Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Blues

(1) I was talking with my sister on the phone the other day and she was telling me adorable stories about my niece. One night, my sister put the Baby down to sleep.  As my sister walked out of the room, she heard my niece quietly practicing words to herself.  "B..b...b..lue.  B..lue...  Blue."

(2) BIGBANG, a Korean pop band, put out this music video entitled Blue about a week ago.  It seems someone besides my niece has been practicing how to say 'blue' as well.  I really like this song and find it wonderfully appropriate that kpop is keeping up with the current trends of my niece.

(3) The Samurai Blues played this morning (5:30 EST) and lost to Uzbekistan.  Sad day.   I was hoping for a good successful game for my boys.  Instead, most of the team will have to take their jet lagged little selves back to their various teams with only a second place finish in their group for this round of the World Cup qualifiers.
Source: Tumblr.
Photo credit: Koki NAGAHAMA
Source: Tumblr,
Photo credit: Koki NAGAHAMA
In any case, it was nice to have them back home for a few days.  I always forget how much I miss them in their roles as JNT representatives rather than Bundesliga spieler, etc until they're back in Japan.  But by the time I've rejoiced in having them back in Japan, they've already played and left again.  Such is the life of a fan in a time zone 14 hours behind.

(4) It's the last day in February. I was supposed to hear from the NSF if I was going to get the Japanese internship by the end of February. I was really hoping for that internship. Now I have to learn to deal without it. Singing my blues on repeat above.

(5) The day started out with some fabulous thunderstorms and heavy rain. I normally love rain. However, since Kato-san is currently out of commission, that meant I walked 30 minutes to work in the pouring down rain. On the other hand, this is the gorgeous view that greeted me last night when I left the lab to walk home.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Walking Home

It's near the end of February and we're experiencing some gorgeous weather.  Here is a glimpse of some of what I saw on my walk home yesterday evening.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Phoenix Rising

The Atlantic Monthly recently put out a series of before/after photographs for the Japanese tsunami from last year, March 11, 2011.

At first, I thought they were before the tsunami/ after the tsunami pictures, I compared conditions before and after and wondered what it would be like to see a scene I'm familiar with destroyed beyond recognition.  I was again humbled by the events.  

However, the pictures didn't quite jive.  Buildings that appeared in the tsunami pictures didn't exist in the non-tsunami pictures.  Now granted, I have no doubt that a tsunami that can move ships far inland can move houses and buildings with abandon.  But...

So I read the caption and realized that these were pictures of the recovery's before and after: before - March 2011 and after - January to February 2012.  

My whole perspective changed.  This is no longer a story simply of a people and a country faced with the task of picking up the pieces; this is a story of a people who have done much to rise from the ashes.  This is a story of hope and courage and of a people who have faced their challenges and are moving on.  It's a beautiful and moving commentary on the human spirit.  

I highly recommend it.  

You can view the series here.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Of Memory and Recollection

Memories are funny things.

True story: Once upon a time, before a rugby game in college, I ran into a fence.

I remember lots of things about that event. The exclamation from my teammate when she realized the ball she kicked was going to go over to the fence; the thought that I could run and catch the ball before it did so; the impact of face against metal fence post; the immediate thought that my cheeks were now concave and not convex - all of these things are still clear.

I remember hearing my coach - usually a very 'walk it off' kind of man - running up to me as I moaned on the ground, hands over my surprisingly still intact cheek and and muttering, "I'm not getting up this time"  in anticipation of his gruff ways and how he surprised me instead by taking my face gently in his hands and looking at me before saying, "Oh, Erin, you look beautiful."

I spent that entire game on the sidelines with ice on my face and tears copiously running down my cheeks from the chilliness .  All of these details feel as though they happened just last year.  I remember the teasing from my roommates and the questions from classmates and the taunts from rugby coaches (long after the incident).  My eldest sister took me to the emergency room and asked lots of helpful questions as the doctor pushed and prodded my cheek bone and promised that I hadn't actually broken anything.  The pushing on the bone hurt so much though that I was afraid he was going to finish the task the fence hadn't accomplished.  I could actually feel my bones give under his tension - it was a very weird feeling.

