Thursday, February 24, 2011

Organizing the bookcase

I'm at the point in my thesis where this is about all the text-based research I can handle anymore:

Organizing the Bookcase

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Someone's already used that title, right? They must have.

Anyway, I did my civic duty and voted yesterday after work, then naively tottered through the early evening expecting to hear about how there'd be a runoff for mayor. Turns out, not so much: Rahm Emmanuel won by enough to not even need another race.

What a bust. After decades of foregone conclusions in mayoral races, we had a field of 5 candidates plus one... foregone conclusion. Such is Chicago politics, I suppose.

My bud Bro sent me this link, which left me thinking that Da Mayor-elect was actually kind of cute back when he was pre-verbal.

One wonders, was his first word a four-lettered one?

Friday, February 18, 2011

6-word love stories

Angela at Oh She Glows (the woman responsible for my very healthy breakfast routine now) has been posting sweet stuff all this month to celebrate Valentine's Day. Today she wrote about six-word love stories, and I have basically had to peel myself away from all the comments on the NY Times article so I can, like, get other things done. It's really good stuff.

A few of my favorites:

When we stopped thinking, we loved.

Dog approves; maybe this guy’s good?

Rain on the roof. Strong arms.

red hair, brown eyes, weak knees.

She fed me.
Me wed she.

There are hundreds of them, spanning from pure romance to tragedy, and since they're so short, it's easy to tell yourself you're just going to skim them. Be advised that skimming is difficult and you will likely not come up for air for 45 minutes.

I decided I should try my hand, too:

Rome to Chicago, home's with him.
Shelf too tall? He always helps.
Proposed with violin, still making music.

Yikes - I think I just gave myself a cavity.

Anyway, happy belated Valentine's Day, everyone! We get to spend the weekend hosting the newlywed lovebirds from the super-fun October wedding we went to, so things are looking up over here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Blizzaster '11

I started writing this during the actual Blizzard, and then I got distracted and played in the snow instead. I'm OK with that.

In the more-than-ten years I've lived in Chicago, I've never had a snow day. Somewhere along the line I came to believe that snow days don't happen in Chicago, and they certainly don't happen for adults. So long, snow day, you were an enjoyable part of my childhood.

Or not, apparently: today is my second consecutive snow day. My employer shut down all offices at 3:00pm Tuesday and is not opening until Friday morning. As I mentioned in my previous post, Chicago was expecting a significant blizzard. And then it received it, right on time.

It was eerie, really: the snow was predicted to begin at 3:00pm. In the Loop, where I work, it started at 2:45. Considering the usual dependability of weather predictions, this was a bit stunning. At a few minutes before three, one of my coworkers and I observed that the two men jogging back and forth on the plaza across the street, shoving big snow shovels in front of them, could not keep up with the snow that was accumulating. This was after roughly ten minutes of snow.

I was preparing to take the train home, but since this was a couple of hours before rush hour, I was already stressing that my usual train line's web site was giving conflicting reports about what time trains were available and whether they would stop at my stop. I was considering taking the bus - a prospect that made me a little nervous, with the fast accumulation and the fact that my bus would run down Lake Shore Drive, a road about which there had been warnings for the day or two before the storm. As I was considering my options, Marlowe, the coworker of mine who is both my next-door office neighbor and a next-neighborhood neighbor came up the stairs. Marlowe also has a large four-wheel-drive pickup truck.

I asked him if he was driving home. He said sure, and he offered me a ride. Cue total relief.

We left at about 3:20pm, and the short walk to the parking garage was literally breathtaking: the wind, usually coming from the west, was whipping in from the east and then wailing down Wabash, and it felt like a punch in the chest. Thick snow was blasting sideways. As we walked in to the office building connected to the parking garage, swarms of people were leaving work, including the president of the university, who brushed past me in a hurry, pulling on his gloves.

We got to the parking garage, usually filled with cars, and it was nearly empty. As the truck pulled up the ramp out of the warm, quiet garage, the exit door lifted up and the scene before us looked fictional: it was damn near a whiteout. Pedestrians were hunched against the wind, blinded by snow, sliding across the sidewalk. Marlowe and I both made a kind of this-is-exciting-because-we-might-die laugh, and he steered the truck on to Wabash.

Marlowe has kids who are only a couple of years younger than me, so as a dad and a Chicago native, he took it upon himself to tell some stories about the 1967 blizzard. He started with "You weren't around when that happened, were you?" (Ahem, no... I was born 15 years later) "Well, I was!" And the stories were crazy. As the truck crept south along city streets he passed the time talking about being snowed in for days.

We made it to Cermak (aka 22nd street) before we saw cars sliding. At this point, roughly an hour into the snowfall, easily four inches of snow were already on the ground, and the wind was kicking it up in the air over and over again. Visibility was total crap, and lane markers were obscured: drivers were already creating their own lanes. Fortunately nobody was trying to speed along. I'd say we averaged 15-20 miles per hour. We were listening to WBBM news radio, and they were focusing almost exclusively on blizzard coverage. When they reported that the commute time on one of the major highways was over four hours, Marlowe yelled, "who would plan to do a long commute today?" And then the car in front of us slid all over the road. Marlowe was just starting to make a comment about that small car having no traction when our truck fish-tailed. We were almost halfway home.

