Thursday, July 31, 2008

Get on!

Man, am I exhausted. I was at a conference here at Penn for the Society for Developmental Biology annual meeting. It was pretty much non-stop from Sat to Tues 9am-11ish, sometimes later. I got to catch up with a few old friends, have some beers with my boss, present two posters, talk to some cool PIs, become a little more comfortable chatting with those PIs I've met before and see some really great talks. The event ended with a reception at the Mutter Museum. If you haven't checked that place out, please do! It's such an amazing collection of historical medical artifacts, like some human skeletons comparing dwarfism, gigantism and a regular size human. There's the skeleton of Harry, who had a disease called FOP (fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva) which causes your connective tissue to turn into bone. Interestingly, the mutation that causes this disease was recently identified by some labs here at Penn. Such a super cool story, since one of my friends is working on some experiments on teasing out the causes of the disease. The museum also contains lots of developmental anomalies, such as conjoined twins, babies lacking proper skull formation or proper gut formation, etc. I know these things sound horrifying, but you really leave with an appreciation for medicine and the advances that have been coming over the years. The meeting ended and we headed to Nodding Head, the only brewery here in Center City and we kept the party going. I had some nice chats with some people from Canada and Germany and met some new colleagues and friends. Altogether, it was a great meeting and I really just crashed yesterday, doing mostly nothing but venturing out for some sustenance and a mani/pedi for some relaxation. I'm back at work today, trying to remember what it is I am supposed to be doing and willing my brain to work on science. Information overload! Next week, I leave for CA for a wedding in the Bay Area. It will be a quick trip but hopefully fun. In Sept, it's off to Germany for another meeting and then to CA for another wedding. Whew....I'm ready for vacation from vacation :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Up Your Nose Wednesday

Like the title? Thought you would. What kid has not shoved something up their nose? I was talking to my Mom last night and she reminded me of one of my first puns. I was eating some peas and managed to shove them up my nose (of course). My Mom had quite a time getting them back out, imagining me inhaling them into my lungs, choking to death, etc. We had a tussle, crying hysterically while my Mom shoved her fingers up my nose until we go them all out (phew!). I then went over to my little desk, pulled out the green letter "P" and shoved that up my nose. Haha! I made a funny!
When I was in college, I lived with a girl named Kelly. When she was a kid, a little boy shoved a rock up her nose and told her not to tell anyone. When she began having sinus and nose problems months later, the doctor noticed this rock up her nose and pulled it out. She had lived like that for months! Needless to say, her rock in her nose is still in her baby book and I am sure, when the time comes, she will tell her kids all about that story.
Do YOU have any shoved up the nose stories?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Review

Since I was on vacation, I got to read a lot, which I really, really enjoyed. I bought The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri at the bookstore a few weeks ago. It's a book I've been meaning to read for a long time and it came highly recommended by some friends of mine. This novel was also made into a movie by the same name directed by Mira Nair. I actually dragged Alex to the movie a couple years ago, dying to see what Mira Nair had done. I adored the movie and have been meaning to read the book ever since. It did not disappoint. Lahiri has a style of writing all her own. Soothing and calm, heartbreaking and truthful, observant and touching. This book follows the Ganguli family, a first generation Indian-American family as they start a family and go on to live in the Boston area, raising children and making an "American" life. The novel begins with the Ashoke and Ashima meeting and how their arranged marriage came about. It follows the struggles of Ashima to assimilate into American culture and to learn how to do things so far from their families in India. Ashima has two children, Gogol and Sonia. The Namesake essentially follows the life of Gogol, named for his father's favorite author and a tragic accident he was in at a young age. From the beginning, Lahiri shows the struggles a first generation family would face here in the US. Customs for raising children, schooling, dating, everything, are so different here than in India. Ashoke and Ashima seem to do very well watching their children grow in such a different world. But Gogol is constantly troubled by things: his name, his heritage, his parents' understanding of American culture or the English language. Everything pains him, so much so, that he ends up rejecting much of the Indian culture and identity given to him by his parents. Only as he gets older does he realize how important his family is to him and how much he needs them in his life. He begins to realize the sacrifices his parents made for him and the distances they traveled to give him a better life that they had back in India. This story is one of family, of father-son relations, and also one about growing up and realizing how much your parenst have sacrificed for your well-being. It's a beautifully written novel, enchanting, truthful, engaging, and harsh.

Monday, July 21, 2008

If you don't already read this....

you should!

