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Just Exploring the National Library of Medicine

In June, I spent two days at the National Institute of Health's Library of Medicine, where a librarian friend who’s encouraging me to look into librarianship introduced me to her co-workers in various departments. Here are some things I learned about the library.

There’s a daily tour at 1:30. I was the only one it. On the lower level, a set of dioramas shows the collection’s movement from downtown D.C. to Maryland. The collection lived in Ford’s Theater between 1866 and 1887. Today, it’s on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, where it moved in 1962. The building’s Cold War design includes a collapsible ceiling that would allow the roof to come down and seal the collection. This is terrifying. Let’s not dwell on it. 

The library offers extensive online resources, including Turning the Pages, an online look at 13 rare items from the collection. I’ve flipped through all of Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal at least twice, and Hanaoka Seishu’s Surgical Casebook is a gruesome diversion. 

In the library’s History of Medicine division, they have a Nobel Prize on display. This department also organizes exhibits of their archives. They’re currently showing a selection of pictures of nurses, part of a collection of 2,588 postcards assembled by an RN and donated to the library. You can see it here

During my behind-the-scenes wandering, I got to visit the library’s conservation lab, where I met a woman preparing to restitch the binding on a book whose pages she had finished washing. Various librarians talked about Rare Book School, which offers classes mainly in Charlottesville. Who else wants to go to Rare Book School? 

My NLM visit succeeded in getting me to think more about pursuing librarianship (while introducing me to the term “librarianship”), and I’m grateful to my friend and her colleagues who took the time to speak with me. You don’t have to be a maybe-librarian to visit the National Library of Medicine. It’s open to the public, and anyone can get a library card. Or you can skip the Metro ride and security checks and explore the resources from home.  

Just Exploring (Getting Lost in) Rock Creek Park

When we were preparing to leave Louisville last year, I wrote about the things I would miss most. The first thing on that list was Cherokee Park

Last weekend, we returned to Louisville to pack up our apartment for D.C. I planned to pack running shoes for a final trail run in Cherokee, then left them out, realizing that 1) I probably wouldn’t have time to run and 2) if I did, I would be tired and achey, making packing more difficult. 

I was right, there was no time for running or walking in the park, so I settled for a quick drive through with a stop at the top of Baringer Hill. As soon as we drove underneath the green archway leading into the park, my eyes started leaking. That park gave me so much solace in my time in Louisville, and I missed it and will continue to miss it. I needed this one final visit and view. 

No dogs on Dog Hill today.

No dogs on Dog Hill today.

If you read last year’s post, you’ll recall that the first time I ran in Cherokee Park, I got so lost I had to call home for a ride. Going on these exploratory runs is becoming a habit. I did it once in St. Louis and kept running until I found my way home. The most extreme was Louisville. It never happened in Cambridge because I try to run on unpaved paths, and the most convenient one I found was along the Charles. Can’t get confused going up and down a river. 

Smartphones make getting truly lost nearly impossible, but I managed to confuse myself on my inaugural Washington, D.C. run. We’re staying near Rock Creek Park, so yesterday I walked to the Melvin C. Hazen trail and started running. When I got tired, I looked at my phone to find my way out of the park. I went the wrong way before I decided to stop running and start using the map to get home.  It took me about 45 minutes of walking through Chevy Chase and Forest Hills before I got home again. 

Crossing creeks makes a run more interesting. 

Crossing creeks makes a run more interesting. 

After the first time I got really confused running in St. Louis, I decided this was a great way to learn a new neighborhood. I fully plan to confuse myself in Rock Creek Park again. Our new home will about a five minute walk from the park, on the other side of the creek. I’m happy to be close to a park again and look forward to learning it as well as I did Cherokee. 

On Serendipitous Travel Moments, or Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

For one of the classes I’m auditing this semester, I’ve been reading Henry Brooks Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and though he worked as private secretary to his ambassador father, wrote, and taught at Harvard, in reading his autobiography, you get the sense that he never really did anything.  He did marry, and his wife, Marian (“Clover”) committed suicide by drinking photo developing chemicals. You don’t learn about this in his book, because he doesn’t mention Clover or her death at all. 

