Thursday, December 28, 2006

Heading into 2007

I am definitely NOT the type of person to make serious New Year's resolutions. Ha, yeah right, it's just another To-Do list to fail and ignore, only it's more serious and makes you feel worse when you don't make it happen. I even avoid goal lists. When I was in college, some career or life counselor or something said "make a list of short-term and long-term goals." Yeah right, I forgot them about a day after I write them down, though thinking back I do believe that "get into grad school" and "go back to Kenya" were two things on my long-term goal lists that I managed to accomplish, so not too badly done, I suppose. Ha. Seriously though, it's just setting yourself up for disappointment, or once you finish the goals you've written down, you sit there and say "what next?"

This year, however, I do think I need to make some life adjustments. Not too too many, but a few. Here are long-term goals:

1. take vitamins
2. go to gym more to get Dr. Wood off my back, and to get in shape for vacation
(the woman harasses me about exercise! I'm not sure why but she keeps saying "your family heart history" which is somewhat of a valid concern, but the one person in my family who had a heart attack had a diabetes-related heart attack. Of course, they could've had adult onset diabetes from being slightly overweight. grr ok, Dr. Wood is right)
3. eat less junk
I think I'm doing ok right now. I'd give myself a B
4. be more generous with self and time
(example: bring bird food to Foster Parrots to cut Karen and Mark some slack, when signing up to conduct alumnae interviews, contact the prospectives first, don't let them come to you, help out family more. what they need help with, I don't exactly know, but they must need something, so I'll do it. yeah.)
5. See friends more
It's hard to do while working and in school, but it would be so cool to schedule special friend time. This will include boyfriend especially when he starts school, although that might make things a tad easier. Though I do envision us having dates where we go to the library and do work, LOL
6. get out of debt.
which really should be number 1, it's that out of control
7. become a more dedicated student
I won't lie, I could've handled this semester better than I did. Not necessarily studying-wise, but communication and time-management-wise, so there.

hmm I think that's enough

short term goals:

1. organize craft shiznit so I can find a home for my NEW sewing machine
2. donate old clothes to that charity where they give your clothes to women going on job interviews....I forget what it's called, but this is important.
3. send school supplies to Kenya - if I ever hear word of Mboya again, that is
4. put cd's on iTunes.
5. fix the frickin' bedspread that kills my soul
6. get rid of crap in room that is bogging down life and soul, especially stuff lurking in desk, like PENS THAT DON'T WRITE ANYMORE
7. ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm what else? clean fish tank and bird cages? no, that's dumb, that's a chore, not a project. OH SCRAPBOOK to get rid of scrapbooking things that are taking over my life. I have a rubbermaid full of scrapbooking crap under my bed. It would serve me far better being full of things I don't need in my room or want to store, sitting in storage. YES, that's an important goal.
8. I'm running out of goals here. I actually have a list in green marker at home. I can't remember everything, but I think I have the essentials.

Yup, this is basically the kind of things I do for resolutions. Sort of half-assed things that I'd probably do anyways, even if I didn'twrite them down. Eh well, at least now they are on the internet for any internet-trolling person to find.

So anyways, this will probably be it from me til 2007. I'm heading to New York (which I respect and where I do not find any single person any ruder, nicer, straighter, gayer, blacker, whiter, asshole-y or sweeter than any person in any other city in the US, North America, Western Hemisphere, Earth, World, Solar System, etc etc etc - this is my attempt to be nicer after the post I wrote and the comment I wrote, the comment being bitchy, I admit) for the New Year. Jam and I are going to a swanky party, and I am sooooo excited. It'll be the first New Year's since 99-00 where I'm actually doing something fun! New Year's Eve 1999 was at the Millenium Ball in Hanover, and it was great, all naive and sh*t before we had any concept of all that lay in front of us. Since then, I've had the following New Year's Eves: parent's house - Chinese food and movies, them falling asleep before midnight x 3, party at UNH where I didn't know anyone, had mono, and was abandoned by the a$$hole I pseudo-dated for 10 seconds - it was pure hell and misery, thank God he decided to "break up" with me the next day, Going to Outback with Amy and Ryno and getting so drunk I fell asleep in the back of my sister's Taurus for a few hours, going to the Border Cafe and wandering around Boston only to fall asleep in a Harvard dorm, but that was OK because Amy, Jam, and Rach were there, so that was actually an adventure. So yeah, it hasn't been a New Year's rockin' eve for a long time, and I am looking forward to this one.

Stay tuned, for in 2007 my first 100 posts or so will be from the book Amy gave me for Christmas "No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog" by Maggie Mason of Mighty Girl and Mighty Goods. I'll admit, I'm not an avid reader of either blog 1. I'm not allowed on Mighty Goods, because I would want to buy waaaaay to much stuff it's THAT fabulous and 2. I didn't connect Mighty Girl and Mighty Goods. Amy knew about both the whole time, plus Dooce posted something about the book a while back, so Ame bought it for me. I'm looking forward to posting from the ideas in the book because it will give me something to post about other than my hatred for my coworkers, bitchy NYC posts (LOL), and dumb people I see on the subway. Right on.

Have a safe and happy new year all! See you in '07, Year of the Pig!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Oh dear lord!

So I definitely did NOT bring you days 6-12 of Christmas, probably because I was too busy crafting. Suffice it to say that I made a crap ton of homemade gifties, enough to fill days 1-12 of Christmas, but I did not get to post all of them, including the 11th hour washcloths I made for a cousin who "might" show up to Christmas dinner and then stood us up! Oh well, I think that means my great auntie will get some mason-dixon pattern cotton washcloths and some organic all-natural green tea soap from Trader Joe's!

Anyways, I had the most wonderful Christmas. I said to Jamaal last night that my family and I truly live the good life. My dad always says stuff like 'I never took you to Disney World a second time (oh yeah, it makes me so sad - can you read the sarcasm?!!) or I didn't do XYZ.' I know that he justs wants to give us all that he can, especially since he is the man amonst 3 women, the "provider" but anyone looking in on our extended family of 10 last night would clearly see it - we are living the good life. We have so much compared to so many people - yet we still have a closeness and appreciation for each other. In my opinion, none of us take what we have for granted either. Maybe I have my moments where I complain about things I want but don't have, but you have to step back and think "I don't need that. I have everything I really need right here - food, clothing, shelter, a job, my health, my family. I have a good life."

That being said I can't post pictures of my Christmas presents because I didn't get the digital camera I asked for for Christmas (and yes, I am pausing to cackle at myself.) Why didn't I get a digital camera? Because

I GOT A SEWING MACHINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11111111111111111111oneoneoneoneone

I didn't ask for one because I thought it would be much too expensive of a request. I knew that digital cameras, simple point and shoots, had come down in price considerably, and knowing that my mom and grandpa combined could earth up a bargain for a decent camera and probably share the cost, I put that on there as my "big" request. When my mother announced that I couldn't open one of my presents because it was from both my parents and grandparents and I had to wait til my grandparents arrived so they could see me open it I thought "ha - digital camera!" When my mother hauled a rather huge box into the living room I thought "what on EARTH?" I opened it to reveal a Husqvarna box. I thought "Husqvarna makes power tools......(allow split second to think and reason) and......SEWING MACHINES OH MY GOD!" I ripped the box open and there it was, a beautiful new machine, not too advanced, but not a kiddie machine, a bona fide sewing machine. I was so surprised I could barely speak. The look on my face must've been hilarious. Then my grandparents, parents and sister each gave me a gift certificate to the local (good and indepently owned) fabric shop, Saftler's.

It still seems like a dream that it even happened. I don't even know where to start either! Well, I actually do - I either have to find an inexpensive sewing table (I could kick myself for not buying a yard sale desk I saw months ago - it was $50 and perfect for sewing, but I told myself it wasn't "meant to be" unless it was there after my 3rd pass by the house. of course it wasn't. Grrr) or reinforce the fifth hand table I'm using as a craft table. Though I'm trying to be a better financial planner, depending on things I might be able to swing something, especially if it's from IKEA.... Then I'm probably going to put my gift certificates towards a beginning quilting class, which will enable me to better use these two books I received for Christmas. Oh goodness, I feel an addiction starting! Hooray! Now I can tackle my existing projects, use up my scrap fabric....make presents! It's like a new world, which I know sounds positively dorky, but seriously, sewing is one of my most relaxing hobbies, and to know that I have my very own machine that I can use every single day if I so desire is one of the greatest things I can think of. Meanwhile, I am saving my pennies for an affordable point and shoot (love this one) so I can combine my love of sewing with photography, though I'm not in any hurry to buy a digital point and shoot, though I do have enough cashmoney in the bank. hmmmm....... :)

So yes, Christmas was great and I feel so blessed, which is what I would feel even if I hadn't received a sewing machine because I got a bunch of great gifts - a basic cookbook published by the food network that's perfect for me, two fabulous page a day calendars (my aunt and mom didn't communicate on that one, but who doesn't love page a days?) one stitch and bitch and one origami, some girlie stocking stuffers, like pastel post-its, burts bees stuff, nail files, polish and correction stick, gum and a pink scotch tape dispenser, and Whole Foods cookies - ok moment for how the stockings are my favorite part! - a GORGEOUS necklace from my sister, a black pearl!, a painted martini glass, some sewing accessories, a bathrobe from a great aunt.....and some cross stitch counters that are really pretty but I don't know how to use from my mom's best friend. I will figure those out though! It was a great great day, with good food and family and lots of laughs - especially since my dad got a chainsaw for his birthday (DEC 19th) and my aunt and uncle gave him the whole safety helmet with face shield and ear protection for Christmas (thank God, because that man is the man who gave me my genetically predisposed klutziness and if he didn't get the safety gear, I'd make sure he wasn't using his chainsaw). He was very excited by this gift, and he proceeded, throughout the night, to put on the helmet and walk around the house holding an imaginary chainsaw, complete with sound effects. The humor was amplified by the three cosmos I consumed too. Heh.

