Sunday, October 28, 2007


I just want to say that Pocket of Bolts and I ran almost three miles today down the lake-shore (and back). That's a greater distance than I have run in a really long time, and it's nice to know I can still do it. Naturally, we were both pretty aching and sore afterwards...

But now we're all excited to find some kind of fall or winter 5k race to run. The cost dampened our enthusiasm somewhat. How can they be that expensive? I realize that there may have been a tiny bit of inflation since I was last into running road races 17 years ago...!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Grey Coat, Recent Reading

Lately we've had the first bit of cold weather worthy of the name. Okay, so it hasn't got below freezing yet, but it's been cold enough that I want a coat AND a scarf, cold enough that I jammed a blanket up against the window for added insulation (the heat isn't on in our apartment yet) and we slept under the down comforter all night without kicking it off.

It was cold enough that I decided it was finally time to take my venerable grey full-length coat to the Korean cleaners to see if they could repair it. The repairs lady spread it out on the counter and looked at it with terrible disapproval.

Well, I admit, the lining is literally in tatters. Even inside the sleeves it's all torn up, and the "pockets" communicate directly with the interior. Don't ask me how it has gotten so bad. It still looks more or less flawless from the outside. But if I ever accidentally walk around with it open I get embarrassed because the torn-up lining shows.

The Korean lady shook her head sadly. "Need new lining."

"Can you do that?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "One hundred twenty."

"A hundred and twenty dollars," I said with gentle dismay. "I could get a new coat for that."

She nodded agreement. "Sorry."

I should have had the lining replaced while I was in Beijing. I thought about it so many times, but just never got around to it. I bet in Beijing it would have cost me 120 RMB--if that.

Now such a dilemma. I mean, I really could get a new coat, but I love the old coat and it looks fine from the outside. And I just GOT a new coat, only it's not full-length. It's not a matter of money; it's a matter of fondness.

Pocket of Bolts says, "Just keep it around until the next time you got to Beijing." I suppose in a way that does make sense.

Well, for now I'll wait and see.

My students and I finished midterm week today. I was vicariously stressed out for them, but also quite proud. Even the slow ones tried really hard, and I could tell they really studied. I am going to reward them by doing something with the class which is going to be more work for me but very good for them: conducting it as an immersion class from now on. I think it's about time, but not being a native speaker, it's a lot more work I have to put in. Well, it'll probably be good for me too.

I am sitting in a Caribou (coffee shop) hanging out and getting ready to start on dissertation work. Progress has been slow but steady-ish.

We just finished watching Unforgiven, which I had never seen before. I was very impressed with it. As Pocket of Bolts pointed out, it put a lot of emphasis on the fact that real events are messy. The English Bob/Duck of Death incident was particularly hilarious and riveting.

It's interesting how, in light of our schedules and how tired we tend to be at night, we very rarely manage to watch a whole movie in a night. Even a one-hour TV episode can be little taxing, though we managed with The Wire because it is just so incredibly awesome. (I have just finished watching Season 1.) But Unforgiven took us three (non-consecutive) days, even though it was pretty exciting too. Well, it's been a busy week...

I've also been reading a lot. I finished Absalom, Absalom which I found good but a little too repetitive. I admit that the surprise ending did surprise me though, and it had quite a lot of really good moments. I also read The Sun Also Rises which I loved. Hemingway is quite a change from Faulkner. I pretty much flew through the book. I liked the beginning, and how understated his injury was, the how the bulls and steers comparison was just sitting there waiting to be made but he never made it explicit.

I had been reading LeCarre's Tailor of Panama in the gym, and I finished that too. I had been a little frustrated with it because of all the lying. It made me very uneasy, but then maybe the gym was the wrong venue in which to read it. Anything I read in the gym gets read so slowly that I ponder it endlessly and it seems epic. So the Tailor of Panama was an epic pack of lies. What I should do is read some real epic in the gym, something that can stand that kind of treatment. I'll have to think on it.

Finally, I'm about halfway through The Warden, by Anthony Trollope. It's a book Pocket of Bolts borrowed from one of his colleagues before I went to Beijing, and I was somewhat interested in it then, but left for Beijing. PoB still hasn't read it, but since I talked to that colleague of his again on Saturday and she said something about the book, I got interested in it again. It seems like it's going to be trivial at first, but gradually you realize that people's very souls are at stake. And that's really the way things are--books are so often about such big things, but small things bring out what matters about people just as well, maybe better.

