Thursday, December 31, 2009

Things I Found in my Grandmother's House: Part V

In a closet in my grandmother's house, I discovered a curious-looking box that appeared to hold some sort of exercise equipment: The Whirl-A-Sizer. Oh yes, it comes with its own exercise program and advertises, among other benefits, that it helps to "Shape and tone bustline." Based upon the packaging, I estimate that the whirl-a-sizer hails from the late 1970s or very early 1980s, but there's no date listed. By far the best part of this historical find is the informational poster that shows different poses you can do with your Whirl-a-Sizer.

The outfits are spectacular, especially the woman who is working out in a one-piece belted jumpsuit.

We took the Whirl-a-sizer out for a spin, as demonstrated here by Myles (performing the "Accordion") and Sarah (going behind the back for the "Arm Firmer").

However, my favorite of all the poses is definitely the Peek A Boo:

I'm not so good at whirl-a-sizing but hopefully I can work my way up to that one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mini reviews: one restaurant, one book, and one movie

Restaurant: Estragon is a Spanish restaurant in the South End that opened a couple of years ago, and it's become one of my favorite spots in the city. Like most Spanish restaurants, Estragon is known for its tapas and sangria, and also carries a few Spanish beers, including Estrella. But what I really love about the place is the decor- artsy with beautiful decorations but airy and comfortable at the same time. Even the soap dispensers in the bathroom are vintage cool. Like most tapas places, you can rack up a significant bill rather quickly, so I recommend going for the happy hour special- $1 tapas at the bar from Monday to Thursday 5:30- 7pm. The fried artichokes, ham on toast, and Spanish omelet were my favorites. The downside to Estragon is that it's on Harrison Ave, a couple streets off of the main drag, far enough away so there's not much foot traffic around- although it's never been empty when I've gone (probably because of those $1 tapas), it's never been full either, which doesn't bode all that well for its future.

Book: Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill. In this critically acclaimed novel, our narrator is Hans van den Broek, a Dutch financial analyst living in New York City. After 9/11, Hans and his wife and son had to vacate their loft, and Hans is eventually left alone living in a strange hotel when his wife Rachel grows tired of the uncertainty (and her marriage, apparently) and moves back to England with the boy. In an effort to combat loneliness, Hans takes up his boyhood sport, cricket. In America, however, cricket is an immigrant game, played mostly by Indians, Pakistanis, and Caribbean islanders. Hans is befriended by a charismatic cricket official form Trinidad named Chuck Ramkissoon and soon finds himself accompanying Chuck on many of his entrepreneurial adventures, not all of which are of the legal form. The writing is both succinct and descriptive, and Netherland captures the uneasy tone of life after the terrorist attacks in New York City. With a new government and new set of problems (i.e. the troubled economy), we're already living in a different age, and Netherland evokes memories of the early 2000s more than it describes our current world. The novel is at its best when it's an ode to the city itself- a fellow hotel resident dressed as an angel, taxi drivers dining at hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants, the cricketers as a prime example of a hidden but vibrant subculture. In my opinion, the novel is at its worst when it tackles Hans' personal life, and although I liked the book, this is what prevented me from loving it. I thought his wife was kind of a bitch, and their relationship struck me as completely lacking in joy- they seem to stay together because they're both resigned to being married to one another, and I just found that aspect of the book too dreary and mundane for my tastes.

