Friday, June 25, 2010

Post #55: Letter Summer

I have decided to make this the long letter summer. (By which I mean the long email and Facebook message summer.)

It’s the first summer I’m spending in Burlington, away from home, and living with two fantastic roommates, Allyson and Connor, which means that every couple of days I find myself alone, sitting around in the apartment, looking for something to keep me entertained for another hour before Allyson gets back from work. I try to avoid turning on the tv whenever possible (especially when it’s still light outside,) but when I don’t feel like carrying my camera up and down the riverwalk and taking pictures of the Winooski River from every angle at every time of day, I write letters.

I started by emailing my sister, Rebecca. She lives in Beijing, so sometimes I talk to her on Skype and sometimes I send her an email from work, but it wasn’t consistent until a month ago. Now we write about once a week.

Writing someone a long letter for the first time is like planning to visit a friend you haven’t seen in years. It’s fun, but also makes you nervous and awkward, and there’s too many exclamation points because you’re trying to hard to brush together a quick collage of all the things that have happened to you that don’t require too long of an explanation.

Now my emails to Rebecca are much more fluid. A few weeks ago I sent her an entire email just about running a relay for the Vermont City Marathon and how I am thinking of running a full or half marathon next year. Like a long conversation, a series of long letters starts with the broadest stuff (job, family, romance, health) and moves to the much narrower details (i.e. the same topics with more interesting stories.)

I recommend writing a few long letters this summer. It’s a good way to reconnect with people before you visit them, because you will already be caught up on their lives, so when you get together, you can have more fun conversations. You will have already studied up on their daily routines, references to other people, and the details of their most recent life-changing events, so you can pick up in the middle of a conversation instead of starting a new one.

It doesn’t take long to write a good letter (about half an hour should do it) and the process is fun if you focus on writing what you want to write instead of what you what you think you should write. If you’d like to, you can write me a letter and I promise I will respond. Good luck!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Identical Strangers, A Mixed Review

photo from

Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

A few times while I was reading Identical Strangers, I tried googling a review of the book (with no luck in finding one), because I kept wondering if other people felt the same way as me. The story of how Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein were separated as infants and reunited as adults is fascinating. They are a living example of how nature and nurture interact (and according to their experience, nature usually wins.)

However, the writing of this memoir (shared between the two sisters) was consistently melodramatic, and, at times, completely off-putting. I strongly considered not finishing the book several times because I was so annoyed with the twins’ constant complaints that they had not been raised together, that they had not been told by their adoption agency that they were twins, that they had unknowingly been a part of a twin study arranged by the adoption agency, etc.

Near the end of the book, when the women finally meet the scientist who conducted research on twins who had been purposely separated for study, I found myself siding with Dr. Neubauer, not the twins, because I was so fed up with their whining. Both women dealt with undeniable hardship in their lives, but unfortunately they used this novel as an opportunity to bask in cliché-ridden self-pity, instead of focusing all of their energy on how the interesting topic of nature vs. nurture played a significant role in their lives.

I wouldn’t say the book was a total loss, because it did help me form a more educated opinion on the matter of nature vs. nature, but I would say that if you want to read Identical Strangers for yourself, don’t buy the book, borrow it, because it isn’t something you’re going to want to read twice.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Magical Tricks with Food

Goal: Make the best lunch ever

Challenges: We haven’t gone grocery shopping this week

Advantages: Mass quantities of salad dressing, ketchup, and beef that we put an unfortunate flavor of chicken seasoning on two nights ago

Kitchen Status: 51% clean

Health Status: Hungry

Iron Chef Surprise Ingredient:
Worcestershire sauce (we bought it to make Chex mix last winter and there’s tons leftover, so whenever Allyson isn’t looking I put some in whatever I am cooking to use it up)

Ingredients List: Weird ground beef, 1 can tomato sauce, steak seasoning, a few squirts of Ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, carrots (chopped tiny, so that roommates don’t notice the imposter veggies), and curly-shaped spaghetti.

Directions: Put weird beef, tomato sauce steak seasoning, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and carrots in a pot and cook them up! Make spaghetti. Eat them together.

Anticipated Outcome: Spaghetti and meaty tomato sauce.

Actual Outcome: I don’t know how or why, but I seemed to have recreated the exact sloppy joe recipe that I was served as a 6 year old at St. Augustine’s School cafeteria.

Results: It tasted good, actually, but not on pasta. I ate it on a toasted hamburger bun the next day and it was MUCH more delicious.

If you throw all your leftovers in a pot and let them simmer long enough, they will turn into food.

