April 03, 2007
Thank You, Josh and Sara
Last night, our friends Sara and Josh had us over for the first-night seder, and it was fantastic. We sat around their living room, truly lounging on comfy furniture, went through the seder with mismatched haggadot (which made for some funny moments when we realized that I had the politically correct one -- the second son was referred to as "contrary" rather than "wicked" or "evil" -- and Josh and David had the extra-gruesome one), analyzed and commented on the Passover story and its commentary, and ate a delicious meal. Josh and Sara are vegetarians and, after we got home, David said that he had forgotten how good vegetarian food can be. Passover is my favorite holiday and spending it with friends made it truly perfect. Sara found the afikomen, which was fitting because the prize was a hug from Josh, her husband (who had hidden it). This seder definitely ranks with my fondest Passover memories, so thanks again, Sara and Josh.
March 17, 2007
Last night David and I went to the Saline Area Players' production of Gypsy. This activity was a pretty unusual date for us because David hates musical theater. I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of musical theater myself, despite having played in pit orchestras for Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Peter Pan, and Bye Bye Birdie. There have, however, been musicals I have liked, notably Miss Saigon and Rent. David, on the other hand, hates all musicals except for musicals that make fun of the genre, such as Everyone Says I Love You and the Buffy Musical Episode. Gypsy almost falls into this category, and we almost liked it.
I knew nothing about the play or about Gypsy Rose Lee, the (in?)famous stripper. We went because a friend of David's from the gym was in it. She was one of the placard girls -- her job was to strut out on stage between scenes with a placard stating where the scene was set -- and she was actually quite good at it. Gypsy is about the childhood of Gypsy Rose Lee, aka Louise, the neglected daughter of a grandiose stage mom obsessed with turning her other daughter into a star. When the favored daughter runs off to get married, the mom turns her attention to Louise, transforming her into a burlesque performer when their Vaudeville show washes up. The first act was pretty excruciating to watch as it basically drills into the audience's head the atrocious nature of the act the mom created for her daughters and the various boys she picked up along the way. Intentionally or not, it makes fun of musical theater simply by showing just how bad it can be. It also, of course, makes fun of stage moms. But the show is also a commentary on mothers who live out their narcissistic desires vicariously by pushing their kids to do the things they themselves would have liked to do. Although the play was set in the twenties and thirties, it seemed very relevant given today's epidemic of narcissistic parenting, as evidenced by the current spate of mommy blogs. Granted, if I ever have kids, I probably will blog about them, but I hope to maintain enough sense of self that my life (and blog) never revolves entirely around my offspring.
February 20, 2007
Return to Normalcy
Last night David I went to Cafe Felix with some friends -- Allison, Sara, and Josh -- from my former Ph.D. program. It was so nice to actually be able to go out on a weeknight, which I haven't been able to do for the past five weeks because I had been devoting every spare minute to studying for my Kaplan training. But I had my last official training session on Friday night, so when Sara called on Sunday and asked if David and I wanted to join her, Josh, and Allison at Cafe Felix on Monday night, I was able to suppress that knee-jerk "have to study" reaction and say yes. I won't actually start teaching for Kaplan at least until March, so in the meanwhile I'll just be a normal person with one job and have evenings and weekends to myself. I never thought I would be so grateful to "only" work full time. I'll have to be sure to make full use of these next few weeks before I return to my two-job lifestyle.
January 23, 2007
"Where'd you get that Buckeye hat?" my father-in-law asked last Wednesday as I bundled up to go out to the Earle. Although he grew up in Ohio, Mr. M--- has always been a Michigan fan. He moved here with David and the rest of the family in the early 1970s, and immediately got season tickets for Michigan football, which they still have. To him, anything even remotely resembling red just screams Ohio State. For the record, my hat is not red and gray -- it is pink and oatmeal -- and I made it several years ago, before I even knew what a Buckeye was or why I should hate Ohio State. Nevertheless, it was still too close for Mr. M---, though he told me that David's Uncle Bob, who still lives in Ohio and fervently supports OSU football, would love it.
Two days later, my Buckeye hat had gone missing. I know I wore it home on Thursday night and wore a different hat Friday, and now I can't find it anywhere. I thought Mr. M--- was just joking about it being a Buckeye hat, but maybe he was really offended by it and somehow engineered its disappearance. It is all very mysterious...
January 22, 2007
Cars, Cars, Cars
Yesterday David and I went to the North American International Auto Show with our colleague Dieter. Several friends expressed surprise when I told them we were going, but David and I are probably slightly more into cars than the average person. After all, he grew up in (the suburbs of) Detroit and I in (or just outside) Los Angeles, two very car-obsessed cities. And we are car snobs: we won't go near an automatic transmission and we turn up our noses at anything American, with the exception of pickup trucks, in which case the Ford F-150 is the only way to go.
We all enjoyed different things about the auto show: Dieter liked the music, David liked the spokesmodels, and I liked the people watching. David's favorite car was probably the Saturn electric concept car, followed by the Mini Cooper convertible and the Volvo C30, which is not yet available in the US. I didn't see anything I liked better than our 2001 Volkswagen GTI. Even the new GTI didn't impress me.
David and I have pretty similar tastes in cars -- we both like small cars, both for the gas mileage and because we enjoy being able to zip around other cars and park in tight spots. If I had to choose a car from the auto show to actually drive, it would be the Honda Fit. What I don't get, however, is why people keep saying it is such a small car. "Small" cars must have gotten a lot bigger over the past couple of decades because even this car, which was designed to be small, is quite a bit larger than the 1984 Honda Accord I had when I was nineteen. I have always had a thing for Hondas but, when we got our car, David insisted on a hatchback so that we could haul around a lot of stuff, and Honda wasn't making a hatchback then. Now I'm glad we have the GTI because it is a lot of fun, but David still has to make several trips each spring and fall to buy enough mulch for our garden. His solution: buy a pickup truck as a second car for mulch time. My solution: "mulch? Who needs mulch?"
January 20, 2007
It snowed all day yesterday, creating the perfect conditions for donuts. No, not fried circles of dough with a hole in the middle, but the kind you do in a car. I had heard rumors of such tricks back in California, but without snow (back in my day, before all this global warming nonsense, snow in Los Angeles was unheard of), there was always too much friction between the tires and the road to make a car spin. And no, mom, I never tried it -- it was simply a thought experiment :)
Last night, I had some things to do after work and told David I would be home shortly after nine. When it got to be close to ten and there was still no sign of me, David got in the car and set out to find me, which he did just about a block from our house. When I got in the car, he told me that he wanted to find a parking lot. I reminded him that we are married now, and therefore we don't have to "park," but he didn't want to park in the parking lot, he wanted to slide around in it. It had to be a fairly large lot, with no other cars, so we ended up at Pioneer High School. I was actually pretty relieved to see how difficult it was for him to make the car spin: first he had to take off the traction control and, since our car is front-wheel drive, he had to put it in reverse. The craziest thing about it, though, is that we had company sliding around out there in the parking lot; at least one other person had the exact same idea of how to have fun on a Friday night.
January 15, 2007
We have had quite a bit of freezing rain over the past few days, a natural phenomenon that is still quite new for me as an erstwhile Californian. Needless to say, in Los Angeles we didn't have freezing anything, except ice cream, and I had never even heard of such things as sleet, freezing rain, or ice storms until I moved to Ann Arbor. I knew to expect snow, but it didn't occur to me that there was anything in between rain and snow.
We don't get ice storms very often, but we had a pretty spectacular one my first winter in Ann Arbor. I woke up one morning and the world was encased in a thick sheet of ice. When I got down to the lobby of my apartment, David was waiting to escort me to work. It was only a ten-minute walk from where I lived at the time, but he knew I would never get there on my own. Before we set out, he sent me back upstairs to change my clothes, telling me to put on my snow boots and tuck my pants into them. Tuck my pants into my boots? The indignity! But I was glad for this instruction when I stepped on what looked like solid ice and landed ankle-deep in dirty slush. David was puzzled about why I had stepped there -- to him, it was obviously not solid. "Give me a break," I replied, "I was raised in captivity!"
This morning's walk to work wasn't nearly so treacherous because it has been warm enough that the sidewalk wasn't frozen. Nonetheless, the trees are all coated with ice, producing the distinct impression that I was walking through an enchanted forest. The whole world seems different after an ice storm because the ice weighs down the trees, so branches that are usually well above my head are instead right in my path. Add to that the fact that I walk to work in the dark and, with moonlight glinting off the ice, it truly felt magical.
January 02, 2007
The Bad News
Yesterday was our last day of free dial-up internet. Today I'm blogging via wireless pirated from my neighbors. We'll see how long that lasts. David and I also tried to get into the pilot project for Washtenaw Wireless, which would give us free wireless months before the rest of Ann Arbor has it, but we haven't heard back yet. Readers, I promise to keep blogging as often as I can, but please bear with me if entries become more sporadic!
