07 December, 2015

{this moment}

{this moment} is a Monday ritual that my father started in May 2011, and that I have maintained since May 2014. He described it as "A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes." When he passed away in February 2014, he left a folder containing images that he hoped to share in the months and years ahead. For some, I share my perspective of the story behind the moment on Thursdays, in a companion ritual called {this memory}. For others, the story is lost in the ocean of time, but I welcome flights of imagination and speculation from readers.


{this moment} was adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. My dad suggested, "Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment." I encourage the same.

AECB

10 October, 2015

A tree grows in the Borders

I can't replace Saturdays with the Tree, but being pretty fond of trees in general, I have more than a few favorite photographs of them. This one was taken looking through the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey in Scotland. 

Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland
June 2005

12 September, 2015

A tree grows in Imlil 2

I can't replace Saturdays with the Tree, but being pretty fond of trees in general, I have more than a few favorite photographs of them. 

I'm also fond of bridges and doors. This one is from the village of Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains. It was quite a hike to get there - riding a goat (or maybe a donkey?) was an option, but I hear from the two who tried it that it was a lot more terrifying to trust their fate to a small-ish animal. They both chose to walk back down the next day. 

Imlil, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco
March 2007

08 August, 2015

A tree grows in Estes Park

I can't replace Saturdays with the Tree, but being pretty fond of trees in general, I have more than a few favorite photographs of them.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, Colorado
July 2009

14 July, 2015

"Lifting the Clinical Gaze"

Check out my post on Columbia's narrative medicine blog, Crossroads...

http://www.theintima.org/blog/lifting-the-clinical-gaze-by-amy-caruso-brown

Self-portrait. Different from a selfie.
Fogo Island, Newfoundland, July 2015

13 July, 2015

11 July, 2015

A tree grows on Loch Ness

I can't replace Saturdays with the Tree, but being pretty fond of trees in general, I have more than a few favorite photographs of them. Can you spot the Loch Ness Monster in this one?

Trees along the shore of Loch Ness
Near Inverness, Scotland
June 2005

19 June, 2015

{poetically plagiarized} 29: Lighthart


The Second Music
by Annie Lighthart

Now I understand that there are two melodies playing,
one below the other, one easier to hear, the other

lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard
yet always present.

When all other things seem lively and real,
this one fades. Yet the notes of it

touch as gently as fingertips, as the sound
of the names laid over each child at birth.

I want to stay in that music without striving or cover.
If the truth of our lives is what it is playing,

the telling is so soft
that this mortal time, this irrevocable change,

becomes beautiful. I stop and stop again
to hear the second music.

I hear the children in the yard, a train, then birds.
All this is in it and will be gone. I set my ear to it as I would to a heart.


"The Second Music" by Annie Lighthart from Iron String © Airlie Press, 2015.

Thanks again to Lauren for always reminding me that poetry matters. 

16 June, 2015

Peds to Parents

I've been neglecting this blog lately! I promise more writing here over the summer. In the meantime, I have a new project to share...I'm writing a series on health literacy for the Upstate Peds to Parents blog, focusing on how parents and caregivers can better read and understand research, particularly as it's presented by mass media outlets.

Check out the first entry in the series here: http://blogs.upstate.edu/pedstoparents/2015/06/16/dont-believe-everything-you-read/


13 June, 2015

A tree grows in Steamboat Springs 2

Aspen trees (and others)
Strawberry Park Hot Springs, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado
October 2009

27 May, 2015

A Tree Grows At Utica College: Remembering Thom Brown

by Dave Roberts
Originally given Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Courtesy of Linnea Franits

My name is Dave Roberts and I am an adjunct professor of psychology at Utica College. I am also an alumnus of the college, graduating in 1977 with a B.A. in Psychology. I also had the privilege of being in the first classes that Thom Brown ever taught at this college. I also had the privilege of being the caretaker for his last two classes at Utica College, after he died. I was there for the beginning of his time at Utica College and the end. The significance and surrealism of that moment will stay with me until I die. Since Thom’s death, there is not a day that goes by where he is not in my thoughts. Such is the impact that he has had on my life.

I think I took every class Thom had to offer. Theories of Learning and Behavior Modification are two that come to mind. I still have B.F. Skinner’s About Behaviorism prominently displayed in my bookcase. I would have taken a Home Economics course, if he taught it. Thom was one of the most demanding professors that I ever had; he set the bar high for his students. But his passion for teaching and love for his students made it easy and effortless to expend the energy, and, damn, I just wanted to excel in his classes because of the respect he commanded. He always treated us as capable of accomplishing anything we set our mind to do. In retrospect, Thom taught me that if we treat people as competent and capable, that they would, for the most part, respond accordingly. I have applied this teaching in my work and in my life.

I also had the privilege of being Thom’s research assistant and I remember many days in the lab recording data from the endless number of pigeons that our department seemed to have in the basement of Hubbard Hall. Thom’s preference for pigeons was well known, and not only for their research value. I recall Thom telling me that he preferred pigeons for research because “Rats bite, Pigeons don’t. “ Not only was Thom a scholar, he was pragmatic as well. Thom didn’t inform me however about the perils of holding a pigeon with its butt end facing me, immediately after a session in the Skinner Box. It only took me once to realize what an ill advised move that was. That was the only time I ever questioned the value of food as a reinforcer. But Thom, also understood, that some things you just have to discover on your own.

After I graduated from Utica College, I lost touch with Thom, but never forgot what he taught me. When the college hired me in 2003, we seamlessly picked up where we left off.

