Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I’m a chronic list-maker. To-do lists, shopping lists, reading lists . . . if it can be listed, I have probably put it in a column with bullets. It is because of my analytical nature that I am addicted to making lists: they provide the perfect format for organizing thoughts lineraly. And furthermore, if things don't come out as orderly as you like, you can always filter the list and sort according to what is linear and orderly (or alphabetical or chronological . . . assuming you are working in Excel).

I’m also a chronic thinker. I analyze and over-analyze and re-analyze things that happen or are about to happen or have happened. I’ve gotten considerably better at not allowing my thoughts to influence my immediate actions, emotions, and therefore relationships with people, but given an idle moment and lack of reading material, the thoughts come crashing in. (Russell Peters has a particularly amusing skit about this.)

I often write my lists during times when I have nothing to do but sit and think. I recently came across one such list, which I had written when sitting in a place where one has nothing to do but sit and think: church. As a teenager, all I did in church was scribble in the white margins of the bulletin with the pinkie-sized pencils they kept in the pew. (I say pencils—plural—because often I would have to go through several of them in one service, particularly if no one had bothered to sharpen their tips since the week before.) I wrote about anything I could conjure in my mind: short story ideas, letters to my friends, offbeat limericks, and of course, lists.

The list I discovered recently was written on the back of a page of then-being-anointed deacons, from 2003. It’s actually a pair of lists concerning a topic that, at the time, was forefront in my mind: Reasons I would make a ___ girlfriend.

Reasons I would make a terrible girlfriend

  1. I am a worrywart.
  2. I don’t show affection well.
  3. I’m not hot.
  4. I tend to be serious and thoughtful rather than bubbly and spontaneous.
  5. I have very little spare time.
  6. I have never had the experience of being anyone’s girlfriend.
Reasons I would make a good girlfriend
  1. I am not a flirt.
  2. I put all my effort into things that matter to me.
  3. I am faithful and honest.
  4. I love writing to people. (Although if you don’t like to read….)
  5. I have no “skeletons in the closet” (i.e. ex-boyfriends).
It’s mind-boggling to think how far I’ve come this! I want to put my arm around my old self, give her a hug, and tell her not to worry about (or believe!) most of these things. Yet some of them (I must admit) I still agree with, even if they don’t necessarily pertain to being a good or bad girlfriend. I am more serious and thoughtful than bubbly and spontaneous. And I don’t leave much spare time in my schedule. (This was even more true back when I wrote this list, to be sure!) And, to date, I still have not yet had the experience of “being a girlfriend.” However, I’m not sure these are reasons I would make a bad girlfriend. (Side note: I am particularly amused that my first list gives reasons I would make a “terrible” girlfriend, while the second list gives reasons I would make only a “good” girlfriend. I suppose I did not believe I could possibly qualify as "great" . . . .)

So, for the revised lists:

Reasons I might make a pretty poor girlfriend

  1. I overthink everything.
  2. I admittedly fulfill the overly talkative female stereotype.
  3. I keep myself very busy.
  4. I am a tad OCD about cleanliness.
  5. I am not small enough to be “cuddly.” (The traditional “big man, small woman” dichotomy helps guys feel manly and powerful—why else do 6’4” men marry 5’-nothing women?—and if any guy tries to tell me this isn’t true, he is LYING.)
Reasons I might make a pretty great girlfriend
  1. I am loyal, honest, and I commit myself to making people I care about happy.
  2. I love sports. Especially playing them.
  3. I like cooking. And baking. And feeding people.
  4. I am very good at “keeping in touch.” Give me a means of communication and I will use it.
Now, off to make the list of ingredients I need for my New Year's Eve dish, and the list of outfits I might wear, and the list of what I need to clean when my guest A___ leaves (like the kitchen floor!!!). . . .

