Category Archives: School

Finish Line

Ahh, the finish line. We all know it in one form or another. The finish line is where the pain gets swallowed up by something beautiful. It is where hard work makes sense, where anything — no matter how painful — becomes worth it. The finish line is where suffering can be temporarily forgotten and quickly condensed into something tangible and complete. It is where a feeling of accomplishment erases the endless and sometimes frustrating path it took to get there.

Steps. Somerville, MA.

Crossing the finish line is the sweet culmination of so many hours, days, weeks of determination. A line as thin as thread can be the barrier between two worlds of emotion. Finishing is the moment when nothing else matters but giving those last steps, strokes, pedals, spins, twists, pushes, and landings everything you’ve got. The finish line is the justification for all the blood, sweat and tears you put into something; it is the medal everyone earns just for trying, for pushing oneself hard enough to get there in the first place. When you are one step away from that line, there is nothing else in the world — no gold, no bronze, no As, no C+s, no questions, no what ifs, no should haves, would haves, could haves… There is just you and that line, and of course, the other side of it.

Do Not Something… Old Town Quito, Ecuador.

I’m on that other side now. What I thought would be a sprint turned out to be a marathon. There’s been something almost poetic about spending the last couple weeks of my 7-Week Intensive Physics course sweating it out alongside all those beautiful Olympian, sacrificing nights out with friends, last-minute trips to get ice cream, and all the bliss of summer. I definitely don’t get a medal for anything I’m doing, but man does it feel good just to finish.

Another academic mountain has been climbed. Another challenge, faced. It might not be the kind of mountain that looks pretty in pictures, but Physics is my mountain now, and I am finally standing on top of it, looking around at the view, acknowledging the burn and sacrifice it took to get here. What can I say? This was probably the hardest academic venture I have ever taken on and now it is behind me. I am exhausted. I am relieved. I am DONE. We all know how that feels…

Argentinean girl in my tram, on the way up to the top of Pichincha, overlooking the city of Quito (15,500 ft above sea level — halfway to cruising altitude in an airplane).

Pretty fucking awesome.

Now, back to real life! I have restaurants, museums, beaches and bars to explore, friends to see, books to read, sun rays to absorb, and Olympic finals to watch. For the last 7 weeks, I’ve had to give up just about every form of fun I know in order to pursue a bigger dream. It may have felt like torture at times, but the struggle to get here makes crossing the finish line, and all that is here, on the other side, that much more wonderful.

I’ll get back to exploring Boston and silly blogging later. For now, allow me to just stop, catch my breath, and savor the burn of a hard race. It’s only a matter of time before the fight to cross this finish line is forgotten and replaced with a new one.

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Here is a simply beautiful song by a girl I went to college with. Learn more and see the much better quality official video here: first-watch-wolf-larsen-if-i-be-wrong, or just listen:

Also, while I’m relating life to the Olympics, how about you enjoy one of my favorite Olympic stories (the Kerri Strug story), for inspiration. I remember watching this happen. I eventually got to meet Kerri Strug at Chelsea Piers in NYC, where I was practicing gymnastics myself. I always hated the vault (I was an uneven parallel bars girl — that was my jam). This story gets me every time…

16-years-later-kerri-strugs-journey-to-gold.html

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5 Spots Within The Squares

The lawnmower roars next door as a sweet, grassy summer breeze floats through my bedroom. It’s all becoming home, more and more each day, and my daily explorations of the neighborhood and all its surrounding Squares (Porter, Davis, Harvard, Union, Inman) is beginning to pay off.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a local just yet, but I’m beginning to shed some of my New York skin. For example, I try not to walk around with my usual “don’t fuck with me” face (feel free to ask to see this some day, it’s obviously really intimidating though, so consider yourself warned). I smile at strangers sometimes. I even whisper the words “slow down” to myself when I’m walking (sometimes).

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Life moves at a very different pace in this town (oops, I mean city – sorry Somerville/Cambridge!) and, even though I’m used to a much faster pace, I think I’m beginning to catch up in this land of less intensity.

By now I’ve discovered some promising little Somerville spots, which I’d like to share with you before the Physics storm hits (yes, this would be “the calm”). Here is a short list of 5  places that have made me smile in one way or another, so far.

Statue in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Union Square Farmers Market – Sure, in NYC I had the (dare I say “real?”) Union Square Farmer’s Market… so I can’t exactly say this is a first. But these farmer’s markets are very different. I always dreamed of living somewhere where I could walk to a farmer’s market every Saturday and stock up on freshly baked breads, excessive amounts of leafy greens, and things I never cook with, such as rhubarb, just because I can. Now, this weekly outing will become a part of my life. Yes, there are great sources of fresh, local produce in NYC. But, for better or worse, my Saturday mornings usually led me to some delicious brunch spot instead. Having a weekly farmer’s market within walking distance is my little country fantasy coming to life! (YES, I know I am not in the “country” — give me a little more credit, people!) The Union Square Farmer’s Market might not be very big (by NYC standards), but I can still buy overpriced bags of spinach, wild flowers, or local strawberries, and end up with way more than I need for the week. Maybe a Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market will begin to replace my intense Saturday brunch tradition. When in Somerville…

