Tuesday, July 27, 2010

creativity, or why America is losing it.

Read here.

It is heartening to know that creativity can be taught, yet this doesn't guarantee that it will be taught.

R.O.U.S.es - proof!

Here. Prepare for your mind to be blown.

Also, if you've never read the actual book that the movie is based on, it's hilarious.

And frankly, just as good as TH White's "Sword and the Stone" ---which includes, I kid you not, Robin Hood. I mean, you'd think the real book version of a Disney movie would be normal, but you'd be wrong.

Monday, July 26, 2010

the taste of success!

[The tomatoes at 6:30 am this morning. Yes, it's that light out by then. I love summer.]

[The tomatoes at 8:00 am this morning, snug in their pretty bowl]

[The tomatoes at 7:35 pm this evening, ready to be eaten. Nom.]

I cannot wait for more tomatoes. I just wish my basil looked a bit happier. Ah well---with rosemary that looks like this:

and mint that looks like this:

Plus a rooftop garden with a view like this:

[not retouched. Not that many of my pictures are, but this is straight-out-of-camera on a gorgeous morning.]

I can't complain. Nope, no complaints here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

the Saturday night update

A. I'm pretty sure I love Single Ladies. I have no idea why. I could listen to this song on loop. Forever. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe. Jury's out.

B. My camera batteries were dead today for blueberry picking and meat and candlepin bowling. Complete travesty, I say. However---I still have about 30 peaches, 4 quarts of blueberries and some sweet corn. I'm going to freeze some of the corn for corn fritters this winter, and the peaches will be boiled and de-skinned tomorrow for various cobbler/crisp/fool/crumble varieties. Blueberries---I think I'm actually going to freeze most of them for smoothies. Some however, will stick around for a blueberry crumb bar made in my tart pans.

C. I have red tomatoes! And the mint has been great in mojitos. Basil is still having a hard time - I'm definitely going to put it on the other side of the Penthouse next year. Speaking of the garden, another GRT and I are meeting up tomorrow for a picnic to put together a plan to really make this garden thing a sustainable success. We're going to come up with recipes for some of the herbs for early in the semester and then do some convincing that the un-used photo development room would be better as a seedling startup closet. I keep browsing rooftop garden blogs, seeking out good ideas for flowers and vegetables. There's also the prospect for a morning glory installation, and I'm going to root for blueberries. We'll see. I also want to get us some publicity through MIT's website and the environmental things going on here at MIT. I mean, it's pretty baller to see the solar car just driving around on Albany Street, but it's also pretty awesome to provide students with a opportunity for fresh herbs and vegetables on their dorm roof.

D. McCormick needs AC. There. I said it. It's hot. And seriously, the energy I'm wasting on fans would be better invested in actually cooling the room instead of blowing air around.

E. The freezer in the closet (after the months of trying) is a no-go. Apparently even though there is already an outlet attached to the lightbulb, electricians will not condone the putting in of another outlet. So---I'm high and dry and McCormick has gained a freezer. Sigh. Better learn how to can.

F. The construction next door...still loud, and since they've chopped down my trees, it seems like all they've been doing is pushing dirt around.

G. My hair is a lot happier when I condition it every day. I know, it took me that many years to figure that out. I wear makeup so infrequently that I'd rather invest in copious amounts of conditioner to keep my hair nice.

H. Teaser picture found in a book from the library:
There's no way I'll be able to find this exact vantage point, so yes. Very cool.

I. I'm playing horn for a friend's wedding in August---let's just say between Simple Gifts, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and get this---Star Wars! well, I am so excited to play. It also reminds me that I really miss brass quintet. A lot. Also, my cue for Jesu is "man and wife" ---and all I'm going to be able to think about is Princess Bride's "Maaan and wiiife." Hopefully I'll get the giggles out during the rehearsal.

J. One day, I'd love to learn how to actually braid my hair. Just sayin'.

K. My genetics professor from IWU was in town yesterday as his son is looking at MIT for undergrad (course 6/ computer science). It was wonderful to see him. Wonderful.

L. Day three of teaching tomorrow! And there was a bit of miscommunication between my butcher and I at Savenor's (yes, the Julia Child Savenor's) -- so the beef heart demo will have to wait til next week. Beef heart, you say? Yes. There is no way to better learn about a heart then when you can hold it in your hands, turn it around, poke around into the vena cava, get a feel for it. No preserved heart can do that, and I challenge a plastic model to do the same.

Friday, July 23, 2010

can I get a FINALLY in the house?

