diet, though somehow all the Jews I know love shrimp. Heh. I guess a lot of us don't play by the rules.

Anyway, after this discussion, Paul and I were walking around my brother's neighborhood in midtown Manhattan, and we noticed that the bagel shop around the corner from his apartment wasn't just "Tal's Bagels," but "Tal's Bagels and Appetizing." And of course, I found this to be fascinating. Now that I think about it, though, maybe the reason no one uses the word out in this part of the country is because there are no shops that sell those types of foods. Sure, we have bagel shops, and maybe one or two of them make good bagels. You can get cream cheese on your bagel; they love to call it a schmear to be kitschy, but all that does is piss me off. You can also get turkey and tomato, or you can get hummus, or you can get tuna salad, or you can get ham and cheese (on a bagel -- sacrilege!), but you absolutely can't get a pound of herring and onions in cream sauce, and you can't get cole slaw, and they don't know what kippers are, and don't even get me started on why the hell can't I get a knish if I'm more than 20 miles West of the Hudson. They have none of that, so they don't need a word for it. I wish they did have it, and now I am maybe inspired to quit my job and open an appetizing shop. I can call it Amy's Appetizing. It's alliterative, and it works on two levels. (Umm, both as a possessive and as a contraction. See?)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007
So you may remember that last month, I skidded right into a snow bank and screwed up the front end of my car. I was finally able to drop it off at the body shop on Friday (apparently, all the ice we've had lately backlogged them with wrecked cars), and they called me today to tell me that there's a lot more messed up than just the front end. Basically, everything under the hood got shifted, and a bunch of stuff cracked. (So that's why it was making that grinding noise and vibrating.) So instead of getting my car back on Thursday, as was originally promised, they need to keep it longer and I won't get it back until maybe next Wednesday. What a pain in the ass. At least my insurance is covering everything.

So I'm basically transportation-less right now. Paul is giving me rides to work, and today I caught a ride home with someone, and I guess I could ride the bus if I really wanted to. It's kind of reminding me of when I didn't have a license and had to walk or bum rides or bike everywhere. I was able to get around then, and I was probably in much better shape because I mostly walked everywhere I had to go, but now I am realizing how dependent I've become on my car for getting around. Also, back when I didn't have a license (not all that long ago, actually -- maybe six or seven years or so), I arranged my life so that everything I needed was physically close. I lived right near work, and I was able to walk anywhere I needed to go in about ten minutes. Now, I live about two miles from anything except Walgreen's, McDonalds, a liquor store, and a Middle Eastern Restaurant. Yes, that covers most of my needs, but now I have to start thinking about how I'm going to get around if I need to go anywhere else. Like work. Or the gym. Or the wedding shower that's 40 miles away and that I'm supposed to go to this weekend.

It's kind of interesting that this is happening now. My grandma, who just passed away, never had a driver's license, and she either walked, took public transportation, or got a ride everywhere for all 86 years of her life. Granted, she lived almost all of those years in New York City, a place where having a car is more of an inconvenience, but she was able to do it. So maybe this is a good lesson for me: get around without a car. It's only a week. I guess I can do it.

Monday, March 5, 2007
Hey. It's me. I'm still here, despite the lag in updates around these parts. I'm not ignoring you or shirking my self-imposed responsibility to this project. In all honesty, it's been a hectic and sad past few days. My grandma passed away last Wednesday, which is sad and awful for all of the usual reasons, plus the following:

  • She was my last living grandparent.
  • She was such a tough old broad that I kind of thought she would outlive my whole family.
  • She didn't knit, which means I never had to pretend to like a sweater she made for me.
  • She was just a really cool and great person.
Paul and I flew to New York early on Saturday morning to go to the funeral and see my family. Circumstances aside, it was really nice to see everyone. This business of spending lots of time with family and friends after the passing of a loved one really works, and with those of us who are Jewish, it always seems just a little more intense and (for lack of a better word) extreme. People come over constantly, and they all bring food, and in a few hours, there's a house full of people to cheer you up and a table full of bagels and fruit and bakery goodies. And then this goes on for a few days. At the end of the mourning period, you've seen everyone you've ever met, heard all the good stories, told a few of your own, and have a freezer stocked for any coming famine.

Anyway, it was all emotionally draining in every way, but I'm glad we went. And I will miss her a lot.

And this is weird: we had a few inches of snow while we were gone, and someone came over and shoveled our driveway for us. We assumed it was the friend we asked to feed the cat, but she is not claiming responsibility. Now it's a mystery! Who shoveled our driveway? It seems kind of odd to just call people and ask if they did this, because if they didn't, I'll feel a little uneasy. I hope our mystery shoveler reveals him or herself soon, but whoever it was, it sure was nice of them.

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