Brandon and I have been a long time gone from this stage, and we thought we’d return to resurrect our forum by sharing some news:

We are engaged!

After three years’ worth of challenges and changes – personal, philosophical, professional, social and geographical – we have decided to tie the knot. Brandon and I are best friends and perfect complements. Plus, we both look good in the same cheap haircut. Suffice it to say, we are incredibly excited about this new development: a commitment to spend the rest of time together.

And, personally, I have never known anyone but Brandon to be so tolerant of my idiosyncrasies or so encouraging of my ambitions. Or, anyone who can create a remarkably perfect boule of bread dough in 10 seconds flat. I am a lucky individual.

As my mother said when I told her the news, “You two have a bright future.” Indeed we do, Mom, indeed we do.

Brandon and I are in Cuzco this weekend. Right now we’re sitting in a cafe, overlooking the Plaza de Armas, watching the shadows fall across the church steps and hearing a bunch of different languages from our neighboring patrons – patrons from everywhere but Peru. Cuzco is a deluxe city, sprawling and grand, covering the floor of a vast valley 11,150 feet above sea level. It is a city accustomed to tourists, quite unlike Urubamba, and we blend in well – even though visitors from the states are a minority here. This weekend is a treat for us, and we’ve been doing little else but walking and shopping and eating – spending more than we should from our tightly budgeted finances. Last night we had a delicious Peruvian meal, Aji de gallina, for $5 a person, and then stepped next door to a cushy wine bar, slopped on a couch, reading National Review and Vanity Fair from June 2007, and sipped our first delightful Pisco Sours – made from Pisco brandy and topped with frothy meringue. We returned to our hostel, and watched from our privately barred balcony as the younger tourists weaved drunkenly back from the discotheques whose heavily bass-laden music shook the walls of our tiny room until 5am.

Cuzco is so deluxe it even has its own Inca ruins, Sacsayhuaman, settled high on the mountains overlooking the Cuzco valley. We traveled there by foot early this morning, climbing smooth-worn stone steps through the city until we reached ancient, massive walls created from gigantic gray stones. Beautiful, mysterious, impressive ruins. However, our sea-level blood is still not accustomed to the altitude – or we are terribly out of shape – and once we were close enough to touch the stones, we leaned on them for support as we rested and tried to enjoy the sight between heaving gasps of air. We wandered through the ruins for a while until we got bored and until tour buses arrived, belching more tourists who unapologetically shoved themselves into our exclusive photos. Before we descended to return to the city, we visited the chalky-white, enormous statue of Jesus which neighbors the ruins, acting as a towering figure who watches over the city.  Tonight, from the open shutters of the cafe, we can see the brightly illuminated statue hovering high in the blackness surrounding the Plaza.

We are returning to Urubamba tomorrow afternoon sometime and will welcome the tranquility of the little town – at least until next weekend arrives.

Our stay in Lima was short, yet sweet, and I am writing this brief post from the backroom of one of Urubamba’s cheap internet/restaurant/convenience store/house-cafes.

Lima is a beautiful, beautiful city, and the affluent neighborhood of Miraflores is especially catching, with flowers everywhere – on the ground, in the trees, along the walls and gates of houses.  Which is fitting, of course, since miraflores means “to see flowers” and which helps to dispense some of the gloomy mood gifted by the perpetual haze of smog/fog that hangs heavy over the city everyday.  We stayed with a family of physicians there – what luck! – and felt rottenly spoiled by the luxuriousness of our surroundings, and, well, just how dang nice they were.  Our hosts spoke English and they gave us a good earful each day on their culture – especially on the healthcare and politics, double luck!  They even warned us of the frightening-looking cuy dish (guinea pig) which all the rural highlanders eat – however, we are now in the highlands and have yet to see any cuy.  And, I don’t think we’ll spend too much time looking.

Lima is a gigantic, sprawling city, which, in addition to the smog-fog, contains trillions of plastic bags which fly hither and thither through the streets.  There are three unofficial divisions of neighborhoods of Lima, each with its own level of affluence – the suburbs, the poor urban neighborhoods, and the shanty towns.  Residents of each rarely cross-over into the other, unless those from the poorer parts work in the richer parts.  The affluent neighborhoods lie far outside the center of the city and hug the coastline beaches.  There are ultra-modern mid-rise apartments popping up amidst the doomed colonial and republican-era buildings, which are made from concrete with cut-out, open-air windows.  Everything lies behind tall iron and concrete walls, even in Miraflores where each block hires 24-hour guards.

The central downtown is reserved for people and families who have undertaken the urban migration from the Andes and inland forests, yet are not poor enough to live beyond the city limits in the shanty towns.  We took a trip downtown to see the ancient buildings and central park.  There, the old colonial buildings which are left have been divided into flats for multiple families.  We took a tourist-bus to the top of a steep peak where an enormous cross watches over Lima.  When we reached the top we could see all of Lima, sprawled out under its haze, below us.  Best yet, we finally found out where all the errant plastic bags come to rest – at the foot of the cross.  Each minute as we stood there, a new bag would arrive, floating in the breeze, to settle at our feet and stay for the rest of its little plastic existence.  Quite comically appropriate.

Anyway, we never made it to the shanty towns, but we have heard that they keep growing and are being pushed farther and farther outside the city as the urban sprawl and urban migration to Lima continues.

