Sunday, August 19, 2007

Summer in Boston - Week Ten

My last week in Boston has been a mixture of absolute chaos and sad goodbyes. It is quite amazing how close the members of the program have become this summer, even over such a short time as ten weeks. And just how does one say goodbye to a city she does not want to leave? Boston is just the right size: enough to do, yet not intimidating…great restaurants, enough green, fabulous shopping, and most of all, great schools and research.

Speaking of, I have now finished my final paper and the bones of a paper to be sent for publication. I also had a final meeting with the boss and the "father" of nitric oxide…definitely a way to end the summer with a bang. I felt so small and inexperienced: it wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling, but just a reminder that I have so much to learn.

The program also took us out for a fabulous dinner on Thursday at East Coast Grill in Inman Square: I was full halfway through the appetizers! I ended up ordering the seared mahi-mahi, and it did not disappoint. The key lime pie was also top notch, although I really like my grandmother’s frozen version better. It was a great sendoff, and it was a bittersweet last walk to the frat house for all of us together as a group. We decided that we would have a BE-REU reunion in Puerto Rico this spring break (one of the program members is from San José). She has an apartment less than five minutes from the beach, and I daresay she’d find someplace to put all of us…sound okay, Mom?

So…while writing this last letter, I’m sitting in the airport terminal in Logan, where there is an absolute flurry of activity. Everyone is worried about being late, or delayed, or is angry about baggage or the cranky drill seargent trying to organize the melee into some semblance of order. I remember my childhood days visiting the airport: it was such a fun adventure to ride in a plane, and a delay meant not annoyance but more time to watch the planes come in (plus a sundae at McDonalds…a real treat!) Now, airports are still a place for people-watching, yet instead of witnessing happy reunions and excited travelers, the vast majority of scenes are of annoyed businessmen, harried families, and confused tourists. When did flying begin to entail such heartache? There is genocide in Darfur, but who cares about that when my plane is delayed for an hour?

On a lighter note, it surprises me that in a town that receives 25% of grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health has no one smart enough to design better and more efficient ticketing, baggage claim and boarding systems.

Heading home to Minnesota is always a lovely experience: my mom’s meatloaf, sleeping in the Lego trophy room, Chinese food from Fortune House, the St. Paul skyline, going out into my backyard to play kubb…not to be exceedingly cliché, but there is no place like home. A friend that recently studied abroad lamented leaving his time overseas behind, but upon our joint commiseration about leaving a place we loved, we decided that the Twin Cities are a place that is forever in our hearts, but just for different ways. And hey – I’ll be home in time for the State Fair, something about as Minnesotan as you can get (yes we carve our Queen in butter…got a problem with that?). Fitting, I suppose.

Some housekeeping: I will be taking the GRE August 22 (next Wednesday), and then packing for my return to Illinois on Friday. If you are interested in catching up, give me a call or email me, and I’m sure we can get something worked out. Also, I don’t know if all of you know, but I will be living off-campus this upcoming year in a house with four other girls about a block from IWU. The address is as follows:

Bridget ---
1305 North Roosevelt Street
Bloomington, IL 61701

I hope you have all enjoyed my updates this year, and I have no doubts that we will see each other some time in the near future. Have a great rest of the summer and a pleasant start to your fall!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Summer in Boston - Week Nine

Hello all! This is my last week in Boston, and you can bet I'll be moving every moment trying to tie up all loose ends. It is hard to believe I'll be home in Minnesota this time next week. I don't want to leave.

As far as lab goes, I finished my final presentation on Friday to positive reviews. High school speech has really helped me to be comfortable in front of a crowd, as well as have a conversational tone and how to practice giving a speech yet make it sound unrehearsed. To anyone who knows details of my infamous speeches, scientific presentations are not exactly like my days analyzing corsets or defending the first amendment, but since that same passion is behind it, things work out all right. It's kind of funny, because I had a dream last week about being a host on a talk show about new scientific never know where you'll end up, I suppose! All that is left for me to do is write a paper, finish a poster, watch the other BE-REU students present, and complete a couple of experiments that start on Wednesday. Alexandria actually had to leave on Saturday for home, so I'll be flying solo this week...something scary yet at the same time liberating. The ability to set my own schedule is very attractive, and I think that is one of the things I will love about graduate school. I also attended the final banquet of an engineering conference here in Boston: as the youngest person there by about five years, I stuck out like a sore thumb, but it was great to meet with professors from other universities and just talk about their research.

