Sidereal ramblings

Friday, April 28, 2006

Pass the General Tso's chicken

I love Chinese food. Eat a lot of it. When I was job hunting a number of years ago, I remember thinking that one of my requirements would be that there be a Chinese restaurant nearby. There are two Chinese places in Fairmont. One is simply called "China Buffet" and it's my restaurant of choice. The buffet is pretty darn good, and the take-out (wherein one can order a much wider variety of dishes), which I get often, is even better. The other one used to be called "China Restaurant" (clever, that), and may have been the first one I tried when I first came out here to Martin County. It was okay, but not as good as China Buffet, as I discovered later. Some people claimed that they liked China Restaurant better, though I couldn't understand why. My friend Erin and I tried it once for lunch and were severly underwhelmed. We went back to our usual China Buffet shortly afterwards. They changed ownership, and names, awhile ago. First they were called "China King" and then "China King Buffet." Some of my students and some others told me that it was much improved, so last week I decided to give it a try. I sampled something like nine different dishes (if you count appetizers and two kinds of rice) and I would say that not one of them compared favorably with the same items at the China Buffet. It was bland and the vegetables soggy, not crispy. I can't figure out why people like it better, or even at all. I've had worse Chinese food (Winslow, Arizona, anyone?), but this was not particularly good. (I've had better than China Buffet, too, but probably in a bigger city, like Minneapolis.) So, no more China King for me.

I ate at China Buffet tonight.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I attended my first Minnesota State High School League speech tournament last weekend. When I first started my job at McWest, I was asked to coach the speech team in addition to my duties as drama director. I agreed, though I had no experience with speech team, either as a participant or a coach. I learned a lot over the next couple of years as I coached my relatively small team. I learned the ins and outs of how speech works as an extra-curricular activity, and I learned about each of the 13 categories within speech, and over the years, I've had the opportunity to judge each of the 13. This last fall I became a registered speech (and one-act play) judge, meaning I am now qualified to judge at the sub-section, section, and state levels. My teams have always been small, often under ten, and in good weeks/years, around 12 or 15 members. We've had some success at the sub-section level and have usually sent a handful of kids to the section tournament. (Last year, we had seven people at the section level.) Twice in the previous four years, I've had a student who just missed going to the state tournament, and ended up as an alternate. (The top three finishers in each category go on to state; they were both fourth.) We've never done exceptionally well at meets and invitationals (we go to about six a year) as a team, mostly because we're small, though individuals have had some success. This year, we brought home a team trophy (our first) from the Mankato East Fiesta tournament for finishing third among "small entry schools," a real feat for us. I had one student who brought home trophies from 3 of the 5 meets we went to this year, by finishing 2nd, 1st, and 3rd at different meets. Unfortunately for her, she never made it past subsections this year. However, this year I did have a student who made it to the state tournament. We were quite thrilled with this, and she and I (along with four other members of our team for support) attended the state contest last weekend. She did not do very well at the state tournament, but we were both pleased by the fact that she made it there -- being at state means you are in the top 24 people in your category in the entire state of Minnesota. I've really enjoyed coaching speech, having started five years ago knowing nothing about it, and though the size of my team doesn't seem to grow, I was very proud of their performance this year. Several other members of my team won ribbons and other commendations for their showing at various meets. Although the depths of my heart will always be reserved for the theatre activities (and there's a huge crossover between speech and theatre participants), I really like speech and the progress my teams have made over the last few years.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring break - Day 10 - Home again, home again

Jiggity jig. A bit less than 500 miles today (maybe 488) in about 7 1/2 hours, counting stops. I think I had some of my favorite driving today, 'cause I got off the interstate. I went from Topeka, Kansas, to St. Joseph, Missouri (where I picked up I-29) on state highways. To me, that's a more fun drive and you get to see more stuff (like towns) than on the Interstate. The Interstate's a good way to travel if you need to go a long distance in the shortest amount of time (and I did), but if you really want to see the country, you need to go by other roads. That's my big lesson for the day.

By the numbers: Minnesota to Arizona: 1723 miles. Arizona to Minnesota: 1788 miles. Different route. Time spent on the road (counting lunch stops, not overnights): about 28 hours each way. It was an interesting, and mostly enjoyable, experience, but I don't think I'll be making any more long trips like that in the foreseeable future.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spring break - Day 9 - We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto

Ten and a half hours on the road today (including stops) and about 660 miles. I left Tucumcari this morning around 8:45, and quickly lost an hour when I crossed into Texas. I drove across Texas (the panhandle) without stopping -- I have that anti-Bush bumper sticker on my car and that's probably a crime in Texas. They did have a big sign welcoming me to the state and at the bottom it said they were the proud home of President George W. Bush. I spent a lot of time in Oklahoma; I wonder if that highway 54 route would have been quicker. I crossed the Chisolm Trail, and of course, I responded to that with Boogie's line from Diner. I drove through (rather than around) Oklahoma City. I was there around 3:30 on Easter Sunday, and traffic wasn't bad; it would have been very light traffic for the Twin Cities. Since around 5:30 or so I've been in Kansas. (Yes, Toto, I am in Kansas; what's a little dog know anyway?) I think Kansas gets an unfair rep for being flat. At least along the route I drove (the Kansas turnpike from the Oklahoma border to Topeka, where I'm staying tonight), it was mostly gently rolling hills. Nothing like the I-80 corridor through Nebraska. (Although perhaps going west-east on I-70 would be a different story.) Tomorrow is the last day of my break, and I should be on the road less time than I have been yesterday or today. My next report should be from home.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Spring break - Day 8 - New Mexico

Well, I'm currently in Tucumcari, New Mexico. If you look that up on a map (which I'm sure many of you will), you'll notice that I've gone a different route than I took on my way from Minnesota to Phoenix. I decided to try to avoid some of the areas I really didn't like on my way out, and since I'll probably never drive down this way again (can't think of any reason right now why I would), to try and go to some new places as well. So far, I think the plan's working out well. I drove the same route from Phoenix to Albuquerque, but from there kept straight on I-40 through New Mexico. The highway's in good shape, some nice scenery, and not a whole lot of traffic (just a whole lot of semis). I drove about 10 hours today, went about 640 miles. I lost one hour going from Arizona to New Mexico, and will lose another one tomorrow when I leave New Mexico, and get back to the Central Time Zone (and the prairie).

Spring break - Days 4-7 - Arizona

I don't have a lot to say about my vacation days in Phoenix. I spent most of my time hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law. We played a lot of cards, some pool, and went out to eat a lot. I saw quite a bit of the Phoenix area just by going along with my brother while he ran some errands around town -- and one day when we went out to check out some comic book stores. It was warm, in the nineties on Thursday and Friday, and I jumped in the pool for a short while on Friday afternoon. We did take a trip up to Sedona on Wednesday. Sedona (near Flagstaff) is an area with a lot of red rocks rock formations. It's really cool. (And I'm apparently too tired to think of much else to say about it tonight.) My brother decided it would be fun to take the "back way" to Sedona, which amounted to driving up through the mountains on winding, two-lane highways with sharp drop-offs. Ah, well, it was fun for him.

Spring Break - Day 3 - By the time I got to Phoenix was about 4:00 p.m. on Monday. (This isn't being posted until days later, 'cause as Stix came close to guessing, I didn't have any wireless access while staying at my brother's place in Phoenix. He has dial-up. I could have gotten online with his computer and posted, I suppose, but it didn't seem that big of a deal.) The drive from Albuquerque to Flagstaff was okay, a pretty straight shot with some gradual increases in elevation. It was very windy, but I'm used to that I suppose. The area around Flagstaff is very nice, it reminded me of some parts of Montana. It's pretty high up (elevation around 7000 feet) with lots of trees and a nearby mountain topped with snow. From Flagstaff to Phoenix, which is a journey of about 140 miles (just about the distance from Fairmont to the Cities or Winona to the Cities [northern part]), the elevation drops about 6000 feet. And it's not a gradual decline or just dropping, but it goes up and down throughout the mountains. It's an interesting drive, but maybe not the best one to be undertaken by someone who has as intense a fear of heights as I do.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Spring break - Day 2 - I hate Colorado

I spent much of my day today in Colorado. This is the first time I've ever been in Colorado. (When I tell people -- or more likely color in states on a map -- what states I've been to, I always include Colorado. But honestly, the only previous time I've ever been to Colorado was a twenty-minute stopover to change planes in Denver.) And, yes, I did not like my time in Colorado. The highways I drove on were either rough or scary (or both) -- or expensive (see below). I thought it would be much prettier than it was. The mountains behind Denver looked nice, but I was so intent on driving through an unfamiliar metropolis that I didn't have time to really appreciate them.

(I may have neglected to mention that yesterday was my first time ever in Nebraska, though I now realize that Omaha is only a four-hour drive from my place. I wonder if they have a comic convention there sometime.)

I'm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, right now at a Microtel Inn, a much nicer place than where I stayed last night, and correspondingly more expensive. I'm on the third floor and there's a cool view of the lights of the city outside my window (I'm on the western edge of the city).

I'm not maintaining a very regular schedule. I drove 530 miles yesterday, and about 725 today. Spent a little under nine hours driving yesterday, and about 12 today. Here's my random thoughts for the day:

After hundreds of miles of very flat land in Nebraska (and I was using my powers to detect slope; there was none), when I got to Colorado, it was only a few miles before the landscape changed to gently rolling hills. It was a long time until I saw mountains, though.

Favorite sign seen today: "Correctional Facility. Don't stop in this area to pick up hitchhikers."

(The above sign beat out both the moose crossing and elk [I think it was an elk] crossing signs, and a bunch in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico that said "Gusty winds may exist." Well, yeah, Bigfoot may exist.)

