Wednesday, December 27, 2006

happy holidays...

My friend Kirstin always finds the most hip Christmas cards. This one is from last year:

The theme of this card is somewhat appropriate for my holiday. I've been in Montana since last week and have enjoyed as much vino and Baily's as I've had in the previous 11 months.

I hope everyone has enjoyed their holidays so far and that you get to make the most of the remaining holidays!

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Today we took our first day off since arriving in Middleofnowhere. We went to Cleveland and it was a blast. We visited Sue at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Afterward, we got to have lunch at a middle eastern restaurant a few blocks away in downtown Cleveland and it was marvelous - hummus, falafels, gyros. Yum. (Most of Middleofnowhere is pretty much "white bread" - in every sense of the phrase.) Outside the eatery, S and I saw a city bus. I miss city buses and so does S. This nostalgia made me realize just how much I miss cities. I grew up in a "small town" (60,000) but I love big cities. I hope the fates smile fondly on my preference.

Then, we got to drive 10 miles across town to go to the Trader Joe's! (Yeah! Our cupboard is happy now too.) It took forever because Cleveland has traffic. Ok, I admit that I haven't missed the traffic but I loved the drive across town - all the discrete neighborhoods (I love to explore these places), and the specialty shops (ok, restaurants), the old buildings/houses and factories (this was textbook material - I wish I had my camera out), and all the people (I could live in Cleveland; diversity is comforting).

Now that we're back I can't decide if the great memory of our outing is due to the fact that we finally took some time completely away from work (at least I did), or the fact that I got to see R for more than two consecutive hours, or because I was in urban nirvana. Oh, well. I don't care. I'm happy with one or all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

the verdict's in.

I had my first, first-hand experience with the US judicial system two days ago and I am still reeling from the experience.

I ended up there because I was contesting a ticket and it was everything you might imagine - prosecution, defense (me), judge, witness stand, procedure, procedure, and procedure. Given my lack of experience, I brought some unintentional comic relief to the court. I kept interrupting with my questions ("Will I get to testify?") and running roughshod over procedure (me:"Can I show [the witness] my picture?" Judge: "Only if it is entered into evidence first."). Everyone but the prosecutor was smirking. It was no fun; I didn't take it too seriously; I survived. And this is what I learned:
-the judge sees nothing before the trial (not even the traffic report - this can be good or bad)
-most of the people who appear in traffic court are unemployed, underemployed, and this is related to their frequent appearance in court
-the clerk of court despises you (unless you're found innocent)
-the court fees are punitive (again, unless you're found innocent)
-I'm innocent!

Frankly, I wasn't hopeful going into it (I relied only on circumstantial evidence and the only other witness was hostile - so I didn't call her to testify). I am still a little incredulous but there it is in black and white. (It is very fuzzy but I read that as a 'not guilty.')

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

future leaders

I, sadly, don't have the joy of grading papers and exams this term. I've been reading the Congressional Record and, I have to say there are some alarming similarities. Setting aside the poor grammar for a moment, there is a curious parallel between undergraduates and Congressmen in terms of warped thinking - as when they defend slavery as a benefit to capitalism or when they defend colonialism because it promoted American democracy. Take the following example:

Today I read the long, droning speech of Senator Samuel Shortridge (from Menlo Park, California) who, in 1930, lauded the US victory after the Spanish-American War. This was a great thing, he explained, because the US finally liberated Filipinos from Spain - after struggling and failing to liberate themselves for 300 years. He compared this "liberation" and "independence" in 1898 to the "great" American revolution of 1776. He celebrated Filipino revolutionaries and their supposed "independence" in the context of calling for the exclusion of Filipinos from immigration to the US. Of course, he glossed over the fact that the US still held the Philippines as a colony in 1930. This, after having suppressed the Filipino independence movement in 1898 and fought a war with them over the subsequent decade (killing millions of revolutionaries), enacting laws that favored American capital and global commerce which made thousands unemployed and prompting them to migrate to the US (where they found low-wage, exploitative work and encountered angry and violent white mobs). All of this was boiled down in his mind to: Filipinos = American revolutionaries = better off in Philippines (so, ship them back already). Truly, this boggles the mind.

My cynicism sees a direct line between college-student thinking and that of congressional representatives.

