Thursday, May 29, 2008

Research (23 days)

Last night for some reason I slept unusually well and heavily. It was hard to wake up, but when I did I felt so well-rested.

I spent almost the whole day at U of C. It was interesting because the trip, which often has taken me 2 hours, took just under an hour this morning (from 10 AM-11 AM). It was oddly speedy!

Most of the day I spent in the library researching things. My folder of articles and book chapters is bulging and looks like it's about to burst.

In the late afternoon I went to hear a talk about medieval Buddhist concepts of bugs in the body.

It took longer to get home because of rush hour, traffic backed up on Lake Shore Drive. As usual after a day at U of C, I was so tired. Pocket of Bolts had a nice dinner made for me when I got home (around 7:30), Mediterranean chicken a la crockpot. It was comforting and tasty.

Meant to do work this evening but didn't. But tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Storms and Victory (24 days)

For the past few days there has been a storm. Hard winds rattled our windows and challenged the plants so that only the strong survived. Pocket of Bolts says that they were small pieces of tornado come here from Iowa. That may be. Today was sunny but cold, really cold, especially in our house. I have been doing pretty much nothing but writing and more writing, with tiny bits of wedding planning on the side. I have a conference presentation NEXT WEEK. It is horrifying. Tomorrow is going to be an extra big push.

Today we rode bikes down to the Division corridor to pick up our thank-you notes from Paper Doll. We also hung out in Letizia's Natural Bakery and worked for a lot of the afternoon. We split a raspberry cupcake. It was amazing.

This evening, because we had both been working ALL day, I kicked back a little. Pocket of Bolts worked on a project he has been thinking about for a very long time. Namely: when we got the Playstation, it was with the understanding that I would be able to play Vib-ribbon on it. Well, that turns out to be especially hard since Vib-ribbon is a PS1 game that was released only in Japan. It's a music-game where there are different jumps depending on the characteristics of the music; also you can use your own CDs, which is too cool. However, the modded PS2 we got wouldn't play it. I had kind of given up on it (I mean, we ascertained that it wouldn't work back in January), but Pocket of Bolts hadn't. Enter a lot of used and sketchy electronics, months of slow accumulation, and also Pocket of Bolts teaching himself how to solder. Also a lot of cursing. But the results... IT WORKED.

"What is clear," said I to Pocket of Bolts, "is that you are a man who keeps his promises." He said his chest was all filled with pride.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Home Again (27 Days)

It was hard getting up at 6 this morning to go to the airport.

Then, instead of getting work done as I had planned, I impulse-bought a novel at the airport bookstore. Then I proceeded to read it the entire flight, finishing it about half an hour before landing. I guess I was fiction-starved.

It took a long time to get back from Midway with all the luggage, because I took elevators instead of lugging things down stairs (at least 3 different times). When I did get back, I was desperately impatient for Pocket of Bolts to get back too. He was coming from O'Hare and his flight got in later, so I beat him by about half an hour. I watered our deck plants, which were droopingly thirst, and did a few other little chores.

I was sitting down with my computer when I heard his step on the stairs. I was so happy to see him!

But then also so low and weary. As usual it was wonderful seeing my family but overall the trip was exhausting and took a lot out of me. In fact, no work at all got done today. Pocket of Bolts and I relaxed, and just had some grocery-store roast chicken and rice for dinner. We agreed not to try to approach wedding stuff (all the little last minute tasks) until tomorrow. We went for an after-dinner walk to the lake, and asked him about his trip.

Summer seems to have properly come to Chicago. It has gotten ten degrees warmer and thirty percent more humid, says Pocket of Bolts. I think it is comfortable.

Now I am up late. Pocket of Bolts has been asleep over an hour, but of course I'm going the party direction and he's going the other way. Tomorrow I am going to try to a) deal with the rest of the remaining wedding stuff, b) get back into gear with my work, which I REALLY need to do since I'm going to have to give a talk and meet with my adviser in less than two weeks (panic attack here).

Jury is still out about whether I'm going to go to the Memorial Day party to which we have invited. I think PoB is going with or without me but... everything seems so important right now, every last detail of what I do--momentous for the future. It's terrifying of course and sends me straight into escapism. Parties are not escapism for me but something I do when I'm feeling good and strong and relaxed. If I'm not feeling like that, it's work...

But tomorrow: tomorrow I'm going to do everything right.

28 Days

It is 24 days until I will stop being "Zapaper", as it were, and become "Mrs. Pocket of Bolts." I am winding up my fourth and last wedding planning trip to the city where the event is going to take place--I fly out early tomorrow so I decided on a hotel near the airport. It's strange being alone after spending so much time with family. When my dad dropped me off here and started on the two hour drive back to where he lives, I felt momentarily at a loss, almost the way I did when my family dropped me off in Boston where I went to college and suddenly after a boisterous three week road-trip with our elbows in constantly in each other's faces... I was alone facing my freshman year, the first time living outside the nest. Of course there's really nothing so momentous about this particular separation. I'll be back in less than a month, only a few weeks! But somehow I feel like I will be different when next I'm here.