So yes, Merry Christmas to all! I hope everyone had a wonderful and peaceful day!

Friday, December 22, 2006

6th day of christmas!

The 6th day of Christmas - hmm I am behind, aren't I?

Maybe I won't get to 12 homemade things - although I am giving myself a break here, I've made over 12 homemade things: 5 cloths, 1 scarf, 5 tissue holders, a tea cozy, 2 prs red felt booties, 9 snowmen ornaments yet to be posted, and I still have 4 things I'm trying to finish, which brings me tooooooooo 27 things. Ha, I'm in the clear ;)

So the sixth day of Christmas, a gift I made for EE:

1 fabu tea cozy

I found it at, and it's a design by Kristen Nicholas, whose blog I adore - she's a crafter who lives on a farm in Western Mass. I love Western Mass and have since my first year at Smith, though Northampton is probably not as far west as her farm, but still, for me it's "west." I love it that you're only a 2 hour drive from Boston but it almost feels like another world. You just don't tend to see that much green space in the suburbs, but if you know where to go in Western Mass, you can find the sprawling fields and orchards of farm country. It's how I imagine Massachusetts in the early days, when farmers were tilling up those huge rocks from the soil and building stone walls to mark their property lines. But I digress.

Anyways, so I made this tea cozy - it was my first adventure in felting too. I loved it! See I tend to mess things up in the washer and dryer, usually stuff that's not my own, ironically enough (which I note, is why I stopped being nice and doing other people's laundry for them. I can only listen to my mother screaming at me because I shrank a pair of her underwear so many times.) When it came to felting I was wary - I figured I'd shrink whatever I was making and then need to "undo" it and not be able to undo it, but luckily, everything worked out. Pictured with it is a vintage teapot I found last minute on eBay. I had one all picked out when some WHORE outbid me at the last minute, but this one is nearly as good and the same color, so there. I also got my friend some special singer's tea. Ok, it's not actually FOR singer's, but I googled "tea for opera singers" and clicked on all the links until I found a recommendation - it was this tea I had heard of but had no idea where to buy it, besides online, and it was too late for that, so I gave it up as a wash. Then lo and behold, I'm in Whole Foods on unrelated business and HARK! Yogi Tea, Sore Throat Remedy with "slippery elm bark" and "mullein." To me, that sounds like some crapass tasting tea, but hey, if EE is trying to sing and her throats jacked up and this stuff helps, that's the important thing! I like how the cozy has an "aura" in this picture (a bad lighting aura, LOL). As if it's magical - a magical tea cozy - what powers would it have? Ah yes, it would make the tea magically when you covered the teapot. Brilliant.

My other friend got a dvd I converted from VHS. I can post about it because both Rach and Melu got this gift but I didn't want to say anything until they had both opened it. I was very excited about this one too. When we went to Kenya last January I took my parent's VHS-C video camera with me. I was going to lug a bulky second-hand one there, but then they offered theirs instead, which was awesome. I taped a lot of footage, mostly of us acting stupid, and wound up with about 2 1/2 hours of tape. We watched the tapes at Melu's house one weekend and it was so fun, and I thought "they should have copies of this to show their families if they want." I researched a place that would convert tapes to dvd over the internet and found I know you can take tapes to your local photostore, but what the place near me charges for conversion is highway robbery, so I decided to try and seek a more economical way to do this, because the movie was longer than 2 hours and would require 2 dvd's, plus I wanted 3 copies. Nettapes was great. I converted my VHS-C to VHS (for my own reasons, they accept VHS-C tapes) and then overnighted the VHS tape to them - I had my stuff in about a week! My wonderful sister then made cover inserts and disc labels using my pictures. All in all, I was very very excited about the gift, plus now it'll be so much easier to show the tapes to my family, no dragging out the converter and having to change tapes every 20 minutes.

Anyways, it's high time I get cracking on some work. Lots of maintenance things to do before the holiday. More later!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

let's see now

The third and fourth and fifth day of Christmas I made a gift not for me:

5 tissue holders:

1 Thank You scrapbook:

5 washcloths for coworkers:

2 pairs of red felt booties

and a scarf that Jamaal can now seeeeeeee!

Yes, life has been busy. No one really came through for me on that take-home exam. It's not like I've never been let down when it comes to a group project, but to be shafted on the last day it could be done after being strung along for a week was really crappy, I won't lie. I managed to do a good deal on my own and turn it in more or less on time, which is more than I can say of my partners. I only have one project left for the class, and I won't lie, I haven't done a ton of work for it because I felt screwed over last time. The girl I'm working with has said time and time again that she's handling a major part of our project, the mathematical evaluation end, and if it's not done by tomorrow, her portion of the presentation (of which I am in charge) will contain blank slides. I hate to be a hardass because I'm not like that, but I'm at the point where I need to protect my own grade. That's life.

On a happier note, by 10 am tomorrow I will have completed my first semester of graduate school. PERIOD. I am really looking forward to next semester where I'll have the chance to move on and prove myself to my professors, which is great, because I feel like I need to show them exactly why they accepted me into the program.

Hell, I'm simply looking forward to this week and weekend - the festivities seem to start tomorrow after work - dinner with friends and gift exchanging (so excited) and then a relaxed day at work Friday, major crafting til Sunday, then CHRISTMAS EVE, where Jamaal's gorgeous, and I repeat gorgeous Christmas gift he gave me will be revealed to the world (per his orders - no one sees til Christmas!....Eve!) And then....duhn duhn duhhhhn CHRISTMAS DAY! I love it, I love watching my family open gifts and we have some real winners this year (me to my sister, my sister and I to our parents. eeeeek!!) so yes, let the fun times begin! well. at 1oam tomorrow, that is!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


my ecological modeling final is due in 23 hours and 14 minutes.
my partners have not emailed me.
I cannot do the exam without their help.
I am sooo dead.

12 Days of Christmas

I love how I've posted twice in December and it's already mid-month, whereas NaBloPoMo resulted in a daily post. Ahh the differences between November and December!

Anyways, I'm in the midst of finals and Christmas crafting, a deadly combination. While I am waiting for my ecological modeling exam partners to email me so we can work on our takehome exam, I shall post. Actually, I'd love to do a real 12 days of Christmas post with my crafts. That'd be fun. So here goes, song and all.
One the first day of Christmas I made a gift that's not for meeeeeeee:

An unidentified project made with gray soft merino yarn to put under a secret person's tree:

On the second day of Christmas I made a gift that's not for meeeeeee (it's important to really warble to "meeee" part)

Two pairs of red felt jingle booties

And a project for under a person's treeeeeee!

I am going to try and keep up with this, but I may not be able to go in order :P Also excuse the marginal quality of the camera phone. Maybe if someone gets me a digital camera for Christmas, my blog photo quality will improve, but actually the camera phone is suiting me just fine for the time being :)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

taken tonight

I took these tonight - can't you just see the destruction plans twinkling in Lily's beady little eye? I noticed last night that instead of hissing at my wee rescued-from-Ann-Taylor-Loft's-Christmas-Eve-window-display tree, he stretched out for it. Of course he was trying to see if the needles were lettuce and if the electrical cord part of the twinkle lights was chewable, but I ignored that and thought "ahh he's in the spirit and wants to be a part of my holiday decorating. how sweet." I think he also enjoyed the bright colors of my new ornaments - all from the cake + pie and freshly cut sponsored ornament swap - I've received 6 out of 9 so far, all unique, all wonderful and displayed prominently in the front of rescued tree.
Lily also enjoyed his stocking, which he really hasn't had a chance to check out thus far - I thought he'd be afraid of it, but he cozied up to it...maybe he thought it was a girl cockatiel, heh.
In closing, I would just like to say F*CK wasting time talking to baby Jesus about genetics - we've got MUCH bigger fish to fry. Prayers please.

Failure is an option aka the post wherein I thank baby Jesus for answering my prayers

So I posted about my genetics failure.
I've also stressed about it to the point of making myself ill. And cried a bit too. Very pathetic, true, but up until today I pretty much thought that the continuation of my graduate career at Tufts depended solely on whether or not I passed genetics. Today I planned to withdraw from the class. THEN I GOT THIS EMAIL FROM MY ADVISOR:

We don't think there are any
consequences to your not passing except that you ultimately should know
the material.