Although Adams didn’t talk about his wife’s death, he commissioned a statue in her memory (Atlas Obscura has a great post about the memorial). Today, you can visit the Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery in D.C. We spent a few days in Washington over our spring break. I thought about looking for the statue, but spent the time visiting museums and friends instead.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

A few years ago, I arrived in San Francisco for a work trip on the last day of the Garry Winogrand exhibition at SFMoMA. I dropped my bags at a friend’s and ran over there for the last few hours of the show. What I didn’t realize (because again, no planning) was that it was also the last day the art museum would be open for the next three years, so admission was free and there were activities (like hat making) happening around the building. I saw the Winogrand, and as the museum closed, watched a dance performance in the lobby.

I love incidents like this. I could have planned for either of them (we know I need to work on my planning). But if I figure out where the thing is, how to get to the thing, and if the thing will be open, that seems like enough planning ahead. I like going out to see what I can find — or what will find me. 

I want to be a Mardi Grasdian

Many years ago, in junior high in Dallas, my history teacher asked why a classmate was absent.

“She’s at Mardi Gras,” another student said.

“Well, that’s not an excused absence.”

“Uh, yeah it is,” the student said. “It’s for religious reasons! She’s… Mardi Grasdian."

I didn’t understand Mardi Gras before I lived in New Orleans. The king cakes I’d tried were unimpressive, and the rest of it had a “Girls Gone Wild” feel. It didn’t help that my only pre-New Orleans Mardi Gras experience was during my freshmen year at college in St. Louis (home of the second biggest Mardi Gras in the U.S.), where it was freezing and I saw breasts. Yes, those are my two take-aways. There was also a parade.

And then, in 2006, I moved to New Orleans to work with the St. Bernard Project and had my first New Orleans Mardi Gras. As the (volunteer) volunteer coordinator, I had a second job waiting tables. The restaurant was on Bourbon Street, and everyone worked the five days leading up to Fat Tuesday. When New Orleans journalist Chris Rose says, "Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge,” that is true, unless you’re working in the French Quarter with the tourists (you should read that column in full. Also, to get a sense of the mess of Katrina, you should read Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic. I’ve just finally bought it.) 

Drunks and rowdiness and waiting tables and all, I still loved it. I loved it because it was more than one parade on one day. It was a whole new world of my 60-year-old landlady-housemate and her costume trunk; it was Mardi Gras decorations popping up weeks before that big Tuesday, on pristine houses in the Garden District and on FEMA trailers in St. Bernard; it was learning about krewes and Mardi Gras ladders and Zulu coconuts and buying lots of king cakes because actually, they are delicious. Just read the Chris Rose column. That’s about it. 

I would like to go back and do Mardi Gras properly. I would also like to go to everyone else’s Mardi Gras/Carnaval/Fasnacht/Fasching. I have been missing Mardi Gras since 2008 and trying to create some Mardi Gras spirit wherever I am. Last year, we stumbled on a parade in Galveston, Texas, which was a pleasant surprise. We also went to a crawfish boil at Selena’s in Louisville. 

Mardi Gras parade in Galveston, TX

Mardi Gras parade in Galveston, TX

This year, to brighten up the New England winterscape, I made my first king cake and listened to a Spotify Mardi Gras playlist. (This is the recipe I used.) Today, like every year, I am wearing my Mardi Gras-colored tie of beads. These are sad substitutes — there’s not even a baby in the cake. Yet as an aspiring Mardi Grasdian, the least I can do is remind you that it’s not just any Tuesday.

Happy Mardi Gras, friends. Keep your shirts on. They throw the beads anyway.

Closed One Door, Opened Another

I wrote every day for a month and then promptly reverted to my bad blogging habits. Let's have an update! 

We left Louisville 10 days ago and drove two days to Cambridge (overnight in Buffalo, where we had the original Buffalo wings). We settled in quickly. Though it felt like we packed for weeks, we unpacked everything the first night here. 

I spent the first week working. We had visitors last weekend, and they helped us break in Boston (ate at the oldest restaurant in America, went to both Cheers locations, saw the Red Sox at Fenway). I've walked close to 40 miles in 10 days. Everything is wonderful (though I can't stop thinking, "Winter is coming.")

