Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SMA Golf 2008, or why "skort" is just a fancy euphemism for "creates instant wedgies"

Yesterday, I awoke at 3:45 am and was out the door by 4:15 with my brother, groggily chugging an energy drink. We drove the long stretch of 35E all the way down to Prior Lake (into plain old Highway 35 territory) to Legends Golf Course to work all day for the Spinal Muscular Atrophy 9th Annual Charity Golf Tournament. My brother has worked for an event planning company called FILO (First in, last out) for a couple of years now, and they needed a bit of extra help at this event, so I tagged along. See here for their website: I personally vouch for their efficiency, organization, and ability to pull off just about any event.

At 5 am, the truck arrived, and we started to unload and set up registration, tents, tables, and the drink stations. After the 7:30 am round of golf began, we all began to set up for lunch and ferry coolers with drinks around the course. The caddies were clad in orange polos, working long days out in the sun to save for college (and scrounge free meals as well). Then there were the cart girls in their short shorts and polos, wearing Coach shoes and super-tan, driving around the course selling drinks and snacks. I was assigned the job of "hydration management" on the patio, which meant I spent all day refilling coolers with ice and drinks, as well as "fishing" for people who gave me the glare for not having water that was cool enough. Absolutely, sir, I will plunge my hand to the very bottom of the cooler with ice up to the middle of my upper arm to try and find you a colder water. Sure thing.

It really was fun, though - I got to talk to a lot of people, from celebrity golfers (anyone know Jim Colbert? Me neither. But apparently he's really good...) to seeing Mark Rosen (didn't get to talk to him, though). In addition, a lot of children with SMA and their families were in attendance, and I think it's great that they do have a presence at the event.

KFAN Radio also does an all-day broadcast at the course, as well as a telathon. In the past eight years, this series of events has made a combined total donation of over a million dollars to SMA research...which brought up an interesting point through my conversation with some of the people planning the event. It is very hard to make out where money will go when it is donated to an illness-related cause. It's all for research, right? People in white coats will take the money, do something to it, and then find out something and it'll be great. There is no real itemized way that scientific research is proportioned. When you donate money to a camp, you are told that "Your $400 will buy a canoe," and you understand exactly what that money goes toward. They don't tell you at the "Run for the Cure!" events that the $60,000 raised will go towards funding the time, labor, and brainpower of one year of work for a postdoc (industry slang for a scientific researcher who has earned their doctorate and is working in a laboratory). Or that a $25 donation will buy a lab a set of pipettes used for one experiment. Or that $100 will buy enough culture media for a week of keeping cells alive for study. It's a very hard thing for people to conceptualize, and part of it stems from the all-around ignorance of the general public of how science works. Now, I don't pretend to know it all...and there are many professions in this world that I have no comprehension of at all: farming, architecture, food processing, computer science, etc... But, this doesn't negate the fact that there is a huge leap between what people see on CNN and what goes on day-to-day in a science lab. I just wish there was a way to let the public know how scientists are trying to improve drug testing, or cure cancer, or use stem cells as a part of an innovative therapeutic technique. It's not all about the white coats.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part eight (clothes)

As I mentioned earlier, I got rid of a bunch of clothing early this summer (“What not to wear” style). It was rough, but a very, very good idea. Having a friend there who is invested in having you look cute is a must. They are better at telling you (even if it’s brutal) that you shouldn’t be wearing something anymore. If you get sentimental, take a picture. I also wimped out on most of my costumey clothes, but they are currently happy in the back of my brother’s closet, and it’s not like I’m wearing that awesome mermaid costume from high school every day…My wardrobe is now gleaned down, although there are some things I still really need (brown pants, blazers, jeans, button-down shirts, black pumps, and wedge boots for the wintertime)