Casa B – The first night I met one of my roommates, she and her Romanian boyfriend took me to Casa B. Casa B is everything I never thought I’d find “just down the street.” This newish, trendy restaurant is an interesting contrast to the somewhat off-beat little neighborhood (Union Square) full of Brazilians and Koreans. But the Latin-flare tapas restaurant quickly won me over when I walked inside; it was a modern and sleek upstairs, with fresh white tables and stylish details, but more sultry and seductive downstairs — although still comfortable enough for a gathering of friends. I was immediately satisfied with its delicious orangey sangria and a summery fava bean spread, which we generously applied to plantain chips and devoured alongside a revolving selection of tapas (the most memorable of which was the tabla de ceviches and a special vegetarian dish full of fresh, local legumes and wasabi-yuca). The place earned bonus points for having kalimotxo — a very common and popular drink in Barcelona, which consists of red wine, Coca Cola, and a splash of grenadine. While the bill added up (as it always does when ordering tapas), I’d come back here the next time I have something to celebrate… Or, just because.

3 Little Figs – One of my favorite treats is an adorable cafe. This little spot is as cute as its name. While I have yet to sample its salads, sandwiches and baked goods (I know, I know… how can I even put it on the list already!?), I did sample its chai — and it passed with flying colors. Not to mention, the staff was friendly, the ambience was happy, sunny, and bright — perfect for hanging out alone or meeting a friend for coffee, and I love that it is small enough that you know you’re somewhere precious, but available enough that I can people-watch out the big glass windows (the very few people who pass by) from a solid high chair, with my chai at my side, and my physics textbook in front of me. An hour of sitting will bring in just enough customers that I am neither distracted, nor bored. And the lighthearted vibe ensures that — even if I’m studying — I’ll be happy.

Bloc 11 – This is “that cafe” that I always want to have nearby — the one with the good coffee, the hipster on his Macbook in the corner (ok, maybe that’s not a requirement), and a mean salad (I already have a favorite — the Wisteria, which consists of hard boiled egg, pear, caramelized onion, dried cranberries and almonds topped with blue cheese and a pomegranate vinaigrette). Bloc 11 is going to be one of my regular spots for studying, or meeting a friend for an iced tea. That, I can promise.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – OK fine, this is in Boston not directly in Somerville, but it is going on the list anyway because I can’t NOT mention it. When my roommate described The Gardner Museum, she gave me a good idea of what to expect. It was enough to get me to go, without ever having heard of it (but apparently everyone else has). The second I walked in, it hit every love-of-humanities-and-art chord in my science-filled soul that I didn’t even know I was looking to hit. The museum is absolutely wonderful; the Moorish architecture, the impressive collection of Italian art… It’s truly a remarkable place, and I felt temporarily transported to Venice and Southern Spain while I wandered the many rooms of the palace (yep, I said palace). Built in the home of the New York City-turned Bostonian socialite, Isabella Stewart Gardner, it houses her private collection of art – and a very eclectic one at that. There is plenty more to say about the museum and the art, and probably Isabella, but I’d rather you check it out for yourself. This is going to be the museum I recommend to everyone who visits me in Boston from now on. You might as well put it on your itinerary.

Side view of El Morro, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

OK, I need to dash out in the sun. Since it feels like Brazil weather out there, here’s a little music to get you in the sweaty, Brazilian summer mood. Eat a mango, play this song, and keep the AC off — we wait all year for this heat, so no complaining! Happy summer, everyone!

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Filed under Boston, Coffee, Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized

Tavel Does Beantown: A Big Apple in Molasses

For some New Yorkers, moving to Boston is like sleeping with the enemy. It’s like a Bowdoin kid transferring to Colby. It makes us feel like we’re cheating on our city — cheating on our Man(hattan), if you will — and maybe some people like that feeling. There is a very subtle sense of excitement when it comes to making the switch, like we are betraying a part of ourselves or someone (Manhattan) that we love. Or maybe we’re just teasing New York, and after years of it controlling us we’ve decided to play hard-to-get. I’ve been known to tease a little… Either way, for some reason, moving to Boston makes me feel like I’m crossing a line people didn’t expect for me to cross. But, as a traveler, it is these invisible barriers that tempt me the most.

Eye contact. Old Town, Quito.

Now that I am about a week-and-a-half away from becoming a Bostonian, I’ve decided to do a little research. For starters, I needed to know why Boston is called Beantown. Now, many of you might know this already, but if you don’t, Beantown gets its nickname from when Boston was part of a triangular trade route between the Caribbean, Boston and West Africa. Sugarcane was being shipped from the Caribbean to Boston, where it was turned into molasses, and then the molasses was shipped to West Africa, where it was made into rum (and then the rum was used to buy slaves in the West Indies). Because of this trade route, Boston was full of molasses — a thick, uncrystallized syrup formed from raw sugar. Cooking beans in molasses became a popular food, and that is how Boston became known as Beantown. I like beans.

Quitenos. Quito, Ecuador.