Well, okay, better get on with dissertation work.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We Go to the Zoo

How I like the Lincoln Park zoo. It's free, that's one thing. Maybe that's the main thing, because I would never go so often if it weren't free. As it is, all the animals start to get familiar after a while. I guess I probably always tend to take pictures of the same animals too. But every time it's a little different. So anywhere, here's the latest round of zoo pictures.

Sleepy sleepy lions. Although one of the lionesses walked around a bit and when a photographer in the crowd roared at her, she roared back. They really put their guts into roaring. I was impressed, although it wasn't too nice of the guy to get her all riled up. After she did her roaring, she just flopped down on her back like she was all worn out.

Rhino looking like a big leathery cow. They had filed down its horns, not sure why. Maybe so it wouldn't break them against things.

The tiger was all on the move. It was quite exciting. It made a regal pass through its cage and then in the outdoors portion. Bored royalty going on a procession to show itself to the commoners. I'm not sure if the blur in the photo is good or bad, but I didn't want to scare the poor guy with a flash.

I've got to say that one of the things I would like to see the Lincoln Park zoo do differently is give more information about the individual animals--their age, sex, how long they've been here, where they came from, stuff like that. When you see the same creatures over and over again, you start to wonder about them.

Pocket of Bolts with three camels. It was getting late and the camels were lined up by their door. Animals are such creatures of habit and routine. Me too!

Alchemical Geekery

Please ignore this post if it will make you lose all respect for me. I just had to brag a little to those who share this weakness of mine.

Bow before the power of the Grand Alchemical Emperor.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bucktown Apple Pie Contest

A few weeks ago we had wandered around Wicker Park and Bucktown and noticed signs for the Bucktown Apple Pie contest. For some reason, this seemed incredibly appealing to us both, so we wrote down the information and yesterday (the day of the contest) took two buses and made our way to the contest's appointed site. There, amid the chaos, were more apple pies than I think I've ever seen in one place. It reminded me of Harold and the purple crayon--you know the part where he draws nine pies and has a piece of each? Well there must have been hundreds.

It looked like to enter the contest you had to submit at least two pies. Then the judges judged the pies and whichever were deemed non-winners got placed on these long tables. The general public could then buy tickets--6 for $5--and two tickets would get you a slice of pie. You could pick the pie, while supplies last. There were SO many different kinds, it was even a little hard to choose! After eating three pieces of pie, we were impressed by the judges' fortitude. The third piece we had, we managed to get hold of one of the semi-finalist pies (judging was still in progress while we were there) and I tell you, those judges did know what they were about. The semi-finalist pie really was head and shoulders above the other two we'd tried.

We also saw a rather astonishing savory apple pie--with pork. Is that not weird and gross but also kind of intriguing?

Pocket of Bolts said my apple pie is definitely better than the first two we tried (his tasted like artificial apple flavor and mine had a texturally promising crust that was obviously completely devoid of salt), and could give the third one a run for its money. Said Pocket of Bolts, "You should enter next year." How old-fashioned by kind of charming an idea is that!?

It was a really good time--a brief outing but there was lots to see, a well-defined goal (eating the apple pies) and much to think about as regards the amazing and hitherto unconsidered variations in the apple pie kingdom.

Here are some apples and sunflowers, an arrangement just outside the door. It was so very fall-like.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In Which I Get a New Coat

After the scorcher that was last weekend, we are having what I'm afraid I consider a cold snap. Pocket of Bolts assures me that it's going to get much much worse. Yesterday I decided I needed to buy a coat. Now usually I try not to pay more than $25-30 for an article of clothing, but coats, like shoes, are something that're kind of with you all the time every day, so probably deserve some extra resources devoted to them. I tried on lots, but realized that with my hair as short as it is now, all the ones I would naturally gravitated to (very plain and simple) make me look so androgynous that even I feel a little uncomfortable with it. So this is my version of "girly-coat" (not a very good photo, sorry). Honest, I tried on other colored ones--I'm especially partial to white--but they just looked plain wrong and ridiculous on me.

