Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mission Accomplished

Yes, my goal for the week was accomplished. And it's only Thursday!
Although somewhat out of context, I got a last name.

"I'm going home to NJ tomorrow, so I might not be here for Mass."

"Oh, ok, well if I don't see you, then have a great weekend. What's your last name?"

Lesson Learned

Next time I decide to drink two cups of coffee at night, in order to "get some studying done," anyone and everyone has the unalienable right to ask me, "Haven't you learned your lesson already?"
As Peter Dennis wisely suggested last night on the phone, being awake does not necessarily guarentee that the mind is engaged. Here I was, trying to learn all the different muscles surrounding the knee joint, when all of a sudden, I could not distinguish between them. The lower extremity all became one huge muscle, and the printed text, which was gallently trying to separate it out, refused to traverse the path from my sensation to my cognition. I put it all away relatively early.
Since I could still feel my heart racing from the caffeine overdose, I decided to calm myself with some Adrienne Von Speyr, a 20th century female theologian. One page, then half a page more, then incomprehension. I put that away, too.
And I was still awake.
I turned out the light at midnight.
During the course of the next hour, my mind shouted incoherent noise: "gracilis muscle-!!-medially rotates the knee-...-no, laterally-!!-no, biceps femoris-!!-attaches in two places...etc." It was almost painful. Now I know what people mean when they say they're tired and can't sleep. But I have no excuses; my experience was due to very poor judgement, and not a pathological condition.
I woke up exhausted, still maintaining a pulse rate of 80+.
"I swear by gingko," Peter Dennis declares.

I could swear by something right now....

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Informed Consent

There's this form that patients sign when they begin treatment for physical therapy (one of the many forms you sign when you go in for any medical treatment). Basically, it says that the clinician will try to help you, and with your permission, that he can move you this way and that, and perform the necessary tests to do his job, as long as you are aware and consent.
At orientation before our PT program started, each of us signed one of these Informed Consent papers. Not only can our teachers ask us if we will demonstrate something for the benefit of the class to observe, but our classmates also have our permission to move us around in order to facilitate learning.
In order for the clinician to comply with the regulations involving informed consent, he must explain to the patient what he is doing and give detailed enough instructions so that the patient cannot mistake treatment for abuse or assault. We do a whole lot of discussion about informed consent, learning how to give specific instructions to someone so that we don't end up hurting them.
For the students, it's a lot less formal. We've been putting our hands all over each other from day one, and we're all excited about learning this stuff. Letting someone palpate my greater trochanter on my upper thigh during a lab is no problem. The whole class is very aware of patient dignity, and when I let someone else "practice" on me, he has to pretend that I'm really a patient. Usually I know what he's trying to do, and if he does it wrong, I tell him.
But it's funny how this freedom with each other has extended beyond lab. I didn't understand a concept today during our group study session. So one of the guys came over to me, moved my arm into a compromising position, applied some force to it, and told me to try to resist it with a specific muscle group.
Sure, this was in the context of studying. But as I think about it, everything I do with these people during the next 3 years is going to be in the context of studying. Even if we're not techinically "studying!"
I picture a Friday night at the bar. One of the girls stands up to go get another beer:

Janel: "Hey! Sarah! Dude, what's up with your knee? Phil, did you see how she just stood up?"
Phil: "No, I didn't. Do that again, lemme see. [Sarah stands]...ooh. Looks like you've got some seriously limited extension there."
Sarah: "Yeah, recently I don't like to fully extend. It's not painful, but it doesn't feel stable, you know?"
Phil: "Wait, can I just--"
Sarah: "Yeah, go for it. [she sits back down and Phil kneels beside her] See if you can figure it out."
Janel: "Yeah, Phil. Can you try and extend it passively, maybe?"
Phil: "It's kind of a spongy end-feel. Here, Janel, you try it. See what you think."

Completely realistic, I assure you.
I love it.