All these funny little memories that gather around one single event.  I can relive the entire experience every time I so choose.


I can't remember which cheek I ran the fence into nor which eye I blackened.  Was it my left or my right?

You'd think I'd remember such an important detail in this story.  But I can't.  I honestly can't.

How could that be?  Why did my mind remember so much and capture so much of the feelings of pain and embarrassment, of the sound of my coach's voice and my teammate's exclamation?  How can I remember the clang of my face against the fence and not remember which cheek ran into that fence?

Fascinating.  Simply fascinating.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Here's a recurring line in my life: "Now, if only we could find someone for you..."

Whenever I hear this from a happily dating friend, I smile.  They are expressing more about themselves than they are about me.  

Friends, of course, never say this to you when they are in the throes of a relationship that takes everything and gives back nothing.  They never say this when they are in an unhealthy relationship in which both parties somehow emphasize each other's weaknesses and prey on each other's worst fears.  

No, it's when they are in good relationships in which there is real communication, real friendship, and real affection.  It's when they are in relationships that allow them to be productive and successful in other aspects of their lives.  It's when they feel peace about their lives and where they are going.  They see themselves progressing in their current relationship and finding the prospect of such a journey a pleasant and exciting one.  

It's almost as though a light has switched on in their hearts and souls.  "This is it!  This is the relationship I've been seeking for and working for."  It feels like a revelation and they want to rejoice with others in this Eureka! moment.  

My friends then look over at me and see me still laboring away, single, and wish that I could be where they were.  Hence, the statement accompanied by a very sincere smile.  

I confess, there are times when I wish that I was in their shoes.  There are times when those comments get me thinking, "Yeah, where is my Prince Charming?"  And honestly, some friends are so happy in their happiness that you want to grab the nearest man in your life and see if something could work.  (reference to Dear Enemy by Jean Webster).  

The two most recent uses of this line were from some friends who, for the first times in their lives, have been in good relationships.  It's a breath of fresh air to watch them.  Also noteworthy, these are two friends who are recently out of some of the worst relationships they have been in while I have been their friend.  I watched them struggle and hurt and fought to keep them from going down spirals of self-doubt and self-criticism.  Don't misunderstand; the guys they dated were both great guys, both nice and kind, intelligent and pure in their intentions.  However, the relationships themselves were not great - a case just to show that it's not enough just to find some "nice guy".  After working and trying and feeling like they were coming up against brick walls, they were emotionally spent and exhausted.  After the relationships, I watched them learn to pick up the pieces, keep their heads up and move on.  None of it was easy.  

As a result, when my friend looked at me with that smile and I knew what  was coming next, I simply smiled back.  It's not just a matter of finding someone - it's a matter of finding the right someone.  

Right now (i.e. today), in my life, in the flurry of research, English teaching, acapella, VISAS, CBFP, and church activities, it's nice to say, "This is enough." 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Friends and Books

Last Thursday, one of my friends recommended a book to me.  He claimed it was a "laugh out loud comedy book that he could read again and again."

The book?  Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse.

My friend also made a point to say that Wodehouse has a way with the English language which he personally feels can only be equaled in the writing of Rudyard Kipling.  I would guess he knows; he has read 92 of Wodehouse's 96 novels.

I've had friends recommend books before:

One person recommended his favorite book.  I read it, was disappointed with it and thought less of the man from then on.  It was a lot of pressure for one little book that the man had liked several years previous.

Recently, I have fared better.  One friend recommended a book.  I read it, didn't like it at all, and never thought less of the person.  In fact, when he has recommended other books, I gave them a try and found I really liked them.  Other people have recommended books that I have felt free to like or dislike with no bad feeling on either side.  (I hope)

When this friend, then, recommended Leave it to Psmith (the p is silent) I was determined to read it with an open mind and not connect him to it.

The result?

I read the book over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, I was sorry to have it come to an end, not because the plot was lacking tying up its ends but because it was a book that entertained from start to finish.

But try as I might, I could not get my friend out of my head.  I felt like I was coming to a better understanding on how he saw the world and what he truly enjoyed.  I found myself rejoicing to know such a friend as him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Knowing Things You Didn't Know You Knew

"We never know what we know in our native language.  If someone says something wrong, we can tell that it is wrong but we usually have absolutely no idea why."  As related by a pronunciation expert.

It's true.  But thankfully, due to instruction, we can learn what we know in our native language.

Here is a new MV that Beast released for their fans on Valentine's Day:  I keep watching it on repeat because it's just so fabulous and hilarious and addictive.

This has so much Beast flavor that I think the members themselves had some distinct input into this music video.  For one, finger skateboarding and dance break?  That has boy written all over it and let's face it, Beast is pretty much all boy.

Of course, half of the fun for me in watching these videos is their liberal and often interesting use of the English language.  From even the very beginning of the song: "Love is pain.  Love is sober."  Sober?  (I think they really might be trying to say 'over' but it honestly sounds like 'sober')  Another bonus is the closing frame with the word "Easy" written out in flames.  (Is this a reference to their song about that easy girl who got away?  You really don't want your girl to have that reputation)

The chorus though is what this post is really about.
"Mystery Mystery (girl) Mystery Mystery (scene) Mystery mystery (love)"

Mystery.  Does it sound wrong to any of the rest of you English speakers?  Do you know why?

Answer: the schwa.

In order to distinguish a word, we relegate the 'e' to a schwa which is little more than an 'uh', in order to de-emphasize the non-important syllable in the word that we recognize as "mystery".   (/ˈmist(ə)rē/)

Beast, however, never puts in a schwa and the result is the fabulous music video that sounds like this:
"Miss Terry Miss Terry (girl) Miss Terry Miss Terry (scene) Miss Terry Miss Terry (love)"

Let's hope no one in Beast is using this MV to break up with Miss Terry.  Poor girl.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old Salem

Last weekend, my friend asked me if I wanted to go with her to North Carolina.  She had a conference to attend there and she not only wanted a driving buddy but thought I might appreciate the trip.  

So I found myself driving down to Winston-Salem, NC at 5 in the morning to get there in time for the conference on the African American story in Salem hosted by the MESDA.  As a friend, they gave me a complimentary ticket to the museum (decorative arts) and to all the buildings in Old Salem.  One of the best uses of a Saturday afternoon I've had in a while.  

For one, I got a personalized tour through the MESDA with one of the nicest people who loves her job researching decorative arts in the early south.  It was one of the most interesting conversations I've had with a tour guide.  We wandered through the various rooms and expressed opinions and ideas.  I asked lots of questions and spent my time suddenly thinking and investing time into a subject I've never distinctly thought about.  It's like interior decorating meets family history meets anthropology.  

Secondly, I got to spend a half day wandering by myself through a restored old village of the church town Salem.  It was established by the Moravian Church and it remained a theocracy until the 1830's.  For a while, I was the only person in the town so I had the workers in period dress all to myself to ask all the questions I could think of.  They were all kind; some of them were Moravians themselves and so it was nice to see how their spiritual and family heritage made a difference on how they felt about this little piece of history.  

Third, I convinced my sister to bring her daughter up to spend time with me.  That meant half a day in the freezing cold with my sister and niece.  My niece was a trooper in spite of the cold.  We bought some of the best bread ever and munched on it as we wandered through the buildings.  Baby didn't talk much.  She did grunt and point a lot at objects that she could say.  I guessed she was testing me to make sure I was saying them the same way she did.  (Just in case her Mom was teaching her the wrong words)  Most adorably, she would call my sister by saying, "MOM!  Mom!"  No Mommy or Mama for her.  Simply Mom.  She also has this cute habit: if you ask her where her mouth is, she opens it up really wide as though she is surprised.  In summary, I have the cutest niece.  

My friend agreed: "She isn't even my baby but I feel the need to take her places just so I can show her off."  Amazingly, Baby took right to my friend and wouldn't let go.  