-nylons/tights (I get cold easily. The cheapest place to buy these is at thrift stores; there are usually a bunch for sale for $1-$2 and they are brand new and unopened)
-long underwear (Again, I get cold easily)
-sweaters (during the winter sales, try and find some cashmere. It is worth it)
-long sleeve tshirts
-tshirts (both plain colors and non-logo decoration; see shirt.woot, American Apparel, H&M, and for examples)
-both casual and dressy tops (you should have at least one cheap top you can wear to a bar and feel cute but not have a heart attack if beer is spilled on it)
-dresses (I’m an addict; I really enjoy wearing dresses in the summer, so I shop the sales right about now and find them for about $15; there are so many styles available, so pick one (or in my case, seven) that fit your body type and your coloring; cotton jersey is my favorite since it breathes so well; make sure to have at least one that is of a modest enough cut to wear to a wedding in a church, and that one is fancy enough to wear to the opera)
-scarves (utilitarian, fancy (for the opera), and jersey – one of the easiest ways to keep your neck warm is by going to the fabric store, getting 2.5 yards of cotton jersey, and cutting it with a scissors widthwise; you can usually get 3-4 scarves that you can give for gifts…I now have jersey scarves in light blue, sage, black, maroon, salmon, and lavender)
-skirts (try to have skirts in the basic neutrals: blue, black, gray, brown; plus a few fun patterned or bright skirts)
-black (as a musician, I own a lot of black because you never know when there will be a gig)
-underthings (keep in mind that this is usually the limiting factor when doing laundry, so you can always pull the quintessential guy thing and just buy more instead of doing laundry)
-blazers (something I always keep an eye out. Cuts always change, and this is one area where you have to really stick with what fits you, not with what is “fashionable.” Try consignment shops if you need a blazer and the current season is just not working for you)
-pants/jeans (I’m bad at this one. Have a pair of jeans that go with flats, and one with heels. If frustrated, keep trying. And trying.)
-suit (gotta have it. Try and have a couple of tailored shirts as well)
-pajamas (summer and winter)
-swimsuit (or two or three)
-winter coat
-dressy black or brown wool coat
-casual flats, sandals, flip flops
-black and brown pumps
-boots (if you have to walk to school or work, skinny heels on boots are truly an asinine idea)
-sneakers (for working out)
-work out clothing
-clothing storage bags (like dry cleaning bags, but more permanent, with zippers and a porous side so air can circulate)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part seven (the paperwork)

Health Insurance: Due to Massachusetts’s new health insurance requirements, MIT students need to have extended coverage (a basic package is included in tuition, which is paid for in our fellowships). This extended coverage includes emergency room fees, as well as dental and optical, which is great, given that I like clean teeth and having up to date glasses and contacts. Word to the wise: keep a record with notes from your doctor’s appointments, especially if you had to go to the hospital for something (your primary care provider has to order these records after getting your signature, and it usually takes a month to get ahold of them, which is, from experience, a pain in the neck). Also, bring along copies of your prescriptions: there are laws about doctors from your home state calling in prescriptions to other states. Apologies to my male readers for mentioning this, but please, if you’re a lady, keep track of your cycle. The big picture and possible problems (from infertility to cancer to hormonal imbalances) can sometimes be hard to see if you’re wishy-washy when things are happening or not happening. This is advice gleaned from both doctors and scientists: the better and more complete the data set, the better the knowledge, the better the diagnosis.

Orthodontics: I had about six years of braces, and there is no way I am wasting the time and money it took to get my teeth straight…I use a retainer every night, and I now go back every year or two years (when I am home) to get them checked up. My orthodontist is also a friend of the family, so it’s kind of a fun visit. If I have any troubles or something breaks, I would give him a call and see what he would advise.

Voting: I am very torn between voting in Minnesota or in Massachusetts in this upcoming election. If I do choose, however, I have my voter’s registration from Ramsey County, and I will be able to go to my polling place (probably somewhere in Cambridge) and register there with my driver’s license and proof of address.

Telephone/Cable/Internet: These are all included in my rent (as well as heat, water, and gas). We have Ethernet, local MIT calls, and basic cable...but I don't think I'll be buying a TV. They have a good number in common rooms, and I just don't want to spend money on something that could be a potential distraction.

Compost/recycling/garbage: I’m still trying to figure out Cambridge recycling rules, as well as how I could work out composting. My roommates and I composted in our backyard last year, but doing so in an apartment may get tricky. There are three different variations: a compost machine (about $400), vermiform composting (basically a plastic bin full of worms) and bokashi (a Japanese fermentation process). I'm going to keep looking into things and also see how the roommate feels about any of these options.

Car insurance: my parents are trying to make a case to our insurance company to drop me from their plan by insisting that I will not drive when I am home (which is fine with me).

Passport/birth certificate/social security: I will have my passport and copies of the latter two while in Boston.

