Hiking the Smoky Mountains

After a 4 hour drive from Nashville I went directly to my first hiking spot to stretch my legs and view one of the many waterfalls accessible by trail. Cades Cove is a lovely scenic drive with multiple family hiking trails throughout. Beware if you decid to head there in the afternoon, when crowds of tourists are doing the same (I would recommend going before 10am to avoid the heavy traffic). The short hike to Abrams Falls was a great and easy way to begin my hiking adventure (especially after staying up all night dancing). Being an avid hiker back home in New England I am no stranger to the solitary climb and quiet walks through forests. I was surprised to find that I was rarely alone for more than a minute as the trail was well known and crowded. Although most would say it is not about where you are going, but instead the journey to take you there…I would argue the opposite for this hike. Abrams falls was a gorgeous place to stop and take in the sunny day. I then checked into my hotel in Gatlinburg, which was only a few minutes away. Although I had plans to explore the town, crowds of touring families and long lines lead to a night in of recovering and take out (much needed I may add). The next morning I grabbed an amazing breakfast at Log Cabin Pancake House (delicious hash browns) a few steps from the hotel and hit the road. It was colder than expected and due to the weather Ramsey Cascade was closed. After looking up different hike routes I turned back for Pigeon Forge only to stumble upon an art community I couldn’t resist exploring. I spoke with the owner of one of the galleries and he recommended staying in Greenbriar to avoid the crowds and hike the same trails as the natives (we spoke about our shared love for Boston as well!). Porters Creek Trail (about 7.2) miles was a great hike with many green hills and even a surprise waterfall, where I stopped to have my trail mix. This hike was entirely about the journey and I was happy to have found it! I met another hiker who gave me one of his maps and some advice about other trails. I then headed to Bryson City, NC where I had rented a cabin in the mountains. I took Newfound Gap to get there and enjoyed the spectacular views as I drove through the mountains, this is a MUST for anyone visiting the Smokys. Knowing that the weather may not hold up the next day I stopped at one of the waterfalls I had planned on seeing. Just a quick hike up the steps Mingo Falls in Cherokee is a larger waterfall on the Indian Reservation with a great view from the wooden bridge. After a long rest to enjoy the falls I checked into Cathy Cabin (Rock Creek Cabins) and enjoyed a fantastic view of the sunset and mountains from the back porch and hot tub. One word…heaven :)


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Nashvegas round 2

Day two in Nashville began with a chilly start. I was “pleasantly” surprised when greeted at the door with a snow flurry. Although it adjusted my plans slightly, I decided to drive to Vanderbilt and looked up a cafe in the area to warm up/get caffeinated. JJ’s Cafe is a great place for coffee, snacks, lounging, and even ordering a pint! The comfy couches and plethora of plugs are a great place to gear up and charge up for a day of exploring. The mini mart has a few things for purchase and they have 3 beers on tap if it’s been one of those mornings…Vanderbilt campus is a nice walk with many diners and BBQ joints along the way. My next stop was the Visual Arts Center. Make sure to bring a student ID (mine is from years ago but got me $3 off admission, no one will know the difference). The exhibits, although small, were fantastic. The building itself was the old postal office converted and restored. The original floors were refinished and are a piece of art in themselves! The whole museum can be done in less than two hours so I found nearby meeter parking. Next stop was the Hatch Print Shop by the Hall of Fame. There are some great prints of posters, old and new, with a sneak peek into the work shop as you browse. I stopped in Jack’s BBQ for some delicious pork then washed it down with a homemade soda from Mike’s Ice cream (where I returned after dinner for a fresh berry sorbet). There are many shops lining Broadway for those looking to buy flannel or boots (beware, many are made in China or Mexico!). End then night in one of the many music venues, Honky Tonks is my favorite, where bands take requests of your favorite country songs.







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When asked about my current road trip from NOLA to Nashville and the Smoky Mts, I simply reply…because I can.
Although my bank account says otherwise as my non existent pay checks continue (until I return to Boston in a month) I believe that time is much more precious than money. When given the advantage of an open schedule I cannot resist planning a trip somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit. I’ve always been one to travel outside of the country, but for the next couple years I’m trying to see as much of America as possible. The biggest challenge is fitting everything in within your budget. Trip advisor is my crutch for searching the best things to do, see, and eat in new places in order to determine extra costs. For anyone looking for a Midwest adventure to Tennessee I’ll be updating along the way!