Reality Check

The past few mornings, I've gone to Mass and prayed the rosary with a former member of the Olympic wrestling team. (??) pretty crazy.
And I still don't know his last name.
Let me just point out: it is commonly stated (at least in the herds I've run in) that friendships built on Faith are the best kind. This principle is always put forth in the sagest tones, with nods of approval all around. I always nod, myself, I admit. True, in principle. But now I must offer some perspective. It would be really nice to find some chunk of time when neither of us has class, so that I can actually sit down and have a normal conversation with this person. Right now, it's kind of akin to my gym partner during my junior year at TAC. I saw him from 5:00 to 6:30 in the morning, and then not much more the rest of the day. At least we had the car ride to build some sort of comradery!
So my point is, Faith is a good foundation for a friendship, if you're going to build one! Maybe I'm just impatient, and right now it's just a good thing to know someone's waiting for me everyday at Mass.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Another Chance

I once vowed never to ignore a person I recognize, even if I don't think they remember who I am. The immediate result of this decision was a dating relationship toward the end of high school.

Maybe now I should extend this vow, never to pass up the opportunity to meet someone who crosses my path more than once.

I should have met one particular person about a year ago. Meaning, I've known who he is for at least one year; always in the same section of the church at daily Mass, always staying for the rosary afterwards. It always struck me how young he was compared to the other daily goers--around my age, I guessed. But with a large frame and considerable height: my shy side always won out over my friendly side.
All I knew was his name; we had been formally introduced on one occasion, and that was all.
I remember thinking one day, as I walked past his pew on my way out of the church, "Next time I see him, I'm going to talk to him." I saw him once more after that, but didn't get the chance....

That was my last chance, I realized. Soon afterward, I left the state to make my way back East for grad school. I said a small prayer for him, and wondered if he'd ever wonder why I wasn't at daily Mass anymore.

God continually offers us more chances. That's the beauty of His infinite mercy--that He continues to forgive us, no matter how many times we fail. But besides giving us more chances to love Him, He sometimes extends extra gifts of opportunity. Some people get to survive incredible disasters or injuries, receiving what they consider to be "another chance" in life. Some people find the opportunity for human reconciliation, and rejoice in "another chance" for a relationship.

I got another chance today. In the hallway at my university, 1800 miles from home, our paths crossed again. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. He walked right past me! I continued walking for about 7 seconds, then turned around and followed him. I was not going to let this chance go to waste. There was no shyness to overcome; there was no thought of self-respect. Curiosity and incredulousness were my momentum.

"Excuse me, is your name ---?" ...

So I'll see him early tomorrow morning at daily Mass. And then we'll pray the rosary together afterwards.
The only explanation for this is some sort of Divine intervention. I am supposed to meet this person--and probably should have earlier this year. But since I didn't, since I wasted all my opportunities, God presented me with another chance. (hit me upside the head with it, actually!)

I wonder what the significance is? I wonder if this is the beginning of a friendship which will be a source of support for me throughout my time here? Or am I to be a source of support for him? Or both? Or are there people I know that he needs to meet in order to discover his vocation? Or vice versa? Or maybe this is merely a wake-up call to me: pay attention to people around you and extend yourself the first time it occurs to you!

It will be interesting to see....

Truth (in Color)

"Are you a vegetarian?"
"No, I just can't afford to buy meat."

"You seem pretty laid back about everything; still matching your colors, while everyone around you is wearing their sweats to class."
"Well, my undergraduate college had a dress code; I haven't bought many new clothes since then."

"You make such a sacrifice to come here for Mass."
(Actually, a twenty-five minute drive is nothing compared to the price that many have to pay for orthodoxy.)

What can I say?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Thinking Like a Therapist?

Fr. C, as mentioned in previous entries, offers Mass every weekday at the high school across the street from my University.
Saturday, I noticed that Roman calendar had an optional Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since I knew of a noon Mass where I attend on Sundays, I made the trip down. Low and behold, Fr. C was the celebrant!
This morning, I went to the early Mass at the same church, and there was Fr. C again!
After Mass, he asked me, "Are you getting sick of seeing me everyday?"
I assured him I wasn't, and asked what hand he wrote with.
Apparently he wasn't expecting that question, because he hesitated before answering, "my right."
me: "What hand do you throw with?"
Fr. C: "My right."
me: "Huh. I've seen you a lot recently, and I've noticed that you seem to use your left side more than most right-dominant people generally would, but then I see you doing things with your right hand, too, ...."
I was shocked by what he told me next:
"Maybe because I had surgery on my right knee--what was that, 17 years ago now. And I had to adjust for a while and shift a lot of things to my left side. My right knee is still much weaker than my left...". (what had confused me most was how he always genuflects on his left)
I was amazed; our professors told us that we'd start noticing how people moved, and start guessing as to reasons for it. But I didn't think we knew enough yet. Here I am, thinking I'm confused about Fr. C only because I don't know very much about gait analysis.... It's really neat to be able to receive confirmation like that. Yes, this PT stuff can be for me.
Fr. C: So, is this bad in any way?
me: Oh, no! I'd only want to know if I were going to treat you.
How awesome that someday soon I'll actually be able to treat people....