Banking: Since US Bank does not have branches in Boston, I will be opening a Bank of America debit card...there is an ATM on nearly every corner, which is certainly more convenient. However, I will be able to keep my credit card with US Bank and just pay my balances online, which is rather nice.

Transcript: I only have a copy from before I graduated, and I will have to present MIT my final transcript and grades, so I will need to contact IWU and get said transcript (as well as a copy for myself just so I have one)

CV: I just finished updating it with my final GPA, future plans, etc...keep it handy, because you'll never know when you'll need it. (Also - convert it to a pdf file to print: it will look much prettier

Planning for graduate school: part six (free time!)

One of the obvious things that I will have in Boston is my laptop, and to cut down on the amount of stuff that I will have, I have burned all of my CDs to an external hard drive, and the actual CDs are stored at home. I’m toying with the idea of getting a Netflix account to keep me entertained, but there is also the public library ( that will have DVDs and other things like cookbooks and travel guides. Boston also has a great downtown library ( with a great digital collection online.

As an MIT student, I will also have access to the gym and various group classes ( Yoga and pilates do have an additional cost to them, but I think that they would be well worth it (even just to try for a few weeks). They also have massage ($60 for 60 minutes), which is steeper than the IWU rate, but hey…everything is more expensive in Boston. Ashdown will also have exercise facilities to use, but I am not sure how much they will have.

Boston is also known for being a very easy city to get around, and I will be taking advantage of that fact. From dim sum breakfasts in Chinatown to walking Newberry Street going in stores that I can (and cannot) afford ( to the Boston Commons to Harvard Square…I have plenty to keep me busy!

As far as public transportation goes, since I will be walking to campus every day, getting a monthly pass wouldn’t be worth it. I’ll just pay as I go using my Charlie Card (a credit card-like pass that you load money onto at the stations).

I am also extremely lucky that my roommate has a car…it is very rare for students to have vehicles, and this will make my life easier if I choose to buy some additional furniture or really need a ride somewhere if the T is closed. A very common option for students here is a Zipcar ( The yearly cost is $50, and the hourly cost for a car rental is $9/hour. This covers gas, insurance, and parking…it is quite the steal when you consider all of the costs incurred when you own a car. It is definitely something I will be looking into after my first year here.

I am also planning to get a bike, but a crappy one. Too many bikes get stolen on Mass Ave for me to want a new bike out in Boston. This will also allow me to take advantages of some beautiful bike trails during the summer (Walden Pond, anyone?).

Also, *hint hint* I want some of my free time to be spent hosting guests...there will always be a couch available for anyone passing through Boston, and I would love to show you around town...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part five (bedroom)

The bedroom will truly be my space, and I am ready to do as much as I can to make it a place where I am comfortable and happy.

-blankets/comforter (I’m going to splurge and get a down comforter – I get really cold, and these are really good for keeping you warm)
-sheet set (I’m moving into a place with an extra-long twin, so I’m going to use the sheets that I bought for my dorm room freshman year)
-mattress pad (since I’m going to be the first person sleeping in this bed, I am not going to bother buying one)
-curtains (not sure of a size yet; I need to check out the rooms when I get there)
-bed risers (and underbed storage units are a maybe)
-full length mirror
-carpet cleaner (like Resolve)
-light bulbs
-bath towels
-laundry detergent
-stain remover
-heavy duty drying rack
-dusting rag
-trash can
-3M hooks (remove easily with no residue)
-hangers (thicker wooden ones for blazers, skirt hangers, and either plastic or a thicker wire)
-batteries (AAA and AA, plus any other specialty ones)
-phone charger
-computer cords/mouse/external harddrive
-iron and ironing board
-surge protectors
-furniture (tbd depending on what I need; probably will be purchased at IKEA or at the nifty exchange program
-beginner’s tool kit (the basics: screwdriver, hammer, pliers)
-carbon monoxide and smoke detectors (if not provided)
-duct tape (plus clear tape and brown tape)
-paper clips, rubber bands, other clips etc...
-three-ring binders
-post it notes (3M now makes a version from recycled paper – pretty cool!)
-biking bag (mine is from Chrome, and it was expensive, but worth it)
-school bag (mine is a “teacher bag” with a laptop sleeve)

Greenery is something that really improves my mood, and it does clean the air as well ( Depending on the availability and ease of buying plants, I am going to try and get a peace lily, a pothos, a Boston fern, English ivy, and a weeping fig. I’d also like to try my hand at an herb garden (basil, mint, sage, parsley; see, plus attempt an orchid. Basically, if there is furniture in my room not covered in plants, there is a problem!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part four (food)

I’m fairly lucky in the location that I live to be within walking distance from a number of stores:

Trader Joe’s – almost all their food is a generic Trader Joe’s brand which is a much lower cost than you’ll find at many other locations

Whole Foods – super expensive, but for the specialty items (especially cheeses) that are hard to find elsewhere

South End Formaggio Cheese Shop ( for special occasions

Star Market – your typical grocery store (like a Kroger, Cub, or Rainbow) except at ridiculous Boston prices.

