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Sep. 24th, 2012 @ 03:42 pm New life
Everything is new. I'm in a new apartment and a new neighborhood. A totally new totally scary job. I'm living with my partner, who is not new, but this part of our relationship is new. Even New York feels new, but so comfortably familiar.

I feel surreal, walking down the streets of the city. And while I am enjoying my job and my partner and my new apartment, everything is frantic. It will take time to settle into it, I know, but maybe because of the madness of this whole year, I think it'll take longer than it otherwise might have. I'm glad for the experience I got at the NIH and glad for the job that I have now, but I so so wish I'd had a vacation.

On the plus side, the academic calendar means that I'll have plenty of time off.

How do I get used to New York again?
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Aug. 18th, 2012 @ 06:54 pm I feel sufficiently cultured
Last weekend I went to the Holocaust museum. Still can't really talk about it, but I was quite traumatized. Understandably so, of course.

Moving on, today I was visiting with friends (and their cuuuute baby) and decided to go to some museums after, since I was already in the city. And I did a good job of it, if I do say so myself. First stop was the National Air and Space Museum. Turns out I'm much more interested in space than air, but I did stop by a kid's presentation about "how planes fly" and let me tell you, I needed it. I only vaguely get how planes stay up, so it was a nice refresher. But I still think it's magic. And it freaks me out!

It's interesting to read about the space race from an American perspective. They do a good job talking about the various Russian firsts at the museum, but I still think it's funny that America "declared" that the main objective of the space race was a manned moon landing. Sure, that's one way to "win." You just keep telling yourselves that, American friends. :)

The planets exhibit was nice and Pluto was still on display and mentioned as a planet. So now the question it, was it deliberate? The International Astronomical Union redefined planets in 2006, I think. Plenty of time to re-do the exhibit. So, is the museum defying the definition? Or have they just not gotten around to creating new exhibits?

After I saw all the space-related things, I realized that it was still quite early and headed to the Museum of the American Indian. It's a gorgeous building, with various New World (funny name for it) crops growing outside of it. I wanted to yoink a tomato, but it wasn't ripe. I was a little nervous that there would be depressing things (which is partly why I was glad that we didn't linger there last weekend and only had a lovely lunch in their awesome cafe). But it is really quite uplifting, curated by people from various First Nations tribes. I think the museum is still in the process of growing, but so far, they've done a great job. And there is a lovely exhibit called "Songs for the Horse Nation" which is a lovely way to refer to the special relationship that native people had with horses for a long time.

I can't believe that in less than a week I'll be in NYC.
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Aug. 9th, 2012 @ 08:43 pm Not according to plan
I have a little over 2 weeks left here in MD and I have not been writing according to plan. Of course, I also have not been going to museums and cultural things according to plan. I think the last thing I wrote about was just about the last thing I did that was cultural. Since then I have been to Miami and NYC, mostly in a frenzy of getting ready to move.

The news, it is good. I got the job I was interviewing for, so I will be professing in NYC starting in the fall semester. I'm pretty excited and nervous, constructing syllabi (syllabuses? platypuses?) and talking to my new colleagues. I was also hunting for apartments, figuring out plans for the move, getting various documents together, and finishing my internship. The madness!

I did get to see System of a Down recently and it was one of the best shows I've seen in a while. They rocked hard and we were quite comfy in our chairs (we are old) but were still able to feel the rockin'. I'm so glad they did this tour.

Plans are on for this weekend to see some culture. Hoorah!
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Jul. 15th, 2012 @ 07:02 pm Patriotic
The 4th of July was a beautiful sunny day. Of 90+ degree weather. A good day to go wandering, wouldn't you say?

I met a group of other NIH summer interns for an organ recital of patriotic music at the National Cathedral. I didn't know we had a National Cathedral. But there it was, larger than life. Very cathedral-ish, including flying buttresses and all. Organ music is funny and entrancing, so the recital was pretty amazing, and the brass band helped to wake us up from our waiting stupor in the beginning. After, we marched outside and took a nice leisurely sweaty stroll to eat some Thai food. They say you should eat spicy to cool off, but the iced tea also helped.

Next stop, the mall to try to figure out what next. Our group found more interns, then split up. Some headed for the art gallery, some, to the air and space museum. I opted for art, with a walk through the statue garden thingy first. We also dipped our feet into the pool in the middle and stayed for a while, cooling off. Can you sense a theme here?

The art gallery was a hoot and we may have both amused and terrified. It all started off calmly enough. We looked at art, checked out the only piece by Da Vinci on display in the U.S. And that's where it started. Two of the girls decided to pose next to the shot with the same morose face as the woman in the painting. And we were off. Posing next to paintings, in profile and head on, posing as the subjects posed. We were Napoleon, and Hermes, soldiers, seamstresses, angels, boxers, sharks, any and every painting we liked, there was someone willing to pose next to it looking silly. Some of the security guards seemed confused, while others were clearly snickering. Some tourists took our pictures. It was a blast.

After that adventure, we walked to the Smithsonian folk life festival on the mall. It was closing down, so we grabbed a ridiculous amount of watermelon (why else, to cool off) and went to frolic under the water hose someone thoughtfully set up for the passers by. It was great, until my jeans were fully soaked and gained about 10 pounds (that might be hyperbole). I ate some BBQ and we barreled through the Washington monument grounds to claim a spot near where the fireworks would be let off. This was both good and bad because they were amazing from that distance, the best I've ever seen, and I'm not a huge fireworks fan. It was entrancing, mesmerizing, to watch them right above your head, in a crowd of 300,000 people, in the nation's capital. On the negative side, the smoke blanketed the ground and my nose was stuffed so badly by the time I got home, I couldn't sleep for two and a half hours.

It was an amazing day, an exhausting day, a patriotic day.
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Ur foods
Jul. 6th, 2012 @ 09:44 pm It's getting apocalyptic out there
rachellll came to visit DC and her cadre of friends and I was lucky enough to spend a whole weekend with her and her hubby. We had a lovely dinner on Friday (in a restaurant where we were the youngest adults by about a decade) and were just waiting for our check when the lights started going on and off. When I peered outside, the debris on the road was moving along at an alarming pace. After a few minutes of flickers, and our feeble attempts at getting our waitress to take our credit cards, the lights finally died and the candles on the tables became more than decorative. We finally gave all our information to the waitress and ducked outside only to be met with a city with no lights, a highway littered in snapped branches and a carpet of leaves, and dark houses.

Luckily for me, 10 minutes after I got in the door and got ready for bed by flashlight, the lights came on in my house. Not so luckily for most of the surrounding area, others didn't fare as well. In the middle of a pretty bad heat wave, more than 3 million people in the DC area had to live with no power and an estimate of a fix that was almost a week.

It took us 2 hours to drive an alleged 30 minute path, because all of the lights were busted and trees blocked off our navigation route. Finally, we arrived in a very cute neighborhood to visit st_theodora and iskandra_asima and their cute son. They had no power, but did have a fairly cool basement, so we spent a very lovely time chatting. They then had to deal with many more hours/days with no power - it was truly madness out there.

An attempt was made to visit the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, but it looked like the vendors and exhibitors had the right idea and packed up early. The heat was almost unbearable, so we ducked into an actual Smithsonian of the Natural History flavor for an hour or so. It took almost that long to then find a bathroom. I appreciate the Natural History museum especially, because a) I love science, and b) there are things to touch! I am a very tactile person and I love to interact with exhibits. I want more of this and I think the museum missed some opportunities to make things more tangible. I think it's time to make more exhibits where people can poke things. I would be there every week (not really).

More friend visits and meals were had. People described their suffering with no power - someone made a snarky reference to developing countries having better infrastructure. We took pictures with a rooster and shopped at a farmer's market. And then it was all over and I waved goodbye.

The loss of power did affect me a bit more than just that one hour. My landlady invited the woman for whom she works to stay with us, since her power was out. She is 99 years old and has a live in home attendant who also came along, so we shared the house and were able to help out. Plus, it was never boring (especially at night when the old woman would wake up and call for someone until someone came to soothe her). My work building lost power on Monday, so I had an extra day off. My landlady didn't have to return to work until Thursday. Just a few days of madness. The apocalypse receded.
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Ur foods
Jun. 30th, 2012 @ 10:22 am Art and BBQ
I have finally ventured to some culture.