Minute Triumphs

How do you distinguish in writing that you mean "my-newt" and not "minnet" when you write "minute"?
My recent "my-newt" triumph: I have recently realized that I get a lot more studying done at Frank and Sharon's house (house with the picnic table overlooking the Sound) than I do in the comfort of my bedroom abode. Especially when they're busy or not around.
This observation regarding efficiency is something of a triumph, wouldn't you agree, since some events require higher efficiency levels than others.

Leisure of the Best Kind

I was sitting outside my friends' house early this morning (even before they were awake!). The picnic table in their backyard looks out over Long Island Sound. I watched the gray sky turn a fuzzy yellow as the breeze started to nudge the clouds back over the horizon. Turning the page of my Joint Structure and Function bible, I pulled my sweatshirt on over my Sunday dress. With every paragraph I returned to, I learned more about my own knee joint, and consequently, the knee joints of all mankind.
My assignment for tutorial class on Tuesday is to present on normal knee joint motions, and then those of a knee whose ACL has been torn.

Who would have thought I could "get into" this! I thank God time and again for my degree from That Anonymous College--the place where I really learned how to "get into" learning. The amount of reading was always overwhelming to me, as I used to demand understanding of every phrase before continuing. They used to tell us, "A life of study is a life of leisure." I would always mutter some retort such as, "If I don't get it, I'm not having fun." So, a fortiori, Finals Week was the period of maximum leisure?? hmmm...which premise is "off," there?

But what excellent training all of that was! Primarily, I'm grateful for the substance of knowledge I gained. But without realizing it, I was also being trained in the method of obtaining knowledge.

I dreaded opening Joint Structure and Function this morning. Although I knew it had the information I needed, all I've been hearing from my classmates is, "It's so dense; it's so hard to read; I fall asleep after 3 pages..." anon anon anon. Gee whiz, folks! Ever try reading Hegel on a Sunday morning? Ok, let's keep it to science...Einstein? This is pleasure reading, for goodness' sake! Sure, my professor put substance into every single sentence when she wrote this book, but that just means you have to read every single sentence. Yeah, what a drag.... =b

So as I'm sitting at the picnic table, looking out over the Sound, I realize that there's nothing else I have to do today. This is my job--my vocation right now is to be a student. I can sit here all day and read about the knee joint. And by the way, I'm loving learning about the knee joint. Because I've been trained to read so as to learn. (slight stylistic plagiarism from St. Paul)

So because I'm excited about physical therapy and all the knowledge that I need to understand it more, studying about it is how I want to spend my time.

That's the kind of leisure I'm talkin' about.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Ask Dad

If you've ever seen the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," you remember that part where boyhood George Bailey is in a predicament, knowing his drunk boss has just asked him to deliver a wrong prescription to a sick woman. He's on the street in Bedford Falls, wondering what to do, when he looks up and sees an advertisement billboard exclaiming, "Ask Dad; he'll know!"
I feel like that's been the recurring theme as I phone-wrestle my bank lender, then my school, then my bank lender again, to get my hands on some loans I've been "approved for" for the past three months!

A few weeks ago, I personally visited my esteemed Director of Financial Assistance, who took my file out from the middle of a huge stack, keyed a few codes into his computer, and told me he'd send it down to "Keith," who would communicate with my bank. But we can't give you as much as you asked for. The most we can allow you to borrow is "x."
"O.k.," I say, remaining optimistic, "I think I can live on 'x.' I might be getting a job."
He responds sagely, "Can your parents help you out at all?"

Last week, I call the Student Accounts Office. I end up asking the poor woman there how I'm supposed to pay my bills until that point in time when "all the loans have arrived and the student account shows a zero balance, and then the extra can be refunded to the student."
Her reply: "Can you ask your parents for a short-time loan?"

Today, I go into the bank and talk to one of the tellers. She tells me I cannot cash the money order sent by my Dad, because I don't have that money in my account. I explain that I still don't have access to funds from my student loans, and meanwhile there are bills that have been mailed out with checks to pay them, and so soon there will be less than no funds in my checking account! So I ask, "Worse case scenario, what happens? What kind of fees am I looking at if my loans aren't in when those people ask for payment on those checks?"
"You shouldn't do that," she told me.

well, no s--t, Sherlock.