Harvest Co-op Market – I think this one will be for bulk grains or more local foods, like apples, in the fall.

I am also looking into joining a CSA next year with a few other graduate students. A CSA (stands for “Community-Sponsored Agriculture”) is a program where you pay a farmer money, and he/she will bring you produce or you will pick it up at a predetermined location. A standard CSA for two people is $300 for the summer into fall, and you can also add plans for meat and dairy if you choose. Farmers also partner up to provide their customers with a greater variety. I love the idea of being able to support local farmers, as well as eating fresh food all the time. In the meantime, I’ll be hitting up the various Boston farmer’s markets:

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading this summer about cooking and food: I highly recommend the book “Cookwise” by Shirley Corriher for a comprehensive understanding of the chemical reactions behind how foods interact, as well as the book “Omnivoire’s Dilemna” by Michael Pollan to raise food awareness. I am not vegetarian, and do not plan to become one, but having a better sense of where my food comes from gives me the ability to be a more conscious consumer.

So, below is the list I’ll be using to stock my kitchen: (also, please let me know if you think I'm forgetting something...I probably am...)

-flour (all purpose, cake, and bread flour)
-brown sugar
-honey (local)
-extracts (vanilla, peppermint, almond)
-maple syrup (local)
-baking soda (two boxes – one for cooking, and one for deodorizing the refrigerator)
-baking powder
-condensed milk
-vegetable oil spray
-vegetable oil
-vinegar (white, apple cider, red wine)
-olive oil
-wild rice
-brown rice
-cous cous
-pasta sauce
-tea (green, mint, sleepytime)
-cocoa mix
-cereal (kashi, chex, etc…)
-spices - curry, sea salt, salt, pepper, ginger, cream of tartar, cajun seasonings, cardamon (and anything else I need that I can't grow in an herb garden)
-green and black olives
-falafel mix
-chocolate chips
-shaved coconut
-water crackers
-oyster crackers
-soy sauce
-vegetable stock/boullion
-natural peanut butter
-almonds (natural)
-mixed nuts (natural)
-peanuts (natural)
-worstechire sauce
-dried fruit
-fruit leather
-chocolate fudge (from Wax Orchards; made with only fruit and cocoa)
-various kinds of beans in cans (my two attempts at soaking beans failed miserably; maybe the third time will be the charm?)

-frozen fruits/vegetables
-salad dressings
-salad greens
-fresh fruits/vegetables (whatever is in season)
-whole wheat tortillas
-lemon juice
-Bolthouse Farms smoothies (good during the winter when craving fruit; kind of like Naked juice but less thick)
-garlic cloves
-salad dressing
-mustard for cooking
-cranberry juice
-ice cream/frozen yogurt
-chicken breasts
-ground turkey
-seafood (easy to cook; depends on what is local and what is fresh)

As far as restaurants go, Boston is the home to absolute food SNOBS. So, food is expensive, but it’s almost always fairly good. For guidance, there’s a great website called Chowhound which can point you in the right direction (

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part three (the bathroom)

A lot of this stuff seems obvious, but it really does help to write it down.

-toilet paper
-cough syrup
-toothpaste (Tom’s of Maine is natural and odd-tasting at first, but after going back to a regular toothpaste because I couldn’t find it in Illinois, I much prefer the non-chemically taste)
-antibiotic cream (bacitracin, Neosporin)
-aloe gel
-gauze and tape
-sunscreen (Aveeno SPF 55)
-soap (in the pump; try to get non-antibacterial and not too obnoxious smelling)
-shave gel
-barrettes, clips, hair ties
-facial cleanser (day and night)
-face moisturizer (with SPF!)
-lotion (go cheap and as large as you can)
-contact lens supplies
-travel caddy (plus the ability to take all of your necessary toiletries on a plane, so under 3 ounces)
-some sort of all-purpose bathroom cleaner
-paper towels/sponge for cleaning
-toilet brush
-toilet plunger
-hand towels
-bath towels
-mat in front of the tub (roommate discussion)
-shower curtain (roommate discussion)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part two (the kitchen)

