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July 1, 2004

July 2004 Archives

July 31, 2004
Stand In the Place Where You Are, Now Face North

After two-and-a-half days of orientation, I cannot wait to actually start classes on Monday. Perhaps this was one of their goals, perhaps set off by a last bullet point on the orientation committee’s outline: “Drive the students into the loving arms of biochemistry.”

I don’t mean to sound crabby, I learned a lot of useful things, starting out on the first evening when we gathered at the Center for Continuing Education, a building chosen to accommodate all the students and, in some cases, their families for a meal sponsored by the Armed Forces. Within a few seconds of receiving my voluminous orientation packet Aimee and I were standing around, staring at things. After a while she smiled and murmured to me, “This building is very ugly.”

“Is it?” I replied. “I hadn’t noticed, I’ve been too busy being startled by this gathering of youth.”

One of my social fears is that I’m too old to fit in with my classmates and, at that moment, it seemed like I was surrounded by those smooth-skinned aliens from Close Encounters. Only instead of beaming beatifically and languidly draping themselves upon Richard Dreyfuss, they were grinning wolfishly and zooming around frenetically and chattering. They were all college kids, and they seemed young even by that standard. The guys were all like “Yo, dude,” and the girls all made that open-mouthed face of incredulity while saying dismissively “Whatever.” Even back in the day, when I was the historian of the WIMI gentlemen’s club at Luther, I said “Yo, dude” only as an ironic last resort. I was in trouble.

Aimee and I clung to each other and pretended to be fascinated by the contents of the orientation packet while everyone else chatted and mingled. I realize now that most of the people chatting and mingling were doing so with people they already knew or their families, but at the time it seemed like a real love-in, ourselves excluded. Finally, mercifully, we were called in to the cafeteria area. We were greeted by a dean who seemed like a nice guy and whose speech had both thesis and theme.

As the evening wore on I chatted some classmates up. I learned that five of my classmates clock in as older than me, with some clearly in their 30s and possibly 40s. Interestingly, two of my classmates worked as veterinarians before coming to medschool, which means that by the time they finish their residency, they’ll have recorded some two decades of post-secondary ed. I talked to one of them who, as she is from New Hampshire, also had the distinction of being one of two people in our class from out of SoDak. I did my best to indicate my respect for her life’s work, and she received my plaudits warmly, but I was clearly as much an alien to her as the bulk of the class was to me. Late-twenties though I am, to her I was just another youth fresh off the mothership.

That evening Aimee watched Sweet Home Alabama and I trooped off to the bar where the second-years had bought us a keg of light beer. Even more generously than that, several of them hung around and gave us some inside scoop on The Stuff They Don’t Tell You. Their advice mostly consisted of reassurance salted with a few useful facts. I had already received all the studying advice I need from the excellent student doctor network forums (summary: try different techniques until you find one that works), so I was mostly interested in knowing which textbooks did I really need to buy (not many, thanks to Pam S.’s generous donations) and what equipment really came in handy (all of which I had thanks to my parents and Rebecca W.’s gifts).

The next morning we had more official discussion about what med school is really like, and it was largely repetition: Buck up, you can do it. As long as you don’t get too far behind you’ll pass. The first four years (“Unlike orientation,” I though to myself) goes by in a flash.

We took a computerized survey to analyze our study habits. It turns out that I’m good at dealing with anxiety, but that I’m terrible (in the bottom fourth percentile) at using the various study resources available to me. “Like what?” I asked myself defensively, “the textbook? Old tests? Asking the professor? Downloading answers off the internet?”

We had lunch with our advisors. I was happy to learn that my advisor interviewed me back in February, and that we remember quite a bit about each other. No welcome I’d received so far was as pleasant as his, “Oh, hey Joel,” as I walked over to his table. I’m doubly pleased that he’s a professor of biochemistry, as I may need a little help in that course. “You’re a study resource, aren’t you?” I asked him with a hint of triumph.

Another dean (there seem to be several) gave an effective presentation of what our new building is going to look like- in 2007. It seems very nice, two wings connected by a three-story all-glass-and-steel terrarium, lots of small rooms for students to gather in, and lots of lab space. We will miss all this, however, as by the time it is even partially finished we’ll be doing our 3rd-year rotations. Of course we will be present for the construction aspect, the first wrecking ball of which is scheduled to slam into the east end of the building Monday morning, while we are learning biochemistry in the west end.

We toured the parts of the campus that we’ll be concerned with (four buildings) and also had a turn around the cadaver lab, in which I told a successful joke. We were on our way out when a youth pointed to the large blocks of wood lying underneath each dissection table. “I wonder what the wood is for?” he asked. I knew the answer, they’re to prop up various body parts to allow access and visualization. Rather than spout off, however, I said, “Oh, I think they’re to use as weapons. You know, in case any of the cadavers turns into a zombie.” I got a laff, and he said, “Dude!” and punched me in the shoulder.

The last day of orientation took place entirely in Sioux Falls. We were congratulated and welcomed (or sometimes the other way around) by nine different speakers. Serious topics like financial aid (“Live like a student now and like a doctor when you're done, or live like a doctor now and a student later….”) and insurance (“Among all the medical students we insure, we average about a death per year….”) culminated in the White Coat Ceremony.

While we were rehearsing our sitting order (by name) and our standing arrangement (by height [more than 20% of the class is over six feet tall]) Aimee enjoyed a special Spouse/Significant Other Group Discussion (15 of the 51 students are married). She came away reassured- we’d already dealt with most of the issues raised. She also made friends with two wives, one of whom, providentially, is the wife of my cadaver lab partner. They both drink beer, so maybe we’ll hang out together.