So I speak to the branch manager of my bank. Nice fellow, reminds me of my Uncle Frank.
"You know what? I don't know you," he says, "but I'm gonna take a chance on you. I'll cash this money order for you. Meanwhile, if there turns out to be overdraft on your account, take care of it within at least 15 business days, ok, sweetie?"
"Thank you so much," I say, as I clutch the rent money to my chest.

The bank manager's parting words?
yep: "And call your Dad--maybe he can send you some money to cover it for now."

What do these people think my dad does for a living?

I caved. I asked Dad.

Thanks, God, for giving me such wonderful parents.
And thanks, Dad.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Mae Therese, my most recent niece.... What a miracle every birth is!

Misdirected violence

I have this nasty habit of beating up my alarm clock in the middle of the night when I wake up to the sound of my cell phone ringing.
I could put partial blame on the annoyingly metalic quality of my cell-phone ring; it sounds like neither a phone ring, nor a soothing melody. I could also blame myself entirely for keeping the ringer volume on when I go to sleep, "just in case there's an emergency."
But what I've decided to do is thank God for the hardiness of my alarm clock, and practice my energetically awake-sounding "Hello?" for the moment at which I realize my phone is ringing.
(sorry, sis, if I was incoherent last night--I might have been trying too hard!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Speaking of prayers and exams,

Can I recruit some prayers this Friday as I take my first exam? thanks...

But, "Judge ye not, lest..."

Consider the dichotomy:
1.) Catholic-in-name university with an established "campus ministry" and two experienced resident priests: not only does not offer regular confession times, but still hasn't called back three weeks after I left a message on the machine asking to set up an appointment for confession.
2.) Catholic-in-name high school whose chaplain has been a priest for less than 6 months: offers Mass early every morning, even though only 2 people attend, one of which is a graduate student from the unaffiliated university across the street; offers his services as a confessor when noticing said student's abstinence from the Blessed Sacrament two early mornings in a row; informs student that Mass will be offered for her on a certain early morning, so if she has any special intentions, ...on the day that her sister happens to be undergoing a C-section for her 5th child!; privately asks for prayers almost daily as he leaves the chapel to teach his high school classes.

Hmmm. Spiritual nourishment sometimes flows from the most unlikely sources. But if I ever get a phonecall back from that university's campus ministry, they're in for...

"Everything in love," Dad gently reminds me.


I'm going to meet one of my classmates to study this afternoon. Guess where we're meeting? She picked it; can I just clarify that? Like I've said, I don't necessarily mind their coffee--just supporting them. But I guess they're getting some of my support today.... Starbucks: there's a monster on my corner.

Thoughts on Exams

This Friday, we will have our first exam of the year. It's the first exam of the program, actually, since it's the first year! Since last weekend, several of us have been preparing for it. There is a substantial amount of material to cover, even though we've only been in school for about 3 full weeks. I'm experiencing that in graduate school, the instructors present a concept in class and then give a list of books that we should look at on our own to reference this concept. So it's a lot of work, making sure that I understand everything that has been presented. I mean, how "full" is "full understanding?" Especially with a subject like physical therapy, where abstract ideas are difficult to think about without specific cases to reference. That aside, ...

One of my profs made an interesting, thought-provoking comment to us yesterday: "Guys, we hate exams, too. We hate giving you exams, because we hate to see what it does to you. You get all stressed out and worried, and we don't like to see that. But it's the best thing we have to measure everyone's progress through the program."

Of course, putting myself in his place, I saw what he meant. Yes, I believe he was being sincere. Our faculty wants us to stay excited about what we're doing--it's their job to help us learn, and no one likes to help someone who isn't willing.
And so I started thinking. Not only do exams show teachers where the students are in their understanding, they force the students to achieve maximum possible understanding. On average, who at that anonymous college would, every weekend, on top of their seminar readings and props, take time to get together with classmates and look at how everything fits together? Are you kidding me? It was more like, "If I read 3 pages a minute, I can be done by 7pm, grab a bagel with cream cheese, and head down to the Riveria."
Finals week was always a looming dread, but also, a unifying illumination. Sure, I pulled some all-nighters, but as I wrote those exams, I felt the never-to-be-duplicated rush, "YES! This is IT! It makes so much SENSE! Time is the MEASURE of motion!" --perhaps having something to do with the amount of sleep mentioned above, but still...unique.