Several weeks ago, the Ann Arbor News announced its annual news haiku contest, soliciting haikus about local events over the past year to publish on New Year's Day. I got out a pen, jotted down four haikus on a post-it, and emailed three of them to the News the next day. Despite getting over 500 entries, the News published all three of mine. Because I just can't help bragging, here they are:
July is Art Fair
Art and food, both on a stick
Don't park on my lawn
Bo Schembechler dies
The sun sets on an era
Michigan fans mourn
Build a new high school
See the salamanders run
But what to name it?
I'm so excited -- I never expected to be a published poet!
December 31, 2006
Yesterday, my mom, my aunt, David, and I finally made it to the Henry Ford Museum. My mom had never been and David, Lesley, and I hadn't been in years, so we had a lot of fun browsing the exhibits. We all agreed that the best part was the Dymaxion House, a relatively new (2004-ish) exhibit of the house of the future invented by Buckminster Fuller. Designed in 1946, the Dymaxion House would have solved the nation's postwar housing crisis by providing cheap, easy to assemble, mass-produced homes made of the newest materials: aluminum and plastic. The Dymaxion House was ahead of its time because it was designed to minimize use of energy and natural resources. Unfortunately, back in 1946, we thought energy would always be cheap and our natural resources would never be depleted, so Fuller couldn't get the investment backing he needed to put the Dymaxion House in production. Only one was ever made, and it now sits at the Henry Ford Museum.
There was another new permanent exhibit called With Liberty and Justice For All that documents the American Revolution, the abolition of slavery, the women's rights movement, and the civil rights movement. The exhibit seems to have been built to provide a home for the chair in which Abe Lincoln was shot and for the bus where Rosa Parks took her famous stand (or sit, actually) against Jim Crow, both of which had previously been stand-alone attractions. Nevertheless, the exhibit formed a coherent narrative tied together by a timeline of the forward and backward march of libery and justice in the United States, ending with the USA Patriot Act, which is described as a giant step backward.
On previous visits to the Henry Ford, the museum seemed way too big to see everything, but on this visit I think we pretty much did see everything. We skipped Tasha Tudor's Christmas exhibit and didn't go down the clockwork, jewelry, and pewter hallways, but I think we saw everything else: cars, trains, planes, diners, household appliances, and -- yes it's still there -- Thomas Edison's last breath.
December 29, 2006
From the Heart
Last night we all went to the University of Michigan basketball game. "All" being me and David, David's brother, my mom, and my aunt and uncle. Most of us were just there to watch; David and his brother were there to work. They were filling in for our friend Shawn, who volunteers with an organization called From the Heart, which links up sick kids and athletes. They bring U of M athletes to Mott Children's Hospital and take kids from the hospital, along with their families, to U of M sporting events. At least once a week, Shawn brings several families to basketball, football, and hockey games (depending on the season), and introduces them to the players after the game. This week, however, Shawn is in Austria, so she asked David if he could fill in for her. It was supposed to be a pretty light game: there would be two families, and David would just have to greet them when they arrived at the game, help them find their seats, buy hot dogs for them, and then get them into the "tunnel" after the game to get the players' autographs. David enlisted Mike's help, and it seemed like they were set. But then the event kept growing, both in scale and intensity. By the time they got to the game last night, there were four families, all sitting in different places around the arena, and they didn't just want hot dogs: they also wanted nachos, drinks, etc. After the game, they not only had to get all of the players' autographs, but they also had to photograph each player with each family, in addition to taking pictures of the families with the cheerleaders in the middle of the basketball court. And somehow, by the time we got to this point, the four families had morphed into five. So they recruited me as the photographer. I got to use a beautiful camera that belongs to the foundation, and it ended up not being as difficult as we expected: the players were gracious about signing autographs, and the families were just so happy to be meeting them that they posed for all the shots I wanted to take. Afterwards, we had a chance to chat with the families a bit, and they were all super-nice. It felt good to be able to bring some joy into the families of children with chronic or terminal illnesses. Mike enjoyed it so much that he was ready to do it again on Saturday!
December 24, 2006
Yesterday David and I worked the door at Mittenfest, a benefit concert for 826 Michigan, held at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti. Even though we had our backs to the show the whole time, it was still a lot of fun. We got to take people's money, draw mittens on their hands (in lieu of a hand stamp), and sell 826 t-shirts and books. David and I sat at the door from 2-5pm (though the event went until eleven), and had thirty paying guests, which meant $150 for 826.
There were about fifteen bands playing over the course of the day, and band members got an x in the mittens on their hands, which entitled them to free beer at the bar. As they came in, we asked them if they wanted us to mark their hands so they could get free beer, and we only had two refusals: one musician had to go to work after her performance, so she declined, and another musician said he was too young. This shocked us: first, that there were people there under twenty-one, and second that this guy was so honest about it -- we were sure that he wouldn't be carded if he went up to the bar with our mark on his hand. Then we started wondering if we had marked other underage band members, and if we were thus facilitating underage drinking. Should we have been carding people at the door as well?
December 20, 2006
The Year of Too Many Calendars
A few weeks ago, David and I went to Downtown Home and Garden to get some bulbs to plant in our front yard. While we were there, I spotted the perfect gift for David's brother: a 2007 calendar featuring vintage Michigan football posters. David's brother Mike never went to Michigan, but is a huge Wolverines fan. An entire room of his condo is decorated in Michigan paraphernalia. So I went back to Downtown Home and Garden last week and bought the calendar.
When I told David about it, he replied that it was a funny coincidence, because our friend Shawn had just given him the same calendar. Well, it turns out that this calendar is more popular than I thought. David found out last night that Mike had actually asked their dad, Bill, for a Michigan calendar, and he had bought the same one! When David told him that I had already gotten the calendar for Mike, Bill replied that his was already wrapped and that he wasn't going to return it. Mine is already wrapped too, so I guess Mike is going to have two of the same calendar: one for each bedroom of his condo. I'll just have to make sure to give him mine first!
December 18, 2006
Working on the Line
Last night I worked my first shift at Zingerman's Mail Order. For readers unfamiliar with Zingerman's, it is foodie paradise. Zingerman's began as a local Jewish-style (though not kosher) deli, and has expanded into a gourmet emporium. They still have the original deli location, which sells overpriced sandwiches along with meats, cheeses, oils, vinegars, bagels, and grocery items from all over the world. Next door is a cafe offering coffee, gelato, and pastries. Zingerman's also has a full service restaurant, a creamery, a coffee roastery, a catering branch, a mail order division, and a corporate training unit. During the holidays, Mail Order hires a full-on night crew to deal with the surge in orders, and our friend Shawn has been part of this night crew for the past six years or so. She recruited David in 2003 and it sounded like so much fun that, when he decided to do it again this year, I came along.
We showed up at 3:45 for our "trial shift" and they put us right on the line. The warehouse was much more industrial that I had expected: an assembly line snaked through the bins of products, where one set of workers pulled items off the shelf to put in gift boxes and baskets; then it split into the boxing line and the basket line, where workers packed the boxes and wrapped the baskets; then the assembly line proceeded to the packers, who put the gift boxes and baskets into shipping boxes; and finally to the labelers, who prepared the boxes for mailing.
The production manager assigned me to baskets and David to restocking. I stood at a worktable, where tubs came down the line containing baskets and everything that was to go in the baskets. My job was to pack the baskets decoratively, shrink wrap them, and put them back in the tub and back on the line. Packing the baskets was a bit like playing Tetris: it was sometimes a trick to make everything fit just right. Some of the baskets were easy, like the Made in Michigan, while others were pretty challenging, like the Almost as Good as Grandma's Ultimate. This one is simply a larger version of the regular Almost as Good as Grandma's, which contains a loaf of bread, two brownies, two scones, four cookies, a lollipop, and two small jars of jam. The Ultimate has two loaves of bread, four brownies, four scones, eight cookies, and the lollipop and jams, but it all goes in the same box as the regular version! Packing was fun, though, compared to shrink wrapping, which really was the hardest part. I had always wondered how that stuff worked, and now I know: the shrink bag looks like the plastic wrapping that florists use, but after I taped it around the basket, I "shrunk" it with a heat gun. The trick is to get the wrapping perfectly smooth without burning a hole in it, which happens if you get the gun too close to the wrapping or don't keep it moving. When you get a hole, you have to start all over. It took me an hour to do the first one.
I had a professor in college who used to say that everyone should experience working in a factory, on a farm, and in a restaurant. I can now say that I have worked in a factory, and it has given me a much greater appreciation for the Industrial Revolution. I have never before had a job where I just stood in one place and performed the same task over and over. It felt most industrial, however, on break times. The night shift starts at four pm; at six, the manager yelled "ten minutes" and we all went into the break room for coffee and fruit; at a quarter to eight he yelled "lunch," and again the line stopped while everyone went to the break room for dinner (provided by the management); at 10:05 he yelled "break" and we all had coffee and dessert. Definitely a high class factory, but a factory nonetheless.