The Baptist church where we were having the ceremony filled with relatives. We heard speeches about the Symbolism of the White Coat (which I think will be a separate weblog), and then we walked across the stage, carrying our coats, and handed them to a doctor who put them on us. Having learned from Denis McCarthy that schmoozing is good, I had taken every opportunity to schmooze with the dozens of doctors who had been presented to us over the past few days. As such, I had built a friendly rapport with the woman to whom I handed my coat. She smiled as she guided my arm into the sleeve and said, “It’s good to have you here, Joel.” Shaking her hand gratefully I mumbled “I so happy… you’re good as well… gosh.” And then I went to sit with my class.
Posted by Joel at 08:46 AM | Comments (2) |


Hey guys. Missing you both, especially as we are seemingly driving by your "old" neighborhood on a daily basis as we buy lamps, picture hooks, lightbulbs and what not. We've got most of the furniture out of the garage and into the house this weekend-- yeah! Now Jd is napping and I may join him. Good luck tomorrow, Joel! Aimee, when do you start? Do you get oriented, too?

Posted by: Kris at August 1, 2004 06:29 PM

There's been some blogging trouble today ... Being unable to post a comment has been difficult for some, so I am taking matters into my own hands by testing the Toads capabilities ... This is a just a test, not a comment.

Posted by: Aimee at August 2, 2004 12:21 PM
July 27, 2004
The Wine Tasting

One Monday a month the fine people at Vermillion Wine and Liquor slash the prices of all wine and champagne (and port?) by 25%. A magnum of Yellow Tail comes in at $9, while a five liter box of Franzia Burgundy rings at a tidy $11.50.
As starving graduate students, we need to take advantage of such deals, so we stocked up on Monday, buying a mag of Yellow Tail Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle of Turkey Ridge Creek American Zinfandel (from the local vineyard), and… a bunch of other booze. That is, after all, how Vermillion Wine and Spirits makes the rent.

So, in the spirit of exploration and discovery established by Lewis and Clark not a half mile from where we sit (and, coincidentally, where the rattlesnake was introduced to Western Civilization), we decided to create a blind taste-test of the four red wines that loiter under our kitchen counter.

The contestants:
Turkey Ridge Creek American Zinfandel
Yellow Tail Shiraz
Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon
Franzia “Old World Classics” (Californian) Burgundy (“Now with Easier to Use Smart Tap”)

The setup:
First Joel poured out four small glasses while Aimee hid her eyes. Each glass was assigned a little colored man from the Carcassone game, and Aimee was ready to taste.

The Little Blue Man’s Wine: “Has a lovely garnet shade. Iit’s bouquet… smells like wine- not so distinctive. Neither is the taste, it’s tablish. My mouth doesn’t flare up when I introduce air (Doing the burbly sucky thing you do when you taste wine).”

The Wine of the Petit Green Person: “Has absolutely no bouquet. It tastes like nothing! Maybe like… juice?”

The Red Man’s Offering: “I’ve steamed up my glass by breathing in it! Okay, it’s woody. Like trees or a beaver dam. But also like hard alcohol and licorice. It does something funny to my teeth. It’s dark like the forest, like an elf who has slept in fungus.”

The Yellow Fellow: “It smells sweet like jam or preserves. It warms the back of my throat slightly, but moves on down without comment. Unoffending, unaffecting.”

Her Ranking [from best to worst]: Red, yellow, blue, then green.

Key: Blue = Yellow Tail Shiraz. Green = Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon. Red = Turkey Ridge Creek American Zinfandel. Yellow = Franzia.

Joel then left the room while Aimee set up his glasses and his little men.
Blue Man Booze: “It’s bouquet is very tangy and light. But it’s taste! Is very dry, dries out my whole mouth. Like I was drinking soapy grass.”

Senor Green: “Ooh! It tastes like maple syrup! And strawberry jam! An excellent breakfast wine.”

Red’s Grape Extract: “It’s mild. Sweet and… like plastic. Or butter! Like plastic butter. It tingles long after it goes down.”

Yellow Fellow: “Mmm, it’s dusty, cardboardy. Or maybe old ashtray. In a pleasant sort of ashtrayish… or like a patched couch.”

Joel’s Ranking: Green, Red, Yellow, and Blue.

Key: Green = Shiraz. Red = Franzia. Yellow = Cabernet Sauvignon. Blue = Turkey Zin.

Aimee was able to correctly identify all her wines, Joel confused the Cab and the Zin.

The Winner: While Aimee liked the Zin the best, she ranked the Franzia second, which Joel thought was tops. So, there it is, coming in at $2.25 per liter, the cardboard box of Franzia.

This would be sobering, if we weren’t so full of wine. We’ve migrated from one of the richest wine areas in the country (Oregon), where we often turned to the Yellow Tail Shiraz as a small step up from the daily discount table wine. We’re in SoDak for eleven days, and suddenly we’re suckling off the Smart Tap from a cardboard box? It should be said that we’d been drinking the Franzia quite a bit for a few days before the contest, which could have altered our palettes. Perhaps by next month’s discount day we’ll have another Pepsi challenge, having had plenty of variety to re-educate ourselves.

Or maybe the Franzia’s just pretty good? It is, after all, the most popular wine in America.
Posted by Us at 07:05 PM | Comments (3) |


Each glass was assigned a little colored man from the Carcassone game

Best. Line. Ever.

I'm choking on my donut out here in little Canby, Oregon. I'll have to start finding uses for my little colored men...

Posted by: J.D. at July 29, 2004 07:48 AM

God, I still love this entry. It's great. How come it hasn't generated a throng of rabid fans for you? :/

Posted by: J.D. Roth at August 3, 2004 08:53 AM

I just came back to re-read this entry again and only just now noticed the shadowy nine skulking in the background of the first photograph. How is the little tramp? Found any squirrels to feast upon?

Just last night, before the rain, Nemo was having an argument with Walnut (the squirrel who lives in the Walnut tree, naturally enough). It ended badly, and Nemo felt the need to charge the tree in an effort to attack his squirrel-friend. I think perhaps they were talking politics...

Posted by: J.D. at August 5, 2004 02:22 PM
July 26, 2004

Despite the overall friendliness Joel and I have encountered in Vermillion, we have met very few neighbors.