So I've been cloning lately...no, not the create-mutant-radioactive-zombies cloning, or even the kind that yields a Robert Pattinson-like hunk for everyone (god, I haven't even read the books, and stupid Time Magazine makes sure I know about Team Edward and Team Jacob. Far be it for me to judge another's reading material as unfit, but Twi-hard? Seriously, that sounds like you have a disease. Disease, people).

To start from the beginning, the Niles Lab here at MIT is all about coming up with new molecular tools to help scientists study malaria. Malaria is caused by a parasite from the genus Plasmodium, and to date, science knows very little about these critters. Not a single drug that is currently used to treat malaria has been rationally designed…they have all been lucky accidents or the result of glorified guess and check. Instead of science understanding the ways in which malaria parasites hijack your body and target these particular pathways, science has only been able to bombard malaria parasites with different chemicals and see what does the trick. The current method is inelegant, expensive, and doesn’t really provide the suite of medicines we need to eradicate or even treat malarial infections.

Thus, our lab is most interested in how we can increase the general knowledge about malaria parasites: both the pathology and how it makes people sick, but also more about the basic biology of the parasite. To do this, we want to find out more about their genes and proteins. Basically, when we think about how a cell or person becomes who they are, it’s because of their genes, which are encoded by their DNA. DNA is transcribed into an RNA message, which is then translated to become a functioning protein. So---differences in DNA and genes, like the ones that encode for skin color or hair color (or insert your favorite characteristic here), manifest in the proteins that are translated.

There are many similar proteins and genes between different species, and science calls these “homologous” genes. In Greek, homo means similar, and logos means study of---so homology is a study of things that are similar--it has a wide range of other disciplines where this sort of word describes a lot of different things. But in biology, homology looks at those genes or bone shapes or molecules that are the same between different species. The genome of the malaria parasite has been sequenced, but to everyone’s surprise, there were far fewer homologous genes than are usually seen between a newly-discovered organism and other organisms whose genome has already been sequenced. All in all, we don’t really know much of what is going on, and what we know isn’t well understood. Not a good place to be when you’d like to design better drugs, that’s for sure. So, all the members of the Niles lab are working on ways to help science better understand malaria.

For a brief interlude, a history lesson. Clone comes from the Greek word klon, meaning twig. It dates back to the science of creating new hybrids of plants by literally tying twigs from one tree to an existing tree and seeing what happens...if it's successful, the plant blossoms, you can get cross-fertilization and end up with a new plant. Even though this has been going on for millennia, it is only lately that scientists have started to clone on the molecular level.

Molecules are bits of atoms that are somehow bonded together. In this case, cloning on the molecular level means changing the DNA. Again, no crazy half-baby, half-lizard monstrosities here...we're talking about changing just a few DNA bases of the thousands that code for a specific gene that codes for a specific protein. But this isn't as easy as it sounds. Not by a long shot.

Science uses a suite of tools to help us change the DNA in a very specific and targeted manner in order for us to test for our desired outcome. We are, in effect, engineering the DNA (this is where the word genetic engineering comes in, by the way).

My current cloning troubles have dealt with restriction endonucleases, commonly called restriction enzymes in lab-speak. An enzyme is a protein that decreases the activation energy of a reaction. It does this by optimizing the way in which two molecules meet, or by providing a catalyst, or through many other means. Basically, it makes a reaction go forward. Restriction endonucleases are called such because they were originally found in bacteria and were able to selectively destroy foreign DNA so DNA destruction was restricted to that unwanted DNA. Endo means inside, and nuclease means that it cuts up DNA, so we have these enzymes that are able to cut a chunk of DNA. Cool, right?

[This is EcoRI (blue, red, and white) bound to DNA (lavender and light green) - from the Molecule of the Month portion of the Protein Databank]

[The DNA after the restriction endonucleas has cut it in half. See the excess bit of purple and green? Those are the sticky ends. If you have two matching sticky ends, you can effectively add in more DNA to the DNA sequence]

Even cooler is that each different restriction enzyme has a different recognition site, so they cut in a very specific place. For example, EcoRI (said eco (like the eco in ecology) RRR one; it tells you that the enzyme is from E. coli---yes, the kind in your stomach---the strain of E. coli, and the order in which it was discovered in the bacterium)

Very cool. Notice, also, that the recognition sequence is a palindrome (GAATTC on top, and on the bottom starting from the left, it's GAATTC as well).

Unfortunately, when you learn all this stuff the first time, no one tells you that efficiency is often not so good. Or the enzyme itself isn't very specific, and tends to cut other sites on the DNA that it is not supposed to. Bummer.