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pittsburgh is a NATURAL City

Having lived in Pittsburgh all my life, I never stopped to consider any of its communities outside of a purely pragmatic standpoint. The mall was located in Monroeville. The movie theatre was in the Waterfront. The bowling alleys were in North Versailles (pronounced, of course, "ver-sales"). This Christmas, however, as I explored the 'burgh with a friend who hails not only from L.A.--where she is currently earning her master's degree--but from Singapore (her home country), I began to realize that the communities around Pittsburgh have distinctly "natural" sounding names.

Consider, for instance, the many animal-themed communities we have:

  • Turtle Creek
  • Squirrel Hill
  • Fox Chapel
Then, consider all of these forestry-inspired communities:
  • Oakland
  • White Oak
  • Shadyside
  • Forest Hills
  • Edgewood
Incredible, huh? And it only took me five years of living away from the city to make this realization!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: Push

Push Push by Sapphire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love "voice books": novels with strong, unique first-person narrators. The most impressive "voice books" I have read to date come from African-American authors such as Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alice Walker. Sapphire adds another notable book to this collection, with Push.

What strikes me as particularly genuine--and therefore impressive--is the way that Precious, the narrator, depicts other characters in the novel. Her parents, in particular are awful, despicable people who treat her horrifically, and yet she does not seem to harbor a burning hatred or festering resentment against them. As you are repulsed by what you watch happening to Precious, her way of narrating the events and her reactions to them make you not only feel compassion for her, but also for the people doing these things to her. Somehow, she manages to come through as determined instead of hardened, and this is quite an accomplishment to depict in a fictional first-person narrator.

What's more, Precious' voice and writing style improve as the book progresses. An interesting linguistic/literary task would be to take this book and analyze the progression from a linguistic standpoint, to judge exactly what progress she was making and within what timeframe in relation to the events of the novel.

However, what prevents this book from being a 5-star book is the fact that it does not seamlessly incorporate Precious' first-person narration as written by Sapphire with her own "written narration" as she learns to write. I'm not quite sure how this could have been accomplished more efficiently, but forcing the reader to decipher, "Okay, is this Precious the 'mind' narrating here, or is it Precious the 'writer'?" breaks up the rhythm and flow of the novel, especially because although the tone and story remained consistent between the "Precious the mind" and "Precious the writer," the quality and literary merit of the two were not identical and became more and more difficult to decipher as the novel went along. Yet they were never allowed to completely blend: indicating that Precious still had a long road ahead of her, which was obviously very appropriate to the book, but it didn't bring the novel full-circle to the fact that she was narrating--and perhaps writing?--it from the start.

I hope to see the movie adaptation of this, primarily to see how Precious and Blue Rain are represented cinematically. I am also curious to see just how graphic Hollywood will be with all of the sexual issues, especially as they pertain to both parents.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Epic Long Run #2

In answer to what I am sure you are already wondering, no, you did not miss reading about “Epic Long Run #1.” The fact is that I never posted about it. However, as I have now completed my second “epic” long run, I suppose I must mention the first.

Different criteria will qualify a particular long run as “epic” but the most common qualifiers are extreme weather conditions. These, in fact, are what I am using to qualify my first two Epic Runs. Epic Long Run #1 was a 12-mile nighttime run (or, in actuality, an 11.5 mile run, much to my chagrin) through ceaseless downpour. I ran from my apartment in Woodside, over the Queensborough Bridge, across Manhattan, and then one loop around Central Park. Travelling home on the subway, I made my own personal puddle on the floor and received some very pleasant looks from fellow passangers. Nothing like a nice wet rider to stare at!

Today’s Epic Long Run (#2) was a fine, frigid 19 ° F run along the same route, only with a return trip on the pavement, as opposed to on the subway. Just cold enough to burn the skin right off my face and freeze my fingertips to the point of excrutiating pain! Nike really should think about making gloves with specially-insulated fingertips. And why didn’t Apple make its iTouch glove-friendly?!