So, I know, Boston isn’t exactly the kind of travel adventure you’re looking to read about. Sure, NYC and Boston are both big cities with many cultures, religions, and socioeconomic classes represented. But lemme tell ya — they are also VERY different in their own ways. Sometimes, I feel like people don’t talk about these differences.

In the next few months, I’d be lying if I implied I might spend my summer exploring the Boston bar and restaurant scene. The reality is that I will be doing a two-semester sequence of college level physics (1 year of physics, in other words) condensed into 7 weeks at Harvard. This might be my craziest decision yet, but I did buy myself a “Physics for Dummies” book, so I feel a little better about things. I will be doing one week of physics material per day for 7 weeks straight, and something tells me I won’t get out much during those first two months in Boston. BUT, I am not a zombie. Even if most of what I get to see of Boston (initially) is the library, I will be taking it all in. For the first time in my life, I’m going to be living in an actual house, in what feels to me like the suburbs (our neighbors have an above ground pool, and I have my first ever backyard PLUS patio furniture and a fire-pit!!). No matter how similar Boston and New York are, living in Beantown is going to be different for me — very different. And I’m excited for that.

Ecuadorian family enjoying a Saturday stroll and some ice cream. Quito, Ecuador.

Obviously, TwT hasn’t been so much about “traveling” lately — at least in the geographical sense. Someone recently told me, “I miss all the traveling! I used to read your blog to live through you and now it’s all about school…I don’t want to live through that!” Yeah yeah, I know I know. And I’m sorry! Really. But as I explained, people used to want to live through all my travel adventures — they envied me! (I envied me!) And now, nobody wants to be me, so I think that’s a good balance, don’t you think? Now you can read my blog and think, “Whew — thank goodness I’m not in pre-med classes, unable to travel, and out of money like Tavel!” Meanwhile, I can secretly know that life is still awesome — just in a completely different, less sexy, less wild way. And I plan to find more of the “awesome” in Boston.

I have to admit: there is something flickering inside me, some remnant of the “old Tavel” (the one who fell for a Dutch-Caribbean swimmer and traveled to a Caribbean island to spend a long weekend with him after spending only one day with him 3 months before that in Argentina– yeah, her!) that I think will come out in some form when I’m in Boston. I make no promises, I make no predictions, but I do feel a sense of adventure in this relatively mundane move. I will try to channel it to keep things interesting for all of you but, as always, I keep some of the best parts to myself.

As I get settled in Boston, I’m going to write a sort of “New Yorker’s Guide to Boston.” As I search for the perfect brunch spot in what has been described to me as “not a brunch city,” and I find my favorite bagel place, I will record my findings and share my impressions. And maybe, just maybe, there will be more spice to this town than I expect.

Cathedral view. Quito. Ecuador.

It may not be the most exotic ride, and it may not be a long-distance one, but living in Beantown is still going to be a trip. The adventures might be more localized these days, but I can promise you that they never stop. So, with that in mind, I hope you continue to join me as TwT crosses the NY-Boston line and I take on the smooth and the sticky molasses of Beantown… and with it, another year.

(This video is from an Oasis concert at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009).

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Filed under Boston, Life Stuff, School, Uncategorized, USA

Bull in a Classroom

A new semester has begun.

You know when those horses bust out of their gates at the beginning of a race, the jockeys whipping them with a crop, screaming and kicking as the horses’ legs spring from the dirt like it’s lava they don’t want to touch? That’s kind of how I feel (except I am both the horse and the jockey in this case, I think). The gate has flung open and it’s all systems GO now. Back to school for me!

I’ve decided to take on this spring semester like a bull in a bull fight (uhoh, analogy overload?). I want so badly to conquer this semester, to keep my focus on the red cape, to attack it, to charge through it, so I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen. Sometimes I feel more like a bull in a china shop flailing around trying to control this science thing, breaking lots of dishes along the way instead. But, hey, at least I’m going into the shop as a bull and I’m coming out a bull — no flimsy china can change that.

Bull in my path. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

This whole post-bacc pre-med thing is HARD! (Oh right, I’ve mentioned that about 50 times already — but it’s worth repeating!) I hope to have more control over the material now. Last semester, I learned more than just science; I learned how to be a student all over again — a different kind of student than I had ever needed/wanted to be. Everything I knew — about studying, about what matters in a classroom, about how to do well, about how to be a top student — was all quickly thrown out the window a month or two in. The small class sizes I had experienced my whole life were suddenly replaced with 700-person lecture courses on a subject I knew the least about. Class participation now means nothing. Who you are as a student means nothing. Only numbers count. I am a student ID number, not a person. My grades are computed by a computer. Every test is multiple choice, filled out with #2 pencils in a new class room every test. Until last fall, I had never been in a class with more than 50 people — ever, and usually there were fewer than 25. I use the word “classroom” loosely, as all our biology and chemistry lectures take place in NYU’s largest theater, with the professor on stage, attendance taken by remote control devices called iClickers that we must bring to every class (both to click in and to answer multiple choice questions throughout the lecture, which appear on a spreadsheet for the professor when he/she gets to his/her office), and we have to grab black boards to rest on our laps so that we have a surface upon which to take notes.

