Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

Gabriel’s new president  0

Posted on February 2nd, 2009. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

My son, despite being 18 months old, was able to enjoy Obama’s inauguration as millions of his fellow Americans did on January 20th. He will not remember it, but I hope he appreciates the photos we took.

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Please excuse the bump on the forehead. He is, after all, a toddler, and sometimes walls and the floor can be nuisances for him. 🙂

Book #1 for 2009 – Tender is the Night  0

Posted on January 29th, 2009. About Books.

Last week, I finished reading Tender is the Night by: F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was supposed to have read it during my Fitzgerald and Hemingway seminar as an undergraduate, but I confess, I did not finish it at that time. After my professor from that course, Dr. Matthew Bruccoli, passed away last year, I vowed to revisit the book soon to pay proper respect both to Dr. Bruccoli and to Fitzgerald.

It is the story of Dick Diver, a physician (psychiatrist) with a bright future who falls in love with a beautiful, mentally ill, wealthy young woman. The book recounts ten years of marriage. I will not elaborate too much for fear of spoiling the story for those intending to read the book, but I came away from this one with mixed opinions. It is interesting how autobiographical Fitzgerald’s novels are, and based on when they are written, they each account for a specific period in his life. By the time Tender is the Night was being composed, his wife, Zelda, had declared herself as mentally ill, and thus this is a strong theme in the book. When he wrote The Beautiful and Damned in the early 1920’s, his main characters were non-stop partier/flapper types, as that is what he as experiencing at the time. The book was a worthwhile read to better understand Fitzgerald’s emotions and perspective about his own life.

However, the story itself began slowly, and really did not pick up speed until the second half to last one-third. There were so many friendships and outings with these friends enjoyed by the Divers, but in the end they seemed a bit irrelevant. Too many players were incorporated without having a specific function. Additionally, Dr. Diver’s alcoholism seemed to stem heavily from the burden of being married to a rich girl and from bearing the stress of her mental illness. It was as if Fitzgerald was attributing his own failures to his having married Zelda. While Zelda was a wild and difficult person with whom to share a life, Fitzgerald was a heavy drinker from very early in his life. Blame only goes so far.

I have heard some Fitzgerald scholars (including Dr. Bruccoli) mention that Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s true masterpiece, unrecognized as such by most and overshadowed by the popularity of The Great Gatsby. This is the third of the five Fitzgerald novels I have read (the others being Gatsby and The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western), and I do still believe The Great Gatsby is his masterpiece. It captures the essence of an era, the characters are all memorable and present with a purpose, and it begins and ends concisely, but not abruptly. While it defines the roaring 1920’s, it is also timeless.

January 20, 2009 arrived – finally  0

Posted on January 25th, 2009. About News and Politics.

A friend emailed me this morning, stating his surprise that I had not blogged about the inauguration. I suppose there was such extensive coverage of the event that I did not feel I could add much. I will comment that the most common theme from the media was how wonderful it was that an African-American man could be elected president in a country where, as he stated in his speech, his father may not have been served at a restaurant in D.C. 60 years earlier. I agree – that is very cool.

While I am glad the racial barrier to the presidency has been broken, I have a confession to make: I did not vote for Obama because of his race. Oops, there. I said it. I looked at the candidate, his views, his plans for the nation, the articulate way in which he expresses himself. I believe he could restore some of the good will we have lost over the past eight years, and I relished the idea of valuing science over ideology. I think he will be an excellent president, and that is why I am happy he is now the commander-in-chief. To have voted for him purely because of his race could be a form of racism, could it not? No – I believe it transcends race altogether for this country to have truly selected the best candidate, and to have judged him, in the words of Dr. King, not on the color of his skin, but the content of his character.

Food Conservation and Sustainability  0

Posted on January 16th, 2009. About Conservation.

This is the third of my recent diatribes on conservation recently, and it pertains to something about which we all care: food. In a society where we can easily find desired food items at our local supermarkets, at times we may forget what is required to raise the food, harvest/slaughter it, package it, and transport it for sale. The environmental impact can be huge. Again, if millions of people began to make small changes, the impact could be enormous.