The Beginnings of a Winter Running List of From a “Beginner” Winter Runner:

  • Run In The Sun. You need to utilize as many heat sources as possible, and as wintry as it may seem outside, your fingers really will thank you for that extra .001 ° of heat.
  • Grease up. Most long-distance runners already know the value of Body Glide, but that’s because chafing happens all year. Slathering your face with Vaseline? That’s a wintertime-only practice. Thank you childhood sledding excursions for that little bit of innovation!
  • Layer. Tightly. I used to be a proponent of looser, “easier to move in” clothing such as hoodless sweatshirts and cuffed sweatpants. However, since your core heats you up when you run, it makes sense to keep that heat as close as possible. Don’t add bulkier layers to stay warmer, just add “better” ones—and more of them.

Lastly, here is a map of today’s route. I had intended just to loop around the reservoir in Central Park, but then I was feeling pretty good at E92nd street, so I just decided to complete the full perimeter of Central Park. After all, next week is 16 miles in horribly HILLY Pittsburgh, so I need to lay all the groundwork I can. . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

Not-so-Dutch Apple Pie


  • 8 c peeled, pared, sliced tart baking apples (slightly < 3 pounds apples; Granny Smith are best)
  • 1 c golden raisins
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 T all purpose flour
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1/4 t salt
  • generous 1/2 t grated lemon rind
  • 3 t fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T butter
  • Pastry dough for a double pie crust
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 c heavy or whipping cream

Roll out half of pastry dough and place in a 9-inch pie pan.

Combine apple slices, raisins, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and lemon rind separately, and then add to fruit mixture. Turn into pie plate. Dot with butter.

Preheat oven to 425° F. Roll out remaining pastry dough. Cut into strips and layer lattice-style on top of apples. Crimp with bottom crust edge to seal. Mix egg yolk with water and brush over top crust. Pour whipping cream through various slits in the top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Serve warm or room temperature.

Reviews from the workplace:

  • Thanks for the pie, it was delicious and it hit the spot!
  • Amazingly delicious! I would never have thought to put raisins in, and I really enjoyed the flavor and texture they added.
  • 5 start awesomeness,,,loved the raisins
  • OMG, it is awesome. I could eat the whole thing myself!
Adapted from Dutch Apple Pie Recipe at Terri’s Kitchen

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Relation[ship] Equation

Relationships—particularly romantic ones—are unarguably complicated. From start to finish, no two relationships are the same, and therefore it is close to impossible to draw any sweeping conclusions about the “general” nature of relationships or how any one person would react in a given situation.

However, in spite of all this, we still make some global assumptions, particularly concerning gender roles. For instance, it is typically (although not always!) assumed that, whether or not he is in a serious relationship, a guy will be willing to have sex with a girl he finds attractive. Whether you want to use evolution or personal experience to argue this case, guys simply say “yes” more often than not.

Another common assumption is that the girl will wait for the guy to make the advance (to talk to her, ask her out on a date, etc.). Again, this could be chalked up to our biological programming, or we could count on anecdotal data to provide evidence. Either way, these assumptions have to come from somewhere, whether or not they are accurate in 100% of all cases.

Still, with all of these assumptions we can make concerning gender and romance, what I would like to know is this: what determines a capital-R Relationship? That is, what are the deciding factors for a guy? Because the deciding factors for a girl a extremely obvious:

Physical Intimacy + Emotional Intimacy = Relationship

If you have these two components, you are undeniably on your way into a relationship. (And if that’s not what you want, you’d better start working in a subtraction clause!)

Guys, on the other hand, are a lot trickier. They don’t add physical and emotional intimacy together the way girls do, because even though they may be hooking up with a girl and trading innermost secrets, they don’t necessarily put two and two together. Still, it would seem that both components are indeed required for a relationship; yet, other components are necessary as well. The question is, what else is there?

One would think that with all of the male friends I have had over my lifetime, (and with all of the girls they have dated!), I would have figured this out by now. But the advent of their Relationships is never clear-cut enough for me to identify, “So that is what happened to make them date that girl!”

And, of course, the ambiguity of “official titles” never helps these matters. What is a Relationship anyway? When does one realize he or she has Feelings, and then how is he or she supposed to Act on them? Frankly, I cannot imagine how silly someone must feel asking, “Would you like to be my “girl/boyfriend?” Yet how many other ways can this title obtained? Perhaps in some cases it can just be assumed. Ah, how I reveal my ignorance in these matters….

