Thursday, October 9, 2008

Road Trippin' in the MidWest: AustenCon '08

This weekend milady Carroll and I headed out at 4 in the morning to go to the Windy City. The reason for our excursion was that Rachel had won the undergraduate essay contest put up by the Jane Austen Society of North America, or JASNA for short. She was then offered a chance to come to the JASNA annual convention, or, as I like to call it, AustenCon '08.

To help us stay awake on the trip down and up I had purchased a collection of 16 Sherlock Holmes radio dramas from the '40s. All of these dramas were brought to us "by Clipper Craft Clothes... with a finely sewn Clipper Craft suit, you'll be the smartest, nicest, and best dressed man in the room... for only 45 dollars!" I could probably go on, but then I'd want to kill myself. The dramas themselves were appropriately hokey and entertaining, and Inspector Holmes proved himself to be quite a dick (in more ways than one). I'll probably do a rant about that one later, after I've gotten my hands on some more Sherlock Holmes books. So far I've read Hound of the Baskervilles and listened to the dramas, and I want to read/hear more.

My first view of Chicago brought about two thoughts: 1) that the city looked pretty ugly from I-90 and 2) WOW that tower looks evil. Apparently the latter was in reference to the John Hancock building, which totally looks like a great big black monolith jutting up from the city and casting a huge, black, withering shadow on all it surveys. Oh, and our hotel was right next to it! As part of our package deal, we got to stay two nights at the Ritz-Carlton, which was fan-freaking-tastic. The room itself didn't really stand out (though the window sill was large enough to stand in), but the price tag more than made up for itself in the bed and bathrobes. I have never, ever slept in a more comfortable on more comfortable pillows than that one. And the bathrobes were soooo freakin sweet I wanted to steal some.

After we had dropped off our things in the room Rachel headed out to take part in the Con and I tried to fall asleep. Unfortunately I was still running on adrenaline and hunger, so that was a lost cause. I decided to head down into the bottom of our hotel that connects to Water Tower Plaza, a shopping mall on Michigan Ave. I went up to the 7th floor, checked out an Auntie Anne's and went over to check out a California Pizza when I recognize a familiar face staring at me from inside the restaurant shaking his head and laughing. It turns out that Des was going out to lunch with his OUTLaw people directly below my hotel. He directed me to a place called Wow Bao, which serves Bao (I know, what a surprise!). Bao are Chinese dumplings filled with awesome, and are relatively cheap too.

Des later caught up with me eating Bao and we headed over to his apartment, which was conveniently located 5 blocks from the Ritz. On the way I got a tour of his law school which is located almost directly next to the Ritz. The library was the most amusing part, thanks to the communal chess game (make a move and then flip the card saying which color's move it is), the supreme court collectible cards, and the incredibly distracting view of the lake.

We hung out together for a bit, came back to the Ritz to see Rachel and guide her to her next event, and then went out in search of dinner. Unfortunately all of the deep dish pizza places were filled to the brim, so we wandered into the city until we came to a place called the Hop House. When I have more money, I want to come back there, because the selection of beer is nothing short of amazing. I, poor person that I am, opted to instead to only have the Wild Burger Trio, which is a collection of three mini-burgers made out of various tasty animals. I chose kangaroo, ostrich and wild boar, and all were delicious. We then headed back to the Ritz, and Rach and I eventual passed out at some point.

The next day I got to see Des sing in front of the NorthWest alumni in his accappella group and tagged along as he went about his chores. Later I got word that I was invited to the AustenCon banquet and ball, and therefore needed to find a suit ASAP. For those not in the know, the ball at AustenCon is performed in traditional dress by many of the members, and I had been told that I couldn't come when we left Minneapolis. So, my top hat, leather gloves, tuxedo, dancing shoes... all of that about 7 hours too far away to help me. However, this did give me the opportunity to go shopping. I purchased a sweet new vest, a red silky shirt (the first red article of clothing that I own!) and some charcoal pants to match the vest. Shoes and socks were borrowed from Des.

The ball was pretty sweet- the traditional dances were lots of fun and Rachel's main AustenCon pal was a really interesting person to talk to. We also had a parade down Michigan Ave, which was very hilariously awesome in concept and in execution. We later retired to the hotel and called it a night.