They allow bicycles on the interstate in Colorado. I saw quite a few, both on the interstate on and on nearby frontage roads. (Maybe those escaped prisoners need to find themselves a Schwinn.)

I drove on a toll road around the outskirts of Denver, which cost me $7.75 to go 32 miles. Much.

I take back everything I said about Nebraska. Northern New Mexico is barren. I swear I drove about 100 miles with the same unchanging, undulating landscape without coming across any towns. However, I-25 from Las Vegas, New Mexico, to Santa Fe is both smooth and has lovely scenery. Santa Fe to Albuquerque is also nice.

There's a lot of interesting and varied radio out this way. The music is more varied. There are also a lot of Christian stations, both music and talk, but I skipped over those pretty quickly. I picked up a jazz station in southern Colorado ("smooth jazz"; I don't think Mo would've liked it much), a folk station around Santa Fe, lots of public radio (which is also much more varied than MPR ever is), and something called "Twist" in Albuquerque, which is "gay friendly" radio (music, news, advice). Interestingly, the U.S. Navy advertised there.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Spring break - Day 1 - Nebraska

I drove (approximately) 530 miles today, and am currently in North Platte, Nebraska. Specifically, I'm in the lobby of the Royal Colonial Inn (apparently the wireless internet connection doesn't reach to my room). I made only three stops on the way today -- one in Lemars, Iowa, for a Dr. Pepper and a danish, once in Omaha for gas, and finally in York, Nebraska, for lunch at the Country Kitchen (club sandwich, quite tasty). Here are a few random thoughts from my first day:

I'm pleased to find that I can still drive long distances. It's been years, probably a decade or more, since I've driven more than 300 miles in one day. Winona to Chicago has probably been my longest trip in recent years.

Driving across Nebraska is not quite as exciting as it sounds. Imagine driving through western Minnesota and/or South Dakota, and then cut the excitement level at least in half. (Yes, my sense of sarcasm has survived.)

I was surprised by the amount of traffic on I-80 through Nebraska. It was a lot heavier than I expected. I expected a lot around Omaha and Lincoln, of course, but even further west, it was very heavy traffic. Until I got somewhere past York. Then it suddenly thinned to what I'd been expecting. I don't know if it was the location or the time (it was only about 4:00 p.m.). Some of those who know me well know I am occasionally fascinated by traffic patterns.

You can get sushi in Nebraska. I went out for supper at a local Japanese restaurant here in North Platte. I didn't have the sushi, I had tempura shrimp, but you can get sushi.

I'm only about a third of the way to my ultimate destination of Phoenix. I had wanted to get a bit further today, but decided to stop here as it looked on the map like there weren't any big towns for quite awhile after North Platte (which isn't much bigger than Winona), and I remember from previous driving vacations that it's sometimes hard to secure a motel room later in the evening (it was about 6:00 when I got here). Hopefully I can get a bit more in tomorrow, if I get an early start. Plus, I'll gain an extra hour when I cross the timezone line, which I'm very close to already.

I found a public radio station near Lincoln which was playing some opera this afternoon. I didn't listen to it, but it made me smile. My ex-girlfriend Christine is from Lincoln and she sings opera.

More tomorrow...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Spring break

Tomorrow afternoon into the evening is our school's section speech tournament in St. Peter. Which means I won't be home until probably 11:00 or later. And as soon as I get up on Saturday, I'm leaving for my spring break vacation. I'll be driving down to Phoenix, Arizona, to spend some time visiting with my oldest brother. If I can get online on the road somewhere, I'll try to post to the blog and keep it updated.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

You gotta see the baby!

I'm reminded of this line from Seinfeld, as a collegue and good friend had her first baby last night. I stopped by the hospital this afternoon after school to visit. As I walked in, my friend's sister was holding the baby and immediately handed her off to me. I can't remember the last time I held a small baby, and this one was less than a full day old. She slept the whole time I was holding her, though.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Daylight switching time

I hope everyone remembered to set their clocks ahead one hour for Daylight Switching Time last night. (One fall I forgot all about setting my clocks back, and ended up going into work an hour early that Sunday, making a five-hour shift into a six-hour one.)

I prefer the term "daylight switching" to "daylight saving" because we're not really saving any daylight, we're just switching if from the morning hours into the late afternoon. I don't really care a great deal about it one way or another, except when we get that extra hour in the fall; that's very cool (with the exception of the above-related incident). However, the one thing that does bug me about starting it now is that it's darker later in the morning. As I've said before, I'm not a morning person, and what bothers me the most is when I have to get up when it's still dark out. I usually don't mind getting up early if the sun's already up. During the school year, I have a regular waking time of 6:30. It's just gotten to the point where it's light out by then, and now with the switch, it'll be dark again when I get up. All for an extra hour of sunlight in the evening? I take it back -- it's not worth it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April First

Hey, your shoe's untied.

April Fool's.

Not only is that my favorite April Fool's joke, it's the only one worth repeating.