Thom was a great teacher, father, husband, writer, scholar, friend and mentor to all who had the privilege to know him. But above all, he was a great human being. Because of who he was, he would have made a profound impact no matter what he chose to do in life.

Thom transcended the myriad of physical challenges he faced like he handled everything else, with grace, class, dignity and humility. He was whole, in spite of the challenges he faced, and in my mind, embraced. And as Carl Jung once said, “I’d rather be whole than good.” Thom was the epitome of wholeness.

Through my friendship with Thom, I met and developed a strong friendship with Civita, who is just one of the classiest people on the planet. I also eventually met their daughters Megan, who ended up taking a class with me and Amy whom I recently have come to know. I am also glad that she is continuing her father’s blog. In her writings, I see the shadow of her father.

It is fitting that we are dedicating a tree in Thom’s honor. After all he wrote so many blogs about the previous tree outside of his office. There is rich symbolism and teachings that can be derived from all of nature if we are open to it. Thom understood that better than anybody and his reverence for human life extended to his reverence for nature. Thom also knew that turning to nature in times of challenge could bring about a measure of peace, if only for a moment in time. I have found this to be true in my own life.

I recently discovered that the magnolia tree represents nobility and perseverance. I can not think of a better choice of tree to plant in his honor, because I can’t think of two more appropriate choice of words to sum up the legacy of a man who left an indelible impression on the Utica College Community, and whose message will be carried on for generations.

Perhaps we did not choose this tree, perhaps it chose us.

Wishing you all peace.

26 May, 2015

"Little friends" and cool puzzle apps

Best. Game. Ever.

No, not Cards Against Humanity. I'm talking iPad games. And three-year-olds.




I downloaded this app a couple months ago. You control one of the colorful, parachute-like figures and have to manipulate the blocks into towers. I left my son to his own devices with his, yes, device, and a bit later, my mom popped in and began watching him play. Fast forward 10 minutes or so, and they both came to me asking how to get more than one parachute-creature to appear. "Where my little friends go?" my son asked. "You got little friend?"

(Hilariously, he now also refers to his schoolmates this way, and when he had to go to work with me last Friday, he asked on the way there, "You have little friends there, Mommy?")

It's a very minimalist game, with very few settings to adjust, so it didn't take me long to determine that there was no feature I could turn on to make the "little friends" appear. Puzzled, I looked up the game, Drei, by Etter, on Google.

And discovered that "little friends" was a very apt word choice. Because those "little friends" are other players, on their own iPads and tablets, simultaneously, around the world. Some of the levels require collaboration between two or more players in order to beat the level. The collaboration is mostly intuitive, too, because the program only allows you to say a handful of words ("Slowly", "Hello", etc.), although it will translate them into a variety of languages.

I was pretty impressed. Over the last few months, I've discovered a handful of other apps that breathtakingly elegant, stunningly creative, and manage to be just challenging enough for the combination of a three-year-old and a 33-year-old. Many share the spirt of World of Goo - physics-based manipulative puzzles games with gorgeous graphics and a surreal soundtrack.

A few recommendations for other apps:

1. Monument Valley. "An illusory adventure of impossible adventure and forgiveness." Multi-dimensional Escher-like structures that you have to rotate to get a princess to her crown. This one also has spare, lovely bits of poetry between levels. It's fun to watch a preschooler do this and try to figure out whether they have an adult's response to Escher.

2. Blockwick (and Blockwick 2). "The blocks here are all different shapes and colors with mysterious symbols. Everything is mixed up, but when you place same-colored blocks next to each other, they glow. Organize the blocks to bring light and order to this world." And, oh yeah, you can buy the soundtrack on Bandcamp. Finn sometimes says, "Mommy, you can do it," when I'm playing this game. (He can do it too, some of the time.)

3. Windosill. You can play online too (that's the original version). "Explore a dream-like world of eleven beautifully-constructed environments. Equal parts puzzle game, physics toy, and living picture-book, Windosill rewards playful investigation with mysterious and beautiful surprises. Designed to be experienced in a single sitting (anywhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours), Windosill is suitable for clever kids and imaginative adults alike."

Have anything similar to recommend? Post your suggestions here!

25 May, 2015

Dedicating Thom's Tree II

I've been gone for awhile - busy with writing offline.

On Wednesday, two weeks ago (May 13), the college dedicated a beautiful new magnolia tree to my father's memory.

All photos courtesy of Linnea Franits.

My parents loved magnolia trees. (My personal loyalty belongs with cherry trees.) As many readers know, Tree (the Tree, one-and-only, irreplaceable) had been dying and was finally cut down in the fall last year. Many readers, I'm sure, found great symbolic meaning in Tree, and in my father's relationship to Tree, so I imagine you don't need me to point the symbolism in Tree's demise. This Tree had bloomed beautifully in the week before the dedication, but wind and heavy rain blew most of the flowers away. No worries - it will bloom again. 

On the way to the dedication, my son asked if we were all going to climb the Tree. Not yet, I told him, but maybe someday, when he and the Tree are both big enough.

Steve speaking - the photo on the screen is of
my dad's beloved geese, including one white goose
who had never been seen before he died
My dad's friend and colleague Steve Specht spoke, as did John Johnsen, Dave Roberts, and Dr. Behforooz. Dave was kind enough to share the text of his speech with me and gave me permission to post it - it will appear on Wednesday this week.