Yesterday was my last day at my job of three years. Today was the first day of orientation for Gabe's program. It's an incredible opportunity (you can learn more about it here), and it's why I left my job. As an affiliate, I'm able to participate in the fellowship programming. And I get to audit classes at Harvard and area schools (MIT! Tufts!). I almost feel like a jerk telling people I left my job go learn for a year. I definitely feel like I'm going to wake up soon and realize it was all a dream. It feels too good to be true. 

Reality vs. Expectation, or Read the Label

Gabe and I recently bought a bunch of furniture, including a new bed and mattress. The mattress came from Bed in a Box. It's Memory Foam, and the company offers two-day shipping. 

We ordered the mattress on Wednesday and expected it Saturday. Our old bed frame was collapsing, so by the weekend, we knew we had to take it apart. Happily, FedEx knocked on our door Saturday morning, and I pulled in the box. 

"This is alarmingly light," I told Gabe as I carried it into the living room. 

"It's foam!"

We spent the next several hours dismantling the bed frame, vacuuming, rearranging, and  wrestling our old mattress into a closet. Finally, we brought the box into the bedroom, excited to open it. I was still really worried about how light it was. 

We struggled with the tape, got the box open, and pushed ridiculous amounts of brown paper packing out of the way. And there, in the middle of the box and paper, lay our new, black - 

"It's the trash can." 

I was instantly mad, then panicked (where were we going to sleep? Did we have to haul out that mattress again?), then laughing to the point of tears. 

Some take-aways:

The trash can was difficult to put together. 

The mattress came Monday and was appropriately heavy. 

I fit in the trash can box. 

Read labels.  

Books I Read in 2013

When I was in the Peace Corps, I started keeping a list of books I read. In two years, I read roughly a book a week (there were many eat, pee, read days). Since then, I've kept a list of books I read each year, and I thought I would share the 2013 list. 

Here it is, with some notes (** for recommendations; EPR for eat, pee, read): 

1. Columbine, Dave Cullen**

2. La Gloire de Mon Pere, Marcel Pagnol

3. Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen (reread for book club. Surprised that, on the third reading, I still found it engrossing)

4. The Great Gasby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (reread before the movie)

5. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling

6. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larsen**

7. Blood, Bones, & Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton

8. The Revolution was Televised, Alan Sepinwall** 

9. Getting Things Done, David Allen (getting this book done took a month) 

10. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

11. Louisville Panorama, R.C. Riebe 

12. Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson**

13. Louisville, Postcard History Series, John E Findling (this was a picture book)

14. Yes, Chef, Marcus Samuelsson 

15. Battleborn, Clare Vaye Watkins**

16. Scribbling the Cat, Alexandra Fuller

17. Louisville Guide, Gregory A. Lauden, Dennis Domer, David Mohney

18. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris

19. Sacré Bleu, Christopher Moore

20. Bonk - The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Mary Roach**

21. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple** (EPR - I finished this book on the bathroom floor at 1 a.m. Not because I was sick. Because I went to bed, but then wanted to read more, took it to the bathroom and then just stayed there, reading). 

22. Drinking with Men, Rosie Schaap**

23. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, David Rackoff

24. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Ayana Mathis

25. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood**

26. The Fran Lebowitz Reader, Fran Lebowitz

27. The Bling Ring - Nancy Jo Sales**

28. The Ultimate Question - Driving Good Profits and True Growth, Fred Reichheld (read for work)

29. Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins (EPR, still. I was embarrassed that I fell into the same book-devouring, "Don't talk to me, I'm readingstate I was in when I read these last year. I know exactly what happens. Did not matter). 

30. Catching Fire

31. Mockingjay

32. Whiskey Women, Fred Minnick** (if you are curious about whiskey history)

33. House of Dreams, Marie Brenner** 

34. Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

35. Wild, Cheryl Strayed** 

36. The Complete Stories of Truman Capote

37. Death Defying Acts, Erin Keane 

38. Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

What were your favorite books this year?