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Kittens and Mittens

Some days I wish I could get a PhD in procrastination, because I rock at avoiding important stuff.  For instance, I've got this discussion section to write, the shining moment of my manuscript, when I place my research into the annals of all research in my field; but frankly right now it is all just a knot of tangled christmas lights.  I spent today in the empty office of the Bossman, reading a pile of papers that I have been dutifully carrying back and forth to lab for at least a week.  I figure if I daily carry my weight, it is atoning for not actually reading any of these papers.  Since the Boss is away giving a talk, I took advantage of his biohazard free office, and was able to remain well caffinated whilst reading papers tangential to my project so that I could shove my ideas into the larger context of things not so nearly related to my project.  Terribly frustrating activity, but isolating myself prevented my usual "read two paragraphs, check 3 emails and facebook" pattern.  See I am an expert at procrastination!  Anyhow, I have set a hard deadline for myself to get yet another draft to the Bossman by Saturday (11:59pm is still technically Saturday), so of course I am doing the most productive of activities and updating my blog...duh.

The holidays were busy withgift nitting.  I amazed myself at my ability to get three major projects done in time, of which I have zero photographic evidence (no really I did finish them).  I made a pair of fingerless gloves, a hat, and a yoga bag.Thehatproject keptmeupuntil4amonChristmas Eve eve, and I had claws for hands the next day.  As a treat to myself, I bought some yarn to make myself some cold weather mittens.  Said mittens were torn apart 3 times to get the right sizing.  I splurged on the yarn (not extreme yarn splurging, but enough that I was willing to avoid making oversized mittens that required another trip to the yarn shop).  The pattern was pretty easy to mess up, and I am pretty impressed that I was able to follow along with Season One of Homeland and maintain the fun criss cross cable pattern.   One could say the interwoven maze of lines reflected the labyrinthine plot of Homeland, or one could also refrain from making that statement.  They turned out pretty good, and aren't the size of oven mitts.  I finished them just in time for the two 50+ degree days that we had this week!

kittens mittens 001
My mittens are carefully displayed next to one of my current obsessions,  a 24hr live kitten cam.  It is run by a guy in Seattle that fosters cats that have just given birth.  The kittens don't do anything remarkable except sleep, eat, and be adorable.  It has a soporific effect on me, and I check it almost as much as I check my email, for no reason except it makes me smile like the crazy cat lady I am destined to grow up to be!

New Years Revolutions

I've realized (belatedly) that my firm resolution to update my blog was about as firm as a wet noodle, but to be fair, I've been trying to bust out my manuscript, which means a lot of science writing, which makes me not want to write anything else.  However, after a good sit down with the Bossman this week, I finally got a positive comment about my writing, so I am again prepared to flex my creative chops, and what better way than publicly declaring a bunch of things that I won't remember this time next year.  So here goes.

1.  Write more....(declaring that now, so I haven't officially failed just because I am starting this resolution at the end of Jan)

I have the aforementioned maunscript that represents the bulk of my PhD research, which when compiled in its greatest hits form feels a little like I've done nothing all this time.  I have to keep reminding myself that eight figure Cell papers are usually data dumps of several people in a lab.  That said, the paper of all of my failed experiments would be a real saga! 

The Bossman has recently gotten a tablet, and he is gungho about editting on his commute.  The result is the scrawlings of a madman:
My favorite comment is "AWK", which means the sentence is awkward, but gives no suggestion as to why that is, or what it needs.  Frankly these edits usually leave me drained.  But others have survived this process, and so too shall I (?)

After this hurdle, the next writing hurdle will be a thesis, which I will attempt to broach the subject of to my committee in two weeks.  I am mentally aiming for summer.  I have been a student for way too long, and I am ready to start being a grown up person.

Also, I am going to make an effort to write here and to write a story or something like that more often.

2.  Eat more better

After a visit to Seattle last year, I reverted back to Vegetarianism.  I had given up meat in undergrad, when I was writing a persuasive speech for my Comm 101 class, in which I was going to convince the audience that eating meat was bad.  I was writing the speech last minute, so I ran to the McDonalds next door and bought a 2 cheese burger meal, the irony didn't hit me until I was back in front of my word processor (90's style non computer processor that was like an electric typewriter that saved).  I stayed Veg until I went back for my Masters, and hand waved around my decision, but actually after work drinks at the wing place were too much for my resolve. 

My visit to Seattle was with my buddy L, who is Vegan by way of allergies.  I was scared to stay with her, for fear that I would be hungry (read irritable) the whole time.  Suprise, suprise, I was not.  I got home and resolved to go Vegan, then had a severe panic attack and back pedaled to being Vegetarian. 

As time as past, I've become what I like to call a Vague-an.  The Vegetarianism is mainly due to my love of animals, the Veganism is more of a health effort.  Most of my bad food choices (see the above anicdote about the buffalo wings) are tied to meat foods. Late nights in the lab often resulted in fast food take out dinners. By choosing to avoid meat, I don't have any reason to go into those establishments.  I still resort to mac and cheese when I don't have the energy to make kale and quinoa at 9pm when I get home, but I've also experimented (with mixed results) with non-dairy cheeses.  My first two attempts ended in tasting the cheese out of the bag and immediately rejecting it as something I wanted to eat.  After a day at the Vegetarian Food Festival in October, I tried those same products melted, and discovered they weren't half bad.  However, I'm not quite ready to give up free journal club pizza.

Even trying to be Vague-an has been a fun challenge.  I've learned that Vanilla Almond milk is da bomb, soy creamer in my coffee is better than just soy milk, and not all soy yogurts were created equally. In all of this, I still haven't mastered the ultimate goal of eating tons of vegetables, but I keep on keepin' on.

3.  Move your body, bitch

I was cursed with a non-sporty disposition.  As a child I spent all day hiking around, or riding my bike around and around the dead end corner of our street.  Neither of these activites were done as exercise, but as games of imagination.  Hiking was done to search for treasure or explore a magical kingdome, and bike riding was usually proxy for riding a horse or playing traffic.