Movie: Sin Nombre is a haunting and powerful film that follows the stories of two characters who meet on top of a train in Mexico. Sayra is a teenage girl from Honduras who is traveling north with her estranged father and uncle, a journey shared by thousands of illegal immigrants who face extreme danger with the hopes of starting a new life in the United States. Willy, or Casper, is a member of a vicious Mexican gang known as La Mara. At the beginning of the film, he is in the process of distancing himself from street life in favor of spending time with his girlfriend- a move that is not taken kindly by the gang's leader, the terrifying Lil' Mago. After a series of events, Willy ends up traveling north with Sayra, only now they are on the run from vengeful Mara in addition to hiding from the police. Sin Nombre does an excellent job of chronicling the journey of the Central American illegal immigrants- in this regard, it reminds me of a modern version of the high school Spanish class staple, the 1983 movie El Notre. It still seems absolutely crazy to me that people would risk their lives to end up working in shitty jobs without any legal rights- and that's the best case scenario. Before filming the movie, director Cary Joji Fukunaga spent time in Chiapas riding trains with immigrants and interviewing gang members, a trip that obviously contributed to the authenticity of the movie. One of the most mesmerizing and horrifying sequences of Sin Nombre is the story of Smiley, a 12 year old inductee into the Mara family. Despite the brutality and shocking violence (Note to self: stay far, far away from anyone with facial tattoos), the seduction of power and a sense of belonging works its magic on young Smiley. Overall, Sin Nombre is a very well-done film, with excellent acting by the relatively unknown cast (especially Paulina Gaitan as Sayra and Edgar Flores as Willy) and impressive cinematography. I'd recommend it, but it's definitely not a movie for the faint of heart (or stomach).

Christmas eve music

This whole not working thing has kept me busier than anticipated, but I'll start posting more frequently next week, I promise!

As for now, I aim to placate you with a gift of songs.

One of my new favorite musical acts is Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. I hate the name, because it's too long and lends to some confusion regarding the Magnetic Fields but love the music. The LA based group has been described as a hippie version of the Arcade Fire, which seems apt. One I heard their song "Home," I was hooked, mostly because features two things I love: duets and whistling. And it's just so happy!

Home - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

And because it is Christmas eve, here's one of my very favorite Christmas songs:

2000 Miles
- The Pretenders

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Report- NYC

Friday- Hitched a ride down to New York City with my friend Andy, which was great because we left early and avoided traffic and made a stop at a cute diner in Connecticut, complete with a Greek waitress who hugs and kisses customers. I did some Christmas shopping downtown, including a stop at F.A.O. Schwarz, which has the most amazing variety of stuffed animals you can possibly imagine. After that, I met up wtih Carolina at her apartment- Cornell offers subsidized housing for post-docs on Roosevelt Island, a small island in the East River. You can get there on the subway, or on a convenient and much more scenic aerial tramway (that was featured in one of the recent Spider-Man movies). After catching up over dinner and beers, we headed out to meet up with a couple of my soccer friends and did some bar hopping downtown.

Saturday- We woke up early and headed to the Brooklyn Museum to see a special photography exhibit, Who Shot Rock & Roll. The exhibition featured many iconic images of musicians and provided backstory highlighting the photographers, most of whom remain relatively unknown. I really enjoyed it and if you're in New York City and at all a music fan, I'd definitely recommend it. The rest of the museum was nice, too, and it only costs a suggested donation of $10 to get in. After the museum, we walked around Brooklyn for a bit and then headed back to Manhattan to go to the movies. We saw Invictus, the new Clint Eastwood film about an unlikely friendship between Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) and the captain of the national (and almost all white) rugby team, played by Matt Damon. Hey, you've gotta love a feel-good sports movie. When we exited the cinema, we found ourselves in the middle of a full-blown snowstorm. We met up with my friends Liz, Amanda, and Dan for Mexican food, and then traipsed through the snowdrifts to an Irish pub afterwards. I love being in the city during a winter storm.
Sunday- I headed back to Boston on the Lucky Star bus, which was only slightly delayed by the weather, although that didn't prevent it from stopping at vile Arby's. Overall, I had a great weekend in New York City, even though I uncharacteristically didn't take any pictures except for one of the wintry streets I took from the window of the tram.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holy moley!