What I was attempting to clone was a new gene that had a portion of about 30 base pairs added in, and in this case, there was one cut I was making that just wasn't working out very well. But---finally. FINALLY. I have my clone. And now I can actually do some studies on this particular clone. Beautiful.

[also---it is Friday. Hallelujah. A weekend of blueberry and raspberry picking, candlepin bowling, teaching, and a concert at Jamaica Pond. Love it!]

Monday, July 19, 2010

an anniversary of sorts

[the bean and the bandage, Chicago]

Remember this post? The one about the oh fun I seared my skin day?

Well, it's been a year, and despite my hopes and dreams to remain scar-free, it wasn't meant to be. I think this scar will be sticking around, despite the incredible care with sunscreen, bacitracin, and lotion. Alas. I will have to take solace in the advice of Albus Dumbledore:

"Even if I could, I wouldn't [remove Harry's scar]. Scars can come in handy."

Scars are an interesting reminder of past events---from births (sorry about the whole C-section thing, mom) to surgeries (Eric's "shark fight") and close calls...in my case, a close call with zucchini bread and the evil that is spray oil.

And while my scar is not a perfect map of the London Underground (it's more of a blob)...

[me and the flesh-colored blob just below my wrist]

...well---it's still a reminder of something.

For one, don't be an idiot and spray the handles of loaf pans.

But for the second, it is a reminder to think before I do things because there are sometimes preventable but unforeseen consequences. Steps that I can take to put me on the best path towards an amenable outcome (eg, use butter and flour to grease my pan instead of going crazy with Pam). It's a tenet we reference frequently in lab as well; you don't want to waste your time on experiments that aren't set up right, or you don't have exactly the right starting materials. You want to set yourself up for success.

And at the end of the day, I'm reminded to take a step back and realize that one big hurt can and does heal, but healing doesn't mean that it goes away completely. It will never really go away. And that's a good thing, if not for my vanity, for the rest of me.

Now---off to cook zucchini bread. I will not be beaten by a loaf pan.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

some bragging is in order.

One of the girls I TA'd in general biology at Illinois Wesleyan is this year's Miss Illinois!

She had been all ready and set to go to medical school at the University of Illinois in the fall, but it looks like she'll have to delay this for a year! (also, does anyone else find it odd that talents are strictly limited to dancing and music?)

Can't people have, you know, other talents? Like being able to fold laundry really quickly? Or make a dinner for four that meets very odd dietary requirements on the cheap that tastes delicious? Or be really good at splitting Plasmodium cultures? Or have a talent for organizing things? I mean, is my best talent anything that could be played onstage? No. Not that I look anywhere near good enough in a bathing suit to ever think about entering a competition like this, but the scholarship money whoa baby.

[seen here at her magnificent senior recital at IWU]

And then this lady decided that she'd do a rip-roaring AMAZING job in her show of Cosi fan tutte at the Schönnbrun in Vienna.

"At the forefront is Ariana Strahl's Fiordiligi, the largest, most beautiful, most well-directed voice of the evening"

Um, can you say proud much?

Then, there's this lady, who just passed her board exams for med school:
[look at us, all spiffed up for John Wesley Powell!]

And to top it all off, it's this lovely lady's fourth wedding anniversary! What a beautiful day it was!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Either to the cabin in Minnesota (apparently the lows are hovering in the 50s overnight) --- or to the Tree Hostel in Sweden. This heat---it's so hot I just don't even know what to do, except languish at home with fans and washcloths and litres of cool water from the fridge...there's nothing else to do, evidently. Forget about cooking, washing dishes, working on the computer, cleaning, not to mention the piles of ironing still undone from Midsummer. So---tree hostel. Done.

Edit: I just found over $200 of unused giftcards in my financial stuff. From college graduation. And before that. I feel lucky and slightly like a doofus all at once. Also---tonight actually wasn't as hot as it has been! Thank goodness. I at least got the dishes done, for one.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Oh Marilyn..

from here

"I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."

-the inimitable Marilyn Monroe

And on the lighter side of things,

"I'm so glad Bridget didn't come with to see Toy Story 3. I mean, she would have been crying the entire time. She cried at ICE AGE, I mean, she would have cried the whole time."

--my 15-year old brother. I'm so glad he knows me so well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

so hot outside

I'm pretty sure that the only thing that saved me from the 98ºF temperatures yesterday was watching the 1961 "Parent Trap" while drinking an ice cold root beer, having a cold salad for dinner, gorging on raspberries and finishing it off with homemade coffee ice cream.

And then Eric called from the cabin teasing me with his 70ºF and breezy forecast for northern Minnesota. Jerk.

