Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ups and Downs in Vancouver

Sometimes traveling, especially a foreign country or just someplace foreign, period, is full of extremes--you go from REALLYREALLYEXCITEDANDHAPPY to just crushed at the smallest mishap. I think it's part of the being far away, being out of the comfort zone thing.
I had a series of mishaps before even leaving for the airport. I got home (well, to my parents' house) from work around 9 PM and started laundry and packing. I should note that what I wanted to pack was laid out, just not in a suitcase yet. Around midnight, it seemed like a good idea to wax my eyebrows.
I think you're supposed to heat up the wax for 10 or 20 seconds. But the label is smudged, so when I saw "_0 seconds"I, for some reason, thought it meant "90."
I then spilled the super hot wax on my left hand. Fortunately I was near a sink and just blasted it with cold water. So the burn is nothing to write home about, but I had wax stuck to my hands for hours.
I then was so spacey that I waxed off much more of each eyebrow than intended! Oh well - they'll grow back.
I ALSO managed to drop liquid wax onto my eyelashes - on BOTH eyes. This is really hard to get out, so I boarded the plane this morning with weird brown gobs on my eyelashes that probably looked like I just had sleepy eye crud and was too gross to wipe it off.
When I saw my advisor at the gate, for some reason it seemed prudent to tell her that I hadn't combed my hair that morning (?!?!).
Towards the end of the flight, I got a random nosebleed. The sink in the bathroom wasn't working so I couldn't wash my face with water!!!!! I imagined I looked terrible - with a bloody face and uncombed hair and gobs of guck (I just realized I have no idea how to spell this) stuck to my eyelashes. I was really looked beautiful for Canada!
I got to my hostel and was told I couldn't check in for awhile. I had to hang out on the rainy beach with my luggage and a tube of our posters, hoping they wouldn't get rained on. When I finally checked in, I got on the internet and was sending mopey emails to my friends, when I started having nice conversations with people in the room. Then the sun came out!
I wandered around the beach, then decided it was time to go to UBC to hang the posters. Well, long story short, I got lost trying to find the bus stop. It's on N Marine Drive, but the problem (for a foreigner) is that there are like, three road sections that say "N Marine Drive" and I didn't know which one to walk up...I spent a long time walking in the wrong direction. The maps at the hostel aren't that great.
Then I missed the bus. Then I stood at the bus stop on the wrong side of the street. Then I missed the second bus while waiting to cross. Then a lot of time elapsed before I got on the third bus and I didn't realize you have to pay the fare in coins! I didn't have any because - I just got off a plane and the ATMs don't give you coins!
When the bus driver realized this, he did something that shocked me. He asked if anyone on the bus had change for a five! TWICE! No one stepped up, but a few people smiled at me as if to say "It's ok. You didn't know." I can't imagine a bus driver doing that in NJ. They would just throw you out! I informed him that it was my first day in Canada and I did not know about all this. Then he told me sternly to sit down (therefore not paying!?) and remember coins next time. I was more embarrassed than the situation called for (that whole out of one's comfort zone thing) but overwhelmed by how nice he was.
I was relieved when I FINALLY found the place to hang the posters and saw I was totally not late - it went until 6 PM! And then I took my poster out of the cardboard tube.
It is SO CREASED. I wanted to cry right there in the exhibit hall, but I did not. Later, Lena told me it was FINE but at the time, it seemed like the worst thing in the world. And the other posters were laminated and had lots of color photos and mine just has line drawings (and I know that I did that on purpose, that I thought line drawings would be more uniform, more informative, blah blah blah...but they're not as PRETTY as color photos) and omg I'll never be a real scientist and I didn't pay the bus fare in correct change and my poster is creased - aaahhhhhh.
Later, I stopped to get pizza. When I asked the guy for a slice of plain, he said, "I'm giving you two for the price of one because the crusts are burned." Again, shock. PEOPLE ARE SO NICE HERE.
Then I went to the plenary lecture about mycoremediation. I think it was good. It started out good. But then they turned out all the lights in the room. Why do speakers do this? Literally ALL of the lights. No windows. Just a powerpoint. Most people had flown in today from points east with later time zones, or they'd flown to Seattle and taken mass transit (tiring.) When I awoke to my arm falling off the armrest, I was so embarrassed! Until I realized everyone next to me was in deep slumber. Not just students, even the grownups. It was kind of hilarious! When I got out of the lecture, I heard all these people whispering "I fell asleep. It was just so dark!"
And the speaker was really good! He totally wasn't boring. It was just so dark...
The nap rejuvenated me for the mixer, in which I met lots of botanists, including one who has the same fern purse from Target that I have. I wish I could talk up ballast plants more, but when people ask me about it sometimes I freeze up. Before presenting tomorrow, I'm going to go over my notes. And so I'm going to bed now.
Oh, the bus driver on the way back was also really friendly - aside from another bus driver asking me where I needed to go and telling me which stop to go to, this second one was just really friendly, asked where I needed to go instead of being like, figure out the stop yourself, foreigner! Then he made conversation the entire ride home, which at first I felt weird about, but realized it was just my New York Area conditioning and that this was just someone being FRIENDLY, not creepy, and wasn't it nice to be FRIENDLY? Yes it is. That's why I like places that are neither NY nor NJ...people are friendly to strangers.
He said I didn't have a strong Jersey accent - HA HA.
Tomorrow I'm planning to get up early and review my notes, possibly walk to UBC if the weather's nice because the area is so nice to look at, and after the student luncheon and my presenting, I am hoping to sightsee around UBC - the Anthropology Museum and the UBC Botanical Gardens - hopefully I will have time for both. Unless presenting makes me want to de stress by taking a nap on Jericho Beach - that's ok too.
I'm hoping on Tuesday to sightsee outside of the UBC area. Based on very limited tourist info reading, I'd like to see Stanley Park though I don't know how that will go without a car, and I might check out the shopping areas, and the Punjabi Market sounds interesting; apparently they sell fabric.
Walking back from the bus stop, I saw the lights of the city in the distance, and the mountains (barely, in the dark) and the ocean and tops of boats and I thought, I'm so glad I came here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


