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Spring Break

It’s Sunday, which means that the weekend is quickly coming to a close and, more significantly, spring break is coming to a close. Spring break, what a term. It implies sunlight, warmth, parks, and maybe hints of summer just around the corner. Boston, needless to say, is none of these things. Okay, it is sunny today, but sunny in a deceptive, wind-rushing-at-your-face-and-pulling-scarves-away-from-your-neck-so-it-can-bite-into-your-still-pale-cheeks kind of way. But that’s okay! Because I didn’t do a normal spring break trip (once again…) and opted to go skiing instead.

My dad and I went to Vail, Colorado for four days of spring skiing, which basically just means temperatures the same as they are in Boston and about as much snow. (Have you heard? Boston is having a crazy winter and we broke the snow record! Oh, you already knew that? It’s been the trending news story across the nation for months? Oh.) Anyway, pictures:

Panorama #1 of Many

Panorama #2

We had an amazing time, skied an average of 17 runs and 20,000+ vertical feet everyday, and experienced all the snow types: ice in the mornings, slush in the afternoons, perfection somewhere in between, dust on crust one afternoon, three inches of powder the next morning…

We also ate amazing food, drank some great wine, met some really fun people on and off the slopes, and generally had a pretty fabulous winter break experience. (spring break. SPRING break. Sorry.)

Stayed silly, too.

Spring Skiing Selfie!

I officially have headaches.

I *finally* had my appointment with the headache specialist this morning, and on the one hand, it was nice to have someone in the medical profession listen to me talk about my headaches. On the other, she didn’t really tell me anything new.

I officially have Chronic (Daily) Tension Type Headaches, compounded with Anticipatory Anxiety. I also have Rare Occurrence Migraines, which are (apparently/as of now) unrelated.

I didn’t really need a doctor to tell me that … I’ve known I fulfilled the definition of “chronic headaches” for months, and anyone I know can tell you that my headaches are tension-type. But I did learn some things. For one, my headaches are typical of “rebound headaches,” which commonly occur when people with migraines are taken off their medications. Which is interesting, since I make a point to not take medication. (I’ve taken meds exactly twice in the last year – April of 2014 and last week, both for migraines (not headaches)) Additionally, all the time I spent trying to isolate sources of my headaches over the years (reducing consumption of caffeine, gluten, alcohol, etc, etc) was pointless, since chances are high that none of my headaches have these type of triggers. Finally, my doctor didn’t find it surprising that I experience fewer/less intense headaches when I’m in new or exceptionally stimulating situations; to at least some extent my headaches are a result of focusing on them. When I have something else to focus on, my headaches tend to fade. (On the other hand, when I have really bad headaches that can’t be ignored, they take more cognitive resources to hide, so it makes sense that I have a harder time preventing them from affecting me when I’m involved in something mentally taxing and my headache is already at some high baseline.) Again, most of this was just validation of conclusions I’ve already come to.

All in all, it was nice to have professional medical reassurances that the conclusions I’ve come to over the past few years are accurate. She also gave me two prescriptions: one that should hopefully help with both the low-level headaches and the accompanying anxiety that I’ll take for two weeks and then check in, and a second to be taken when a migraine starts that will probably last me for years.

She also recommended I start a biofeedback program, which seems to me like a lot of psycho-baloney. But then, I’ve recently taken to meditating when my headaches are particularly bad because, though it doesn’t change anything after the fact, my headache intensity for at least those five minutes is significantly decreased. Perhaps biofeedback is then a way to bring the techniques of meditation into my daily life and decrease the intensity of my headaches on a daily basis. For now, though, I’ve added some psychology readings about biofeedback to my list, which is currently dominated by nuclear engineering and science medialization research…

Winter Means Icicles Galore

I have mixed feelings about icicles. On the one hand, they are beautiful. On the other hand, they often indicate ice dams which, I have learned this winter, can be a real concern and destructive. I know this, because our window is leaking, and will be until the spring comes, the snow melts, the moisture dries, and the leak can be found and caulked.

But – icicles! My personal favorite was this, which I spotted while walking home the other day. Icicles formed on the wires immediately below the corner of a roof.