As this will be a shared space, many things will have to be discussed with my roommate upon her arrival, but I want to make sure that I have a complete set of kitchen items to force myself to really take advantage of the possibilities of cooking and baking. I have also started browsing a lot of cooking blogs looking for interesting recipes to try (some of my favorites being lavender soda, a watermelon limeade, a baked corn and basil side dish, and edamame mashed potatoes). Appliances for roommate discussion are a rice cooker, toaster, microwave, and maybe a George Foreman grill.

-silverware (spoons, butter knives, forks, Asian ceramic soup spoons)
-silverware storage
-wine glasses
-wine rack
-brita filter pitcher (plus extra filters)
-regular glasses
-large ceramic mugs (for tea)
-small nalgene
-stainless steel mug
-plates (ceramic)
-kitchen knives
-bowls (ceramic)
-vegetable peeler
-cheese grater
-small potato masher
-wooden spoons
-spatula (plastic and metal)
-pizza stone
-mixing bowl
-cookie sheets
-drying rack for cookies
-casserole pan
-frying pan
-spice rack
-cheesecake pan
-muffin pan (and paper muffin cups)
-standing mixer
-measuring cups and spoons
-slotted spoon
-can opener
-ice cube trays
-covered glass and plastic dishes (for leftovers, cooking in the oven, and lunches)
-pyrex measuring bowl
-frying pan (one large with a cover, one small)
-cast iron skillet
-pots (from small to large)
-cake pans (circular, 9x13 (with metal covers), 9x9; both glass and metal)
-cutting board
-hot pads
-rolling pin
-chip clips
-serving platter
-pie plate
-hand towels
-dish soap
-swiffer wet jet
-aluminum foil
-parchment paper
-saran wrap
-plastic Ziploc bags
-paper towels
-dish towels
-napkins, placemats, and tablecloths (I use fabric, so I picked up a bunch cheap at goodwill)
-drying rack for dishes (plus a drain board)
-garbage bags (plus garbage container)
-magnets (for the refrigerator)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Matt Dancing!

I do not know this gentleman who dances like Charlie Brown around the world, but he makes me smile.

As to why Stide gum is funding his travels without adding in any stupid gimmicks, maybe it's because they realize that people will respect them as a company for not making him sell out to the man while continuing to wear his dancing shoes.

Planning for graduate school: part one

After exhaustive googling, it has come to my attention that the world is severely lacking in a comprehensive list of things one will need (and need to do) when moving into a new apartment during graduate school. It's not quite the same as undergraduate, and it's not quite uprooting yourself for a new job. You still have the connections of the university community, and sometimes even the housing is technically part of the university (like mine, at least for now). You also know that there is a finite time (five-sixish years) that you will be spending in this new place. It's enough time to buy quality kitchenware, yet not necessarily enough to buy out Ikea. Anyway, this upcoming year, I will be living in a two bedroom apartment in Ashdown in Cambridge.

It is new construction, so the rooms should be pretty nice! The building is also applying for LEED Gold Certification, which is a HUGE thing in terms of sustainability. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it is a program which certifies a building based on their reduction of environmental impact during the planning and construction process. This includes rainwater reclamation for irrigation, water efficiency via low usage shower heads, toilets, and appliances, high recycled content of materials, recycling during construction/construction waste management (more than 90%), and utilizing natural lighting in their design. As MIT has clearly done their part, I want to continue their efforts this upcoming year (while of course trying to keep costs down).

My roommate is a young lady from China who is in the Sloan School of Management in the entrepreneurship track. I'm really excited to meet her!

During my search, I did find the following helpful websites: (to figure out how walkable your neighborhood is and where the nearest restaurants, pharmacies, etc…are located)

Even so, I think that the situation merits some planning, and I will be posting such thoughts here to hopefully help some of my friends planning to the same thing within the next few years.

Oh: my new address will be

EDIT: contact me if you want my address.

However, the building is NOT finished yet and will not accept mail until about September 1st…so DO NOT send anything yet or it will end up in some sort of construction-vortex-limbo.