I don't know if I quite have the words to describe it yet, but this was a very bittersweet experience for me. My mom is also retiring at the end of this semester. I grew up at Utica College. My parents' affiliation with the school is older than I am. I was seven when my dad became dean and vice-president, and my memories are that my sister and I ran half-wild around campus and regarded it as a very large playground.

We got kicked out of the library playing hide-and-seek, and made do with hallways and file cabinets instead. I taught myself to do a cartwheel on a balance beam by practicing on the edge of the Oriental carpet in the dean's office. During long meetings, we made paper airplanes with messages conveying the desperate nature of our boredom and tried to surreptitiously fly them toward our father at the end of the conference table. When I was 11, I broke my foot falling off the stairs in the Burrstone House ballroom (a hotel turned dorm), where my sister, best friend and I had been staging plays for fun.

I did every single science project from seventh through twelfth grade in my dad's lab. I probably spent more of high school at the college than I did at my high school. Between classes, I took naps in my dad's comfy old leather recliner and played Myst 3 on his computer with all the lights turned off. (There's not much social life to be had, as a 14 year old in college, when you're trying to make sure no one realizes you're 14.)

I could go on and on - everything from the weird modern art sculptures to the tables full of rocks outside the geology classrooms to the cafeteria (site of the annual children's holiday party) holds significance for me.

But what I really wanted to do here was to say thank you.

Thank you to all the faculty, especially from roughly 1989 to 1998, for being my teachers and mentors, as well as my parents' colleagues and friends.

To Dr. Nassar, who somehow got talked into giving me an independent study in poetry, who was patient even when I wrote ridiculous, dramatic, dark, teenage drama, with no context and no subtlety. Thanks for the time you compared one line to William Carlos Williams - I managed to keep writing solely on the strength of that compliment for a long time.

To Dr. Bergmann, who taught me that fairy tales and fantasy had literary worth and didn't mark me down when I only turned in a paragraph's worth of reflection (because, at 15, I hadn't yet learned to BS).

To Dr. Behforooz, who tutored me in multivariable calculus after my actual teacher told me that I just had test anxiety and I should try meditating before tests. (It would have been freakin' awesome, though, if I could have just meditated my way to an understanding of the surface integral. That didn't happen.) After the tree ceremony, my mom reminisces about how when Dr. Behforooz first arrived in Utica, he was stunned to realize that the math they taught in one semester in his home country was taught over four semesters here.

To Dr. Cormican, who made a shy 16-year-old argue about polygamy in front of a classroom when she wanted to hide in the back row. That was exactly what I needed to learn to do. I'd make a completely different argument, now, by the way.

To Dr. McIntyre, who cornered me at my parents' spring party every year (starting when I was 12) to ask about my research and what my "next steps" would be. Pretty much preparation for the rest of my life, I think. Later on (oh okay, never mind, it was the following year), I waited until after the interrogation before hitting the bar.

To Dr. Aaronson, for putting up with me in his lab, when I apparently could not even count colonies accurately (that is my recollection, at least). I'm glad I realized early that lab research wasn't for me, and that it didn't mean research wasn't for me.

There are many others...Dr. Pier and Dr. Pfeiffer (chemistry), Dr. Rockefeller and Dr. Day (physics), everyone who judged the regional science fair and listened to me talk about schedule-induced polydipsia for five consecutive years, not to mention professors of Russian (good try convincing my parents to send me to Moscow for the summer!), computer science, and anthropology. I wasn't always a perfect student. I appreciate how hard you worked to help me learn anyway.



24 May, 2015

Time for another book review

I just can't let it go!

This is what I get for reading so much YA fantasy, I suppose, instead of legit grown-up literary stuff. Most of the time, it doesn't quite live up to my expectations, but then when it exceeds them, it's just extraordinary. It's always a pleasure to lose yourself in another world, and it's a kind of exquisite joy to marvel at the flexibility and grace of someone else's imagination. Like watching a rhythmic gymnast.

First, I read/re-read all of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. From the beginning. I skimmed over some of the more horrific cannibalistic parts and tried not to dwell on all the allusions to brutal gang rapes. This isn't the first time that a film or television adaptation helped me get into a book I didn't initially love - I had the same experience with The Lord of the Rings. When I first read A Game of Thrones in 2011, I was pregnant (though that's probably not a good excuse, I've never been squeamish) and all the bodily mutilation going on made it a bit hard to appreciate the characters. Watching the HBO version - even though this season has been a bit disappointing  - helped.

Then, for a change of pace, I read Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Thorn and Roses, which I had preordered, based on my love for her Throne of Glass series and my fondness for the story of Tam Lin. Let's talk about Throne of Glass for a minute: Maas has a fairly cool story. She started writing this series as Queen of Glass on FictionPress when she was a teenager and finally got it published many years (and many revisions) later. It's supposed to be a riff on Cinderella, but only in the sense that Cinderella is the fairy tale that set the author's imagination wandering. The first book, Throne of Glass, grew on me. As a YA fantasy writer, Maas is not Laini Taylor or Maggie Stiefvater. Her sentences don't echo in my head, over and over, like a favorite song. But there is a delight to her characters and their relationships to each other, a sense of humor, sarcasm, witty, good-natured ribbing that washes over the reader like a cup of hot chocolate. Her characters (like Stiefvater's) feel like old friends. Her main character is a girl, an assassin, a voracious reader, who loves music, candy, and beautiful gowns, and manages to be both selfless and self-centered, able to revel to luxury and capable of surviving anything. It doesn't always quite add up - if you pause for too long - but stay immersed in Maas' world and it works.