Every week, there are at least three quizzes — two of which are online (laced with exasperating technical problems), one of which is during our Chemistry recitations on Friday mornings. You can never sit back and relax. You can never feel on top of the material because this place is like a factory set at a very high pace, and if one link in the sequence hits a snag and slows down, the whole contraption will fail. If you ever want to get ahead, you must teach yourself the material. In fact, most of my studying is trying to teach myself material. I’ve never experienced an academic environment like this, but apparently it is the pre-med way! I’m used to being taught. I’m used to asking questions as I go, having the material explained, learning piece by piece. This is all so different — it’s on YOU to learn. It’s on you to get help. It’s on you to do well, and even you (oh, I mean me) don’t ever feel like you have total control over that part of the equation. But somehow, in this giant system, there is a chance to do well if you can find a way to grab the golden ring while the Merry-Go-Round of science spins you in circles… and I’ve got to go for it.

Galapagos Hawks. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

When I began Chem I and Bio I in the fall, I can honestly say that for the first three weeks, I had absolutely no idea what was going on (particularly in biology). It was a horrible, disarming, humbling feeling. The amount of material that was referenced and breezed over because I was “supposed to” know it already (like the rest of the fresh-out-of-AP-Bio-pre-med-freshman surrounding me — the real ones) was beyond my expectations, even though I anticipated it would be this way (but not to the extent that it was!). Taking on my least-studied subject at this level at this age has clearly been an uphill battle from the start, and it took me weeks — even months — to find my footing in this new world of science that I had been dropped into like ET on Earth (without a cute kid feeding me candy), but I think I’ve finally found that footing.

All I can say is that the learning curve has been steep! But, here I am, ready to take everything I’ve learned — both about science and about being this new, different kind of student that I have to be in order to succeed in this foreign pre-med world — and apply it to this new semester. Such is life, no?

The look of determination.... on a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands.

Every week, when I leave the spinal injury rehab and brain trauma rehab centers of my hospital volunteer job, after working with brand new paraplegics who are learning things as basic as how to get back into their wheelchair if they fall out, and brain trauma patients with staples across their entire scalp whose toughest question every morning is what is their own name, I am reminded of how much I want to do this, of how much I want to learn the skills to be able to help these people, and of how much learning is still (always) ahead.

For now, I’m just happy to have something red to charge towards.

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Vacation Without A Vacation

Vacation has been Heaven-sent. I cannot tell you how much I am LOVING the time off! (Or maybe I just did.) Well, calling the time “off” is generous; the fact is, I am pretty much constantly writing and editing my sample chapter for the second round of submissions to editors/publishers, and a second chance at making this lil’ book-dream of mine come true. It is thrilling and terrifying (in a good way) and my fingers and toes are crossed in every direction.

Chilling in the spring-like winter upstate this past weekend. Dutchess County, NY.

Writing and editing all break has been a welcome change from all the science. It’s challenging in its own way, but at least I’m working with words — my native tongue. I’m back to science — what I can now consider my third language, I suppose — in two weeks, and boy am I savoring the final days of freedom. Once it starts back up, I will be studying like there is no tomorrow. The amount of additional tiny pieces I have to put into place in order to get this whole grad school plan in motion is pretty overwhelming, but I’m trying to take it one day at a time for now.

New Year's Day sunset walk by the Hudson River. NY, NY.

Even though I’m sitting here, intensely  jealous of my friends who just posted photos from trips to Thailand, Egypt and South Africa last week, I know my “trip” is awesome in its own way — albeit less sexy. It stings a little to have to subdue the travel bug I’ve got constantly crawling around my mind, but I know I’m doing what I want to be doing. I’m trying to think of it as just having more time than usual to plan for my next trip. Lemme tell ya — when I get on that plane and fly somewhere far away from all this work (preferably with someone very special, TBD) — man, is that trip going to fucking blow my mind. Until then, I’ll keep looking at all of your photos, reading about all of your trips, minding my own business and attempting to keep my arms and head inside the vehicle I’m on.

Trying to make two dreams come true at the same time is actually one of the scariest and most exciting trips I’ve ever been on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more writing to do.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel, Winter

2011 in the Rearview Mirror

The time has come. One week ago today, I completed my third and last final exam of my first semester as a 28-yr-old pre-med freshman. For a couple weeks, it felt like the end point might never come. As friends threw holiday parties that I couldn’t attend, and family got together for annual gatherings I couldn’t participate in, I kept my head in my books with flimsy blinders on and worked relentlessly towards the large margarita I promised myself when the hardest academic semester of my life would be complete. To say I worked hard in 2011 is an understatement. Walking out of that final exam was like walking out of an airplane into the warm breeze of an island vacation (minus the warm breeze, and the island). It was absolutely liberating, like the first swim of summer, like the first iced chai of the spring, like walking out of a final exam has always felt — only bigger and better. All that matters now is that I MADE IT.

Pedicab driving through the aftermath of last year's blizzard. Winter, 2011, Central Park, NYC.

