Auschwitz

I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in spirits or monsters or witches or anything of the sort. Auschwitz, however, is the most haunting place I’ve ever visited.

We entered in a hot, sweaty crowd of tourists. German, French, Russian, Polish, Spanish, and English conversations swirled throughout the crowd. It was June and dozens, if not hundreds of people swarmed to the site of one of the greatest atrocities in human history, cameras ready, bright red fanny packs bulging around their waists, prepared to take in the sites.

The tour guide lead us from room to room, peppering us with facts and figures through a microphone headset in accented English. I could barely pay attention. The entire tour was a blur. It was uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable.

I didn’t take pictures, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, but images are still burned into my mind; a list of all the lives lost in the holocaust, covering both sides of a long hallway in terribly small print; the ashes and hair of people burned alive; the grooves in the walls, dug by human fingernails as desperate people tried and failed to escape certain death.

There is a room full of shoes; men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes, which are mostly a big grey mass at this point, but here and there is a faded red leather pump or dirty red tennis shoe. Other displays show the prosthetic limbs and suitcases of the victims. The most haunting, however, was the hair. A huge display shows an unforgettable mass of filthy hair cut from the thousands of victims’ heads. The inhumanity makes me feel nauseated just remembering it.

We were quiet as we were led through this place, this awful place where so much happened, where so many lives were not just lost but needlessly tortured to that bitter end. I felt cheap, tasteless, touring this the place of so many innocent men, women, and children’s demise. But I couldn’t look away. It was like a horror movie, when you see the serial killer creeping up on the innocent man going about his business and you want to look away before the poor guy is bludgeoned to death, but you can’t. Auschwitz was like this, but 100xs worse because it was real.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but Auschwitz was haunting.

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Adventures in Body Modifications

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I didn’t get my first piercing until I was 13 years old. Neither of my parents have any tattoos or piercings (not even ears!) so they didn’t let me get my ears pierced until I was old enough to care for them myself. I remember the time in my life pretty well…

In the span of a few years I had 3 different friends get their ears pierced at a popular chain jewelry and accessories store in the mall, at two different store locations. All three of them became infected (two of these friends to this day have not gotten their ears re-pierced). This temporarily deterred my desire to get holes punched in my head. When I turned 13, however, I revisited the idea. I looked into different options and talked to local folks who did piercings and settled on Wal-mart. The lady at the jewelry counter was an older woman, very sweet and grandmotherly with plenty of experience; she reassured me that it wouldn’t hurt and she’d done this tons of times on kids and even babies.

I remember I didn’t get my ears pierced that day, but within a few weeks I went back with my mom, selected simple diamond studs ($10 with free piercing, a steal!) and nervously sat behind the jewelry counter while the piercing lady got the gun ready. She marked my ears and asked me if they looked even. I said yes. I closed my eyes, and felt a slight pinch in my right ear, then my left. I let out a breath opened my eyes and looked in the mirror at my freshly pierced ears! She gave me cleaning solution and told me to clean them 2-3 times a day and don’t touch them too much. Of course I wanted to play with my new accessories constantly, but was reminded that touching them introduces unwanted bacteria and can lead to infection.

Waiting 6 weeks to change the earrings was agony at 13, but I waited and finally, after 6 weeks I took out the diamond studs and checked out the holes in my ears. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning, ready to try out some cute little pearl studs. But they wouldn’t. Go. in. The holes had closed up somewhat overnight! With some work and a little pain I was able to punch the original studs through the tiny film of skin that regrew overnight*. I didn’t leave my earrings out overnight again for a long time after that.

My next piercing was a second set of ear lobe piercings. I was 17 when I decided to go for the double pierced look, and luckily my parents were on board. My grandmother offered to pay for the piercing as a birthday gift. We went to walmart one afternoon, ready for round 2. I browsed the jewelry, including various studs and even a do-it-yourself piercing kit. Once the lady at the jewelry counter (I do believe it was the same sales clerk from 4 years before) was free my grandmother told her we were there to get my ears pierced. “Is she 18?” the lady asked. “No,” I answered. “You have to have a parent’s permission if you’re under 18.” “I’m her grandmother,” my Nana told her. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but it has to be a parent. If it was up to me that would be fine, but it’s a law.”

So we left, exasperated with the system for their rules. “Mom, they sold piercing kits there!” I said in frustration when I got home and told my mother what happened. “We could’ve bought one, brought it home, and *you* could’ve pierced my ears, but to have a professional do it, I have to have you there.” She agreed that it was ridiculous.