And then I didn't sleep all night. Tossing and turning, even with the fans, angry at the world for being SO HOT. I showed up this morning looking like a zombie. Apparently "I didn't look so good."

Then I watched the movie Gasland tonight (after a completely unproductive day, which is terrible given that I have so much to do!) --- and now I'm depressed. And hot. So, as I cool off...and drink my liter of before-bed ice cold water, let's talk more about the Parent Trap!

This post from Design Sponge got me started - they have an ongoing series of decor ideas based on different movies. Now, the post was themed more on the camp portion of the movie---the old school girl's camps, just like the one my mom worked at and I later attended (RIP, Ojiketa).

But what I realized was---whoa---Sharon lived in Boston! Neat-o, I say.

Which basically means that the next, oh, six visitors to Boston are going to have to join me on Hayley Mills fangirl tours trying to find her house near the Boston Common (I'm not sure it exists, but I'm certainly not going to tell my guests that particular tidbit!)

And the father's ranch house oh my! What mid-century amazingness.

All right, I'm off to bed...with dreams of vintage dresses and suitcases gracing my (hopeful) sleep. For I report to jury duty in Lowell at 8 am tomorrow morning. Joy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

fireworks in Boston

Boston + Penthouse + fireworks + friends + food = very happy and tired me.

[before all the hubbub...look at all the people!]


[boats leaving]

[the night is quiet]

if you give a Bridget new plates...

(a re-telling of the classic "If you give a mouse a cookie" by Laura Joffe Numeroff)

If you give Bridget new plates, she gets to use them for a Midsummer party!

But if you give Bridget new plates, she needs a place to put them.

And if she needs a place to put them, she needs to clean out all of her kitchen cabinets.

If she needs to clean out all her kitchen cabinets, she needs to find a place to put all of her food.

If she needs a place to put all her food, she needs to clean out her closet and turn it into a pantry.

If she needs to clean out her closet to turn it into a pantry, she needs to completely empty the closet.

If she needs to completely empty the closet, the hallways will be full of stuff.

If the hallways are full of stuff, she needs to clean the other closet so all the other stuff will fit somwhere.

If all the stuff will fit in the other closet, she still needs to find a place to put the food.

If she needs to find a place to put the food, she has to go into the basement and find some more bookcases.

If she has to go into the basement and find some more bookcases, she has to bring them upstairs without a cart since WTP students are using them to move in.

If she has to bring them upstairs without a cart, she will undoubtedly become very sweaty.

If she gets really sweaty, she'll be even sadder about all the dishes she has to wash in her 95ºF room.

But since Bridget has new plates, she'll make the most of it and end up with a smashing new pantry and washed dishes.

That was last Sunday after the Midsummer party. I felt very accomplished (pictures forthcoming; still have a couple of details to iron out. Also---art! I'll be putting up pieces fairly soon. This apartment is getting prettier every time I turn my head!)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

the wedding!

[White wedding cake with cherry filling and swiss buttercream frosting, german chocolate cake, flourless chocolate cake, butter cake with lemon, cheesecake, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting]

Whew. I'm beat.

[Apparently people enjoyed the cakes.]

And Lorenna ---oh my goodness did she ever look gorgeous!

Did I tell you that she had to find a new dress less than a week before the wedding? She was having a dress-maker make a dress through Etsy, who decided her fabric choice of silk organza wasn't acceptable...and made it out of polyester chiffon. Ew. So, off goes the bride, and finds a perfect dress --- a store sample--- that had just arrived in the shop. And it fit like a glove and only needed to be hemmed. It was fate.

...and keep in mind this is all between making her own veil, gift bags introducing both of their large families to Boston, cake-baking with me late into the night, making her own cake topper, planning the music playlist, dealing with all sorts of last minute details...she's just insane. In the best of ways, of course. The kind of ways that make you oh-so-glad to know her and to be her friend.

It was a chill, wonderful, perfect wedding. And I am so happy for her.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

It's official!!

I've been waiting ever since I got home to post pictures of a very special new addition to my family back in Minnesota.

It's quite the announcement.

Nope, I'm not getting married.

No, no new babies.

No, my mom hasn't consented to buying another golden retriever ("but mom! We already have Hillary...we just have to get one more and name her Condi!).

It isn't a Big Bobber, either. No matter how cool this one is, the reviews on Amazon are pretty terrible.

Guessed it yet?


Does the picture help?

Water, trees...how about a boat?

Nope. Although---we finally have a place to use one!

Okay, okay, I'll tell! My family just bought a cabin near Backus, Minnesota on quiet and beautifully clear Sanborn Lake.