A few months ago, I noticed a small mole growing on my lower ribcage. (Hey, it's cool to talk about your weird moles on your blog. Really.) After a couple months had passed, I noticed that it was getting bigger and changing shape, and since I am the poster child for skin cancer (fair hair, fair skin, freckles, blue eyes), I decided to get it checked out. I went to the dermatologist, who didn't seem to think it was problematic, but was nevertheless enthusiastic about the idea of cutting it out. The lab results came back this week, and it turns out that it was cancerous- not the scary bad melanoma kind, but a more common form of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. I do need to go back to make sure the little sucker was completely excised, but it should be fine. The thing that surprised me was that it's a sun-related cancer, and since I don't spend all that much time in a bikini, it was an unusual place for it to develop. So for today's public service announcement, make sure you have those funky new moles checked out, even if you don't think they could be cancerous. And that goes double for my palefaced brethren. And triple for people living in Australia, which has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two months of leisure

So, my last day of my old job was this past Friday, and my new job begins on February 22nd or so. Which leaves me with an unprecedented two months of nothing to do! Truthfully, I have quite a bit to do, in terms of fellowship applications, reading up on bacterial pneumonia, and arranging a move to a faraway continent. But since I won't be gainfully employed...I'm actually looking forward to some time off, in that I'll have a chance to do some things I normally ignore, like vacuuming, going to the gym, and getting my teeth cleaned. I've also become the family's official errand girl- picking up Christmas trees today, and taking my grandmother to her book club tomorrow. And I've planned some fun activities for myself- I'm going to New York City this weekend, and I booked a two-week trip to Germany and Austria in January to visit family in Vienna and friends in Germany. Very excited about that- I've never been.

On the downside...six years of grad school haven't done wonders for my finances, and now that I've booked an expensive trip to Europe (whoops!), I need to earn some money during my hiatus, or at least curtail my tendency to spend it. So I foresee a lot of book reading, movie watching, and hopefully some catering and babysitting gigs in my near future. Unless that temp job as a UPS driver's helper comes through. I think I'd look good in brown.

And just for everyone else who still has to go to work on a Monday morning:

Monday Morning, by Fleetwood Mac

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All's well that ends well

The defense has been passed, the thesis approved and handed into the library, and tomorrow, I will pack up the last of my stuff, clean off my lab bench, and walk out the door for good. Most of you are aware of the fact that I had a generally miserable experience as a graduate student. Yes, I learned a lot and I met some fantastic people, but the past six years shattered my self-confidence and nearly destroyed my enjoyment of the subject I once loved, science. However, corny as it sounds, I have a magnet that says "It'll all be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." and that seems to be the case- I got my Ph.D. and I have a fantastic job lined up.

So let the bridges remain flame-retardant, and instead of saying a long, emotional goodbye to the graduate school experience, I'll leave you all with the immortal words of Alice Cooper:

School's Out

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Recipe: Baked Shrimp with Feta

Tonight, I made Baked Shrimp with Feta from Cooking Light. It was great! Easy and quick to make, and absolutely delicious. I did omit the clam juice (I just added salt water instead) because I didn't want to buy a bottle of clam juice only to use 2 tablespoons of it and find it months later, lurking in a corner of the fridge. I also made the orzo at the bottom of the recipe and it was a good accompaniment. As was a glass of pinot grigio.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Reviews: Two movies and one book

Okay, let's start with the book. At the end of my Australian vacation, Kris lent me Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I had requested a substantial book, one that would take me a long time to finish- I tend to fly through books, and I was hoping for something hearty that could keep me entertained for at least a few days. Cloud Atlas fit the bill perfectly- it's almost like six books in one, as the novel proceed through interlocking stories, each one containing a protagonist marked by a comet-shaped birthmark. The book starts out like historical fiction, with the story of an American sailing back from the recently colonized Chatham Islands (near New Zeland), and then on to a flamboyant British composer living in Europe during the 1930s. After that, we meet Luisa Rey, a reporter in the midst of uncovering a conspiracy at a nuclear power plant, in a section of the book that reads like a Grisham thriller. After Luisa, it's back to England for the present-day, and very humorous, tale of a British publisher. Then, the book completely switches gears into sci-fi and we meet Somni-451, a clone living in a futuristic Korea where genetically designed humans perform all menial labor and service industry jobs. Although I'm not normally a big sci-fi fan, this was by far my favorite section of the book. The world Somni-451 describes is utterly fascinating, as she recounts to a government archivist how she transitioned from an everyday waitress clone into a soon-to-be-executed rebel. The central chapter of the book is the most tedious- it takes place centuries in the future, in a bleak and violent post-apocalyptic Hawaii. So yeah, it's sort of like The Road, only written in a dialect normally associated with authors attempting to characterize poor, rural southerners. It was tough to get through, but after that section, the book moves backwards in time through all the stories, and finally ends with our American traveler circa 1850. Cloud Atlas is an impressive feat, with the complexity of formats and writing styles, but it was also a very enjoyable read (except for that one section in the middle, and even that was interesting, just tough to figure out the dialect). I thought it was great- well-written, creative, and full of engaging characters and interesting themes, and I'd definitely recommend it.

