Monday, January 11, 2010

Emily the Cheerleader

During my long winter break (I’ve been out of school since December 8th) I’ve been able to do some really fun stuff. I went up to Washington DC for New Year’s Eve and rolled in the New Year in style. Our church basketball team started its season with an impressive win against my parent’s home ward. But the most interesting and probably the most fun I’ve had while on break was going to my littlest sister’s high school to see her fulfill one of her dreams of being a bona fide cheerleader!

Emily is a very special individual. She is mentally handicapped, but in spite of her challenges she has managed to teach me more than I could ever hope to teach her. She inspires me, and I couldn’t be prouder to be able to be her brother. She can always make me laugh. Recently she has become infatuated with playing practical jokes on her friends and family. Krystal is her favorite target. She always manages to scare her no matter how many times Emily plays the same trick.

Emily’s special education class was able to form a small basketball team with some of the students playing and others cheering from the sidelines. Emily is really a natural when it comes to basketball! Any shot from 12 feet away from the basket and in is almost always guaranteed to go in. The ward girl’s basketball team has enjoyed having her play with them. When they first started to play other local wards the opposing team would just stand around and let Emily have a free shot at the basket. However, now those open-shots are a rarity as Emily has established herself as a “not-so-secret weapon” and teams guard her just like anyone else because she’ll make every shot if you let her. I thought for sure that Emily would want to play basketball on her school team, but girls will be girls. The second Emily found out that she could be a cheerleader instead of a ball player, she made up her mind that pom poms and a cute skirt were more her style than sweatbands and basketball shoes.

I have to say that I was excited and at the same time a little nervous going to see Emily, the cheerleader, perform. I know that Emily is so very special, but I wasn’t sure how the rest of the students present in the gym would act. I suppose that I feared that the worst in people would come out, and that I’d have to hear the students casually tossing around terrible derogatory names. In all honesty, if I didn’t have the chance to be around Emily all the time, I’d probably slip up too and do the same. However, I was pleasantly surprised and ultimately grateful that the students were compassionate and supportive of their often forgotten classmates. They cheered and clapped when appropriate. There were laughs and snickers, but I felt that the laughter was more of the laughing with than the laughing at sort.

Unfortunately Emily’s school lost the game, but I couldn’t have been more proud of her. She was so great and I couldn’t believe the amount of courage, confidence, and swagger that she had out there on the court. Really what more can I say but that I am so proud to be her brother!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Treated Me Just Fine

Please forgive me for the lame title, but I couldn’t resist rhyming the words "Nine" and "Fine."

Besides my time as a missionary in Italy I’ve never been very good at keeping a "journal." It’s not that I don’t want to, but I just never seem to find the time to write down my thoughts, feelings, or what I’ve been up to. So at the beginning of the year (early on in my blogging career) I made the goal to blog at least 12 times in 2009. Once a month didn’t seem too outrageously hard or overwhelming. And so here we are December 31, 2009, and I’m writing my 12th entry. Mission accomplished!!!

Christmas in the Zentgraf House was again enjoyable. It was kind of surreal to think that perhaps this may be the last time that we are all together as a family for Christmas. Whitney will enter pharmacy school next fall, and I intend to enroll in a master’s program (preferably outside of Richmond, Virginia). While things may be changing, one thing was exactly the same as last year. Last Christmas almost our entire family was sick, except for me. Being the only healthy individual in the house I felt it was my responsibility to see that we had a good Christmas Eve dinner. This year nobody was sick, but, through an unexpected turn of events, I won a 30-pound turkey, which became the main course of our family dinner. You may be asking yourself how I managed this feat. In short, me and a couple of friends were having "guys night out" at a restaurant famous for, among other things, their wings. It just happened to be turkey-bowling night at the restaurant, and the hostesses convinced my friends and I to participate. The 3 of us were joined by 4 other "bowlers" who would throw a small 10-pound turkey wrapped in duct tape at 10 pins located on the other side of the restaurant. We were set to "bowl" 4 frames, and after the 3rd frame I was inexplicably near 1st place. In between our "rolls" we made sure to chat up our hostesses so as to get on their good side. On my final roll I got a strike, my victory appeared immanent. But a lucky spare by the last competitor gave him a one pin edge over me. As he came over to our table (which was were the hostesses were sitting and compiling the scores) he asked, "Did I win?" I already knew that he had, and my head was bowed in defeat. But then I heard one of the hostesses say, "Awww I’m sorry you were so close, but you didn’t win." My head jolted up just in time to see her slide the score sheet under a stack of otherwise unimportant papers, where it would never be seen again. The would-be-winner returned to his table somewhere on the other side of the restaurant, and the hostesses turned to me, winked, and said, "Congratulations! You won!" I suppose it was a combination of my good looks, charm, and their inability to perform simple addition that ultimately led to my victory, and leaving the restaurant with my 1st place prize of a 30-pound turkey in my arms.

Christmas day was great! Santa had brought each of us everything a kid could want. This year I realized that I’m becoming more of an adult because I liked seeing people open the presents I got them more than opening my own presents…Well maybe that’s not entirely true! I still really like opening my own presents, but it was genuinely enjoyable to watch my sisters and parents open the gifts that I had gotten them. Krystal got a board game that we could play as a family, Whitney got a CD and T-shirt from one of her favorite singers Lupe Fiasco, and since Emily is so into trying to scare people and play practical jokes on them I got her a remote control tarantula. See the video for her reaction. Us kids pulled our resources together and got our parents some really awesome presents. We got Dad an authentic game-ready USC football helmet. He was so surprised, and he loved it. We got Mom a poster-sized picture frame that had 40 slots for pictures. We filled in each slot with different pictures of each of us kids from when we were little. It turned out to be a lot of work and very time consuming, but in the end it was well worth our efforts.

So as 2009 comes to a close I can’t help but think that this year was a pretty good one for me. I did a lot. Some highs and some lows. Some excitement and stress, and a little day to day monotony. I lived, loved, and lost. At times I worked hard, and other times I hardly worked. In all I feel I that this past year has been worthwhile. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from keeping this blog it’s this: our lives, even the seemingly mundane happenings of day to day life, can be interesting and sometimes thrilling if we are able to recognize the tiny miracles that happen to us each day, and share the stories of these miracles with those around us. With that final thought I wish everyone a fantastic New Year, and encourage everyone to see their lives for what they really are: rewarding, interesting, and worthwhile.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm Back!!!

Well it’s been quite a while since the last time I blogged. It’s really not my fault. I had the best intentions of continuing to log my misadventures, but school has a way of consuming most all of my free time. In reality it has been a relatively chill semester. I took the fewest number of credits (15) than I have ever taken in my entire college career. These few credits seemed even easier due to the fact that 3 were an open lab period that didn’t have a scheduled class meeting time, and a Conversational Italian class comprised 3 more credits. I aced the Italian class, not missing a single question on any quiz or test. In spite of my low workload I seemed to be busier than ever. Most of my time was spent working on my senior design project, which has been at times exciting and rewarding and at other times exhausting and arduous. The development of the project has been going well, and it has the potential to become a viable and marketable product.
Admittedly it hasn’t all be study and no play in the last few months.
I’ve had the chance to do and see some cool stuff. My second cousin came to the U.S. for 2 weeks to visit our family and see America, I went to see a monster truck ralley down in Hampton, VA, and I took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) which is an exam that all potential grad students must take in order to be accepted by a Graduate Program.

Peter Comes to America: I’m not sure who had more fun while my cousin Peter was here, Him? Or us? We had made a list of "American Stuff" to do, and during his two weeks here we accomplished nearly everything that was on our list. We showed showed him "normal" American stores like Super-Walmart, Costco, and the mall. We went bowling and played LaserTag. We ate ice cream, pancakes, and lots of McChicken sandwiches from McDonalds. We showed him the Atlantic Ocean (he’d never seen the ocean in his life), and we toured the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. He played Guitar Hero and even took a trip to the dentist. It was a blast for everyone. Here are some pictures from the action-packed two weeks.

Monster Jamz: One of my best friends from college, his family, and I went down to Hampton, VA (near the beach) to see a monster truck rally. It was nothing like I had ever seen before, so big and loud! Paul and his family are from Martinsville, Virginia which is considered "the country". Throughout the weekend Paul and his family were kind enough to introduce me to the finer points of Red-Neck, or to use the Political Correct terminology, Appalachian-American Culture! We went to the Cracker Barrel Restaurant, I got to experience Bass Pro Shop, and then the Monster Truck Rally! The pictures really say it all.