What a lame blog post title!
My posts are really draft-y and all over the place right now; my head is in too many places to really focus on any one thing.
However, all the pressure I've been under (the wording my boss used; it was nice to have someone acknowledge it even before I did) is starting to let up, and I think the rest of the summer should be pretty calm.
Yesterday turned out to be unexpectedly great in many ways.
First, I had to drive across town to another facility to get some software training for work. To do this, I passed the neighborhood I'll be moving into next month. I made some wrong turns and did a little exploring by accident, and saw that I'm moving into a REALLY nice town. When I first drove towards the center of town, all these attractive old churches and buildings loomed overhead. Driving on side streets trying to get back to route 510 (there's this dumb circle and it's really difficult to tell which lane you should be in though I'm sure I'll figure it out with practice) I saw all kinds of great things, like a record store and antique shops. Not to mention my house will be across the street from one of the boundaries of a national park. The house is pretty much in the woods; the yard is full of trees and very very shady. I hope the landlord-and-lady let me turn part of their yard into a shade garden. (I'm a little obsessed with shade gardens right now.) I know a couple of people who live or work in the area or will be close enough to visit me, and I think I'll be able to come down here on weekends or something to see all of my friends that I'm leaving behind. Plus, I'm sure I'll make new friends. The fact that I'm going to be living alone has me a bit apprehensive that I'll be lonely--but I'll get used to it and probably end up seeing everyone so much more often than I think is possible now. That's how it always works out anyway.
Yesterday afternoon, when I got home from work (it was like 7PM but felt like afternoon, it was so bright out) I felt a little choked up. The house hasn't felt like a home since I got back from my road trip, simply because everything is being packed up and everyone is in and out of the place so much--we are rarely all there together at the same time anymore. But it still resembles home enough, the place where we had pizza dinners and parties, enough to make me sad and miss those things.
Since I'm going in sequential order, this is a good place to interject that I also had about an hour of panic where I believed I had lost my passport. Because I am me. The passport was in a perfectly rational place, exactly where I left it - the cabinet of my nightstand next to my bed. But when I REALLY need something (a passport, a credit card) I just ASSUME that, since I'm me, it's not in a rational place and it's LOST, and instead of the first place I look being a cabinet or my desk, the first place I look is the floor. Well, I found my passport. In about twenty minutes, I had everything I wanted to pack set aside. After work, I'm going to my parents' house where the clothes I'm bringing and all that stuff is, doing last minute laundry, and packing the bags.
Fortunately, Elena was around yesterday evening. She came over, we hung out, and then we went to Rita's for Italian/lemon/water ices. I'm trying to not spend money, but sometimes you need to go out! so I'm adding a line to my budget for "going out for coffee/beer/dinner/ice cream." Anyway, I didn't realize their Italian ices are so good!!!!
When we came back, my downstairs neighbor (who was doing something mysterious in the shed when we left; without thinking I told him he looked like a criminal...ugh why am I such a tool?) had set up some new outdoor furniture with candles and citronella torches. We thought we'd go say hi to him and have our ices back there...but there was no one there. So we plopped down, even though we suspected this was the setup for a date, and used his table and candlelight. I couldn't stop laughing when he and his gf and some other people came out...but then they just pulled up more chairs and offered us some food and invited us to hang out with them. After Elena left, I planned to go to bed as soon as was polite, but I ended up staying out there until after midnight. I had such a nice time! This was the New Brunswick summer I had expected and hoped for--not coming home to an empty house and rushing around to get my clothes and lunch and everything ready for the next day, while thinking, "How the hell am I going to pack up and move all this stuff out of here!?"-- but coming home from work, hanging out with people, relaxing in the backyard.
I'm looking forward to the things I'm going to do when I get back next weekend so much that I've forgotten how much fun the trip will be. (Plus, the fact that I'm going to a cool city keeps getting obscured by anxiety over the science aspect of the trip. Which is dumb; nothing bad will happen.)
The last thing I did was do some cleaning in the bathroom and straighten my room a little bit. I hung up the USA road map, with various routes highlighted on it from the second night of our road trip, on the wall. Before I leave today, I'm going to put some moving-out things in my car and vacuum my bedroom, so that when I come back from Vancouver, it will look like home again and not like a sad, junky place full of boxes.
I was so happy here, all year. But I realize that it wasn't the place so much that made me happy; I need to separate these things in the not logical, emotional part of my mind. This house, this street, this crappy city--they are not the people that made me happy or the events. They are just things. There'd be no guarantee that I could hold onto those people and things if I stayed here; nor am I necessarily going to lose them when I leave.
Still, I'm glad I have a month left.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