While I wouldn't want to do it every day, or as my regular job, I had a lot of fun packing gift baskets. Knowing that I was making somebody's Hanukkah/Christmas gift made me feel like one of Santa's elves.
December 11, 2006
Merry Christmas, Michigan
Today I received a Christmas card from Governor Jennifer Granholm and her family. Having never received a card from my governor before, I was pretty tickled, despite the fact that Christmas isn't my holiday. It was quite a tasteful card: the whole family sitting in a row, photographed in sepia tones and wearing red mittens (because Michigan is the mitten state). While hubby, children, and dog had one mitten each, Granholm herself had two, and she was holding them up one vertical and the other horizontal above it, just like Michigan's two peninsulas. The message inside says, in red type, "Warm hands...warm hearts...warm wishes this holiday season," and each member of the family signed it, except for the dog, who just gave a pawprint (dogs can't write because they don't have opposible thumbs). You may be wondering why, if it doesn't actually say "merry Christmas," I have referred to it as a Christmas card. It's because of the red. Everyone knows that Michigan should be blue -- for the University of Michigan and for the Democratic Party -- or maybe Green -- for Michigan State -- but definitely not red, which could only possibly stand for Ohio State, or the Republican Party, or Christmas. Nevertheless, receiving this card makes me feel like a true Michiganian.
The Lions Blues
Every now and then, David's dad gets free tickets to Detroit sporting events from people he works with and passes them on to us. We haven't seen the Pistons (they don't play in Detroit, anyway), but we went to a Red Wings game last spring and yesterday we saw the Lions at Ford Field. It was our first NFL game and we had a lot of fun, despite the fact that the Lions played just as poorly as they always do.
The stadium was honestly the best part of the game. Ford Field is a brand-new indoor stadium, built just a few years ago to make Detroit eligible to host the 2006 Super Bowl. It is right downtown, literally built around a nineteenth-century warehouse. When you enter the stadium, it is as if you are walking down the street that was there before the stadium was built. We also had some of the best seats in the house: the "Club" section -- right in the middle of the field, above the plebeian section and right below the luxury boxes. We sat in cushy leather seats, drank and dined in private lounges, and had extra security to keep the rif-raf out of our area. Someone behind us even said that our seats were modeled on the seats in the Ford Escort.
Unlike at Comerica Park, however, spectators can't bring outside food into Ford Field and, since I won't buy stadium food (no, not even the grilled chicken panini offered in the "Club"), this rule presented a challenge. I stashed food in the various pockets of my jacket, hoping that nobody would notice that I was wearing my lunch. Also unlike at Comerica, Lions fans must submit to a pretty thorough body search before even going into the stadium. There were separate lines for men and women -- or rather long lines for men and no wait at all for women -- so I got through the search pretty quickly. I unzipped my jacket, so they patted me down inside my jacket and didnt' touch the jacket itself, allowing me to easily smuggle in the food. The only thing I had to ditch was my unopened bottle of water.
As for the game itself, well, that was pretty sad. Today's Ann Arbor News refers to the Lions as "consistently bad." Yesterday I called them "reliably disappointing." David pointed out to me that our best player was our kicker so, when we were down by ten, I noted that we only needed four field goals to win. At that point, the Lions drove down the field and looked like they were going to make a touchdown. First down and goal to go on the one yard line. Pretty soon it was fourth and goal. David joked that we should try for a field goal, and it turned out he was right. We missed the fourth try as well. My favorite part of watching football is figuring out all the possible permutations of scoring that we could get in order to win. A touchdown seemed out of the question at that point but, when the ball turned over just outside of the Vikings' endzone, I announced that we could, in theory, get a safety, and then we would only need three field goals. A kid somewhere near me had the same idealistic notion, but David scoffed at our nievete. "In theory," he said, we could get a safety. By that point there were only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter and most of the stadium had emptied out. By the end of the game, it seemed that we were the only ones there besides the Vikings fans and the super-hard-core Lions supporters. The staff at Ford Field, however, were still very pleasant, thanking us for coming and wishing us a nice day. From what we hear, the Lions are a great organization to work for if you don't care about winning.
December 09, 2006
The Vegetable Conundrum
My only complaint about Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I blogged about last week, is that Pollan focuses on meat and animal proteins, discussing grains and vegetables only in passing. Granted, he does devote the first third of his book to corn, but he discusses corn as an animal feed and as a raw material for the food industry, rather than as a grain or as a vegetable (which it isn't, anyway). Protein is important, but our bodies also need carbohydrates and a number of micronutrients, which only come from grains and produce.
Pollan does spend quite a bit of time on Earthbound Farm (the inventors of salad-in-a-bag) in his "Big Organic" chapter, but he doesn't explore any alternatives to industrial organic when it comes to fruits and vegetables. So what are the problems with the organic produce available at Whole Foods? To begin with, the label "organic" doesn't mean much anymore. It used to signify food that was grown naturally and sustainably, but the official standards in place today only prohibit chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They say nothing about the sustainability of either the growing methods, which involve monocultures that drain the soil and factory farms that require diesel power to harvest, or the methods of distribution, which waste huge amounts of energy moving produce from the factory farms in California or South America to local stores, especially when that produce must be refrigerated en route.
Pollan says many times how ridiculous it is for us to expect to be able to eat tomatoes or asparagus in January, but doesn't spend much time on the alternatives. He implies that it is always better to buy from local farmers at farmers' markets, but never addresses the fact that most of these markets dry up during the winter. Perhaps this oversight is a result of the fact that Pollan lives in Northern California, where he can find a healthy variety of local produce all year at the farmers' markets. But what about the rest of us? Should we give up vegetables? If we are unwilling to do that, what is better -- shipped in fresh, canned, or frozen?
Having had my consciousness raised by Pollen last week, I went to the People's Food Co-op on Thursday curious about where exactly my veggies were coming from. The only local vegetable available was turnips, so I bought several pounds. Disappointed with the selection, I went to the farmers' market this morning, hoping to find beets and carrots. No such luck, but I did find cauliflower, brussels sprouts, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. Those were quite a surprise, and they will probably taste like cardboard, but I bought them anyway. Who knew you could grow a tomato in Michigan in December? Unfortunately, however, the guy with the tomatoes, potatoes, and onions told me it was his last week for the season. As the fall turns into winter, the vegetable sellers at the farmers' market rapidly give way to the decorative greenery, the pastries, and the preserves. Even apples are becoming fewer and farther between.
December 08, 2006
Who Owns the Curb?
When I arrived home on Wednesday at 4pm, I noticed that something was different on my street. Usually at this time of day, our block is parked up end to end, but that day the east side was curiously empty. And then I saw the signs: "2 Hour Parking -- Residential Permit Exempt." These signs apply to the east side of the street on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and to the west side on Tuesday and Thursday.
I knew something evil like this was in the works because at one point last summer a neighbor came by asking me to sign the petition. I refused on principal -- the curb belongs to the city and anyone who lives or works in the city should have equal access to it -- but he came back when David was home to ask him to sign it and got an earful. David and I feel that the free parking on our street subsizides the downtown businesses we patronize. Free parking on our street helps keep costs down for local businesses whose employees park there, and in turn lowers our cost of living, allowing us to live downtown, where we can walk to work. As we like to say, "others park so that we may walk." We really don't care who parks on our street, as long as they don't abandon cars in front of our house (you would be surprised at how frequently this happens) and as long as their cars aren't leaking oil (yes, we have seen this too).
We were surprised, however, that the signs had simply gone up without anyone notifying us or even giving us a chance to buy a residential parking permit. I guess the city was just a little bit behind on this, because yesterday we finally got a letter saying "Congratulations! City Council has approved [that your block] be added to the existing Spring-Brooks-Summit Residential Parking Permit District." Oh boy! This entitles me to pay $40 a year to park in front of my own house and another $40 if I want to get a permit for a guest to park here. There are a few bizarre quirks to the program. First, even though I will never need to park on the street because I have a driveway, I can't get a guest permit unless I first buy a permit for my own car. Second, a resident has to own a car in order to buy a permit. This means that if I didn't have a car, but did occasionally rent or borrow one, and if I didn't have a driveway and needed to park the rented/borrowed car on the street, I wouldn't be able to get a permit for it, despite owning a house on the block.
David pointed out a few other anomalies -- according to Ann Arbor city code, Residential Parking Permit Districts are supposed to be at least sixteen contiguous blocks. Our block is not contiguous with the district we are supposedly a part of, which itself is fewer than sixteen blocks. What's up with that? For more about residential parking, see the discussion of this issue at Arbor Update.