I'd just met with the photographer, the last of the nine appointments I had during my few days here, and the last vendor who needed to be contracted with. I was pretty wound up from the nervousness of having to make important decisions and from having had so much coffee.

I called Pocket of Bolts first. He's on a wholly different plane from me this weekend, having a sort of early bachelor on the opposite coast. We are in different modes and moods and time zones but very much in agreement that we miss each other and want very much to be back together again.

The hotel has a swimming pool and a hot tub, but I didn't bring a swimming suit. I did, however, have a navy blue tank top with shelf-bra and some black underwear. Close enough! I had a nice long soak in the spa, and then a shower. Then I took some of my scholarly reading down to the restaurant, and quietly read and ate a decent "Mandarin Chicken Salad." Who knows why I also had to go for the apple pie as well, but somehow I was helpless before the power of temptation. After I ate that, I was deeply deeply full, so I went for a long walk.

I reserved this hotel on Orbitz this morning, the only real criteria being "free airport shuttle" and "free wireless", though for some reason "clean" and "not run down" turn out to feel important too. This one's actually kind of a winner in that regard. It's right next to a golf course, which might displease some but I didn't have a problem with it. I took a really long walk, just along the road, to help burn off the extra calories. The road seemed to go through the golf course (rather, to cut it in half). As a result, there were a lot of rabbits, who clearly are happy to inhabit those big grassy spaces. The rabbits were cute and not very shy.

The light was beautiful, one of those gorgeous falls of light where there are dark intense grey clouds overhead but the sun has fallen so low that the slanting light shines sideways and lights up the trees and the grass, making the grey clouds almost seem to glow and touching everything else with gold. Things smelled nice. Gradually I separated out the smells and identified some of the nicest ones as flowers. So I picked a wildflower bouquet as I went along, clovers and wildrose and some great-smelling white tree flower and flowering grass heads (I'm not allergic) and some nightshade sort of thing and queen anne's lace. The thing is actually pretty nice looking, arranged in a plastic cup on my desk... I took a few cell phone pictures and thought about myself as a bride.

After that, I meant to do some work but instead I got started watching unfamiliar TV channels. Typically I don't watch much TV, but on a whim I did. I watched about 15 minutes of Titanic (running around in the flooding ship action scenes, actually quite a low point in the film) and maybe half an hour of 300, which I had actually never seen before (lots of Persians getting skewered--but wait, that's probably the whole movie, isn't it). It struck me as very Lord of the Rings inspired, what with all the Asian monstrosities.

Meanwhile a tremendous lightning storm brewed up and started rumbling and flashing. After a while the satellite kicked out and there was no more TV. That was pretty salutary because it inspired me to get on my workout clothes and go down to the fitness room. This place gets good marks for its fitness room--there's bottled water and the machines actually work. The elliptical (my machine of choice) was about a foot a way from a mirror, so I noticed the way my body looked. I was surprised how satisfactory it looked.

Now I am back from a hard half-hour workout and drooping with tiredness. I'm going to leave my entire room a disaster area until tomorrow morning. Why not?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gambling Break

The past week has been great. No classes, no major external stresses, just a lot of work to be done, and a lot of it actually getting done. Pocket of Bolts and I have played some fierce games of racquetball, and spent a lot of hours in various coffee-shops with out computers back to back (in way that must look icky to everyone else, but it works so well for us...), getting shit written.

Two nights ago, after a long day of scholarship, we went out to play poker again. I'm not sure if I mentioned our last poker game. Some grad students and very junior faculty in PoB's department get a game together about once a month, Texas Hold'em, $20 buy-in. Now I was raised by a Quaker, and really shouldn't enjoy gambling. I was really hesitant to even try it the first time. While I was in China it was one of those things that PoB did which I was mildly disapproving of and worried about but held my peace. Then one of the nights, significant others were expressly invited and PoB talked me into going. Of course, $20 is REAL MONEY to me, not just small change, and given that I had never played before, I was pretty sure I'd lose it all. So PoB staked me, arguing (like they all do) that you'd spend that much hanging out with friends at a bar. Well, I don't do that either. But anyway, I went along with it, learned the basics of the game, showed up and did my best.

It turned out to be a blast.

Of course that first time I lost the entire $20, but it took me most of the night. This is a real achievement, because if you run out of money too early, the temptation to "buy back in" is horrible, and then you probably end up losing another $20 (but sometimes you end up winning it all back...). And they all say, well, it's still within the realm of what you'd spend hanging out a bar with your friends. This is not true of me in any imaginable scenario. Unless I were drinking top-shelf and really slowly, $40 would get me too drunk to walk home. But anyway, to make a long story short I had a really fun time.