Saturday, December 9, 2006


The other day I heard a music reviw of Marisa Monte. Her music sounded so good that I just have to share. She sings a Brazilian "tropicalismo" style of music that is just fantastic. (She may not be new to anyone else, but she was to me.)

On the topic of good music I've heard reviewed on NPR, I should also mention Pink Martini - a Portland band with a distinct jazzy style. I guess they play a lot in Portland. I totally missed out when I was living within concert range.

(Can you tell where I get all of my information on the outside world?)

Thursday, December 7, 2006

for the dogs...

Dinner this evening (burritos) made me think of E.’s delicious post. I love cheese and I miss it.

I have discovered that midwesterners do not appreciate food as it is meant to be appreciated (with on exception) and this - horror of all horrors - includes cheese. Little Soph and I have tried the products they pass off as cheese around here - we even spent time at the deli counter sampling all the varieties labeled "cheddar." S. gave up after the first sample. (If fact, she has kind of given up altogether. Cheddar was a staple of her diet in Oregon; here, she shuttered, gagged and refused any more.) All of the samples I had tasted like one step up from American (granted, this is a very important step, but it was a tinsy, small one).

This experience at the deli counter reminded me of one of the important rules I learned while living in France; some foods are not actually meant for human consumption. My host-father, Albert told me that "Vache Qui Rit" cheese (Laughing-cow cheese?) was only for dogs. And he regularly fed it to his step-dog when he babysat her. Many of the deli cheeses we sampled in Middleofnowhere are also best for the delicate palate of our canine friends.

Next time you're cruising through the cheese aisle at the grocery store, say 'hi' to all my friends for me. I'll be back!!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

news bites

Today I was reading Delano, California’s Philippine-Bataan Herald (from 1945). The paper announced the dissolution of the Washington (State) Commonwealth Federation – an organization that I decided needs to be revived. The WCF began in the early 1930s and its goals were:
1. to help the hungry and unemployed;
2. to initiate and influence legislation “for the benefit of the common people;”
3. to coordinate with labor organizations and other progressive organizations;
4. to elect representatives sympathetic to labor and social legislation.

The WCF was, reportedly, one of the first to oppose:
-U.S. international trade with totalitarian states,
-the appeasement of totalitarian states (in for form of the 1938 Munich Pact)
-and, perhaps most importantly, the spread of fascism in the US.

Interestingly, the WCF dissolved because the members decided that their goals had been accomplished. How unfortunate. This organization’s time has come again.

Monday, December 4, 2006


The predicted snow finally arrived today. It is thin, powdery and falling steadily. This is supposed to continue for the next five days or so. This weather makes me feel sedate. It is so cold outside (today’s predicted high is 29) that when I finally warm up inside, I feel like I need hot chocolate and a movie (or a craft) not to hunker down over my computer.

Last Friday, S and I went to see the Nutcracker. She watched the whole 2 hours. When we got the last dance – the big finale – she said “this is mellow.” I agreed that the music was mellow and she added, “the dance is mellow too.” That inaugurated our weekend of mellow-ness. We unpacked decorations on Saturday, made popcorn and on Sunday went to a holiday concert. The weekend was capped off with S’s creation of this crown (her artistic genius was sparked by the bows and it came together from there).

I hope you’re all finding mellow moments now that classes are winding down or those paid vacations are approaching. Might I suggest the Nutcracker, holiday decorations, or making a crown to get things on the right track!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On foot...

I survived day number two of my life with no car. My car is in the shop (don't ask) and it has been there for a week and a half. I expect it to be there for another week because the repair shop is in "Amish country" which one of the locals explained means that everything and everyone move really slow.

Middleofnowhere is a small town (about 25,000) and since this is the mid-west that means no public transportation. Consequently, I get to walk everywhere - which is something that I usually enjoy in large cities where there are a lot of other walkers, and lots of people and places to look at - the distances seem short. In Middleofnowhere, I walk along main thoroughfares and get splattered by wet-muddy car spray. I also risk my life because NO ONE walks in Middleofnowhere; pedestrians and bicyclists are merely easy targets in the middle of the road. I walk a minimum of six miles a day currying my little-dear to school and back. (The ache in my legs is not enough to make me cave in and rent a car - although the snow predicted for Friday might tip the scales.)