December 06, 2006
Three Forms of ID
As David and I move forward on our wedding plans, the whole process seems pretty cheap and easy: apply for the licence at least three days in advance, no bloodwork, a $20 fee for the license and another $10 for the ceremony. The problem, however, is that we each need to show three forms of ID: driver's license, Social Security card, and birth certificate. We found last night that David doesn't have a copy of his birth certificate, and getting one from Riverside County, CA will require getting the request notarized, paying $40, and hoping it gets here by December 27.
Three forms of ID seems pretty gratuitous. And why can't we just show passports instead of birth certificates, given that we needed to show birth certificates in order to get the passports? My theory is that they want to be able to prove that we aren't related. In Michigan, it is illegal to marry one's parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, stepparent, stepchild, aunt, uncle, or cousin. I guess they need the birth certificates to prove that, between the two of us, we have four different parents with four different last names.
December 05, 2006
Getting Kids to Read
On Mondays I tutor at 826 Michigan, a nonprofit organization that offers free afterschool drop-in tutoring for kids 6-18. As a tutor, one of the biggest challenges is to keep the kids focused and working, especially after they have finished their homework. Yesterday there was a boy whose homework involved reading for forty-five minutes, but he didn't bring a book with him and didn't want to do it. The "lab" at 826 is stocked with books for all ages and reading levels (including books to keep the tutors entertained before the students show up), so I set out to help him find something to read.
When I asked him what kinds of books he liked, he replied, "violent books." This was a challenge for me. When I was his age (sixth grade), I preferred to read what I thought of as "girl books" -- books with female protagonists about my own age. Most "girl books" are not violent, however, as most young adult authors consider violence a "boy interest." Nevertheless, I scanned the shelf and, sure enough, found a violent book: Out of War, a compilation of stories from the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia. I sat down with the boy who didn't want to read and asked him to read it to me. On the first page of the first story, a boy's father was shot to death, and my student was immediately enthralled. He wanted to read.
At first, I was a bit disturbed by his interest in violence, but then I figured that, if it gets him reading, that is what is important. Unfortunately, violence is often part of life, for kids as well as for adults, and it isn't my job to understand why he is so fascinated by it. My job is to get him to want to read.
December 02, 2006
Thanks, Ann Arbor
In this blog, I usually try to offer a positive view of Ann Arbor, partly to counter the rantings of other disaffected grad students, and partly because I genuinely do like it here. As an erstwhile Angelina, I love living in a town where I can walk anywhere worth going, where I recognize the other people I see on the street during my daily pedestrian commute, and where I actually talk to my neighbors.
Nevertheless, there are some drawbacks to small-town life, such as a police force with nothing better to do than chase down drivers who exceed the speed limit or pass on the right (though where the cops were that day I saw someone parked facing the wrong way in the no-stopping zone in front of the library -- only three blocks from the police station -- is beyhond me).
For a different take on Ann Arbor than the one posted below, here is a guest post from my dad, commenting on his recent visit to our fair town:
Dear City of Ann Arbor,
On Thanksgiving weekend, you cited me--and fined me $120--for passing the speed limit on Main Street as I was returning from a shopping trip at the _______ Mall (Macy's, in particular) to visit my daughter for breakfast. She's a grad student at the U of Michigan, I'm a father who has visited many times, and I'm also a father who has visited often enough to patronize Zingerman's, Macy's, __________, ______________, __________, and _______________ in downtown Ann Arbor as well as the Best Western motel, the Lamp Post Inn, , and most recently the Candlelight Inn. All told, I've probably spend in excess of $2000 on these visits at a conservative estimate, or $3000 on a liberal one. That's not counting Ohio turnpike tolls from the direction of Pennsylvania, dinners out in Ann Arbor, or gasoline fill-ups on any of these trips. I've contributed to the Ann Arbor economy in various ways since my daughter began attending UM in 2001, but certainly this doesn't entitle me to bend or break your speed laws. I am guilty of going 40 mph in a 35 mph zone. This was on the day after Thanksgiving, when shoppers and motorists are out in unprecedented force, unmanageable parking and mall attendance figures, and on this particular date (Nov. 24, 2006), an uncommon number of police cars ready to snag shoppers, visitors, and residents who happened to exceed limit by 5 mph. in their efforts to shop, see relatives and have a holiday.
Thanks, Ann Arbor! Your vigilance has made a visitor feel unwelcome, a shopper feel surveilled, and a father of a UM student feel like he might have argued harder for her to attend Princeton instead. But I do hear the countervailing argument. Suppose _everyone_ went 5 mph. over the speed limit--what then? Good golly. Baghdad would fall and the terrorists would win. Michigan would become a welfare state (support Affirmative Action? gosh!). Ohio would raise speeding tickets on Michigan drivers in revenge for the latest Ohio State game and so double the welfare rolls in Detroit. No end to the consequences. Henry Ford might roll over in his grave: "Hot damn, illegal aliens crossing the border again..."
Relax, Ann Arbor. I'm just from Pennsylvania.
All best wishes!
Professor of English
Carnegie Mellon University
The first Friday in December is a glorious time to live in Ann Arbor. The downtown shops stay open late (and offer discounts!), the trees light up with little white Christmas lights, and bagpipers and carolers roam the streets. Even on a windy and snowy evening, it makes winter just a little more tolerable. David and I don't usually make a point of going out to "do" Midnight Madness, but last night our friends Shawn and Dave invited us to go with them, which made all the difference. We didn't do much serious shopping, though we were all on the lookout for a suitable gift for Shawn's dad, who, according to Shawn, has no interests. We came up short on that one, but Shawn did get a couple of things for some of her other relatives, and I got a box of gorgeous Hanukkah candles for myself. Mostly we just browsed and chatted. I had forgotten how many neat stores there are here in Ann Arbor: Ten Thousand Villages, the Selo/Shevel Gallery, the Acme store, the Ann Arbor Art Center, 16 Hands. Granted, I can't actually afford to buy anything at any of these shops (even with the 20% Midnight Madness discount), but it is still fun to look. We finished the evening huddled around hot apple cider at the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room, listening to a bluegrass band from Grand Rapids and still trying to come up with a gift idea for Shawn's dad!
December 01, 2006
I am currently blogging via a neighbor's wireless signal that my computer happened to pick up this morning. It's pretty fun being totally wireless and it is much faster than dial up; I could certainly get used to it. I do feel guilty, however, for pirating somebody else's internet connection.
November 30, 2006
I must admit that I have been going to Starbucks a lot lately. For a long time, I resisted patronizing this "evil empire" of coffee (with the exception of the summer of 1998, when I worked there) on moral and ethical grounds (exploitation of coffee growers, competition with local coffeehouses), but I have recently lost my power to resist.
Starbucks offers many attractions to the helplessly-addicted coffee drinker. To begin with, they offer quantity: Starbucks's economy of scale allows it to sell a 12-oz cup of coffee for the same price at which our local coffee chains sell an 8-oz cup. Second is the quality: it is just a better cup of coffee, and I can tell you why (I don't think I signed any confidentiality agreements when I worked there). Starbucks roasts its coffee longer than other roasters, resulting in a darker, richer bean. Then its baristas brew the coffee at a ridiculously high ratio of coffee to water (2 tablespoons of coffee for every 6 ounces of water), resulting in a darker, richer brew. While others may prefer to be able to see through their morning cup of coffee, I like mine strong and dark. The dishwater the local competitors sell literally pales in comparison. I also like my coffee hot, and am tired of the lukewarm lattes baristas in other establishments serve me.
At other times of year, it is easier for me to resist the call of Starbucks's hot, strong coffee, but in November and December, I am drawn to Starbucks like metal filings to a magnet. Why? I am just a sucker for those red cups they use during the "holiday season." I know this sounds pathetic, but I have a strong appreciation for good design, and those red cups just call to me, despite the fact that, as a Jew, I should probably be more critical of the Christmasization of the month of December. But I can't. There is something about the sight of a red cup against a gray winter sky that just makes me feel warm inside (though ingesting a 170-degree beverage probably helps with that too).
November 22, 2006
When I first moved to Ann Arbor five and a half years ago, nobody could have predicted that I would one day spend a cold November afternoon in Michigan Stadium celebrating the life of a (Republican) football coach I had never met. I went to Bo's service yesterday for two reasons. First, for David. He grew up during Bo's reign as UM's head football coach, and Bo Schembechler was a household name throughout David's childhood. David aspired to play for Michigan under Bo, but by the time he transferred to UM as a sophomore in 1990 had learned that his talents lay elsewhere. Second, I went because it seemed like an historic occasion. I have never been to a state funeral, and it seemed almost that official. Bo's former players and their families (a group numbering about four hundred) streamed out of the tunnel, across the field, and under the "Go Blue" banner as the marching band played Hail to the Victors. A group of people in military uniforms raised the flag and then lowered it to half staff while the band played our national anthem.