I danced during elementary school and band marched in high school.  Other places I've lived, I have been able to do aerobic videos or had easy access to a gym with dance-y classes.  Living as I do in Boston, my apt is too small to jazzercise safely or without disturbing neighbors, the free gym is not convenient, and the pay gyms are super spendy.  Add to this, I am not an exercise person, so if left to my own devices I will move it to the next day on the agenda.

My buddy Em was interested in yoga, and sent a call out on FB to see if anyone was interested.  It took us a good 4-5 months to move beyond the good idea phase.  We got a Living Social deal for a nearby studio, and then waited until there were only 2 weeks left on it, and I am glad to say that I am hooked.  Karma Yoga Studio is about a 15 minute walk from lab.  It is smallish, but not too crowded.  It is a nice mix of new agey and exercisey, and best of all, I don't feel intimidated by super power yoga warriors.  They have a resonable 10 class pass for students, and I'm already on my 2nd pass.  I haven't had to buy new jeans yet, but I can notice little things, like my ability to stay in a plank pose without collapsing on the mat and a return of my flexibility.


This one will probably falter immediately, but I am resolving to not get so excited about things that aren't important.  The ship won't completely sink if I am not constantly mopping up the splashes of the waves.  I have very important things that I need to accomplish this year, and I can't do so if I am a constant ball of nerves.  Another good reason to keep at the yoga, eh?

I resolve that this year my spirit animal will be a Shetland Pony in a Shetland Sweater and not a rabid squirrel!

Out of hibernation

I am pledging to start writing again.  The reasons are three-fold.
1.  I am beginning to write up a manuscript on my research and need to be in constant writing mode
2.  I could probably use a reminder that I do have a life out of lab right now.
3.  I'm getting sick of just logging onto live journal to delete spam comments about Chinese NFL jerseys.

In the midst of a stressful week of scrambling together a seminar, I had one glimmer of happiness….L had gotten us tickets to see Abigail Washburn in Fall River.  (I must say that I was amazed that the two people to whom I commented that Lizzie Borden was from Fall River, had never heard of Lizzie Borden.  Not sure if they are sheltered, or if it supports the notion that I know far too much about all things gore)

I must clarify first, that all of my seminar stress was self imposed.  I’ve become stagnate in my main project due to an inability to get the materials I need to complete some key experiments that will complete the story nicely.  I freaked out, and worried about presenting the exact data that I had in my seminar in March; so I insisted to the Boss-man that I be able to present some preliminary data on a different project.  Well a few of the experiments that I’d planned for the seminar didn’t pan out (due to mainly to the trickiness of the assay) and I had to throw together some new background slides that I don’t have smooth explanations for yet….bottom line, I am beating myself up over the initial decision and trying to figure out the most graceful way of falling flat on my face!
The invite to the show in question was a default.  L had gotten the tickets for her and her husband, but since he is overworked and exhausted, he suggested a more lively concert-mate….moi.  I readily accepted, happy to have something to get me out of the lab before 8pm once during this week.

So, I planned my day to be finished by 6pm.  As usual, certain things took longer than expected (including one pretty encouraging result…yeah me!), but I was ready in time to be picked up.  The drive to Fall River was a fun one.  L is giving the other student seminar on Monday, so we can feel each other’s pain this week.  But the drive was full of very amusing conversation and high hopes for a good show.

We’d seen Abigail Washburn together last year at Johnny D’s in Sommerville, with L’s husband T along with E and A.  We were all familiar with Abigail Washburn as an excellent banjo player whose catalog consisted of old-timey/bluegrass with a few songs sung in Mandarin thrown in.  I first saw her with Uncle Earl a couple of years ago, and she’d been the one standout as a solo artist for me.  She’d mixed up her repertoire a couple of years ago with the Sparrow Quartet album recorded with Bela Fleck; which was more of the same old-timey string music, but as opposed to her solo and Uncle Earl work, the Sparrow Quartet had a decidedly minor and dark sound.  So the five of us went to see Abigail Washburn last year with this in mind, and were quite shocked to find that she’d added another genre…one that we all agreed was very adult contemporary.  She was promoting her upcoming album, City of Refuge, and it became clear that the new album would feature a lot of this style of music.  We were confused, and a little sad to have missed hearing the music we’d expected.  It was the musical equivalent of the first time I saw Fargo.  The trailers made it look like another hilarious comedy from the guys that made Raising Arizona, and as the movie progressed, I could not see the brilliance of what it was over the confusion that it was a far darker comedy than I’d anticipated. But I got City of Refuge last year, and the new sound grew on me.  Parts of the album reminded me of the light fm that my mother listened to when I was a kid; an early 80’s am gold sound.

Fall River was further than either of us thought (thank goodness for GPS).  We got to the address and were shocked to find that the venue looked surprisingly quiet.  The entry way to the space looked like an abandoned building; there was no one else around and no music audible.
I wondered if the show was actually occurring, or if L had bought tickets from a shady source that had lured us to an abandoned building.  I was worried that if we took the elevator up, we would be greeted by our doom (maybe the musing of being gore obsessed has more truth to it than I’d like to think). 

Once we got upstairs, we began to hear noise and were greeted with a warmly lit art space, filled with the least scary art imaginable, Lego statues!

The music space was dimly lit, but still inviting.  It reminded me of the Guru Java Coffeehouse at the Wesley Foundation back at Purdue during undergrad.  There was a small wooden stage, containing at least three banjos, a keyboard, and a standalone bass drum.  There were some tables near the front of the stage, followed by rows of cushioned chairs and church pews.

We bought coffee and baked goods, justifying the late night caffeine as a necessity for safety during the drive home. 
We played musical chairs a couple of times, trying to find the best place to sit.  The venue wasn’t too crowded, so we could pick and chose, even getting there so close the start of the show.   The show was put on by the local npr station (which was broadcasting the show), and the host ran around warning everyone that it was Abbie’s birthday and in the middle of the first number, her music partner Kai, would cue us to start singing. 