Also, they wear really awesome clothes. Maas uses Pinterest to good effect - the women, especially, are breathtakingly dressed and she does a fabulous job describing the fashion. On the downside, she does clearly have particular turns of phrase and descriptors she loves to use, and a LOT of people wear clothes that are "simple but obviously of very fine make." It's repetitious, yes, but mostly it just makes me jealous - why can't I find basic, high-quality clothes like white linen shirts that fit me flawlessly and "supple leather" boots than mold to my feet? (Cuyana, please make a few more things. And make the fit a little less unisex. Please.)

For the most part, the plot of Throne of Glass (so far - there are three books out in a six- or seven-book series) works and the twists and turns are intriguing and satisfying. The back story is impressively well-developed. (It's so well-developed, in fact, that I hesitate to return to writing my own novel out of fear that I don't have the imagination to pull it off. Like J.K. Rowling, even the smallest details and introduction of apparently minor characters has major relevance for the plot.) There is a major plot hole in the second book - something that really never makes sense - but it's possible to overlook it and jump back into the flow of the story. Do you ever do that? Simply choose to pretend that your favorite author didn't actually mean what they wrote? As long the rest of the story makes sense without the problematic element, I do - all the time. Often, the problematic element is an illogical explanation for a supporting character's actions and I can imagine into place a more logical one. I reserve my greatest agonizing for books that are beautifully set up, with elegant words and fascinating characters, but where the illogical element ruins all the downstream events and the book collapses like a house of cards.

Where are the editors, I wonder? I should be editing these books.

A Court of Thorns and Roses doesn't quite collapse but it's on shaky ground. The main character never has the depth of the protagonist from Throne of Glass. She's less outlandish and yet less fully realized too - she seems like a mashup of Cinderella and Katniss from The Hunger Games. Both she and the male protagonist are so reserved and laconic that it's rather hard to get to know them, as the reader. That's okay - she still does a better job than most. I think magic is hard to work with, in a story - authors really have to know what the rules are, or readers will question why anything happens the way it does. The rules are perhaps not quite as well-defined in Court of Thorns and Roses as I'd like, but the real problem in the logic comes only in the last quarter of the book. (That's probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did.) Essentially, the last quarter introduces an intriguing antagonist of questionable loyalties but his loyalties aren't quite questionable enough - it's a mystery why the main antagonist lets him get away with playing for both sides as much as he does. Alas, when I'm faced with that kind of mystery, I usually conclude that the author knew where she wanted her story to go and didn't spend enough time thinking through how to get from point A to point B. And then I blame the editor for not being objective enough to see the problem. Because, at least in this case, it could have been written in a way that was more believable, less dependent on luck. And I would have liked it a lot more.

The second problem is harder to describe without spoilers and, indeed, a long explanation of the plot. Essentially, it has to do with why one of the main characters is himself an obstacle to his own romance (which drives much of the plot). The reason makes sense, after the reader has spent some time thinking about it and turning it over and over in her mind. The problem is that the bits and pieces provided by the first-person limited narrator are barely sufficient to realize why he acts as does - and not sufficient to make it wholly believable. Does that make sense? Without nuance, if I were to summarize the plot for someone, this aspect of the plot, of character development and motivation, would make sense and seem quite powerful; but the book needed more richness and detail in this regard to make it "real on paper."

Of course, NONE of this means that I'm not going to pre-order the next book in the trilogy (and mark the date on my calendar) as soon as it's available.

In the meantime, I think I'm going to order Eleanor Catton's first book, The Rehearsal. After all, The Luminaries might be the last truly literary book that I happily devoured. All the Birds, Singing made my skin crawl and kept me awake half the night, but I was still a bit lost at the end. Some books are good, but clearly written for English majors to dissect in seminars, and not for this poor, tired mother-doctor-daughter-writer, reading under the covers in the early hours of the morning.

Finally, a quick note: if you've followed the links for book titles above and in previous book review posts, you may have noticed a change. I've switched from linking to Amazon.com to linking to IndieBound, which lets you search for the book at locally owned bookstores near your zip code. Unfortunately, I currently live in a town with no locally own bookstores, and I still do a lot of reading on my Kindle app for convenience. But I love and miss Tattered Cover, and when I lived nearby (and spent half of most weekends wandering around the aisles and sipping spicy Bhakti chai), I bought all my books there.

09 May, 2015

04 May, 2015

{this moment} 130

{this moment} is a Monday ritual that my father started in May 2011, and that I have maintained since May 2014. He described it as "A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes." When he passed away in February 2014, he left a folder containing images that he hoped to share in the months and years ahead. For some, I share my perspective of the story behind the moment on Thursdays, in a companion ritual called {this memory}. For others, the story is lost in the ocean of time, but I welcome flights of imagination and speculation from readers.



{this moment} was adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. My dad suggested, "Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment." I encourage the same.

AECB

11 April, 2015

A tree grows in Steamboat Springs

I can't replace Saturdays with the Tree, but being pretty fond of trees in general, I have more than a few favorite photographs of them. I took this photograph on hiking while celebrating my birthday at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. The springs at night are spectacular (and while a few people chose to forgo their swimsuits, I didn't see anything I hadn't already). 

Strawberry Park Hot Springs, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado
October 2009

06 April, 2015

The weight of words, part 1

My son has a strange fascination with Wheel of Fortune. Every time he hears the music, he races into the family room to watch. And every time, all I can think of is how my father would frown, when I was young, and point out that you could win tens of thousands of dollars, a car and a vacation, with sheer luck, while most Jeopardy contestants, no matter how knowledgeable, walked away with nothing. 

Then I think about the collective influence and weight of all the little comments, the passing wisdom, the sharp wit that was my father, and I worry that I won't add up to as much for my son. 

01 April, 2015

Something I never thought I would say

I published a poem: http://www.theintima.org/new-page-97

I'll be writing a blog post, about the poem and its relationship to an essay published in this journal, in the next few months. I'll post a link when its available online.



25 March, 2015

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

How cool is this?

I was recently nominated by Janine from Reflections from a Redhead for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. 

I've been a bit quiet on this blog lately...busy at work, busy at play (I went to Stowe to ski last weekend!), and busy studying (for my board exams this Tuesday). So I needed an excuse to take a break and write.

Here are Janine's thought-provoking questions...
  • Why did you start blogging?
I first started blogging (on Xanga!) in 2003 when I was moving to Copenhagen. I thought it would be a good way to share my experiences with family and friends back home. I wrote a lot as a child and teenager - and I was probably pretty good, or at least better than most - but in college, I never really found my niche. I didn't think of myself as a journalist, so I didn't fall in with the student newspaper, but my fiction wasn't as abstract and "literary" as most of the English majors' seemed to be. As a first-year, I applied to an advanced writing workshop, using an excerpt of a novel I'd started in high school. I got accepted but I was too young to really jump in and give/take criticism. Later, when I joined the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, part of the membership process included giving a speech, debate or literary presentation (which had to "pass" the established members). I read a short story that I'd written during that workshop. What I remember most was how it split the Hall. Most literary presentations were underattended and passed easily; mine prompted more discussion and debate than I'd ever seen before. The members who traditionally stayed away from the "literary" aspects of the Society were strongly in favor of it passing: one got up to speak in support of it and said, "This is the first time I've listened to a literary presentation and understood what it was about." The members who were traditionally strongly involved in the literary side were opposed...with 15 years hindsight, mostly because it wasn't written in the dreamy style where much is reflected upon and little actually happens. (I'm not arguing it was a brilliant piece but it was good enough.) Think of Raymond Carver vs. Gabriel García Márquez, on a vastly less gifted scale. 

Anyway...that is where I was coming from when I first decided to give blogging a try. The full story about how I ended up writing this blog is posted here.
  • What do you love about getting older?
Pretty much everything. I'm still figuring out my purpose in life, but it feels more like an adventure now and less like an agonizing slog uphill in the mud. It gets easier to be self-aware and live in the present. I think this is probably true for a lot of people.

I really related to the speech Tina Fey gave at our alma mater (UVA!) where she was asked "what she wished she'd done sooner in her career" and she replied, "I wish I'd started waxing my eyebrows earlier." Not so much the specifics of eyebrows ;-) but I feel like the first twenty years of my life (1980s, 1990s, early 2000s) were a time of really bad fashion and style choices - Sun-In with dark brown hair, for instance, is a really bad idea. A couple of weeks ago, I cleaned out my closet and I tried one of my favorite shirts from 2002 - it was a black silk knit with an attached black leather and rhinestone collar. My sister took one look and was like, Oh God, no, throw that out. The nice thing about being an actual grown-up is that I don't try very hard anymore and yet the results are so much more attractive. I also finally - a perk of medical education - have the self-discipline to work out regularly. "Running" on an elliptical while trying to read for a class on "the sexual and the sacred in Islam" is not working out. 
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
This is so hard. Do I have to work for a living? If so, probably a townhouse in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. or a farm with lots of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Charlottesville. Or better yet, both. I'd love to live in Portland, Oregon, too, but it's far from my family. If I didn't have to work - supporting myself writing! - I think it gets even harder to decide. I'd love to change with the seasons - fall in Charlottesville, winter at a house in the mountains in Colorado with great skiing, spring in Oxford, summer on the Isle of Skye in Scotland (with some weekend trips to Edinburgh or London?) or maybe somewhere in the South Pacific (Cook Islands?). I want everything - to be able to walk out my back door and hike or ski (or swim or row) for miles without running into another person but also to be able to walk down the street to a farmers' market or an art gallery or a nice wine bar. I want oceans and rivers and mountains, sunshine and snow. It's impossible to choose. 
  • Kids or no kids? There is no right or wrong answer.
I have a three-year-old. He is hilarious now and just getting to the age where we can start to do some of the things I love together. I definitely plan on having more kids, but for now I want to enjoy the one I have. I work a lot and love my job, and so I feel like spacing out my children is the key to balancing it all. My great-grandmother famously advised my grandmother (my father's mother) that you should "have a baby and rock that baby until he gets too big to be rocked, and only then" have another one. But I admit, I sometimes feel the need to justify why I haven't had another one yet. 
  • Where do you want to take your blog in the future?
I really don't know. I would like to build my audience, but I know it's hard when I don't really have a focus or target audience (turns out that "people I know who think I'm smart and funny" is not actually a target audience). Right now, it serves the purpose of letting me flex the writing muscle and not get too rusty, until I have more time to write for traditional publication. It's also a way of thinking out loud. 
  • Are you a folder or a scruncher?
A "hanger"! Is that a word? I can't fold but I'm very neat - so almost everything except jeans and workout clothes gets hung up. Last summer, I moved back into the house I grew up in, and the first thing I did was install California Closets. When I travel, I roll my clothes, military-style. It fits so much better.
  • What are you most grateful for?
Writing my answers to the questions about favorite songs and guilty pleasures made me think of this story:

When I was growing up, my parents had season tickets to our local symphony and other performances. When I was 11 or 12, they took us to see Kiss of the Spiderwoman, which is where I learned about political prisoners, torture and that sometimes men like men. Thanks, Mom and Dad! No, really...I am profoundly grateful that they were so willing to show us the world, as it is, in all its glory and despair, with hope and without judgment. They made me the person I am and they made me a vision for the person I'll always aspire to be. 
  • What are you most looking forward to in 2015?
Hmmm. I'm looking forward to being surprised - I hope there will be a lot of good surprises this year. I'm also looking forward to going to the Fogo Island Inn on vacation this summer and rowing a lot more, on Cazenovia Lake. 

Actually, at this bleak point in our very long and bitterly cold Northeastern winter, I am quite desperately awaiting spring. The first day I can wear a skirt or dress without tights and boots will be an ecstatic one. I love - need - four seasons, but I'm ready for the next one. Last weekend, I went skiing in Stowe, Vermont and those last good runs were the psychological end of winter for me.

Usually, I have a long list of books that I'm awaiting release but so far this year, my Amazon pre-order list is looking a little thin. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is out but I'm thinking about saving it for a holiday, so I can savor it. And while it's not always the most original, I've had a lot of fun reading Sarah J. Maas' Queen of Glass series, so I'm looking forward to the release of Queen of Shadows in September.
  • What’s your favourite song? Why not share the YouTube clip?
I have a lot of favorite songs, so how about a favorites playlist: 

(1) "On the Turning Away", Pink Floyd (my first and forever favorite)
(2) "Casimir Pulaski Day"Sufjan Stevens (inspired one of the novels I've been writing) 
(3) "Fields of Gold", the Eva Cassidy version 
(4) "Angels", The xx
(5) "Sigh No More", Mumford and Sons (I used to sing this to my son when he was a baby - "Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you. It will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be.")
(6) "Stubborn Love", The Lumineers
(7) "Youth Knows No Pain", Lykke Li
(8) "Rhiannon", Stevie Nicks (another old favorite - I picked this for my personal "theme song" when our group of summer orientation leaders in college decided we should have our own soundtrack)
(9) "Hurt", the Johnny Cash version
(10) "Stay Alive", José González
(11) "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", Stars
(12) "Deep Red Bells", Neko Case

This week, I've been listening to George Ezra ("Breakaway" is my favorite on that album), Tigana Santana (good for studying!), and Ernesto Lecuona (apologies, I have to make a separate list for classical favorites...it would take me much longer to decide), and I've also, unfortunately, gotten that song from The Hunger Games ("Are You Coming to the Hanging Tree?") stuck in my head, so I keep humming it at awkward times. 

But this one is possibly my favorite YouTube video: "King and Lionheart", Of Monsters and Men
  • What is your guilty pleasure?
Hmmm (again). Singing Jesus Christ Superstar at the top of my lungs while driving to work? Something reminded me of musicals recently...as a child, this was my sister's and my favorite (the 1970s film version). I think we learned about 80% of our theology from Jesus Christ Superstar (and the rest in Catholic after-school religious education). We thought this was hilarious: "Always wanted to be an Apostle. Knew that I could make if I tried. Then, when we retire, we will write the Gospel, so they'll still talk about us when we've died..." I am, however, eternally grateful for my dad pointing out that "I Don't Know How to Love Him" was not a good choice for a high school musical audition (look up the lyrics). Other people did not get such good guidance.

The Rules
  1. Link to the person who nominated you.
  2. Add the award logo.
  3. Answer the questions your nominator has asked.
  4. Nominate 7 other blogs and let them know via comments.
  5. Ask your nominees 10 questions.
And the Nominees Are (if they choose to accept)…

(I promise - it's fun! Kind of like being interviewed.)

Channeling Hippocrates

Ms. Strained Consciousness

Diet Daze and Other Unimportant Musings

A Novel Review: Writing, Reading, and the Rest of My Military Life
...more to come soon...

The Questions
  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. Do you have a favorite scar? Tell us its story.
  3. Are you sunrise, daylight, twilight or night?
  4. What's the best meal you've ever had?
  5. If you wrote a book, what would it be about? Write the inside front jacket.
  6. Tattoos - yea or nay?
  7. What do you wish you were better at?
  8. Which young-adult bestseller-turned-movie do you dislike the most? (Twilight, Divergent, etc.) Why?
  9. Public school or private school? (Interpret however you like...)
  10. What fashion decision do you most regret?

23 March, 2015

{this moment} 129

{this moment} is a Monday ritual that my father started in May 2011, and that I have maintained since May 2014. He described it as "A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes." When he passed away in February 2014, he left a folder containing images that he hoped to share in the months and years ahead. For some, I share my perspective of the story behind the moment on Thursdays, in a companion ritual called {this memory}. For others, the story is lost in the ocean of time, but I welcome flights of imagination and speculation from readers.


{this moment} was adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. My dad suggested, "Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment." I encourage the same.

AECB

19 March, 2015

{this memory} 128

This is the story behind last Monday's {this moment}


I'm getting so far behind!