The morning started with the farmer's market, which I am loving. It takes all my self-control not to buy everything in the place. And even with that self-control, as minimal as it is, I got way more food than necessary and still have veggies aplenty in the fridge, a week after shopping.

Then, I girded my loins, and got on the Metro for an hour and a half easy breezy ride from Rockville into Crystal City (in Virginia). There was a local art show there and some friends from high school. The show was in a towering office building totally cleared of all its trappings of commerce and covered in paintings, drawings, sculpture, mixed media. Some rooms were painted and hung with artifacts. One was a cave of thrown-away written objects - pieces of mail, old birthday cards, letters of congratulations, postcards, anything that people felt was valuable but then decided to discard anyway. It was oddly touching. And on the silly spectrum, the Peep dioramas were on display and showcased such diverse things as Tour de Peep, Peepton Abbey, the Royal Peep Wedding, and Occupeep DC. Since this was the last day of the show, there were also performances. I think I may have seen almost every kind of art while there - a very cute play in the style of Shakespeare crossed with a Bollywood movie, a fashion show interspersed with dancing, all the visual arts in the building. I suppose I missed out on music, but I know it was playing somewhere in the building.

Feeling sufficiently cultured, I was pondering whether I should venture out of my woman cave into the city the next day. There was a BBQ battle on and I wanted to see it, but not alone. While whining about it to Robby, I saw that some summer interns posted about this very event on the FB group and so I replied and the rest is history. I made my way toward the mall, and used the inflatable pig (named Wilbur) as a beacon and met the most outgoing person I've ever met in my entire life. She was friendly with any and every person on our mad rampage through the free food booths and asked random strangers to take pictures with us. She made friends with people in line and seemed comfortable spending the whole day with basically a stranger (me). It was a great time. Strangely, I didn't get any actual barbecue, but I did eat way too many grilled meats.

Mad weekend of madness! And today, I hope for more madness of a different sort. More later.
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Jun. 21st, 2012 @ 10:28 pm Culture
Went to New York last weekend, so no lofty cultural events. But I did go to an awesome party on a boat. There were togas - nuff said.

I stayed with a friend of mine in Williamsburg, and I was frankly surprised by the amount of plaid on display. I really thought that hipsters had either moved on with their fashion choices or that there would be fewer of them, but no. Williamsburg is still the capital, it seems (Portland can give it a run for its money, though). My friend tells me that these are faux-hipsters, that one needs a lot of money to live in W-burg these days. I kind of think that hipster-ism always had a whiff of privilege. I don't think hipsters are really about creating art, but if they were, I don't think having a lot of money would be an impediment to that. I don't believe that artists have to be suffering and starving to create. Everyone has something that can inspire them to express themselves. But whatever hipsters do do, and it seems to be an entire sub-culture of critics, I think they've always been somewhat elite, 1%-ish kind of people. Their clothes are a commentary on class, perhaps, but not a very deep or incisive one. And having the time and money to spend on consuming culture, even if it's just to spit it back out in a cock-eyed way, does put one into a small select group.

I think this is kind of the thing that grates on me about Burning Man. I really appreciate it for its large-scale art and expressiveness, and even a little for the supposed freedom that it offers. But again, something rubs me the wrong way about people who have the time and money to go party in the desert for a week. There's something there that's not only about freedom and the joy of expressing oneself, but also about privilege and priorities, something that doesn't quite agree with me. I can't really put my finger on it. People should certainly be free to spend their time and money how they wish. But my obsessive analysis makes me dwell on those niggling little doubts. Someone asked me if I was going to Burning Man and my initial reaction is always a vehement "No." And while I may say it's because I really don't want to camp in the desert, it's the other parts of Burning Man that bother me just as much. Oh well, I'll have to consume my art in more main-stream ways.
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Jun. 10th, 2012 @ 09:23 am She lives!
Big news out of the way - I'm done with grad school, I'm looking for a job, I have a summer internship at the NIH so I'm living in the DC area.

Pertaining to that last bit of news, I decided that since I'll have time on my hands, I should write again. It's been harder than I thought to sit down and do it, though. The inertia, it is strong. But since I don't want to be an object at rest, I am forcing myself.

My plan was (is?) to go to a whole bunch of museums, national landmarks, and cultural events - at least one per weekend - and then write about them.

Meanwhile, I am living not in DC proper but in an outskirt-y Maryland town, Rockville. In some strange ways, the neighborhood I live in has been reminding me of the motherland. The street I live on is very quiet, but as I walk toward the Metro and the road joins a larger one, like rivulets flowing into a river, people also start to trickle from side streets and into the Metro station. So why does this very solidly suburban neighborhood of a large US metropolitan remind me of a tiny town in Belarus?

The small houses sit in yards overgrown with grasses and vegetation that looks eerily familiar. Clover and daisies peek out from the mass of greenery. The light poles are wooden and pitted, splintery and dark. The houses look to be made of wood or bricks (not that they are, probably, but looks are important). The neighborhood smells of growing green things and fresh wood and birds sing loud and proud. There is an occasional squirrel running or sauntering across the road and the trees overhang the sidewalk and dapple the sunny ground with tendrils of shadow.

It's easy to notice the differences, too. The white picket fences, the well-paved road and cars in every driveway, the porches - none of these things existed in my hometown. But I prefer to walk my 10 minutes to the Metro reveling in the quiet and the perfect temperature and notice the little things that do make me feel strangely comforted.
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Aug. 26th, 2011 @ 11:24 am The Pacific Northwest
The first thing that struck me was the verticality. When one's formative years are spent in Miami and then in NYC, mountains are utterly unfamiliar and city streets that dip and dive are shocking (especially to those unused to parking on them). The second shock is the nature nearby - not that there is nature, but how close it is and what it is. The towering pines of the coast and the sheer cliffs, the grey windy beaches, and wildflowers - a far cry from the desolate reedy, but in their own way beautiful, Everglades. And the last shock is the sheer number of bikes. They are stacked in huge racks by places of business, parked casually on the sidewalk, or placed in lots by public transportation. I know I joke that bikes are the tools of the devil, but it's only because I never learned to ride one, and might be slightly envious of people looking breezy and toting fresh bread and vegetables in their handlebar baskets.

We started in Vancouver. The person who will now represent that city in my mind is the cheerful young woman in black and shocking pink who helped us wrangle the public transportation, kept an eye on us to make sure we got off the bus at the right stop, and even had a small discussion with another local about the animal on the Canadian quarter - elk or moose? We collectively determined that it was an elk. The tour guide on Grouse mountain is my second favorite because of his propensity to make very dry jokes and talk matter-of-factedly about any and everything, like whether polka dots are back in, the authenticity of Native carvings that happen in the 1990's, and salamander eggs floating in a lake, all in nearly the same breath. He also pointed out the fuzzy rock which turned out to be a grizzly lazing about.

I am not a leisure traveler - I try to run around as many things as possible. So in the whirlwind that was this trip, we saw a variety of fairly toursity destinations, and enjoyed them immensely, but few of them really stick out in my mind. What I remember is walking down a Vancouver street only to see part of it blocked off to car traffic and investigating. We found a beautiful woman sporting dredlocks and hula-hooping. She invited passersby to join in, so we did. Hula-hooping can either be impossible or effortless for me, with no between state. This time, after a couple of false starts, I was able to pull it off. Great fun from an artist collective called City Dreams (or something like that).

We took a train to Seattle next and here I have to confess a horrible thing. We smuggled some Canadian foodstuffs across the border and it was delicious! If the next plague starts along our roadtrip route, you'll know who to blame. But the joys of salmon candy! They make it all worthwhile. I've never had the like and I consider myself a smoked fish lover. These little juicy flaky nuggets of pink fish are barely covered in something slightly sweet (brown sugar perhaps)while retaining all the smokiness. Have it if you ever get a chance.