November 21, 2006
In a former life -- way back in 2005 ;) -- I was a burger connoisseur (I probably spelled that wrong, but I don't have time to drag out the AHD right now) and a founding member of Burger Club. Burger Club was born during David's stint as a moonlighter with Zingerman's Mail Order, when he and another employee, Andy, began discussing their favorite burgers. As a relatively new convert to burger eating (sadly, I was a vegetarian on and off for most of my life), I had found my own favorites, but was curious to try some of Andy's. So the three of us grouped together with two other friends, Shawn (one of David's coworkers at both Zingerman's and ICPSR), and her husband Dave, and we began our search for the best burger in Southeast Michigan.
Over the course of 2005 we tried Miller's Bar in Dearborn, the Red Coat Tavern in Royal Oak, Joey's Meatcutters' Inn in Detroit, a couple of slider places in the suburbs, Knight's in Ann Arbor, and Sidetrack in Ypsilanti. We had good burgers, bad burgers, big burgers (1 lb. at Joey's!), and small burgers. We added a sixth member, Jaymie, and I went on sabbatical and was replaced by another of David's coworkers, Dieter. This spring, however, Andy moved to Seattle to take a job with Microsoft, and the Burger Club went on semipermanent hiatus.
Until last night, that is, when Andy came back to town for Thanksgiving and we reunited at Grizzly Peak. All six of us were there, along with Jaymie's wife Amy. We ate, drank, took pictures, and caught up. And the burgers? Most of us agreed that they were pretty good, but they didn't displace anyone's previous favorite. Yes, that's right, there is no consensus on the best burger in Southeast Michigan. For me, it is a tie between Grizzly Peak and Miller's, which are both excellent burgers, but in different ways. Shawn prefers Knight's, Dave and Andy prefer Red Coat, and I'm not sure what David and Jaymie's current favorites are. I guess everyone just has different sets of criteria about what make a good burger. For some it is the bun-to-meat ratio, for some it is the available toppings, and for others it is the juiciness of the patty itself. Cost and atmosphere also play a role.
Up next for the Burger Club: a field trip to Seattle to visit Andy's new favorites!
Suggestions for future outings? Email us: email@example.com
November 10, 2006
Yesterday I made my first visit to David's Books, where I traded in my old copy of Peter Clarke's Hope and Glory (superceded by a new edition, which I got for free as a GSI!) for The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates. I was a bit sad to sell the Clarke, given that I bought it in England during my semester abroad at Cambridge, but it was also fun to see that I could trade in my history books for fun books. Perhaps after I leave grad school, I'll replace my entire library to reflect my new postacademic life!
November 03, 2006
I don't care what the calendar says; according to my wardrobe, yesterday was the first day of winter. After watching thick flakes of snow swirl around my windows, I de-linted my purple wool coat and inaugurated my long underwear (long unders, as David calls them) for the season.
A good friend told me that, for this winter, she has sworn off complaining about the weather. There is nothing she can do to change it, so she will just try to enjoy it. This is a brave stance to take in Michigan, where the weather is the subject of so many conversations! But there are good things to be said about winter also. Walking across the diag in a snowstorm yesterday, I overheard a girl on a cell phone telling someone that it is beautiful here. And it was, though not in the way an erstwhile Angelina would typically think of beautiful weather! It may be cold today, but at least the sky is blue and the sun is shining.
October 30, 2006
African History in Detroit
Yesterday David and I went to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. I had never been before, and enjoyed it quite a bit. The permanent exhibition, And Still We Rise, is a fabulous account of African American history, from the beginning of civilization in Africa, through the slave trade, the middle passage, and emancipation, to present-day Detroit. It was neat to see photographs and artifacts from places I had been in Africa, particularly those associated with the slave trade, such as Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.
We began with the permanent exhibit, and then moved on to a temporary exhibition that David particularly wanted to see, Lasting Foundations: The Art of Architecture in Africa. For the most part, it was a superb exhibit. It covered many different regions of Africa, demonstrating how the architecture in these places used available materials and reflected local religious affiliations. One of the most remarkable was a mosque in Mali that is the largest adobe structure in the world. A video showed how its congregants replaster it with mud every year.
I was disappointed, however, that there weren't many examples of contemporary African architecture. Only the South Africa section showed modern buildings, and these were presented as "white" buildings that have been reoccupied by black South Africans since the fall of apartheid. When I was in Ghana in the summer of 2005, I was quite impressed with the way Ghanaians used shipping containers as storefronts, particularly in Accra, the capital. I told David that I wished they had shown some of that architectural style, and he replied that it was probably too depressing. I don't find it depressing, at all, however. Rather, it is an ingenious use of available materials and reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of Accra residents. As it was, the exhibit presented Africa as ancient, static, and stuck in the past. Including contemporary architecture would reveal the dynamism, initiative, and creativity of Africans and African societies. It is fine that the permanent exhibit left Africa in the past, as it is about African-American history rather than African history. But in an exhibit on African architecture, I feel that presenting only "traditional" architecture hides the true modernity of present-day Africa.
October 28, 2006
Fun While It Lasted
The Tigers' brilliant season ended last night with their fourth loss against the Cardinals in St. Louis last night. I think everyone in the state of Michigan watched last night's game with baited breath.
Everyone, that is, except for me, David, Ken, and my friendly ex-boyfriend Erik. We went to the UM hockey game, where we watched the Wolverines defeat Northeastern University in overtime. Actually, we were pretty surprised that the game was so close. Earlier, we had been sure it would be easy to beat the fourth (or fifth?) best hockey team...in Boston! But the referees were apparently from Boston as well, and kept penalizing our players. It was easy for Northeastern to score on us when they had five players on the ice and we only had three! The students at UM hockey have recently been censured for an obscene cheer that they seem to enjoy. I have been to several hockey games, but have never actually been able to make out the words to the cheer, so I'm not quite sure what the big deal was. This time, we sat directly across from the student section, so I could make out more of what they were chanting, some of which was pretty funny. My favorite was when Northeastern would get a player back from the penalty box and the announcer would state that Northeastern had returned to full strength, which the UM students countered with, "but they still suck!"
Erik, who is visiting from Los Angeles, proudly wore his Tigers cap to the hockey game, where we were periodically updated on the baseball score. When we left the hockey game, the Tigers were ahead. By the time we got to Miki, where we stopped to pick up some sushi for dinner, the Tigers had fallen behind. We were surprised to find the baseball game on at Miki, as it is a rather upscale restaurant. Usually they only televise a Japanese nature video loop that shows the same scenes over and over. But, as I said, everyone watched last night's game.
Except for us. We would have put the game on when we got home, but, due to our unique television situation (no cable, no antenna -- DVDs only!), we had to listen to it on the radio. We tuned in at the top of the ninth inning -- the Tigers' last chance for a comeback. With two outs and two men on base, Brandon Inge came up to bat. If anyone could have hit it out of the park for a three-run homer, it was Brandon. But he struck out. Erik sadly removed his cap, but a few minutes later put it back on defiantly. After all, the Tigers are still better than any team in California! And there is always next year...
October 16, 2006
Give Me A Call...
...and help support my favorite radio station! Tonight David and I will be answering phones at Michigan Radio to help out with their semiannual membership drive. David has been volunteering with Michigan Radio twice a year since before I knew him, and I began going with him when we moved in together. Answering the phone made me quite nervous at first, but at least it was better than calling people to ask for donations! Over the years, however, I have come to enjoy talking to the people who call in because, whoever they are, we share a love of public radio. And people call from all over the world now that they can listen to Michigan Radio via the internet.
Michigan Radio is the only thing I listen to anymore. I know their schedule from memory and I look forward to my favorite shows each week, even if I don't always tune in. Michigan Radio kept me sane through years of data entry and keeps me alert on the road. When David and I travel, we look for NPR stations wherever we go. I have even been known to say, "If they don't play it on NPR, then I haven't heard it."
So help support the best radio station on earth by calling 888-258-9866. If you call between 5:15 and 8 tonight, David or I might just answer the phone!
October 15, 2006
My Soul Mate
Apparently, there is someone in Ann Arbor who is just like me. Not only do we share interests, but we share a tendency to research the heck out of whatever has piqued our curiosity.
I found this woman, or rather, her library receipt, while flipping through The Well-Fed Writer, which I just checked out from the Ann Arbor Public Library. Other books on her receipt included High Tide in Tucson, a book of essays by Barbara Kingsolver (I just finished Kingsolver's other essay collection), a knitting book, and a book called The Fastest Way to Get Pregnant Naturally. At first, I was amused that such a book even exists, but then I realized that whoever checked it out really is my soulmate because, if I did want to get pregnant (don't worry, Mom and Dad, there are no plans in the works), the first thing I would do is go to the library to find out how!