Praise the LORD above! For once in my academic career, I have encountered a situation that is being handled in a completely sensible manner (perhaps I am saying this because the outcome is favorable, but I believe it's more than that. Oh, and ok, this is the second time someone's being sensible - thank you Marilyn, my Asian art and architecture prof whose last name I can't remember who allowed me to take my final a month late because I had mono. I have not forgotten you. Just your last name). So yeah, it seems like things are going to work out.

I have to make one admission though - I'm probably not going to invest a ton of study time into the final. This is not to say I'm going to blow it off, but last exam, I KILLED myself to try and pass and didn't. I fully intend to print off exam examples like I have for every other exam (yeah, this guy's exams are so hard, I still failed despite the fact that he had EXAMPLES of past exams posted on Blackboard! Unbelievable! I've never failed anything with a professor that did that. Ah well), and concentrate on the questions he asks there. I will also read the extra credit reading and answer the question (to my defense I get the extra credit on the exams right - which I think shows some effort!) and I'll go over the homework questions. I am not going to stay up into the wee hours of the night, however, hunched over book with highlighter, making flashcards, studying on the train. It's not worth it. I will memorize the genetic tests such as PCR and Southern blotting (for once the advantage of working at The Cancer Hospital makes itself known, I read PCR, FISH and blot analyses every single day, as well as metaphase counts, and I know how they WORK!) but there will be no effort to the point of a near-death experience, LOL. I'm focused on ecological modeling, the class where I have a chance of getting an A with flying colors, the class that after weeks of struggling I really really love. So there. HA
HA TO THE WORLD! And score :)
And Costa Rica, here we come :)

Thursday, November 30, 2006



NaBloPoMo is officially over in about 22 minutes. It's been fun posting every day - perhaps because it's human instinct to enjoy talking about ourselves, or maybe it was just because I felt like I had an outlet, or even just to get some creative juices flowing. Or maybe even all of the above.

Anyways it's been fun. I'm not sure I'll be able to come up with a post every day, but NaBloPoMo has defintely encouraged me to try and write more, to visit random people's blogs and to NOT fear the comment! Some new people commented on my blog and made me feel great - I then realized that commenting is not creepy or stalkerish (I thought at first that it was!) and actually I loved knowing that people were reading, because without comments, you just have no idea!

So here's to you NaBloPoMo! I'd raise to you one of the Captain Morgan nips I have stashed in my desk drawer, but alas, the killer heartburn from the sausage and meatball arabiatta is rearing its ugly head thus preventing me from consuming liquor, but CHEERS nonetheless!

Tomorrow: the post wherein I complain about my itchy boobs. No lie.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I'm sure everyone has annoying coworkers. EVERYONE. I know I'm in no way unique when I say "I have irksome coworkers." They are, however, a special kind of annoying.

The anorexic one is the worst. She kills my soul because she's got it in her head somehow that were "close friends." Is she serious? How can she possibly think I want to be her friend after the first year that we worked here together, when she deconstructed every food that passed my lips into "fattening" "yummy, but bad for you" or "healthy today?!" It's enough to drive a woman insane. At first I thought "Oh she's super health-conscious," but I soon realized that she was commenting on EVERY SINGLE thing I was eating. I'd go to Dunkin Donuts for a latte and a muffin. "ooooh" she'd say when I walked in "you went to Dunks!" "Yep" I'd reply shortly, trying to end the conversation there. She'd turn in her chair, "Whadya get?" "Blueberry muffin, Iced latte" "Did you get the latte with skim?" I'd think 'who are you, my mom?' and then 'wait, my MOM wouldn't even grill me like this!' "Yep," I'd reply. "Too bad the muffin is still fattening. Or did you get low fat?" EEEEK! I really knew that she had some sort of eating disorder when she talked endlessly about food but wouldn't eat any. She eats an apple a day, though sometimes I'm not sure she eats anything while at work, she just drinks her little Poland Spring bottle. She would talk obsessively about going to Bertucci's and eating pizza, but then we'd never go. She'd talk about how good the fries smelled at McDonald's but would never get any. She'd tell me that we needed to make plans to walk to Coldstone to get ice cream, but every time I suggested a day, she'd veto. I've wised up since then, and never suggest getting food. The only thing she really knows I eat is my cereal in the morning, I don't let her see anything else. Some people say that it's so wrong for me not to eat around her, that I should do what I want, but honestly, the thought of seeing this girl everyday almost gave me an ulcer a while back. It's waaay easier just to handle it this way.

The second issue is the heat, and almost all my coworkers, save one, are causing this problem. I have another annoying coworker, but she's only mildly irritating, who's originally from Jamaica. She uses this as an excuse to jack up the thermostat to 90 degrees, summer, winter, spring and fall. I turn it down every day, but every morning when I come in, it's found it's way back up to 90. Now the room doesn't actually get to be 90 degrees because the heat can't keep up with that kind of strain, but in the summer, this prevents the air conditioning from running. Massachusetts is a motherf*cker when it comes to weather, and while it can get damn cold in the winter, it's HOT in the summer. I can't tell you how many time I came to work this summer in a sundress and a light sweater, only to be greeted by a wall of humidity when I opened the door to my office. Anorexia, who claims to have a circulation disorder (maybe she should just eat some food so her fat layer can grow back and keep her warm) and Constantly Cold Coworker were huddled in coats, with CCC wrapped in a fleece blanket with a space heater at her feet, because her feet were like "blocks of ice." Are you kidding me? I understand that everyone's thermoregulation meter is set at a slightly different temperature, but it's 90 DEGREES OUT! and it's 90 in our office! One day it was 110 out. It was one of those days where it feels like very air is invading your body and rendering you unable to breathe. With the allergies, I was miserable and gasping for breath like a fish out of water. We walked across the street to gather medical records, Anorexia lifts her face to the sky and breathes deeply. She says "I love this weather. Love it. I can't wait to run 10 miles in it when I get home. Nothing says 'I burned calories today' like a lot of sweat." After vomiting in my mouth and wiping the sweat from my brow I asked her if she was really going to run 10 miles in this. The weathermen on TV tell you not to go OUTSIDE in this weather, never mind RUN! She looked at me and says "I've been waiting all year for a day like this to go running, of course I'm going to run in it!" Sigh.

Today it's 42 out. It was 30 when I woke up, plus it's overcast and rainy, so I threw on a button down and a wool sweater. I walked into my office and found it to be fairly comfortable. It's probably around 68 or so, but if you don't move too much, it's not that hot. Anorexia is here in her wool coat with a fur hood and she's bundled herself up in that. Fine. I've had countless conversations with all my coworkers about how I can only get so naked when removing layers from being overheated, and it's much easier for them to add another if they're really that cold. Yeah, they respect that for like, A DAY, then go right back to jacking the heat. For once I thought it would be a good day, then CCC comes in. She's been in Florida, visiting her mom. "HA!" she exclaims, "I don't know why I came back only to be cold!!!" She whips her space heater down from the top shelf and turns it on full blast. "Let's warm up this room!" she says. I groan, silently. Good thing I dressed in layers again today :P blah.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I'm failing genetics. It's official. After failing my second exam, I have realized that there is no way I can pass the class. There's just no way, unless I get a 100.

I could go on and on about freezing on exams and being bad at mulitple choice, though I would like to take a moment to point out that every "word-based" question that required a mini-essay type answer I got correct. 100% too bad the whole test wasn't like that, I'd be a genetics ACE, but alas, it's multiple choice and true false, and I suck at it. Anyways I'm not going to go on about that. I'm not going to go on and on about how I'm smart and went to Smith and I've never failed a class and that I can write A quality papers but am crapass at exams. Why? There's just no point. The point is that I'm failing. I'm failing UNDERGRAD genetics. I'm getting an A in ECOLOGICAL MODELING. Who does that? Who fails an undergrad class and gets an A in their impossibly hard calculus based engineering flavored first grad class of graduate career? errrrr!

Anyways, after crying for a bit (because you have to admit, as fruitless as it is to cry like that, it makes you feel a hell of a lot better. kinda. sorta.) I decided that there's no getting out of this one. I'm Allison. I don't fail. Usually. But I have now and I have to face it. I emailed my advisor, because if anyone can help me now, I think it's him. Plus I emailed him because when I told him the only way I'd be allowed to go to Tufts was to take undergrad genetics to be "well rounded" his response was "that's stupid." If anyone will have a lick of sympathy, it'll be him, plus it's his class I'm getting an "A" in, so that's ammunition right there. With the help of my sister, I just fired him an email. We'll see what happens.

Of course, throughout this whole ordeal, there's been this nagging in my head "what if I get kicked out of the program." The more I think about that possibility, the less it makes sense. The only requirements for staying IN the program is maintaining a 3.0. And I wouldn't think that undergrad classes would be factored in, that'd just be stoooopid. So I should just assure myself that I'm in it. Besides, aren't schools a lot harder to get out of than in because they want to maintain that retention percentage? eeek, I hope Tufts is like that. At this point I am so panicked about everything that I've totally ignored the fact that this class is costing me $3,600, which in all of this is the scary part: I'm so worried about academics I'm ignoring THIRTY SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS! AAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!