Upon stepping foot in Seattle, we were greeted by an aggressively driving long-haired cab driver. He asked us where we were from and was able to keep up the rest of the conversation with only an occasional "oh" and "um-hm" from us. The topics included the stupidity of our illustrious governor Rick Scott for giving up the federal transportation money (I agree), his band whose CDs he proceeded to give to us, and how legalizing marijuana would solve all the government's problems. A perfect Seattle introduction, I'd say.

The rest of our time in the city was spent enjoying amazing coffee, hearing colorful stories about the city's founders (I thought Terry Pratchett invented the Guild of Seamstresses, but apparently they were alive and well in the early days of Seattle), and enjoying the unexpected beautiful sunny weather. The locals continued to impress with their niceness. Then we rented a car and took the quick hop to Portland, when I fell in love with this city (heavily influenced by the opinion of a good friend).

Portlandia wasn't lying - the dream of the '90's is alive in Portland. There are young people on bikes, little coffee shops staffed by cute bleary-eyed young men, food carts full of any food you'd care to try, birds on things, local and sustainable restaurants, bike racks and bike sculptures, free concerts in the park (Russian music, even!), recycling and composting containers in stores and on street corners, and plaid on every other body. What can I say, I really liked Portland. They boast the world's smallest park (it's in the book of world records), a book store that requires a map to browse (Powell's), and more of those nice natives. The food was good, the water fountains were cute, and fluoridation was deemed a danger to local beer production - who wouldn't like a city like this?

The next day, we woke up at the butt crack of dawn and set off on the very long trek down to San Francisco. Here is where the real roadtripping took place. We drove down a scenic highway next to the Columbia River, then up to Mount Hood for pictures of lavender and snowy peaks, then down to an old volcano that collapsed long ago and formed a lake that isn't fed by a river. Crater Lake is gorgeous, with waters so blue. The old volcano top is peaking out over the water - and could become active again. The caldera is sloping sharply and beautiful rock outcroppings encircle the lake. There are live trees and bone white dead trees and a chilly refreshing wind. We ate at a Lodge overlooking the lake, all a bit too dizzy from the 8,000 feet elevation to really enjoy the food, then drove down windy mountain roads after dark. The deer own the road at that hour and they did not move from their spots, especially one male specimen with a huge rack on this head and eery shiny eyes reflecting our headlights.

The next day we drove into foggy Northern California through the redwoods. We stopped to watch a whale cavorting in a river and a herd of elk peacefully nomming in a field. We took pictures inside a tree. And then we drove another 7 hours or so, stopping on the way in a variety of tiny towns (one numbered 315 people). The one thing I wish I had time to do is to stop at every curiosity along the way - we missed out going to the High Desert museum and the Mysterious Rock (or was it Cave of Mystery?). But the drive through the different landscapes and climates of the NW was just what I wanted for my ongoing quest to experience every part of the US.

San Francisco was lovely, though cold, and we enjoying our wandering, meeting up with friends, and sea lion watching. We even got to go to the Outside Lands, a music festival. On the way there, our cab driver told us his story of his dream to visit all 50 states. He drove a truck for a number of years and got to visit 18 of the states, but the company he worked for didn't really allow the drivers the freedom to stop and see. Finally, his wife gave him "the final notice" and he decided to work as a cab driver. I loved the way he spoke about his dream.

And then it was back to the oppressive weather of Miami, tired but happy.
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Jul. 21st, 2011 @ 12:07 am The other ones
When people talk about birth control, they generally mean the pill. The birth control pill was a revolutionary invention for its time and really brought about the idea of having some control over one's reproduction (if, when and with whom). But there are other forms of birth control that can be just as important.

I can't use hormonal contraception (I'm a mutant, but not the cool super-powers kind). Some people choose to use other forms of birth control like condoms, IUDs, or diaphragms for a variety of reasons. Abortions, too, are a form of birth control - a way to end an unintended pregnancy. And let's admit it - no one should be forced to have children against their will. It's important to remember that these things are also needed and that if we posit that deciding if and when to have children is a human right, then we need to remember all the ways in which to not become pregnant.

You might say that getting condoms is easy. But for some it can be difficult or impossible to get condoms. Teenagers and the elderly, the incarcerated and the institutionalized, and the poor all have some barrier to access, whether it be time, money, knowledge, or the embarrassment factor. And when it comes to the other forms of non-hormonal birth control, well, they are even less affordable and accessible. Abortions are under attack in practically every state, doctors often object to IUD use by women who haven't had a child or are not in a monogamous partnership, and who even hears about diaphragms anymore?

When we fight for reproductive freedom, we must remember that having a multitude of options is an undeniable good. The more options the better! Right now, men have the short end of the stick, with only one option for birth control. That is another fight for reproductive choices that needs to be fought. And making all the options affordable for anyone who wants them should be a given. Let's work on that.
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Jul. 12th, 2011 @ 10:01 am Politics right now is driving me nuts
Listening to or reading the news is an exercise in rage containment. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are making me see red. Let me see if I can re-enact this weekend for you.

Republicans - We want big cuts to social programs.
Obama - OK! Have it on a pretty platter! (thereby making the most vulnerable populations even less protected)
Democrats - We don't like this. At least put in some small tax revenue.
Republicans - Psyche! We never wanted a deal in the first place, you suckers!

Really gives you some faith in our political leaders, doesn't it?

OK, people are talking about job creation. But who is really creating jobs? Do we really think that licking more corporate ass will make big companies create jobs? Because right now, many major companies are sitting on cash reserves and still not hiring new workers. Why should they, when they can squeeze every drop of sweat out of their current employees who are scared to death of losing their jobs?

You want job creation? How about infrastructure? I am sure every state has multiple multi-year projects that can and will stimulate the economy. Start a few of those going and there you go, thousands of people are off unemployment and are paying taxes and contributing to the economy. Instead, we have douchebags like our own illustrious governor who give federal money that was already allocated back, thus giving the unemployed in Florida a big middle finger. And he is the hero?

How about relaxing some regulations on county or state levels so real entrepreneurs can get going? Another local example are food trucks in Miami. There are dozens of these things. And yet, I keep reading about the problems they have with trying to park those trucks places because of city ordinances. Hell, if people are worried about food safety, why not hire a few more food inspectors. More jobs created, more economy stimulated! Or how about politicians stop trying to shut down non-profits like Planned Parenthood, that not only provide a public good, but also employ the workers of this country. And I am sure there are other things like this that can be found.

Instead, we are going to spend the next month with the two major parties pointing fingers at each other. I have no doubt that seniors and the poor will get the shit end of this stick and that corporations will be pandered to. That's America, right?
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Jun. 15th, 2011 @ 04:57 pm On objectivity in science
I don’t think people can be objective. Objectivity is akin to not having an opinion on anything relating to the topic at hand. And you know what they say about people and opinions.

I am a scientist. To practice science, one has to believe that there is a truth to seek and describe and to eventually affect. This is a little easier to do if one practices a physical science, like chemistry or biology (some people call these hard sciences, and people in my discipline call these basic sciences). Just that multitude of names illustrates my point elegantly – the same thing is called a variety of names and each one implies something (enough somethings for their own post) about the world that the speaker believes. And yet even these sciences are influenced by things outside the pure physical world of atoms, molecules, and forces.

The way a question is phrased is dependent on the past experience of the questioner and whoever is paying for the question to be answered. The next inquiry is dependent not only on the previous experiment’s results, but the pressure from an academic advisor or committee, or the profits of a company. And who will know about the findings? If the experiment failed, very few people will find out about it. If it succeeded, the audience will once again be constrained or expanded by forces not related to the quality or importance of the results. We live in a world of subjective science.

When one practices a science like epidemiology, one that involves people and their perceptions in any way, this uncertainty is multiplied. A cigar is a cigar is a cylindrical tobacco-filled object that, when lit up and sucked, can provide a pleasant experience to the user or a nuisance to those nearby. You see how easy it is to convert a physical object to a subjective reality as experienced by me? Your reality may be quite different. Now imagine studying and trying to explain human behavior.