So two days ago we went again and I used my own $20. I played very conservatively, and not only didn't lose my stake but actually came out up by $1! Maybe next time if I'm lucky I'll make enough to buy myself a whole cup of coffee, ha ha. But don't worry, I won't get hooked. I'm too miserly ever to win big, because I can't bear to bet big, even on a nearly sure thing. And I find bluffing nearly impossible. (Or so I will let everyone continue to think.....) It wasn't hard to walk away, even when I was only up by $1, as all I could think of was, "Wow, I even still have some money left!"

Mostly, though, it was a really fun time. I like the company, and social situations are always easier for me when there is some formal activity going on, with the talking taking place around the edges.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Bikes

We got new bikes. Pocket of Bolts didn't have one at all since his last one was stolen, and I was due for an upgrade.

The thing about me and bikes is I just don't find normal road bikes or even mountain bikes very comfortable. I only feel comfortable when I get to sit up straight. So for a pretty reasonable price I got a specimen of the much reviled cruiser tribe. It's not very fast, but it's really comfortable.

Our helmets, sitting side by side on the radiator. Don't worry, the radiator's not on.

Pocket of Bolts riding his bike down our alley toward me. We gave up our bus passes and have been trying to bike nearly everywhere. It doesn't always work out but we bike often enough to make it worth not having a monthly pass. If we can do it until the weather gets cold again next fall, the savings in CTA fares ought to pay for the bikes, a nice thought.

Today we biked to school (35 minutes) and beat not one, not two, but THREE buses. It was most triumphant.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Teaching Send-off

Last weekend, Pocket of Bolts and I went to Chinatown to have Saturday morning dim sum with my students. Mind you, this wasn't something I had organized or even suggested. It was all them. Okay, that was pretty cute. Only about a third of the class came, but it was still really touching. I include a funny picture of us all standing under the gate. Chinatown here certainly is a small world. While there we ran into two others of my students who were otherwise occupied and so unable to attend the dim sum. The dim sum itself was fun. The food was average, the company very amusing. College kids are so...young. But it was fun to see them unbend more from the relatively formal classroom selves.

After eating (way too much for both Pocket of Bolts and me, given our calorie-counting and despite our attempts at moderation) we got a tour of Chinatown from the students, most of whom are Cantonese speakers and much more familiar with the place than I am. Among other things, we saw a really hilarious pro-Olympics performance/rally sort of thing with inflatable versions of the "Five Friends." We also got taken into some awesome stores, including the dried fruit store and a Chinese bookstore which made me all nostalgic.

At some point, they surprised me with an impromptu present they had gotten for me: a tea set with Chinese characters on it. I was quite touched despite myself and all the resentment I've felt over teaching duties. They also gave me a card they had all signed. They asked me if I could identify all their different hand-writings in Chinese. Pretty close! I have graded a ton of their homework over the course of the year! Here's a picture of the tea-set. It says: "Love never ends" on it, though I'm not sure if any of them were actually up to reading that kind of vocabulary. They're only first year students after all. Is this not pretty totally adorable?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Flower Tree

Spring has finally come to the Windy City and trees are in bloom. I was particularly interested in this one, which has its flowers coming straight out of the trunk. Isn't that odd?

I am almost all done with teaching responsibilities, and can go back to being a real student. The last thing I have to do is finish grading the final and I've been putting it off quite assiduously. But a lot of other things have gotten done... Sadly, dissertation work isn't really one of those things...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Contact Lenses

As part of my strange, wedding-related self-refashioning, I got contact lenses for the first time in years. Contact lenses seemed to have changed some since I last had them way back when. They correct for astigmatism now, and the disinfecting process has gotten simpler. Oddly, there's quite a difference in the way things look. Pocket of Bolts laughs at me because I keep saying that everything looks bulbous, especially eyes and feet. What must actually be true is that my glasses distorted things slightly (due to the distance from my eyes to the lenses?) and made certain things look smaller? I don't know, but anyway, it's a real change. In this silly picture of me, you can just see the lens at the edge of one of my eyes.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Investment

When I was leaving Beijing last June, I got my security deposit back. I spent some of it getting to the airport and buying stuff there, but there was a good chunk of it still left. I decided to leave it in renminbi (Chinese currency) instead of changing it to dollars, since there was every indication that the dollar was getting weaker with respect to the RMB. If I had changed my 2200 RMB last June, I would have received roughly $282 US. If I changed it at today's rate of 6.98950 RMB per dollar, I would get $315 US. My gain of $33 may not sound like much, but consider that that's on an initial investment of only $282 dollars, meaning that my money grew nearly 12%--in slightly less than a year. Show me a CD that could do so well! I should have kept more RMB. Now the key is to get out at the right time...