Everyone reading this post made it through something this year, so give yourself a pat on the back. Let’s look back at what the heck happened in 2011, the year of no Travels for this Tavel…

For me, 2011 was a year of change — big change. I decided to completely change my career from that of a travel writer living in South America to the career I always secretly wished I had pursued, a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I took my first standardized test in 11 years. I re-taught myself math. I used a calculator for the first time in a decade, and then a million more times after that. I got into a post-bacc pre-med program. I bought textbooks, #2 pencils, and erasers. I enrolled in classes I never thought I’d have to take. I studied science for the first time in 13 years, at a level I was unprepared for, and spent hours in the lab with goggles, a lab coat, and gloves on, handling chemicals and performing titrations. Just before it all started, I squeezed in a family trip to Puerto Rico. I moved downtown. By a remarkable stroke of luck and/or serendipity, I met a literary agent who was interested in my story. I began writing a book. I traded the adventure of traveling for the adventure of attempting the hardest career track I can think of for myself. I worked my butt off, I spent more time in the library than I did during my entire undergraduate education combined, but I haven’t looked back.

Snowman on the Great Lawn. Central Park, NYC.

I lost a friend. I lost a dear uncle. I watched as a loved one fought the fight against aggressive cancer and the subsequent effects of chemo (she’s kicking butt, thank you very much!). I missed out on a lot of fun times with friends and family by choosing to study instead (including not one, but TWO trips to New Orleans! WAH). I watched four friends and my older sister get married in some of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever seen. I watched friends become first-time mothers and first-time fathers. Sometimes I laughed so hard I cried. Sometimes, I just cried because things were hard. I spent hours working with paraplegics and brain trauma patients at my hospital volunteer job (how I wish I could say more about that). I learned more than I ever thought I could cram into a year. (This seems to be a trend lately.) In the end, 2011 was pretty life-changing. These changes will be carried into 2012, and beyond.

Sure, my big lofty goals have completely humbled me and knocked me onto my knees at times [see older posts], but that comes with the territory when you take on a challenge. I can definitely say that I’m going into 2012 with a little more swagger, and more certainty than ever in who I am, what I want, and what I am doing. So there goes 2011, in all its glory. And here comes 2012, chock-full of more challenges in the form of Bio II, Chem II, Physics I and II, and Anatomy & Physiology I and II. But with those challenges comes more opportunities for reward. And with each reward, another delicious margarita.

Onward and upward: riding towards Ruminhahui Peak in Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

It’s hard to believe how little I’ve traveled lately, but sometimes the adventure is about staying put, focusing on a goal, driving hard straight towards it, and peering out of the window once in a while to watch the beautiful scenery go by from the comfort of the driver’s seat. I’ll get out and walk around again some day soon, but this is a long drive. And in my experience, sometimes the longest drives take you to the most beautiful places. You just have to trust that where you’re going is worth it, and keep driving.

I am so grateful for 2011 and all that came with it. Thank you for joining me for the journey. Cheers to 2012, a year of working hard towards the sweet satisfaction of accomplishing what we have all set out to do. Feel free to share whatever that may be for you!

Reflection of Friends. Quito, Ecuador.

Since it is the year of the Summer Olympics (OMG, I CANNOT WAIT!! So many tall men in spandex! YIPPY!), here’s a video to keep you all motivated for whatever you’re trying to accomplish. And yes, everything relates to rowing:

Oh, and one more thing: HAPPY FREAKIN’ NEW YEAR!!!! Love, TwT.

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Falling Into Science

It’s been about three weeks since I began my transformation from travel writer to hard-scientist (well, ok, maybe that’s a stretch…intro to bio and chem counts, right?) and let me just say: WHOA. I knew that what I had signed up for was going to be a challenge and a half. I knew it was going to make me feel totally uncomfortable, out of my element, and like a Red Sox fan at a Yankees game (when the Red Sox aren’t playing)… But this is no joke. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could do it, but this is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted. That’s the truth.

This is how I look during my science lectures. Googly Eyed Blue Footed Boobie. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (Oct 2010)

I had the feeling that I would probably need some hardcore tutoring for the first time in my life (in my defense, all the post-baccs are doin’ it!), and that maybe – maybe – science would put up a pretty good fight when I showed up for this two-year-long match. But I can honestly say that this is harder, more work (goodbye social life!), and more challenging for me than even I imagined it would be. Like pain, anticipating what it will feel like in no way compares to the jolt you get when it finally takes its steel-toed boot and actually kicks you square in the ass.

There are a few ways I could describe how being in Chem I and Bio I has felt so far. As a fellow post-bacc described our biology lectures, it’s like trying  sip water from a fire hydrant. Sitting in the 600-person lecture classes full of fresh-out-of-AP-Bio/Chem-freshmen who plan on becoming doctors makes me feel like a large and awkward butter knife in a room full of steak knives, and let’s just say we’re all trying to cut the same piece of meat. My blade is a bit dull, my tool set isn’t quite right, but I know I can get through the material even if I have to work much harder and take many more passes through it than a “normal” pre-med student might have to do. Or, at least I still hope that is the case, because I’m cutting away over here and my hand is cramping up already.