That’s why it’s important to be cautious when reading about science. It’s why disclosures of potential conflicts of interest are vital. It’s why stories like this one, about physicians who are paid by pharmaceutical companies to speak to and educate other doctors on the treatments they use, should be trumpeted from every corner. Being an educated consumer isn’t just for buying cars anymore.

When you are trained for long periods of time, whether you are a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, you start to think that all this knowledge and all this thinking must make you an objective person. You believe that you are able to separate your experiences out in the world from your work and that you are able to look at all sides (but remember that people like to say “both sides of the story” when in truth there may be a thousand sides, or none). Herein lays danger. Note this about yourself. It’s not bad or wrong to think that you are objective, but it can be dangerous. I freely admit that I will believe things more readily if they already conform to the way I view the world. But you won’t get a lot of scientists to admit it. They should. And so should you.

Cross-posted at Free Association.
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May. 31st, 2011 @ 08:00 pm How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy the ocean and the sun
The ocean scares me. Even when I go to the beach, I don't like to swim out to a place where I can't feel the bottom. I think it has something to do with the vastness of it - if I can't see the other side, I feel like I'm going to be swept away. I'm not such a strong swimmer that this irrational fear can be overcome easily or with "logic".

So I decide that I should go snorkeling in Key West. To be honest, I didn't exactly know what snorkeling entailed, though I did know a face mask was involved somehow (if you know me at all, you should know that this is always a positive). I didn't think I was being particularly brave, but boy was I wrong.

Snorkeling means taking a boat or catamaran out about 7 miles (into the ocean!!) and then putting on a tiny little vest and some flippers and floating/swimming face down next to coral reefs. We had to blow into the vest to inflate it. Then we had to figure out the mask and breathing tube contraption while flapping about an ocean so deep, you can't see the bottom, let alone stand on it. Taking that last step off the ladder was terrifying. I grasped the line which was connecting the boat to the reef so hard that my muscles protested eventually.

I finally disengaged my fingers from the rope and tried to put the tube into my mouth without swallowing too much seawater. The extent of my success would become evident later. I wrestled it in and clamped my jaw so hard, it would be sore the next morning, while flapping my footie fins with a force borne from terror. Then I attempted to remember to breathe through my mouth while finally getting my heart to slow down. The vest was surprisingly buoyant or I was full of hot air and I was able to relax and look down. But alas, there was nothing there! So I recalled our "snorkeling school" instructions and moved my fins in a scissor motion.

Finally, the reef swam up in my vision. At first, it was a murky brown shape. Then, I could see more colorful formations. And then the fish of all colors, sizes, and shapes. They swam near the reef, seemingly calm and chillin'. They nibbled on seaweed florets and each other. They darted in and out of palm-like fronds and sea floor forests. And the colors! The bright electric blues, the turquoise turning into coral, the bright canary yellows - it was the rich tapestry of nature, underwater and so close we could touch them.

After half an hour we went back on the boat and went to the second location. As I was floating along there, I saw one of the crew members dive down and swim near the reef in a lazy corkscrew motion, her tropical swimsuit fitting flawlessly into the vision before me. She was like a mermaid and at one with the reef. When I took my eyes off her, I came face to face with a yellow-tail snapper who was entirely unafraid and seemed to be eyeing me back as if to ask what I was doing there. The school of the small brightly colored fish were all around me, close to the surface. Jellies were interspersed throughout, their gossamer globes lazily flapping along. I couldn't help but laugh and enjoy the camaraderie of the creatures.

Alas, the bobbing about in the sea made me even more sick than I already was. I think this is a good time to mention that I get motion-sick at the drop of a hat. I took a dramamine before we embarked on this adventure, but it was just not strong enough. And it turned out that I wasn't quite as good at using my breathing tube as I thought, though the second submersion went much better than the first. Throwing up took care of that little problem and seemed to be enjoyed by my companion fish (it's OK to be grossed out by this part of the story). I was able to ride back to Key West atop the catamaran and enjoy the salty spray in my face and the hot sun on my skin. I smelled of sunblock lotion and ocean when we got back to our cottage and life was pretty good.
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May. 16th, 2011 @ 06:17 pm Game of Thrones
Here thar be spoilers.Collapse )
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Mar. 16th, 2011 @ 11:53 am Nuclear
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. I remember thinking about this event 5 years ago and wanting to write about it, but it seems even more relevant now, as the world holds its breath waiting for news from Japan. We have to mark the differences in how much is known today and how much was known 25 years ago and the reaction of the governments and the world.

I was not yet 6 years old when the disaster happened. What I remember of it consists of hushed conversations by the adults and then me being sent away for almost every summer as far as possible. I stayed with my aunt in Lithuania, or with my grandparents who lived in Belarus, but away from the radioactive zones, or I went to live in Yugoslavia with a foster family. I went to camp in Irkutsk in Siberia or Aszerbaijan. Wherever the parents or grandparents could swing, there I went. And then, about 5 years later, we moved to the glorious USA and we could forget this particular nightmare. I'm not sure if I ever understood the impact that the disaster had on my motherland until I started reading about it 20 years after it happened.

Some of you have asked me where in Belarus I lived. Here is it, in all it's glory. This map shows levels of radiation 10 years after the disaster. You can clearly see where the radiation went with the rains and winds. I lived in Bychov (Bykhiv on this map), in a light pink area. I remember the iodine pills, but not much more than that. I know my parents were worried, but I also know that none of us knew about the disaster until it was probably too late. Belarus is still dealing with the fallout (pardon the pun) in healthcare needs and further containment efforts. There are still areas where people should not be fishing, or planting, or maybe even living. I bet they do all those things anyway, because Belarus is quite a poor country. Many people, even those living in cities, may have to survive by using what soil they have and supplementing their diets with what things they can fish or hunt.

If you don't know the story, here is the human angle. In April of 1986, due to human error and a faulty design, a routine safety operation went wrong and a meltdown started. There were explosions and fires and firefighters were sent to the scene. The Soviet government admitted that the accident happened only after Swedish nuclear plant workers noticed that there was radioactive material on their clothes, but no problems with their own reactor. The government did not see fit to inform its own people of the severity of this problem for many days (if it ever really said how bad it was). The nearby vicinity of the power plant was evacuated after the international community got wind of the disaster, but workers were sent in to combat the fires without adequate equipment or protective gear. In the months that followed, a lead sarcophagus was constructed around the plant, after the radioactive debris was collected inside it. There is a timeline here. In case you want some nightmares, this sarcophagus is now failing (since it was never meant as a permanent solution). In theory, construction is happening on support and better structures even now.

I don't know what is happening with Japan's plants right now. I know people are fighting for a chance at a lesser disaster and I salute them. I hope their efforts succeed. They are brave people to stay in the face of such danger. My thoughts are with them and the rest of the Japanese people, battling against a natural disaster and its consequences, which will be felt for many years to come.
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Jan. 3rd, 2011 @ 01:56 pm 2010 by the numbers sumarized
I wanted to tally it all up, but it became kind of ridiculous, so in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya "no, it is too much, I'll sum up."

I left town ten times - twice to go to academic conferences, once for a wedding, once to pick up my sis from her pre-college program, three times just for fun - NYC twice and Prague and Vienna, and three times inside the state but a substantial distance away. A great variety of peeps came to visit me and/or the family. I also housesat a bit with a range of results (sorry fishie!).

I went to eight concerts and enjoyed them in very different ways. Some of the concerts were flashbacks, like The Wall with Roger Waters and Lords of Acid, and some were new, like Lady Gaga and Florence & the Machine. Some were new to me, like Imogen Heap, but all were very much worth the time, money and sometimes travel.

I became a PhD candidate.

I have been dating someone for almost a year.

Pretty momentous year, I'd say. Way better than 2007 at the very least, and probably the best, most busy and most fun year in recent memory. Bring it on, 2011!
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Nov. 5th, 2010 @ 09:14 pm Gray and green
The sky is the color of lead, but it's not oppressive, it is infinite. If you look at it long enough, you may fly away and never return. The air bites at your skin and your lungs. It tastes sweet, delicious. Bare tree branches are swaying and blocking out the last of the feeble sunlight. And from behind the branches, a flock of birds bursts out. The crows caw and it echoes across the quiet town. Their cries are enough to make your heart burst.