  • Try planting a small garden: One of my fondest memories from my childhood is of growing vegetables with my family out of buckets, followed by an upgrade to a garden in the backyard. Bucket tomatoes evolved into a garden rich with carrots, radishes, cucumbers, more tomatoes, and even corn (before the raccoons ate most of it). We all hear arguments about “buying locally” in an effort to avoid the high energy costs of shipping food long distances. While this is a good first step (and I love local farmers’ markets), food grown in your backyard does not require ANY oil to transport. Honestly, this is one reason I am so psyched to move from a condo to a house in the near future – so that I can plant a garden and teach my son the wonders of seeds germinating, flowering, and producing fruits and vegetables. What a fantastic way to teach children about nature and science while producing some locally grown food of your own! In addition, it baffles me that we have millions of acres of land in this country used only for “lawn” purposes – using a lot of water to keep grass growing on land while producing nothing other than an ascetic pleasantness. I’m not advising for people to defy their homeowners’ associations, but considering a small backyard garden is a way to make this land more productive.
  • Use the entire chicken: Gabriel’s nanny, Rachel, introduced me to the concept of this, something previously foreign to me. Basically, after roasting a chicken or a turkey, and picking the meat from it, boil down the carcass in some broth, and this produces a chicken or turkey stock. This stock can then be used to make other meals, so it’s double the use. Animals require energy and resources to raise as food sources, so we should probably be using each one to the greatest degree possible.

This may be it for a while regarding conservation posts. As other points arise, I will add them in future writings, but I hope people will feel free to tack on comments with other suggestions. Thanks!

Further Thoughts on Conservation  1

Posted on January 10th, 2009. About Conservation.

I will continue my list here regarding action items for better conservation. Please refer to this post for the initial conception of this series.

  • Reusable bags: When Evan and I moved to Seattle, as we were packing up the old house in the Carolinas, we had, literally, hundreds of plastic grocery bags stuffed into a “bag holder.” It had honestly never occurred to me to: A) reuse any of these hundreds of bags at the grocery store, or B) obtain a cloth, reusable bag for shopping. We are a society of consumption and disposal, and until recently most did not give much thought to what happened to non-biodegradable waste. About a year-plus ago, we purchased ($0.99/each) “green bags.” It started with two, and then of course we forgot them the next time we shopped because we were not used to bringing our own bags to the store. Eventually, we ended up with six of them, and over 2008 it is a habit to bring two bags with us to the store. It’s finally second nature. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that Americans use approximately 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. Some estimates suggest an energy requirement of 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million bags. In addition, while some places are able to recycle them (it is possible, but difficult to do so because of the surface filmy texture), less than 20% actually get recycled, while the rest end up in landfills. Some would argue that paper bags do not carry these problems, but the deforestation would be a concern here. For more information, this is an interesting site, which cites helpful numbers; and here is an article about San Francisco’s efforts to ban plastic bags. Seattle made an attempt recently to begin taxing plastic bags, but some thought it was an undue financial burden on lower-income folks. I suppose I don’t think $0.99/bag for a few bags is a huge expense or burden. The bags we purchased a year ago are still in good shape. If it really is such a hardship, perhaps the city could provide them with their first two bags, and from there out the tax applies.
    • Here’s another thought: for those already bringing their reusable bags to the grocery store, why not bring them to the mall as well?
  • Use reusable coffee cups: Along the same lines, why not cut back on waste in this way too? I’ve read arguments over whether the amount of energy required to make a reusable cup really offsets the energy that goes into a paper of foam cup. I suppose my concern is cutting down on the amount of waste. Plus, it keeps those disposable plastic lids from accumulating so quickly in our landfills. Another benefit: Starbucks will give you a $0.10 “cup discount” for using your own cup.
  • Try cloth napkins: Keeping with the theme of cutting down on waste, not to mention cutting back on tree usage, try giving cloth napkins a go. Reusable, and usually not dirty enough to warrant washing them more than once each week (for those about to protest – how many times do you use a towel before washing it?). I found this blog post interesting in pondering which napkin is the correct one.

Thoughts on Conservation  2

Posted on January 5th, 2009. About Conservation.

Moving to the West Coast three and a half years ago (has it really been that long?!) altered my perspective on many issues, perhaps the most significant being that of the environment and conservation. I always cared about the earth, of course, and considered myself a good environmental steward, until I realized how much I was not doing to conserve resources, and recognized what I should be doing to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste accumulating on this planet. Some of it seems so obvious now, but three and a half years ago it was not intuitive to me.

In the spirit of the New Year, I have compiled a brief list of things individuals can do that, when done collectively, have the potential for a large, positive environmental impact. I will start with a few topics here, and expand to others over the coming weeks, but these are easy-to-implement practices that I am convinced can make a huge difference.

  1. Stop drinking bottled water: I have not looked favorably on bottled water for several years now, mostly because I thought it was a rip-off to pay dollars for a liter of water likely the same in quality (maybe worse as the standards are not as strict as the standards cities must meet for their water). Then, I heard an interview with the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico on NPR approximately six months ago, which sent me reading more about this. He discussed his intention of saving the taxpayers of his city thousands of dollars by banning the purchase of bottled water for city-sponsored events and at City Hall. In my own research, I discovered a study from Geneva citing that 1.5 million TONS of plastic are used each year to bottle water. No difference in the quality or the composition of bottled water and tap water exists. This article nicely summarizes the negative environmental impact of bottled water – that to meet the demand for bottled water in the United States alone, 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the plastic bottles holding the water. This does not include the oil required to ship these bottles across the globe to their final destinations. Then, one should take into account the amount of energy involved in recycling these bottles; and if they are not recycled, they sit in landfills with nowhere to go. My suggestion: keep a cup or bottle at your desk at work, and refill it during the day from the tap. If you feel so inclined, write to your representatives and senators in D.C. suggesting that bottled water not be supplied with our tax dollars. We’re in an economic downturn at the moment! It makes both environmental and fiscal sense to use common sense here.
  2. Get off of junk mail lists: Some may be thinking, Yeah, that would be nice. It’s realistic! Not only would receiving less junk mail annoy you less and waste less of your time, but it will help to conserve our forests. This is an interesting website with stats related to the negative environmental impact of junk mail. Briefly, the site cites that nearly 100 million trees are used each year to produce junk mail, that each American adult receives approximately 41 pounds of junk mail annually, with 44% going to the landfill unopened. The company charges a small fee for getting your junk mail reduced for a five year period. However, with effort and patience, you can also do this yourself. This website explains how. Perhaps the easiest way to start is by opting out of credit card applications. Calling 1-800-5-OPT-OUT is the way to accomplish this.
  3. Try walking: If your desired destination is a mile from your home, why not walk there? Not only will this conserve gasoline, but in the age of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, etc, it’s exercise built into your day! Walking the 1.5 miles to work may take me 25 minutes, but it would take 10 minutes in the car anyway, plus time spent looking for parking. Then, tack on the daily parking fee that even employees must pay, and the question becomes – why not walk to work? It’s refreshing, it’s exercise, it’s time spent listening to the Zune, and it leaves the car at home.

Until next week!

Considering New Year’s Resolutions  0

Posted on December 17th, 2008. About Ramblings.

So many of us make them, and most of us will break them. Ahhh, the New Year’s Resolution. In the past, mine have always been to run regularly, and then by March I’m finished, until starting again in July, and then losing steam again in October. By then, it’s time to make another resolution to run the following year. I remember one year making my resolution to read 50 books the following year, but who was I kidding? When I read a book, it takes time to finish – I have to be in the right mood, and have to savor every page rather than reading quickly. It takes me weeks, if not months, to finish a book. I have always loved to read, but now that I read so many medical charts, journal articles, and radiology/EEG/EMG reports, when I get home often the enthusiasm is lacking. I do seem to be reading an awful lot of Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman with a certain toddler at home, though!

So perhaps I should be setting more realistic goals for the year. Maybe if they are actually achieveable I will feel more compelled to strive towards meeting them rather than giving up when life becomes stressful and busy. Let’s try this:

  • I will shoot to read 12 books next year, one for each month.
  • I will aim to exercise for at least a 30 minute interval, three times each week.
  • I am currently on lesson 11 of my French podcast series. I will complete through lesson 40 by the end of 2009.

If I were being really manic in my New Year’s goals, one would be to finally finish the “book” I’ve been writing since May 2005 when I first moved to Seattle. Every six months I revisit it, re-edit what I have already written, write another page or two, and then set it aside again for another six months. Realistically, I’m not sure I will be finishing it in 2009, but perhaps someday.

I am pleased that I have been able to somewhat keep my blog up, despite a resident’s schedule and a little boy in my life. This seems to be the creative outlet I have maintained for myself, so I imagine I will continue to return to it until at least into my 80’s, should I be fortunate enough to enjoy that sort of longevity.

From reading the news online and talking to others, it seems most people believe that 2008 has been a very lousy year. With the war continuing and the economy in crisis, the future is definitely uncertain. Yet, I’ve found 2008 quite rewarding, mostly because it was my first full year as the mother to a wonderful boy. I have watched Gabriel grow from a helpless five month old at the beginning of January into a vivacious, passionate, and loads-of-fun toddler who runs through our home to hug me when I walk through the door each evening. How could I complain when I have those moments?

In any case, an early Happy 2009 to everyone!

I Heart French  3

Posted on December 5th, 2008. About French.

I am psyched about learning French.

I briefly mentioned my efforts toward bilingualism in this post some months ago, but things have picked up recently. I initially discovered Podcasts almost a year ago when Evan gave me my Zune, and then intermittently over many months I occasionally listened to Podcasts from two separate French-education programs, Coffee Break French and Learn French By Podcast. Finally, over the summer, I printed the free .pdf guide from the Radio Lingua site (the parent company that created Coffee Break French), and once I could see words combined with listening to the phrases, I was hooked.

Coffee Break French is designed for the person who does not know the language. I knew “bonjour” and “merci” prior to starting the program, and that was about it. My pronunciation was awful to non-existent (I would not even read many of the words aloud for fear of mispronunciation). I did not grow up around French-speakers, and the thought of tackling this language was extremely daunting. I received mixed reviews on my decision to study French. My son is learning it through his nanny, and thus he will never have to face the difficulties in learning it. She was enthusiastic about my attempt. Several colleagues have insisted that it is entirely hopeless unless one lives in the country and is immersed. I’m sure there is modest truth in this, but I believe Coffee Break French gives an excellent start for someone who realistically cannot pick up and move to Paris for a year.

Anyway, the program is well conceived and structured effectively. Mark teaches, and Anna (his student) learns with us, the listeners. He introduces a phrase, or a concept, explains it well, pronounces it several times usually, and then Anna repeats it. If she makes a mistake (which is atypical, as she is quite perceptive), he kindly corrects her. He quizzes both Anna (and thus, the listeners), allowing for time after his question for us to formulate our answers. The first two lessons teach basic greetings (and the .pdf guides offer further phrases, as do special extended audio podcasts that can be downloaded from the website). Then, it is on to telling someone where you are from, where you live, describing members of your family, introducing people, talking about your profession. (To obtain further .pdf guides or extended audio podcasts one must purchase a membership.) By lesson nine there is a ~2 minute dialogue between Mark and Anna encompassing the concepts introduced in the first eight lessons. Much to my delight, I understood approximately 80% of the discussion. This is astounding, because when I was in Paris three years ago, I understood nothing. I might as well have been aphasic. I could not even read phrases aloud from a French-English dictionary because I could not pronounce them so that others could understand me, but rather pointed helplessly to words on a page while Parisians read what I was trying to convey. I honestly did not think it was possible for me to learn this language, and it is definitely happening. I can now even sing two French holiday songs (lesson 10)! 🙂

For anyone out there considering a study of French, but is concerned that it may be too difficult or cumbersome or uninteresting, I would highly recommend the Coffee Break French program. Learn French By Podcast has the potential to be interesting and very useful, but even though it is advertised as being for beginners, I thought it was very difficult and had trouble keeping up, given where I was starting. Coffee Break French takes things more slowly, but simultaneously, teaches a great amount of material. I am eager to start the next unit (the first unit includes lessons 1-10) soon and see what happens next.

I’ll keep you posted. A la prochaine!

Yes, we did  1

Posted on November 6th, 2008. About News and Politics.