Our first day here we met Mike, the below-stairs dweller in our triplex, who amicably offered to chauffer Joel to the liquor store for our much-needed, moving day suds. Since that day (approximately ten days ago), we’ve seen Mike only a handful of times, coming and going in the morning or evening. Although we’ve confirmed the existence of our upstairs neighbor through the tell-tale signs of moving furniture, slamming doors, burning toast, and television sounds, we have not yet met her.

Our housemates’ habits fall in line with others who dwell on our street. Everyone seems to embrace a hermit-like lifestyle, only venturing from their homes for another pack of smokes or a short trip to Hy-Vee. The possibility that our neighborhood has a seven o’clock work week must be considered, however Joel and I have not risen before eight o’clock this past week so we can only describe what we observe: Silence.

Except for Magda Schmetterling.

Each morning, we awaken to the sounds of Mrs. Schmetterling, bustling about the back alley. In as much as I can determine, Mrs. Schmetterling is around one-hundred-and-fifty years old, but still gallops about with all the vim and vigor of a seventeen-year old. As I stumble into the kitchen for my first cup of morning coffee, Mrs. Schmetterling has shrewdly dead-headed all of yesterday’s day lilies in her yard, given the fat, red squirrels a piece of her mind (Mrs. Schmetterling naturally disapproves with the numerous squirrel feeders that line our front lawn), and has chatted with each and every person that happens by [In most cases, this person is our handyman, Wayne, who isn’t above an early morning koffee-klatch before wrestling with porch repairs on the Victorian next door].

Mrs. Schmetterling lives behind us, in a one-story rambler, but seems to regard the whole block – from Clark to Cedar – as her territory. Without regard for privacy, she often wanders into our side yard for purposes unknown. She merely potters about looking at the trees, seeming to scornfully sniff at our weedy, ramshackle lawn. I must admit that Joel and I (and Nine) have been illicitly spying on Mrs. Schmetterling as she makes her movements throughout the day. At times it seems as though she is the seasoned drill-sergeant of a Neighborhood Watch brigade, and at other times she seems distracted, out-of-sorts, even bored with the hum-hum of the late afternoon.

As temporary residents, we don’t really know how to deal with this invasion. Do we evade, befriend, or confront her? With that dignified air of righteous authority, Mrs. Schmetterling has cowed us. We pass her by with heads down, eyes averted, hands stuffed into our pockets. For now, Mrs. Schmetterling holds the all the cards: She has the inertia of age. She was here first. And Dachshunds are difficult to reason with.

Posted by Aimee at 07:54 PM | Comments (1) |


ooo, i want to read about orientation when it happens . . . it will be interesting to compare notes. glad to see you're adapting to your remove to SD.

Posted by: John at July 28, 2004 09:01 AM

July 24, 2004
Really Very Small

Everyday we marvel about how small Vermillion is.

It’s really very small, like 25 blocks long and 15 blocks wide at its longest and widest, and we live right in the middle.


Looking at this map, all the buildings of importance in town run along Main, two blocks south of us, and highway 50, six blocks north of us.

Didja forget butter at the grocery store? Better fill the car up, because its seven blocks away. Wanna catch a movie? Better leave at least two minutes before the show starts, because you have to walk two blocks to stand in a line consisting of two people, both of whom we already know.

I loathed doing errands in Portland because, despite the fact that it’s one of the nicest cities in America, it took a minimum of twenty minutes to drive anywhere. Here, if you do drive, it takes you twelve seconds and you can park the car sixteen feet from the dairy section. Seriously, if I leave the window down in the car, I can throw the butter from the check out into the back seat, provided I time the automatic doors right.

The town is more than just little, it’s also cute. Walking everywhere we go, we see things like a native kid and a white girl eating watermelon together on the steps of the church, kids biking down to the library (without their parents!) and just leaving their bikes unlocked and wherever, our handyman building someone else’s porch next door. Green Acres seems like Trainspotting in comparison.

If only it weren't for Magda Schmetterling....em>
Posted by Joel at 08:06 PM | Comments (5) |


I note that in all these pictures, the crowds of people are overwhelming. How do you find any personal space?

Posted by: Lisa at July 26, 2004 08:22 PM

This will probably surprise noone, but this entry makes me want to move to Vermillion. Now.

Drop the paint brush, Kris — we're booking a flight to South Dakota!

Posted by: J.D., the warm and cuddly friend at July 26, 2004 09:12 PM

Well, it was pretty late when we took these photos. Like around 7:30 pm, right when reruns of "T.J. Hooker" are playing on KDLT.

Posted by: Joel at July 27, 2004 06:02 AM

That's the spirit, JD! You could take over the management of the local comic books shop (1.5 blocks from our house), and Kris could... commute four hours every day to the crime lab in Pierre.

Posted by: Joel at July 27, 2004 06:03 AM

I had a friend in college named Greg. Every time I saw him, I would shout, in a vaguely European accent, at the top of my lungs (and in a questioning voice, as if surprised by the possibility): "Gregor? Gregor Mendel?"

You know. Because I can't comment over on your sidebar.

Posted by: J.D. at July 27, 2004 10:31 AM

July 22, 2004
Long Road Trip? Long Entry.

Leg One: Oregon through Washington

Having hugged everyone we knew in Portland and a few bewildered passersby, we were poised to take off at 4:00 last Tuesday, well before rush hour.

Don hopped into the cab, reached for the ignition and then posed a question of striking topicality, “Where’s the truck key?” No one knew. After looking in the obvious places, we scoured the area. We dug through the trash, unpacked duffel bags, and rooted through the garden. Our neighbors, whom we had just hugged with all the fondness in the world, were savagely grilled. “Have you seen the key? Fiona wouldn’t have taken it to her piano lesson as a gag, would she?” Nine, crammed into her brand-new and hateful pet carrier, mewed discouraging words from atop the car’s roof.