This is me (then 5 years old) and my sister (aged 4) before my first ballet and tap dancing recital, in 1987. We are in the study/library of my parents' house. White tights, huh? I haven't seen those in a very long time. I am also apparently unembarrassed by the ridiculous costume and hat. I think I wore more makeup in those first few recitals than in the next twenty years. After a couple years at the dance school of dramatic costumery, I quit tap (thankfully) and switched to more "serious" school, where our leotards and tutus were a bit more...subdued. :-) I was never particularly good, but I get a lot of (honestly very flattering) questions in my adult life about whether I was ever a ballet dancer, so I guess something stuck!


16 March, 2015

(this moment} 128

{this moment} is a Monday ritual that my father started in May 2011, and that I have maintained since May 2014. He described it as "A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes." When he passed away in February 2014, he left a folder containing images that he hoped to share in the months and years ahead. For some, I share my perspective of the story behind the moment on Thursdays, in a companion ritual called {this memory}. For others, the story is lost in the ocean of time, but I welcome flights of imagination and speculation from readers.


{this moment} was adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. My dad suggested, "Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment." I encourage the same.

AECB

14 March, 2015

A tree grows in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I can't replace Saturdays with the Tree, but being pretty fond of trees in general, I have more than a few favorite photographs of them. I took this on an afternoon hike a couple months before I graduated from UVA and a few days before I took the MCAT (the story that goes with the test was published here) so I needed the break from studying.

Humpback Rock, near Waynesboro, Virginia
April 2002

09 March, 2015

{this moment: then and now} 7

{this moment} is a Monday ritual that my father started in May 2011, and that I have maintained since May 2014. He described it as "A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past..."

{then and now} is a twist on that ritual. People often ask me if my son looks like his father, because he is blonde and blue-eyed, while I am dark-haired and dark-eyed. In fact, aside from those features, we are very much alike in looks (and, for better and worse, personality). Even more so, my son strikingly resembles my father as a young child. He has the exact same shade of steel blue-gray eyes that his grandfather had. Every so often, I stumble across a photo of myself as a child that seems like an echo of one I know I've taken of my son. {then and now} is a space to revel in the sometimes surreal elements of the passage of time.


{this moment} was adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. My dad suggested, "Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment." I encourage the same.
~AECB

07 March, 2015

Beginning in the middle...

A little over year ago, shortly after my father died, his very talented friend/fellow blogger Janine Ripper asked me if I wanted to join his blogging circle, Personal Bloggers Are Us (check out a mostly updated list of member blogs here).

At the time, I only knew a few things about the group: that my dad would occasionally forward posts that particularly spoke to him; that for Christmas last year, he had given me a hilarious book called Rock the Kasbah: A Memoir of Misadventure, which one of the members, Marie Loerzel, had written based on her blog; and that many PBAU members had written eloquent and profoundly moving tributes to him and his impact on their lives and writing.

So of course, I said yes - I always say yes - but the trouble was, I didn't have a very active blogging life. True, I did own a lot of blog names - I was better at thinking of cool and/or witty titles that cryptically referenced medicine, or were based on song lyrics and Italo Calvino quotes, than actually writing about my experiences. Cases in point: Altered Sensorium, Wernicke's Aphasia, Girl Contemplating Infinity on a Desk Chair, A Luscious Mix of Words and Tricks, etc. And in March 2013, I had started a cooking blog called The Wooden Spoon, but it was less about blogging than about using my imagined audience to motivate myself to better record family recipes. Writing down a family cookbook, illustrating it with family photos and beautiful shots of food, and eventually printing and binding it for all of my cousins had been a dream for years. The blog finally got the ball rolling, and I figured, even if it took me another 10 years to create a book, at least I was getting the recipes down before they were lost for good.

One thing led to another, and I finally found the right place to put all (okay, some) of the words that were always tumbling around my head - right here, on my dad's blog. 

A few months ago, Janine asked if I had any interest in writing for an intriguing new travel social media site, called Jummp. Coincidentally, I just entered the period that I think of as "The Least I Have Traveled." For the past 16 years, I had lived all over the world, and never closer than a six-hour drive from my hometown (and that was for a brief year only). For those 16 years, nearly every holiday and every vacation longer than a three-day weekend was kicked off in an airport. (I got to be really, really fond of Vino Volo.) In a record eight weeks in 2013, I took 12 flights with my then-one-year old son (including taking him to Guatemala, which I wrote about here). 

Last summer, I moved back to my hometown, and after making one last trip to Colorado for a conference, I realized that - drumroll, please - I didn't want to fly. This was shocking. I love to fly. I really do. It took two and a half years of near-monthly air travel with an infant/toddler before I stopped loving it and genuinely needed a break. So for much of this (academic) year, I have not and will not be getting a plane. I've been on short trips, both work and social, to Lake George, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia, and I'm headed to Stowe to ski in a couple weeks...but I have not set foot in an airport since August 2, 2014. That is crazy to me! I am stunned that I've found it more relaxing than claustrophobic!

I hope it will turn out to have been a much needed break - like a fast, almost - before jumping back in and going to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for the first time this summer. 

Anyway - I've digressed again - I didn't have anything upcoming/current to write about for Jummp, but I found myself thinking about some of my most memorable trips and I ended up writing a memoir-ish essay about a road trip I took around Iceland in 2007. 

And - oh yeah - you can now read all about it here!

When I originally submitted the essay, I didn't have a digital version of the picture of the cave, Grjótagjá...



05 March, 2015

{this memory} 127

This is the story behind last Monday's {this moment}

September 2008, Lafayette, Colorado...