I’d be lying if I said that the past few weeks didn’t totally freak me out, with sporadic moments of excitement and zeal for the challenge and for my ultimate career goals. We post-baccers are in this together, but sometimes you’ve also got to get through it on your own. I can’t write much more because I’ve got a chem quiz to study for, but I needed to emerge from the deep waters of studying to throw a sign of life out there and let you know that I’m still here!  (Somewhere.)

Finding my way out of tall grass. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador (October, 2010)

I am just trudging along, a little desperately perhaps, below the surface of my previous life in a chem and bio submarine (random fact: I’ve actually gone on a submarine ride in Barbados, and we saw a mom whale and a baby whale swim alongside us totally by chance! *Travel Gold). But every time I emerge from the water, ass-whooped-by-science in all my glory, it’s nice to see that you’re all still out there, and so is that world I’m not yet done exploring.

But I’ll get back to the great big world again once I learn a little more about it at the subatomic level. It’s fall now. And that’s the one thing I don’t plan on doing. (You can’t fall when you’re already under water, right?)

Time to keep slicing away.

In the meantime, here is a great 3.5 min video to escape it all…. Ahhhhhhhh, yes! (Courtesy of Adam M!)

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Catch

In case you haven’t picked up on this by now, my summer has been mostly about three things: school, writing, and… weddings. Other people’s. Now, there is something I should probably share with everyone…

I have been to five weddings since I graduated. For those of you who don’t know this, it’s time I confess: I have caught just about every single bouquet that has been tossed in my direction. That’s right. And no, I am not currently married, which means you can probably throw out that whole next-to-get-married thing (the first catch was five years ago… Yeah, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that a few people have probably beat me to it). Additionally, would you believe me if I genuinely said I didn’t try to catch any of them?! Yeah, I didn’t think so. But it’s the truth! Only once did I have to rip it out of another girl’s hands, but that was just because we caught it at the same time and I had the feeling I had a little more fight in me. I did. Not sure where it came from though. Maybe it was the fact that I had just gotten my heart broken by my first love for the second time (and had invited him to the wedding, which needless to say he did not attend), and I needed to prove to myself that I would find love again, somewhere, even if it wasn’t with him, and I was perfectly willing to destroy a beautiful wedding bouquet in order to prove this to myself.

Flowers with Cotopaxi Volcano in the background. Altitude: about 15,000 ft. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

The first catch was the most incredible. It happened at my first wedding since college, and I was semi-secretly dating my ex-boyfriend’s best friend (oops) — but it wasn’t like that! There was something between us, and there had always been some sort of tension/interest/flirtation there (err, if you know-who-you-are is reading, hello! I should start getting used to this awkwardness, huh?). This stuff builds when you spend every year of college on a coed team wearing nothing but spandex and talking constantly of holding onto oar shafts, catching crabs (a rowing term, I assure you), and adjusting nuts (and bolts). I could go on, but just trust me on this one.

I was having an absolutely fantastic summer, and was happy and excited to be at the wedding of my crew coaches — two ex-Bowdoin rowers who met at Bowdoin, on the crew team, then coached the Bowdoin crew team together, and were my first real glimpse at what I ALMOST had, I suppose.

The wedding took place at the bride’s family’s farmhouse in somewhere-way-more-than-20-minutes-outside-of-Boston, MA. I was off to the side, having an intense, giggly heart-to-heart with a coxswain friend, Becky, when we heard the call for all the single ladies to get on the dance floor.

Uhoh.

Becky and I grimaced. We quickly decided that we were not going to participate… For one thing, I didn’t really feel like I was totally single, and I did not want to be a spectacle of any sort. Generally speaking, I find the whole bouquet-catching thing a little odd and uncomfortable, sort of like watching a rehearsed “first-dance” by the bride and groom (sorry to all the brides and grooms I’ve watched do this– I just don’t get that whole thing! It isn’t for me but you’re the ones getting married so you can put me in my place do your thing).

A crab in hiding. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

We decided the smart thing to do was to slyly back ourselves away from the tented area and into a nook where we could continue our conversation in private. That’s when I heard some guy friends yell “TAVELLLL!! Get over there!!” This reminded me of when my entire grade decided to play Spin the Bottle during a ninth grade class trip, and my friend Jessica and I decided to hide in the bathroom instead because we were…petrified. We spent about an hour sweating bullets on the floor of the bathroom, thinking that – at any moment – someone might notice we weren’t out there and organize a witch hunt to find us. We giggled in a cold sweat on the floor of that tiny bathroom until all signs pointed to the game being over. I’m still not sure what I was so afraid of, but hey – I was young. Of course, it wasn’t exactly like that at the wedding (I’ve kissed a few boys since then), but I felt silly standing out there trying to catch a bouquet, pretending I wanted something which, at the time, I didn’t think I was allowed to want.

We kept telling people who tried to urge us onto the dance floor that, “Nah, we’re going to sit this one out…” But then the guy with the microphone took notice and said “Is there someone named Tavel over there, come on out!” So Becky and I held hands and decided we’d just go over and participate so that everyone would leave us alone.