So once she took the stage and launched into a bluesy banjo-y number, we erupted into an out of tune rendition of Happy Birthday.  It was pretty terrible sounding, but it amused her.  From there on, it was a very fun show.  It was just Abigail and Kai.  She played a combination of banjos, and he was a veritable one man band (trumpet, keyboards, and guitar).  We noticed a tambourine at one point in the show, but couldn’t quite figure out where it was coming from.  She played almost equal parts old-timey and indie-adult contemporary songs.  I think she only played one song in Mandarin, but mentioned that they were embarking on a good will tour of the Silk Road on Friday.  For the most part, she played the songs off of City of Refuge, with a few from Song of the Traveling Daughter thrown in.

When the show was over, they waited at the merch table and greeted the audience.  Neither L nor I brought enough cash to get a pretty sweet t shirt promoting their upcoming China tour.  I offered to go in on a tour poster for $5 with L, suggesting that we could trade off custody or cut in down the middle like a best friends charm.  I let L fangirl out on Abigail Washburn, since she’s been a fan much longer than I.  We took some shots with them, and wished them well on their China tour.

On the way out, we looked at the Lego exhibit, which was pretty sweet.  I was a master at box shaped cars and houses when I played with Legos, so I was duly impressed.

The artist is Nathan Sawaya:  http://www.brickartist.com/

The coffee ended up being a rotten idea.  Granted we were both awake and aware for the ride home, but I ended up lying in bed with the jitters until about 3am.

All night long

For the second year in a row, I convince KK to attend the Halloween movie marathon at the Coolidge Corner theatre.  It’s the fourth horror movie marathon I’ve gone to since moving to Boston.  This was the third that I’ve drug KK to.

The Coolidge Corner Theatre marathon runs through their After Midnight series, which shows a fun assortment of midnight movies and cult faves.  Because of the connection with this series, they run the marathon in a manner that makes it a real endurance test, from midnight to noon.  Last year I only made it until around 8:30 am, I couldn’t will myself to watch the final two films in the late morning hours; especially after KK had gone home around 7am.  So this year, as any good marathoner will do, I prepped.  I slept in as long as I could on Saturday, and after running to the laundromat to do a load of laundry, I laid back down and tried to sleep some more.  I think I only managed an hour or two of restless napping, and finally got up and showered at 6pm.

I was supposed to meet KK at 9:30 for a late dinner, but as I tend to do, I got there much earlier.  I used the extra time to stock up on some Halloween candy, as a back-up energy reserve for the night.   I got the Willie Wonka candy mix, because that seems to be the only source of Nerds candy in the modern age. 

I still had some free time, so I got my first coffee of the night.  I hadn’t had any caffeine all day, in an attempt to capitalize on my lack of chemically induced energy to get more sleep in.  After a quick coffee, I ran down to the Booksmith to meet KK. 

I’d arranged for us to meet in the bookstore, because I knew that would be incredibly early, and I didn’t want to stand outside to experience the full effect of the unseasonable weather we were having.  We were due to get several inches of snow throughout the night, and at 9, it was already coming down like it was January. 

KK was right on time, and we set out to find somewhere to grab a late dinner.  Many of the restaurants in the area close early, but a small bar up the street was open late, and because of the snow, it wasn’t too crowded and bar-like to prevent dinner conversation.  The Coolidge Corner Club house, has a sports bar theme, and all of their menu items are named after sports figures (which made it all the more difficult to figure out what anything was).  I’m all for giving strange specialty sandwiches celebrity names, but if it isn’t too much trouble, could the basic items retain their easy to identify monikers?  We both got boring, but gi-normous, bacon cheese burgers.  Dinner was fine, and we still had some time to kill, so we ran down to JP Licks for my second coffee of the night. 
When we finally decided to go to the theater, there was already a line formed and a considerable amount of slush on the sidewalk. 
We got some prime seats on the aisle (key for the ability to sneak out at any time for snacks or bathroom breaks) of the left side of seats.  The center of the theater had already filled up by the time we got in.  There were a few people in costumes, but for the most part people were dressed in the costume that I’d chosen: someone that wanted to be comfortable sitting in a theater all night.
The general festivities got started immediately, with a series of bizarre-o clips done by something called the whore church.  Some of it was fun, but for the most part it went on a little too long.  It reminded me of a better produced version of a montage of clips that I’d made for a high school project.  We had to make a commercial for an English class, and my group decided to make one for a time travel agency.  I hooked my old school video camera up through the vcr and taped clips from Gone with the Wind and ET.  I was too embarrassed to watch myself on camera, and faked sick that day.

We were in prime shape for a night/morning of scarry movies!

Before the movies began, they had the costume contest.  There was a wide range of effort and creativity put into the costumes.  The top three entrees were Cap’n Crunch, a dude with a machete in his face, and a baddie straight out of John Carpenter’s “They Live” (complete with a reversible sign that proclaimed “Obey” and “Chew more Bubblegum”)

The first movie of the night is one of my faves, Suspiria.  It is a late 70’s Italian horror flick directed by Dario Argento, and the first of his Three Mothers trilogy.  There is a strange beauty to the gore in this one.  It is difficult to explain to someone that is squeamish about gore but he has this way of setting up a scene that makes the death almost art; but perhaps of a Dahli or Heroniymus Bosch style that is beautiful and disturbing at the same time.  Suspiria is the story of an American girl studying at a ballet school in Germany.  The script was written by Argento and his then wife Daria Nicollodi.  They wrote the script with young girls in mind, but cast much older women in the roles; however they kept the dialogue the same.  The slightly young tone of much of the dialogue adds to the strangeness of the film. Furthermore, this is filmed as many Italian films of this era were, with a multi-cultural cast that were allowed to act in their own language; resulting in a mix of dubbed and non dubbed dialogue.  The film held up well in my esteem.

The print was a little damaged, but pretty good.   They only show film at this festival, which adds to its film nerd cache.  It is a real treat to see all of the scratches and crackles…but probably only for people that dig that kind of thing!
The second movie was Return of the Living Dead.  I’ve seen it before, and it isn’t one of my favorites.  I can’t put my finger on it, I usually enjoy a good dose of humor in my horror. 

