Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Midweek Update

I am deep inside Georgetown Library, tending a slide-scanning machine. One of the professors in the history department (I am sure there are many others like her, but thus far they have not asked for my assistance) has hired me as an independent contractor to turn a portion (about 500) of her film slides into digital (jpeg) files. Georgetown has the software and hardware to accomplish this, but the machine has to be babied, especially as some of her slides are in decades-old paper cases (in which the glue is long-since disintegrated) which occasionally jam the feeding system. I was advised to bring a book. But this morning, when the library techie was helping me get set up, we had so many problems so frequently that I though it wouldn't be worth it.

But thus far I've had few issues, and so just a minute ago I got a fellow student to keep an eye on things while I raced back across campus to fetch my laptop so I could continue working on the Russian translation. No, I haven't finished the book yet. This week has been stuffed, though mostly fun.

Saturday the market was good. Not fantastic, but respectable. But I was so fried by the end (only nine hours of sleep in the previous 56) that I knew I was losing perspective--getting all weepy and such. A sweet friend dramatically bailed me (helped pack up and then dropped me off home before driving out to Dulles to fetch Susan, who was supposed to be flying from Guadalajara fiveish) while I went to bed. Susan semi-woke me to give me a hug when she returned, and then tapped gently on my door at 8:30 so we could walk over to the Silver Diner in Clarendon for a late supper--she was dying for a salad, having avoided fresh fruits and leaves for a month.

Sunday after church we came home and both crashed for several hours, then went on a walk.

Monday was booked solid. I went to work early to write up an application for a alumni-eligible European History graduate work grant offered by my undergraduate alma mater, to jump through the hoops for withdrawal from the BTAEID program, and to apply for Leave of Absence student health insurance. I felt a tremendous sense of relief having the paperwork in the pipeline. I felt a tremendous sense of grateful awe when the chair of the History Department at my undergraduate university emailed me back within three hours of my grant application with a two-line note telling me that not only had they decided to award me the money, but it was twice the amount I thought it was. Wow! God is good to me.

So I went from being potentially 18 thousand clams in the hole to the expectancy of having 8 hundred in the bank. And from having no time at all to work on my dissertation to the prospect of being able to go to Russia come January. My stress-sensitive stomach unknotted from the Gordian shape it had begun to assume.

After work I raced home to get Susan and my car and drive into downtown DC, just around the corner from the White House, to a nationally-known organization which, through the good offices of the CSCM and his boss, had arranged to give me the books they'd been given after their annual book sale, and thus had no use for. There were about twenty-five boxfuls, which fit neatly into our cars.

Navigating through 5 PM DC traffic on the way to Georgetown was not fun. But while we were stuck on the Key Bridge, a large hawk flew over us, just twenty feet or so above the stopped cars. It was carrying a freshly-caught fish in its big talons. As the hawk disappeared up the canal, its dinner was still writhing.

As often happens, it took far longer to shift the book-boxes to the History Department than I'd anticipated. Once home again, Susan and I didn't even have time to shower (and I can shower and be makeup-ed and coiffed within 5 minutes--I've been timed) before we had to run out the door back down to the Mall, where there was a "Screen on the Green" showing of that great old Cary Grant comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. We had invited friends with the promise of refreshments, and though exhausted, knew we shouldn't shirk society.

There were thousands of people with picnic suppers and blankets all assembled on one central grass square of the Mall, the Washington Monument behind them and the Capitol Building in front. Susan and I waded between groups to a large assemblage of twenty-somethings from our church. There was a Tom & Elmer Fudd cartoon before the film, then a pause, and suddenly on some signal that I missed (although I did hear someone in our group say "peer pressure, peer pressure!" right beforehand) probably a third of everyone around us stood up and started waving their arms. This lasted for about ten seconds, then everybody settled down, giggling, and the movie began.

We didn't get home until midnight. Then I stayed up another hour winding down and translating.

Tuesday I went to work early again, to start culling the books I'd been given and seeing whether any were worth listing online. I threw away a volume of between 30 and 40 gallons of books. Why anybody would think almanacs from the last decade would be salable, I haven't a clue. After checking perhaps 60 ISBN numbers of the remainder (many brand new) and finding only 5 books worth more than $10 (my cut-off point for listing, otherwise it's not worth it), but lots that were worth between $1 and $4, I figured I'd have a mini book sale at the Arlington Market on Saturday. Paperbacks a dollar, hardbacks two. Buy five, get another free. It might pay for Anita's and my boothspace. And then I'll take the leftovers directly to the public library for donation.