This is the scene that came to mind outside of Prague. Even though we were being driven along a lush, green mountainside, even if the road signs reminded me of England and not Belarus, those crow calls brought to mind another time. The rain drops were just the same and the air tasted as sweet.

The Czech Republic was full of nostalgia. Prague is like no city I've ever been to and yet there are still sights and sounds that immediately bring a visceral deja vu feeling. Whether it's the crooked, badly labeled streets, or muddy dirt roads in Terezin, or the strains of the accordion in some half-remembered dream song, there are similarities that came on me unexpectedly. There was even a cartoon character whose likeness was sold in toy shops that I seemed to faintly remember.

But back to Prague. This is a city of splendor, if slightly faded. The buildings are painted in beautiful colors and adorned with statues, friezes, ornate window trimmings, gilding, any architectural bit you want to see, if you just glance around, you'll find. There are some striking contrasts with what I imagine are old Soviet era building, squatting gray and utilitarian along the streets that sing with life. The people have the same faces as my people, my relatives, my old school friends. The language sounds so different but sound out the letters and it's crystal clear. The city has its quirks (it's impossible to find an open eatery before 9 a.m.) but it's full of charm and beauty.

Europe is a study of contradictions. It is old, ponderous, and full of history, and cutting edge new. It's small and cramped, and at the same time full of open spaces. In the US, I get the sense that everyone strives for something bigger. I don't feel as much pushing and pulling in Europe. It is quieter and yet grandiose and full of importance. A feeling like no other.
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Oct. 27th, 2010 @ 11:06 am Which is it?
A few times now I have encountered songs in English that have the same melody as popular Russian songs. And every time I wonder, which is the original?

You see, back in the mother country, and that would be the Soviet Union of course, much was made of music composers and word writers. They were able to become The People's Composers and The People's Writers, get awards and ribbons, get called on stage, etc. The singers, at least to my young mind, seemed a little bit more disposable. The celebrity, if there was such a thing in Communism, went to these true laborers, the writers and composers.

So now when I get caught off guard when hearing these utterly familiar melodies with a jarringly different language being sung, I have to wonder. Who really wrote these songs?

It can really go either way, don't you think? I can see how creative types would risk going beyond the Iron Curtain to take something they found moving and bring it back to The People. And I can also see how easy it would be to take something from a nation that wouldn't pursue you for copyright infringement for various reasons, some of them being the infallibility of The Party and the other concerns that surely would outweigh any intellectual theft.

I'd try to research this myself, but alas, my 11-year-old mind did not keep the names of songs in Russian. Now I know only the melodies.

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Oct. 4th, 2010 @ 02:43 pm Revelations from Europe
Fresh seasonal cooking is not an exception in most places in the world. The fact that the US somehow has to revive this idea and actually talk about it, instead of doing it naturally, may be a big clue about the state of our collective health and welfare. When we were in Prague and Vienna, mushrooms and squashes were central on the menus. I wish I liked mushrooms more. I know some of you would slap me for not ordering the chantarelle tasting menu. I did learn about the joys of pumpkin seed oil, at least. Just a drop on a salad and it transforms a crisp, bright crunch into warm, nutty, toasty joy in your mouth, while maintaining the beauty of a simple salad.

I realized this morning, while musing about the trip, that it must be kind of strange to only speak one language, even one spoken as widely as English. You must feel slightly unmoored and adrift in a sea with too many currents. Even though I don't speak Czech or German, I was able to overhear and understand the great Russian invasion in Prague and Vienna. I also found that I was immediately able to read Czech, while R had a difficult time with the accented and umlauted Latin script (though he had no such issues with at least pronouncing German, while I was struggling with trying to get some of those words past my lips).

There is always something familiar about Europe. Vienna and Prague are wildly different from anything I experienced growing up in so many ways and yet... there is always something that tugs the nostalgia strings.

More later.
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Aug. 20th, 2010 @ 03:51 pm The madness of 2010
If 2007 was the "worst year ever" (tm), 2010 is the most traveled year, even counting last year's road trip.

So far, I have left home 7 times, with 2 (possibly 3) more already planned and coming alarmingly close. 3 of those times were in-state but a considerable distance away. I drove for the entirety of 2 of those trips and a bit of the third. The other 4 have been in the Northeast (small town Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore), all flirting with NYC but never quite getting an extended enough stay to really get a feel for my city again. I haven't experienced that dreamy state of "home" in almost a year and I miss it. I will remedy this situation in less than a month. And between that and now, I am going to Prague and Vienna.

I told my mom that the NYC trip will be the last one and that I won't spend any more money on travel this year and she said "telling you not to travel is like telling a pig not to wallow in mud."

I am already planning my next road trip. I want to visit friends in other countries. There are weddings, babies, all coming up fast. And professionally, I'd love to go to some conferences, especially if they're in awesome cities, as they can be. I need a better income and more time and space, but the spirit is already out there, flitting from place to place, looking at beauty and ugliness, meeting people, and speaking other languages.

Hello blog-land.
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Jan. 2nd, 2010 @ 06:15 pm Hilarity
"You are a superficial slut doomed to be single forever.

I hope you enjoy cats, because they will be your only friend.

You will realize just how worthless you are to men when your looks start to fade.

You are close to 35 years-old. Get ready for wrinkles, and sagging skin."

This is a message I got from OOOpeth on OKCupid who barely filled out their profile and who wrote me twice before. I was in NYC enjoying myself so did not reply. Would I have replied under normal circumstances? Not likely, since I know nothing but a list of cheesy books and standard '90's movies.

How quickly admiration turns to bitterness and the need to lash out, eh? And check out the cliches? This is how a douche like that (who is in law school by the way) chooses to try and hurt a woman who doesn't have the time for him. It's all about looks, cats, and age. And yet somehow, though I am doomed to be single forever, which is the worst fate a man can wish on a woman, I am also a slut. The social commentary just writes itself. And people say there's no need for feminism.
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Dec. 31st, 2009 @ 03:07 pm Life and death
The new year is a renewal. The end is winter, death, decay. But there is always a balance.

My second family lost a grandfather. He was a Southern gentleman with a Yankee sensibility. My great-uncle seems to be giving up on life and hell, living in pain can drive anyone to it. The gray New York skies don't help a depression, and neither does confinement to a lonely Brighton Beach apartment overlooking the gray ocean. He doesn't complain. I am not to tell anyone what he told me, though it brought immediate tears to my eyes. Ever since his wife died he hasn't been the same. He has great stories, a paralyzed arm, and the best smile. I hope he finds his center, gets better, gets up.

My family's hair dresser crashed in a small plane a few days ago. He has cut my hair for more than ten years. It's impossible to grasp how people who you saw two weeks ago can no longer exist today. The tragedy of death really shows itself when it's someone who is young, when it's unexpected, when you feel the brush of doom close to you and yours. Overtone here of my old superintendent who took a great picture of my now deceased kitty, who survived 9/11 because he left work early, who would shyly ask me to go for a ride on his motorcycle and who was later killed by that same motorcycle before he was 30.

The balance is there, though. New life for old friends. A baby born to one of the old Shapiro 5 gang on Christmas morning, another baby on the way, and one already born a few months ago. College friends who really stay with you are there in ways it's hard to quantify, but you always want to reach out to them. Friends tip the scale toward the positive, the happy, the everything.
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Jul. 23rd, 2009 @ 10:09 am An example of health insurance calculations
I've come to think that most people, especially those who haven't come face to face with the beast, don't really know or haven't thought about the money issues that go into health insurance and health care. I did a little calculation using my own interesting example.

I worked for PPNYC for about a year and a half, say 20 months. During that time, I paid for health insurance, and so did my employer. After my little incident, I got about 6 months of medical leave/disability and the health insurance continued. Judging from my Cobra amount (which I thankfully didn't have to pay since I was getting health insurance again in a couple of months) we, my employer and I, paid about $550 per month for the privilege. So, in total, we paid about $14,300, or hell, simplify and say $14K.