It's about three hours from the Twin Cities, and a lovely ride full of green, lakes, aaaaaand ice cream. (pictures of that to come).

It's small and sweet, with two cute bedrooms, a fireplace, a garage, a beautiful yard.

There was also a fairy ring of mushrooms near the oak tree, which was a sign of good things to come, I think.

Beautiful stand of birches (there's also a fire pit!)

Look at that water...so cool, so clear, so blue!

The next door neighbors.

Water is about two feet deep here...and absolutely perfectly clear.

I am so excited to get back to Minnesota and stay at the cabin for reals...I got a call this morning with the whole crew heading up with the moving van. I want the fourth of July flag cake, watermelon, burgers on the grill, Eric almost burning himself on fireworks, a fire in the fire pit, s'mores and sandwiches in pie irons, late nights playing scrabble...everything that is delicious and wonderful about cabins. I'll see you soon, Minnesota!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 2010

[leftover blooms from Midsommar]

Whoever decided that time should be able to move this fast...not okay. Not okay.


Project H Design is working to use smart design in solving some of the world's biggest problems. I love it. See here for more.

Remember this painting?


Well, a brilliant flickr user decided to stage a real-life version of the painting. Incredible.

The most beautiful tilt-shift time lapse video of a day in New York City, courtesy of Sam O'Hare. Love.

The Wikipedia Game. So fun to play. I won this one, actually. In some ways, I think this could be a really useful game for students to play to get them to think about connections between different things, whether they be geographical, topic-based, person-based...very intriguing connections.

Inspired by Iceland Video from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo. Like I needed another reason to visit Iceland. [via Cup of Jo]

Improv Everywhere. Genius. From raising awareness about the New York Public Library's budget shortfall (37 million, folks. Yikes) by bringing back the Ghostbusters to creating a "tourists" vs. "New Yorkers" lane for pedestrian travel...love it.

Jan Vormann uses legos to patch up buildings in Italy

Things to look forward to:

--Wedding number two of the summer is this Saturday - and I have made so many cakes and frostings in the past month it's crazy! But things are tasting wonderful, and between German chocolate cake, lemon cake, a white wedding cake with cherry filling and buttercream frosting, carrot cake, flourless chocolate cake, plus the cheesecake I'm making on Friday night, there will be something for everyone. The weather is supposed to be good, and I'm sure it'll be an absolutely lovely afternoon.

--A Sun-day of rest. I still need to catch up with a zillion things from before my trip to Minnesota, but I have until 8 pm to finish them (then---fireworks!). But yes. I will get quite a lot done.

--Fourth of July in Boston with this view:

(tall buildings are the Hancock on the left, Prudential on the right)

to watch these fireworks:

(the Prudential building is on the far right; from here)

They just set up the first barges this morning, and it's going to be an incredible show with a gorgeous view---plus spending time with lots of great friends and food? What a lovely idea for a day.

--I won a Flor rug. Whoa. Thanks Jess LC for the giveaway! I cannot wait to find the perfect spot to cover up my ugly-industrial-ugly-purple-speckled carpet. (McCormick, I love you. And college, I love you too. But I hate that the mistakes of a few have to spoil dorm carpets for the rest of us. Le sigh).

--Jury Duty. Lowell, MA. July 7th. I am so ready?

--No visitors, and only day trips. Why you ask, am I so excited about this? Well, my schedule has felt incredibly harried and busy since my brother visited in March...which is a long time. And I love love love visitors and trips and things, but I am not in the groove of "normal life" right now. Additionally, my exercise routine hasn't been the same since, and I object. So does the dress I hope to fit in to perform in an August wedding. Whoops. So, this will be a time to rededicate myself to getting things done. I'm going to be using the teeny McCormick gym for most of the summer, too, partly because it's in the Penthouse and I have to water plants every morning anyway, and partly because it's open earlier in the summer since no one is really living in McCormick, and there's a bonus of a TV! There's still nothing on at 6:30 am, but it does have a DVD player. I'm going to slowly work my way through McCormick's movie collection, and hopefully by the time school starts back up in late August I will deserve the Netflix subscription and the netbook to use said Netflix in the real people gym across the way. We'll see how I do.

--Day trip to Brimfield with the lab! Great antiques and delicious bbq, here I come!

--A Saturday in Maine is in the works for either July or August - can't wait for a day spent reading on the beach and eating lobstah.

--The anatomy/physiology class I'm teaching is starting up. Gulp. I'm far from ready, but the wheels are turning. The Sun-day off will help with organizing this effort as well.