I spent this last week, a between-semester break, in the northern woods of Minnesota. Here, the ice is still thick on the lakes, a curling rink lies on every block, and everyone says, “Ya, ya betcha,” whether they agree with you or not. I traveled to the northern woods to visit my folks and to work with a physician at one of the few federally-run Indian Health Services hospitals in Minnnesota.

I flew into Nashwauk, where my parents live, on a rickety prop plane from Minneapolis. Right outside the twin cities, the landscape changes abruptly from farms, fields and suburbs to dense forests and lakes, with a delicate spattering of errant communities. As the plane approached my final destination, the earth turned a dark, rich red as mounds of iron ore deposits, discarded in heaps from years of residency by the iron mines, became the predominant feature. This northern strip, known as the Iron Range, is populated by small mining-era settlements.

Nashwauk itself is a drowsy little community with an abundance of classical small-town charm. It is nestled into the crooks of steep embankments of towering, rusty ore heaps. It must have been a bustling community when iron mining was still swinging and profitable, but now its ancient grand theatre stands abandoned and life for its 400 or so residents trickles by slowly. There are still working mines in the area, though – their smoke stacks erect and visible above the rooftops in the distance, silently churning out their product as they gouge gaping red lesions in the earth. However, they no longer provide much economic stimulus to these communities which have been suffering from several years’ of recession and dramatic brain-drain. I suppose I am, shamelessly, one of the products of the latter phenomenon.

Despite – or, more likely, because of – the lack of intensity or of any particularly urban stimulations, I always enjoy my time in the great North enormously. I wish I could share a list of activities I do up there but, really, I do very little at all. Perhaps I lay around indoors, reading a good book and enjoying the ambient peace. I may walk the dog across the town and back – a 30 minute trip. I may take a little drive along the back roads, thickly fenced with tall pines, counting the herds of deer grazing in the clearings. I sometimes sit at the kitchen table and watch the early spring birds flutter around the feeder. My favorite pastime, though, is visiting my mom’s quilt shop – the Quilting Patch. It is a delicious haven, warm and vibrant with rich, textured fabrics and crisp smells. Compared to the rest of the town, it can become somewhat bustling as customers, friends and neighbors drop periodically by. I guess I consider it a refuge from the surrounding serenity.

I will write about the other half of my vacation — the working half — in a day or so. Right now I need to dive into the summer schoolwork that has already become almost unmanageable on my fist day back. Such is the way of work and vacations.

If I have achieved one academic goal within these first eight months of med school, it is this: perfect procrastination. I have discovered procrastination to be the best method to maintain good scores, minimize my study time and MAXIMIZE my STRESS. Why spend time comprehending material, poring over texts, avidly listening to lectures and spending weekends in the lab in preparation – WEEKS before the exam – when one can get the BARE MINIMUM done in a two day span of time before the exam and still end up with great marks? Rather, one can do whatever makes them happy, EXCEPT SCHOOLWORK, until the absolutely ESSENTIAL moment one must sit at their desk, bottom velcroed to the seat, breathing shallowly and unevenly, eyes fixated on the computer screen, to commence a STUDY MARATHON until the start of the exam. Some may call this effective technique cramming. I call it pocrastination, perfected.

You may be alarmed, knowing this to be my preferred method of study, and think I need tips on how to improve my TIME MANAGEMENT skills. But really, I don’t need them. Despite the frequent pseudo-anxiety attacks I suffer before every exam, and despite the noticeable pain Brandon endures during my study marathons, I consider my method flawless. I can, then, certainly give you advice on how to perfect your own procrastination technique – I am sure you are working on it. And I am sure I can be of help.

This animation proved to be very inspirational through my own work with procrastination – check it out to get started with yours.

Spring is here. It is time to wake the sleeping blogster.

Much has changed since the Bramanda Band posted last:

I am now trying to decide which of the presidential candidates I dislike LEAST rather than who I am excited about most.

B and I have experienced our first bright pink Ohioan baby shower.

We have realized that a trip to Chicago can cost more than a Florida beach vacation.

We are saying thrilling goodbyes to this little college city as we prepare to move out to the western banks of Michigan.

We have stopped talking about our time in Guatemala and are now talking about our pending summer trip to Peru.

I can finally count the days until the end of my second semester of med school on my fingers and toes.

The crocuses have started poking their little faces out of the worn winter soil.

As we shed our winter coats and our accessory blubber layers, our fingers will become more nimble and our demeanors less cranky and we will be more attentive to writing and keeping our family, friends and fans updated.

So far I have been trying to be vigilantly neutral between my two favorite candidates in the primaries — Obama and Clinton — asserting my conviction that I would be perfectly in favor of either of them if they are to win the democratic nomination. But this morning, as I lay in bed listening to the news of Obama’s latest victories over Clinton on the radio, I felt crushed. And last week, over wine with some friends, the candidates came up and I got bit heated when discussing Clinton’s electability. It’s now apparent that all this time I have been shamelessly posing as a dual supporter while inwardly strongly rooting for Clinton. It’s a drag when you figure out what you want only at the moment you realize it’s gone – well, that statement’s a bit premature in this case, but Clinton’s no longer securely kicking butt all over the country. Anyway, I guess from now on – until the primaries are over, at least – I have to own up to my identity as a staunch supporter of Clinton. And meanwhile I’ll also be quietly practicing my Obama victory dance so as not to be disappointed if he is the eventual winner.

But honestly, in the end, I’ll be happy to vote for either one. It’s quite exhilarating to be excited about politics again and looking forward to the next presidential election.

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