I chose this time to make a run for the restrooms.  I was surprised that after only 1 movie, there was already a dearth of toilet paper.  I was even more surprised that I was the first person to tell the staff.  I guess I am destined to always been the responsible party.  I also grabbed a popcorn (CCT does it right.  Real popcorn.  Real butter) and a soda (they now have Boylands fountain soda, so I got a Birch Beer).

RotLD was fine.  I didn’t love it any more or less.  I guess I got to see Linea Quiggley naked on a much larger scale, not that I needed that!

The third film of the night was the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  This one used to freak me out, mostly because it looks so much like a snuff film.  Even as a video, it is badly lit and grainy.  The print they had was in bad shape.  The light scheme of the film kept changing, through what I can only imagine was due to damage on the film.  Additionally, the beginning narration done by Night Court’s John Laroquette, was missing from the print.  I must really have become a big callous of late, because I barely batted an eyelash at the movie this time.

At this point it was about 5:30am.  I was pounding candy to stay awake.  KK got a coffee. 

The third movie was not helpful in making it over the hump.  It was new to me, but oh so slow moving.  Hardware is a late 80’s/early 90’s sci fi horror flick with Dylan McDermont, and put me in the mid of the great Tom Selleck/Gene Simmons robot horror film Runaway.  This too was a baddie robot flick.  In spite of being full of post-apocalyptic distopic wonderfulness, but the story dragged on and on; and then it had 2 or 3 psych out endings before actually ending.

So, since Hardware nearly succeeded in putting me to sleep, I bought 7am burrito and coffee.  The burrito was not a classical breakfast burrito, but I feel that any burrito consumed at 7am is a breakfast burrito!  It hit the spot.  The fun didn’t end with the tortilla full of happiness, we were treated to Demons 2.  This is another Italian 80’s horror film, which, if you’ve been keeping score means lots of out of sync mouths and awkwardly dubbed performances.  But the movie was so bat-shit crazy, that it was amusing.  The story concerned demons taking over a high rise, and the demons enter the world from a television playing a documentary about teens exploring a demon-ravaged city….perfectly reasonable premise, right?

This was the point that I called it quits last year.  During that marathon, the final films were not enough to combat the nausea and achiness I was experiencing.  The remedy to that this year was Hellraiser.  Even with the outdated clothes and hair, it held up.  The effects are a little hokey, but the centobytes are still all kinds of goth S&M cool. 

I ran for another bathroom break, complete with some high knee lifts to get some blood flowing in my legs.  I got back the theater as the final movie began.  It was 10 am, and I was bound and determined to see it to the finish.  However, I couldn’t bear to snake back into the row, so I sat behind KK and stretched my legs out into the aisle.  Rabid was the second film that was new to me.  It is directed by David Cronenberg, and appears to be from his period of films that involves vagina-like orifices (James Wood shoves a video tape in one in Videodrome…”long live the new flesh”).  In this case, the heroine is injured in a motorcycle accident and is given a radical surgery to graft skin back on her; which results in her spreading some kind of rabies and need to feed on blood from a vaginal orifice under her arm.  It made perfect sense after being awake all night.  Actually, I spent the entire movie wanting it to be over, so that I could go home and sleep.

Eureka!  We both made it to the end; a little worse for the wear….but surprisingly, we weren’t too disgusting.  Out in the afternoon sun, the snow had already melted. I was only able to grab a few hours sleep on Sunday afternoon, so I was half asleep and grumpy for the rest of the week.  Luckily, KK and I work in the same lab, so we got to be miserable together….and if that isn’t friendship, I don’t know what is.

Semi-spooky happenings in Salem

I woke up much earlier than my internal alarm clock will usually allow on a Sunday.  Actually, I really lucked out this morning.  If I have to wake up early, I usually sleep lightly, for fear of sleeping in.  I wanted to wake up at 8am to leave by 8:30am, and set my alarm before going to sleep.  I actually woke up at quarter til, and as I woke up, I realized, that I had not changed the day setting on my alarm clock (you can set it for every day of the week, just the week, or just the weekend....I'd kept it on the week setting)  My reason for such a early (by my standards) rising?  A day trip up to Salem with KK and D.  We were taking the ferry up to Salem, and had to be there at 9:30am.

I'd never been up to Salem for the actual October fairs.  The town fully embraces its Halloween tourism, and has food booths set up and vendors galore.  I've heard it can be over run with pointy hats and Hot Topic vampire teens, but even that can be fun to watch.  I'd gone up on Halloween weekend, but just at night to see Die You Zombie Bastards and the Misfits cover band at the Salem movie theater.  We wandered past an especially aggressive zombie walk, and escaped into a boutique to avoid the overly grabby living dead.  But since we were going just for the show, I'd missed the hot cider and fried delights of the fair. 

I'd texted KK the day before to solidify the plans.  She got me a ferry ticket, and I got all of us return tickets for the commuter rail, so that we didn't have to worry about the surcharge for paying on the train.  She told me to be at the docks (by Columbus Park) at 9:30am; which of course meant that I got there at 9.  I had time to grab a seasonal pumpkin spice latte, so that I wasn't a complete grouch.

Turns out the boat departs at 10, and they want people to be there early so the line can form and boarding is prior to 10, so that departure is 10.  I wish I'd known all of this, because I would have gotten there at 9:30 anyways.  Since I thought 9:30 was the departure, I arrived sufficiently early.  It was no real problem though, because it was a lovely day, and I had a book (Something Wicked This Way Comes) to keep me from being bored.

The two of them arrived around 9:30, looking even more exhausted than I felt.  They'd gone out the night before and had gotten in late.  So there we all sat on the docks, really wanting a few more hours of sleep, but putting on a good face for the others to make the day fun.  The ferry was slightly late.  We got on the boat, and were treated to a fairly steady tour of the harbor until we got past the harbor islands.  I learned that the history of the harbor islands is mostly garbage dumps and whore houses. 

