We arrived in Lima this morning at about 6 am. It is a beautiful city. There is a perpetual mist that hangs over everything and makes it seem surreal. We were actually picked up at the airport this time and taken the scenic route along the ocean to our host family’s house in Miraflores.

Thus begins a two month adventure in Peru.

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.

Brandon’s sister, Bethany, and her husband, Larry, just had a beautiful little baby girl. Stella. We get to go see her and the new parents next weekend — we can hardly wait. His mother is now a grandmother, his father a grandfather, he and his brother uncles and Bethany a mother. The new generation has arrived.

Baby Stella

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.

Our last week in Guatemala was a blur — B and I were mighty active and, in between bouts of activity, were, unfortunately, mighty sick. However, I can say that we wrapped up our trip well and were sorry to leave on the plane heading home.

We celebrated the New Year in and around Xela’s Central Park, where all sorts of activities normally occur. And, while the New Year festivities in Xela are not nearly comparable in magnitude to those of Christmas, we were not disappointed. There was a massive firework display on the eve and, on the night of the first, we got caught up in a massive parade, in which the paraders wore deer-resembling costumes and danced to a brass band.

As for school, we finished our classes and can now proudly speak Spanish as well as any Guatemalan toddler. Our last activities as students of Pop-Wuj’s health program were touring Xela’s gigantic, free-of-charge, public hospital as well as a crowded tuberculosis clinic. We were impressed by the public hospital’s ability to see a fantastically high volume of patients, all free-of-charge as well as their ability to not only house their own patients but their patients’ entire visiting villages who crowd around the bedsides of their distant friends and relatives at all hours of the day and night.

We left Xela behind on Friday, regretfully bidding it farewell as we set off to spend the weekend in Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua is a bright city where modern, cosmopolitan delights mingle charmingly with ancient colonial ruins. The remains of several earthquake-destructed churches and other old establishments remain untouched just off the winding streets, peeking out from between the one-story tall, brightly painted buildings housing boutiques, restaurants and residing families. We spent our energy in Antigua touring the city, drinking good, fresh Guatemalan coffee (finally!), eating out at a wide range of shi-shi restaurants, watching the sun set behind the resident volcanoes from our inexpensive hotel’s rooftop terrace and enjoying a break from our working vacation.

We spent Monday night in Guatemala City at a five-star hotel my sis picked out — a treat from her for our last night in Guatemala (and, I also think my family was a bit unnerved by our story of the first night we spent in the city and didn’t trust us to pick a moderately safe place to stay ourselves — which is a reasonable concern knowing B’s and my budget sacrifices). We enjoyed our stay despite the haughty airs we endured from the front desk staff who eyed our huge backpacks and greasy hair, along with the rest of the staff whom, judging by the number of times my bright green sneakers were indignantly eyeballed, had never seen anyone walk into their hotel wearing jeans and tennis shoes before. The hotel was situated in Guatemala City’s Zona Viva (Zone of Life) which turned out to consist of hotel upon hotel upon costly restaurant upon hotel with a couple costly lobby restaurants — an area of the city catering to the wealthy business traveler. So B and I sucked it up and spent some money at the French restaurant in our own hotel lobby and rested for the trip home we had to take the next morning.

And so, we are finally back in East Lansing, after spending the night at Karen and Erik’s in Chicago and wrestling our crazy kitty back from their cat-sitting clutches. Thankfully, the weather has been fairly mild so far and I’m hoping for no snow for the rest of the winter — which, of course, would be ludicrous in Michigan even considering global warming. Anyway, Brandon started work today and is hoping for a raise in pay just for returning to work and I am back at school and have my first exam in a week. It’s amazing how easy it is to fall back into routine — which is good, I suppose, but I am already missing the errant nature of the Guatemalan highlands.