Oh God. I hope my advisor gets back to me soon. I can't take this stress. It's giving me arthralgias and palpitations. Ha, see I'm smart, I speak hospital and hypochondriac ;) Plus in all of this crap, I have to remember that this isn't so bad. My mom got me back into perspective. She said to me "if you have your health, you can work out everything else" which is so true. I should know better, especially from working where I work. Helloooo I should be grateful for being lucky enough to go to SCHOOL for the sheer ability to fail a class! eck.

I'll update the situation later. I hope tomorrow is panini day in the hospital cafeteria. That will surely lift some spirits. Amen.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I am posting this from the floor of my bedroom. Why?
Because my bird is out. 'trollin the floor for something good.

I let Lily out of his cage because he makes an incredible fuss while I do Pilates. Mostly because he is an attention mongerer and is needy and will screech until you respond to him, but the anthropomorphic part of me hopes and wishes and thinks that it is because he sees me lying on the floor, groaning occasionally and believes that I am wounded or ill and is trying to contact help by screeching as loudly as possible. I think that this is probably unlikely, but it helps me tolerate his incessant noise. He also attracts attention to himself by pretending to be mortally wounded. When I stand just outside my bedroom door, talking to someone, he hangs off his perch and makes his pathetic screech sound, the one he makes when he's terrified. He lets one of his wings hang as if it's broken, and launches his body off the side of the perch, literally hanging by a toenail. This worked for a long time. I'd turn and see him there, half-dead, and run into my room, panicked. I would make a fuss after him, ask him in a high pitched voice "Is my little baby bird OK?" and give him a piece of spinach because he had clearly just been through some sort of "ordeal." I finally realized one day that everytime he pulls that stunt and I run to his cage, he rights himself on the perch, fluffs out his feathers so he looks nice and plump, and then grinds his beak, a sign of cockatiel contentment. CONTENTMENT! Content that his little game worked indeed! Smart bird.

I like to sit with him on the floor because if I don't he could eat something that fell there and get sick or choke. He could also quietly and quickly destroy something - you name it, he can wreck it. I bet you wouldn't guess that a mere cockatiel could break a Smith College Wedgewood china plate from 1932, would you? Oh but he can - and did, which resulted in my Smith College plate collection's migration to storage. He also chews things, like electrical cords, though he did chew a metal chain literally off my neck, bending and twisting the loop of metal until it gave way. He has also mastered the art of disconnecting the chain to my fan, though we let him do this for the sheer entertainment of it. Lily (who is a boy, by despite the "House of Mirth" reference) has even sampled some of my houseplants in the past. He has an affinity for lettuce, so if he sees anything green and leafy, his little cockatiel brain automatically registers "lettuce," and he goes for it. Though my houseplants are all bird-friendly, I don't like the idea of my bird eating an exotic plant, so this has resulted in my grabbing a cranky bird and fishing the bits of leaf out of his beak, something he really hates. He once stepped on my cactus, which I thought inaccessible, but he somehow managed to take flight and land on top of it. Luckily my hand had come in contact with said cactus MANY times before (never put a cactus near your alarm clock. EVER) so I knew to look for the tiny, nearly invisible cacti hairs that had embedded themselves in his foot - I had to pick them out, one at a time, with my tweezermans. Unlike my evil parakeet, Lucy (who stabbed herself in the head with a piece of stray wire and bled over the upper half of her body, then sprayed blood on my wall, curtains, and blinds, all hours before leaving for a 12 horu road trip), Lily has spared me of any true first aid fiasco...knock on wood.

Despite his mischievous tendencies, Lily is a great pet. He's a sweet little thing, and very intelligent. He has funny habits, like a foot and shoe obsession. Right now he is singing to my slipper, sneaking up, touching it quickly with his beak and then running away to see what happens. Demented. He also seems to know when someone is naked. I run into my room from the shower and he's climb to the top of his cage and wolf whistle. Perverted, yet hilarious. He whistles "Charge" "Gaudeamus Igitur" and the first line of "Dixie" as well as his own little tunes. His vocabulary is impressive for a cockatiel - they usually can't talk, but Lily says "Hi bird" "Hi birdy" "Hi pretty birdy" "Hi Lily" and "Hi pretty Lily" He can say "How are you" and "I love you" but he mostly says these to himself when he thinks no one is listening cause he's bitchy like that. He used to say "Hi Benny" when my wee parakeet Ben was alive, but she has died, and Lily has forgotten how to say "Ben."

Now Lily has made up a game that consists of him flying to out-of-reach places in my room and me trying to chase him. When I get close enough to him, he bites me. Awesome. A day in the life with Lily bird :)

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Today I bought new sneakers.
I know, to most people, this is a pretty mundane event, but for me it was the end of a sort-of era.

The last time I bought new sneakers was probably a year and a half ago, when I started training for a half marathon. I am a New Balance whore - I ran cross country all four years in high school and after a number of not so great experiences with Nike and Reebok and Adidas running shoes, I discovered the glory of New Balance. When a New Balance sneaker says it's a size 10, it fits my size 10 feet perfectly. While the other shoes left me with blackened toenails and blisters, my New Balance sneaks fit my foot like a glove and would never rub my skin the wrong way, even when wearing them barefoot. Even after I stopped running I wore New Balance - the all terrain shoes I wore all through college, and I brought them to Kenya with me. I left them there though, feeling benevolent and beyond wordly goods, wondering whose feet they may grace next. I bought another pair to go to Kenya last January, intending to take them home this time around, but because I got incredibly sick at the hotel we stayed at and the SFS intern had to pack my bag (he was a great guy but totally mortified to have to pack for me and touch my underwear and stuff) because I was so incapacitated by vomiting and diarrhea (VD for short) he rushed to put everything in my bag and get me out to the car, and in that hurry he left a shoe behind. So here I am at home, still with one perfectly good New Balance shoe, wondering what to do with it.

ANYWAYS. When it came time to start my half marathon training I turned instantly to New Balance. I purchased a pair of hideously ugly yet amazingly comfortable white and bright orange sneakers. I felt like I was walking on a cloud when I wore them, and they saw me through five months of training without a hitch. They were seriously like an extension of my body, and when I packed my bags for the car ride to Portland, Maine, where the half marathon was held, I spoke to them in my head "you and me shoes, we're gonna go those 13.1 miles. we're gonna be great." I thought things went fairly well during the race. I was running for charity, partaking in the "Team in Training" program run by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. An ad for Team in Training piqued my interest as I was riding the MBTA. I work with in the Hematological Malignancies section of The Cancer Hospital, and I had often felt somewhat helpless when interacting with patients - I'm not a nurse or a doctor, and though my research has already helped some people, I wanted to do more. I felt like I was running those 13 miles for every patient I'd ever met, and they were my focus during the race. I'd try and think of a patient for every mile, and when I passed the mile marker, I'd say their name in my head. This was a great motivator, but it made me ignore any ache or pain I had. Normally this would be a good thing, ignore the muscle cramp or the side stitch til the end of the race, but I wasn't ignoring that. I was ignoring the electronic parole-esque bracelet I was wearing around my ankle that was keeping track of my number (in case I collapsed on the course, they'd know I was missing) and my race time. It was digging into my skin. Actually, a more accurate description of what it was doing would be EATING my skin. Right down to my achilles tendon. While there's not a lot of skin there to begin with, there's enough that if something starts eating it, you bleed, kind of a lot. I didn't realize this until I crossed the finish line. I felt so triumphant, standing there, wrapped in my tinfoil blanket to keep me warm. When I put my leg up on an upturned milk crate to have the band removed by a race official, I STILL didn't realize anything was wrong. Then she glanced over her shoulder "we need gloves for this one." As she snapped on a pair of latex gloves I looked down and said "sweet jesus." I had bled all over the back of my shoe and sock. It was nasty. The race official pointed me in the direction of the first aid tent, but they were busy taking care of someone who had collapsed at the finish line, and had come to very confused, actually hysterical, probably because of dehydration. I figured they were more important, so I took off my shoe, walked barefoot to the car and my mom just drove us home without fanfare.

My leg healed fine, though there's a funky scar there now. The blood never really came out of my sneakers, so every time I put on my right shoe, I'd glance down at the dark stain and fondly remember the Team in Training days. I never wanted to retire the shoes, as they were evidence of my battle scars. Today my sister, mother and I went to Decathalon Sports, just down the road, to see if we could find any bargains at there going-out-of-business sale. I found a gorgeous pair of Saucony "Hurricanes" a silver shoe with blue accents. The New Balances were long gone, but I had known many runners who were Saucony whores just as much as I was a New Balance whore. Besides, I still have to replace my NB all terrains one day, so buying a new brand of running shoe didn't seem to be too adulterous. I slipped out of my ridiculous Chinese Laundry slingback and slid my foot into the Saucony. I could feel the gel-filled soles cushion my foot with every step. I had plenty of room to wiggle my toes, yet the shoe wasn't too loose in the heel. The laces didn't cut off my circulation, and the weight of the shoe didn't drag down my foot. They were perfect. And 40% off the marked down price.

As we walked through the parking lot I contemplated the fate of the trusty orange and white shoes. They're not ready for a full retirement yet, and I think I'll still wear them when street running, and save the hurricanes for the gym. When it does come time for retirement I joked that I'd put the shoes in a glass case, along with my Team in Training singlet and half-marathon medal. Though I laughed when I said this, I think I'm kind of serious. My orange shoes and I WERE a team, after all....

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lazy Saturday

Usually my Saturdays are pretty hardcore. I get up around 8:30am usually after about 20 minutes of wishing I could sleep longer, throw on some old clothes and head over to Foster Parrots to volunteer for a few hours. Then I try and do everything I miss out on during the week: fill up the gas tank, pick up dry cleaning, go to the library, go to Wal-Mart to buy the various bath and body products I've run out of, run to the post office, get pet food, etc etc blah blah. Then once I'm home, I'll extensively clean my room, do a load of laundry and then maybe I'll do something outside, like wash my car or tidy my garden. Then I collapse into bed when I'm done. I don't usually go out like a normal 24 year old would. Why? BECAUSE I AM EXHAUSTED!

Today was different. I got a ton done on Wednesday, Thursday morning and Friday, and decided that after I went to FosterParrots, I'd dedicate the entire day to crafting, mostly so I could finish my ornaments for the cake+pie/freshly blended ornament swap. And so I did - I crafted for nine hours today and finished my lovely snowmen. I'll post pictures when Amy has uploaded them, as I'm depending on her digital camera for pictures, rather than my cameraphone.

Of course, with any long-term project, especially crafting project, comes movie watching. I always watch movies while crafting, and I usually like to pull out my miniseries. Yesterday I started with "A Town Like Alice," one of my favorite movies of ALL TIME. It's sooo so long, it must be 6 or 7 hours long, but I just get so wrapped up in it every time. I wouldn't have even known the movie existed if it hadn't been for a small ad in "USA Today" years ago - just the ad was so inspiring that I had to check out the movie. I think I ordered it sight unseen from amazon and killed the time waiting for it to be shipped by reading the original Nevil Shute novel "The Legacy." Oh, I remember crying midway through the book wondering if I had made a mistake ordering such a sad movie, but soon things set itself to right. I'm not giving anything away in case someone reading this wants to see it. It's really fabulous, and I can rewatch it and rewatch it and it never gets old.

Today I was watching the PBS Mystery series "Heat of the Sun." It takes place in 1930's Kenya, and is another wonderful miniseries. I love the hard edge of Trevor Eve's character Chief Inspector Tyburn, and his rejection of the rules and Nairobi's societal hierarchy (and of course, his silent adoration of Emma Fitzgerald) and I think if I could play any person in a movie or go back in time I would choose to be Emma Fitzgerald, the daring aviatrix who wasn't afraid of anything, was completely badass, yet managed to remain utterly gorgeous throughout even the stickiest situations. When I watch this series, I escape back to Kenya in an instant, it's glorious.

Tomorrow I might try and get through another favorite, "The Flame Trees of Thika," based on Elspeth Huxley's memoirs of her childhood in Kenya. It's so endearing, the actress who plays little Elspeth is wise beyond her years, and Tilly, her mother, played by Hayley Mills, is the embodiment of the strong independent frontierswoman.

Hmm. I've just noticed a pattern. Each one of these movies features an incredibly strong and independent female main character. No wonder I like them all so much! Sigh. I want to watch them all over again writing about them, but I'm actually writing this while Jam is on the phone with me, so I'd best be wrapping up this post and turning my attentions back to the man, since he can't multitask like I can ;)

Friday, November 24, 2006

How Thanksgiving Started

Yesterday morning, I was sitting up in bed, contemplating whether or not I wanted to actually get up, when I heard a low rumble. I wondered what it was and turned my attention to the window in time to see our fancy red ambulance moving up the street at a fast clip with its lights on. Then I remembered: our neighbor's holiday overdose was due up.

Our street is very small - there are only 14 houses on it, and the street is a cul-de-sac 1/1oth of a mile long. We all know each other well. As on any street, there's that one house that's trouble. This is where the OD-ing neighbor lives. He's done it countless times before, either from alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two. I can't recall exactly how many times the ambulance has been up to that house, which is scary considering my neighbor is only 23.

Anyways, I ran downstairs to spread the word, and went outside to make sure they were going to the trouble house. They were. My father and I stood in the driveway, and as we were trying to figure things out, a firetruck came. Then two police cars. Then another. Finally dad put on the police scanner. He said "is there an unmarked coming up the street right now?" I looked, and an unmarked crown vic was flying up the street. I looked at him and said "someone must be dead." Our neighbor and the arrival of another town cruiser, a state trooper and the sheriff's department confirmed it: he had finally killed himself. Heroin.

I have to say that his suicidal overdose did not come as a shock. My sister and I were talking about it. This kid was one of those kids who you knew was not going to live a long time. I used to wait for the bus with his brother, who tried his best to torment me throughout our bus-riding middle school days. He started smoking in 6th grade. I used to stare at him while he smoked, waiting for the bus to come and think "he's not going to live long." It's sad and scary to have that kind of mindset, but it's true. It's just the way things were.

What's sad to me is not so much this person's death, though it's certainly tragic and hard for the family, I feel that this boy was so miserable here that he has to be better off now, but the fact that the neighborhood and perhaps the whole town breathed a sigh of relief. When his brother finally left town, that took away some of the stress the family caused, but the younger brother was the one with the real drug problem. He was spaced out most of the time, but the people he sold to were troublemakers. They threw things at teachers, were disruptive in class. One tried to run my neighbor over with his car, and then assaulted him. Another made false claims against my father in an attempt to get him into big trouble at work. Their cars sped up our small street, a threat to the children that played there. The boys abused their dog and fed him chicken bones on purpose so they could watch the dog try and cough them up. The dog started walking through the woods to eat at the local Petco after a while, having outwitted them at their own game. The boys lit fires in the woods, one time the older one set himself on fire and had to have a skin graft on his leg. They were arrested countless times, in trouble countless times, suspended countless times. They were not nice people. Period. It's sad to me that the death of someone so misguided, so troubled, and so young would bring that much relief to an entire town, but that's what it's done. What a sad way to leave this Earth, leaving a trail of people behind you, grateful that you are finally gone.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real, though far off hymn
That hails the new creation
Above the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

What though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.

Since love is lord of Heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to t
hem are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real, thought far off hymn
That hails the new creation
Above the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

Happy Thanksgiving

*How Can I Keep from Singing? by Robert Lowry, 1860

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


So today's post was a wee bit sad, so in honor of Thanksgiving tomorrow, I'm going to write about thing for which I am thankful. Since it's November 22nd, I'll write 22, in no particular order, and I'll be brief. Here we go:

1. Family. They're so amazing. I'm so lucky that we're close, especially me and Ame. I know siblings that don't even speak. I'm happy that Amy's always there to chat with, especially if we're being evil :)
2. Friends. They're there for me like a second family, through thick and thin.
3. Jam. Because he's my love.
4. Comfort. I am comfortable because I am safe and happy. I truly want for nothing, which I find a blessing. I lust for things, oh yes, like a digital rebel camera body, but truly, I want for nothing.
5. Happiness. I am a happy person. I feel very little sadness about me. Sometimes I do feel depressed about things, but on the whole I am happy, and I'm so grateful that when I sit down to the table on Thanksgiving, I see other happy faces that do not have to dwell on sadness or pain because someone is sick, or lives far far away, or is gone.
6. Wee birds.I never thought that three little birds could be such a joy, but they are. They never fail to make me laugh or amaze me with their intelligence.
7. My brain. It's getting me through Tufts. If this brain got me through Smith, I know it can get me through Tufts.
8. Freedom. As I write this, millions of people are living lives of oppression in the most unbearable circumstance. As much as people complain about the loss of civil liberties, I think of the people who have no liberties. About girls who can't go to sleep at night because the militia might invade their refugee camp and kidnap them. About women who can't vote or work or drive. I am a free woman living in America; the world is at my feet.
9. Sense of humor. I laugh at everything, and that's what gets me through it - I make other people laugh too, which is sometimes more important than anything to me, just so I can see them smile.
10. Home. Ok, it's not exactly my home, it's my parents. The point is that I don't have to think twice about where I go after work, or where I'm going to be during Grey's Anatomy or America's Next Top model. I have a home that is warm, has electricity, running water and heat. That alone is more than some people have.
11. Job. I grumble about it yes, but I am doing important work that might make a difference to someone someday. Plus I get benefits!
12. Clean air. My allergies are so bad these days, I love it when I can get out of the city and go up the hill to Tufts and take a deep sneeze-free breath.
13. Sense of adventure. It's taken me all over, including Kenya, my travel love of all time. I want to go more places too. I can't wait!
14. Bookclub. It's taught me to expand my mind and read nonfiction.
15. This computer. Heck, I wouldn't be writing my post without it! Seriously though, it's made life so much easier for me.
16. Sophia Smith. For showing the world it's worth it to educate women.
17. Kenyan family. They are as dear to my heart as my own family and friends are. I am thankful that I had an opportunity to go beyond my little circle into the great unknown and meet such wonderful people.
18. Hope. Because despite how badly things in the world are going, I read an article or watch the news and am reminded that for every bad unfeeling person there is in the world, there are three who care enough to want to make a difference. I am one of them.
19. Craftiness. I have loved discovering my secret talents and having an excuse to buy "Martha Stewart Living"
20. Our troops. Every day they are putting their lives on the line for us. Whether or not you believe in what they are doing, you cannot deny that they are standing up for us because they were told it was their duty, and they are dying for us without complaint or protest. Bless them, indeed.
21. Seriously, did I mention my sister yet? We're super-close, like "i'm in your head" close. If I didn't have her to talk to, I would probalby lose my mind and have to get a cat or a dog to talk to.
22. Grandma's cooking because GOOD LORD we are gonna eat tomorrow!


I recently read an inspiring article in Tufts Alumni magazine, which is posted below this post. Today I found out that the man featured, Father Angelo D'Agostino, died on Tuesday. I visited the website of the organization he started, Nyumbani, and watched the video a volunteer made for the Gap Inspi(red) campaign. All I have to say is that Kenya is one of the most beautiful and most difficult and heart-wrenching places I've ever seen, but today even I cannot understand its cruelty.

Alma Matters-Plus : Alumni

Medicine Man

They named the boy Moses.

Reverend Angelo D'Agostino, G53

Two local police officers found him lying in a small box on the banks of Kenya's Nairobi River. It was impossible to tell how long Moses had traveled or who he was, since he was discovered with little more than the clothes on his back and the box that carried him. Once they inspected the box, the officers reached into it, removed the boy, and carried him to their police car, which was parked nearby. As the car sped over the rough terrain and the Nairobi River faded into the rearview mirror, Moses embarked on the second leg of his journey. The first leg had brought him to the edge of a river on the other side of the world. The second one brought him into the waiting arms of Reverend Angelo D'Agostino, M49, G53, a Tufts University-trained surgeon who was running an orphanage for HIV+ children living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Soon after he was delivered to Reverend D'Agostino, Moses was tested for HIV. He was found to be positive, and then the waiting began. Since three out of four newborn babies infected with HIV in Africa turn negative within a year following a positive test and Moses was in good health, Doctor D'Ag (or Fr. D'Ag as he is familiarly called), and his team delayed treating him for HIV. Moses, it turned out, was one of the lucky ones. He turned negative when he was a year old and was adopted by a well-wisher and her family. Today, Moses lives in California with his new family.

But for every happy ending, though, there are countless stories that end tragically. UNAIDS, a collaborative effort of the United Nations and several other organizations, estimated that, as of 2005, there were 12 million orphans whose parents had died of AIDS living in Sub-Saharan Africa, over 1 million of whom live in Kenya. And these numbers increase every day. Many of these orphans are HIV+ and if they are not taken in by family members, Reverend D'Agostino shares, they are either abandoned (which he believes was the case with Moses) or left to roam slums like Kibera, which was featured in the recent film The Constant Gardener.

Yet, some of these children end up somewhere else. It's located a mere 15-minute drive from some of the worst slums in Kenya. It's a place of life and laughter, a place where the broken become whole again. It's where you can find Reverend D'Agostino who, for the past 14 years, has given these orphans something many of them have never had–a family of their own.

Humble Beginnings
In 1991, Reverend Angelo D'Agostino was in Nairobi serving on the board of a large orphanage. At the time, HIV+ children were being abandoned at alarming rates.

"The children were often abandoned at hospitals because their mothers, knowing they were HIV+ and probably going to die, felt that if they took their children home they would die in the midst of slums and their children would be left completely abandoned there," says Reverend D'Agostino. "So, they would leave them at the hospital. The hospital, however, had no means of taking care of them and the children would often die of infection or malnutrition within a few months."

Recognizing that a problem existed, Reverend D'Agostino suggested that the orphanage set up a separate facility to meet the medical needs of HIV+ orphans. The board disagreed with his plan. Reverend D'Agostino then made a decision. He decided to start an orphanage on his own. This work was unprecedented at the time, since there were no facilities serving HIV+ orphans in existence in the country. But the reverend moved forward anyway.

The reverend meeting the first lady of Kenya.

One of his first steps was to meet with Kenya's Minister of Health. The meeting went well and Reverend D'Agostino left with a promise of doctors and nurses for the home. He then found a house to rent for the orphanage and admitted its first three HIV+ orphans. But then something unexpected happened. The doctors and nurses never came. The minister of health, who would become a key figure in the life of the orphanage as the president of Kenya a decade later, left his government post to start his own political party. All was not lost, though. Before he joined the Jesuits and became one of the first psychoanalyst priests in the history of Roman Catholicism, Reverend D'Agostino was a surgeon. He was trained at Tufts (earning his Doctor of Medicine degree from the Tufts School of Medicine in 1949 and a master's degree in Surgery from the university's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1953*) and later served as a surgeon in the United States Air Force. This dense medical background proved critically important in the early days of the home.

"If not for my medical training nothing would have happened [with the home]," recalls Reverend D'Agostino during a recent phone interview. "I appreciated the severity of the problem facing the home and I noted that we had no other resources. I was able to put the lab together and get the proper instruments and people to run them. I was also able to get the social workers to do their part in getting the children set up. The nursing, of course, was very important and I had a hand in selecting and supervising them for a while."

The reverend relied on some of his other skills as well. Since he was essentially starting a non-profit organization from the ground up, he needed to both acquire the funding necessary to sustain the home and also lend a hand when necessary.

"I did a little bit of everything in the beginning," he says. "Hardware, plumbing, whatever. But now our work is bigger. We have maintenance people. We have an extraordinarily good manager who is just fantastically gifted in dealing with children. Now, my role is more like that of an executive director of a nonprofit."

While the orphanage is doing well in the present, Reverend D'Agostino and the home faced other challenges when they were starting out. As the number of children being served increased during the early to late 1990s, so did the number of funerals the reverend presided over. In the beginning, there were two to three funerals a month on the grounds of the home. But, with the advent of antiretroviral drug regimens in 2003, the number of deaths plummeted to the point where today funerals at the home are rare.

A Home for Everyone
The process for children who enter the home has been the same since its inception. Prior to being accepted, each orphan is tested for HIV. If they are positive, their blood work is then analyzed to see if they require medication.

"Whether or not the children start receiving medicine is determined by what the blood tests show," says Reverend D'Agostino. "If they are holding their own with their own resources, then we don't start it right away."

While each child undergoes a different treatment regimen when they come to the home, the reverend has noticed that all the children, regardless of their background, have something in common–their ability to adapt.

"It's extraordinary seeing how quickly the children adapt to the home," he says. "The other children take them in even if they can't speak the same language. Some even come from other countries. For example, we have a little girl from Somalia who was HIV positive like her parents and her clan wanted to kill her. Her grandmother used to have to tie her to a bed when she went out of the home because if she had gotten out they would have killed her. A doctor I knew told me about this girl. She was able to be evacuated by UNICEF and was brought to our orphanage. She could barely walk because she had been tied up all the time. But now she's happy and healthy and speaks English and Swahili. She's a totally different person than when she first came."

Outside the home, unfortunately, things are different for these children.

"There's still a lot of discrimination and stigmatization [of those with HIV] in Kenya," says Reverend D'Agostino. "The girls, even more than the boys, have to put up with it in the schools so they try to keep where they come from quiet. These children are pretty gifted musically and they've made some CD's, videos, and are often on television. Sometimes, the kids they're in school with see them on TV and say things like 'you're from that AIDS home and you have AIDS.' We help them cope with that. This is where my training in psychology comes in."

Reverend Angelo D'Agostino with children from the orphanage.

Planning for the Future
Today, the children's home provides housing, food, and medical care to 96 HIV+ orphans and is part of the larger nonprofit organization that Reverend D'Agostino runs. The organization is called Nyumbani, which in Swahili means "home."

"We have three main projects," he says. "We have the orphanage, but we also have a community-based program named Lea Toto (Swahili for "to raise the child"). In 1998, we decided that because there was something like 150,000 HIV+ orphans in Nairobi alone that we should do something. So, we started a program in which we go into some of the worst slums in the city and take care of these children, most of whom are cared for by their grandparents or some other caregiver. We have eight Lea Toto clinics in the city and have registered over 2,000 children so far and we were recently awarded a $2.5 million contract by USAID to expand the number of patients to 4,000 by 2009."

Children who are registered with the program receive, among other things, basic medical care, counseling and psychological support, spiritual guidance, and HIV transmission prevention education.

The organization's third project is the Nyumbani Village, an initiative which has involved everyone from the Kenyan government to the Vatican.