Unanswered question:
Why is the pasta shaped like a bobby pin for giants?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fancy & Russian

photo of Dumbledore (the light grey one) and Twitch (the black one) by Rachel Salois

When Allyson brought home a pair of fancy Russian hamsters (that’s actually what they’re called) last week, I was able to reaffirm my belief that I have no soul when it comes to cute animals.

What Allyson sees as cute companions requiring nurturing love, I see as living cotton balls that provide poop and a weird odor to the corner of our living room. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s part of my DNA to not enjoy the company of animals. My grandmother, Judy, hated pets, and my mom repeats the mantra “last cat, last dog,” anytime Milo or Fuzby acts out or pleads for food after she has already sat down to read the paper.

It’s not that I would neglect an animal or cause it physical harm; I just don’t see their point. I understand how a fancy Russian hamster can be cute, but not cute enough for me to want to pay $40 to enjoy its cuteness from the comfort of my own home. In fact, at this stage of my life, I can’t think of anything cute enough for me to be willing to pick up its poop.

It’s definitely the poop most of all that gets me. I sometimes lose my appetite when I eat too close to the hamsters, because I get a whiff of the sawdust from the bottom of their cage and can’t think about anything but tiny poop pellets. I am now paranoid of hamster poop being on the chair or coffee table from when Allyson takes them out to play.

I know I’m in the minority here. Most people have fond memories of childhood pets and many of my friends dream about one day being able to buy a dog for their apartment. But to all of the animal lovers in the world: know that just because I can stand your pet, doesn’t mean I love it. And just because I don’t love to spend time with hamsters doesn’t mean I’m not a nice person. Mostly I don’t want to be spending time with your pet because I would rather be spending time with you!

And to Allyson: thanks for cleaning the hamster cage. You have no idea how much I love to not smell those guys.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Scariest Thing Ever

I have discovered the scariest thing ever. Take this short quiz to see if you have what it takes to write a horror film script that will instantly make you millions of dollars.

Pop quiz:

1. What is the scariest thing ever?
a. Identity theft
b. Nuclear war
c. Clowns

2. What is most likely to kill you?
a. Cancer
b. Gun
c. Possessed devil child who lives in your mirror

3. What thoughts keep you awake at night?

a. Visions of rainforest deforestation
b. Visions of a pale child singing nursery rhymes without smiling

4. What would be the creepiest thing to have you staring you in the eyes when you wake up?
a. Chucky doll
b. Sid’s doll head with spider legs (from Toy Story)
c. Dora the Explorer
d. ____________ (write-in answer)

5. What would be the worst thing to be locked in a dark room with?
a. Bernie Madoff
b. The demon inside Bernie Madoff
c. A marionette doll of Bernie Madoff

1. C
2. C
3. B
4. D: You wake up and the Chucky doll is lying next to you, and Dora is staring him in the eyes.
5. Trick question: It’s all of them in the room with you and they are wearing birthday party hats.

Did you get them all right? If so, you have realized that kids and their kid paraphernalia is our country’s worst nightmare. I challenge you to think of anything scarier. That is why I won't be going to see Splice when it comes out this summer.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nature shots

Nature shots are so fun to take, but what do you do with them once you have them? Nobody wants to look at pictures with no people in them unless it's freaky deep sea animals or puppies. Regardless, we force our friends and family to admire them, as though a 5 by 7 photograph will give them any sense of what it was like to be there. Let's face it-when you're there in person, nature is magical and muddy and fun. When you're not there, it's boring and muddy and forgettable. That's why I have to go outside everyday. To remind myself.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Kitchen is a Grocery Store

Some of our scavenges: a mirror, chair, table, box of tissues, and princess trash can. Photo by Rachel Salois

One week ago, Allyson made a Facebook event called “Give us your leftovers” in which, people would give us all their food when they moved out, and, in turn, we would give a coupon for a free hug (expires June 1st). We were clear about what we wanted: everything except used toilet paper, moldy things, pet fish, and Cheese Wiz.

We had no idea that by making this event, Allyson and I would be the proud owners of 9 salad dressings, 3 jars of peanut butter, 4 containers of salt, a princess trash can, a multi-colored Christmas lights rope, a television, and 3 mega-boxes of instant mashed potatoes. Our cupboards and fridge are literally exploding with food. (No joke: a stick of butter just dove for Allyson’s foot when she tried to put away the pasta salad a few minutes ago. We were able to subdue it and get it back in the shelf with some effort.)

Clearly this is a tribute to the generosity of our friends, and to their love of buying mashed potato flakes and not eating them (perhaps a wise choice—what are they made of?). Thank you!