Drive to Nashville Day 1:
Although the drive was a great chunk of time I drove straight to my first stop before checking in. Belle Meade plantation is a lovely spot to get out and stretch your legs after a few hours in the car. The grounds offer tours, $16, but I choose just the entry admission $10 so I could walk around on my own time and avoid the crowds. The Plantation also has a winery with free wine tastings daily. After enjoying some relaxation I headed downtown with a quick stop at centennial park to see the Parthenon recreation. This is also an ideal place for free parking if visiting Vanderbilt University. To save money as a solo traveler I decided to stay at Downtown Nashville Hostel for $30 a night (allowing me to splurge on a cabin at the Smokys). It’s location is just a couple blocks away from Broadway, restaurants, and Museums. Packing trail mix and snacks for the day allowed me to hit the town that night for dinner and a couple beers at Legends Corner to enjoy live music. I met another young traveler from New Zealand that checked into the room at the same time and we grabbed dinner together, chatting about things to see in town. Day one was quite a success!







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Corned Beef and Coconut Cream

This year St. Paddys day seemed to creep up out of no where. Still recovering from Mardi Gras madness the thought of another parade and lugging handfuls of beads home made me feel 27 going on 70! Luckily the parade route was a 5 minute walk through my neighborhood, passing families gathered around mountains of crawfish and cold green beers. The great lure of this parade is not the throwing of beads…rather the tossing of cabbage and veggies to cook with your corned beef stew (along with an occasional peck on the cheek from parading Irishmen handing out flowers). We made a pretty good haul and I experimented making a tasty vanilla layer cake with lime coconut cream frosting (dairy and gluten free of course!). All in all it was a great foodie adventure and I even discovered a new gluten free beer to add to my list! Slainte!


Coconut cream:
Refrigerate two cans whole coconut milk over night. Open and scoop off the top layer of thick coconut cream. Add 1/4 of a limes juice, 1 tsp vanilla, and blend in powdered sugar to taste (I also added gelatin to keep it thick and fluffy). To make things easy I used Betty Crocker’s vanilla cake mix and substituted oil instead of butter (earth balance works as well). For an added treat I blended the remaining coconut milk with strawberries and honey for a homemade ice cream.

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Shades of green

Kicking off this St Paddy’s day weekend with an Irish staple I miss dearly….Tea time! Harney and Sons peppermint tea is one of my favorites. If I had the know how to make dairy/gluten free scones my tea time would be complete. Cheers!


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The science of budgeting

My current unemployment and inability to fill my lease has rendered me broke and searching for (free) things to keep me busy in NOLA until April. Here is the breakdown of what I’ve found:

Mardi Gras: First and formost the most important of festivals in NOLA. The best way to save? Pack a cooler on wheels with beers, waters, and snacks to last you a few hours. Then let the parade madness begin!

Parkin’ it: there are many great parks in the New Orleans area, providing great walks along the water, through spanish moss covered live oaks, and even a visit with the giraffes at the Audubon Zoo! If you have a friend or two there is great frisbee golf at Lafreniere Park (just keep an eye out for the many rosters that inhabit the grounds!) There are daiquiri drive-thrus on the way, great way to keep cool on a long stroll. Going during lunch time? Stop at your local seafood market and ask for some boiled crawfish (have them throw in a couple potatoes, corn, and garlic) to enjoy at one of the picnic tables through out the park. Don’t forget to bring plenty of napkins.
One of the largest parks, City Park , is also home to NOMA, the New Orleans Museum of Art. It’s a great way to spend those rainy days! A membership also gets you free entrance into yoga at the sculpture garden every Saturday at 8am. Fabulous way to relax after a long work week.

Where to dine: One of my regular haunts is SoBu, part of the W Hotel. They have 25 cent martinis during their early happy hour (ends at 3) and offer a tasty selection of small dishes for $1-3, the cracklings are the best I’ve ever had! After sampling the menu you can take a short elevator ride up to the W’s roof deck where they offer yoga (free) and cocktails ($3) every thursday at 6pm beginning in March.
Three Muses is one of my favorite places to eat. Although not the cheapest of restaurants, they do offer a happy hour menu until 6pm along with free entertainment throughout the evening. Great way to eat out and enjoy a show on Frenchman. If you happen to eat out Thursday-Saturday, take a short stroll a few feet down to the moonlight market place. Great artists and designers have their work on display under the glow of street lamps until 1 am.

Festivals: Check out new and upcoming events on The Gambit. There are many free festivals as well as farmers markets (where you can try free samples of local foods!) located all around the city.


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Dr. Awesome

Its has been exactly two weeks since my resignation from my PhD program. After a refreshing visit from friends for pre Mardi Gras celebrations (with a couple nights out taking over the dance floor) I have realized that my passion for science is still in full blaze. Although it tugs on my heart strings that I no longer have classes to occupy my time (or a pay check to afford rent) I have been working each day to get back on track and get back to what I love.

Today was an eye opener, the kind that renews your self confidence and faith in your abilities. I was lucky enough to be in contact with an extremely accomplished and successful women at the top of the food chain at the NIH, lets call her Dr. Awesome. Dr. Awesome had heard of my experience with my graduate program through my step father and wished to speak with me immediately. Although slightly intimidated by her status, I was extremely excited to probe her for advice and guidance. What she told me was both shocking and empowering. In her early 20′s she withstood two full years of sexual harassment in a lab (under a well funded MD with high standing).  Eventually she quit and filed a law suit against him. Although it was denied and forgotten, the university closed his lab leading to an early retirement. She began sitting in on science classes and a PI took a leap of faith and became her mentor.

To hear another woman’s account of ill treatment and her acts to overcome it was extremely empowering. It has given me a new direction in science. To become as accomplished as possible and prevent such things from happening to other women in science.

I sit at starbucks, finishing up a lecture from the free MIT Genomic Medicine course, feeling the need to speak out for those who cannot. Feeling appreciative that I have access to free education that many take for granted, as there are many who do not have this luxury. I am grateful that my dream is still very real and that a second chance may be just around the corner (and a 1500 mile road trip back to Boston!).


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Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…

…I resign.

It has been a long and difficult struggle after uprooting my entire life from Boston to move to New Orleans. My acceptance of a position into a PhD program brought excitement and hope to develop myself into an even greater scientist. Opening doors and windows, getting exposure to the inner workings of academic research…working at ground zero along with some of the most brilliant minds. Crawling tooth and nail through challenging problems and applying everything I had for the sake of learning, for the love of science. Little did I know that what I would experience here would be the extreme opposite of everything I had dreamt of. My program defied every aspect of academia that I had once loved. I experienced levels of disrespect, sexism, and sexual harassment that I have never seen before. Their general disdain for students and inability to answer emails filled with important questions was the toping on the cake of graduate hell. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone that I could not escape from, mouthing “what the f*ck?!” to myself more times than I could count each day. I took solace in other blogs and articles I’d find while searching google for, “Should I quit my PhD program.” (just under ‘Should I quit my job’). The stories are endless, but none quite like mine. The symptoms were the same; “lack of interest, unable to do my work, depressed, grades are dropping, feeling like a failure, trapped…” I knew these emotions all to well, wondering if I would be judged as a failure by ‘giving up’ on my dream. I was unsure of how other institution would view my decision to leave my program, unable to explain the situation to the fullest. Worried they would see me as lazy and not the hardworking science geek I knew I was. But for me this is not giving up. This is me standing up for myself AND my dream, saying that I will not conform to their unintelligent ideals of who I should be or what is best for me. I am no child and your program is no dream of mine.

In hind site I believe that I was incredibly naive to the world of academia, never having experienced sexism or harassment prior to my situation here. Being brought up with an extremely driven and successful single mother made the world seem easy to conquer. No one stood a chance in hell compared to her brains and brawn (literally, she’s a black belt), therefore why assume I couldn’t have the same power? The deep dark corners and cob-webbed closets of academia in the south proved this to be more than a challenge.  This challenge, combined with research that seemed to keep students spinning their wheels in place, steered me away from my path and down a treacherous road of bitter disdain.

Looking back over the past few months I realize that this moment struck me quite some time ago. I have a distinct memory of sitting in one of the 70s style auditoriums, the smell of Katrina born mold and old scholar cologne wafting in the air, listening to research presentations. One of which included the investigation of alcohol on brain trauma. After the students initial introduction, including a bizarre “trauma inducing” machine for mice, I looked at my classmate is disbelief, “Is this serious?” I whispered in the dark. He shrugged and went back to scrolling through facebook on his iphone. I contemplated the presentation for days until one of my lab mates went on a complete rant about it, his annoyance with its absurdity even higher than my own. I began to look at my school in a different light, realizing that the magical curtains created by my department no longer shrouded it in mystery and curiosity.

But that was just the beginning.

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arcane unintelligibility

“A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.”

Interesting article. I suppose I am one of those rebels now…

Read more here.

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Tap that

Union Square Tap Room: Bantam Cider

Living close to many specialty wine and beer stores in the South End I came across a plethora of local ciders. Bantam Cider is fresh and light, unlike the overly sweet ciders such as woodchuck. I can’t wait to try out their tap room upon my next visit!

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