I probably had a couple of visits with my primary doc and probably one gynecologist visit during this time. Then, my head exploded and I landed in the hospital for ten days. I received all the bills for my time there, all of them covered, thank Jebus. In total, the hospital, labs and individual doctors billed me about $110K to $120K and they were paid by my insurance somewhere to the tune of $10K or $11K. Just about 10% of the total bill, remember. So say all my other visits to doctors before the incident came to a payment of about $1 thousand. That means that, conservatively speaking, the insurance still made a profit on me of 2 thousand dollars. And that is an employee who only paid into the system for a little over two years and who also needed catastrophic care with ICU's, a bajillion labs, various highly paid specialists, etc.

There are two things of note here. One is the fact that they made a profit, even with what I described above. That shows us how well the insurance companies make their calculations. Please know that I had a very good insurance policy. The HR of the company negotiated for months with Aetna to get us good terms, good coverage, and a modest price, and they paid the large part of the policy themselves. I probably paid around a fifth or a quarter of the cost. Many people, like my whole family and now me as well, have it much worse, what with the out of pocket costs that they have to cover before the policy kicks in and the percentage covered and so on.

Thing two is the discrepancy in the actual "cost" of health care. The health insurance company paid about 10% of what was billed. That's because they have the power in this situation. They control the flow of money to the hospitals, doctors, and labs. Correspondingly, the health care providers know this and so bill outrageous prices in order to get something reasonable back. Someone without insurance or who is under-insured will get billed the same astronomical amount and they will be stuck with that bill. And who profits from that situation? The hospitals, doctors and labs who will never get paid this amount because most people just buckled under with health care costs like that? The individual, who will likely declare bankruptcy? It's really a lose-lose in that case. But the insurance companies will always win.

Just a thought.
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Jul. 1st, 2009 @ 01:37 pm Tips from a first-time road-tripper.
Here are a few things I learned and am passing on to my fellow car travelers.

The road gets boring. I mean boooooring, especially highway driving, which tends to be inevitable. I suggest trying to find back roads or state highways that allow you to go at a decent clip and still see the sights. We saw a lot of beauty in Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, very cute little towns, some not-so-cute little towns, people sitting on their stoops, forests, wildlife, even two vultures snacking on a dead deer. Scenic! Also, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about driving in Florida. The land is so flat and the roads so straight, no coffee in the world will keep you awake behind the wheel. At least in Alabama there were hills. On the other hand, Florida drivers will probably keep you awake enough. It took us crossing the state line and maybe an hour of driving before we were being cut off, tailgated, and on one memorable occasion almost driven off the road by a truck.

The road gets boring, part two. It’s nice to have three drivers. That way, if you need one person to help keep the driver awake, at least the third driver can nap. And on the subject of keeping each other awake, I bring you a road game imported from the motherland – Cities. One person says a city name, and the next person has to come up with a city that starts with the last letter of the previous city. Like so: Miami – Istanbul – London – Nuremberg – Gomel, etc. If you are a first time player, or want to make it a bit easier, you can do Cities, States, and Countries. The game is both amusing and educational! That’s how we Russians do it. Although, we also pose gummy bears in provocative tableaus and take pictures, but who wouldn’t?

The GPS doesn’t know everything. First, you have the old Garbage In Garbage Out problem. If the address you are inputting is weird, the GPS will lead you down the wrong path, and I’m talking middle-of-nowhere-swamp-country-during-a-thunderstorm wrong path. Second, if you use the “find things nearby” option, be careful. While trying to look for a beach in the panhandle of Florida, we drove directly into a military base. Good times! Third, a sharp observer (thanks Boo!) can find awesome places to stop for food through these things called “eyes” – perhaps you’ve heard of them? No need to plan everything! (It’s not like I had a list of restaurants all ready for each city or anything.)

It’s easy to have fun! You just have to be along like-minded and good-natured people and possess a curiosity. Try it!
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Jun. 25th, 2009 @ 11:14 am Louisiana the Beautiful
The actually state motto is, of course, Alabama the Beautiful, which I didn’t know until we hit the “Welcome to…” sign. Alabama has its share of beauty, no doubt. The landscape is amazing, it’s much more hilly than I expected, and the lush greenery covers everything. There are also eye-sores of industry all throughout, all nestled within these gorgeous hills. Louisiana stands out among the Southern states, and not for its landscape. The Mississippi is brown in some places and dry in others. The swamps have their wild beauty, and we’re told that even now there are places in the bayou where you could get lost. But it’s the history that sets this state apart. The names of cities are lyrical – Lafayette, Baton Rouge. The streets are “rue” such and such and “avenue du” something. French is everywhere. Where the rest of the South nurses the pain of the Civil War, the main trauma to Louisiana seems to be the Louisiana Purchase and the falling from power of the French and Creole governors and plantation owners. The state stands alone. The food, the culture, the history – the people are proud of all these things being different. I loved it there for just that reason.

We stayed a night in Lafayette and then went in search of history. First stop was Acadian Village, an amazing little place. The houses reminded me of the village where my grandfather lived. The houses were not quite the same, since they didn’t require a huge brick stove to heat the whole place up, but there were fireplaces a plenty. The roofs were peaked as prescribed by tradition, not for any snowy reasons. There was a multitude of old pharmaceutical bottles, amazing iron utensils, art, and sadly for us, the twitching corpses of huge Louisiana bugs (apparently it was extermination day). We saw the blacksmith’s and the doctor’s office. Amazingly, I could recognize most of the equipment there as belonging in the hospitals where I’ve had to stay in the Soviet Union, and that should tell you all you need to know about the former state of medicine there.

Next stop was Avery Island, where the big attraction is the Tobasco factory. We had an adventure trying to find the place. Since we started out off the main roads, my GPS decided to be funny and directed us along the most country road way possible – dirt roads, dead ends, sugar cane fields, and all. When we finally found it, I almost broke the car of the invisible and humongous speed bumps along the way. They weren’t kidding about the 5 mph sign. The factory is, of course, just a huge advertisement for the product, but it was mildly amusing and we tasted many delicious Tobasco-filled foods, like ice cream, chili, soy sauce, jelly (we got 2 jars of the last one).

Finally, we headed off to the crown jewel of the whole trip, New Orleans. It was a bit surreal driving in under the shadow of the Superdome and seeing brochures for “Katrina tours.” I can’t sweep that under the rug, it was something I was thinking about the entire time we were there. But their tourism industry seems to be up and running again and the people we spoke to repeatedly asked us to tell our friends that they were open for business. So there you go, world – New Orleans wants its tourists back! Go there and bring your money!

I was struck by Bourbon Street this time around. The spilled beer and the neon signs spoke to me of a desperate kind of “fun.” The atmosphere was tawdry and disheveled, the bars and sex shows full of frat boys and the women who party with them. The open containers on the street didn’t seem to me as cool as they did the first time I was there. Basically, it’s what I expect Las Vegas to feel like (though probably much more glitzy). The music at least was just as good as I remembered and so was the food. We took a couple of very cheesy tours around town, which allowed me to ponder the difference between good and bad storytellers. We ate beignets at Café du Monde to our hearts’ content. We sweated through our French Quarter crawl and talked to a few very nice book sellers in the hidden corners of the Quarter. We saw punky artist kids with dogs meet up and talk very passionately together. Street performers abounded and made me imagine my own fire-eating ex among them. We ate amazing food, which I will write about later, and we tried traditional Southern drinks – the mint julep got better after the first few sips. It was a great (and a slightly sad) time. I don’t really know if I’ll be back, though. It may be that my time for mindless beer-soaked revelry is past. The only thing to lure me back might be that spirit of old Louisiana and the Creole and Cajun foods (and Mardi Gras).
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Jun. 19th, 2009 @ 11:04 am The Southern experience
The most "Southern" and probably the awesomest experience happened in Alabama. We stopped off in Birmingham in kind of a posh hotel in the area near the university. We rolled in at about 11:30 and went to bed almost as soon as we got situated. One minor exception was our excursion outside to try the cigars L. purchased in St. Augustine. Turns out the interesting people come out on Tuesday night in Birmingham. One dude, who professed to be named "Barbershop" snuck up on us and made L. startle, which in turn freaked him out. He then proceeded to talk to us for 10 minutes about how we scared him. When we were walking away he said "Damn, them is some fine baby-birthin' hips." Nice.