After work I went to the Georgetown library to be trained on the Mac-based slide-scanning system. Then I walked home, and Susan suggested getting some hard-to-find groceries (like vanilla extract and peanut butter) for a care package Joy, a friend of ours, was sending to Helen, a mutual friend in Prague. We picked these up at the local Giant and drove over to a shared rowhouse not far from Eastern Market, where Joy had just moved. She gave us a mini-tour, then I asked if she knew of a place where Susan and I might eat before we went on our own grocery-shopping trip to Trader Joe's. She pointed out a new restaurant across Independence Avenue from the Library of Congress, but we ended up at an outside table next door, at a small Greek place. It was great sitting down. The food was good. Susan told me more details of a trip I'd only previously heard summarized in text-messages. It was after TJ's closing time when we walked back to my car, so we drove over to Georgetown and loaded half the culled and re-packed book boxes into the back of my car. Then home and to bed.

This morning I came into work again early to begin the slide-scanning. At noon, my boss's boss took Rita and me out to lunch at a posh little French cafe on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Yummy. And that it was a paid and paid-for lunch made it even more delicious.

In retrospect, it was also a good thing that we lingered over our crepes, as I am not likely to get supper this evening. I've been here in the library for three hours now, and there are hundreds and hundreds of slides to go. Over 800, as a matter of fact--I just counted them. And the professor is leaving for the Middle East on Saturday, so they have to be done by Friday afternoon. I guess I'm going to be working on this tomorrow, too!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bye-bye BioHazards

I'm chucking the Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Disease program.

My sister's right--I'm 33, not 23, and the time for dabbling is over. I'm a historian, not a scientist, and I'd much rather be messing around with musty manuscripts than worrying about pandemic preparedness.

I just can't afford the program, either, and if I had the 18 grand they want for this semester's tuition, I'd much rather use it for a downpayment on a house than for some transitory (though thoroughly enjoyable) lessons on CDC disease classifications.

I don't regret for a minute the semester's worth of classes I took--I am, after all, going to be incorporating questions of public health into my dissertation--but it is time to focus exclusively on that dissertation, with an eye towards becoming the professor that five years ago I felt a clear call to become.

I get side-tracked easily. Focusing on a clear, limited goal with a definitive career plan is where I want to be, and where I am without the BTAEID program. There was an element of vanity in pursuing the MS, too--"See, I'm not just a liberal arts major, I can handle the chemical-mathematical brainwork with the best of you..." but that's ultimately pointless. I don't need a $40,000 ego massage that will put me more than a year behind schedule in dissertation-writing.

Besides writing preliminary drafts of my dissertation, I'm still going to try to make as much money as possible this year off from the History Department. Maybe the perfect house is out there for Susan and me. Certainly, it would be nice to be in a quieter location--until a few minutes ago, the girls upstairs were carrying on in a drunken (or high--they smoke pot outside on the stoop) orgy with a couple of their male friends. I'd sleep much better if I didn't have to beat on the ceiling with a broom handle for peace at midnight.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Absolutely No Predicting...

One's performance at the Arlington Market based on the weather. Today was pretty miserably hot. I drank half a gallon of water and still was getting dizzy under my tent by 3 PM. Hadn't a single sale until precisely at noon, and then, to my surprise and pleasure, a woman came up and bought two pairs of earrings (one of which was on the more expensive side) and a necklace. And after her I had several more earring sales, all good ones. So despite the discomfort of the weather, which was at least equal to, if not worse than, last Saturday, I made four times as much. Which was a welcome relief, and I was thanking God for the improvement. I have to do my quarterly sales taxes this evening, and it is nice to have something in the account with which to pay them!

Irina, the Russian author of Two Motherlands, emailed me yesterday with the news that she is overwhelmed with paid translation work for the St. Petersburg courts (they have a large computer-fraud related trial going on right now, and she has hundreds of pages of English-language depositions to render into Russian). Nonetheless, she said she'd incorporate the last changes I made to Chapter 8 and send me the mutually-approved English-language final version so that I could mail it and its immediate predecessor to our volunteer proofreading team by the end of the month. I told her I'd be forging ahead meanwhile with my translations of the last three chapters of the book, so that when she finally gets a lull in her schedule--right about September, when I am suddenly ambushed with academic work--she would have the majority of the responsibility for seeing the project move forward (the job of revising Chapters 9-14). No word yet on what the Russian government has decided about the original manuscript's publishing-grantworthiness.

Susan is spending an extra week in Mexico, rather than going on to Honduras. Continental messed up her travel to Central America so thoroughly that she figured it was better to stay put in Guadalajara than risking life, limb and layovers to make her way southward. Her host family (actually an older couple with grown children) was delighted she was staying, and is taking her on vacation with them to visit pueblos in another Mexican state this week. She is looking forward to it--it'll be a whole different cultural experience from the urban environment of Guadalajara (a city of 7 millions), plus further language exercise within a familiar interpersonal framework.

The History Department will be employing me for two days a week this fall term, they have decided. My sweet boss will be taking partial paid leave, to try to regain some of her strength post-chemotherapy, and they figured since they know and like me they'd continue our working relationship. It is nice to know that I'll have income to pay for housing, yet not the sort of work that'll interfere with my Biohazard studies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chapter 11

This is the best possible kind of Chapter 11. Not bankruptsy, but progress. I just finished translating Chapter 11 of Two Motherlands, and emailed it off to Russia for comments. Thank God, we're almost done!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Continental Incompetence and New Interior Design

Continental Airlines is deep down in the dungeon of my disapproval these days. I wrote previously about their lousing up Susan's arrival arrangements in Honduras, preparatory to leaving her stranded four hours away from her aunt's family. Now they've turned her connection in Houston into a snarl, and Susan's down in Mexico with little way of addressing the issue.

I caught the tail end of a message being left by an unctuous Continental agent on the house answering machine three days ago, asking Susan to call them as there was a problem. I spoke to the agent, explained Susan was in Mexico, and asked what the issue was. Apparently they've re-coordinated the flights in Houston for this Saturday so that her plane from Guadalajara arrives after her plane for Honduras has left. I text-messaged her the Mexican contact numbers for the airline, but who knows what she'll be able to do on that end.

Happier news is that my bed arrived Friday afternoon! It's really lovely. And it weighs over 200 pounds. The NPV helped me put it together and dropped part of it on his foot. The same foot with which he'd already stepped, bare-soled, on a renegade sharp piece of copper which I'd cut from a piece of jewelry. He said his tetanus shots were up to date. I hope so, as he also managed to stab himself in the hand with a packaging staple as he was removing the headboard from one of the boxes it was shipped in. I shall have to remember to drop off cookies this afternoon as thanks for his help and partial compensation for his pain and suffering.

My new rug is also installed over most of the floorspace in my room. This necessitated the removal of most of the room contents that were clogging the floorspace to the den/dining common area. It's a good thing Susan's away, so she doesn't see the mess I've made. It's amazing how much stuff I have accumulated--papers out the wazoo, clothing and boxes upon boxes of books--and this is what remains after five garbage bagsful of belongings taken to Goodwill. Serious divestment must continue, obviously.

So, yesterday afternoon and evening, I culled two splox boxfuls of books from my personal collection for donation to the public library (they have a self-serve used bookstore in the library building and two times a year they have an enormous booksale in the parking garage underneath it to raise funds), plus a rickety hatstand/coatrack and assorted smalls for Goodwill, and rearranged and repacked that which had not already been rearranged and repacked. Plus, I got rid of a bunch of paper. At last some visible progress is being made!

Now if I can just sell those books I've got listed on Amazon and the jewelry I have up on Etsy...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Platonic Girlfriend Benefits

They include delicious dinners with and without fine wine and access to Washington Nationals season tickets. July 4 my friend Paul took me and my last year's "polyester roommate" Amelie out to a late supper (our reservations were for 10:15 PM) at Clyde's of Georgetown. I had a 14-oz steak. Ate the entire thing. Well, all I'd had nothing but a bowl of popcorn all day...

Last night, Amelie's friend Kurt, who was in town from Idaho, where he lives with his wife and four kids and runs a ridiculously successful software company (that has some federal contracts, hence his visit to DC), took us two girls to Matchbox in Chinatown, where the three of us ate two brick-oven-baked pizzas and consumed a $50 bottle of wine. And then we had dessert. Amelie has been friends with Kurt and his wife Sheri for almost twenty years, so they had some wild stories to tell, some involving beer-brewing in Belgium.

And tonight, as the friend of a friend of a friend of a guy who has four seats on the Nationals' new ballpark's 3rd base line, three rows from the field, I saw the home team take on (rather unsuccessfully) the Arizona Diamondbacks. I thought I'd give the Major Leagues a second chance--different venue, much better view of the on-field action--and frankly, it didn't satisfy this time, either. I just prefer minor league ball. The new stadium is lovely, but the game was still boring, and there wasn't a sense of excitement or emotional involvement in the outcome.