Book Review Monday

I stumbled across Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison in a used book store a few months back I'm not sure what drew me to the book, per se, but the title sounded familiar and the book has won accolade and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1992. This book was heartbreaking, amazing, shocking, touching and difficult. The book is about a little girl named Bone (actually named Ruth Ann, but nicknamed "Bone" shortly after birth). She is born to an unwed teenage mother and thus labelled "Bastard" on her birth certificate. The book follows Bone's growing up and "coming of age" of sorts in a rural South Carolina back-country town in what most likely would be described as a poor white trash family. Bone is raised by her Mama, and is close to several of her Mama's siblings, such as Aunt Raylene, Uncle Earle and Aunt Ruth. She has myriad cousins and a little sister named Reese, by her Mama's first marriage. Her Mama's second marriage, to Daddy Glen, causes Bone to experience a lifetime of horrible things in a few short years. Mama is looking for familial stability, and someone to love her unconditionally and, as such, turns a blind eye to Daddy Glen's physical, emotional, and sexual abuses of Bone. Mama, instead, tries to keep Bone away from Daddy Glen by sending her to her siblings' houses for as much time as she can. This book addresses many, many things, including childhood abuse (obviously), the role of family, however f-ed up it may be, self hatred, familial hatred, anger, resentment of society. Bone has to make her own way in the world from a very young age and does so with such an insight as to what is going on in the world and in her life. The book is narrated by Bone in such a youthful way, non-judgmental, yet forming opinions as she explores some of the experiences she goes through. This book was heartbreaking yet exuberant, shocking, yet expected. I could not put it down and I could not pick it up. It addresses some of the darkest secrets of families, society and tells such truths, it makes your jaw clench. The author writes in an almost poetic fashion, comparing things you've never thought to compare before. This is a beautifully written, tragic novel. As an example, I've copied one of my more memorable passages in the book.
"Little Earle would lope like a crippled crawfish, angling to the side, swaying unsteadily, and giggling his own wet croupy babble. The boys would laugh at him, Granny would just smile. Oblivious and happy, Little Earle would pound his fists on Grey's shoulders and then twirl himself around to run all out toward Granny, Temple and Patsy Ruth. Naked, dimpled all over, fat and brown and wide, his stubborn little body bulged with determination, his little-boy prick bounced like a rubber toy between his bowlegged thighs as he whooped and ran, bumping his head on Granny's hip. He was like a windup toy spinning itself out, and his delight only increased when everyone started laughing at him as he jumped up again after falling plop on is behind next to the tub of snap beans."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Back with a Vengeance

I made it back home in one piece, with no fewer than 50 mosquito bites covering my entire body (on the palms of my hands? are you kidding me?). The vacation was wonderful and I may post some pics to come. It was just what I needed. Alex's Aunt and Uncle are just peachy-keen. They have the most gorgeous old house on some beautiful grounds with ponies wandering around on some of their land. The live in this tiny little town that literally has four stores and no stoplights. It was brilliant. We slept every night with the windows flung wide open to let in the cool breeze. We woke each morning to birds chirping outside our window, nesting in a huge 100 year old maple tree. We took some time to explore Great Barrington, MA. We headed out to The Mount, the home of famed author Edith Wharton. We checked out the Choate "cottage" called Naumkeag. Beautiful old mansions built during the end of the 1800s or so. So interesting to see how places were built as well as to get an idea of what society was like way back when. I am a true voyeur at heart, I constantly look in peoples' windows to see what their houses look like inside, so this was wonderful for me. The Choate place was kept exactly as it was when it was given to the preservation group in the 1950s - how cool to see! The landscape around the Berkshires is breathtaking, and the weather could not have been more perfect. We took a day to hike around Bartholomew's Cobble this amazing area near the Housatonic River with forest, wetlands, open fields and summit views. It was really breathtaking, I must admit. We capped off the stay with a trip to Harney Teas, one of my personal favorites and headed back to Philly on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, I've contracted some sort of illness, complete with high fever and sore throat and swollen tonsils, so I am hoping to get better soon. I must, however, highly recommend a trip to the Berkshires. A wonderful place!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Goodbye 9 to 5 Grind Haiku Friday

Slacking off this week.
Can't wait for my vacation;
It starts on Sunday.
Need to recharge and
relax. Play with water guns,
hike, bike, read and eat.
Family, fun and sun-
Reconnect with life and me.
Too much work, sooo bad!
Sleep in, lounge around
Appreciate each day
more than the last one.
Love to travel, see
the country. Massachusetts,
Here we come! Yay! Yay!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Failure

I was thinking this morning about failure and what it means. I think science is an especially trying field to be in because failure is ubiquitous. I fail at most things every day and that's normal. Hard to believe, right? It's hard enough to work with some samples (usually 20 or so) for several days, carefully labeling them and making sure you treat each sample the same and then to find out a week later that something went wrong and your experiment did not work. Usually, things just don't work and there's nothing to can glean from them - occasionally things will partially work and you can get some bit of information from the experiment. It's those glorious, few and far-between experiments that work beautifully that are the cornerstone for working in science. If that good result every few weeks or so cannot sustain you, you are in the wrong business. I often think about other jobs I've had over the years. There was never this much failure involved. Sure, there was a learning curve: everyone fails early on; but once you get the hang of the job, there's not too much you can't do, right? In science, failure is so pervasive that things you do on a routine basis can easily fail. Sometimes it's unbelievable. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it makes you cry or bang your head against the wall or want to kill your boss. And sometimes you get so angry you can't see straight because you can't imagine ever being able to get the laundry list of experiments you have planned out accomplished with good results. I've seen people graduate, and I know it can be done, but I just can't picture myself there yet. I know I'll get there, it just takes time. So, when people ask why on earth it takes so long to finish a doctorate in biology or medical sciences, the truth is this: you have to learn how to fail. You have to learn how to fail beautifully and elegantly and to keep working and have faith that you will eventually find the answers you for which you are looking. Grad school is all about failure and learning to deal with it and learning to get over it and learning to move on. Essentially, it's a lesson in life.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