So I finally saw Where the Wild Things Are and... I didn't love it. Don't get me wrong, I did like it, and the cinematography and creatures are absolutely perfect- they look like big, furry wild things, not like something generated by a computer. But they were a little too glum for my liking. The movie did a great job of capturing the frustrating parts of being a kid- just like Max, I can recall getting angry and destroying a toy or something and then feeling guilty and sad about it later. However, I felt like it was missing something essential, the spirit of fun and freedom that comes from having an imagination, and focused too much on the negative. These wild things were way more emo than the ones I remember from the book.

I also saw An Education and thought it was fantastic. The story itself is not a new concept- a teenager at an all girls school in 1960s England starts dating a charming and debonair older man, who turns out to be not exactly what he seems. However, in this movie, the brilliance is in the details- the acting, the dialogue, the clothes and sets are all fantastic. Carey Mulligan is perfect as the young Jenny, and Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as her suitor David- he's just the right mix of charming and creepy. I thought the most poignant part of the movie was the relationship between Jenny and her parents, who are also swept of their feet by his seductive lies. An Education is fairly slow-paced, and don't expect any action scenes a la 2012, but sometimes that's a good thing.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Fun

Okay, this poorly translated Chinese menu made me laugh harder than I've laughed in a long, long time. Seriously, read the whole thing. Cowboy leg? It just gets better and better.

It's a special week when not one, but two people send me interspecies friendship links (thanks Jeff and Rob!:

1. 10 Weirdest Animal Friendships. Amazing! The giraffe and ostrich are my favorites.

And this picture is of a baby deer who supposedly followed a beagle home, right through the doggy door and onto the couch. Awwww.

Lastly, the Friday Song of the Day! No surprises here:

Down Under, by Men at Work.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Green* things I'm into lately

1. I started using a new face wash and I love it! I had been using Cetaphil for a long, long time but was never exactly thrilled with it. Yes, it's gentle, but for a greaseball like me, perhaps too gentle. I never really felt like it was cleaning my skin, probably because it doesn't foam up so you don't get that soapy clean effect. However, harsher products I've tried make my face all red and blotchy. A few weeks ago, I noticed a new (to me) Neutrogena product on the drugstore shelf: Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Facial Cleanser. Terrible name-Acne Wash? Couldn't they have gone with Clarifying Wash or For Problem Skin? Euphemisms do have their place- there's a reason why we call it Diet Coke and not Obesity Coke. And it also kind of sounds like it's made of acne, a la aloe lotion, which is just gross. Anyways, stupid name aside, the Redness Soothing bit of it caught my eye and I decided to give it a shot. And it's great- after using it, my skin feels clean and smooth and not irritated at all!

2. Brussel sprouts. They are delicious! Who knew? All this time I thought they were chalky and gross, like lima beans, the infamous ruiner of vegetable medleys. Boy, was I wrong! Toss them in olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and roast in the oven, and prepare to be amazed. Here's an easy recipe, and if you want to get fancy, you could add some crushed red pepper and balsamic vinaigrette.

*in terms of color, not environmental impact.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

This just in...

I have a new job.... in Melbourne, Australia!!

I'll be sticking with science for the time being, working on a Gates Foundation project studying bacterial pneumonia in children. I start in late February and will be there for at least 6 months.

HOLY COW. Or shall I say...CRIKEY!!!