Today the house was very cold. The heat isn't on yet, but I'm still adjusted for summer. So that combined with yesterday's coat shopping marathon unfortunately brought on a bit of a cold. Naturally, PoB is fighting it off as well, but I think it's about caught me. I spent most of the day in bed, but at least I was working on the dissertation at the same time. Toward evening, we both got restless and tired of merely nursing the cold, so we went out for a walk by the lake. Here are some pictures that PoB took.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Great Plagiarism Wimp-out

A certain unnamed office-mate of mine (after today, I'm thinking of calling him "Kewpie Doll") caught a plagiarism case. There were whole pages copied directly from different web-sites. It was so glaring that he noticed it right away just from reading through. He was easily able to track it down with Google. However, he completely failed to be fired with the righteous indignation proper to the situation. He went and talked to his supervisor, and that person told him that that failing the plagiarist on that paper was the absolute minimum punishment, and that failing them for the entire class was perfectly possible.

Now one thing that's clear is that there has to be a Talk. Several of the other office-mates said, well, okay, don't fail her in the class but you have to make her cry. You just gotta do it. Kewpie Doll: I don't want to make her cry. I just want her to know that she can't do that.

Still, I was expecting at least a few fireworks. Instead I hear the following dialogue.
Kewpie Doll: You know you can't do this right.
Cheater: Yeah I know.
Kewpie Doll: You know you can really get in a lot of trouble for this.
Cheater: I just didn't know whether I should put a works cited page at the end or what?
Kewpie Doll: Look, there needs to be some sort of penalty for this.
Cheater: Well, if you want I can rewrite it. I mean, it won't be five pages, but...
Kewpie Doll: I'm just saying, there needs to be some sort of penalty because if it hadn't struck me and I hadn't done research--well, you're presenting other people's ideas as your own. You know you can't do this right?
Cheater: Yeah, I know.
Kewpie Doll: Are you unclear about how to cite things, or were you just trying to fill out the page requirement?
Cheater: Well, I kind of like did write it but it was like three pages, so I just put some stuff in, and I was gonna change it but then it was like 1 o'clock.
Kewpie Doll: Okay, well look, you need to rewrite it, but there has to be some kind of penalty. What do you think is fair?
Cheater: [No answer.]
Kewpie Doll: You're not going to be able to get above a certain grade on this paper.

Gentle reader, do you know what that ceiling grade is going to be? A C. The gentleman's C, apparently. I have too much respect for female genitalia to say that what Kewpie Doll was doing here was "pussying out."

Following the above conversation, he proceeded to discuss with "Cheater" for 45 minutes how to make her paper better on her re-write. And get this, the paper was on copyright and intellectual property (specifically with respect to music sampling, U2 and Negativeland). And GET THIS: Cheater is arguing in her paper that U2 was right, Negativeland was wrong, and sampling music is cheating.

Kewpie Doll: Never do this again. Some teachers would throw you right out of the course for this.
Cheater: I know, I know. All I was thinking was "length, length, length."

Maybe that's what Negativeland was thinking too. Points off for hypocrisy.


1. an act or process of commuting
2. a change of a penalty or punishment to a lesser one

Last year I used to laugh at Pocket of Bolts because he seemed so extremely obsessed with the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority): it's vagaries and subtleties, most particularly its failings. Well, now I understand. The CTA owns my life for about two hours a day, including the particularly vulnerable hour of the afternoon when I am tired and hungry and just want to get home. Well for that matter, and the other vulnerable hour in the morning when I'm half asleep, stressing out about class, and just wishing I were still in bed. When things aren't going smoothly with the CTA, it's like kicking a girl when she's down already.

Well, sometimes they do a fine job. It's well to avoid rush hour, and fortunate that we live near the end of a decently frequent direct bus-line. Going in to work, at least, we usually get a seat.

Still, it was a wake-up call when, the other night, we stayed at work really late and didn't get on the homeward bus until 8 PM. Given, the driver was hauling ass and there weren't all that many people getting on and off. But--really? Our 45 minute to an hour commute could actually be less than 25 minutes. That makes those hour and a half days, when we accidentally edge into rush hour, that much more painful.

It's not actually very far between work and home. Last Friday I tried riding my bike. It was going to be a race between me on my bike and Pocket of Bolts on the bus. He's just missed a bus, so I got a bit of a head start. Turns out I didn't even need it! I not only caught up with the bus he'd missed, but the bus ahead of that one as well. Averaging five minute miles, I made it to work in under half an hour, leaving him and his bus in the dust! (Yes, I wore my helmet.) Downside was, of course, I was sweaty and tired, and then had to ride home in the afternoon too. I wasn't looking forward to that, because I was already pretty tired. However, once I got that first bus in my sights, it was actually quite thrilling. I caught and passed THREE buses, one of which was PoB's (he had the head start this time). And felt energized when I got home.