"The Kenyan government gave us 1,000 acres about three hours from Nairobi to build a village," says Reverend D'Agostino, who counts current Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, the former Minster of Health, and his wife as strong proponents of the work of Nyumbani.

The financial support to construct the village came primarily from the Vatican and the Italian government.

"The Vatican put out a stamp for HIV+ children about two years ago and the receipts from it came to about half a million euro, which we received," says Reverend D'Agostino. "The Italian government matched this money and with the 1 million euro we received, and with a private donation from the United States, we built the village."

The village consists of 40 houses at the moment, but the goal is to have 100. Like the orphanage, it will house HIV+ orphans but these will be children who are under the care of a grandparent or other caregiver. In addition to the dwellings, the village will feature a clinic, school complex, a guest house, police post, a fifteen hundred person community center, and three vocational training centers which will help train the orphans in a variety of life-preparing paths.

As the Nyumbani website states, the village will help its occupants, "sustain themselves through agriculture, poultry, dairy projects as well as handicrafts and external services. The adolescents will benefit from the knowledge of the elderly occupants, who in turn will benefit from the support of the younger population. Vocational opportunity in the form of training, tools, and start-up financing for trades, cottage industry and agricultural endeavors will be provided with the goal of self-sustaining independence, financial security and stability for residents, particularly maturing young people."

Adds Reverend D'Agostino, "One of the goals of building the village was to help teach these children some gainful occupations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there is something like 25 million orphans, not all of whom have HIV. Through training, we hope to impact this calamity."

In his current role, it would appear that Reverend D'Agostino has left medicine behind. But, in reality, the field remains a cornerstone of his work.

"I feel like I'm doing a kind of global medicine now," he replies, when asked if he misses the discipline. "In fact, I think I'm doing more medicine now than I did before when I was working in psychiatry with only a few patients. I think of my current work as administrative medicine."

Every 14 Seconds
With the exception of a few trips a year to the United States, Reverend D'Agostino spends most of his time on the grounds of the orphanage, where he has an office. At the end of each day, one that consists of answering e-mails, making fundraising calls, setting up meetings with government officials, and visiting with some of the children, he retires to a compound nearby.

The compound was built for retired Jesuits, especially missionaries from India, and each night Reverend D'Agostino has dinner with those who share his mission of improving the world around them. When dinner ends, the reverend and his fellow Jesuits gather on the patio to watch the sun set over Nairobi's Ngong Hills. In the time it takes for the sun to depart and for darkness to settle in, many more children have become orphans. In fact, it's estimated that every 14 seconds a child is orphaned in Sub-Saharan Africa.

But for the briefest of moments each dusk, as Reverend D'Agostino watches the sun disappear behind the hills, there are no mothers, fathers, or children with HIV. There are no slums. There are no orphans. There are no children floating down a river in a box.

There is only the departing sun, the rolling hills, and the faint laughter of children somewhere in the distance.

To learn about the Children's Home or any of the other programs run through Nyumbani, go to

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

someone watching over me?

This morning was one of those mornings where nothing goes right.

My alarm clock went off at its usual 5:23. I hit snooze and reset my phone alarm for 5:40, then got up to pee. I left the door of my room ajar so the family's waking rumblings would keep me from falling into a deep sleep. Yeah right. I woke up to the 6:53 traffic report. I cursed, then hopped out of bed and into the shower, hopped out, pulled on my clothes (which luckily I had ironed the night before) and caught the 7:03 traffic report (I'm speedy). The traffic was only backed up to Derby Street - exit 15. That meant I had two exits at the speed limit before hitting a wall of traffic, and by the time I got there, the traffic may have dissipated slightly. It was worth the risk of taking the highway.

I gathered my keys and bag, then remembered that I was going to have to find the piece of paper with my Tufts access codes on it because I needed to email myself online journal articles from Tufts library to save cashmoney on copying. I fumbled and knocked a bunch of stuff off my craft table and onto the floor. Damn. I found the paper though, success. I took one final glance at my room and walked out into the hallway. I went to go down the stairs when something happened. I don't know what it was, I didn't trip and I didn't turn my ankle, but I fell, and hard. I tried to catch myself as I fell down the stairs because the tile floor at the bottom does not make a good cushion. As I fell, my legs turned out at the knee, and I could feel my knees taking the impact at every stair. I finally managed to throw my right hand out to my side and slowed my fall by dragging the heel of my hand along the wall. You know how you get a rug burn if you rub your skin against carpet? Yeah, well the same thing happens with wallpaper. I came to a stop just before the end of the stairs, and managed to land on my butt. I sat there for a minute, breathing heavily, pain radiating from my knees, shins, and my right hand, which surprisingly stung more than anything else. I was really still until I calmed down, then limped through the kitchen, grabbed lunch from the fridge, and went outside.

There was a thick layer of frost covering my Subaru Forester. I jumped in the car and pulled the seatbelt only to go flying backwards. The seatbelt had wrapped itself around the lever that reclines the seat, and when I pulled the seatbelt, the tension pulled the lever and the seat fully reclined. I untangled it, put the seat upright and looked through my frosted windshield. "Seriously, is this some sign I shouldn't be going to work?!" I asked. I started my car, and jacked the heat, but the car wasn't warm enough to defrost the windows. As I eased out of my driveway, I pounded the windshield wiper fluid button and sprayed washer fluid all over my window. It defrosted most of the window, except for the part in front of my face. I had to creep slowly down my street, and then drive slowly and carefully turn down Union Street while waiting for the window to defrost. Luckily by the time I was ready to merge onto the highway, my windshield was clear. Of course, as I made my way onto the onramp, someone pulled out of a gas station and cut me off, then proceeded to merge at a speed of 25mph. "RRRRRRRRR" was all I could say.

Since the breakdown lane is active in the mornings, I stayed in it - it's not the fastest moving lane, but I think it's the smoothest, plus if I stay in that lane, I don't have to cross one or two lanes of wall-like traffic to exit to the T garage. Of course, the drivers around me were moving painfully slow. I'm not a speed demon, my care hates going about 65, but when the road is clear, going 40 on the highway just isn't optimal. I was boxed in though, passing wasn't an option. I had only gone a few miles when I saw the State Police merging onto the highway. "Dammit," I thought, "What now?" I turned on WBZ to catch the traffic report - the timing was perfect "and now we're receiving reports of a right lane accident just before Derby Street. It's in the active breakdown lane with is NOT going to be helping anyone traffic-wise." Great. A box truck was kind enough to let me cut in front of him, but few other drivers were getting the message. They were flying down the breakdown lane until they nearly smacked the trooper's cruiser, then cut people off in the right lane. Five or six people did this to me. Just as I was ready to really lose it and either let the expletives fly or turn back around because clearly the higher powers were against me, I came upon the accident scene. One car was fairly undamaged, but the Subaru Forester involved was missing its front end. Yup. A Subaru Forester, same as mine, but red. I gaped at it, and glanced at the front in my rearview mirror. It appeared that the person driving it had made it out ok and was unhurt, but the car was totaled. I sat in my car thinking for a minute. Then I realized that today the higher powers weren't working against me. Despite the bruised knee and shins, the cut hand, the scrape on my leg, the higher powers were clearly working for me. Amazing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

do it for the parents

So generally my parents can be very hard to buy gifts for, my father especially. Every Christmas my sister and I put our heads together and try to think up something creative to give them. Usually we can come up with something for mom, but dad, who staunchly refuses to make a Christmas list because he'll only be disappointed when he doesn't get what's on it (1. Toyota Rav 4 2. John Deere tractor 3. Lexus 4. Kayak 5. meeting at the Oval Office - you get the idea) is always a struggle, especially because his birthday is December 19th. He spent his whole childhood celebrating his birthday and Christmas together (therefore only getting one gift. Not cool) so the three lovely and intelligent women who share his abode (me and my mom and sister, you pervs, he doesn't have 3 wives!) try to make a big deal out of his birthday AND Christmas. Two gifts for the most impossible recipient within 6 days! Unbelievable!

Amy has come up with some brilliant stuff before - last year she scoped out a model of Marine 1 on eBay. See the thing is, my dad likes everything. I swear. Ok, so not everything, not typical "man" things like golf and cigars, which makes buying him a gift on damn near impossible. He loves sports, aircraft, and the Beatles, and appreciates books about any of them. He collects license plates and model helicopters. He is the GRILL MASTER. He's obsessed with clean cars and neat yards. He loves movies. WHY IS HE SO HARD TO BUY FOR? grrr

Because of this difficulty, Ame and I usually try to get something really cool for our parents, a joint gift they can both enjoy. This year I started brainstorming early. Then the moment I wait for every year happened - a gift idea fell right into my lap. The local news station did a feature on turning your old VHS tapes into DVDs. Apparently, VHS recordings start to degrade about 10-15 years after they're shot, if not sooner, while DVDs can last 50 or even 100 years before degrading, depending on quality and how often they're played. That's what I like to hear. I told Ame about it and we agreed that we'd convert several of our favorite old movies to DVD.