In a last-minute victory, the Tigers swept the Oakland A's in Game Four of the American League Playoffs yesterday, winning the pennant and advancing to the World Series. The score was tied at the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Tigers had two outs. With two men on base, Magglio Ordonez stepped up to bat and hit the ball out of the park. It was a brilliant night for everyone in the state of Michigan. Everyone, that is, except for David and me, and certain of our friends.
Why, you ask? We were holding tickets to Game Five! David pulled the tickets out of his wallet, and threw them on the bar at the Zukey Lake Tavern in disgust. Mock disgust, actually, because, although we were disappointed for ourselves, we couldn't have been happier for the Tigers. The game ended at 7:55, five minutes before the Michigan Wolverines were scheduled to kick Penn State's a--. I wasn't there at the bar, but David told me later that he had three competing concerns. In David's words: "I wanted the Tigers to win so they could go to the World Series; I wanted the Tigers to lose so we could go to Game Five; and I wanted the game to just be f--king over so that we could watch the Michigan game, but the only way the game would end was if the Tigers won!"
Go Tigers -- we'll never root against you again!
October 12, 2006
Today we had our first snowfall of the year. Even though October feels way too early, I still get excited by the idea of snow. When I was a kid in Los Angeles, snow was a place we went, not something that happened. We would say "I'm going to the snow this weekend," which meant that one was going to the mountains, where there would likely be snow. We could control how much or how little contact we had with snow. In high school I even had friends who had never seen snow! Here in Michigan, though, snow is something that happens, whether we like it or not. Fortunately, I live with a very good shoveler, though that won't be necessary today!
October 08, 2006
Fall has fallen: the air is cool and crisp; the sky is clear and blue; leaves are yellowing, turning red, and raining from the trees; and the apples are ripe. Not content to simply buy a bag at the farmers' market, David and I went with our friends Sara and Josh to Wasem Fruit Farm to pick them ourselves. This was my second apple-picking adventure, and Josh's first. David and Sara, having grown up in the Midwest, had picked plenty of apples in their lifetimes, but neither had been in a long time. David and I do try to get to the Alber Orchard each fall to buy apples, but they don't let us pick them ourselves. And, considering what a mess we made of things, I can now see why.
We paid 25 cents each for two half-bushel bags, and set out into the groves. Signs warned us to pick only from the labeled rows, but as we made our way down a row of Empire apples, we found that only one end of each row was labeled, so when we got to the other end, we had no idea what kind of apples surrounded us or whether we could pick them. So we just started tasting. David and Josh accepted this challenge, biting into apples from various trees and telling Sara and me whether they were worth picking. They came across Red Delicious as big as our heads, though we deemed this variety a waste of time; Red Delicious are just about the most boring apples in the world. They declared the Ida Reds tart but mealy. I wasn't such an apple snob until I moved to Ann Arbor. In Los Angeles we had three kinds of apples -- red, yellow, and green (just like a traffic light!) -- and none of them were that great. But here we have enough varieties that I can distinguish between the good and the better. Apparently we were not the only ones taste-testing the apples: the ground was strewn with half-eaten fruit.
Eventually we filled our half-bushel bags and paid for them -- $20 for the two bags -- wondering all the while whether Wasem charges more or less for U-pick apples. On the way home, we stopped by a corn maze but, after a brief conversation about the movie Children of the Corn, we decided not to actually do the maze. I think David and I now have enough apples to get us through the winter. The question is where to store them all?
September 17, 2006
Hail to the Victors
Have I mentioned that David and his dad and brother are rabid Michigan football fans? Despite the fact that they are originally from Ohio, and that nobody in their family attended the University of Michigan until David transferred there from Hope College in 1990, they have had season tickets to the Big House since the 1970s. They have also turned me into a huge Michigan fan (for a small woman who didn't even know what football was until about four years ago -- this is despite having spent my whole high school career in marching band). Apparently, I still have the innocence of young fandom: I simply assume that everyone cares about Michigan football, and I always expect us to win because we are, of course, the best team in football (regardless of what the rankings say). I have seen us lose on television (notably in two Rose Bowls), but I always chalk it up to a fluke.
In addition to watching all of the home games live, David and his family watch all of the big away games on television, usually in a bar. Yesterday was the big game against Notre Dame, so we all trooped over to the Zuckey Lake Tavern to watch it. All means the whole M-- family, a few of Mr. M's friends, and our friends Shawn and Dave. I first participated in this ritual in 2002, but it predates me by many years. Apparently, Mr. M. has told Shawn and Dave that they are bad luck because we have never won a televised game against Notre Dame when they have watched it with the M-- family. I was along four years ago when Michigan lost spectacularly, and have declined the invitation every year since then because it was absolutely no fun to be with David's family on such a mournful occasion. But yesterday I went along because I had missed M-- family bar night on Wednesday and I wanted to do my part to root for my favorite football team. I spent the first half of the game reading my students' quickwrites and grading their geo quizzes, but was able to watch the second half, in which Michigan scored one of the most decisive victories on such an important game that I have ever seen. 47 to 21.
By the third quarter, David's dad and brother were simply giddy. Normally, they are incorrigible pessimists. No matter how far up we are, they still anticipate a loss. David was like that yesterday, but not the others. I have never seen them so sure of a victory, or even so happy. It truly was a joyous occasion for the M-- family, and really for all Michigan fans everywhere!
September 13, 2006
Well, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. The last time I blogged about weather, it was just cold. Now it's cold and rainy. Yesterday I woke up to predictions of rain all day on Michigan Radio. Having made the mistake of going to school with no umbrella last Tuesday, I made sure to bring it yesterday. I used it on the way to lecture at 2:30, but when lecture let out at 4, the rain had stopped. So I left my umbrella in my office and went off to the gym. What was I thinking? Not bringing my umbrella pretty much ensured that it would rain and, sure enough, and hour later I had to race between the raindrops to get from the gym back to my office. I was on campus until 9 last night for GSI training, and by the time I got home, I had dried out pretty well, but was still feeling sorry for myself. It turns out that David had gotten caught in the rain too, just a bit after I did, when it was raining even harder. He had no sympathy for me. He felt my pants and my socks, and announced that I hadn't gotten nearly as wet as he had. So not only did I get caught in the rain yesterday and get soaking wet, I also got absolutely no sympathy!
September 12, 2006
Yesterday my friend Lynn took me to Greenfield Village, a living history museum created by Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. Lynn is a member, so she goes there all the time and was able to get me in for free. Greenfield Village is a pretty amazing place. Henry Ford actually moved historic structures there from all over the country (and even a few from England), to preserve elements of the American (and I guess English) past. Restored Model Ts rove the streets. Many of the homes and other buildings belonged to his friends, including Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and the Wright Brothers. There is also a home that was once owned by Robert Frost in Ann Arbor, when he was Poet-in-Residence at the University of Michigan. Henry Ford's childhood home is there, as is the one-room schoolhouse he attended in Dearborn.
I learned a lot yesterday. For example, the Firestone farm is kept as a working farm. Its cash crop is merino wool (which is sold as yarn at the gift shop), and they raise other crops and animals for subsistence. Thomas Edison's Menlo Park laboratory was the world's first research and development lab. The boardinghouse across the street (also at Greenfield Village) was one of the first homes to have electric lighting. Streamers strung across the ceiling of a dry goods shop indicated that the store sold "unmentionables" (underwear?). The local post office was also the town's gossip center. One of my favorite homes was that owned by former slaves in Georgia who papered their walls with magazine pages.
What struck me the most, however, was the grandiosity of the whole operation. Henry Ford must have thought pretty highly of himself in order to create a museum of his childhood and of his own and his friends' accomplishments. By creating this museum, Ford became the arbiter of history; he determined which structures and ways of life would be preserved for posterity and which would be allowed to be forgotten. He determined not only who Americans would remember as their cultural and intellectual forbears, but how we would remember them. He also played God in the lives of his workers, building little villages for them and engineering every aspect of their social and professional lives. I can't help thinking that, if I were an Americanist (or a psychologist, for that matter), Henry Ford would make a fascinating dissertation topic.
September 11, 2006
I'm Just Not Ready...