I don't anticipate that type of rush this coming Friday. Somehow, I think it's different with multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank -type material. But I am enjoying the earnest discussions that are starting among my classmates and the productive study groups that are unified by the same end.

I don't think I'll ever look forward to exams, but I'm definitely developing a solid appreciation for the discipline they force me to have.

Friday, September 17, 2004


I finally tried the local coffee shop last night. A cute little place, but the tables are tiny, so it's not ideal for studying. When I study, I lay out my books across a 5-acre area. These tables were just big enough to fit a mocha mug on, if you place it carefully in the center.

Excuse me, not "mocha;" the correct word for what I drank there was a "mocha-chino." I thought I would order my usual favorite--soy almond mocha--but the girl at the register clarified, "Do you mean mocha-chino?"
"Uh,... yeah, sure," I say. After carefully watching her to see if I can figure it out for myself (I can't), I ask, "Excuse me; what is the difference between a cafe mocha and a mocha-chino?"
She explains, "A mocha-chino has espresso. A cafe mocha is just coffee with the chocolate."


So there you have it.... Case in point. Some people might find it annoying, but I think it's fun. Now I know how to order my drink there:
"I would like a soy almond mocha-chino, please; light on the flavoring."
It's a unique order from the one I'll place at another coffee shop:
"I would like a soy amaretto mocha, please; no whip, extra flavor."

And it's the same drink, with a touch of personality!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Wee hours

It being very difficult to convince my brain to think after 11pm, I have adopted an earlier bedtime during the school week. I have subsequently had to adopt the waking time of about 4am. This can be a gruesome schedule to maintain in the dark hours of early autumn mornings in New England. I foresee a special challenge right before or after a weekend--I don't generally plan to go to bed early on Fridays OR Sundays.

This morning, I heard my extremely atonal alarm go off at around 4:15. (Yes, Mrs. Gustin, I do maintain that a solitary pitch can be atonal!) My plan had been to get up early and read some material for class. As I laid there in bed with my hand holding down the snooze button, staring at the bright blue numbers, I wracked my brain for the reason why the first number was "4." I had completely forgotten my newly-adopted schedule, the fact that I had reading to do, and the concept that I really had allowed myself enough rest.
"What the heck do I possibly need to do that warrants getting up at this hour?" I distinctly remember thinking.
Nothing coming to mind, I moved the alarm time by two hours.

A few minutes later, I heard another "chime." This time, although I repeatedly slammed my hand down over the snooze button, it wouldn't stop. Then I realized--it was my phone alarm! I am not in the habit of cursing, which is beneficial in these types of circumstances. The mind isn't completely coherent, and habitual verbiage tends to take over. Mine was a mild form of sleepy frustration and again, bewilderment at what could possibly be so urgent that I should get out of bed....

So much for discipline. So much for going beyond "keeping up" with my classes.

Thank God for weekends!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Waiting for the other shoe

I hear people around here say that they bought this or that item at the "shoe market" or the "shoe store." Oddly enough, these items they're referring to are anything but shoes! They're holding up notebooks, floppy disks, decals, and sweatshirts.
When I ask where I should go to buy the requisite medical dictionary, I am told to go to the "shoe store." It's gotta be a code. A secret code.
"So, how do you get to the 'shoe store' again?" I ask nonchalantly.
Shoot. Too obvious. The person laughs as though I'm kidding (which is the signal that means, "caught your bluff but I can't give anything away").
So I wander around, looking for something that makes sense to call "shoe store" in code. Finally, I just make my way to the University bookstore, and they have it there, so I buy it. I hope the "shoe store" doesn't carry a better one....
Funny how acronyms can throw us ditzes into wild conspiracy theories!

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Italian espresso...or not?

I have some very Italian friends. They're very Italian, and they're very much my friends. My very good friend Sharon, in particular, became very Italian, when she married an extremely Italian man. A man by the name of Franco--otherwise known as Frank. She became very Italian, but she's not extremely Italian...yet.

The evidence that she isn't extremely Italian yet is this:
Frank doesn't like the espresso she bought the other day. Apparently, the brand of espresso they usually buy at the local grocery store was discontinued. So she just grabbed a different, comparably inexpensive, container of self-declared "Italian espresso." When she brought it home, Frank did not approve. Said he didn't like that kind. If you're a regular espresso drinker (which she isn't) or extremely Italian, this mix-up doesn't occur.

