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Halloween

Halloween is the epic holiday in the United States – the opportunity for people to dress up, go crazy, and not worry about it the day after (minus the hangover, of course). In college, we like to call it “Halloweekend,” although the holiday fell on Friday this year, which puts a bit of a damper in the plans of those who want to use Halloween as an excuse to party for three straight days. Fortunately, that isn’t my reason for celebrating Halloween. I like carving pumpkins and roasting pumpkin seeds, using the holiday and dressing up as an excuse to make myself a costume, hang out with friends, and generally have a good time.

Tufts has an amazing tradition, in which the Great Pumpkin Master places pumpkins all over campus. This year, he/she/they did some good work and got pumpkins all over – including the top of Carmichael Hall and the tusks of the elephant on Dowling per usual.

We carved some pumpkins, courtesy of Tufts’ Rez Life and their “alternate halloween celebrations.” What, pray tell, is “alternate” about carving pumpkins? Aren’t Jack-o-lanterns kinda the point of this orange holiday?

I swear, Claire is normal. I swear!!

After we carved the pumpkins, we brought home a lot of people’s pumpkin seeds, and then I roasted them! We have a lot of pumpkin seeds… combine them with the jelly beans still left over from the Harry Potter party and the Halloween candy we bought on a post-Halloween sale, and you’ve got a lot of less-than-healthy snacking going on in our house.

In terms of costumes, I went as Rainbowfish, complete with the colored scales all over my dress and aluminum ones to share with all my friends, as well as beautiful makeup courtesy of Amelia!

And then, of course, there’s the absolute beauty of autumn that Halloween encompasses:

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Acadia

Over a month ago – really, almost two months ago at this point – I took a weekend trip to Acadia National Park up in Maine. It was the last weekend before school started, the last weekend free of homework and commitments and general stress. It was the last weekend to not feel bad about reading a book just to read a book (as opposed to for some sort of homework) and the last weekend to go camping. (I proved that wrong though, didn’t I?)

Regardless, the trip to Acadia was wonderful and beautiful and actually one of the more gorgeous places I’ve ever been. And it all started with StumbleUpon; it was here that Liz and Elizabeth and I found the “26 Best Places to Camp in the US” and we (jokingly) decided to hit one spot a year. One year, one spot. Aaaaannnnndddd…. it just so happens that Acadia was #1 on the list. Is it alphabetical? Maybe…but no.

The decision to start our list with Acadia was primarily a result of the fact that Acadia is near Boston but not near Boston. And by that, I mean that it is driving distance but not easy driving distance; it takes about five hours to get there, and thus needs more than a normal weekend to see it right. So Liz and I drove up for Labor Day – three days, three nights. Two tents, one hike, and a partridge in a pear tree.

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No partridges, but we did see a wide variety of beautiful flora and fauna. I couldn’t catch most of it, but I brought my camera up and got a few awesome shots. It’s amazing how much more observant you can be with a camera around your neck. It was a determination to look for things that allowed me to find these little buggers:

But you don’t have to be that observant to find some other fabulous animals:

And we easily spotted a beautiful heron, about a million snails (here’s one!), and these ducks in the sunset:

Anywayyyyys… the fauna was beautiful. So was the flora. The trees were amazing. The flowers were amazing. The sunsets were amazing. The sunrises were amazing. And the rocks were amazing.

One thing I love about camping is the way it resets your clock. The way you have no excuse to stay up late – especially without a campfire – and no excuse to sleep in late. The way you can see the sunrise and the sunset every day, and it doesn’t even feel that early. I love getting a full night’s sleep and getting back to the ancient understanding with night. We used to go to bed with the sun and get up with the sun, and when we woke up in the middle of the night, we just enjoyed the night – thinking and talking and admiring the stars. I love the stars. Especially when you can actually see them.

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I particularly enjoyed the company with this crazy cray:

And we somehow managed a few selfies, even with my giant camera (and its self-timer.)

We hiked up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, and were two of the first people in the country to see the sunrise.

And then we wandered around the island, saw some of the beautiful sights to be seen from around the park.

And ended the evening with dinner on the rocks overlooking the sunset.

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Leaf Peeping

Peak Weekend! It’s a thing! Technically, it’s a thing where TMC gets members to the top of all 48 4000+ peaks in New Hampshire in one weekend. I participated freshman year (Moosilauke) and went again just a week ago for take #2. It’s been over two years since I last went to the Loj, but this weekend’s trip was absolutely worth the wait. The Loj, for anyone who hasn’t been there, or who hasn’t heard of it, is the Tufts Mountain Club’s home away from home. It’s the embodiment of every stereotype regarding mountain lodges. It’s wooden and homey and has a wood burning stove and is filled with comfy couches and lots of people reading books.

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Peak Weekend is particularly fabulous because it happens at that perfect time between green leaves and red leaves, between leaves on trees and leaves on the ground. When literally every way you turn, you see these colors:

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Last weekend, I was lucky enough to peak both Lincoln and Lafayette, which are 5089′ and 5260′ respectively. Unluckily, both peaks were literally in the clouds, with the temperature hitting a grand old 24°, with 15-30 mph winds creating a wind chill of 15°. Needless to say, the hike was long (8.8 miles and almost 4000′ of elevation gain), and cold.

But every so often, the clouds separated a bit, the sun peeked out, and it was so beautiful that everything was absolutely worth it.

 

The World is Falling Apart, and We’re Ignoring It.

Tons of stuff is happening in the world and the truth of human attention spans is that we just don’t have the capacity to pay attention. But every so often, it frightens me that the media is just as bad at noticing ongoing trends that are important and ignored as the rest of the population. (I know, the population only knows what to think about because of what the media discusses. I guess I’m just saying that the media needs to get on it. Or we should find alternative news sources. Like, ASAP.)

These are the 3 things on my mind that the American media seems to be ignoring:

1. Enterovirus & Measles

Yes, Ebola made it to Texas. The world is exploding! Side note: the number of stupid tweets about Ebola is absurd (it isn’t a musical group or a politician, people.) But the reality is that Ebola in the United States is and will remain about as dangerous as the common cold. Less dangerous, actually. If you want to be worried about Ebola, keep your worries centered in the African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Gambia, where the total infected is 7470 (as of Sept. 30). Where the growth remains exponential, and the totals are likely severely underreported.

But here’s the thing: there are other diseases WAY more frightening. In the United States. Infecting children and the elderly and people that haven’t been to West Africa recently.

Like Enterovirus-D68.

It has similar symptoms to the first stages of Ebola – fever, weakness, muscle pain. Enterovirus is a respiratory disease, but also causes polio-like symptoms of limb numbness and paralysis. (Polio itself is another form of an enterovirus; enterovirus-D68 is one of the “non-polio enteroviruses”) Thus far this summer, 594 people in 43 states have been infected, and last week marked the fifth death in the US – a 4 year old boy in NJ.

The process to protect yourself from enterovirus is basically the same as protecting yourself from any other airborne flu/common cold, namely wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Drink out of your own cup. (All the things kids forget to do… hence they get infected more often and more easily.) And, with a mere 594 infections (0.00018% of the US population) and 5 deaths (a 0.8% death rate) we really shouldn’t be worried about enterovirus. But the math says we should be more worried about it than we are about Ebola.

And Measles.

If we want to listen to math, though, we should really be freaking out about the measles pockets popping up around the country.

I have no qualms with blaming this one on Jenny McCarthy and her anti-immunization following. Science is not an ideology. It creates advances that benefit your life, my life, and that infant’s life over there. When we ignore truths and encourage rampant speculation and falsehoods, we encourage things like local measles outbreaks that are completely preventable.

2. 60 Days of Air Strikes Against ISIS

This one might freak me out the most. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was passed by Congress during the drawdown of the Vietnam War in an attempt to return the power to declare war to the Congress, where it originally sat. As time has progressed, however, presidents have slowly but surely degraded the WPR, until we have what happened today: President Obama’s 60 days are up, and he is ignoring that fact.

A lot of procedures have been employed by presidents in the past to get around the letter of the law. This time, the White House is submitting new declarations of strikes for each strike – arguing that each strike is, in effect, an individual act of war, completed the day it is undertaken and thus not subject to the 60 day limit. Back in September, Republican Representatives began the process of pushing through legislation declaring war against ISIS; Obama’s White House didn’t want it. Perhaps they didn’t want the specific restrictions that would be implicit in a declaration of war? Perhaps he doesn’t want to call it “war”? (Technically, the United States hasn’t officially declared war since WWII, although both the Iraq and Afghanistan “Wars” have Congressional authorization for the use of military force. In this manner, we’re currently involved in the neighborhood of 150 military engagements.)  There is also the argument, made by others in government, but outside of the White House, that the strikes against ISIS in Iraq are still theoretically approved under the resolutions that created the approval for the Iraq War. Note that this war was/is not technically war. Not to be confusing or anything. But this rationale, using outdated and tabled language, wouldn’t cover our airstrikes in Syria. Even some of Obama’s closest allies are deserting him on this, and urging him to request formal Congressional approval or begin the reduction of troops required to be completed within another 30 days.

The bipartisan effort in 2011 to replace the War Powers Resolution with something stronger died a quiet death. Nothing is going to happen now, because we’re getting close to election time, and we can’t let governing get in the way of our democracy, now can we? It scares me that not a peep has been heard out of Congress and, with the exception of Fox News, not a peep has been heard from the larger news outlets. More and more, I’m realizing that we live in a nation of controlled media just like China, but our media operates under the assumption that it is free. But that’s a conversation for another day.

3. Hazing

Sexual assault is getting a lot of attention around the country these days, and I totally support that. It is an important issue, especially on college campuses, but it isn’t the only thing on campus that needs attention. Hazing continues to be an omnipresent experience on campuses, students aren’t given proper methods to evade, escape, or otherwise deal with hazing, and it isn’t covered in the media until and unless someone tragically dies in a hazing event.

It isn’t just a college thing. It isn’t just an American thing. This is a photo a family friend took last week in Belgium:

Young men, on their knees in the street. Other men cheering. Outside a bar. It isn’t like these guys are getting arrested or anything. This is something they are “choosing” to do, but what we know is that it isn’t really a choice. In a world where there are so many issues students and youth deal with, where we are focusing incredibly societal energy on confronting online bullying, why don’t we address the very real issue of bullying under the guise of creating community?

Hazing in the military is a very real issue. It creates the opposite of what it is supposed to create – instead of fostering community, hazing in the South Korean military has caused at least 7 deaths, at least 4 of them suicides, in the last 3 months. Hazing in fraternities is a very real issue. Recent calls at Stanford to get rid of fraternity and sorority houses on campus make the argument that hazing is more easily performed when the frat has a house. Hazing in sororities is a real issue. I’ve seen pledging friends here at Tufts undergoing unnecessary stress for days, trying to impress all their future sisters, in order to join a band of sisterhood that could easily exist without the rituals.

Like the fundamental changes needed to change the American government’s approach to declarations of war, or the American public’s opinions on deadly diseases, perhaps hazing needs to be eliminated by instigating an about face in the way we view community and acceptance.

The media is, happily, covering the Nobel Prize, and I have a lot of things to say about the prizes thus far awarded. Basically, I think they’re awesome. But what are the other things you’re regularly thinking about that the media seems to be ignoring entirely?

Corn Chowder

When you have homework to do, you magically find all sorts of other things to work on instead. And when you have a crazy wonderful Aunt who is constantly posting on facebook about her home-made pickles and marinara sauce and closet reorganizations, you have plenty of inspiration. And when you wanted just one ear of corn but the store only sold them in packages of five, you have the materials. So instead of doing your homework, you make Corn Chowder.

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The inspiration/cookbook.

Step 1: sautee onions until they’re browned and sweet and fabulous. boil corn. cut kernels off the cob; add kernels to the sauteeing onions and add milk. mix them all together.

Step 2: pull out that blender. We had a surprisingly in-depth discussion as to whether the blender would be sufficient, as the recipe called for a proper food processor. I have to say, the final product was so perfectly textured that I can’t imagine making it any other way.

Step 3: blend. pour. consume. sprinkle some cayenne pepper for a bit of a bite.

Step 4: have a second bowl. because it’s just that good.

Step 5: save the rest for later. maybe when you get home late from tap and you’re too physically exhausted to make dinner. or save for finals, when you’re too mentally exhausted to cook. or, you know, for tomorrow because you can’t be bothered to wait that long and this chowder was amazing and you want more in your mouth.

Apples, as Promised

My mom was kind enough to remind me that I promised a post about apples, then followed that promise with a post … well … not about apples. So here you go, Mom. Apples, as promised.

Fall in New England means apples. And crisp morning air. And reds and oranges and yellows in the trees. And scarves and sweaters and sometimes boots. I’m a fan of New England autumn for a lot of reasons, but mostly for the apples.

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A couple weekends ago, friends and I hopped in the car, drove a mere 35 minutes to the edges of suburbia, where the farmlands back up against backyards, and meandered our way through rows and rows of apple trees. I picked $20 worth of apples, and I’m just about finished with them. I had one tonight on my way to class, and even two weeks after being picked, it was way better than any apple you could get in the grocery store.

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Apple picking itself is lots of fun, minus the stomach-ache you inevitably end up with as a result of eating too many apples over the course of just a few hours. But when they look this good, when they’re that crunchy, and their flesh is so perfectly white, it gets really hard to resist.

But the best part about picking apples is what you get to make with them. The day after I brought my apple haul home, I made home-made applesauce for us all. Paired with a bit of Claire’s vanilla ice cream, it made a perfect mid-afternoon snack on a beautiful fall day. Technically, though, I don’t think it was quite fall yet… Needless to say, the applesauce got eaten before photos were taken. My apologies. I’m really bad at taking photos of food that I make. But I promise it was amazing!

And then, the next day, we made pie. Which also got eaten before photographed, but it is fortunately very difficult to eat an entire pie before you remember to take at least one photo. And yes, I did buy a pie plate for this very purpose. There are plans in the works for a honey apple cake, as described on Smitten Kitchen, for which a spring-form pan was also purchased.

 

Beg and Ye Shall Receive

Every so often, you make a request that you don’t expect to be fulfilled. You ask someone to do you a favor and you fully anticipate that they’re going to say no. And when they do say no, that sucks, but you kinda get over it because you were prepared. But when they say yes, well… When they say yes you get up and dance a jig. Especially when they say yes in about five minutes.

Case in point: I’m applying for something. It needs letters of rec. The normal thing to do in this situation is to ask for a letter between 3 and 4 weeks before the due date. More than that is a little excessive; less than that is cutting it close. If you’re asking 2 weeks out, you apologize for the urgency of the situation. If you’re asking 1 week out, you look like a fool.

But what do you do if you only just found out about something because the application period only opened this weekend and the due date is Friday. Yes, Friday. Five days from now. Friday. You scream in frustration and you contact people who already have letters written for you; people who merely have to tweak the letters they’ve already written on your behalf. You pray that they don’t have a busy schedule this week.

But what do you do if the best person to write a letter for you was your internship coordinator for this summer, who has never needed to write you a letter of recommendation before? Who doesn’t already have a template in their “Letters of Rec” folder saved under your last name? You send them a very flattering, very nicely worded email in which you basically beg. And you pray that they don’t have a busy schedule this week.

Then you think about who else would write a good letter. Until your inbox chimes. Because four minutes after you sent your kind and flattering begging email, they’ve written back.

“Of course!” you read.

“Thank God!” you think.

And then, since it is midnight, you go to sleep. Or at least consider it.

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