For the weather to be this cold already! It is only the second week of September -- temperatures should be above seventy every day, but according to the Weather Underground, we won't see seventy degrees until Thursday. This is a problem for me because I have no pants. I guess that is a bit of an overstatement; I'm not going around in my underwear or anything. I do have four pairs of pants that fit, but none are appropriate for teaching: I have jeans, corderoys, and two pairs of "safari" pants that I got for my trip to Ghana, which was now two summers ago. Last weekend, I went to the mall with my friend Diana and bought new clothes for the first time in a year (what kind of girl am I to go an entire year without shopping? I'm a grad student!). Thanks to the miracle that is H&M (and unfortunately to the overseas sweatshop labor that allows them to sell clothes so cheaply), I was able to get two pairs of nice pants that fit me very well, except in one respect -- the length. Being a relatively short woman (5'3"), it is very hard for me to find pants that don't drag on the ground. This was never a problem when I lived in California because my mom is a master pants shortener (she is even shorter than me!), but this time I had to find a real tailor. I guess everyone else is getting their new fall wardrobes altered too, because the tailor said it would take two weeks to hem my two pairs of pants! This was a surprise to me, as the sign outside her shop said "Slacks hemmed while U wait," but I figured that, as long as the weather stayed warm, I could just wear skirts. And then we get this cold snap! Of course, we always seem to get an indian summer (a phrase I never knew until I moved here!), so I know it will warm up again. In fact, the temperatures are predicted to get close to eighty by the end of the week -- right when I get my pants back!
September 02, 2006
The other day, I tried to emply the "vacuum principle," which states that getting rid of stuff creates a vacuum into which new stuff flows, by selling some CDs that I haven't listened to in years and will probably never listen to again. I took them to Encore Music, which is probably the laregest used record store in Ann Arbor, but they wouldn't buy my CDs. In fact, they told me that my CDs are worth "less than a penny," and that I will never be able to sell them, except maybe at a garage sale. Granted, these CDs are objectively bad (think Titanic soundtrack and Eagle Eye Cherry) -- after all, that is why I am trying to sell them -- but it was very depressing to have to cart the CDs back home. This wasn't the first time something like this has happened to me. I have had very bad luck selling stuff here in Ann Arbor. Every time I take a bag of books to Dawn Treader to try to sell, they are willing to give me a couple of bucks for one or two of them, and then I usually just end up leaving the rest because I can't bear to hang on to them. Maybe I should just give up on trying to get money for my stuff and make more use of Ann Arbor Freecycle.
September 01, 2006
David is away on his annual fall trip with his dad and brother, so I have the house to myself this weekend. They are up north fishing at Mike's "hunting cabin" (it is really a pole barn: not quite up to code for human habitation, but now with electricity and a water pump; the "toilet" is outside). Even though I miss David, I have to admit that I kind of like having the house to myself for a few days. I can let mail pile up on the coffee table and dirty dishes stack up in the sink. In this odd couple, David is the clean one and I am the messy one. He recently got a new pair of glasses and, when he found that the glasses came with a cleaning cloth, he asked the optician how to wash the cleaning cloth. I have been using the same cleaning cloth for my glasses for six years now, and it has never once occurred to me to wash it. After all, it is for cleaning the glasses, so isn't it clean by definition? But in all seriousness, I do kind of miss having someone around to keep me on my toes (or my dustmop). And while this house is the perfect size for two people, it starts to feel very large when I'm all alone here. Maybe I should have a party...
August 14, 2006
Thank You, Ken
For the fantastic dinner party on Saturday! On Saturday night, our friend Ken had David and me and three other couples over to his condo for an informal dinner and just to chill. Most of the other people knew each other, but David and I had never met them before, and they were super-interesting. There were Sean and Jeannie, who are both teachers and are getting married next weekend; Jenny and Olivier, who met when Olivier was an exchange student at Ball State University and had two weddings: one in Indiana, where Jenny is from, and one in France, where Laurent is from; and Rahul and Varsha, who are from India and had an arranged marriage. Rahul was already living in Michigan when he met Varsha, and he said that he wanted to give her an accurate description of what it is like here, because apparently a lot of marriages don't work out because the wife doesn't like living in the US. I asked her whether she thought she had made the right decision, and she said that for the most part, she likes it here a lot. She moved here in January of 2004 and grew tired of the snow after about a month, which didn't surprise me. I felt the same way, coming from California. What did surprise me, however, was that she said that, for middle-class Indians, life was harder in the US because they don't have servants here. In India she always had maids, cooks, chauffers, etc., but here she has to do everything for herself. Apparently she and Rahul get made fun of by their friends and family members in India because they wash dishes and do laundry!
August 10, 2006
When Green Just Isn't
For the first month after I saw the Al Gore movie, I did a lot less driving, trying to do my part to curb greenhouse emissions. But then my doctor asked me to water her garden while she is out of town, which requires a daily ten-mile round-trip drive. I almost said no, for that very reason, but I needed the job. So for the past week, I have been driving back and forth to her condo, which is in a bland subdivision on the southwest side of town. It just amazes me how much grass there is in that part of town. Each subdivision is neatly landscaped, as is the empty space between each subdivision. It would almost be pretty if it didn't look so blatantly fake. The grass is real, but it sure doesn't grow like that naturally, and it makes me so sad to think about all the resources that are wasted on that grass: the water and fertilizer to keep it green and the gas to keep it mowed. Not to mention all the extra driving that people have to do to get from one place to another when houses and businesses are so spread out. You couldn't even walk around there if you wanted to because there are no sidewalks!
Suburban sprawl just makes me sick. I was lucky enough to grow up in Santa Monica, where the streets are laid out on a grid. Everyone lives on a rectangular city block. I had never even heard of a subdivision until I went to college, and the word "cul-de-sac" was totally foreign. I never lived someplace where it took more than five or ten minutes to walk to local businesses or a bus stop. I don't know why people think that suburbs are ideal for child-raising: as a child, I loved being able to get where I needed to go without having to depend on a parent to drive me. The other day, David and I drove past Northville High School, which is a beautiful modern building surrounded by a parking lot and beautifully-manicured grass and about a million equally well-manicured subdivisions. It looks pretty nice. But there is no way to walk to that high school. The houses are spread so far apart that nobody lives in walking distance, and even if you did live close enough, there are no sidewalks! The only way to get there is to drive. Seeing that school made me feel so lucky to have gone to a high school that was set right into the city. I could walk to the mall in ten minutes or walk to the liquor store to get my Hostess cupcakes during the lunch period. I rode to school on the city bus and walked to my beachside job after work.
The point is that the kind of medium-low-density development that characterizes the part of town where my doctor lives just doesn't serve any purpose. Suburbs spreading the houses out just enough so that the only place you can go on foot from your house is your car, but not enough to actually leave valuable open space between developments. It turns the whole world into a large lawn. If development were concentrated in urban spaces, we would have livable cities, with enough density for people to quickly get where they need to go, and it would preserve the countryside for the animals, the farmers, and the misanthropes.
August 09, 2006
Couples that Vote Together...
Argue about it afterwards! Just kidding. David and I performed our civic duty together yesterday morning before he went to work. Somehow voting together is much more fun than voting alone. Check out local election results here. We were glad to see that Sonia Schmerl, best friend of the greenway, was defeated in the 5th ward, and that Mayor Hieftje was not unseated. We had less agreement over the results of other races, but it is good to know that we can still live together even if we vote differently!
August 08, 2006
On Sunday, David and I went to Meijer to stock up on cereal and soup for him and canned fish and frozen vegetables for me. When we got to the check-out line, I realized that it was pretty clear which stuff was his and which was mine, so I suggested that we pay for our things separately. Usually I pay for everything, then go through the receipt to calculate was was David's, what was mine, and what was for both of us, and then bill him for his portion, but paying separately seemed so much easier. While we were waiting, I realized that the couple in line in front of us, who appeared to be married (judging by their rings), had also split up their groceries into two separate orders. As we were leaving, I noticed that the couple in line behind us had done the same thing. I guess we are in the first wave of a new trend: couples shopping together but separately!
August 07, 2006
To vote tomorrow in the Michigan primary/Ann Arbor city council election.
July 23, 2006
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The best thing about having friends with season tickets to the Tigers is that they give their tickets to us when they go out of town! This was the second game David and I have been to this season (together, that is -- he also went on opening day), and the first one we have seen the Tigers win. Despite the fact that it is their best season ever, they lost the game we took my mom to see, which was a bummer because it was her first time in Detroit. But we still had fun, as we did today. We got a sweet parking spot on the street not too far from the stadium, and our seats were right behind third base, giving us a great view of Brandon Inge, the Tigers' sex symbol. My favorite Tiger, however, is Omar Infante, who plays second base, but can't seem to hit to save his life. Nevertheless, the Tigers were on fire today. They scored six runs in the first inning, which is more than I had ever seen them score in an entire game!
On the way back, we passed a deli called Asian Corned Beef. David was hungry curious, but a bit nervous because the place was super-sketchy. In the end, curiosity won out. What, we wondered, was Asian corned beef? And who would be in there? It turned out to be a pretty standard Detroit deli, but they also serve eggrolls, and the specialty of the house is, you guessed it, corned beef eggrolls. David liked them pretty well, and said they reminded him of the Irish eggrolls at Sidetrack in Ypsi. Those are stuffed with pickles, ham, and cheese. I'm still holding out for the chocolate eggroll, which must exist somewhere...