Sharon and I went shopping today after the special memorial Mass at St. John's. We stopped at a store where she thought they might still sell the right brand. "But he drank the other stuff this morning, and didn't say anything, so I don't know...," Sharon thought out loud while she combed the shelves for an approved brand. She ended up finding it, so she bought it. "I don't know what we're going to do with that other one," she said. "Maybe I'll just switch it to this container!"

So while I'm hanging out at their house later today, drinking "American decaf," (I've learned to label it fully!) Frank comes home. "I'm going to make some espresso," he announces. "Would you like some?"
"No, thanks," I reply. "Your wife and I are drinking American decaf and hanging out."
After retreiving all the espresso-making paraphanalia, we hear Frank's voice from the kitchen, "Honey, what's this?"
Knowing that he's referring to the impersonification of "Italian espresso," Sharon replies, "Remember, it's that stuff I bought because they were out of the right kind...."
"Oh, yeah," Frank remembers. "Wait, is this the kind I made this morning?"
"Maybe,..." Sharon hesitates.
"Yeah, I didn't like it. Didn't taste good at all."
"Oh. Well, I found the right kind today. But maybe you can offer it up until this stuff is gone," his virtuous wife replies.

At which point, I volunteer to take the "wrong" kind off their hands. I don't know what will happen to me as I continue to spend so much time with these very Italian friends, but...

I'm not even close to Italian...yet!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

A Breath of Roses

Happy Birthday to Our Lady!
I went to Mass this morning; Fr. C. is an obvious fan of Our Blessed Mother. Since it's early in the morning at a high school, he has a limited amount of time to offer Mass. He told me he's used to having time to say Mass, so it's a bit of an adjustment. But however short and summarized his homily was today, it wasn't lacking in substance or enthusiasm!
It's so beautiful to see such a good, holy priest so devoted to Mary. It's the same kind of virtue as that of a young man who "loves his mother." There's something very endearing about it because of the sincere humility it indicates. Generally, a son grows to be twice as strong as his mother; it takes a significant amount of maturity on his part to know that that doesn't mean he's twice as wise. The priests of the Church have studied Christ, His teachings, His instructions, and His redemptive mission. They have an intellectual grasp of theology far wider than most lay people. It is beautiful to see them still turn to Our Blessed Mother for guidance and intercession. "She has done so much for me," Fr. C. said this morning, in a tone that expressed both gratitude and the kind of pride a son feels for his loving parents.

It was a beautiful day. Besides Mass, I was able to go to him this afternoon for confession, and we talked for a while afterwards. He is a very very good man, and a holy priest. I am so blessed that he is here, so close to where I'm going to school.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Avoid the Monsters

As a former employee in a privately-owned coffee shop, I have come to understand the importance of supporting the small business owner. It takes special effort, but usually, that effort is rewarded with special services. For example, the atmosphere at our small establishment was conducive to relaxation, conversation, and peace, if not always quiet. It had a characteristic coziness to it from the moment of entry. We had our regulars, and then occasionally we'd hear little gasps of delight from people who were there for the first time.

I never had a problem with Starbucks until I started working at this place. It was only a matter of time before I started to receognize the impersonal, assembly-line attitude of a the Starbucks chain. Everything has to be the same, because the woman who is visiting Philadelphia from Sante Fe wants her "double-skinny-vanilla-mocha-no-whip" to taste exactly the same as it does at home. I agree there have to be standard procedures in coffee-making among all coffee shops. But the degree of creativity and specialty found in smaller shops will never be found at the local Starbucks chapter.

Some people dislike Starbuck's coffee. Personally, I never had a problem with the coffee itself. I just have a problem with Starbucks in general. It's a monster: the way it makes coffee into an efficiently-run monopoly instead of a specialized service. Starbucks realizes that people "need their coffee" in the morning. So "they" set up camp in key locations where it will be easy for people to drop in for their joe. That's a great business move; there's nothing wrong with smart business. And granted, when you need a jolt, you're not always looking for a sit-down "coffee break." But at some point, there should be a limit as to how many Starbucks establishments can sit on one city block. In the name of convenience, they're pushing out all the specialized shops that offer service. And I don't mean that this is just the natural trend of our fast-paced society (although that definitely contributes to the phenomenon). I mean that Starbucks literally threatens small businesses and tries to make them go away! I heard it from one of my bosses when I worked at the private coffee shop. "Oh, yeah! Starbucks hates us," he said. "They're trying to open a place right down the street, there, on the corner of . . . . Because we have a good clientele, they want to see us gone."