We went back the next week, my mom and I, to finally get my second set of holes. It was much the same as the time before, but I was less nervous.

My 3rd and final piercing experience was when I was 21 (again, four years later). I decided to get a cartilage piercing. I did a little googling, and found many people recommend against the piercing gun in favor of a needle. So I looked into tattoo parlors nearby and settled on one about an hour and a half from me, but down the street from a friend of mine. This friend had gotten a tattoo from the parlor and recommended them.

I went to visit that friend one Friday night. We may have had a few drinks. Saturday morning we rose, not necessarily feeling 100%. We carried on with the plan, and I went to the tattoo parlor. The artist and I discussed placement (she complimented my ear shape) and the earring she’d be putting in, a hoop.

I sat nervously in the chair, with my friend nearby for moral support. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and felt a pinch, then she said “we’re done!” She handed me a mirror and I checked out my new piercing. It looked badass. I was very pleased.

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We discussed payment and cleaning. I stood up to get my wallet and the world swooped around me. I felt like I was going to fall down face first on the tattoo parlor floor. “Are you okay?” One of the patrons asked. “Yeah, yeah, just…Dizzy” “It’s totally normal,” the artist said calmly “I just opened a red bull do you want some?” I nodded, embarrassed. She gave me a small cup with red bull and said, “just sit down back here as long as you need to.” The concerned patron even gave me a Capri Sun juice pouch.

After a few minutes, I felt better, paid, thanked everyone, and my friend drove us back to her place.

For the next 6 months I cleaned my new piercing regularly. Twice a day, every day. I didn’t have any issues with it. After 6 months, according to the person who pierced my ear and multiple online sources, my piercing was all healed up. I decided not to take out the earring though, as I was satisfied with it. I continued to clean the piercing irregularly, just in case.

About 3-4 months after the healing process was over I fell ill. Most notably, I had a low-grade fever. My piercing was very tender, so I asked my husband to look at the back of my ear. “Oh my god! It’s really red and swollen…we need to take this earring out.” Never having removed it before this wasn’t the easiest task. We finally got the earring out (with quite a bit of pain for me and quite a bit of swearing from my husband) and it was so gross. I won’t go into detail but there was a lot of pus and ickiness**

Luckily, removing the earring did the trick. My fever went down, I started feeling better, and the piercing eventually stopped leaking pus. I still haven’t gotten it re-pierced, although I’d like to. And my husband and I have plans to get tattoos, but that hasn’t happened yet either. I know for future body modifications I’ll be more careful, and take out the earring once in awhile.

Did you enjoy my story? What piercings/tattoos do you have? Share your stories and pictures in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you! Share this post on Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

*I don’t recommend this method. Go to someone who knows what they’re doing if you piercing closes up.

**If you suspect you have an infection, please visit a medical professional for guidance.

Happy Independence Day

Hello everyone,

Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone a happy independence day weekend. I hope you all are enjoying some vacation time. There won’t be a new post this week (other than this one) because I’m taking some time off. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and stay tuned for new posts every Sunday starting back up next Sunday, July 9th.

Have a great week!

The Globetrotting Scientist

Learning a Language Part 1/3: How to Pick A Language

Welcome to the first installment of a new summer series: Learning a New Language from our guest author, David Anthony.  David is a senior at North Carolina Central University, a novice computer programmer, rock-climber, and huge language nerd.  This series will explore the how-tos of learning a new language on your own, no college courses required.  The first of three articles will focus on choosing the right language for you.  Look out for new installments on the last Sunday of every month. Enjoy!

PART 1:

Want to know what you can do right now that will make you richer, smarter, and sexier? Fluently speaking a foreign language! I know a lot of millennials and travelers dream of being able to order in a Mexican restaurant in perfect Spanish, or debate Descartes in flawless French. While I can’t promise those results, this guide should help you get started on the path to fluency much faster than traditional methods. Nothing I’m mentioning is voodoo or snake oil, but it’s not obvious to most people when they’re trying to learn a foreign language. It sure wasn’t to me when I first started learning.

My name’s David, and I’ve been studying foreign languages for close to 9 years now. I’ve taken language classes in high school, as well as studying on my own using various methods. As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m also on my way to India with the Critical Language Scholarship. In terms of languages I know in descending order: English is my native language; I’m pretty comfortable in Swedish and Norwegian, conversational in German, and I used to be conversational in Russian and Serbian, although those have atrophied quite a bit. I’ve also casually studied at least a dozen others, including Urdu, Japanese, and Egyptian Arabic. Perhaps not an impressive list from a polyglot standpoint, but enough that I feel qualified to write up this 101 style how to guide.

