A brief chronicle of my new life in Michigan, focusing on the fact that I live in a converted factory loft building with several hundered other "young professionals." Yeah, it's a yuppie dorm.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

That Point

I think I've hit "that point" both in the process of relocation and in the semester (as an academic, my life is ruled by the biorhythms enforced by the academic calendar). For the relocation thing - I've been here long enough so that going most places I need to go doesn't involve a map. I'm getting to know my way around Meijer, and grocery shopping is less "I wonder where the pickles are?" and more "Why do people feel the need to just stand there staring into space in the middle of the aisle so that nobody can go around them?" I actually know several ways to get to several Meijers, depending on traffic patterns and times of day, and what else I need to do. I actually know when the interstate will be backed up, and when they'll be relatively open. In other words, I'm getting settled.

This is good - but it also takes that challenge out of daily life that had been distracting me from the fact that I really don't know that many people here yet. I'm meeting people; it just takes me a while. I'm not good at spontaneously calling people up and "doing something." And most people I know are just as busy or busier than me -- because we've all hit "that point" in the semester, too. The point where there's still enough of the semester left to require quite a bit of prep, but the papers are getting longer, the students need more help with those longer, more challenging papers, and committees, seeing the passing of midterms, realize that if anything is going to get accomplished this semester, it better happen in the next few weeks. And it's also the point where we're all tired. There's too much of the semester left to see the end, but there's not enough left for all we need to do. Daylight is disappearing, both because of the movement of the clocks and because of the heavy grey cloud cover that I've been warned is Michigan's chosen mode of being in winter.

Yes, it's almost November. The February of this end of the calendar.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Life in a Swing State

Despite living the last nine years of my life in a red-tinged state (Indiana, whose electoral votes will undoubtedly go to Bush, does have a Democratic governor - for now - and a Democratic senator), I've had the experience of voting in a swing state, because I never changed my residency from Iowa. This year is no different, because Michigan is just as much a swing state as Iowa, it seems. That means, at least in this election -- candidate visits and unceasing ads. This morning, Bush was in Grand Rapids. Needless to say, I didn't go (I can't stand listening to his voice on television, where I have the power of the mute button; the mute button doesn't work in real life.) However, I did walk downtown this morning just to see how much disturbance a presidential visit causes. It turns out, quite a bit. I got to the post office, which is about 2/3 of a mile from the Yuppie Dorm, and there were "police line - do not cross" tapes strung up, and after another 1/2 block, barriers between the street and the sidewalk. The city's cadre of dumptrucks and snowplows were called into service to block intersections, and there were a bunch of loud Kerry supporters/Bush protesters on the other side of the street. And there were policepeople everywhere. They were walking along in groups, going here and there, and I think I even saw some Secret Service people.

I didn't stick around for the motorcade; I really had no wish to see a limo with tinted windows carrying a man I really have no desire to even meet. And I'm rather sad that I have to say that about the President of my country. With almost any other former President, I would have a lot I would want to ask him, given the opportunity. Not Bush. So I walked back home, glad that he would be leaving my new city soon, and letting it get back to normal.

Later today, I drove past the place where I would be going to vote on Tuesday. It's some sort of mental health clinic, which I find rather ironic. Perhaps there will be clinicians on hand to talk all of us through the "voter anxiety" that approximately 60% of voters are feeling this year. I guess I'm one of them - the reason I drove past the place was because I had a dream that I couldn't figure out where to vote, and that I would spend all day trying to find my polling place, and end up not voting. I've almost always voted absentee, in the privacy of my own home. This whole going to a place and voting via punch card (my ballot type, according to the Michigan voting website) is going to be a very new experience. I plan to vote early in the day, and spend the evening with friends, watching the returns--and hopefully Jon Stewart and the Daily Show crew.

Monday, October 25, 2004


Matt just left, and I'm at work - procrastinating doing a stack of grading. However, it's finally sunny and properly autumnal, so I think I'll go to one of my favorite places on campus to grade. It's the rare-book/archives library (surprise!) and it has a quiet study area with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the ravine.

It was a good visit - Matt brought his station wagon up, so I got to go to Pier 1 and get a table for the back wall of my living room; this will allow me to get a much-needed third lamp for the room, so I can read on the couch at night. I counted, and I now have five pieces of furniture in my living room from Pier 1. We tried to eat sushi, but the one place I knew of that had sushi (or more to the point, the one place that anybody recommended to me as having decent sushi) was closed on Sunday. So we ate at a Tuscan place instead, and had salmon. It's odd to think - I'll have to go back to southern Indiana to get decent sushi. Or Chicago. Chicago probably has a decent sushi place or two!

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Rainy Weekend

I woke up at my normal hour this morning (6 am) and promptly turned over and fell back asleep (it's Saturday!) When I woke up again at 9, after a dream when I was making up a test for one of my classes, and noticing that it was huge, and I hadn't incorporated stuff from the rest of the year yet, the ambient light in my room had not changed noticeably. It was that overcast.