To a certain extent, no one "enjoys" having competitors that have to keep you on your toes. I'm sure it's only more frustrating to have a competitor which has an edge you can never take away or duplicate. It's one thing, in our capitalistic society, to try to outdo another business by good business sense. But to threaten the other company's existence? Just because you're bigger? That's being a monster. It would be nice if Starbucks could recognize the value of specialty shops and small businesses. Recognize the good aspects they possess. Maybe try to emulate some of them. But don't squash them just because it's possible to do so.

I avoid Starbuck's. I don't boycott it--at least not yet. I may get to that point eventually. (When traveling, they're generally the only coffee places that advertise on the highway.) But if I'm not on a road trip, or if I'm not committed to a schedule, I find the little coffee shops first.

I just looked one up this morning, actually, in this town where I'm going to grad school. So I gotta go check it out. What will the service be like? What will the specialties be? Isn't it more fun that way?

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Initial Sprint

It's Friday, but I've only been taking classes since Wednesday. Why does it feel like such a long week? The understanding of adjustment here is key. I've begun to realize how wise it is to plan the very first day of school in Kindergarten as a half day. And the first week each year be a half week. There's something tiring in the process of the encounter with something new--just taken all by itself. Nevermind the actual work you have to do--just getting the schedule and "swing of things" together is a project for the mind and body. Funny thing is, looking back the work we do in those first few days and weeks seems so simple. What a challenge for educators to keep it as such in order to allow adjustment to the learning process!

I've already begun to feel what I can only describe as "academic stress." There's nothing like it. If you forget some part of your presentation, or aren't sure about a certain thing that you're going to be tested on, there's no way out. You'd better make sure you did everything and you'd better find out how to understand something. There's no, "I'll talk to my boss and see what I can work out." And now in graduate school, you're never done. You can always research something else. (and this is just the first week!)

I imagine as adjustment settles in, the stress will also find its reasonable boundaries...

There's a queer feeling here stemming from several people already knowing one another from their undergraduate program. Dealing with cliques was never something I had to worry about at my tiny undergraduate college, because at the beginning of the year everyone was new, and then later we all knew each other. I guess that will happen here, too, with time. But for right now, sometimes I feel like the class as a whole has very immature social relations. Maybe I would act the same way, though, if I had a group of people I was already comfortable with. I hope that this will further teach me empathy for the outsiders I come across in life.

Again, the phenomenon with many things starting at one, to assume that the dynamics of today will not change three weeks from now!

Bizarre, waiting for adjustment; knowing that someday, it will all feel comfortable and smooth. Because right now, each moment of awkwardness or hesitation feels like a wide breadth of time.

Wait it out, wait it out.
It'll pass.
Prayer, trust, abandonment to the will of God....

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Last Time for Everything

Well, the next time I decide to have a first day of school, I think I'll remember to provide myself with a little more food.
I've started eating breakfast again. I used to double-fist it for breakfast:
1.) cup of coffee
2.) smoothie in a glass
But without a coffee maker or blender, that method of breakfast has quickly gone out of style. So a bowl of cereal is what I had this morning. No caffeine, which I should train myself off of, anyway. But why didn't I bring more than a bag of carrots with me to my first day of class? And why didn't I double-check to see that I wouldn't be leaving class until 5:30pm?

I think there's something very wise about going to graduate school close to home. Thank God I have a close friend here who provides the "home away from home" comforts. I mean, to give up your snuggly morning routine, cold turkey, because you don't have the necessary kitchen appliances--that requires some emotional support, not to mention some occasional visits for a cup of espresso! And the real reason I ate only carrots today for lunch? No, I'm not on some weird cleansing diet. I realized late last night that besides uncooked pasta, half a tomato, and some cheese, I had nothing to eat besides breakfast cereal and ...carrots. The carrots won as lunch food!

I'm used to being in an apartment where food doesn't run out, but I'm not the one in charge of shopping. Now I'm completely on my own, still unsure of where I should be buying food (without getting mugged), and too tired from adjusting to graduate school to worry about what I'm going to eat for the next two or three meals!

I think I've decided that this will be my last "first day of school." They're definitely not one of my favorite things!