So, I think the first question that needs to be answered is “Which language should I learn?” The answer: whichever one you are passionate about. Don’t get swept up in whatever “sounds beautiful” or will be most useful. The most useful language is the one you know well. Say you want to learn a language so you can be more competitive for a job in business. Chinese, Hindi, and German are all obvious ones that come to mind. But what if none of those interest you? What if you’re really interested in learning about Cambodian culture, and would rather study Khmer instead? That’s totally okay. If you’re truly passionate about it, you’ll make quick strides and will develop fluency much more quickly. Fluent Khmer is better than phrasebook Chinese on your resume. The same rule applies if you’re just learning for personal reasons. When you learn a language, you’re really learning a culture. Languages don’t exist in a vacuum. Find a specific, concrete reason to learn a language. Don’t be discouraged if it’s a smaller language. Using the Khmer example from earlier (and I’m betting you probably didn’t even know Khmer was a language), Khmer has 16 million native speakers. Even though it’s a “small” language, there’s absolutely no way you’ll ever run out of people to talk to. If you’re willing to work hard enough, any language is an attainable goal.

Next post, I’ll dig deeper into some resources you can use to get started. In the future, I’ll also start talking about some tactics for learning quickly. Hope you enjoyed the post!

Thanks for reading! Are you multilingual? What made you decide to learn another language? Tell us about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share it via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

At-Home Genetic Testing–What Information Should Companies Be Able to Provide?

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When asked about your origins, do you tell others you’re 50% German and 20% Irish and a little bit Polish, Dutch, and French? Have you ever wondered exactly where your family is from? For around $200 you can unlock the secrets of your own genetics. Many online services including 23andMe, Ancestry.com, Orig3n, and others offer kits to test your genes. Simply spit in a tube and send it off with the fee and they’ll send back stats about your roots. Pretty cool, right? But what about the other information they can provide? Your risks for certain cancers, diseases, and other disorders could be given to you in hard numbers. But what do you do with that information?

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When these tests first came out, they handed you an armload of information, but no means to interpret it. The FDA realized that this information was causing people unessescary panic, so they froze the ability to provide information about genetic predisposition to diseases, only allowing companies to provide the public with their family history of origin. This past April (2017) the FDA partially lifted this ban, allowing 23andMe to provide you with your risk for 10 diseases. According to CNN, these diseases are: “Parkinson’s; late-onset Alzheimer’s; celiac disease; a movement disorder called early-onset primary dystonia; a disorder that elevates your risk for lung and liver disease called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency; a blood clotting disorder Factor XI deficiency; an organ and tissue disorder called Gaucher disease type 1; a red blood cell condition known as G6PD; hereditary hemochromatosis, an iron overload disorder; and hereditary thrombophilia, a blood clot disorder.”

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While it’s amazing that this information is available to you at a low cost, what do you do with it? So you find out you have a 90% of developing Alzheimer’s. There is no cure, no treatment, nothing you can do about it. I would highly recommend talking to a genetic counselor. They can discuss with you what these numbers mean, and what you can do about it. Always keep in mind that your results are not a diagnosis. Even a high risk of a disorder does not guarantee that you will develop it.

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Genetic testing is an amazing scientific advancement. If you can afford it, I would recommend getting your genes tested. You can learn so much about your family history and yourself. Just be aware of the accuracy of the tests and what to do with the information you receive. Happy learning!

Did you like this post?  Have you ever gotten your genes tested?  Tell us about it in the comments below!  Share via Facebook or Twitter, and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Resources:

http://www.fox5atlanta.com/health/fox-medical-team/261335319-story

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/health/23andme-fda-approval-genetic-disease-test-bn/index.html

Spontaneous Beach Trip

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I had a hard week at work the other week. I won’t go into details, but I was feeling very overworked and underappreciated. By Thursday I was a big ball of stress. My husband brought me dinner at work, and somehow we decided to go to the beach that weekend.

We live about 2-2.5 hours from the nearest beach, so it’s easy to do for a weekend. He wanted to go for just the day, but I didn’t think it would be worth it. So Friday evening we booked an Airbnb. Less than 24 hours in advance we booked accommodations for Saturday night. We packed in a flurry, thinking “are we really doing this?”