 Single Sisters at the Single Sisters House
 Gun Shop
 Very interesting multi-purpose building.  The right part served as the housing for meat going to market.  The left part housed the fire engine.  
 At first, my friend and I couldn't find this place.  
"We can't even find the single brothers' house.  Do you think that's symbolic of our lives?"   
 But we finally found it.  And they let me in.  

 The tin coffee pot

Some One Loves Me

My English was in ready anticipation for a discussion about the subject of my Valentine's Day thus far.  One student smiled at me, "Have you received any surprises?"  Everyone watched my face, waiting for a good story.

I thought about my busy day and smiled, "By that, you must be referring to a valentine's surprise.  The answer would be no and  I don't anticipate one either.  For that, I would need a valentine."

They all gave me sad little smiles and we moved on.


This afternoon, while working through some computer programs, one of the other PhD students walked into my office with a package for my colleague.  It was not the typical package from something we ordered.

Me: You got a personally addressed package sent to work?
Colleague: It's for both of us actually.
Me: Really?  What is it?
Colleague: H sent us his dissertation
Me: Individual bound copies?  There's one for me?
Colleague: Yes.


I'm such a nerd.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

40 but it feels like 38

It seems these past few weeks, Europe has had a cold spell (understatement of the year?).  Apparently, so has Asia.  And well, the western United States as well  (Currently, the temperatures in Paris, Seoul, Lincoln NE, Salt Lake City, Wolfsburg are all between 24 and 34 degrees Fahrenheit)

Meanwhile, it's supposed to get to 50 degrees Fahrenheit today in Cville.  I need it to, for my experiment.  The seeding of iodine in nitrogen gas is highly temperature-dependent.  A 10 degree difference in temperature results in a factor of 2 difference in seeding.  (That means that if my experiment runs at 50 degrees, the we get half as much iodine as it would be at 60 degrees and twice as much as it would be at 40 degrees)  If I was in Europe, or Asia or the western United States, I would have no hope of graduating this year.

Knowing that the temperature in Virginia has been uncharacteristically warm lately in the midst of extreme cold elsewhere makes me realize how blessed and lucky I am, and I am hopeful that my experiments will run well.  But it also makes me wonder and think about my place in this world.

Lately, I have been reading of Embracing Defeat by John W. Dowes.  It's about Japan and the aftermath of WWII.  After reading just the Introduction, I put my head down and cried.

Sometimes, it's hard as an American to come to grips with the changes we forced upon other countries, to truly understand what role we have played in the world for good and bad.  It is hard to accept responsibility for our mistakes.

We are all connected - and we always have been. What connections will I make with my brief life?  Will they have lasting positive or negative consequences?

This song came across my desk today.  It's called "I Won't Leave You Alone"  by Mayday.  Along with the title is this message, "If you hear this song, I want to let you know, 'You are the one I could never let go.'"

Who will we never let go?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to Train Your Subconcious

I've been having some back pain for a while now - right between the shoulder blades on my spine.  It seems the way I sleep at night is affecting that.  "You need to stop sleeping curled up like that," I've been told.  But how do you convince your unconscious self to stop sleeping the way that it has your entire life?

Here's the answer: get kicked in the shins HARD.

Yesterday, while playing for my intramural soccer team, I got a swift hard that hurt enough that I immediately subbed out and had to go walk off the pain for a while.  When I got home, I iced the wound and a friend advised me to sleep with my leg elevated to help alleviate pressure on the large knot on my shin.  It was a bit of challenge to try to find a comfortable way to sleep with the reminder that I can't sleep a certain way to avoid pain in my back but also with my leg elevated.

The result was this:

I had a dream in which I talked with a friend about my sleeping habits and my back pain.  She told me that the way I slept signified how I felt about the way that I was living my life.  The fact that I slept curled up (and subsequently felt back pain) was due to the fact that I was feeling restricted in my life.  If I wanted to alleviate the back pain and the cramped way I was sleeping, I needed to allow myself to breathe and be more free in my awake life.  I needed to take time to "stop and smell the roses".  It was absolutely critical, she advised, to let go of the need to be in control of everything in my life and stop worrying about the consequences of every minor decision.  If I let myself "roll with the punches", I'd improve.  So I spent the rest of my dream trying to just enjoy life - I went on a walk and watched the sunset, I spent a quiet day out in nature in quiet thought, I watched some folk dancers.  And then when I went to sleep that night, I slept differently, and my back pain subsided.

Apparently, the thought of trying to keep my leg elevated was enough to convince my subconscious to analyze my sleeping habits and their causes while I was sleeping.  Funny thing is, my subconscious might be on to something.

Then again, this was my other dream last night:
I also dreamed that I was with a middle school friend and we were performing in a choir for some special game/announcement for Hasebe's team.  As we walked around in our soccer gear and I nervously asked her if she ever experienced butterflies before performances,  I also spent my time looking for Hasebe.  I spotted him at one point but he was too far away for me to talk.  And then, his coach came up to me and started asking me all sorts of questions about who I was, where I was from and asking questions about my church until I found myself giving him a copy of the Book of Mormon and sharing my thoughts/feelings about it. The entire time, during the dream, I kept wanting to call him Felix Magath but I knew it wasn't him.  It wasn't until I woke up and thought about it for a long, long time, that I realized that the person I had been talking to was indeed one of Hasebe's coaches - Steve McClaren, a former Wolfsburg coach.  The English accent should have tipped me off but didn't.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fist Bump

On Saturday, my friend wanted to go for a drive. This is where we ended up.

 The next intersection was a road called Bear Lane (a nickname in my family).  And a few minutes later, we ran into Rising Sun Road (reference to Japan).  There were also roads called Kindred (reference to Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery) and Sincerity (the English translation of Makoto).  It was a weird drive.  I felt like someone knew me a little too well.

Today is my niece's half birthday.  So, in honor of the fact that I miss her like crazy, I'm posting pictures of her.  If the Internet collapses under the weight of too many baby pictures, I'd like to know I did my part.  
 Her face cracks me up.  I love it.  I love it.  
 She is only this interested because those pictures are of her.
 A fist bump from the niece.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Horse is a Horse ...

In the Chinese language, the word meaning "quickly, immediately, with urgency" is "mǎshàng".  

I've used this word for years and think nothing of it.  

Then I started learning characters.  "mǎshàng" in characters is composed of two characters: "馬" meaning "horse" and "上" meaning "above, on".  Essentially this means, "on horse".  

"I will go to the store immediately." = "I will go the store on horse."  
"She arrived immediately after I called her."  = "She arrived on horse after I called her."  

I chuckle over this when I do things "immediately", wondering back to the time when doing something on horseback was extremely fast and about as "immediate" as one could expect.  

In our day and age of supersonic airplanes and couple hundred horsepower cars, doing something by horse is probably not the way to do things in a timely manner.  I marvel at this relic in Chinese language and enjoy to see how the word has progressed to its current meaning.  

The other day, I was joking around about needing something "immediately"  in the English language.  "I need to get to work on that posthaste."  I thought about it and realized that it had the exact same meaning and context as it's equivalent in Chinese.  

Back in the day, the mail service was the fastest method out there for communication and delivery of goods.   In our day of email and airmail, even skype, chat and twitter, the speed of the mail in relation is now colloquially referred to as "snail mail".  

Isn't language a fascinating thing? 

Secret Societies

Let's talk a little about secret societies

But not this kind.

The kind where it's a secret how you ever got in.

Today I got an email from the National Space Club urging me to get my tickets for the National Space Club Goddard Memorial Dinner before they run out.  I'm not entirely sure what the National Space Club even is.  I'm kind of imagining a bunch of men in tuxes who want to talk about the good ol' days in space exploration all night.

This of course is nothing compared to the fact that I have been on the Women in Aerospace mailing list now for quite some time.  While I am technically a women in aerospace, I'm not entirely sure who else made that connection and put me on the list.

Back to the good ol' boys club: I looked at prices for tickets.  I was a little nervous when I saw the parking prices and floored when I saw that one seat at this fancy dinner costs as much as my monthly rent.  Plus, I have to take into account that I don't even own a tux or its military equivalent.

Maybe they should secretly include people who can afford to be included.