No doubt about it, the bike commute is awesome. But only as long as the weather holds...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Marathon Kills People

Today they ran the Chicago Marathon--or, well, most of it. It started in the early morning, and the course happened to go right by our house! So sitting down to breakfast we heard cheering. Of course, we had to get dressed and go out to see. We cheered too, and took some pictures. What was amazing was just how many people had got themselves into this outrageous endeavor. They just kept on flooding past, some of them running easily and some of the red-faced and dripping. Mind you, our part of the course was pretty early in the race.

After a while we got tired and went in. I mean, you could get tired just from watching all these people.

Later we saw some people with marathon numbers on the el. They don't look tired enough to have just run a marathon, I said to Pocket of Bolts. On the street, we heard one of these people having a conversation with a guy. He asked her time and she said, I only got to mile 22 and then they canceled the race. We walked on past and had a debate about whether something had happened and they'd actually canceled the entire marathon (PoB's position) or whether she had just been too slow and they had closed the course so they could open the streets of Chicago back up (my position).

As it turns out, and regrettably, PoB was right on this one. Due to record high temperatures and humidity (it was 88 today, and the humidity was miasmal), one runner apparently dropped dead, and they canceled the race about four hours in. Who knows that we may not have seen that guy and cheered him on? It's even possible he is in this picture. A sad thought.

I have always been against the idea of marathons, though that doesn't mean I don't see the fascination. It's just--well, the first guy who ran it dropped dead too. We just weren't meant for that kind of thing, you know? Sure, some people are but--well, wow, is all I can say. I ain't running one.

Friday, October 05, 2007

We Went Exploring

Last weekend we decided to go see some bit of the city we had never seen before. We ended up walking around on Division Street, near Ashland and Damen etc. It was a sort of gentrifying quasi-hipster neighborhood, but there were interesting things to see. We had a fairly mediocre lunch at Moonshine Chicago (really it was just kind of a bar, which we didn't realize because it had such nice outdoor seating): the food was expensive and the quality was merely okay; also though the service was attentive enough, it took forever for us to get our food. However, it was all up from there. After we finally had got fed, we went walking on down the street.

There was a stationary store called Paper Doll that actually we had heard of before. It had a lot of cute little stationary related things, but what had really caught our eye was their wedding invitation stuff, which was extensive. Unfortunately, we couldn't look really carefully or talk to the lady who worked there because there was a scary bride to be going all nuts. Well, we'll go back sometime soon.

We passed a chocolatier that looked quite interesting but unfortunately we were too full to go in. We passed several bakeries (same problem). And then we came to this Architecturally Important Church. I have already forgotten what it is called, but I took a couple of cell phone camera pictures of it. Can you imagine? I've gotten so much out of the habit of taking real pictures, I rarely do anything but quick cell phone snaps anymore.

Here are two more, which I took at an abandoned-looking storefront. There didn't seem to be an actual business there, but this sculpture of wood-shaving curls was prominently displayed in the window. I thought it was pretty cool.

We also saw a French kitchen store, in which nearly everything was out of our price range. Yet somehow we still thought it was a very cool place. Everything had a very French sort of niceness to it, all elegant and well made and looking like it would be pleasant to use. Bright, but not garish, happy colors. It was very fun. Also the proprietor was nice to us even though we were obviously not the target audience for the place.

Eventually we walked up Damen to and through Wicker Park, got up to North Avenue and looked at a scary "indie" clothing store called untitled. It was standard non-conformist stuff, if that's not an oxymoron, but almost completely too small for both of us. Not to mention too pricey, of course. We also went into a bookstore so hip it was almost surreal. Repository of independently published little magazines and pamphlets, and extensive "Goth and Death-core" section, any sort of perversion imaginable, and generally everything you wouldn't find at Borders. Sandman was the most mainstream thing there.

To recover, we took the bus to North and Halsted where there's a Borders and a CB2. All we wanted was some Faulkner and maybe a cookbook, you know? Also we got a carafe and a kick-ass bathmat, which we love. We don't spend a lot of time shopping or buying things, so it's fun to do it now and then.

That was our Saturday afternoon. Lots of walking! But a fun adventure.