All this walking has give me lots of time to consider how despicable Americans are. They drive noisy, over-sized vehicles that they cannot or chose not to control; they move around at the center of their own universe, to hell with the world around them. A ravine we pass on the way to school attracted my young companion's attention (as a place to look for walkingstick bugs). And she asked today why there was a tire at the bottom. I refrained from saying this is typical of Americans' indifferent consume-and-purge habits. I didn't need to; she'll figure this out because it is present all around us in Middleofnowhere.

I think I'm suffering from an overload of 'free radicals.'

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Hi, May I Help You!"

[warning: vegetarians, hide your eyes.]

One thing that mid-westerners do well is barbeque. This is a food that I did not entirely appreciate before my first visit to Missouri, but I am pleased to report that I have become something of a connoisseur. I thought that Bryant's was very good. Last year I tried Gates' barbeque, and while both are exceptionally good, I prefer Gates' to Bryant's - Gates' sauce is sweeter and slightly less smoky. And going to Gates is an unparalleled experience.

MIL (my mother-in-law) and I went to pick up dinner at Gates the other night. The location we went to is an unassuming restaurant. It is similar to a fast-food joint - bright red tile all over; stainless steel counter top, but with a diner-type window between the cashiers and cooks back into the kitchen. This window is key, as I discovered.

The entrance to this Gates restaurant has a wooden, floor-to-ceiling frame that MIL accurately compares to a corral. When we arrived, MIL hung around in the doorway looking at the overhead menu. She wanted to decide what to order before entering the corral because once you're in the pressure is on. The cashiers are quick and when they yell out "Hi, May I Help You!" you must be ready to yell back your order - sliced beef or ham (in a sandwich or by the pound), a burnt-ends sandwich, or a slab (that is, a slab of ribs).

The pressure this puts on the person doing the ordering is considerable. But the cashier has good reason to be impatient and expect a quick answer to her question because she is good.* She yells the order to the cooks in back as quickly as she receives them and she commits them all to flawless memory. While we were waiting for our order a second cashier came from the back and our cashier rattled off our order as well as those for the next five groups. (The volume of meat sold that evening was somewhat astounding.) The cashier also put the pressure on the cooks to keep up with her. It was spectacular. I recommend a visit (unless, of course, your a vegetarian; the only vegetable served were dill pickels).

*the cashier is always a 'she;' and the cooks are always 'he.'

[Incidentally, the academic in me couldn't help but note that ALL of the staff at this restaurant were young African Americans (aged between 25 and 40). This, of course, makes me speculate on the racial and class politics at work behind this example of Kansas City's famous barbeque. Any thoughts?]

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey day...

I hope that you all enjoy a day away from books, work, and both in good company with lots of good food!

In middle America...

I am deep in the heart of middle America. Two days ago we drove 730 miles to get to our Thanksgiving-day destination. It took a full day to recover. (By the way, the 4-year-old was a model child during our 13.5 hour drive.)

I saw, via the interstate, two new states on our break-neck journey, Indiana and Illinois as well as 9/10ths of the state of Missouri. And I have to say that I was astounded – but not in a good way. What was most striking about these states (again, seen at 75 mph from the freeway) was Christian fundamentalism. The HUGE crosses erected alongside the roadway were disturbing, like this one in Effingham, Illinois. (Impressive, no?) Illinois was really big on the crosses (pun intended) and Missourians love their anti-abortion billboards. I even saw one opposed to the stem cell research ballot measure that has been a non-issue since November 7th (it passed, allowing for this type of research).

Sometimes the U.S. seems like a foreign country.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Peer pressure

I caved to peer pressure.

It wasn't all that difficult to accomplish. My new home/work is incredibly quite. All of my time-tested procrastination tactics were totally ineffective in this new environment. I had to rethink my strategies for frittering away those golden six hours of work-time I get each day (or five days a week).

E. told me start a blog. So, I could say that all of this is her fault. But, truthfully, it took no arm-twisting at all on her part. I gave in pretty easily.

In the spirit of 'revisionism,' I have decided to re-imagine this 'caving in' as simply 'joining the conversation' (something that I hope will save me from quietly falling into an academic myopia).

So, 'Salut' everyone!