My poster is finally done; I found an apartment to move into on September 1. I have a good job and four days in Vancouver ahead of me.
Yet being in this apartment, where everything is in boxes or in piles waiting to go in boxes, is triggering all the sad. It was only a year ago that I moved in here with so much hope. Some hope was fulfilled, some was surpassed (and it is these I feel the most sad about, like I'll miss them the most), and some things that were planned on never happened and probably won't in the last month. Walking through here, I can't stop getting hit with memories. The happy and sad are both making me feel the same way. I know I'll like my new place, but I wish I could hold onto this time a little bit longer. I have a month left and I feel like I'll spend the whole month packing, not being at home. All the places that were part of my routine will soon be not mine anymore. Even things like driving to the bank makes me sad.
Everything feels like listening to a sad song that you really like, a song that's really good so you want to keep listening to it, even though it's sad!
I am glad I'm not the only person who's like this, who's "bad about transitions." But I bet most people would read the above and think, "That's not normal."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Neo-Balkan Genre, Best Enjoyed with a Cardigan

A couple of months ago, I pestered someone into burning me a copy of a Regina Spektor CD, and he instead gave me an MP3 CD of Regina Spektor, Blonde Redhead, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, and Beirut.
I never listen to the Regina Spektor part.
At first, I latched on to the Blonde Redhead section. When I was in high school, there were only two guys who listened to Blonde Redhead, as well as some other bands no one else had heard of. They were ahead of their time, fifteen-year-old hipsters in a sea of eighteen-year-old emo kids and punks. I remember one summer listening to a bunch of indie music, but only by myself and when school began and I was with my friends again, I never listened to Cat Power or Neutral Milk Hotel again.