A cluster of girls had formed so we tucked ourselves way in the back of the crowd and kept talking while the whole shebang went on. There was a drumroll, a little commotion, and then it happened: the girl directly in front of me jumped up to catch the bouquet, which was flung powerfully in our direction, and it hit the tip of her finger, then tumbled straight down, DIRECTLY into my hands. Now, I couldn’t see ANYTHING. I wasn’t reaching for the flowers, I wasn’t even in a catching position… I was literally in the back of the pack with my hands out because I was talking to Becky when it landed smack in my arms. The girls backed away to see who had caught it and Becky and I just stood there, stunned. At first, I didn’t know what to do. Then I started getting congratulations from people, and kisses and hugs from the bride and groom, not to mention several of my guy friends. Hey, I like winning. Did I just win? I sure felt like I had.

That was the first catch.

The most recent catch was at a wedding in CT. I have photographic evidence of this too (see below). Basically, I hesitantly placed myself in the shrinking cluster of “single/unmarried ladies” (I was dating someone great, but I think this still included me) and waited. For whatever reason, I knew it was coming right for me before it was even tossed. I also knew I was going to catch it. So, I waited, and there it was. I didn’t even have to budge. Yay. I think. Now what?

Bouquet, complete with Eagles garter which was slid onto my thigh in front of everyone.

I am at exactly the halfway point in my Statistics course. Tomorrow, I have exam #3 of 5 (we have one every Monday — lovely). Beginning in two weeks, I have four practically back-to-back weddings lined up. I don’t know if I’ll catch any more bouquets, or whether or not I even want to get in there and try, but I guess you never know. At this point, it’s more of a game for me. Any significance related to the tradition has been zapped of meaning. I’m just taller and lankier than most of the girls. I assume that’s why this catching bouquets thing has come so…naturally to me. (Or is it something inside of me screaming out to the world that I want something some day that I don’t have – yet?! Hmm. Better not to go there.)

When I was a younger twenty-something, I guess catching the bouquet was like reading a horoscope: you are secretly ashamed that you’re doing it but sometimes we need a little clue from the universe about whether or not someone or something wonderful is right around the corner. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that catching a bouquet at a wedding can be an empty promise, just like reading a horoscope, and forming New Year’s resolutions only once a year.

The great thing is that life throws bouquets at us all the time. You can stand there with your arms in ready position, wearing a pretty dress, waiting to catch one or snag it out of someone else’s hands, or you can stand in the back of the pack, with all your attention on something else, because — at least in my experience — that’s when it lands right in your arms.

And now, I must begin studying for my Statistics exam.

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Filed under Life Stuff, Love, School, weddings

Two Years of TwT

Two years. Two freakin’ years. Exactly one year ago today, I wrote this post: One Year of TwT. I was in Ecuador, unsure of (but excited about) everything, hurting from a couple of my most major heartbreaks, and trying to navigate my way through a dream job that didn’t necessarily answer my questions or quell my secret wish to be in healthcare. Two years of learning, of risk-taking, of leaps-of-faith, of putting myself out there (and yes, I’m a little sick of myself too, don’t worry). Travel writing was still a dream job in many ways, but one that I was realizing more and more may not have been my dream job, afterall.

Over 15,000 ft up, atop Ruminahui Peak with Cotopaxi Volcano and interns Allison (L) and Emily (R) in Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador. October 2010.

When I started this blog, I felt wholeheartedly like travel writing was going to be my escape route from a life that was feeling a little too mediocre for me — maybe even not me at all. I needed za-za-zoo in every form. Travel became a passion to replace passion, and writing became the support that replaced support, but how could I say that even the two together were not enough? I had to dedicate myself entirely to one dream in order to know whether or not it was going to last.

Sometimes I can’t believe all that happened in the past year — coup attempts, the Galapagos Islands, the World Cup, Juan the Amoeba (grr!), quitting my job in Ecuador, moving back to NYC, applying to post-baccs, switching careers – first, in theory then it actuality, going back to school, and all the people in between. To think that I have even the slightest chance of capturing all this in book-form (pray to the publishing gods, please) is unreal, unbelievable, and yet it makes absolute sense to me right now. But, the important thing is: I lived a dream. No other way of saying it. And yes, the dream turned out to be imperfect, but it came true. (I just happen to have more dreams!)

View from the Cathedral overlooking Old Town Quito, and clouds. Summer 2010.

I am writing from the other side of my first college course since…err…college. I did it.

Yes, I learned a lot very quickly, I made new friends, and I even managed to submit my final sample chapter to my literary agent (double YAY), but the work is only intensifying right now. The hunt for an editor/publisher begins (anyone out there?! haha. OK sorry, had to.). Two days into my second semester-condensed-into-six-week course — Statistics — I am realizing that this is going to be even tougher and more time-consuming than the first course. I’ve even gotten to use a calculator for the first time in ten years (and I figured out, all by myself, how to calculate standard deviations with it). While Developmental Psychology may have wiped the dust from my brain, Statistics will hopefully grease the wheels.

You’d think, logistically, that it might get easier every class… But no. While yes, there are correlations (see, I’m already talking like I understand statistics) between Developmental Psychology and Statistics, these seem to be two very different beasts for my brain right now. And then, come fall, I will be doubling up with Chem I and Bio I (plus labs, obvi), a workload that promises to be, um, challenging for a girl who hasn’t thought about either subject in 12 years (to say the least).