Fall is truly here, and it's not the pretty-leaves, happy cool breezes fall, but the rainy, overcast, depressing, get-ready-for-winter-rain autumn.

But Matt's driving up to visit me this weekend, so I can't be that depressed -- except I'll worry about him driving in the rain!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Libraries Need to Have Comfortable Chairs

I'm in the Grand Rapids Public Library (my usual Tuesday afternoon stop-off point to renew my Books-on-CD for my commute), and I'm wandering around trying to find a place to settle in and read for about 45 minutes, since I have an appointment downtown and I don't want to go home for such a brief period. I've been through most of this building, and there are no "reading nooks" or even upholstered chairs that I've found yet. There are lots of plasticy wood table and chairs that owe a great design debt to Scandinavian influences, and lots of bright colors and fluorescent light - but no shadowy areas, inviting one to sit down and read.

Well, considering this is an urban-center library, I guess that shadowy nooks with comfy couches would possibly be misused.

That doesn't stop me from wishing they were there; and feeling like this library is somewhat lacking because it doesn't have them. The Bloomington library is quite modern and efficient - and still has plenty of chairs that make reading pleasant.

Friday, October 15, 2004


One one hand, I'm glad this week is almost over. It was supposed to be my mid-semester, less-stress week, because of various things that were happening in my classes (like giving midterms). When you're the teacher, the work of the midterm comes after you've given it - but leading up to it is the vacation. But (as evidenced in the previous post) other things seemed to interfere with the less-stress idea. However, yesterday was pretty good - my classes went well, I have plans to meet up with people for lunch and dinner today, and my friend Julie and her daughter are coming to visit tomorrow.

Julie and I have been friends since our sophomore year of college, when we took Lit and Culture of the Middle Ages together. We bonded over a shared love of the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer (for you non-OE readers, a site with a translation, albeit in annoying red type on a black background. Scroll down for the translation). After college, she moved on to Library School in the flat parts of Illinois, and then to New York to be a glamorous corporate librarian (you have to say the "glamorous" any time somebody from the Midwest moves to New York. She would probably debate the use of this term.) I went to Bloomington, IN for grad school, and stayed there for the almost-decade it took for me to get my PhD. A little over a year ago, Julie and her husband moved back to the Midwest (Chicago - they're incurable city people now) and I moved to Grand Rapids -- thus we're now living closer together than we have in a long while.

And since she's bringing her nine-month-old daughter, who has just learned how to crawl, I really need to get a bunch of stuff off the floor before tomorrow afternoon!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Not A Good Day

System Restore Window

If the above picture is any indication, this has not been a good day. I tried to update Office XP to Office 2003, and everything fell apart. Fell apart in ways that 1 and 1/2 hours on the phone to a very nice person named Shane could not fathom. I actually started crying at one point because I not only couldn't install Office 2003, but he had had me completely (or almost-completely, which in computer terms is worse) wipe Office XP from everything. My computer was without Word, and it looked very reluctant to let any Microsoft program anywhere near it.

Ergo, System Restore. It sort of worked; I at least have Word XP back - but I've been having spotty connection problems with my DSL. And I think I screwed up my virus protection stuff.

I see a re-installation of Windows in my future. And I'm not looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


I was just re-reading my most recent post, and realized that my bullet point about my brother might be a bit odd.

Therefore - I ALSO congratulate him about his recent engagement to my future-sister-in-law Emily, not just his bathroom renovation! He's continuing a long tradition in our family of the younger siblings going down the matrimonial path first. Since he also bought a new car before I did (though mine is much cooler), wrote a thesis before I did (though mine was a doctoral thesis, and his a masters--but with way more chemical equations), and bought a house (still a renter), I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that he's charging forth on this other major life event before his late-bloomer sister.

Nevertheless, the bathroom was really well done.

Monday, October 11, 2004


I just drove back from Bloomington today... it's about 5.5 hours between B'ton and Grand Rapids, without stopping. Variance may be imposed by how horrible the stoplights at Kokomo are. I heard they're building a bypass bypass - hopefully, soon. That stretch of 31 is insane.

The trees got more and more colorful the farther north I got - they're probably at about peak here in Michigan. Though I have to say that yesterday's drive through Brown County was absolutely gorgeous.