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: Lit

Lit: A Memoir Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is difficult to judge an author's work independently of his or her previous work. Having read Karr's previous two memoirs, The Liar's Club and Cherry, one cannot help but use them as measures by which to compare this third memoir. In terms of writing quality, Karr does not disappoint. She is nothing if not brutally honest, with a wry, self-deprecating wit that can turn on nearly anyone around her barring, perhaps, her son. Unlike her other novels, however, Lit is less of a "story" story and more of a personal confession--it seems as though it was written as an explanation to her son rather than as a story to her readers. This is not necessarily a shortcoming, except that in places, despite her continual brutal honesty and fresh wording (for Karr never has trite ways of telling anything), the tale gets to seem a bit long-winded.

Perhaps this is my own bias against religious reformation stories getting in the way of enjoying a perfectly good memoir, but when I find myself wishing to skip parts of a book, it makes me wonder if those parts are necessary to its telling. To Karr's credit, however, every moment is heartfelt, and this "reformation" is the truest-sounding I have ever read. (Because who undergoes religious reformation without digging in their heels, insisting "this is bullshit," and perpetually looking over their shoulder? I refuse to think otherwise, and Karr's experience seems to mirror my convictions.)

My other misgiving about the book was its ending--again a bit sentimental and "long" for Karr's ordinarily poignant and to-the-point style--but I will chalk it up again to the fact that she seemed to be writing the entire thing as a sort of "letter" to her son.

Overall, certainly a piece worth reading, particularly for fans of Karr's previous two memoirs. Karr continues to distinguish herself as a phenomenal writer, and were I not to compare this to her own work, it would certainly be a five-star piece.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fume Hoods and Transitive Verbs

I hate being needy. Or, rather, I hate feeling dependent. It’s one thing to feel comforted or to be taken care of—that’s nice. However, what I don't like is feeling incompetent. Consequently, this makes my not-being-a-lab-scientist and not-being-a-statistician-or-analyst terribly frustrating, considering the duties I have taken on at work. It is difficult enough to speak intelligently with an award-winning bacteria researcher or a renowned immunologist, never mind then having to turn the information from those conversations into articles simple and interesting enough for laypeople to read.

This is what I do for Beyond the Bench, the blog on our Current Protocols website. As I delve into topics for each blog article, I find myself reaching out to every friend and coworker I know who either works or has worked in a lab, asking about everything from what rights rats have to what a blastema is. Yes, this is research, but it is also a clear indication—even merely to myself—of how little I know about science--or any topic, really. (Because even after I write each article, I would have to reread it in order to recall any of the information I wrote in it. How about that for short-term memory?!)

Meanwhile, my job seems to be ever-sliding toward some sort of number-crunching mania. Unfortunately, neither high school nor college prepared me even slightly in the way of Excel manipulation, so as I struggle along, my lifelines consist of:

  • a few in-house numerical whizzes whom I try never to bother because a) they are probably more swamped with number-related projects than I am, and b) because, quite honestly, I am ashamed to admit my own incompetency
  • one hometown friend who is a computer genius, but whom I feel horribly guilty for taking such advantage of, since I feel virtually useless in return
  • one brilliant cousin who is also an Excel guru but of whose generosity I also feel guilty of abusing, even if he is family
  • Google, which—in spite of its awesome power—does not always have the answer (thus leading me to grovel at the feet of one of my formerly mentioned options)

This is not to say I am completely useless. On a rare occasion, someone will have an essay they need to have looked over or a resume proofread. More often than not, however, the people who ask me to do these things are not the same people I ask for help--thus, leaving me feeling just as guilty and indebted as ever. (Because as much as I would like to believe in karma, I simply cannot help feeling that I owe people favors who do me favors. Even if I don't necessarily want people feeling that they owe me when I can help them with something like an essay. It's hypocritical, I know.)