But what I really want to write about is the other music on the CD. It took me a little longer to warm up to it. I was kind of like, "What the hell is this!? Where is the singing? Oh there it is! Is that English? I kind of like I allowed to like this? Should I listen to this with the windows closed? Should I listen to this in the house only with the door closed when Patrick and Alice aren't home?"
I looked up the bands on Wikipedia, because I was confused as to why this Slavic music was in English, and found out that it's by Americans influenced by Slavic music, especially gypsy music. I then remembered that one late night in February, I was driving home listening to NPR. They were doing a special on Iva Bittova, a Czech violinist and singer of Roma descent. "Wow! I really like this music!" I thought, and have been, ever since, considering buying one of her CDs.
OK, so I like Slavic music and gypsy music. Well, fine. I'm twenty-four; I'm not in high school OR college; there is no one to judge my musical taste. (Plus, once I stopped listening to it in secret, a lot of my friends have been asking me, "What this?! Can I have a copy!?")

The other day, a friend and I were driving somewhere and I said, "Oh, we're going to listen to my GYPSY MUSIC."
"Cool!" she said. (I think. I'm just making up dialogue where I don't remember.)
So we were talking about the music, and I was telling the story of how the band is actually American, and how I'd been listening to it in secret.
"I know what you mean," she said. "I've been listening to..." her voice lowered, and she kind of turned her face away as though something horrifically shameful was about to exit her mouth. She mumbled, "Bluegrass."
I wanted to laugh. "So?" I said. "What's wrong with bluegrass?"

I forgot. My family is from Sparta, Tennessee, the birthplace of bluegrass. My friend is from Northeast Jersey and her family is Italian. Also, most people our age do not listen to gypsy music or bluegrass. At least not in New Jersey. But who cares!?
And so this was the theme of much of our conversation for the day. Whether or not we are "cool" because of various things we do, including listen to weird music. I was insisting that we are cool, just a different kind of cool.

I mean, gypsy music and bluegrass are cool in the same way knitting is cool.

Later, I was cold and putting on my Work Sweater over the otherwise inappropriately low cut halter dress I was wearing.
"I like this sweater!" my friend exclaimed. "I'm starting to really like--" and the same head bowing, mumbling "--cardigans..." More discussion of how we are like old ladies ensued.
"No!"I insisted. "We are in our mid-twenties! We can like whatever we want! We don't have to worry what other people think! We can listen to world music and wear cardigans!"

However, it later occurred to me the one GENUINELY OLD LADY conversation we had, and it passed us by without us even realizing it...
I was complaining about my leaky refrigerator that ruins food.
"I bought figs the other day, and the next day they were moldy!"
"What a sin!"*
$2.49 down the drain!" I said dramatically.
"You get figs for two forty-nine!?"
"Yes! And they're organic!"
"I've been paying $3.99!"
"They're at the Apple Farm Market on Easton Ave!"

Discussing the prices of produce. It is a short road from here to hating fireworks and yelling at kids to get off my lawn.
Except I won't have a lawn; I'll have an overgrown mess of daylilies, snakeroot, echinacea, various species of Asclepias, and bee balm to which I refer as "perennial garden."

*I don't think she really said, "What a sin!" But either one of us could have! The loss of figs IS a sin!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Why did I buy swiss chard?

Sometimes I think and act as though all of my life's problems, all of my own personal flaws, can be summed up by the fact that sometimes I overbuy groceries and don't get to use them up before they go bad. I imagine that this shows I am thoughtless, irrational, greedy, wasteful, and most of all, I make bad unwise my produce choices exhibit.
First of all, probably everyone buys groceries that go bad before they can be used. And I finally realized that my situation is a tad special; our fridge is messed up and sometimes gets this weird leaky problem and leaks water all over the place, ruining leafy greens and turning cheese to mold, and sometimes that water freezes and things that should never be frozen, like eggs, become unpalatable and therefore, trash.
I spent a good part of one of the rainy days this weekend reading recipes and filing away in my head the ones I wanted to try soon. Of course I do not remember them that clearly. I don't know if ANY of them included swiss chard, but the point is, I got to the farmers market on Saturday and decided of all things there, I needed to buy swiss chard. And now I don't know what I wanted to do with it. I need to use it soon, to save it from a fridge-watery death, but it's too hot to cook! I'll probably make an omelet or fritatta .... now I forgot how to spell fritata...frittatttaaa????
Anyway, I'm out of school yet still have a miles-long to do list...which is OK. There's stress but somehow it seems more manageable, less like this giant weight about to drop from the dark clouds hanging over my head. Today, at lunch, I tried to see what things on my to do list could be accomplished on my lunch break, and realized even my to do list was unmanageable, incomprehensible. So I wrote on it #37 - First thing to do - re-write and re-organize to do list.
Perhaps it is a bad sign, either about your life or about your crazy personality, when your to do list includes an item ABOUT THE TO DO LIST ITSELF.

Still, it's summer! The invasive yet lovely honeysuckle is perfuming the air, even on the highways, and you can actually find swiss chard at farmers markets--you can actually find farmers markets!--and even though it's so humid my hair won't dry and the album covers and record sleeves are all damp, even the printer paper is's sunny and beautiful and things are growing. !!!!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I have a million things to blog about

But not a lot of time. I have some draft posts saved in my actual blogger account, in fragments of emails to myself, written out in a paper journal, and ... of course, sensibly scrawled on post-it notes.
I've been meaning to write since mid-May about some plants in the office that my job is to dust, and how I have developed a fondness for these plants. I was feeling kinda crappy in mid-May, so I have been pondering, since then, if the fondness for these plants came from Mid May Crazies or is genuine.
It's summer, so it's the season for me to chronicle my Bad Gardening. Except I was hired as something with "horticulture" and "specialist" in the title, so maybe I should stop publicizing my Bad Gardening. In truth, I am probably not a bad gardener. For one thing, I can identify arthropod pests and diagnose problems and recommend treatment...I AM kind of certified in it...but my houseplants and vegetable gardens have always been miserable failures. I argue, however, that this is not my fault. I have always been cursed with terrible gardening conditions. When I moved into my current apartment, which has a deer-free, sunny yard, I got some things that were not weeds to grow. Though perhaps I only remembered to water them because I thought there were cute guys in the neighborhood and used anything as a possible excuse to parade around outside in a miniskirt...anyway...
So I made it back from the road safely. We saw twenty-six states in a four-week period, twenty-five of them in twenty-five days. I've now seen thirty-seven of the states, plus one Canadian province. And I'm going to Vancouver (the Canadian one) at the end of the month. My goal is to see the eleven continental states I've missed by 2010. Alaska and Hawaii, though high on my list, can wait. The states I have yet to see are:
North Dakota

And I'd like to go back to some of the states I've already seen, of course. Especially those I only drove through in the middle of the night (Washington, Idaho) or only saw very little of (Texas, California, Mississippi).

I'm still getting adjusted from coming back from the trip, as I have a lot to worry think about. I have a research poster to get ready for Vancouver. I have to get myself ready for Vancouver--book a hostel or something, get some Canadian money, pack, etc. I have to get myself ready to move out of my current apartment and that means, something I've been dreading--finding a new apartment. Ugggghhhhh. I worry that I'll find nothing appropriate or affordable, or the only affordable places I'll find will be in Wastelands of North Jersey Where Only Old People and Families Live. Or I'll have to move in with my grandmere. Or my parents. Or the tent village of homeless people that is supposedly near where I work. Just kidding. At least I'd save money on gas!

I can't think of anything else to write at the moment; plus I have a lot to do today. Expect updates periodically, especially about things like bad gardening and dust-collecting plants that I love.