The next day, several interesting things happened. First, I accidentally got the room charged to Rachel's credit card instead of to JASNA. Second, it started raining. Third, we had to be out of the hotel by noon and pick up the car by 3. The first was fixed after a period of frantic worrying and a great Thai lunch (though it is still on Rachel's card... stupid banks...), the second did not short out my laptop, and the third unfortunately made Rachel miss seeing Des' apartment and also stopped us from getting Dunkin Donuts coffee. Grr.

But, all in all, the trip was pretty fun for me. I got to have a lot of conversations with Des about my various mythologies that I daydream about, about what kinds of books we like, various tv shows, and other sundry topics. I got to buy a sweet new vest. And, I got to stay in a Ritz for (practically) free. Stay tuned for a special guest host who will explain even more!

Until next time...

"When you feel like tellin a feller to go to the devil--tell him to go to Chicago--it'll anser every purpose, and is perhaps, a leetle more expensive."
- Snodgrass' Ride on the Railroad, 11/29/1856 by Mark Twain

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

...and We're Back!

Hey all, it’s me again. Sorry about the dearth of updates in… forever or so. Life’s kinda gotten pretty busy.

So, last I left you I had completed my training with CTEP and had moved into my new site. Well, the trainings continued for a bit longer at Skyline, but soon I was in complete charge of my lab. Adult lab has been pretty easy to control, as the adults follow the rules (for the most part) and remember to sign in and out (for the most part). The kids, on the other hand… Well, let’s say I had quite a few imprecations to say about them on the way home from work. Basically what happened was as soon as open lab started a tidal wave of kids from the Homework Center completely spun me around and ran roughshod about the lab. I could barely keep things running properly, and control was pretty much gone as soon as they entered. After about 2 and a half hours of pure chaos, I collapsed against the door and decided that there would have to be a change.

Fortunately, my supervisor and I had a brilliant idea: use half an hour time slots that the kids would sign up for in advance. That way when the hour or half hour came around my newly purchased kitchen timer would ring, and one group of kids would go out and another would come in. My lab would work like clockwork.

Well, it kind of worked like that. Enough that I’m still doing it. I need to beat the concept into their heads a little bit more still, but it’s slowly working. And to deal with kids waiting for their turn I’m starting an art table where they can draw on used pieces of paper while they wait. That second part is actually quite the huge success, and I’m starting to think about expanding it into some kind of official system with prizes for designs and such.

But yeah, my work schedule right now: I get up at 8:30 on work days and get to work by 9:30. From there I run Adult Labs on most weekdays for the majority of the day, and then in the late afternoon run either kids, teens, homework, or open labs. I punch out at 6:30 and get home by 7. Dinner is generally served by 8 or so, and I need to sneak in 1-2 hours of physics GRE studying plus some work for CTEP or taking care of my chores around the house. This leaves at most 3 hours of free time in the evening, 1 of which is generally spent in decompression from the work day.
However, it's not that bad of a schedule, because I get Tuesdays, Sundays, and every other Friday off! It's kind of wierd, and I never get two days off in a row (Saturdays I work from 9:30-3:30 and every other Friday I have a Corps Day for CTEP), but breaking up the week into more manageable chunks is pretty awesome if you ask me. And since I have Tuesdays off I get to cook dinner for the house on that night. So far I've done rice pudding and chicken tortillas; and chicken w/ salad and turtle desert pizza (basically a big cookie!).
My Saturdays consist of work, and then some kind of fun activity in the evening. The old standby is the Arkham Horror game at Pechous' game store, but occasionally other things come up... like the bluegrass hoe down in Northfield put on by Aaron Cross' band The Last Known Whereabouts. Sundays are spent studying physics and geeking out with Russell's Vampire game (which is turning out very interestingly...). I even got to go down to Northfield for BLurie's B-Day and see all of the crazy changes that have happened there... and went to a Magic prerelease on Sunday. Yeah, total dork, I know.
But yeah, that's how my life is going right now- busy, but with enough break that I'm not actively going insane. This weekend Rachel and I are going to Chicago for her big Jane Austen Society gala event, and to see Des. So, just got to get through tomorrow! So, until next time...

The proverb says that Providence protects children and idiots. This is really true. I know because I have tested it.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain