Monday, April 29, 2013

plane tickets are booked!

A friend starts every blog post she writes with a quote, and given our upcoming plans as traveling companions, I couldn't resist posting the quote that showed up in my Writer's Almanac email a few days ago:

"Half the fun of nearly everything, you know, is thinking about it beforehand, or afterward."
--Howard Garis, creator of Uncle Wiggily 

I am in absolute agreement, and, dear internet world, you are going to have to suffer (enjoyably?) through my planning, my obsessing, and the sure to be endless stream of pictures and posts about my 14 days in  Europe this summer.

The credit card purchase of $1177 has been made, the most I've spent on any one thing since my laptop in 2009.

The google doc entitled "S and B's Adventures in Europe!" has been created (I know, I totally should have jumped on it and called it "S and B's Excellent Adventures" but my traveling partner beat me to it!).

I'm starting to get gchat messages with ideas for hostels, train ticket prices, and links.  And I could not be more thrilled.  I'm so glad after five years that I'm finally getting to Paris.  I am going to see Monet's garden (more on this later).  I haven't been out of the country since seventh grade, unless you count Niagara Falls two summers ago (and while that was an awesome trip, Canada doesn't really count in my book).

Raising the Visby midsommarstång

The current plan is three days in London, then Paris, a jaunt to see the homeland in Switzerland, and then more Paris.  Because really, when one has such a travel veteran and Paris expert to stay with...?  It's going to be amazing.  I could not ask for better hosts. 

Thinking about my upcoming travels has had me scurrying around the local libraries and goodreads, trawling Netflix for foreign films, and watching old episodes of Rick Steves on Hulu. 

Montreaux, Switzerland

While I'm not sure there's any way I could be more excited for my trip, this media-scavenging hunt has me thinking seriously about how stories and visuals from other places can really enhance the experience of traveling, before, during, and after the trip.  And as I haven't exactly been to this part of Europe, I really don't have a clue what the ultimate this-part-of-Europe reading/music/movie list would look like.  I did find general history books on Paris and London that I'm reading through, and I've been paging through Lonely Planet guides just to get myself introduced to the cities.  And I really need to find myself a decent map that will orient me to neighborhoods, because I hate feeling lost.  I'm a big map person, I don't really feel comfortable in a a city until I can orient myself in the space of the city---which means I should really find some maps of the arrondissements, and finally understand that neither Cambridge University OR Oxford is actually in London (you should have seen the beat down I got about this from a Brit; sometimes ignorance is distinctly not bliss).  

And as a postscript, I've thought a lot about what I would do if my friends asked me the same questions about Minnesota as I've been asking about Paris.  What are the books I should read?  Any movies really give off the Minnesota vibe?  Are there any artists I should read about?  Fun coffee table books about specific museums that would give me a primer on where to start?  What's important in the history? And I realized that despite my pedigree as the granddaughter of someone who knew all about Minnesota, I haven't lived there as an adult, and beyond my fourth grade state history course, I am pretty behind on these things.  So, along with all Europe books, I've requested a bunch of Minnesota books from the library to read later in the summer.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Memorial Service for Sean Collier

The day dawned a chilly and overcast 40ºF  -- the members of the orchestra and choir stood in line for security shivering around 8 am, waiting for the bomb squad dogs to arrive to check over our instrument cases. 

The raising of the flag was a carefully coordinated effort.

My view from where I was sitting. 

Snipers already in place.

The Water is Wide - played with James Taylor.

James Taylor is in the center of the photo on the main stage.

Members of law enforcement begin to file in.

The orchestra and Simmons Hall (yes, more snipers).

The Honor Guards from precincts all over the country and Canada.

The sun finally came out (leaving all of us with memorial sunburns). 

My last photo before the ceremony started.

After we played our prelude, we stood for about thirty minutes as the honor guards walked in, the casket was escorted by the bagpipe and drum band, and as the family entered the memorial.  Our perch on the stage set to the side really was quite the spot to see the political entourage, the grieving family, the mayor, the governor, all the VIPs---but since I didn't really want secret service to take away my camera, no pictures of Biden, sorry. 

James Taylor singing "The Water is Wide"

The rest of the ceremony was heartfelt and moving---the things that I could hear, the bagpipes, Taps, watching them bring in the casket.  But, whomever was setting up sound for the stages neglected to give us feedback from the main stage, so all of the musicians missed the speeches, and apparently Joe Biden blustering away, as he does.

Somehow, being a part of a ceremony and not being able to hear the words, well, when you're in your own thoughts, you can selfishly memorialize the occasion in the best way for you. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Coping. Puppies included.

A lot of friends have been texting and getting in touch, asking how I'm doing.  How has the week been?  How are the girls taking it?  And how are you taking it?


Effectively, I've been drafted as a de facto live-in trauma and grief counselor.  Some of them are totally fine and just want to get the semester finished up.  Others are more distracted than usual.  Some are having trouble sleeping.  Others are angry because they keep crying at the littlest thing, and others just continue their lives as if nothing has happened.  Some are trying to just get through with as little fuss as possible, and are perhaps more resilient and used to events disrupting their lives...well, they can't understand why their friends just can't get over it.

MIT is a very comparative place--a lot rides on where you are in relation to your peers.  Many of them have a hard time realizing that when it comes to emotions, there is no wrong answer.  You aren't wrong to be upset, scared, frustrated, stoic, angry, homesick, or lonely.

You are, however, human.

This is a hard lesson to be learned.  And they are struggling.

And I'm sure the adults in the room that have gone through this transition, that time in life when you really think, land sakes.  I can deal with this one thing at home.  And this other thing at work.  And this other thing with my boyfriend.  But all at once?  You've got to be kidding me.  Wasn't life supposed to be easier when you became an adult?

...famous last words.  Though it does give me a bit of perspective on my recent frustrations of adults not behaving as would behoove their age and expected maturity level.  Maybe they just haven't gotten to their maturation moment yet.  (I'm not going to lie, thinking of these particular individuals in their larval stage cheers me, just a bit). 

Anyways--to get back to the whole point, even though this sort of counseling is something I am good at and something I am glad to do, I would be lying if I said that this has been easy.  

But.  Life moves along.  And the girls of mine that keep getting caught up in the vicious cycle of thinking about unthinkable violence and big bad things...I tell them if you give evil a chance to spin around in your head, you have to give good the same chance.  Think about the helpers, the people who ran towards the explosions.  Think about the first responders, the fact that despite all odds, every single person rushed to the hospitals made it.  And go farther than that..think about the good you want to accomplish in your life.  Think about why you're here at MIT, what you hope do, why you want to do it.  It makes getting through a day of organic chemistry problem sets far easier when you see them in the context of those problems helping you become one of those orthopedic surgeons that saved limbs and lives last Monday.  Or it makes it easier to slog through the horrible mechE lab of doom when you think about becoming the mechanical engineer for Boston Scientific that helps to design next generation prostheses. 


And if that's not enough---think of the kind handlers, volunteers, and therapy dogs that came to MIT on Monday.  We really needed you.  I really needed you.





This fellow is actually famous; he was one of the dogs that came to the Tuesday follow-up event that allowed runners to retrieve their belongings. 

It's too bad there is no size reference here, but there are better pictures of them in the new article; this St. Bernard weighed about 150 pounds!  And so lovable!



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Me'n my brother

I miss him like crazy!  And we're not just talking about his ability to increase my pop cultural competency...that week, between Twin Peaks and Archer, I really hit the jackpot.


But seriously, come back soon.  I'll make chex mix!  And yes, the kind that has a perfectly calibrated ratio of nuts to chex to saltiness. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring flowers

It's as if nature knew exactly what we needed right now. 

The white magnolias on campus near 77 Mass Ave bloom early and bloom lovely.

 To be allergic to daffodils is really to miss part of spring all together, I think. (taken April 14th)

Taken today, April 21.  What a difference a week makes!





It's the exact match of the crayola color "spring green"



Friday, April 19, 2013

"And the manhunt continues"

Boston is again in a state of emergency.  The entire city is on lockdown.  I am trying my very best to avoid all unnecessary coverage, I've already cried enough this week, thank you.

My part in the story starts last night.  After an awful day of allergies, I took two benadryl, a sudafed, and one of the giant blue alka-seltzer severe allergy and headache tablets, and headed off to bed around 9 pm.  I was woken at 10:50 with a text from MIT alert, which I read groggily:

"At 10:48 PM today gunshots were reported near Building 32 (Stata) which is currently surrounded by responding agencies. The area is cordoned off. Please stay clear of area until further notice. Unknown if injuries have occurred. Although the situation is considered active and extremely dangerous, an investigation is underway. Updates will be provided at this site when more information becomes available."

Since the marathon, we've had four or five false alarms about suspicious packages, which I'm glad that I knew about, I'm glad that MIT Police has been on the ball, all that, but in the medication fog, I just kind of shrugged it off.

But they kept coming.

"Responding agencies continue to investigate active shooter incident at Building 32 (Stata). Please stay indoors and away from Building 32 (Stata) and surrounding area."

And friends began to text, wondering if I was okay.  My brow would furrow in that "I'm sleepy don't you understand I took so many pills I can't think straight I'm fine and I need to sleep my head hurts" sort of way, I'd type out "I'm fine, in the dorms" and try and go back to sleep, my town alert with sirens and the whirring of helicopters.

"Update on shooter incident. Responding agencies continue to investigate the situation. The scene is outside of Building 32 (Stata) and 76 (Koch) near Vassar and Main Streets. Injuries have been reported. The situation is still very active and we ask everyone to stay inside."

"Please remain indoors. Police have NOT determined that the campus is safe."

Finally, at 2am:

"MIT Police have determined that the suspect in this evening’s shooting is no longer on campus. It is now safe to resume normal activities. Please remain vigilant in the coming hours."

Another suspicious package warning was sent out at 4:30 am.  And the sounds continued all night, a city wide awake hunting terrorists and killers.

The soporific qualities of the benadryl finally wore off around 6am.  I turned on my computer to find out what went down, and my jaw dropped.

An MIT policeman, aged 26, was killed.  At Stata.  My Stata.  The building I point out to all my friends that visit, calling a mix of MC Escher and Dr. Seuss on LSD.

All buildings at MIT are labeled with numbers.  The fight occurred between Stata and the Koch - between buildings 32 and 76 in the top middle of the map.  I work in building 16, below building 32.  It's about a 30 second walk between my office and seeing gunfire.

One suspect was killed in a gunfight.

One remains at large.


They're brothers from Chechnya.

I could hardly internalize anything.  It just...didn't make sense.  

I quickly wrote a facebook post letting everyone know I was all right, and sent emails to my family (a bit too early to call home).  I watched the information pour in, and an alert arrived at 6:10 saying classes were canceled and MIT would be closed all day Friday.  A statewide lockdown for the Boston metro area was put into place soon after, and I'm in McCormick with everyone else, still trying to make sense of things.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to anytime soon.

Kemore, completely deserted - from Twitter

Boston Common, also deserted (more pictures here)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

South Boston

Saturday and bringing in spring called for a picnic at the Medal of Honor Park in South Boston - hummus, celery, radishes, and greek yogurt cheesecakes for dessert!  (in jars!  oh yes).



I adore these houses...just pick them up where they are, give them an acre of land each instead of being so squished together, and I'd be so happy. 


They're totally giving off the San Fransisco painted lady vibe.  Turrets, balconies, sea foam green, sigh.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The sounds of sirens

...and helicopters, frantic conversations overheard in the street, and me, tearing up, over and over again.

Today was Patriot's Day, a Massachusetts state holiday commemorating the famous battles of Concord and Lexington back in the Revolutionary War.  It's also the day of the Boston Marathon.  I've gone out a couple of times and really enjoyed it (even though running a marathon seems like utter torture to me, it's still a fun spectator sport).  And one friend from grad school set a personal record today - he ran the course in 2 hours and 34 minutes.  What an accomplishment, but to happen on such a day.

He and the rest of the country are always going to remember today as the day that there were two explosions at the finish line in Copley.  My Copley.  I was just there a week ago.  This is my city.  My home.  And I am devastated.  Three are dead, including an eight year old boy.  I finally sat down to watch the video released by CNN of the actual bombing, look at some of the photos, and I am a total wreck.  And my girls here in McCormick...most of them were so young during September 11th that this is the first time that a terrorist attack has really hit home.  You can see their fear. 

This picture was taken around 4 pm this afternoon.  People were still streaming across the bridge towards Cambridge, getting away from the city.  Now, at 9 pm, there are police cars everywhere, and all bridges are closed.  They still don't know who, or why, or if there are any other explosive devices hidden in the city.  No terrorist group has claimed responsibility, and no one knows what's going on. 

MIT to Copley.  The bridge you see in the photo is the one highlighted above.  It's a 30 minute walk to Copley from my place. 

I had to be at work all day (research doesn't take a day off) - so I was at MIT when it all went down...I received an alert from the Washington Post in my email account, and read it in disbelief.  Cell service went down, and I had called home on the landline to let my family know I was okay.  And I am okay---no one I know was injured, only a few friends were downtown, but in reality, I am a mess.  And I wasn't even there.  I can't imagine what it's like to have lived through that, to have seen the sidewalks strewn with detached limbs, running with blood, smoke filling the air.  What has this world come to?  And how will Boston sleep tonight?  The Green Building will watch over us, in the very least. 

from here

Saturday, April 13, 2013

French fries at Saus

Saus is a Belgian waffle and french fry place right on the Freedom Trail, just past Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market.  Okay, okay, they sell sandwiches, too, but who in their right mind passes up french fries and waffles for a sandwich?

I love this picture so much. 

Also - try the berry sauce.  Perfectly tart, it's a lovely counterpoint to the sweetness of the liege waffle.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Visitors from Philly!

Last weekend was a great one--friends from Philly drove in on Friday night ---bearing belated birthday cake and wine!  I am a lucky girl.

Saturday dawned bright and chilly, and the wind whipped through the streets of Boston as we followed the red brick path of the Freedom Trail to all sorts of Revolutionary War landmarks. 

Quincy Market

The Holocaust Memorial

Paul Revere!


St. Francis, near the Old North Church.

Alas, no pictures from the wonderful evening spent making pork posole, drinking a bottle of wine, eating pastries from Modern, and watching the movie Magic Mike---a film far more serious than all of us thought it would be.

It was so lovely to have a girl's weekend here - I wish they could happen more often!