July 22, 2006
Yesterday, Ron Suarez came by my house to tell me that he is running for the First Ward seat on the Ann Arbor City Council. I had never had someone who was running for office come by my house to specifically tell me about their platform, so I thought it was pretty cool that he was out on his bike on a Friday evening doing that. David, however, was not impressed, and even used the f-word when I told him that Suarez had come by.
I'm still getting used to the political scene here in Ann Arbor. When Suarez saw my Granholm t-shirt, he said "well, I can see you are a Democrat" and went on to explain to me that our whole City Council race would be decided in the primary elections on August 8, because there are no Republicans running. On the one hand, I am glad to live in such a Democratic stronghold. I feel comfortable here. But I can just imagine how persecuted local Republicans must feel. I would never vote for a Republican for any legislative, executive, or judicial office, but it still makes me sad that they don't even feel that they can run for office in Ann Arbor: that they have an ice cube's chance in Hell. Though, as we all know, Hell does freeze over annually, and, as David reminded me, it was only six years ago that Ann Arbor had a competent and well-respected Republican mayor.
But now, we pretty much just have left and lefter. Yesterday, Ellen Goodman (who is now my absolute favorite columnist!) published a column in response to Bush's veto of the new stem cell legislation about how he is driving a wedge between the right and the "loony right." Here in Ann Arbor, the choice is between left and lefter. The lefter faction (yes, I realize that is gramatically incorrect) opposes downtown development and pretty much wants to turn the whole city into a park. The craziest proposal is to create a greenway that would run right through where my house is now. Needless to say, I like my house and want it to stay where it is. I would also like to see more development and density downtown, which I guess puts me on the right side of leftist politics. Only in Ann Arbor.
Art Fair -- Finally
I guess I'm not a real townie, because I don't have strong feelings one way or the other about Art Fair. Word has it that true Ann Arborites either love it or hate it. Either they hate having hundreds of thousands of people descend on downtown, making it impossible to get anywhere on what are always the four hottest days of the summer, or they love the fact that, for four days, Ann Arbor becomes the center of attention, drawing interesting people from all over the country. My cousin Becky, who grew up here, but now goes to grad school in Pittsburgh, loves art fair, and comes back for it almost every year. So for me, the best part of Art Fair is getting to see Becky. I do also enjoy being able to walk right down the center of Liberty street without having to worry about traffic, and I love the people watching. Somehow Art Fair brings out all the crazies. Yesterday Becky met me at the Granholm table just as my shift was ending, and we walked around a bit, so I finally got to see some of the art. Some of it is pretty neat and some of it seems totally useless. Yesterday I saw someone walking down the street with a large fake palm tree. I couldn't help wondering what one would even do with such a thing, except maybe open a tiki bar?
July 18, 2006
Come See Me
If the snarkiness of today's previous posts hasn't turned you off too much, come visit me tomorrow at Art Fair I'll be sitting at the Jennifer Granholm/Debbie Stabenow table (on Liberty, just east of Fifth) tomorrow (Wednesday) and Friday from 1-3pm. I look forward to seeing you!
I Guess I'll Never be a Townie
On Sunday, the Ann Arbor News printed a list titled You know you're a townie if you... and one of the items was "go to a church that shares space with a temple." This is a reference to Genesis of Ann Arbor, the building shared by Temple Beth Emeth and St. Clare's Episcopal Church. But what about those of us who go to a synagogue that shares space with a church? The implication is that members of St. Clare's are townies, while members of TBE are not. In other words, Jews are not Ann Arborites, but are a foreign presence that Ann Arborites tolerate and share their "church" space with because Ann Arborites are so open-minded. The statement that "you know you're a townie if you...go to a church that shares space with a temple" attempts to differentiate Ann Arborites from those in the surrounding communities by suggesting that Ann Arborites are different (and better) because (gasp) they live near Jews! This statement attempts to pat Ann Arborites on the back for being so generous toward those (foreign) Jews, yet at the same time it tells us Jews that we are not now, and never will be, real townies.
July 07, 2006
Top of the Park
Last night David and I finally went to Top of the Park for the first time this year with our friend Ken. The band, Tally Hall, was quite good, though we didn't have a chance to really sit, watch, focus, and listen. This local band is in the process of becoming quite well known, in part through being featured on The OC, a show I have never seen but that has a reputation for airing the music of a lot of up-and-coming new bands. It is also supposedly one of the few television shows with openly-Jewish characters, and even had a seder episode.
Top of the Park's new venue offers many more amenities than the old one did -- a wider bathroom selection (which definitely came in handy), grass to sit on, shady areas, and a fountain -- but I missed the enclosed nature of the old venue, which allowed the kids to do laps around and around and was much more conducive to people-watching. David's complaint was that there weren't enough tables in the beer garden area. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun hanging out with Ken and being outside listening to a fantastic band on a spectacular evening.
July 06, 2006
To Market, To Market
This week, the Center for a New American Dream posted this article on frugal organic shopping. My first reaction was cynicism. I eat six servings of fruit and six servings of vegetables (that is six cups raw or three cups cooked) every day and, as a grad student, I just can't do organic all the time, or even most of the time. In fact, I have been known to walk into Whole Foods and specifically ask for conventional produce. Reading this article didn't actually teach me anything new -- I already used most of the tactics it describes: buying in bulk (bulk bins, large packages, large quantities of sale items), shopping at co-ops and farmers' markets, eating locally and in season, growing my own (this didn't work so well, given that David and I share our backyard with a family of groundhogs), cooking from scratch, buying a share in a local Community Supported Agriculture farm, clipping coupons, and comparison shopping -- but it reminded me of the value of creativity, of finding ways to pursue my values, rather than simply dismissing them as elitist. I have also learned the benefits of befriending my local organic farmers. Yesterday at the farmers' market, one of them gave me a free zucchini! David reminded me that zucchini are so prolific that most farmers are just glad to rid themselves of their harvest by any means necessary, but it still trimmed my grocery bill. The problem is that winter is a fact of life here in Michigan, which means that it is impossible to eat green greens all the time unless one has a lot of green to devote to the effort. The price of organic produce just skyrockets when it has to be shipped in from the other side of the world. Maybe when I'm a professor I'll be able to afford it (when pigs fly), but until then, I welcome gifts of free produce -- donations can be dropped off on my front porch, any time of day or night!
July 05, 2006
I have heard (and made) a lot of complaints about The Ann Arbor News, but overall it is a pretty good paper. Ann Arborites who like to pretend that they are exiles from more cultured parts of the country (which is actually most people affiliated with the University) and who can afford to (ie not grad students) also subscribe to The New York Times, but I suspect this is more to keep up their street cred than anything else because the News reprints a lot of stories from the Times, and everything else is available online.
Not that I read much of either, but David reads the News religiously (in fact, he used to get quite pissy if anything prevented him from completing his nightly News-reading ritual) and passes on to me articles he thinks I might like, or articles he thinks I might hate, or articles he just wants me to read. Which, last night, was the entire sports section because Steve Yzerman, my favorite Red Wing, just announced his retirement. Though I'm not much of a sports fan, I have developed an appreciation for our local teams since I have been hanging out with David, and the articles about Stevie were very sweet. But I couldn't help being offended by the sentence "Steve Yzerman has had a profound affect on the history of the Detroit Red Wings." I don't know why it bothered me so much -- perhaps because I am the daughter of an English professor -- but I'm sure that a copy editor at a real newspaper would know the difference between affect (verb) and effect (noun).
Granted, it is not quite that simple because both affect and effect are both nouns and verbs:
affect: (v) 1. To have an influence on or effect a change in; 2. To act on the emotions of; touch or move; 3. To attact or infect, as a disease; 4. To put on a false show of; simulate; 5a. To have or show a liking for; b. to fancy or love; 6. To tend to by nature, tend to assume; 7. To imitate or copy. (n) 1. Feeling or emotion, especially as manifested by facial expression or body language; 2. A disposition, feeling, or tendency.
effect: (n) 1. Something brought about by a cause or agent; a result; 2. The power to produce an outcome or achieve a result; influence; 3. A scientific law, hypothesis, or phenomenon; 4. Advantage, avail; 5. The condition of being in full force or execution; 6a. Something that produces a specific impression or supports a general design or intention; b. A particular impression; c. Production of a desired impression; 7. The basic or general meaning, import. (v) 1. To bring into existence; 2. To produce as a result; 3. To bring about.
It would be appropriate to say that Stevie had a profound effect on the team, or that he had the ability to profoundly affect the team, or that he effected a profound change on the team, or that he affected the team in a profound way.
So, can I have the job?
June 28, 2006
One of my favorite things about living in Ann Arbor is that I can walk almost everywhere I need to go. Or at least everywhere I want to go! And I love being out and about and running into people I know. It makes my world feel just a little bit smaller.