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Now, I don’t believe in fortune-telling and I firmly believe you make your own destiny. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy fortune cookies! A couple of weeks before this spontaneous trip, I went with some coworkers to a Chinese restaurant where I got a fortune cookie. My fortune was “there are unexpected adventures in your future.” I loved it. I taped it to the mirror in my bathroom. No, it doesn’t actually predict unexpected adventures, but perhaps it inspired them?

After a flurry of packing and a good night’s sleep, we got up and headed for the coast. This was before summer, so it wasn’t peak season yet and we were going to be among the only tourists around.

We arrived at the address of the Airbnb. We called our host who helped us with parking and brought us up to his apartment. Let me pause right there and say the idea of staying with a stranger makes me uncomfortable. Our previous Airbnb stays have always been whole apartments, and this time we were just renting a room from some guy off the internet. However, our host turned out to be a really nice doctor who showed us our room and pretty much left us alone.

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After dumping our stuff in the little bedroom with adjoining private bathroom, we changed into swimsuits and headed for the beach. It was a quick 10 minute drive, and getting out of the car, smelling that salt air and hearing the crashing of waves, I could already feel the stress of my crazy week fading away. While my husband braved swimming in the cold water in March, I set up my towel on the sand with a novel. After who knows how much long I woke up to my husband asking if I wanted to leave or if he should feed the parking meter. “Mmm I can stay longer” I answered sleepily. He kissed me and left to feed the meter. I tried to go back to my book, but ended up just soaking in the sun.

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That evening our host was at work, so we got some food to-go and ate at the counter in the kitchen of our Airbnb. We had talked about going to some bars, but ended up having a couple of glasses of wine at “home,” relaxing, and enjoying being away from home for the night.

The next morning we went to a cute bagel shop across the street from our Airbnb. It was predictably packed, as it was Sunday morning. The bagels were to die for! That’s why you should always try the local shops and restaurants when you travel–you might find the best bagel of your life!

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After our bagels, we drove about half an hour away to the aquarium. It’s a great aquarium, and we had a lot of fun looking at the fish, and feeling like kids again. Our stomachs started rumbling again, but we didn’t want to pay for overpriced food at the aquarium so we just started driving back home with the plan to stop when we saw something that looked good. A little burrito place caught our attention. We stopped and went in. It was probably 2-3pm, but we still had to wait for a table. The restaurant had kind of a Dia de los Muertos skulls theme. We were finally seated and found out we got unlimited access to their salsa bar. They had about a dozen different salsas and I think we tried most of them. Then came our meals. Oh man. To die for. The service was great, the food was great, the atmosphere was casual and cool, and the prices were low. Always. Eat. Local.

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After stuffing ourselves with burritos, the last thing we wanted to do was drive back home, but alas, our spontaneous beach trip was coming to an end. We dragged our full bellies back to the car, and drove home. Would I take a spontaneous trip again? Hell yeah. But when? Who knows…. 🙂

Have you taken a spontaneous trip? Tell me about it in the comments! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

The Anniversary Party

In April of 2012, my grandparents celebrated 50 years of marriage. My dad and his two brothers got together (despite living in different cities) to plan a (partial) surprise 50th anniversary party for them. A local staple restaurant had recently re-opened, so they chose it for the venue. A date was set, word was spread, out-of-town guests made arrangements to visit, and unbeknownst to me, my now-husband was purchasing an engagement ring.

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After a whirlwind of planning, the day of the party arrived. My boyfriend had met my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and 1st cousins, but had not yet been introduced to my extended family. I was nervous, but excited.

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My dad and uncles had booked a private room at the restaurant, and told my grandparents they were taking them out for their anniversary. My grandparents had no idea that us grandkids would be there, nor that their siblings (some of whom came in from Texas and Georgia) were in attendance. They were thrilled, to say the least. We all had a nice dinner and anniversary cake and took some photos.

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While in line for the salad bar, my now-husband ended up in line behind my dad. (I honestly have no idea where I was at the time or how I missed this exchange.) Not being the most formal or wordy guy, my now-husband said “hey, can I ask you a question?” My dad turned to him and said “yeah, sure.” “Can I marry Allegra?” My dad, also not being the most formal or wordy guy, smiled and said “yeah.”

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Around a month later, while hiking in a local park, he got down on one knee and pulled out a ring. But that’s another story for another day.

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Did you enjoy this post? I wanted to share a personal post to mix it up a bit and help my readers to get to know me better. Do you want to see more posts like this? Let me know in the comments below. And as always, share via Facebook or Twitter and follow me here on WordPress!