The next morning we woke up and tried to see what there was to see in Birmingham. The Vulcan statue was pretty cool and the Sloss Furnace was amazing (and free!) and I took a billion pictures of that dusty, eerie, rusty place. Then we decided that since we had some time, we might as well go a bit out of our way before heading to Dreamland barbecue (amazing ribs and only amazing ribs), so we headed to the DeSoto Cavern.

I don't exactly know how to describe what we found a few miles from a tiny town. If any of the attractions that we saw on this trip were roadside attractions, this one was it. It was almost like a carnival, or a state fair, but almost completely deserted. There were little mazes, and a sand-filled pit where you could "dig for gems", and a little waterfall where you could "prospect" for gold, and basically a whole crapload of rickety wooden buildings which contained these "attractions" (for which you had to pay extra). I almost wish we had, but we instead opted out to just go for the cave tour.

The cave itself is a geological marvel. It's something like 350 feet below ground and the temperature is a balmy 65 degrees. There are stalactites and stalagmites (some meeting each other), there are pillars, and curtain formations, and gorgeous colors, and a waterfall, and a 40 foot drop off into blackness. It was basically a wonderful thing to see for anyone who likes caves. Our tour guide was a poster girl for the South - she was blonde and rosy-cheeked and had a thick accent, her speech peppered with y'all what felt like almost every other word. She told us about Confederate soldiers, and the well in which they kept goldfish and which had to be restocked every two weeks because the fish went blind from being in full dark, and how the cave was used as a bar during Prohibition (complete with moonshine still on exhibit). But the best part came after all that.

We sat down on rows of benches facing some kind of rock formation. We experienced total darkness for some seconds. And then the light show started. The formation turned out to house a fountain and colored lights. Music started and with it, the fountain was shooting off, following the rhythm. The colored lights flashed. And a voice which more properly should have belonged to a stock broker was reciting the first words of Genesis. As the voice came to certain words, the lights followed to emphasize - light and dark are obvious ones, and so is night and day, and God. I'm sure you can imagine the gravity of this performance. Genesis, a cheesy fountain, and colored lights.

Then came the line "and on the sixth day, God created man" and here, the fountain paused its spurting and what we beheld was a lit up cross behind it (we later learned the name of the light show was "The God and Country Light Show"). The voice continued its recitation and finished up the chapter, all the while the cross flickered and the water danced and the colored lights shone. The three of us looked at each other in amazement and got our cameras out, but we said nothing, since we were "outnumbered and in enemy territory." In short, it was amazing. I highly recommend people see this if they are ever near Birmingham, though your light show may be different. I hope they all include the cross, heh.
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Jun. 17th, 2009 @ 11:04 am We drove about 2500 miles
It's always amused me that to go to "the South," we had to drive North.

It will probably take a while for me to put together all my impressions. For now, I'll say that I, and I hope my fellow road-trippers, had a great time. I am still exhausted from all the nutty driving, the bulk of which was done past the midway point.

There will be pictures, though mostly I tended to take photos of the flora and the fauna (not that there's anything wrong with that). Alas, we failed to capture any of the "Welcome to ..." signs. Damn you, highway, for thwarting us! 3 other signs that we really wanted to take pictures of, but couldn't, 2 of which are "animal xing," but what animals! The first was turtle xing, but we were lost in the swamps of Georgia and it was raining balls. The second was bear xing!, but we were in the back woods of Louisiana and very tired. And finally, the sign that said "Correctional facility, do not pick up hitchhikers" was probably the best of them all.

The constant refrain of this trip was "So, where y'all from?" or one interesting time "Y'all are not from around here, are you?" There were fewer Confederate flags than I expected, more variety in accents than I realized would be possible, and a ridiculous mountain of fried food, which I now have to try to get rid of from my bum.

More updates later!
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May. 28th, 2009 @ 10:28 am Roadtrippin'
The semester is over and I have been eagerly awaiting my current favorite project, the road trip. We have planned a ten day trip around the deep South. "Why?" you might ask, as I've been asked already. "It's the South!" you might say, "what is there to see?"

I have a deep fascination with the U.S. I feel that I am an American now, and I have a serious love for this country. Some of it is romantic notions, I know. I've gotten this love from books, from national heroes, from photos. And I want to see it for myself. I want to travel the length and width of this country and see everything it has to offer. It's an ambitious project, so I'm starting small. We will hit St. Augustine, Savannah, Charleston, Atlanta, Birmingham, Tampa, and the crown jewel, New Orleans. Not many people are coming, but I love these people and I hope that stars line up for some of the others who couldn't make it this time for a future trip. And there will be future trips. Count on it.

Now like I said, I have a very romantic view of road trips and the country. It's part Thelma and Louise (without the crime spree) and part American Gods, part Gone with the Wind and part Mardi Gras. I know that it won't be so glamorous, but I can't quite contain my great excitement. And hell, why should I? The more excited I am, the better it will be. But we won't be traveling down dusty dirt roads and we won't be partying till the break of dawn (well, maybe a bit). We will swim with traffic on the wide lanes of modern highways. We will be on the lookout for road-side attractions. We will search out local restaurant gems. We will stop where we want to for picture taking. I can't wait.

I will be posting pics on Facebook, and when we get back, I'll have some musings for this place. If we're not friends on Facebook yet and you want to remedy that, clickie here!
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Apr. 17th, 2009 @ 12:20 pm My favorite subject
I love to eat. When I lived in New York, I told myself that I would like to cook, if only... If only the kitchen was bigger, if only I had someone to cook for, if only I had the right pot pan knife spatula. Now that I don't live alone and have the proper utensils and space, turns out I was right. I love to cook. I'm not so bad at it. At this point, I'm even confident enough to improvise a bit, though I love my cooking magazines and books (I read them for fun). And in order to be able to improvise, one has to have ingredients on hand. These are some of the things I have.

In the fridge: soy sauce, mustard, butter, eggs, variety of veggies, ginger, frozen cuts of fish and meat and shrimp, bag o' frozen peas and edamame, parmesan, feta and cheddar, some kind of horseradish-based sauce, jam, vegenaise (quite yummy, actually).

In the pantry: canned beans, canned peas, sardine-like-but-milder fish called sprats (great on sandwiches), chicken stock, olive oil, canola oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, dried mushrooms, split pea soup, baking soda, baking powder, a ridiculous crapload of spices, breadcrumbs.

On the shelves: pasta in a variety of shapes, couscous, orzo, arborio rice, long grain rice, tiny one-cup bottles of white wine, honey, maple syrup, sugar (brown and white).

On the counter: onions(red, white, yellow), garlic, tomatoes.

What do you have in your kitchen?
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Jan. 24th, 2009 @ 11:07 am (no subject)
Alright people, in the spirit of doing things, I want to plan a road trip this summer. This leg will just be in the South. I'm thinking a week or two, we can either rent, or use my car, pile in, bring music, cameras, bug spray and a list of places we want to see. Who wants to come? There's either space for 3, or a possibility of two cars.
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Jan. 21st, 2009 @ 07:26 pm The Itch
The professor asked about people's favorite and least favorite things about Miami during the greeting ritual today. I'm glad to say that I finally have both of those things. But this post is not another litany of things I dislike about Miami. I've found things to enjoy here. I like singing loudly and badly in my car. I like NPR on the radio. It tickles me that there is such a thing as my car. Other things, too. This post isn't about the good stuff either.

I feel itchy here. Not quite comfortable in my own skin. Like I can't take a full breath. I know why, of course. Miami is not my home. My relocation was essentially forced. I've made the most of it, I've taken ownership of my decision to go to school, to live with my parents, and yet... and yet. It's still a struggle. I only know a few people here very well and so they bear the brunt of my bad behavior. Meanwhile, I have to be wound tight so that I can interact like a normal human every day.