We decided that we'd take the tapes to our local Ritz Camera. This way, we wouldn't have to send them out to some unknown company. This was due to the fact that we were taking our oldest VHS recordings- Christmas 1985 and Christmas 1986 - to be converted. Those two years my father rented a video camera the size of a Volkswagen and propped it up on a tripod to catch the Christmas memories. These tapes not only feature my sister and I at the tender ages of 1 and 3 and 2 and 4, but dearly departed family members: my Grandma Kitty, my great grandfather, my great uncle and my cousin. If anything happened to these tapes, Amy and I would probably not be having any kids if you get my drift. Not really....but we would have to move out, that's for sure.

We went to Ritz and discovered that the DVDs can only be 2 hours long. The woman there had a lot of trouble explaining what would happen if the VHS feature was over two hours. She said something about it going on to a second DVD, then said something about not having to pay more. It was a bit unclear. Then there was something about picking music, and how we should skip that part because it was cheesy. All in all my sister and I were a bit apprehensive about the whole deal, so we only left one tape with them and crossed our fingers. They said they'd call us when it was ready.

Well, today I realized that about 11 days had gone by since dropping the tape off. Knowing that the tan babies depend on me getting that tape back, I swung by Ritz after a long day at school. After a split second of panic when the girl behind the counter told me they'd call when it was ready and if I hadn't heard from them something weird was going on, she went to the bins of photos and pulled our the envelope containing my DVD. I was giddy, though annoyed at myself when I realized that there was only about 1 1/2 hours of home video on the tape, not the 4 hours Amy and I had guessed, and that the last 1/2 hour of the DVD is occupied by early 80's television and news broadcasts, though they'll be good for a laugh. I could hardly wait to see the thing, but braced myself for disappointment, because of the confusion we encountered when dropping off the tape, the weird music selection option, etc.

Oh. My. God. When I saw it, I laughed so hard I nearly cried. The DVD is perfect, just perfect. If you have old videos, I highly highly recommend getting them converted, even if it's just so you have an excuse to watch them. Seeing my three year old self on tape brought tears to my eyes - it was so funny and so heartbreaking to see how tiny I was - Amy too, she was even smaller at barely 17 months. My Grandma Kitty was there too, commenting on our antics, giving us kisses and hugs. It brought me back to such a happy place. My parents are probably gonna bawl when they see this stuff, but it's the greatest thing we could give them. What's even better is that the scenes are automatically set at 5 minute increments, so the recording is so easy to navigate. The quality is incredible too, I was so surprised considering the condition of the tapes, but the picture was more than decent. Oh I just can't wait til Christmas morning comes and they see those. We're going to have a film fest I'm sure, but considering everyone who'll be over my house for Christmas dinner has a feature role in the film (except my cousin Andrew, who hadn't been born yet!) I think the family will enjoy it, especially my cousin Jess, who was about 13 months old in the tape and stumbled drunkenly around our old living room, tripping over presents and getting tangled in wrapping paper. Classic.

Anyways, like I said, if you have old tapes, convert them. It really will warm your soul. It did mine. My final thought is this: my parents always said that raising us was fun. I never really believed them. I figured that they said that to be nice, but really it was pretty challenging, and it made me sort of dread having kids in that way that you anticipate doing something because you know it's going to be the best thing you ever do, but incredibly challenging and difficult. After today, seeing these tapes, I know it's true, they really did have fun raising us. I watched us as little kids bumbling around on the floor, ripping open presents, spreading wrapping paper and toys all over the living room, and all you can hear in the background is laughter: my mother and father, aunt and uncle, grandmother and grandfather and Grandma Kitty all laughing. It's the sweetest sound. I hope someone records me laughing like that one the tan babies, of course. :)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Movies, movies, movies

So I had to do a scraptastic post via cell yesterday - I'm just sad that my photo of Borat didn't come out!

So yes, Jamaal and I saw Borat yesterday. I hadn't heard much about Sacha Baron Cohen or the Borat character, though Jam had been kind enough to enlighten me - he actually had mentioned Borat waaay before the movie came out. He told me that he watched this show that had a zany character from Kazakhstan on it and he described the skits. It sounded funny enough, but I was sort of like "uhhh yeah, ok." When the movie came out and it got so much hype, I thought "oh honestly, how funny could this movie possibly be." Last night, as the tears of laughter were rolling down my face I realized that yes, Borat is actually THAT funny.

Don't get me wrong, there were some pretty crude parts, plus the parts where he offended everyone under the sun - but that was the beauty of it, the movie makes fun of everyone. Furthermore, it is outlandishly funny. Certain groups are very upset about the movie, saying that it's spreading lies about them, but I think that if you have a sense of humor and half a brain, you'll be amused, and if you can appreciate a little mockery, you might laugh so hard you cry.

After the movie, we decided to wind down a bit with cocktails and food. We wandered down the street towards the theater district and went back and forth a few times about where to land, but we finally chose a small Chinese food restaurant with a lounge upstairs. For a majority of the night we were the only ones there - we started out with tropical drinks and ended with strong martinis. I always get excited about using chopsticks too, and luckily Jam ordered a chicken dish that gave my chopstick skills a workout. To me, rice is the ultimate challenge, but I think I did ok. I can't use chopsticks without thinking of two things: one is Pam, with whom I went to Kenya. Her family emigrated to Taiwan from China during WWII, and then they moved on to the United States, and Pam was incredibly proud of her heritage, and willing to pass on certain things to the rest of us. She taught me the proper way to use chopsticks. The second thing is the Chinese wedding Jam and I attended about a year and a half ago - it was a bona fide Chinese wedding, complete with dress changes, 13 courses, and a bubble and snow-making machine. Oh! and a wedding cake that resembled the Great Wall of China. It was truly an event. Throughout the many courses of the meal, I struggled to properly utilize my chopsticks. Finally, I gave up to a hand cramp, and requested a fork. The waiter looked at me blankly for a minute. He rushed to the kitchen and quickly returned with a flimsy looking fork and placed it triumphantly in front of me, then proceeded to scoop large quantities of noodles onto my plate. I glanced at the spoon. It said "Aer Lingus" on it.

Anyways, after getting sufficiently drunk and using the posh bathroom, complete with paintings, two chairs and a table, we met up with my sister and her friend and my cousin's posse of friends in Faneuil Hall. We migrated to the Hong Kong, where there was much bitching about the cover charge. It was 5$ to go downstairs. It's nice enough down there, but it's super crowded and the music is provided by the crowd - you're at the mercy of a juke box. The upstairs was $10, where there's a better bar, a DJ, dance floor and less people. The group of my cousin's friends bitched about the price. My cousin loves to dance to hip hop and stuff like that, so we basically told her that upstairs was waaay better. "Cool," she said "Let's go up." Her friends pitched a fit. One girl said "we don't care what your cousins say, they make more money than us, we can't afford a $10 cover." Um ok, I understand not making a ton of money, but seriousy $5? COME ON. I guarantee you they had just spent most of their money at a liquor store to buy there "pregaming" liquor. Lame. Finally the manager was nice enough to negotiate a price, $8, cause there were 13 of us.

Let me tell you, I love the Hong Kong. They have big and strong scorpion bowls and a DJ that plays good stuff, and plenty of space for some dirty dancing, which I love (with Jamaal - there's nothing I hate more than strange men trying to grind with you!). We couldn't stay long as we were at the mercy of the T, but the dancing that was done was quali-taaaaaay - the DJ covered Fat Joe, Biggie, Kanye, and the dude who sings "Miss New Booty," a very nice mix. Though the bathrooms smelled like a horse stall, the Hong Kong is great fun. Plus you get to walk all through Faneuil on your way out of there, so you get to make fun of all of the drunken frat boys and sorority girls trying to make it home without breaking an ankle on the cobblestones. Midway through our journey to the T, my sister and I came to the consensus that our bras were driving us crazy and pulled a Girl Scout Camp take of your underwear without taking off your clothes move right in the middle of everything. It was great.

We finished our evening with some good ol' late night McDonalds, then nearly hit a deer on Rt 53, less than a mile from home, but luckily Amy's driving skills and the sweet brakes on her brand new Camry let us avoid it.

Basically the weekend was great and low key and just the thing I needed to recharge for the upcoming end of semester activities. Plus I love hanging out with Jam, we have a lot of fun together. We actually caught Casino Royale this afternoon before he headed back to New York. I loved it - while it's not going to be winning any Oscars I found it to be a great James Bond film, and thought that Daniel Craig made a fine 007 and Eva Green was a beautiful bond girl. The action was great - I guess a lot of people were complaining that in this Bond film there were less gadgets and more fist-to-fist fighting and mind games, but I have no complaints when it comes to that, maybe because the gadgets, while cool, don't interest me much because sometimes they can border on completely unrealistic (i know they're not supposed to be super-believable, but still). I loved the mind games, the action was still there, and the chase scenes were amazing. Borat and Casino Royale are two completely different and completely great films to see!

Well now it's 10pm and it's my bedtime....actually it's Jamaal phone time. Let's see how long we last, we're both wiped out! Pictures TC later.