The other day, however, I did have the good fortune of finally giving back to someone who had helped me. The interaction started with my usual neediness: I contacted a friend online to find out how exactly a fume hood works in a laboratory. (I'm writing about laboratory efficiency for my next CP blog article, but since I don't work in a laboratory, I figured it would be easiest to ask someone who does. This particular friend, R___, works in a research lab at Harvard.)

A little while later, after he had finished answering my questions, R___ returned to ask me, "What's a transitive verb?" At first, I was so surprised to see the question, I nearly didn't give a proper answer. Then, I was so eager to answer, I almost gave too much information. Finally! Someone was asking me a question I could help them with! I quickly supplied a definition, an example, and a counterexample in quick succession. And what was even more exciting? He actually seemed interested! A scientist was interested in the definition of a transitive verb! Wonders will never cease.

Meanwhile, already at 9 a.m. my day was complete: I had returned a favor and proven myself not only useful, but also knowledgeable. I might not have a Ph.D. in physics, and I may not (yet?) know how to manipulte the WOMBAT bibliometric template in Excel, but hey, I can define a transitive verb, and I can define it well!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A win's a win!

Here are the results from the Treesdale Turkey Trot. Although it was a rather small race--fewer than 200 people total--I guess it still counts that I won my age group, right? My third race win ever!

Total Time: 23:13

Pace: 7:29 (yikes! that's practically my half-marathon pace....)

Age Group Place (female 20-24): 1 of 4

Overall Place: 28 of 175

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What I disappointing ending. First of all, the word that epitomizes this book is "dreary." The characters spend the first two-thirds of it wandering around, wallowing in self-pity, and getting on one another's nerves. The Nagini attack scene was stimulating, but it was such a sporadic event amidst all the general doom and gloom that marked the majority of the book, it actually seemed out of place.

Then, of course, it was painfully predictable that Harry would have to make some sort of self-sacrificing move that would, in turn, save him at the hand of his woefully uninformed foe, Voldemort (because aren't the villains always too arrogant and therefore stupid for their own good?). The epic battle scene at the end actually had me laughing out loud when Kreacher came galloping in with all the other elves--the text read something like, "they charged in, stabbing all of the ankles and knees they could reach." How could I take language like that seriously?

And of course the wand would choose Harry as its true master. Personally I thought it would be most interesting if Draco Malfoy entered back into the equation somehow, concerning the wand's ownership and allegiance, but Harry was the most noble and beloved character, and therefore most deserving of every accolade.

Honestly, after Snape's memory was revealed in the penseive (another high point in the novel, I thought), the remainder of the book dragged out. Most superfluous of all was the Epilogue. Had Rowling thrown in any more couples with their children, she could have started a new series right there in that chapter. Won't Scholastic be thrilled if that was her intention all along!

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Snapshot Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I may have said in one of my earlier reviews, each of these books can be captured with one apt adjective. Unfortunately, the adjective for this book is "predictable."

The major argument against my assessment will be the fact that this book is "necessary to set up HP #7." However, I think this was a shortcoming on Rowling's part. After all, she wrote all of the other books as stand-alone, complete stories in their own right. I see no reason why this book should have been any different.

Which, of course, leads me to my disappointment with the book's predictability. One of my favorite features of the HP books has been their unpredictable endings; Rowlings always writes her novels in such a way that no reader, no matter how closely they follow the details of the story, can fully predict the conclusions. Being a close reader myself, this gave me something to look forward to in each book, because making predictions--and being delighted when they are turned upside down--is one of my favorite things about reading. The Half-Blood Prince, however, came out exactly as I expected. Of course Draco was bad, but not bad enough to actually kill Dumbledore. Of course Dumbledore had to die. Of course the Horocrux had to be a fake, after Harry and Dumbledore went through all that heartache to get it.

The novel was by no means boring, but ultimately, it left me disappointed. Then again, however, Rowlings certainly obliged her readers to follow through the end of the series, because if they didn't read #7, they'd never find out of Snape had really betrayed Dumbledore or not....

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