As I mentioned earlier, we've been gardening a lot lately. We decided to try our hand at it and it's amazing how much nicer our tiny little city yard looks with veggies and plants. We has our first "harvest" this past weekend and have already eaten our first veggie from our garden. We've planted zucchini, squash, peppers, cukes, tomatoes, basil, and some pretty flowers. Thought I'd give you a little tour of our garden...

These flowers are right outside the kitchen window - so nice to see in the morning!

Our squashes, plus some peppers and cucumbers. They've grown so much even since I took this pic!

Out balcony with the basil and tomatoes plus some geraniums and a hanging basket. I love the way the plants make our yard look livable! Plus, some birdseed to keep the birds happy so they don't eat our plants!

Our first harvest! Sweet peppers - so good we ate them right off the vine! And more on the way!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Oh Freedom...

I've been thinking about this whole "freedom" thing. It's an interesting idea, right? Freedom to be anything you want to be, to do anything you want to do, to set your goal as the highest goal and go for it, right? But I've been thinking that it's not really that true here in America. We're the Land of the Free, but what does that mean exactly? We are guaranteed Freedom of Religion, which is essentially one of the reasons our country was founded. We are granted Freedom of Speech, and for the most part, I can publish, or say or speak whatever it is I want to say, right? We have the right to privacy, but then the government can listen in on conversations we have over the phone. Some states are requiring ID cards to vote (which takes away our guarantee to vote as US citizens) and now there's going to be a "national ID card" to track our movements all over the country. Seems like less freedom, right? And are we free to get the best education we can get? What if you're born in a poor neighborhood or a region without money? Are you getting the best possible education? Some schools in Philly don't have books. Are you kidding me? An education without books? No computers? No interactive education? What do you think the teachers are like in this area? Not that great because the students are threatening and teachers won't stay for very long. It's usually the green ones that come in and work for a year and then get the hell out. Are we free to marry who we want to? Can my gay friend marry his boyfriend? Only in CA and I am sure that will get challenged over and over and over again. What about the freedom to have a clean environment, clean water and clean air? What about the freedom to afford a house or basic necessities or a car or gas? I realize that even the poorest of the poor here in our country are thousands of times richer than the poor in other countries. But I do know there are people who live without basic needs like running water, electricity, gas, heat on a daily basis right here in Philadelphia. And those numbers are not decreasing, they are increasing. Jobs are being lost left and right, our economy is in the shitter. If even "professional" people like Alex and I cannot afford some things, how are other people handling it? And we're firmly in the middle class when we combine our two incomes. I guess what I am trying to say, in the most patriotic way, is that things need to change. And it needs to start here. At home. In your own backyard. We need to freedom to be who we are and to be able to achieve the dreams we all have. I was lucky to be born where I was when I was to my parents who supported my every step of the way. I've been lucky that I've never been poor, I've never went without a meal, and I've never lived without water or heat or electricity. I've never had to face the challenges a lot of people are facing today. And I anyone really free?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Philadelphia Freedom

I love this time of year. I've decided that 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. No presents to buy, no trips to make, lovely weather, no work! The 4th on Philly is the best I've ever experienced. Of course, there's the whole history thing: that our nation was birthed right on the steps of Independence Hall. There's lots of people dressed up in funny old-fashioned clothes and frequent spottings of Ben Franklin. Everything's open and busy, with lots of tourists in town to check out the festivities. And the party goes on for a week! There's this big celebration called Welcome America! which has a TON of stuff for free going on all over the city. It's such a great way to celebrate the holiday and the summer. We're planning on BBQing on Fri and then checking out all the fun stuff going on on Sat and Sun. I mean, can you top a free concert by John Legend, another free concert with Boyz II Men (you know you still have their tape!), an ice cream festival for all you can eat ice cream for $5, a free Philly Pops concert in front of Independence Mall, a Fiesta on the Parkway in front of the Art Museum and a Taste of Philadelphia down at Penn's Landing. Top this all off with fireworks every night at the Art Museum or at Penn's Landing and you have one fun weekend ahead of you. And I think I'll need that detox yoga class on Monday. Y'all enjoy the holiday!
Happy Birthday, USA!