By the time we got into Salem, it was do or die....we needed to find food...the reserves we were all running on were about to be depleted.  We found a cafeteria style place along the street that the ferry dock is on.  We all got variations of eggs, toast, and potatoes.  I ordered my second coffee of the day. 

Salem is full of attractions.  These are small spaces either museum-ish or performance-ish.   Most deal with witches or the witch trials, but there are also pirate museums and a scarry movie wax museum.  They also have the house that Nathaniel Hawthorne's Seven Gables is based on.  Most of these attractions are 8-10 dollars, and more than a couple and it quickly eats up a good chunk of money.  Between KK and I, we'd seen a smattering of these attractions on previous trips.  So, we knew which to avoid, the worse being a circular room that you have to look up around the perimeter of the room to watch light shone on still figures as the story of the witch trials is played,  It gives you a real crick in the neck.  I'd enjoyed a "museum" about Lizzy Borden, called the 40 Whacks musuem.  I saw that with MT when she was in town; but it has since closed down.  It was very informational, but mostly involved walking around and reading, not popular with the kids.

Our first stop was the Witch's Cottage.  KK had a groupon for their admission.  We were ushereed into a theater, and told that the first two rows might be touched by the performers.  I took a seat right next to the "fright plank".  The show was about 15-20 long and told the history of witches in New England.  They used some puppetry, which reminded me of the Skeski's from the Dark Crystal.  There was much black light trickery, and a fun use of soap bubbles with the black lights; which lit up around the room like descending magical orbs.  Occassionally a character would stomp down or rush up the fright plank.  Most of the frights were things that were suddenly on stage after a black out.  The best part, was the explanation of how people could be accused of witchcraft in colonial days.  A young girl came out and pretended to retell the tale of seeing glowing eyes in the woods, etc....but I couldn't pay attention as the poor girl had braces and couldn't quite say the words through all of the metal.  She had that odd mouth movement of someone that has just gotten braces and still isn't used to them. 

From there, we went to the Witch House.  This was a historical attraction.  It was the home of one of the witch trial judges.  They have it furnished with period pieces that aren't actually from the judge's family.  Scattered throughout the house are signs with the history of the judge and his family, as well as general factoids about the time.

We stopped to marvel at these implements of punishment.  I wonder how many of the accused witches used the powerful jazz hands spell?

This wasn't authentic enough, so we were given the direction to "look miserable". 

I made sure that we got everyone in the goofy pose, and forgot to mention to KK that we were now going back to "happy to be punished" poses.

We left the house and walked back into town, then, as might happen, when you have three nerds awandering, we took a detour into the comic book store.  I think we spent more time in the store than we did in any of the other attractions.  A considerable amount of time was spent looking at the giant microbe toys.  You can take the geek out of the lab, but you can't take the lab out of the geek!

We decided to make our last stop at the Nightmare Gallery, which is the horror movie wax museum.  I was most excited about this one.  On the way from the comic store, we heard a loud siren noise.  In front of us, coming down a hill, was a large group of motorcycle police, driving with their sirens blazing.  The cops lead a procession of civilian motorcyclists.  By the time we got to the street, we noticed the people lining either side of the street, with a path left open for the cycles to pass.  We walked along the street, until we were directly in front of the Nightmare gallery, hoping the procession would soon pass.  Little did we know that it was the MDA Halloween Motorcycle Run.  I couldn't find the exact number of participants this year, but apparently in previous years they've had about 3000 riders.  I wouldn't doubt it, as it took 45 minutes for the parade to end.  It was novel at first, but quickly became loud and annoying.  We stood behind a crazy woman, that kept stepping into the street.  There was a group of spectators taking phone videos of the cyclists, for a very long time.  I wondered if they would ever sit and watch all 45 minutes of video...but then in my search for the details, I ended up watching one video on youtube taken by one of the passengers....I spotted myself, briefly, in the crowd....which goes to show, that I shouldn't be so judgemental, I do brainless things too.  (my mother would probably argue that I do brainless things more often than not)

We finally got across the street and bought tickets for the Nightmare Gallery.  I was super psyched to see the wax statues, like the horror-movie-nerd I am.  We were let in, and were greeted by a woman in a gyspy costume.  It seemed a bit odd, but I was game.  I kept trying to turn around to see the statues behind me in the foyer.  She performed some spiel about the spirits not being happy, and had us stand in a circle and hold hands.  Frankly the holding hands of a stranger went a little too long for my tastes.  We were then led into a dark hallway, and then subjected to jump scare after jump scare.  Turns out, after 3pm during Halloween season, it becomes a haunted house.  It was actually a prety effective haunted house, as KK was shrieking and pushing D through the rooms.  I on the other hand, kept trying to linger in each room to see the statues, but the ghouls were persistently in my face threatening me with noises and bloody looking sharp things.  I let myself be pulled along by KK, but whined, "but I want to read the placards" (not sure why my mind immediately latched on to that turn of phrase for the signs, but I am sure it added to my general dorkiness).  At the end of the musuem, I tried to lag again, but it was clear that they had a turnover schedule to keep to push the next set of people through.  But since I was last, the final ghoul asked my name, and then shouted out the door that they were keeping me and they would have to find a way home without me.  Then I said, we're taking the train home, so he shouted that at them; and I trailed off, but I have the tickets!!  Finally as he montioned for me to leave, I caught his attention, and asked if there were times that you could actually look at the museum.  Ever the pest am I, he quickly answered in the affirmative and shut the door in my face.

We were all worn out by that point and I led them up towards the train depot, but alas, before we got the the station, I realized that we were in the weekend commuter rail limbo.  For some reason, they don't have a train during the 4 oclock hour on the weekends, otherwise they have one each hour.  We headed back into town, and grabbed a small bite at the Gulu Gulu cafe.  I downed my third coffee beverage with a ham and cheese crepe.  KK and D had beers with their small entrees.  After finishing, we settled the bill; but realized we still had an hour to kill, so we ordered again!  This time I got a port (yum) and the mexican chocolate cake (double yum).  D was quite gracious in getting the chocolate cheesecake, after they told us there was only one piece of the mexican cake remaining.  In retrospect, I should have given him a chunk of my cake, but my manners were clouded by all the spicy chocolate-y goodness.

We caught the next train, with no problem, and it was a hassle free commute back into the city. 

A tiny wrench fails to ruin a fun day

I'd forgotten that I had plans for the weekend, until I was commuting home on Friday.  In lieu of acceptable reading material, I was perusing my date planner, and realized that I had tickets to see Jonathan Richman on Saturday night. Jonathan Richman is originally from the area, and is probably best known as the guy with the guitar, that popped up at various points during "There's Something About Mary".  Aside from the movie, he writes and sings songs very similar in style to the quirky little songs from the film.  After seeing the film, I immediatly bought two albums, and proceeded to not listen to them for a number of years.  When I finally did, I latched onto and loved the original Modern Lovers album, which he put out in the late 70's.  It rocks a little more than his solo material, but all songs retain the same idosyncratic quality.  Since moving up to Boston, his music is even more enjoyable, since he sings about everyday locations like Goverment Center and the Public Gardens. 

He was playing at the Middle East for three nights this weekend, and we bought tickets for the Saturday show.

The doors didn't open until 8pm, so I spent a carefree afternoon wandering around Coolidge Corner.  My primary goal was to pick up a copy of "Something Wicked this Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury.  The Disney adaptation is one of my childhood faves, and after finishing up "The Night Circus", I needed more magical circus reading; though Bradbury's tale describes a decidedly darker magic. 

I caught up with E, and we made plans to meet up in Cambridge at 8 pm.  They've got a lot of experience with shows at the Middle East, and he'd called the club to see what time JR actually went on.  The phone recording had said that he wasn't going on until 9:30; so we planned to meet at a new veggie restaurant up in Central Square.  I was actually a veggetarian during my colllege, post college to pre grad school days, but veggie restaurants were never much to my taste.  Often the menus are either full of fake meat options or overly au natural and bizzare.  The Veggie Galaxy was neither of these.  They serve traditional diner fare with a veggie twist.  They had a club sandwich, a tofu salad sandwich, and veggie versions of blue plate special dinners; but I opted for the burger menu.  They had two choices of burgers, chipoltle black bean or mushroom chickpea and about 5 toping combos named after areas in the city.  Below these pre-designed burgers, they had a huge list of options to make your own burger!  I had the black bean burger with goat cheese, pickled onion, and apple-corn salsa.  A got the same burger with a tarragon pesto and sweet corn mash and a vinegary red cabbage slaw, and E got the club.  Sandwiches came with either a potato salad or the red cabbage slaw.  We got a big plate of onions rings to share.  With all this, we still couldn't resist deserts.  It was my first taste of vegan ice cream, which all seems to taste like coconut.  Even my pumpkin ice cream flavor didn't hide the coconut undertones, I topped the ice cream with wet walnuts, which they described on the menu as wet nuts...this led to some off color jokes.  A got tazo chocolate pudding, which tasted good, but didn't have much of a pudding consistency. 

We got to the Middle East at 9:35, and JR was already on stage.  This was my first show at the upper room of the venue.  It was terribly crowded, and we had to wait until the song was over to edge to the back of the room.  The tallest guy in the room was in front of me, and I think his feet hurt, because he continually rocked his weight from one foot to the other....so I too swayed to keep a view of the stage. 

Prior to the show, E warned us that JR puts out many albums, and only performs new material live.  He sang mainly about love (which, in truth, is what most songs are about, right?), including one song in French.  There was some bizzaro super fan at the front of the room who sang her own back up during the french song.  Otherwise, it was just JR on guitar, with a guy on a snare drum backing him up.  It was simple, but very good.  JR tells this odd little stories in song, with tiny punchlines scattered throughout; so there was intermittent laughter throughout the show.  It is difficult to adequately describe his style to someone who has never heard him, but I really enjoy it, as did the heterogenous mix of music lovers attending the show.  I would imagine this might be something that hipsters might have latched onto, but I think JR's sincerity is kryptonite for the irony loving hipsters. 

At 10:20, he finished up a song, and said goodnight.  I was puzzled.  I asked E about the timing, and he reaffirmed the time from the phone message.  After I bugged him, he asked the sound guy, who said that JR had started late at the friday night show, but got there on time for our show.  They must have adjusted the phone message after Friday's show.  The sound guy appologized, but there wasn't anything more they could do.  Since there were no opening acts, and JR was playing three nights in a row, the shows were short anyhow.

We stood in the outside of the club, trying to prolong the night.  Unsure of what to do with ourselves.  But we were considerably disappointed....

But reflecting on the delightful meal and the fact that we only missed 35 minutes of a short show, but still got to see a pretty awesome musician playing live.....we couldn't stay completely downtrodden...

The two old pros at the Cambridge music venue scene thought of everywhere we might be able to catch a bit more live music; but we had to make due with my rendition of the Lemonheads version of "Mrs. Roblnson" as we walked back the car.  (I think that tangent began after someone mentioned Evan Dando, which is still a pretty random name to mention in everyday conversation)

Once in the car, we listened to a band, Your Neighbors, that used to play live at the volunteer coffee house, Guru Java, where the three of us had met back at Purdue (oh so many moons ago).  We all tried to remember some of the bands that we'd loved back in the day.  There was a band called the Velmas, that I had a hand painted t shirt of, but I couldn't recall what the band actually sounded like.  I recalled a band called Nenah Foundry, and E said they'd eventually had to change their name because the real Nenah Foundry sewered them. 

Best unintentional pun ever!

Back in time to days of yore

I had the distinct pleasure of traveling back in time by way of Boston's South End, at the Medieval Manor.  It is in the same vein as the big Medieval Times restraunts, but without the arena, jousting, and live horses.  This is more of interactive dinner theater, themed as a king's court with jesters, wenches, and peons.  KK hatched the idea for the outing, in celebration of her boyfriend D coming to visit from Germany.  They have a price cut for students on Thursdays, so a bunch of us poor professional students clamored together to go. 

As half of the party live in the south end already, it was just me and fellow grad student M who were going straight from lab.  I'd like to say that I was dilighently working up unitl we left, but who am I trying to kid.  We'd had to specify what time we were arriving for the 7:45 show, when we registered, so I ran over to the adjoining lab quadrant and grabbed M at 7:15.  The google maps had given me a walking route of about 15 minutes, that went down Albany Street, jumped on an overpass, and then back on the street.  Something about this didn't sit well, but a revised map indicated that we could walk on Albany the whole trip.  However, I was a little worried about the quality of our path, when the overpass had been recommended.  It ended up being okay, though the misty rain was just enough for me to not use an umbrella, but enough for my glasses to provide me with only 50% visability.  I was glad to have a walking companion, because the street became slightly less well lit as we continued down Albany.  Upon turning onto East Berkley, we saw a couple of guys in jester garb standing it what appeared to be an alley way, so I urged M to continue to find the real entrance.  But the end of the block only yielded a fenced in area, clearly devoid of a front door.  Turns out the alley is the entrance, this was slightly less shaddy looking when we saw KK and D inside the nondescript door.  (What is this a 1920's speak easy?  What's so wrong about clear front door signage??) 

Once inside, KK immediately had to run out because she forgot her id.  (I only mention it here, to shame her into carrying it on her person always in the future.  Does no one else worry about being a Jane Doe in an emergency room?)  We met our new master's student AC in the foyer, and we were all ushered into a crowded bar.  Along the way, D was diverted away by a jester. 

The bar was densely populated with middle aged women in foil crowns.  I was sure that they belonged to the charter bus that I'd passed twice trying to find the enterance.  I opted to not buy a drink at the bar, since we'd already paid for beverages with dinner, though it was tempting to buy a drink so that I could have the bartender do a magic trick for me.  Oddly enough, the bartender was dressed in a red vest with arm garters, and not like Ye Olde Inne Keeper.  After about 20 minutes, we were led into the main dinning room, which was a number of long tables surrounding a stage.  We had a table in the front left corner of the stage.  Soon after sitting, the jester returned with a piece of cloth for D to hand him during the show.  At once, I knew that we were in for a treat all night.

About this time, a wench came by and explained the drink system.  Our admission included a drink token, so the table had a pile of them.  We were seated with a couple of other parties.  Each token bought a small pitcher of light or dark beer, a carafe of white wine, or "virgin mead".  She took a poll of what we wanted a brought the appropriate beverages for us to share.  During the night, when a vessel was empty, we'd put it at the end of the table and they'd bring us more.  It was pretty okay system, as no one went dry, and we still had several tokens.  It probably didn't hurt that it wasn't the best tasting alcohol.  The mead was an pommegranite iced tea with enough honey to give it a distinctly mead-y taste. 

It was about this time the KK arried, and the show began. 

The show carried out through out the evening, and courses were served between sets.  It was a combination of skits, storries, and songs.  A central theme being everything was slightly "bawdy", though it crossed into the land of crass several times.  The guitar player was very good, it was harder to discern the singing because the sound system was a little off.  All throughout the show, the characters called on D and made him the punchline of every other joke.  He was a good sport and got an extra drink token and free souviner glass. 

I don't remember if what he is reading here was particularly funny, but I laughed a lot (perhaps due to the rapid consumption of cheap wine, which is the only way to consume said beverage!)  Additionally, he was called on stage to perform "I'm a little tea pot", with several other audience members.  Probably a good thing that there was a crowd, because I was appalled to learn that in both Germany and Poland, this childhood classic is not sung.  Oh the humanity!  I am making it my mission to teach KK all of my favorite kids songs, especially those with accompanying jestures.  I relish the opportunity to teach her VBS songs!  (ie:  Father Abraham and one about Noah's ark, where he buids it out of hickory barky, barky!!)

It turns out the ladies in the foil crowns were all a part of a Chrisitian Women's group.  I wasn't sure if they'd read the online disclaimer of the lewd nature of some of the humor, if they didn't mind it, or if they just didn't know the definitition of bawdy.  One particualr highlight of the night involved Gladys, with a beauty salon coif and heels, who got brought on stage to honk a horn during a song.  She wagged a finger at her friends, who hooted, hollered, and took video, as Gladys honked a horn that extended from a jester's crotch.

The remainder of the crowd was a mix of the college aged and middle aged.  I think M described a group directly across the stage from us best, a group of attention whores.  They were clearly intoxicated, and woo-hoo'ed a little more often than called for.  There were even a couple of calls for the performers to "take yer shirt off!".  At the end of the evening, the king went around the room and announced birthdays and anniversaries that were being celebrated.  One particular girl had her own birthday cupcake with a lit candle.  The king, jokingly told her to blow out the candle before the place burnt down.  Instead she announced, "Everyone has to watch me blow out my candle."  She held the cupcake in front of her, and her iphone above her, and proceeded to take her own picture blowing out her birthday candle.  I only feel bad for laughing at her nonsense, if she was indeed celebrating alone, and stuck documenting her own birthday wish.  However, I doubt this was the case.

The best entertainment of the night, was a fairy tale told in the style of a drunk, it was pitch perfect with transposed letters, to tell the tale of Coor Pinderella.  Again, copious amounts of cheap wine might have added to my enjoyment.

The food was suprisingly palatable, the trick was, you have to eat everything sans utensils.  The first course was steamed mussels and a cheese and pepper pita pizza (no sauce).  The second was a faux dragon's blood soup. When I told my mother about this course and told her to guess what it was, she immediately guessed Borscht?!?  I am grateful this wasn't the case.  Instead of borscht, we had the far less common tomato basil soup.  The brought it to the table in a metal pail, and we passed around bowls.  It was just the right temp to drink without a spoon.

The next course was a beef rib, one per guest.  I was expecting this to be amazing, since they had a spot on the registration, where you could pay for an extra rib.  But, there were enough no-red-meat-eaters, that I was able to have two.  It was a good thing, as it was feast or famine with the ribs, and my first rib was definitely lacking in the meat area.  The second made up for the first's deficiencies.

After the rib, we were given a bowl of salad.  It was about as good as an iceberg lettuce and red cabbage salad can be, except for the added displeasure of figuring out how to each a salad with balsamic dressing with your hands.  I failed that test, at least according to the big drip of dressing on my shirt. 

The last course was 1/2 rotissary chicken, with a lovely rosemary seasoning.  It was a challenge to try to get through that after all the rest of it.  I couldn't resist eating the crispy, rosemary-y, skin; but otherwise, I couldn't get through the whole thing. 

The show ended mid chicken, and they did a final song, and brough the house lights up to 1/2 bright.  So there we sat, with the better part of the main course unfinished and drinks yet to be drunk; unsure if we should wrap it up and leave, or finish the meal. 

All in all it was a fun evening with some good friends!  Perhaps not the best taste of medieval life, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Partial domesticity

I've gotten into a bad eating habit of late.  I like to compare it to the no-time-for-real-food-diet that I had in undergrad.  I usually missed the breakfast service in the dorm, and ended up getting something off the food pyramid, like Cheetos and a Mountain Dew.  When I had a real kitchen, I loved to bake and cook, but the studio apt kitchen has squeezed that love out of me.  I have gotten into the take out habit for dinner, because I don't have the energy to cook a sad little dinner for one, when I drag my tired bones home.  As a solution to that problem, I've resolved to start making a real dinner on Sundays to rework during the week. 

Since it is October, I was excited to make a crock pot of chilli, but mother nature threw a wrench into my plans, and it was in the mid eighties all weekend.  Don't get me wrong, it is still okay to eat chilli when it is warm out, but it isn't the perfect Autumn Chilli Experience....brisk weather outside, leaves between orange and red, and starting to gather in crunchy heaps on the sidewalk, a stack of scarry movies to watch, and a warm pan of cornbread to sop up the sides of the empty chilli bowl.  So my cozy experience must wait for a real Autumn weeknight.

Instead I decided to get super creative with my crock pot, since I avoid using my oven which seems to set off the smoke alarm 1/2 of the time. 
I became curious if I could make the ultimate comfort dish, in the comfort of my own crock....meatloaf.  I did a quick web search, and it yielded a suprising wealth of info, but I'm no fool (no sir-ee); so I decided to consult my mother.  She thought it sounded like it might work, which wasn't the reassurance I needed, so I procceed to have a multiple text message dialogue with G.  All parties agreed that the recipe must be tried, and whether it retained a loaf shape or not, it would be edible.

 I ended up winging a recipe combined with several online ideas, the back of the McCormick meatloaf seasoning packet, rememberances of loving my mother's meatloaf when she added bbq sauce, and my own ingenuity. I used the binding agents (egg and milk) from the packet recipe, which was for 2 lbs ground beef, but I only had 1 1/2 lbs. I combined a chopped onion, beef, fresh grated italian bread, and the above ingredients with 1/4 cp bbq sauce, and kept adding bread until it was loaf-able. I cooked it on low for about 5.5 hrs, at which time, there was a nice pool of fat on the sides of the loaf. I skimmed most of it off, and opted away from the typical ketchup glaze, and made a kicky sauce from a can of diced tomatoes, bbq sauce, and buckwheat honey. In the end, loaf was achieved! I kept its shape fine, just missed the crustiness of the outside that you get from the oven. The sauce was brilliant! Ofcourse, the blue plate (or rather burgandy edged plate) special meal wouldn't have been complete without fresh mashed potatoes.  

Now I just have to learn how to eat a normal portion instead of forcing down an extra piece because I've been smelling it cook all day.

Not quite Autumn

Out of the blue, we are cursed/blessed with 80 degree weather today!  The sunshine and warmth are appreciated, but the sudden temp increase, after being in the 60's all week, is bound to mess with my sinus health. 

I decided to hit up the Arnold Arborteum, in hopes that some part of the autumnal color changing had begun.  It was so nice out, I decided to have a little picnic lunch.  I went to the City Feed and Supply on Centre St.  It was hoppin', and took 15 minutes to make me a cold sandwich.  I got an appropriate side from the little organic groccery.  The City Feed and Supply has a whole slew of interesing sandwiches, specializing in local ingredients, but I am always drawn to the most specialized sandwich.  They have a tofurkey slice sandwich.  Now, to some, this might be a major yuck, but during my veggie days, I had tried tofurkey, and come to the conclusion that while it didn't especially taste like turkey, it did taste good.  It is a fairly mild taste, so the real selling point of this sandwich is the other toppings:  avacado, grain mustard, pepper relish, pickled red onion!  Anything with pickled onion is heaven to my taste buds.  I'd wanted to try kale chips for some time.  I really liked the texture, and would be interested in a less seasoned variety, as the "spicy miso" flavor was caked on the crinkled edges of the kale.

I made a general mess of myself during lunch, thanks to the avacado.  But, boy was it worth it.

The Arboretum was lovely, but not in an especially Autumn way.  It made for a nice walk though, and there were several odd trees that caught my attention.

Of note were these strange berry things on the one tree.  I could imagine that they are used in some form of Chinese herbal remedy, but that might just be a flight of fancy.  The hydragea was completely dead, but still intact. 

After wandering up through the fir trees, the overlook above the explorer's garden, and then coming down through the hanging garden; I ended up at the same bench (which was fortuitous, because I realized I'd dropped my napkin earlier).  There were tons of people out, so it was the only bench in the shade available.  I then sat for about an hour reading The Night Circus. 

This is rapidly becoming one of my faves.  It is the story of two magicians involved in a competition centered around a strange traveling circus.  When it came out, many were touting it as the next Harry Potter.  I suppose, as being a magic-fix for those feeling the void of a new Potter novel, that comparrison works; but it is really lovely in its own way.  The first half of the book moves in a non-linear fashion, mirroring the mazes within the circus itself.  It is really quite original, and even nearing the final stretch, I contnue to be suprised by story elements. 

On leaving the park, I did see one tree with leaves in mid-transition; which I guess means that the real beauty of Autumn is just around th corner.