DSC_0029

With the snow and rain of this weekend, I knew the icicles were going to slowly (or not-so-slowly) disappear. So I went out on a short “icicle walk” to find cool specimens and take some pictures. Fortunately, no icicles fell on me whilst taking these photos; let’s hope that remains the case for the duration of the semester…

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Blanket!!

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, once again. I’ve got a cup of tea by my side, once again. I’m watching snowflakes falling outside my window, once again. The weatherman says this time, the snowfall will be about 4″, which will bring us to about half a foot shy of the all-time snowfall record of Boston with a month of winter left.

But this time, something is just a tiny bit different. Namely, I’m sitting with my tea and my computer and my snow and my blanket! Yes, my blanket. Not because I own it, but because I made it.

IMG_1606The blanket was dreamt up a bit due to the freezing temperatures outside, a bit from a desire to get back into knitting, a bit from the harsh reality that senior year is stressful and knitting is, as my friend Jackie puts it, “cheaper than therapy.” But now that it’s done, I have to say, it is perfect.

Amelia loves it because it’s “squishy.” Claire calls it luxurious. Dorie likes how heavy it is when you put it on your lap. Needless to say, I love it for all these reasons and more. I love that it is small enough to be a perfect lap blanket but also big enough to tuck under your toes. I love that it transitions from cream to blue to blue to gray and that you can’t tell that I used two different types of yarn. I love that the big needles I used (size 35mm!) means that it went from 10 balls of yarn to a beautiful blanket in just over two weeks. I love that I made it and that I can brag about it.

I’m going back to my job applications now, since I’m warm and cozy and the snow is still falling.

Thanks Are in Order

As a student of the sciences, I think it is high time I thank the people who have saved me over and over again over the years. And no, I’m not talking about my parents. (Although they did provide me with a brain capable of comprehending…so thanks to you too, I guess.)

No, I’m talking about all those authors who write science books for non-scientists. This is a genre of books I’ve always loved. I loved the science for kids books and, as I grew up, I’ve loved books that explain something (anything, really!) to me. But this week, I need to express a particular appreciation for Richard Martin, author of Super Fuel.

Eventually, I’ll finish the book, and you’ll get a TBTW about it, I promise! But for now, I just need to say:

If you got past Science 101 in college, then you know that science textbooks go very quickly (read: instantaneously) from 1) a superficial overview of a number of topics that include gross generalizations and simplifications in order to expose the student to a broad swath of the subject to 2) a very specific consideration of a topic that assumes complex understanding of about a million classes you never took.

For example, in chemistry, quantum mechanics assumes you already understand all of kinematics, and kinematics assumes you get quantum mechanics (does anyone really get quantum mechanics?) Or in physics, where the advanced lab course requires the topics taught in optics, and optics requires the lab technique taught in the advanced lab course. Regardless of the science you’re studying, there will come a time when the textbook assumes intimate knowledge of topics you’ve never heard of (and the Wikipedia page is similarly bad) and you will want to cry because nothing you’re supposed to be learning makes sense.

Enter science for non-scientists. Specifically, books that have to do with topics you’re intimately interested in.

Because every so often, your Fundamentals of Nuclear Reactor Physics textbook’s pages upon pages of equations do an exemplary job at explaining something like nuclear flux without any actual words, so the wikipedia page (which is all words, and no equations) makes just as much sense. But then the kind science writer explains “in technical terms the ‘neutron flux’ – the density of neutrons zipping around” (pg 68) and all those equations instantly make sense. In just two pages, the entire chapter that made very little, if any, sense at all, suddenly makes sense now. Not because the author incredibly compacted 40 pages of equations into two pages of text, but because he provided the words and the analogies that made the complex ideas “click.”

So thanks, Mr. Martin. I look forward to the next 150 pages of your book.

(And yes, when I got fed up with my nuclear physics, I went running to nuclear physics to escape. Don’t judge.)

TBTW: What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri

I’m trying really hard to get a full book each week this semester and so far, that’s been working out for me. That trend might be coming to an end soon, between my new Science subscription and the end of the snow dayz… we’ll see.