I did share an intense spectator experience today, though. At the end of the day the student-run coffeeshop in the ICC frequently puts out the leftover pastries, free for the taking. Knowing this pattern, my TAship professor, a fellow history graduate student and I all found ourselves clustered at my office window after the "Closed" sign was hung up downstairs, narrating to each other every move of the shopgirls in relation to the big box of muffins, bagels and croissants that was on top of the counter, still inaccessible to passersby. We lurked by the window for almost fifteen minutes, our eyes glued to the activity three stories below, torn between salivating anticipation and the verbalized fear (eventually realized) that the girls were planning to take the leftovers home, rather than leave them for desperate, sugar-deprived historians.

I doubt I'll eat as well the rest of this week as I have since Friday, but I do hope I get some decent exercise--a brisk waddle around the block is definitely in order after all the big meals I've been enjoying!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Return to Blogging

Sorry for disappearing again. I've been ironing. Or at least I was ironing for a few hours last night--a pile of crumpled clothes I'd had stuffed in a laundry bag for months (had even taken home to Augusta in hopes that I'd get around to pressing them there, and they'd come back in the same state in which they'd departed). Before that I was making tiaras. You can see them on my Etsy page , and I'm going to be posting more in the near future. I've collected a slew of vintage pins and am incorporating them into jewelry for weddings and other formal events. I figure that women attending the inaugural balls in January will be wanting to stand out beautifully.

The last two weeks I've also been translating with a relentless vigor--after I respond to the "shortlist" of corrections the Russian author just sent me this morning, we'll have Chapter 8 of Two Motherlands in its final, ready-to-be-proofed form. And I've already sent her my translations of Chapters 9 and 10 (they were short), so those should be finished in the next week, too. My goal is to finish the whole manuscript by the end of this month. It's doable. I have started to smooth the roughed-out versions of the last four chapters. I want to create a timeline for the appendix, too, so readers can compare the major events of the story with the major events in Russian history, for context. And I'm going to write a book overview proposal for submission to American/British publishers. We still haven't heard about the Russian government grant for which the Russian version is in the running. But deadlines, shmedlines, as far as Russian officialdom is concerned.

Susan left last Sunday for Mexico--the several days before she departed were a flurry of last-minute errand-running. Less than 24 hours before she left she checked her flight itinerary and discovered that (without their having told her) her arrival airport in Honduras (she's going there for a week after three weeks' intensive Spanish language training in Guadalajara) had been changed. To an airport a good 4 hours away from the one where her relatives were supposed to meet her. As Honduras as a whole is not a country particularly safe for Americans (lots of kidnappings, murders, etc.), and the road twixt the arrival airport and the other particularly fraught with danger, she had to quickly track down and buy a ticket on a puddle-jumper from one to the other, rather than risk taxis and buses as a semi-Spanish-speaking pale unaccompanied gringa. She was not thrilled at the airline service's lack of communication about the change--what would have happened if she'd discovered the change after she left the States?! At any rate, she's texted and emailed several times to the effect that she's having a great time in Mexico, seeing her proficiency improve, and having adventures with her host family.

I've been cleaning out my bedroom--as Susan's away, I'm cluttering the living room with stuff I'm pulling from my closets and bookcases. Before she left, I discarded three garbage-bags-full of clothes (sent to Goodwill), but there still wasn't much of a dent. It's not that I'm a clothes-horse so much that I'm a packrat, and don't usually discard things until they fall apart from wear. I'm continuing thinning the herd now--I just can't live with this much stuff. My new rug is still rolled in the plastic it came in because I haven't cleared enough floorspace for it yet. My (second major) goal is to have the room contents winnowed by the time my bed arrives, which should be in the next few weeks. Among the things I'm tossing is a bagful of 3.5" floppies, with files dating back to the early 1990s. Of course, I'm copying them all before throwing them away. Onto two CDs. Hey, I'm a packrat, but at least I'm a technologically-aware packrat.

Saturday I traded a collection of vintage clothing and accessories for free rent at the Arlington Market (the new director sells these things, and was more than willing to take in-kind rather than cash). I'll probably do the same thing for the next couple of weeks--it gets some value for my closet discards.

Speaking of getting money for my accessories, I sold my Ricky Frank odalisque pin/pendant (the one I've had for 6 years) online. I got a good price for it, and the purchaser was so taken with his work that she looked up his website and bought three more of his pieces the same afternoon. She must have had ten grand that was burning a hole in her pocket, but I was thrilled--the sale paid for my new iron bed.

Besides all this extra-academic creative and cleaning-out activity, I'm starting to buckle down on my dissertation-proposal. My (third major) goal is to have this drafted by the end of this month, and a sense of which groups I intend to approach for financial assistance for researching and writing it. Several are due at the beginning of September, so this is definitely not too early to have started planning!

I'll try to be a bit more faithful with the blogging in future!