Leaves in the cloud forest. Mindo, Ecuador. Summer 2010.

Meanwhile, summer keeps on glowing. I’ve spent weekends by the pool upstate, as planned, and weeknight with the occasional glass (or maybe shared bottle) of wine (but, really, mostly doing homework or studying for exams, which I will have every Monday for the next six weeks — OY).

Today, in a fruitless quest to find a dress for at least one of the four weddings I somehow plan to attend during the remainder of this summer (did I mention I’m also a maid of honor for my sister’s NOW LEGAL wedding in August!?), I tried on a way too short and tight sexy little thing because I couldn’t resist its sparkles. It was totally inappropriate. I’d be lying if I said that I am not still covered in glitter after taking it off. Only now, it feels celebratory and appropriate, like I’m my own TwT party’s confetti. But, the reality is, I’ve got to get to bed because I have my first Statistics lab in the morning.

Two years ago, I was in NYC starting this blog with a heavy heart and no clue where I was going with it. One year ago, I was in South America living a travel writing dream that made me wonder if it was enough. This year, the whole plan has shifted and I’m back in school doing pretty much the opposite. I promise I’m not insane — I’m just a very active participant in this life thing.

All of this began when I started TwT, unsure of all that would unravel in my life around it. Now, it continues with TwT. And, hopefully, all of you.

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Filed under Ecuador, Healthcare, Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel

That Summer Place

Summer has arrived. YAY YAY YAY. (If you haven’t picked up on this by now, I’m a major warm-weather girl.) But this year, I’m a student in the big city. I need your help getting to those special summer places we’ve all been before… The ones that give you chills of excitement during the winter, the ones for which we wait all year, the ones that come with dripping slices of watermelon and pink toenail polish — BBQs outside, humidity-heavy breezes, and road trips out of the city, the ones that are about to arrive because TODAY is the very first day of my favorite season… It’s sweet, sweet SUMMER TIME!!

View of Adirondack chair and pool at my parents' place upstate. Dutchess County, NY.

Last year I spent my summer in the perpetual spring of Quito, Ecuador. I was over 9,000 ft up in the stunning Andes mountains, but couldn’t stop dreaming about sea level. This year, I will fill my summer with as many weekends in Dutchess County by the pool as I can. Man, I love summer weekends.

No matter where future summers take me, the summers of my childhood can never be replaced. Back then, life was as simple as the crinkly grass under my feet. All I was looking for in my life was blue sea glass or an extra pretty shell. I spent each summer at a beach house on the North Shore of Greenport, LI called Rocky Bluff. My parents began renting the house with another couple before they even got married. We continued to spend our summers in Greenport until there were just too many Tavels to squeeze in the old cottage. Not to mention, rents skyrocketed as the nearby Hamptons became, well, THE Hamptons, but Greenport always remained a slice of Heaven; it had the happiness and peace of a still-undiscovered perfect place, far away from the swankiness of the it-town.

Summers revolved around life in the backyard eating corn on the cob with our neighbors, and playing imaginary games of shipwrecks with my then three siblings using the washed up driftwood, seaweed and garbage that covered the shore. Our backyard smelled constantly of ocean and honeysuckle, fruit was as ripe and fresh as I’ve ever tasted it, and we’d eat only vegetables from our overly successful garden, which we tended to daily with the help of my once organic-farmer dad and our neighbor Byron, who looked like Elvis Presley. Oh, and the fresh fruit pies from Briermere Farms – the best, freshest pies in the world. How could I ever forget the pies?!

This summer, I’m obviously doing the whole student-thing (and they weren’t kidding: it’s hard work!). I’m also writing, and working on a book dream. But no complaints! Things are off to a wonderful start. I’ve got some really good new people in the picture and great old ones, too. I’m doing my best to balance everything (school, writing, pressures of academia, friends, special friends…) with summer’s sweet charm, but  things are inevitably going to spin off-balance here and there, and that’s ok. I just hope I can get some “summer” out of this summer, while working my butt off.

Wave. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

As we all know, I’m staying put for a bit. (Read: a “bit” — this is deliberately vague, as we never really know where life will take us next. Can I please still believe in that a little?) I’ve begun wanderlust-ing for Thailand pretty hardcore. Not to mention the constant yearning to stroll beside the Alhambra with the sweet citrus scent of orange trees and ham in Southern Spain, or even the simple and constant desire to be by the sea, near wild blueberries, somewhere far away from the city…

But summer as a student in the city is different. And mine needs your help.

Because I cannot travel right now, I would like everyone to contribute — as a comment — a few sentences about their favorite summer place (how does it feel, smell, sound, and taste? where is it? why there?).  What is your ideal summer setting? Let’s all sip a sangria (or iced coffee, depending on time of day people!) while we read, and let real life and it’s imperfectly busy moments wash away with our footprints in the sand, at least for a few shared moments on TwT…

Take us to your summer place, wherever it may be, and feel free to recommend exact hotels, beaches, B&Bs, or whatever…

Now, about that sangria… I’ve gotta make some. And soon.

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Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized