Shared Joy is Twice the Joy, Shared Pain is Half the Pain

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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.

I Swear I’m Not Dead.

Although my recent radio silence would indicate otherwise, I am alive and kicking. Specifically, fighting maniacally at the stresses and pressures that being a Senior implies. I spent the first two weeks of school in a rapid rotation between classes, homework, the shower, and my bed, with a little time in the kitchen to cook, eat, and clean up meals. Basically, my life was do work, finish just in time to go to class, go to class, come home, cook, eat, clean up, do homework, shower, sleep, do work, go to class… You get the picture.

By Tuesday of Week 2, I was up doing work until 3 in the morning, and I decided things needed to change. My advisor told me last year that Senior year needed to be as much about your transition into the real world (hence living off campus and having a job (ish?) as it is about the actual work. Then the Career Center had this wonderful event in which they basically informed us that the job hunt for post-graduation is essentially your fifth class. But I was already taking 5.5 classes…

Now I’m not.

My life is still crazy busy, but now I’ve got time for things I want to do but otherwise wouldn’t be able to. My weeks are still front-loaded; my chemistry class’ problem sets are due every Monday and my physics class’ problem sets are due every Tuesday, and then there’s the small detail of my literature class that meets once a week on Mondays that assigns anywhere from 150-300 pages (so far). I’ve still got lots of homework to work on all week long, but now I also have time for things like reading the newspaper and baking cookies and all the other things one needs to do to remain sane without feeling bad that I’m not working on my homework.

Don’t get me wrong – the decision to drop Japanese was a hard one for me to make. It took me almost a week after I told my teacher I was dropping to actually log into our course system and formally drop it. But I also know that it was the right decision to make. I don’t have time for the ~12 hours of homework it was taking in addition to the 5 hours in class. I don’t have the mental capacity to struggle through a class and feel like I’m not learning anything tangible for my struggle.

Because that’s what Japanese felt like for me. Even in my sophomore year, I felt like I was learning vocab and grammar and facts, remembering them for the test, and then letting them go. Which is exactly how most classes work (although I keep very very strange facts in the back of my head and retrieve them at the most inopportune moments…), but languages are supposed to grow on themselves, like math. The next topic you learn should make more sense as a result of the things you’ve just finished learning; if you’ve forgotten all of that, then you just end up falling further and further behind.

Add to that a year of studying a different language, and you’ve got my situation. I was in a class that I absolutely wanted to be taking, where I could be learning a language that I absolutely want to be learning, but I lost my foundation. And without the foundation, the class was just a forum for frustration, not for furthering my language skills.

For that reason, I’ve decided to go at it on my own. Instead of spending the almost 20 hours a week doing classwork for Japanese, I’ve decided to spend ~5 hours a week maintaining my Japanese, and ~5 hours a week maintaining my Czech. I need to figure out exactly what I want to get out of my language studies going forward, and I’m still working on what that will look like, but hopefully it will include a bit of writing, a bit of reading, and a bit of listening and speaking in both languages.

I dropped Japanese about a week ago and I am more well-rested, less stressed, and more fun. I have time and energy to think about and actually write blog posts again. (Yay!) I auditioned for and made the tap team, and our first rehearsal is tonight. (Yay!) I have time for things like going apple picking, making applesauce and baking apple pie. By the way, its apple season. That post is coming up next!

TBTW: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

This is one of those books that I got to read courtesy of the bookcase at Forum, which means that I’ve read it and I can suggest that you head over to Amazon now, order it today, and read it the day the book comes out (Sept. 16). Did I mention that I liked it?

I’ve read a lot of books and I’ve read a lot of different types of books over the course of my life, but I don’t know that I’ve ever really read a book like this. I could read it again and again and probably find new details every single time. I could read it again and again and never really understand it. It feels like something from Toni Morrison, in which you know there is something to be read and something to be found, but that you really don’t know what it is or even if you are supposed to know.

jpegNothing is hidden in Wolf in White Van, because the end happens first. And yet, it is a maze, exactly like the cover. You know precisely what it says, but you have no idea how it actually works. Every so often, the story transitions from where we are to some point in time earlier in the narrative. Sometimes the jumps are so sly as to be almost unnoticeable; sometimes they are abrupt and awkward. But every transition is designed to be exactly what it was. We follow the main character through the recesses of his mind, through his imaginary game (Welcome to Trace Italian!) that is anything but imaginary, and through the truth of life. Which is, of course, that we really don’t know what life is.

With a book that captures your imagination first and your intellect second, John Darnielle grabs you from page one with this book and makes it really hard to leave the story, even when you put the book down. I can’t help but imagine that this is a story he’s been working out in his head for his entire life. The book is really a story in a game in a story, and it feels almost like Darnielle has opened up his brain to us by putting this story in a game in a story into words. The words aren’t always my favorite, but they are certainly compelling. They make you think. They make you wonder. And they make you imagine, which is really the point of a novel anyways.

 

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