The rest of the drive proceeded apace: terrible visibility, slow traffic, people starting to make their own rules but everyone still being mostly understanding. A couple of blocks from my dropoff, Marlowe's eleven-year-old daughter called his cell phone. I had to stifle my laughter when he put her on speakerphone, set the phone in the console, rolled his eyes, and occasionally said, "oh, really?" She was speaking so quickly and with such pre-teen excitement that I couldn't possibly decipher what the story was that she was telling. Occasionally she would crack herself up, bursting into high-pitched peals of laughter, which made me bite my finger so I wouldn't laugh out loud. Marlowe was laughing, too: her giggles were infectious.

Then she suddenly turned serious: "Are you almost home? Are you safe?" And Marlowe's tone shifted appropriately. He assured her that he was driving carefully, he was almost home, not to worry. She told him to call when he was safe inside, which was one of the sweetest things I've heard.

Marlowe is recently divorced, and his kids live with their mom most of the time. He's a pretty tough guy, though, so I'm sure it was my imagination that his voice got briefly husky when he told his youngest kid he'd call her when he was safe at home.

DH and I had gone to the grocery the day before, which was its own adventure with people stocking up on junk food in panicked anticipation of schools being closed, but I had forgotten to get eggs. I had been struck with this thought that, if we were snowed in, I would need to bake. So I asked Marlowe to drop me off at the store two blocks from my house. It was on his way, so that worked for him.

I picked up two items at the store: eggs and some generic Fruity Pebbles (people - it was a DISASTER! Eat what you need to live!). Picking up the items took approximately two minutes. Waiting in the checkout line took almost forty-five. When I finally got to the front with my two items, the cashier looked at me like I was crazy.

The walk home wasn't too bad at first: the wind was calm for the first block, so I was just shuffling through a few inches of snow as it came pouring (seriously - pouring) down. Just as I foolishly thought to myself, "Hm - I lucked out with the wind!" A blast came out of the south, trying to rip the grocery bag out of my hands and almost knocking me down. I could hardly breathe for that last block, and the ferocious wind meant it was tough to see if any cars were coming down the street I had to cross.

And then, at last, I made it home.

The rest of the evening was happily warm, dry and indoors, but when we tried to sleep, it was neither quiet nor dark: the wind kept smashing the tree outside our apartment against the windows, and the snow blowing everywhere was reflecting all the streetlights such that even with the blinds drawn, it looked like we were trying to sleep through daylight. I'm not complaining, though: I was wrapped up in quilts when the fantastic maintenance guy for our building was out snow-blowing before the blizzard had even finished. That sounds a little nuts, but it means our sidewalks were beautiful when everything else looked like... well.

I have pictures, but I'll save them for the next post.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Not part of the plan

I'm having some trouble.

Honestly, everything is going quite well in my life: I'm healthy, fed, sheltered, clothed, loved beyond anything I deserve. I wake up in the morning next to my favorite person, spend my days at a job I usually like, occasionally work on a thesis that's still interesting to me, go to my small but more-than-adequate home, pet our purring cat, have dinner with that same favorite person. This usually-dreary month is full of visits from family and good friends, too, and that's nice.

So... what's the problem?

Here's what's up. One of my coworkers had her first baby in December: a bouncing baby girl. The child is hale and hearty, the new mom was recovering well from the birth, the new dad was excited, and all was well.

And then about two weeks ago, the new dad - my coworker's husband - collapsed. He stopped breathing, had no pulse. He was rushed to the hospital and put on a ventilator and sort-of resuscitated, but he had no brain activity. For the last 10 days, doctors had been trying whatever doctors can do, but it looked grim. And then it looked worse. On Saturday she had to make the decision no person should ever have to make, and they turned off the machines.

She became a mother and then a widow in less than two months. Her husband was only 33.

There are quite a few women in my office who are similar to her: late twenties to early thirties, married, and have a kid or two or are mulling the whole enterprise over. When we have discussed the situation, it's been common to let the end of our sentences trail off. We find our eyes wandering to the wedding pictures sitting in their little frames in our offices - just like the one she has - and asking ourselves "what if that was me?"

The deal - the way it works - is that you get married and then you have this person with you until you're keeping tabs on your grandchildren and watching Wheel of Fortune and are probably telling the same stories over and over. The deal does not include one of you being cut down in the prime of life, leaving the other alone to care for your baby. Sorry, but that shit's not what I signed up for.

I'm sure that's not what she signed up for, either. But here she is.

I went out on my lunch break yesterday and got DH a little Valentine's Day present - a week early. As I was walking back to my office, I asked myself, "Why'd you get this so early?" Well, I thought, I had some cash on hand today. And maybe the store wouldn't have it in a week. Or maybe things would get busy and I'd forget.


Before the big blizzard last week, one of my other coworkers said she dislikes it when the weather reminds her she's "just a blip". I don't know if it's my rural upbringing or my general comfort level around the great outdoors, or what, but I kind of like the way big natural events make me feel small. This stuff, however, is terrifying.

It's not the smallness factor - I'm good with being an unimportant speck in the universe, for the most part - it's the randomness. We had days to stock up on groceries and rock salt before the big blizzard. But nothing can prepare a person for something like this, and it happened essentially without warning.

So the only option, I suppose, is to hug the ones you love and, when life scares you, get them little gifts a week early.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Long odds

I'm writing up an account of the big blizzard and will post it soon, but in the meantime, if you're feeling lucky that you survived Snowmageddon and want to flex your chance-muscles, check out this interesting - and depressing - Lottery-winnings calculator. I plugged in what would be a possible combination of numbers I might have played, and then asked it to calculate my odds if I played that combination twice a week for ten years. It would have cost me $1040, and I would have won a whopping $55.

I think this "game" should be required for middle-school students in whatever class it is that shows you how to use a checkbook. The house always wins, kids.