This week in Boston was Restaurant Week, and luckily I was able to take advantage of the prix fixe dinner at a very swanky restaurant in Cambridge. It's inside the hotel where all of the dignitaries stay when they visit Harvard. If you are interested, here is a link about the restaurant: (The Rialto)

My date and I got dressed up: he wore a suit, and I wore a little black dress I bought in New York City. We took the subway to Harvard Square, encountering several awkward stares on the way. Let's just say we looked slightly out of place. The meal started at 9, but we had to wait about ten minutes in the lounge before we were seated. However, the dining experience started here when we were served tuna tartare on a slice of cucumber. The menu was full of very interesting choices that all looked delicious: I wish i had the innate ability to know that, for example, golden beets would be perfect with walnuts. I just can't even comprehend how they choose their food pairings. For bread, we were each served with rolls that are crunchy on the outside and light on the inside. I really have no idea what that is called, but it was great either way. And the olive oil with sea salt made it even better. For the appetizer, I had lemon and corn risotto with basil pesto, while my date had a salad with a spicy dressing and a type of cheese. For the main dish, I had ravioli that was a marvelous shade of pink with potato and cacciatora cheese on a bed of greens with sugary and salty walnuts and golden beets. My date enjoyed seared bluefish, as well as a dessert of chocolate espresso torte. I had a lovely corncake with cream and garnished with berries and almonds. It was just the perfect amount of time with the perfect amount of food. You left the restaurant completely satisfied but not stuffed a la Thanksgiving dinner. Just pleasantly full. The walk back through Harvard Square was that lovely city mixture of eerily quiet as well as swimmingly loud: the bars were packed, but the side streets were peacefully silent. It was quite a wonderful night...

The other adventure this week was spent helping a friend move his things into storage for two weeks while he goes home (his school, the Olin College of Engineering, doesn't start until the last week in August). Now, one would think this would be as simple as packing stuff in boxes, putting them in a car, driving to a storage unit and driving back. Ha. Riiiiight. Now, my friend doesn't have a car here (he is from Michigan), but he does have access to a zipcar (you rent the car for a specific amount of time, and the amount you pay covers gas and's actually a really good deal if you don't need the car too often). However, his zipcar is in Needham, where his school is located. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get to Olin, so he woke up early, took the subway into Boston, took the commuter rail to Wellesly (where the college of the same name is located), walked a mile to Olin, and drove the car back to Cambridge. Loading the car with boxes was the easy part, but getting to Deedham (storage facility) was an absolute nightmare! I am used to my Minnesota distances, where seven miles means 8 to 10 minutes. Here, seven miles meant an hour and a half of fumbling through the cow-paths of Boston. Now, I am fine with confusing roads that don't lead north or south. I'm from St. Paul, after all. However, we at least had the foresight to clearly mark all roads and turns. Here in Boston, roads split without any warning, and you never know until it is far too late that you took the wrong fork. In addition, the rotaries don't label which street is which turnoff, something that certainly didn't help matters. We actually ended up calling a friend, who led us negative Columbus St. hat in the correct direction to get us to the storage facility (oh engineers and your vector analysis...). When we finally reached the storage facility, it took us about twenty minutes to realize that his storage unit was on the second floor portion of the building only reachable by a metal moving staircase. Thank you, storage facility, for the absence of maps and just leaving us to fumble through a scary dark building all alone. Seriously...there could be dead bodies in these storage units, and no one would know for weeks. We moved all of his stuff into the unit, and then began the trek back to Olin. This time, my brother provided us with valuable street by street updates, basically mirroring our progress on google must have been quite a hilarious phone call on his end. We dropped off the zipcar, walking around the beautiful and deserted campus. About 300 students attend Olin, and it's all engineering, all the time. Everything is new and fresh-looking, probably because the school was just started five years ago. Also, their library has a table with a gigantic bin full of legos, which makes it a winner in my book. We walked back on Wellesly Avenue past Babson College, enjoying the old homes and the moss-covered walls that bordered the forested portion of Babson's lands. We stopped at an ice cream store since we were early for the train, and the black raspberry truffle and peanut butter cup ice cream was just what we needed. The commuter rail arrived around seven, and it took about an hour to get back into the city. We took the subway back to Cambridge, stopping for dinner at a Bengali place near the frat house. I need to learn how to cook naan. Holy's just so delicious! All in all, it was a crazy-long day, but it was nice not to think about work for awhile.

I have also updated my photo album, so if you'd like to see a picture of my supervisor as well as Dr. Griffith, go ahead and take a look!

I hope you all have a great week, and I'll talk to you soon!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Summer in Boston - Week Eight

Hello all!

And so starts the frenzy of trying to prepare for a twenty-minute presentation, eight page paper, and a poster. Whew. It's been a loooong week, and this week will be the same. My presentation is on Friday afternoon, and I'll have my last weekend in Boston to enjoy before getting back to the grind, running a few more experiments as well as starting the paper for publication.

My mom found the following links online to a PBS video about the lab that I'm working in: it's kind of fun because the door Dr. Griffith and Alan Alda walk through to get inside the lab is the one I walk through every morning. I am not officially using the "giant" reactor, but several members of my lab are still using this model for our artificial livers. If you get a chance, they are really a good explanation of what exactly I am doing every day.

Honestly, there wasn't all that much time out of lab this week, but the time I had free was very well spent. On Wednesday, the BE REU students went on a Duck Tour of Boston. Much like the Ducks of Wisconsin Dells, these WWII-era amphibious vehicles traverse both land and sea, although the busy streets of Beacon Hill are a far cry from the woods of rural Wisconsin. It was lovely to finally have a full picture of Boston above ground in an hour tour...I have seen almost every inch of Boston on foot or by subway, but because I have not had a car, it was hard until now to understand how all the neighborhoods and landmarks fit together: Charles Street to Beacon Hill to the Public Gardens to Quincy Market to the Longfellow Bridge to Back all finally makes sense! After sailing in the Charles, riding in a boat was slightly anti-climatic, but it felt much less worrisome.

That night, the us REU kids made ice cream sundaes with ice cream and toppings bought with our generous food per diem. It's really hard to spend $100 a week after spending less that $20 during the school year. I'll have to get back to my no meat and no fancy chocolates behavior or I'll go broke this fall! I've also been making quite a few meals with a friend and I here at the frat: this week we have made chicken with goat cheese and an eggplant and red pepper chutney, pasta with white cheddar sauce, the always classy marshmallow plus cornflake plus butter concoction, queso manchego with cherries and wheat crackers...again, this food stipend has been treating me well.

Saturday was a slightly lazy day: I had some delicious (and really cheap) Thai food in Inman Square, and I was able to make my jewelry purchase for the summer. While I definitely buy jewelry because it is beautiful, the pieces I buy almost always represent a specific time or place in my life. For example, I bought a gorgeous silver ring based off of a ring found in a Viking hoard while I was visiting relatives in Gotland, Sweden after seventh grade. The ring is not just a ring, but it is the boat ride from Stockholm to Visby, the roses that spill over the streets onto the cobblestones, my cousin Åke telling me the history of the island, the smultron and cream dessert on is so much more than metal to wear on my finger. It is embedded with memories that surface any time I wear that ring. Yesterday, I ended up buying a wooden pendant that is about two inches in diameter that has a very finely cut geometrical pattern scrimshawed in the center. It's not just wood: it is walking on the Harvard Bridge admiring the smoots, drinking Pear Kristal at midnight while watching movies, spending over fourteen hours in lab at a time, eating dim sum early on a Sunday morning, twirling to the gentle strains of a waltz in La is a physical reminder of my summer here in Boston, and I couldn't wish for more.

Later on Saturday, I enjoyed ice cream from Christina's, a local ice cream parlour: while the sex-on-the-beach sorbet did taste pretty good, I went for the mango, and it did not disappoint. One of my labmates, Bryan, invited me to attend a dinner party that night at his frat house across the river. Now, these guys really have it figured out. They throw dinner parties, cooking delicious food and getting dressed up...then they invite girls over to sample their handiwork, talk, do a bit of that is my kind of frat :) They served bruschetta, salad with fresh mozzarella, an amazing cream-based soup with spinach, sausage, onion, and onion, focaccia, chicken cacciatore, homemade raspberry Italian soda and tiramisu for desert. It was fantastic, and also really nice to meet some other people from MIT and the other colleges here in Boston.

As far as today goes, it was a whole lot of lab with a break for Olive Tree, a really small restaurant here in Cambridge: babaganousch sandwich with lentil soup for $2.85. You can't get much better than that.