I, along with the other 64.9 million Americans who voted for him, am pleased with the election of Barack Obama as the upcoming U.S. president. I believe he will be an excellent commander-in-chief, and many of those who did not vote for him will benefit under his leadership. The press is speculating heavily on the reasons for such a clear win. I have heard it is because McCain messed up by choosing Palin as his running mate, and I have read that the economy soured McCain’s chances.

The truth is – Obama did not win because of an unforced error by McCain, or because the economy is in trouble. Obama won because he had a real message. For 21 months, he stayed consistent in his message, continued delivering it, was unwavering in his loyalty to it, and he remained optimistic. Over a two year period, he drew voters to him, rally by rally, city by city, and inspired people to believe the best. His opponents lacked a definitive, consistent message, and their strategy changed every one to two weeks. If putting down his foreign policy experience didn’t work, then it was on to Bill Ayers. When that didn’t work, it was on to accusations of socialism. It became very apparent at the end that the goal was to do whatever was necessary to get elected; by then, it was too late. Americans decided they liked Obama’s positive ideals, and finally, finally, the side using negative campaigning self-destructed.

The election – with two weeks to go  0

Posted on October 20th, 2008. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

For as much passion as I hold for politics (particularly national politics), I would have thought this historic election would have provided great fodder for this blog. Yet, I have found that plenty of people out there are saying what I wish to say more eloquently than I would say it. The negativity makes me angry, but if I blogged everytime the GOP presidential and vice-presidential candidates behave in a manner that is hypocritical, reprehensible, or non-Christian, I would do nothing but sit in front of my computer, typing furiously day after day. I believe a few comments will illustrate how I’m feeling:

  • When Sarah Palin was selected as John McCain’s running mate, I, like the rest of the country, was inspired by her…to finally donate to the Obama campaign. I have never given money to a campaign, but this was the one. That $150 million Obama raised in September? You can thank Sarah Palin for it.
  • I am constantly fearful for Obama’s safety. He’s so close to victory, and all it would take is one misguided lunatic to end it all. It’s frightening. When Sarah Palin half smiles at rallies as her supporters call him a terrorist and yell things like “kill him,” I have to wonder – where are these Christian principles she espouses? I hear much more Christian things coming from Obama’s lips than from McCain’s or Palin’s. The right-wing Republicans should be voting Democratic in this election, but I suppose voting against one’s self interests is not a new concept.
  • While we’re on the topic of Sarah Palin, have you noticed that she will state things as fact that are easily disproved? I’m thinking of the firing of her public safety commissioner for not firing her brother-in-law, the panel of eight Republicans and four Democrats who found she violated Alaska’s ethics law, and her comment (I’m paraphrasing) that she is so pleased that the panel found she did not violate the ethics law. What?! I half expect her to tell the media how pleased she is to be awarded the Nobel Prize or to state as a fact that scientists have proved the polar icecaps are reaccumulating. As long as you say it definitively and with a straight face, I guess that makes it true somehow?
  • In 2000 when I was living in South Carolina, I had a great deal of respect for John McCain during the GOP primary. I didn’t agree with all of his stances, but the man was respectable. I will never forgive him for this election. He has thrown his principles out the window to try to win the presidency, and as a result, I predict he will lose. He has attempted to embrace the sort of negative campaigning that allowed Bush to beat him in 2000, but what he doesn’t understand is – that worked in South Carolina. It doesn’t jive in most of the country. People at their cores are still decent, and the negativity has gone over the top for most. I will also never forgive him for placing the country’s future in such great jeopardy by choosing the running mate he has chosen. How selfish of him to place her in such a position of power. He needs to really start putting “country first” and ambition-to-win-the-presidency second.
  • Man, isn’t Tina Fey awesome?!
  • I am so glad Joe Biden finally called the other side out about “pro-America.” In their rallies they frequently speak of “small town American values,” “real Americans,” and those who are “pro-American.” Since when did people living in large cities lack values? Why are those in small towns better than those who live in cities? Tax revenues from cities often fund smaller towns – so I guess we’re not pro-America when we’re paying to support all of those “real Americans.” Way to go, Joe.
  • If the other side does win, I’m glad I’m somewhat sheltered in Seattle, although I do love South Carolina very much. 🙂
  • How can anyone be undecided at this point?!
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