Regardless, this week’s book was an interesting application of psychology focused on medical professionals (doctors, nurses, surgeons, etc.) As someone who isn’t in the medical profession, I must admit I don’t typically think about the impacts of emotion and emotion regulation on my doctors. But Dr Ofri’s book deals directly with this issue, addressing questions such as: does the stress of the medical education process positively or negatively impact doctors’ abilities to connect to and treat patients? when a doctor makes an (inevitable) mistake, how does the process let them heal alongside the patient and/or the patient’s family?

I first bought this book on a whim of sorts over Thanksgiving, and Claire – who studies psychology – borrowed it over break. She loved it so much that it quickly rose to the top of my reading list. If I’m being honest, I think she liked it a lot more than I did, probably because of the psychology aspect. I didn’t dislike What Doctors Feel – it was well written, interesting, and certainly informative. But I also didn’t love it. I’d strongly recommend it as a book for people interested in psychology, or the medical profession. It definitely taught me many things, and gave me a new insight to the real world of doctors. It also explains why I don’t like my primary care physician very much… we operate on different wavelengths.

Anyway, this book gets a “meh.” I’ve got nothing against it, but nothing about it strikes me as phenomenal. Last week’s book, on the other hand, is still burning holes through my mind.

TBTW: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

This is the first of the books of 2015 that are not by American authors. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read this post’s footnote.) NoViolet Bulawayo is a young author (33) from Zimbabwe, though she attended school here in the States and was also a fellow at Stanford. She has thus far written just the one novel, We Need New Names, which I loved (as did the entire literary world, if the awards/shortlists are any indication).

In short, it is beautiful. Her style runs the gamut from verbose to terse, but never accidentally. The imagery is phenomenal, the characters are crystalline, and you can almost taste the emotions. We Need New Names follows young Darling, who grows up in Zimbabwe with her mother and her friends. Everything comes to the reader through the eyes and mind of Darling, who is just ten when the story starts. As Darling grows up, buries her father and abandons her friends for the green grasses of America, the reader grows up as well, exposed to an increasingly complex understanding of the issues at hand. Some issues, which I’m sure Bulawayo herself has had to deal with, include well-meaning American mothers asking about the issues at “home” – meaning the continent, of course. Because, just as you and I can provide testimony on the racial tensions present tonight in Ferguson or New Jersey, Darling can explain the historical basis of conflict in the Congo or Sudan. (Which are approximately 2500 and 4000 km, respectively, from Zimbabwe)

There were moments where I wanted to stop reading because it was too hard. There were moments where I wanted to stop reading because it was too beautiful. There was at least moment when I wanted to get up and dance:

After the food comes the music…old songs I remember from when I was little. … When they dance, I always stand by the door and watch because it is something to see.

They dance strange. Limbs jerk and bodies contort. They lean forward like they are planting grain, sink to the floor, rise as whips and lash the air. They huddle like cattle in a kraal, then scatter like broken bones. They gather themselves, look up, and shield their faces from the sun and beckon the rain with their hands. When it doesn’t come they shake their heads in disappointment and then get down, sinking-sinking-sinking like ships drowning.

– 163,164

Perhaps because I spent last semester studying African dances this meant something more to me, but I could imagine the men and women literally dancing off the page and all I wanted was to get up and join them. But other parts made me nearly cry, because of the heart-wrenching reality of the lives people around the world lead, so brilliantly described in this passage:

There are two homes inside my head: home before Paradise, and home in Paradise; home one and home two. Home one was best. … There are three homes inside Mother’s and Aunt Fostalina’s heads: home before independence, … home after independence, … and then the home of things falling apart, which made Aunt Fostalina leave and come here. Home one, home two, and home three. There are four homes inside Mother of Bones’s head: home before the white people came to steal the country, and a king ruled; home when the white people came to steal the country and then there was war; home when black people got our stolen country back after independence; and then the home of now. Home one, home two, home three, home four.
– 193,194

Needless to say, I enjoyed We Need New Names. Filled with humor through darkness, home to a stumbling girl trying to find her way, and written as if each moment was truly experienced by Bulawayo herself, this debut novel worms its way into your heart and then sits there. A fabulous way to kick off the 2015 reading challenge to read other nations’ authors, I would strongly recommend it to any adult looking for their next book.

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