My Bloomington accomplishments:
  • Spent time with Art, Ellen, Finn and Odessa; discovered that two-year-olds who are suffering from sleep deprivation are inclined to short attention spans. However, a good story may distract even the most disconsolate soul. Hurray for books.
  • Helped plant at least five dogwood trees and some holly bushes in a new park in Bloomington. I learned that proper mulching is done in a "bagel" rather than "volcano" style.
  • Went to a farm south of Bloomington and wandered through a Maize Maze (Corn Maze for those of you who don't like homophones). Pumpkins and goats were also part of the whole fall experience.
  • Visited my brother and his (recently affianced) girlfriend, Emily. I congratulated him on his bathroom renovation, which included things like new walls, tile, and filling in holes in the ceiling resulting from lowering a wall.
  • Sat in on a meeting of Green Building Enthusiasts; mostly I graded, but occasionally I looked up when I heard somebody say something like "dirt floors are great!" and "straw bales make great walls!" I'm not against reusable materials and responsible building - but I also think statements like that should be prefaced by "I know this may sound weird, but..."

All in all - a busy weekend.

Newspaper Update: Since sign, 4/4 delivered. I will see if the ones I had held while I was away for the weekend are still there tonight...

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Preventive Measures

Starting tomorrow, I'll be putting this sign on my door. Matt suggested this; I hope it deters my thief... This morning, he or she stole my Sunday paper. Luckily, when I called customer service, they were able to actually get another one delivered to me in the afternoon. I also talked to the security people; hopefully the combination of my sign and their alertness will enable me to get my newspaper every day, even those days that I'm not home until late.

I keep wondering, though - why my paper? I have neighbors whose papers were at their doors today until late in the afternoon. Unless my thief is one of my immediate neighbors, any person taking it would have had to pass by one of these other papers.

I fear I'm getting obsessed with this. That, and the crossword puzzles that are in the papers. I like crossword puzzles. But I wish the Grand Rapids Press would subscribe to the New York Times ones - they have the LA Times ones, and they're really quite easy. They don't allow me to procrastinate nearly as much as I'd like to.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Pretty Houses

Today's activity: The annual Heritage Hill House Tour. Starting at about 12:30, I and a colleague, her husband, and her husband's mother and brother, wended our way into 8 of the 10 houses on the tour. A bit of background: Heritage Hill is Grand Rapids' oldest residential district, and located to the east and a bit south of downtown. When this place was the epicenter of America's furniture industry, the owners of the factories lived in this area. It's full of grand old houses, many dating from the late nineteenth century. Starting in the depression, and then aggravated by the housing shortage after the War, many of the houses were chopped into apartments. Of those on the tour, several had been, or were in the process of, being turned back into single-family houses.

When I was first looking for housing in Grand Rapids, I was convinced that I wanted to live in Heritage Hill. Many of the houses there still are split into apartments. However, I discovered a few things about myself: namely, I like clean cupboards, relatively modern appliances, non-scary bathrooms, and reliable air-conditioning and heating. None of the apartments I saw in the Hill had even close to that combination. Most weren't air conditioned (which isn't that unworkable in Michigan; I tend to like it in the summer more for allergy control purposes). Many had ancient appliances - one had a stove that had to be lit with a match for every use. Most had pretty scary cupboards and bathrooms; I could tell that they had been cleaned as much as possible--and they still looked dirty or mildewy. And the rents were not reflective of the condition of the place. I could tell that most landlords, logically, were renting places as long as they would rent; since the Hill was becoming more and more popular as downtown Grand Rapids became more and more vital, rents were going up. Only when a place became so bad that it wouldn't rent would they renovate--and then charge a lot more.

One landlord was in the middle of doing that when I saw his place; it was a one-bedroom that he had advertised at $750. He informed me, as I was looking at the place, that he had rethought the rent, and the place was now $850. It looked like it was going to be nice - high ceilings, a fireplace, a dining room, large windows. But it was a one bedroom (accessible only through the bathroom). When I was wondering out loud where I might set up a workspace, he pointed to an alcove area in the bedroom as perfect for a home office. When I pointed out that there were no electrical outlets within 10 feet of this space, he said "oh." Needless to say, I didn't even consider that one.

But anyway - today I was back wandering the Hill, trying to ignore all the "for rent!" signs on lawns. I think, if I ever live in that neighborhood, it will be as a homeowner who can rip out cupboards and put new ones in, sand down woodwork and refinish it, and generally clean it to the point that I'd feel like it was mine, not the accumulated sediment of generations. But I definitely don't fit the molds of a lot of the homeowners whose houses were on the tour today. Several of the houses were antique dealers' or antique collectors' showplaces - and I felt like I could barely move. There was just so much stuff! Old stuff -- little things, fussy things. I and the Victorian aesthetic do not mesh well. I did enjoy the Arts and Crafts pieces that I saw; none of the homes, however, seemed to embrace that style wholeheartedly.

When I came back home to the Yuppie Dorm, I actually felt that I could finally breathe easily; I also realized that I actually live in a home where I feel like I have a decorative style that reflects my taste--clean lines, not a whole lot of fussy details, light woods, metal and wicker. I am an adult, in a home of my own making.

I was quite proud of myself; so proud, in fact, that I vacuumed.