Irritation turned to despair until the key was happened upon, left in the passenger door’s lock. Thirty minutes having elapsed, we left Portland in rush hour traffic. Loaded to the gills with the baggage of our lives, cleverly packed by Joel, MacD, and The Big D, the setting sun lit whitecaps on the Columbia River as we cut our way through the Gorge, saying last goodbyes to random locations. “Goodbye Lucky Lab! Goodbye over-priced lawn furniture store! Farewell used bookstore that was never open! Au revoir breakfast place that looked good but was never patronized!” After a mere two hours on the road, we paused for a leisurely supper and stretch break at a lively pizza joint called Spooky’s in The Dalles, Oregon. While at Spooky’s, Joel asked a young server about the origin of the Spooky mascot, a pink cartoon ghost wearing an Aztec pyramid as a hat. The young lady replied “Oh, I dunno. Maybe he’s a prospector? Or, like, a Chinese worker?”

Leg Two: Coeur d’Alene through the Lolo Pass

Volunteering for the graveyard shift, Aimee assumed command of the wheel on an on-ramp just outside of Spokane, Washington. After safely navigating the U-Haul through suburbs and sodium lights of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, the Bitterroot mountain range loomed large before the U-Haul and its sleepy passengers. Not to be foiled by the difficulty of the climb, Aimee popped a can of Coca-Cola and hunkered down in the driver’s seat while Joel and Don napped. The U-Haul began fussing about ten minutes into the climb, decelerating to 15 MPH and emitting a nasty shudder on each uphill slope. To add to the pleasure cruise, the entire route was strewn with construction. To the lone highway, Aimee queried, “I ask you, what is the point of closing a mountain pass road to a single lane of traffic when workers aren’t even up working on it?” Two hours at a maximum speed of 45 MPH, with a cab full of sleeping people is a tiresome row to hoe, so when Aimee pulled the U-Haul in the $ilver Dollar Gas Station and Motel, she was prepared to sell her soul for a bed, even if it bore a layer of trucker grime and was littered with dangerous alpine cockroaches. She asked for and received Don’s agreement to stop for the night. The issue was put to Joel, who responded with incredulity. “Stay here? At this… fine establishment?” He had just come from paying for the gas where the elderly night clerk asked leeringly, “Anything else? Anything at all? Really? Alright, rock on, dude.” If Joel had been a bachelor sailor, lately cast upon shore with silver in his pocket and perhaps a ringing head wound, The $ilver Dollar Motel might have appealed. “How about we keep pushing on?” he asked his companions. Don blinked blearily and shrugged. Aimee frowned and beckoned him away for a private chat. “You’re not the only one with a vote, you know,” she said fiercely, brushing away giant moths. Joel smiled gratingly “I agree. You and Don want to stay, I want to keep going. Shall we poll Nine?” Never one to miss her cue, Nine gave a woeful howl from within the car. Aimee relented, and we turned our backs upon The $ilver Dollar’s… er, hospitality.

Leg Three: Montana, Montana, Montana

Dawn breaking over Montana’s stretch of the Rockies is a breathtaking sight, especially when your close quarters are redolent with tired breath and Essence of Spooky. After accepting hearty trucker’s breakfasts but passing up $8 showers we rumbled on into Montana’s endless hills. These hills and mountains are very picturesque, rearing up from either side of the highway with what seem like velvety-soft contours. They start to suck, however, when one’s vehicle almost… doesn’t… make it… up every rise. After each triumphant ascent we assured each other that “it looks like the road stays level from here on.” It didn’t. Each hill was about the same, the engine would scream, our speed would drop to 45, then 25, then, finally, 15 and we’d put on our hazard lights as impatient semis pulling two trailers full of anvils and three-legged burros swept past us. Don eventually developed the technique of “Attacking the Hill!” Which involved flooring the accelerator on the downslope, pushing our speed up to 75 and 80. This usually enabled us to stay around 45 going up, but it caused the truck, trailer, and car to shake alarmingly.

During this stretch, we brought Nine up into the cab where she behaved wondrously well. Almost too well, in fact. While she never mewed or leapt hissing onto the driver’s face, she seemed to have entered a semi-conscious state of unresisting torpor. She sat silently on someone’s lap, staring catatonically out the window, limp and pliable. During stops she never showed any interest in escape and her body functions seemed to have ceased.

Leg Four: Still fricking Montana

Eastern Montana had fewer mountains, but the highway still had enough hills to make driving interesting. We’d agreed to spend the night in Rapid City, and all our efforts were bent on eating up the gigantic breadth of the Big Sky State. In the afternoon, Joel saw a sign advertising “Take highway 212 and get to the Black Hills an hour earlier!” Everyone agreed that this was a great idea, so he took the exit. Highway 212 was under extensive construction. This wasn’t your regular orange-cones-and-“Give ‘Em a Brake” kind of construction, however; it was a weird sort of anarchic breakdown. Just near the site commemorating the Battle of Little Bighorn, the road disappeared, replaced by a wide swath of loose gravel and sand without any lane markers. Vehicles simply plowed their own path, grudgingly swerving out of each other’s way. Massive construction trucks pulled three-point turns across everyone’s paths without warning. Hard-looking men without any tools or insignia tramped around gesturing menacingly. Of course, there were also hills. Desperate to escape, Joel drove faster than was wise, veering around suddenly-revealed potholes and areas of subsidence. This went on for some twenty miles, with Don and Aimee laughing in disbelief at each new calamity. After the construction was over, the road wound, looped, and, inevitably, climbed through the Northern Cheyenne reservation into the northeastern corner of Wyoming, and finally, into South Dakota.

Leg Five: Rapidly to Vermillion

After passing a much-deserved night of rest at a Red Roof Inn in Rapid City, South Dakota, Don, Joel, Aimee and Nine hit the road at 8:30 on Saturday morning. The truck and trailer careened effortlessly across the open plain as Joel breathed in the familiar sights and signs of his youth: “Spearfish,” he’d utter, “They had a pretty good 4x8 team, but we trounced them at state,” or “Viborg, I dated a girl from Viborg. She played the cello and had really great … (nervous glance at Aimee) … hair.” The scent of the prairie’s sweet grass wafted over the near-constant diesel fumes, and we felt that we were close. Finally in range of South Dakota Public Radio, the mileposts whipped by as we worked our way through our favorite shows: Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, The Motley Fool, All Things Considered, and as we made the turn into Vermillion, A Prairie Home Companion.

Joel: “And we were, indeed, home on the prairie.”
Aimee: (laughs derisively)
Joel: “Okay Chuckly, how do you want to wrap up this giant entry?”
Aimee: “Just like that.”
Posted by Us at 05:09 PM | Comments (10) |


Glad to see you guys made it in one piece. Has Nine resumed bodily functions? Hope things are well. Why the hell doesn't my computer remember my info when I click "yes" on "Remember personal info?" And why do I have to preview my post, why can't I just post it? (Though if I didn't preview it, I wouldn't have been able to type this question without posting 2 comments, and I wouldn't have had to ask the question anyway)

Posted by: mac at July 22, 2004 09:38 PM

Glad you made it safe. Good luck to you. Come back for the Prive release party!!!! And to see our new digs.

Posted by: Jeremy at July 23, 2004 09:47 AM

I'm glad to see that Joel maintained his dewy complection with a nice satin eye mask. Did he spritz his face with Evion every hour too?

Posted by: Lisa at July 23, 2004 08:23 PM

Good morning! Have you named your new home yet? The Vemillion Villa? Souh Dakota Hide-Away? The Grad-School Grotto?

Mac-- I think the "preview" thing is some anti-spamming attempt of Jd's but I could be wrong.

It hit 103 degrees here yesterday. More today! I need a Slip'n'Slide.

Posted by: Kris at July 24, 2004 07:15 AM

I like "Gradschool Grotto". Actually, I really like the word "grotto", period. Manages to be both unseemly and romantic, yes?
Lisa, you are of course entitled to your opinion, but I feel that a better term for my complexion is "irridescent".
Jeremy, we may not make it for the Prive party, so why don't we set up a wine exchange? For every bottle of Soud you send us, we'll send you an equal measure of Buffalo Run Winery's best!
Mac, the preview button is supposed to prevent spam, but we're still getting some (see "The Beard" entry). I've forgotten the technique JD taught me for blocking an ISP.

Posted by: Joel at July 24, 2004 10:15 AM

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOEL! (and HI, Aimee). I tried to call, but instead of delighting in your warm (and slightly older) voice, I heard only the repetative impersonal tones announcing "message PR-122 (phone no longer in service)." Could you please relay your new number (after you are done celebrating and recovering, of course)?


Posted by: Pam at July 24, 2004 12:46 PM

What the fuck are you two doing in South Dakota?

Posted by: J.D., the surly friend at July 26, 2004 09:11 PM

Actually, I just read this entry finally. :)

Desperate to escape, Joel drove faster than was wise, veering around suddenly-revealed potholes and areas of subsidence.

Whose bright idea was it to let Joel drive?

Also, if you left on Tuesday, it took you a l-o-n-g time to reach your destination. Perhaps you left on Thursday?

In any event, Mac, Craig, and I were lamenting your departure as we camped along Opal Creek. Portland just won't be the same without your smiling faces and rapid alcohol consumption. You'd better keep this weblog up-to-date. How many birds has Nine caught? Squirrels? Gnats?

Did Aimee get to see Bourne Supremacy? Are you reading Pride and Prejudice? Will you forward your thoughts to us via e-mail?

Come back, friends! Come back!

Posted by: J.D., the slow at July 27, 2004 10:28 AM

I took several shifts driving. In fact, I may have driven the most! And I only killed four people!
Aimee did get to see "The Bourne Supremacy". She liked the first one better, but we had a good time. The movie has a stellar car chase and lots of exciting locations. What more can we ask?
At this point, Nine is still doing all her hunting in her mind, content to move from window to window, checking out all the new channels.

Posted by: Joel at July 27, 2004 03:36 PM

Ah, Beautiful Montana! I've driven that. Did you guys go through Mitchell? I love the Corn Palace. Must be something in the genes of midwesterners.

For some reason I didn't realize Vermillion was in the South East corner. My mom lived in Yankton for awhile when she was growing up, and that appears to be just up the road a bit.

Anyway, glad you two are settling in out here on the edge of the prairie. If you ever make it to the Twin Cities, give me fair warning and we can meet up for lunch or whatever.

The Renaissance Faire is starting soon, come to think of it...

Posted by: Dana at August 5, 2004 10:52 AM

July 19, 2004

Quick Update

The drive went pretty well, it took about 42 hours, we stopped to
sleep for seven of those hours, and we didn't crash the truck into any
overhead branches (which, it turns out, the insurance may not cover
anyway). [Historical aside: Two moves ago I was very tired and driving a huge truck. At the end of a long day, I pulled up to park on the street and hit an overhanging tree branch. We got out and wearily assessed the damage- it actually didn't look too bad. Looking at it from the inside the next day revealed that half of the overhead cargo area, the so-called "Mom's Attic", was stove in. A thousand bucks stove in, as it turned out.]

At the last minute Aimee bought a cat carrier for Nine, wherein she
was most unhappy, but safe. She rode in the carrier in the car for the first
day, then we let her ride up in the cab of the truck with us. As soon
as she was able to sit in the cab, she entered this quasi-dormant
state where she just lay limply and dozed. She never meowed or jumped
onto the driver's face or anything, so that was good.

We took one bad shortcut: a highway that was torn up and sort of
resurfaced with really loose gravel. We almost got
stuck/crashed/rolled/fishtailed into oncoming traffic several times,
but catastrophe was averted.

The truck could only manage about 30 m.p.h. on steep hills, so Idaho,
Montana, and Western S.D. were a pain.

But, thanks to Don Wurzberger, we've arrived and, thanks to Don, Mary, and Erin Wurzberger, we're 90% unpacked. And the new place is kind of a
dump. But it's a very big dump, and if we work at it, we can make into a very pleasant big dump.

Pictures will be posted sometime later.
Posted by Joel at 12:17 PM | Comments (3) |


Thanks for the update, guys! I miss you both already.... Joel-- we had a small birthday gift that I meant to give to you before you left, but will have to send in the post. Also, Aimee, I haven't forgotten that you want those striped curtains. As soon as I get something to replace them in the guestroom, I'll send them your way for whatever window needs covering. Kris

Posted by: Kris at July 19, 2004 04:39 PM
Portland is a bleak, bleak place without you guys. I suppose South Dakota wins in the end.

Sorry to hear that the domicile is less than thrilling. Just consider it part of your graduate school personae; what grad student ever lives in luxury? It would be wrong. We lived in a place that was 465 sq. ft. for the first six months after we were married, when Craig was in school. We kept tripping on each other.

Congrats on completing the move!

Posted by: Lisa at July 19, 2004 09:20 PM

Glad that you arrived safe, and I look forward to reading of your many adventures in South Dakota

Posted by: Denise at July 21, 2004 12:50 PM

July 15, 2004
A Dry Spell

A dry spell approaches.

Over the next week as Joel, Aimee and Don (Aimee's dad) drive across the country, we’ll have little time for posting. I’m sure you understand, Dear Reader, that in our anxiousness to get to South Dakota we plan to allow the weblog entries to fall a bit by the wayside.

So, in the silence imagine us bouncing along I-90, passing mountains, badlands, and plains. Imagine us fretting over the cat who will be towed in the car. Imagine us pulling into a truck stop and rubbing elbows with those folks who call the open road home. Then, imagine the bellyache following the greasy spoon food. Imagine Joel reading Blue Latitudes aloud in the cab. Imagine us pointing and laughing at the turn off to Wall Drug and actually taking a moment to stop and see Crazy Horse.

And, when it’s about that time for you to imagine the U-Haul pulling into a town of 5,000 permanent residents perhaps we’ll take a break and type some thoughts on how things look from that side of the world.
Posted by Us at 02:31 PM | Comments (0) |

Seven Hundred and Fifty Cubic Feet

Elsewhere in this online journal I bragged about our Six Hundred cubic feet of stuff. Well, what with the tchotchkes and space lost due to boxing, we wound up with a slightly bigger pile of stuff than that. When we brought home the Eight Hundred cubic foot truck on Tuesday, my heart sank: we were going to have to leave some stuff behind. What was worse, as Aimee pointed out in a quavery voice, we didn't have time to winnow out the junk; we were supposed to start loading the truck and clean the house on Wednesday. After some back-and-forth, we decided to just leave it up to fate and Don's packing ability.

It was faith well-founded. Mac and Pam brought me home from work yesterday and we started loading under Don's direction. Playing his own sweaty game of 3-D Tetris, Don stacked, crammed, and wedged until the truck was full and not a thing was left to load. Total packing time: three hours.

The truck is very full, which Don says is good- less shifting and sliding of the load. Since loading went so well, we plan to pull out today, a full twelve hours ahead of schedule. Surely nothing can go wrong now! [Cue ominous rumbling from Mt. Olympus.]

P.S. I'm really quite proud of the fact that for the last four moves, we've used the same size U-haul. In this era of acquiring more and more stuff, we acquire more and more stuff... and then throw it away.
Posted by Joel at 09:24 AM | Comments (2)


I told you Mac could do it. He's got a great eye for that sort of thing. I had great faith in his ability to get everything packed in there.

What, though, is the fate of the two plastic lawnchairs? :)

Posted by: J.D. Roth at July 15, 2004 09:40 AM

Ah. Well, as a reward for their help (and because they had a vehicle with which to take them away) we gave them to the Proffit-Smiths. You know where they live.

Posted by: Joel at July 15, 2004 10:45 AM

July 14, 2004


The nice man came last night and took away our cable modem. Crik! Just like that, the steady and heady flow of information snapped off like an icicle. Later that evening, I looked up from my Wodehouse and asked, “What’s a bagatelle?” Aimee was pottering about and didn’t hear me, so I went on reading. Later on, I was able to tell from context that a lorgnette was something that magnifies one’s vision, but I really wanted to see a picture of one. But there I was, googless.

The importance of Google can probably be overstated. I could say, “Google has had as much impact on western civilization as Father Abraham and the steam engine combined.” (Picture, if you will, a steam-powered cyber-Jew motoring around Canaan) That would be stretching it a bit. But it certainly affects the day-to-day life of my brain. Most conversations that contain words like “I wonder…”, “How much, do you think…” or “I bet…” end with “Let’s google it.” And in seconds, we have a semi-official answer. One that is possibly an over-simplification and that we’ll quickly forget, but that’s a small price to pay for speed. Of course, if you’re reading this weblog, you know what google does and I needn’t belabor the point.

Speaking of Google, guess what your first option is when you search for toads in the hole? Not www.englishbreakfast.com. Not www.amphibioushabitat.org. No ma’am, the information superhighway off-ramps you onto our humble site. Maybe we should put up some advertisements and make a little dough. Of course, JD would no doubt take a huge slice. And giving money to JD would only hasten the entropic heat-death of the universe.

As Aimee is the one who is constantly playing with the colors on our site, and as she is at home preparing for the blessed arrival of Don Wurzberger- Master Packer and Driver of Long Distances, I hope the blue-and-brown motif is working for everyone.

Tune in tomorrow for the final post from Oregon!
Posted by Joel at 11:06 AM | Comments (1) |


Bagatelle: a trifle; also a vignette-ish musical number.

Lorgnette: a pair of opera glasses.

Dad and I are visiting the Fireside Lodge Coffee House, which has free internet with a purchase of an everything bagel. We are here at 6.49 AM due to a noisy cat, who will be getting a cat carrier for the car today. She escaped the study and the outbuilding both last night; I have now come to believe that she will be able to hot wire the car en route if she is not confined ... Peace of mind is a cheap solution to a nasty situation! Have a great day at your last day of work!

Posted by: Aimee at July 15, 2004 07:05 AM

July 13, 2004

By late last week we’d packed most of our belongings. First to go were the books, then winter clothes, then flatware. Looking around the house we patted each other on the head, “Good packing! This place is really starting to clear out.” Cue the menacing music, enter the knickknacks.

I wouldn’t describe our place as overly knickknacked. Liberace’s place? Graceland? The old Roth-Gates house? Heavily knickknacked. Our place? Like that weird white room in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the old man is eating soup. Which is to say, relatively spare.

And yet there they were, as if someone had blown a knickknack mating call: Rubber chickens, a trophy for winning my age group in the 1991 Freshmart “Freeze Yours” 5K run, two wooden dancing ants that gyrate violently when you thumb a button, an obese Star Wars figure (The Rancor Keeper), an anatomically correct rubber heart that can squirt blood… and so on. All absolutely dripping with sentimental value. All (rubber chickens excepted) very difficult to pack, requiring a great deal of newspaper swaddling, bubble-wrap affixing, and an average of 1.5 cubic feet of box apiece.

Consequently, our packing efforts took on a nightmarish quality. As we filled and stacked boxes, more junk came bubbling out of hidden crannies, leering at us and cackling, “You loved me when you were eleven years old! You cannot possibly part with me!” If it wasn’t our personal knickknack, we carried it to each other and say, “Do you want to keep this… thingy?” And, after much lip-biting and fond recollection, it went into a box.

Some of it we managed to throw away while blinking back stinging tears of nostalgia, which has brought about another nightmarish figure: the hulking garbage can. Our neighbor/landlords have kindly loaned us another trash can to handle our hyperplasia of junk and, in the sudden blazing heat, both overflowing cans have started to lurk evilly, wafting the occasional startling smell of violently killed squirrel. And that’s because Nine has been dealing with her stress and anger about all the changes to her home by slaughtering the local fauna, the corpses of which she arranges decoratively around her various napping spots in the yard. When it comes time to dispose of Stanley the ex-squirrel I carry it over to Nine and say, “Do you want to keep Stanley?” Nine, fortunately, has no use for nostalgia.
Posted by Joel at 09:32 AM | Comments (4) |


That's pretty damn funny Joel

Posted by: mac at July 13, 2004 10:27 AM

Speaking of "tchochke," did you know that "Schmuck" was Yiddish for "penis." Don't ever call a student a "schmuck"--not even sarcastically to a really good, smart, well-behaved kid--especially if her mother understands Yiddish@!@!

Posted by: mac at July 13, 2004 10:30 AM

Yikes! Did you say it in front of her? Or did this kid misunderstand the sarcasm and go home and tell on you? Meshuganah kid!

Posted by: Joel at July 13, 2004 11:03 AM

I said it to her face, but she didn't know what it meant. I got a phone call from mom who pretty much knew that I didn't know what the word meant and she enlightened me. She didn't tell the kid what the word meant, and she said no harm no foul, but be careful!

Posted by: mac at July 13, 2004 11:31 AM

July 09, 2004
Close of Business

Today was my last day of work, a landmark day on the calendar.

I was pleased and (somewhat) relieved to find stacks of transcription and message lights blinking this morning when I plunked down at my desk for my final four-hour shift. A long-drawn out good-bye is not the most comfortable experience for anyone, and it especially feels odd when you’ve worked in a place for a little less than a year. I was okay with postponing the inevitable hugs and farewell speeches until just before leaving to hopefully avoid a scene of Regrets [Aside: In our family, we have a saying, "Shoulda, woulda, coulda" ... There's no need to regret life, if you live life, no?].

So, I busily attacked my tasks as usual this morning, typing fifty, maybe sixty words a minute; most of the words I tapped out included “regurgitation,” “stenosis,” and “insufficiency.” Over and over again ... An unending sea of “normal intracardiac function and great vessel relationship” can be mollification for an uneasy parent, but once an administrative assistant, such as myself, has mastered the intricate spelling of that statement, it gets old. Fast.

So, despite missing wonderful friends and thoughtful co-workers to whom I've bequeathed mountains of transcription and appointment scheduling, I’m happy to be moving on. I enjoyed the opportunity to work at this job for all its benefits, but I am thrilled about attacking paperwork with my name on it in the future in the form of essays, quizzes, and exams. Paperwork that means a new life for me, a new set of responsibilities for me.

Before that, however, there’s still work at home. Unfortunately, it’s come down to scattered bits of ephemera twirling about the house, cleverly avoiding packing boxes, and gathering together sheepishly in piles of “Maybes”. Keep or throw that darling out-of-focus photo of Joel as a gangly fifteen-year-old lad as he flicks off the camera? Toss that last can of Cream of Mushroom soup when I know this winter our bodies will cherish the warmth of the soup included in a lovely melange of meat, soup, and beans called Tator Tot Hot Dish? And what about those crumbling squares of guest soap that no one seems to like the smell of? And finally, do we have room in the trash can for all this stuff?
Posted by Aimee at 03:34 PM | Comments (2) |


if no one has claimed the can of cream of mushroom soup, can i call dibs?

Posted by: seeger at July 13, 2004 10:17 AM

It's all yours! Better yet, why don't we put it in a casserole and bring it down to you this fall ...

Posted by: Aimee at July 13, 2004 10:46 AM

July 07, 2004

Sorry about the big gap in entries, it’s been hard to sit down and concentrate on writing something interesting. Mostly, when I’m in repose, I start to think about packing, moving, being somewhere new, and starting school. Then I snap out of it, realize that I still have another week of work and that if we pack anything else we’re going to wind up sitting on the floor and eating all our meals on toast. This makes me impatient and grumpy.

To avoid this, I’ve been doing a lot of mental busy work: reading, playing computer games, and watching West Wing (with which I reach my saturation point almost exactly at the 62nd minute). Unfortunately, I can’t do any of these things at work, where my irritation deepens with every day as I grow more redundant as my replacement grows more competent. Training in the new guy has been a welcome distraction, but he’s learning the ropes quickly and, as a consequence, I’m starting to wear my internet-surfing hand raw.

Maybe I should start studying my gross anatomy? On the medical student advice forum I frequent, many incoming first year students ask about what they should do to prepare. The reply is almost always, “Nothing.” There’s nothing you can do to prepare, and anyway med school is such a long slog that taking any opportunity to relax and recharge is crucial. This is wonderful advice, if one is good at relaxing. At the moment, however, I’m a little too itchy.
Posted by Joel at 10:59 AM | Comments (1) |


If you're bored, you could write more weblog entries.

Posted by: J.D. at July 9, 2004 11:35 AM

July 01, 2004
The Paunchiest Villain of All

We have returned from our screening of Spiderman 2 and are feeling quite heroic. As a villain, I have to agree with JD, Doctor Octopus is much more exciting than the Green Goblin. As a physicist who falls under the demonic thrall of his four house cats… I mean, mechanical arms, Alfred Molina manages to be simultaneously menacing and huggable. (For those of you who have seen the Evil Dead series, there’s a wink to Sam Raimi’s oeuvre in a scene that features Ash’s favorite weapon. ‘Nuff said.)
There’s also lots and lots of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst staring at each other and being unhappy, and… bah! If I gush too much about what I enjoyed I’ll just spoil it. Aimee and I did have the following exchange after the film which I don’t think will reveal too much:

Joel: Yeah, I loved it. The action scenes with Doc Ock were really great. You can do so much visually with all the arms, and his abilities really match well with Peter’s [In my mind I’m on a first-name basis with our hero].
Aimee: Sure, but don’t the arms seem kind of arbitrary? I mean, if he’s such an expert in high-energy physics and beryllium spheres and everything, why is he wasting time making these crazy arms?
Joel: No! He needed the arms to safely conduct his… well, I guess it is kind of random. How many people can create breakthroughs in cybernetics and particle physics at the same time?
Aimee: Right. Maybe if he’d just focused his attention on one field or another things wouldn’t have gone awry.
Joel: You’re talking good sense, which is why you’ll never be a super-villain.
Aimee: Well, if he’d just learned to keep his hobbies separate from his work…
Joel: Right. Like if you’re really into model trains and you’re also a… a security guard, well you just can’t expect to effectively combine the two.
Aimee: Things would go awry!
Posted by Joel at 10:42 PM | Comments (1) |


Also, for those of you who know who Todd Brost is, when Peter Parker is really unhappy and is wearing his glasses with his face all scrunched up? Looks just like Todd Brost.

Posted by: Joel at July 3, 2004 09:08 AM

How Purple Was My Valley

Last Sunday, our pal Jeremy organized and led a bunch of us on a day-long wine-tasting tour of the Willamette Valley. Jeremy attacks wine as he attacks all of life’s pleasures, with two hands and a huge grin, but he clearly has both taste and palette. Prior to our Go-go Winetasting Van Adventure, I was a fan of any wine that was wet, but within a few glasses (and under the able tutelage of Jeremy and Craig) I was saying things like “There’s a good bouquet, but it kind of leaves you hanging. There’s a bit of a bump, then a strange absence…” and “It brings to mind the delightful flavour of diesel.” We started at 10:30, visited six fine establishments, and, among the eleven of us, probably came home with over a thousand dollars of the valley’s best.
The best vineyard (and the most money spent) was the tiny La Prive.

Taking up less than three acres of sun-drenched hillside, they produce a thousand cases of (in Jeremy’s considered opinion) the best Pinot Noir in Oregon. Which, apparently, means the best Noir on Earth. Don’t all rush out there at once, they don’t have public tastings. But Jeremy, being who he is, called them up, asked nicely and Tina agreed to give us a private barrel-tasting.

The wine really is incredible, but most astounding is that it’s grown, vinted, and bottled by a couple who, twelve years ago, knew as much about wine as I know now. It was just something they decided to do and, through diligence and luck, have managed to do very well. Their location is so lovely, their wine is so good, and yet they are neither crusty French people nor wildly cavorting fauns.

During our visit we all mumbled to each other some variation on, “I know what I want to do when I’m forty.” And that, I think, was what we were so eager to buy: the dream of owning a sun-drenched hill in the Willamette Valley full of grapes, bumblebees, and lavender.

After the final vineyard, we surprised Kris by swooping over to Benihana; the restaurant her father always took her to for a treat. This is one of those places where, with a great deal of deft slicing of food in midair, the chefs make your meal right at your table, which is also a terribly hot hibachi grill.

It’s a fun experience, one you should go to once or twice in a lifetime, but when the meal is prepared and the chef has accepted the applause and swept away in a flash of ginsu blade, there you are, sitting with your friends around a huge table that is also a terribly hot hibachi grill, yelling to make yourself heard.

I was feeling pretty low all week and, after Monday morning at least, I couldn’t blame it simply on hangover. After talking to Aimee about it, I’ve decided that I’m prematurely mourning the choice of one dream over another. Which is to say, we have such a full life here in Oregon, I feel so comfortable with our friends and our grand affairs together, that it’s not quite enough to say that I’m going to miss it. Of course I’ll miss it, I’m sure I’ll miss a lot of things about being a working professional with a home and just enough time to waste. And it’s ridiculous to think that by staying put we could hold onto the glory that was our Sunday in the wine country. Things would change whether or not we leave. I can accept all that. Just give me time. And a little of that Pinot Noir.
Posted by Joel at 10:13 PM | Comments (3) |