I am realizing other things, though. There is much I can do to improve my situation. I need to start living again. Start doing and not dreaming. The things holding me back are essentially barriers created by my own mind, embarrassment chief among them. Fear and the desire to hide like a small animal in a cave. I have to remind myself that I am an adult and that embarrassment is the smallest injury. This is to remind myself to shut the fuck up and start enjoying things. Start planning the road trip, writing again, doing something physical. I've started this in some small way already. Do more. Live, self, and all will be well.
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Oct. 8th, 2008 @ 09:40 am I have seen what the inside of the human body looks like
I feel like a detective. The more I learn about the body's processes and what can go wrong, the more I try to picture what exactly went wrong with me. A small genetic link was broken, that's what the mutation means. But what precipitated the event? Was it damage done by smoking to the vein walls that began it all? Or was it just a fluke, a chance collision of proteins and blood cells? I wonder what my headaches meant then, and what they mean now. I look at a thrombus inside the pulmonary artery of the corpse in front of me and I wonder if that's what my brain looked like, a year ago. She died, bit I didn't. Is there meaning in that?

It's becoming an obsession (I'm prone to obsessions, perhaps another defect).
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Oct. 2nd, 2008 @ 10:37 pm Nuke
I totally called the fact that when Bush started using "nucular" as a legitimate word that it would become part of the general parlance. Check it out, it will soon replace the actual word. We're witnessing a small evolution of language, people! It's not intelligent design.
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Sep. 16th, 2008 @ 07:16 pm (no subject)
Somehow, I've lost my passion for conveying my thought in this medium. I still think about things I want to post and compose posts in my head sometimes, but they just won't leave my fingers. But I have something to say today. And interestingly enough, what's drive me to post today is... well, driving!

Driving is not good for me. I can tell that my blood pressure is rising every time I get on the road. Don't get me wrong, taking the subway had its share of irritating things, especially if the train ride involved Times Square or Grand Central in any way. People wouldn't let others off the train, they'd step on feet, hit you with bags, take up 3 seats with one ass. Everything that made the subway irritating is exactly what makes driving horrible - it's people. The thing is, walking through a crowded station would take five minutes, and waiting for the train would usually take the same amount of time, and then you were basically safe to hide behind a book. Driving isolates you in your little climate controlled box, but it also feels just like that annoying five minutes in Grand Central and it lasts for 45 minutes to an hour.

Miami... It may or may not be worse than other cities to drive in; probably it's about the same, and anyway I have no frame of reference. All I know is that my two hours of commuting every day are probably costing me some years of my life. Not only do I have to deal with the annoyance of slow traffic, brake pedal, gas pedal, brake pedal, gas pedal, but I also have to deal with the dive-bombing shitmongers who "share" the road with me. These douchehounds will drive directly up your ass, will squeeze their ginormous SUVs into the tiniest slot (all without signaling) just in case that lane goes a bit faster, thereby slowing down that lane until they decide to switch again, will make left turns from right lanes and right turns from left lanes in front of you and to top it off will flash you the finger, will run stop signs and traffic lights, will honk if you dare to pause and make sure that no car is coming, will continue honking if you decide to go a mere 5 or 10 miles over the speed limit, and so much more. Now I may also be a shitty driver, I'm the first to admit it, but at least I don't treat traffic laws like an offbeat suggestion by your crazy uncle Willie. Can I buy some patience, please? Either that, or someone come sit in the car with me and keep me from smashing into these people with the large weapon that I happen to be sitting in.
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May. 20th, 2008 @ 01:59 pm Observations
I'm not sure cops can retain their authority very well when they have to wear short shorts. Official Florida uniforms!

Have you ever driven a car in water that's past the bumper? You know how they report rainfall in inches of water? Well when I lived in New York, I sort of wondered how they got that measurement, since the puddles were basically about 1/4 inch deep at most. Now that I'm in Miami, I know what they mean. The rains here dump many inches of water in about an hour. There's no effective way to drain that, so it sits there for a while. Basically, if you have a gondola, that's the time to use it.

And speaking of driving in general - if you drive, don't drive in Florida. People are just amazing douches on the road. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that they're so isolated from each other. Everyone is just riding along in their pressure-sealed SUVs and Hummers, thinking they own the road. I dare you to signal for a lane change on the highway. See how fast the others speed up just to not let you in their lane. They could all be Superman.

On a personal note, I guess I never said where I'll be going for school. I decided on University of Miami. It's in the medical school, so at least my mom can now have her most shiny dream fulfilled. I already started a class and everything. Just call me Dr. Yuliya.
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Feb. 26th, 2008 @ 02:45 pm A large "woot!" and a small "barroo?"
I got accepted to FIU for my Public Health PhD!

Apparently the lights are out in Florida. This building must have a generator, because after the power went out, it came back in within seconds. Guess we are more awesome than airports!
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Feb. 14th, 2008 @ 10:59 am Some things make me despair
I've been working from home recently, scoring tests for ETS. Doing the math section, of course. There have been some funny funny answers, let me tell you! But the thing that really gets to me is this one answer I got today and others like it - "I don't see the relevance of math." Seriously despairing for the human race, here, people!
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Jan. 29th, 2008 @ 11:49 am Update time!
LJ, oh LJ, I have abandoned you. I'm reading, though!

Anywho, I am alive and well. My follow-up MRI has shown significant improvement after 3 months of treatment, and now after 6 months, I'm off the meds. I'm just taking an aspirin a day and am back to as normal as I can be. Headaches worry me, but they're generally caused by dehydration these days. It's kind of weird to notice the fact that I haven't been drinking enough water so very clearly, but I seem to have become sensitive to it.

So, I've applied to grad school down here in Miami. Meanwhile, I'm going to be teaching Kaplan classes and doing a bit of test scoring on the side. Other than that, I've been cooking and driving and reading and movie watching and generally being a very domestic sort of person. I'm still sad about not being in New York, but I'll live. In good news, I voted just now! It was exciting.

On a totally different note, if you want to see pictures of the town I grew up in, then clickie here! There are some things new in town, but generally I think I recognize most of the landmarks. Yes, there is still a statue of Lenin in the middle of the road. Bychov dates back to 1370, if you can believe it. It's a tiny little town in Belarus and everything seems to me now so much smaller than when I was a kid there. I have visited it once, since we moved to the U.S. and I really want to visit it again, sometime. And that's your daily dose of nostalgia.
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Oct. 29th, 2007 @ 01:36 pm I can haz rec?
I've always been a mostly light-weight reader. I like my fiction to be as far away from the real world as possible. To that end, I've been experimenting with some new writers (this was long over-due). So far I've gotten through everything my library has by Jasper Fforde and Christopher Moore, as well as checking out the new book by my beloved Terry Pratchett instead of buying it. As a slight tangent, just now as I checked Amazon for Moore, the book that popped up after Christopher's list was "Michael Moore Hates America." Yeah... Anyway, I'm looking for some silly fun reading in the vein of the above authors. Something with word plays and alternate universes, snappy descriptions and funny dialog. I can haz them please?
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Oct. 17th, 2007 @ 10:52 am Small personal update
Hai there, world! I'm still alive, still ticking.

Switched doctors to someone who knows what he is doing (+) and it a bit of eye-candy as well (++)!
Killed a basil plant I was trying to keep for food on the balcony (-).
Cooked a real meal, which may have been a bit ambitious and took most of the day, but was really delicious and now I want to cook more (+).
Almost done with grad school applications (+), but can't go if they accept me until next fall (-).
Looking for a job, since my FMLA time is up and disability is almost over (--). Everything looks like I want to kill myself before doing it (-).
Am tutoring a kid for an hour a week in English, of all things (+) and thinking of maybe working for Kaplan (?).
Brain does not hurt (+), but am often tired and feeling blah (-).
Have driven a car a good number of times, will soon be safe to drive by myself (!).

Overall, pretty neutral score, I think, which is better than bad! I'm not including how much I looove living in Miami. Do they have sarcasm tags in LJ-land?
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