During my internship at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, I had three weeks of vacation, and I spent all of them in Colorado, then a bit of my "dream" state. At the end of the year, I transferred there to finish my residency and fellowship...five years in all, during which I vacillated wildly between intense gratitude for waking up every day to spectacular Rocky Mountain vistas, and deep homesickness for the lush, humid, green East Coast. Don't get me wrong, Colorado totally fulfilled its end of the bargain. I'm just an East Coast girl - all grey/black wardrobe and dark, ironic humor - at heart.**

This picture is from my first vacation of internship, which coincided with my twenty-sixth birthday. We celebrated it at Sushi Sasa, by letting the chef make us whatever he wanted, which was pretty damn awesome. On the last day of my vacation, I checked something off the bucket list - flying trapeze. Denver doesn't / didn't have a big trapeze school (like New York and Chicago, among others), but I Googled and found a low-key circus arts club near Boulder, that allowed people to come and give the trapeze a try.

This is my first swing... I did eventually work up the nerve to let go with both hands but my timing was off and I missed the catch. Oh well. Hopefully I'll try again someday.

**Mostly. For my son's third birthday, I promised to teach him to rock climb (which I did, technically, learn on the East Coast, in high school), starting in a gym. The staff told him they had never seen climbing shoes so small before. I was so proud of him. He was definitely scared but kept saying he wanted to give it another try. Little Colorado boy!




02 March, 2015

{this moment} 127

{this moment} is a Monday ritual that my father started in May 2011, and that I have maintained since May 2014. He described it as "A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes." When he passed away in February 2014, he left a folder containing images that he hoped to share in the months and years ahead. For some, I share my perspective of the story behind the moment on Thursdays, in a companion ritual called {this memory}. For others, the story is lost in the ocean of time, but I welcome flights of imagination and speculation from readers.


{this moment} was adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. My dad suggested, "Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment." I encourage the same.

AECB

26 February, 2015

{this memory} 126

This is the story behind last Monday's {this moment}.

Linacre College, Oxford, March (I think), 2007...

Ahh, public humiliation for a good cause!

I'm the girl on the right. (If you're late to the party, get caught up: at the time, I was a grad student in anthropology.) Tiffany, in the middle, is a documentary filmmaker who was then also studying anthropology. Sylvie, on the left, was a pharmacology student from Beirut. The spotlights are on us because we're contests in a "Dating Game."

It was a charity fundraiser, held in the common room (aka bar) of our college. As the date approached, they were struggling to find willing victims amongst the student body. Asked for the tenth time by one of the organizers, I finally agreed to play along. At least I got the list of questions in advance.

Over Thai food a few hours beforehand, my friend and I practiced answers and worked on my persona. I'm mostly a terrible actress and have no improv or stand-up comedy skills to speak of, but I somehow managed to play my part and get some laughs. I only remember two questions clearly:

"If you were a disease, what would you be and why?"

"I'd be dengue fever...because I'll knock you off your feet, make you sweat and there's nothing you can do about it!" 

And then I flipped my hair over one shoulder and fluttered my eyelashes...I only wish I were making this up. My helpful friend/acting coach was studying at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The other question I remember was about what celebrity you've been mistaken for. I can't say this has ever actually happened to me, but my friends' host family in Peru told them they thought I looked like Penelope Crúz - a dubious resemblance, in my opinion, but they clearly meant it as a compliment - and it definitely beats "My grandmother thinks Catherine Zeta-Jones is my twin" - so I went with it.

I lost (if you can call not having to go on an awkward dinner-date with the guy who got recruited to play the Bachelor) but the weirdly flattering part happened after the show, when an acquaintance tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I'm sorry you didn't win! My boyfriend said he definitely would have picked you!" Um...thanks.

The more hilarious half of the show was when three of our (male) friends took our places. They were even harder to recruit than the female contestants. One was borderline hostile and, at one point, said - apparently non-ironically - that he'd prefer to spend the night waxing his canoe. Another had a deep Glaswegian accent that rendered him incomprehensible to most of the non-Scots. The beleaguered emcee threw up his hands at one point and said, "And contestant number 3...well, who knows what contestant number 3 said?!!"

I hope we raised a lot of money for that charity.

23 February, 2015

{this moment} 126

{this moment} is a Monday ritual that my father started in May 2011, and that I have maintained since May 2014. He described it as "A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes." When he passed away in February 2014, he left a folder containing images that he hoped to share in the months and years ahead. For some, I share my perspective of the story behind the moment on Thursdays, in a companion ritual called {this memory}. For others, the story is lost in the ocean of time, but I welcome flights of imagination and speculation from readers.


{this moment} was adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. My dad suggested, "Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment." I encourage the same.

AECB

19 February, 2015

{this memory: then and now} 6

This is the story behind last Monday's {this moment}.

The first picture is my mom and my little sister, when she was a baby.

The second is me with my son, when he was just a few days old.

The third is my sister (the baby in the first picture) holding my sleeping son, when he was about five weeks old.

I still can't believe how much he looks like her.


17 February, 2015

{poetically plagiarized} 28: Tranströmer

The Blue House
by Tomas Tranströmer

It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand in the woods and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.

It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush, from the inside.

On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.

Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.

The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind which the gilded frame cannot subdue.

It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

...from The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, which I read to Finn when he was brand-new to the world. I especially love this poem for the line "We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route." I think it contains such truth and yet I can't miss any life that wouldn't have Finn in it - not "can't" as in "won't allow myself" but as in "really, physically cannot imagine." Happy birthday to our littlest one. Love you lots.