All of my finals were finished by December 9th but I couldn’t relax until I had taken one more test, the GRE. This test was probably the most important test that I had taken since the SAT. Since I’m a senior in college I’ve had to start contemplating my future. Among my future aspirations is the desire to obtain a Master’s degree in Bio-Engineering. I’d really like to study at the University of Utah. It’s highly ranked nationally (12th in the nation) and studying at the U would be exciting and give me the opportunity to have a change of pace by moving to Salt Lake. Because the U is so highly ranked and respected by most everyone (except those silly BYU fans) I needed a high score on the GRE in order to have any chance at getting in. I was pretty stressed out. I had practiced test questions all summer long, but during the school year I slacked off and didn’t do any real test preparation until two days before the actual test. Fortunately I was able to do very well! I got a 740 out of 800 on my math section (I really needed a high school on my math…it’s pretty much expected since I’m an engineering major) and I got a 550 out of 800 on my verbal section which isn’t too terrible. 1290 is a very good score, and along with my 3.94 G.P.A. I’m feeling a little bit better about my chances of getting into the U.

Who knows what these next few months will bring but I’ll try my best to document it as it happens.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Academic

I can hardly believe that I'm a Senior in college. Time sure has gone by quickly. I've been looking forward to this year mainly because after working peddle to the metal for 3 straight years I had planned for this, my last year to be my easiest (full of slack classes). I'm taking fewer credits (15)than I have ever done in all of my college career, and to make things even easier, 3 of my 15 credits are a Conversational Italian Class! It's really not even fair. I just sit back and listen and never have to study ever! I actually finished my quiz last week in less than 15 minutes, and I walked out thinking 100% no doubt about it! That, my friends is an awesome feeling.

Even though I am taking fewer credits than ever, strangely, I seem to be busier than ever! Most of my time has been devotes to my Senior Design Project, which involves developing a device that will help surgeons treat ankle arthritis. Below is a copy of the project proposal that my partner and I will submit to the School of Engineering for approval. (After I finished reading this I couldn't believe that this stuff came out of my must have made me smart or something because it sounds like something out of a textbook!)

Design a Jig Guiding Insertion of Three Screws for Ankle Arthrodesis
Designers: Hieu Ta and Bradley Zentgraf

Arthritis is a painful degenerative condition associated with biological joints. Arthritis of the ankle alters normal ankle biomechanics, causing pain and discomfort. Due to its degenerative nature, ankle arthritis must be resolved through some form of non-operative or operative medical intervention. However, if associated pain persists or becomes debilitating, surgical intervention will be required. A wide assortment of surgical options exist, of which ankle arthrodesis has emerged as the “gold-standard.” All arthrodesis techniques require an adequate interface between bone surfaces to facilitate osseous integration and fusion. Additionally, union requires stabilization through some form of internal or external fixation. Research has indicated that ankle arthrodesis performed with three cannulated screws provides satisfactory stability and union. Challenges associated with three screw fixation techniques include allocating adequate space for screw insertion on joint interfaces, finding the optimal screw orientation and position, and creating reproducible results.

Objective/Proposed Solution:
Design a guide jig to aid in obtaining reproducible and optimal results in ankle fusion procedures. A successful jig design would optimize screw position and orientation, avoiding contact between the implanted screws, decreasing surgery time, increasing joint stability, decreasing the probability of malunion, possibly decreasing the amount of recovery time, and improving the overall quality of life for patients that undergo ankle arthrodesis.

Design a jig that will serve as a guide for surgeons in producing optimal results for three screw internal fixation techniques. This device will be able to create reproducible results in a wide variety of patients The device will first be designed and put through a series of simulations modeling soft tissue with the program SolidWorks. Modifications will be made to the device after testing. A testable prototype will then be constructed, and subsequently run through a series of bench tests involving PVC pipe, saw bone, and possibly a cadaver ankle. After each test, analysis will be performed and modifications made.

Expected Results:
Upon completion of this design project, a device will be constructed that will potentially increase the success rate of ankle arthrodesis and shorten the overall procedure. This system will potentially offer better treatment for those who suffer from ankle arthritis, and a more user-friendly treatment option for the surgeons who perform these procedures.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Shady Maple Smorgasbord

My family came up to Philadelphia to see the sights and visit with me. To celebrate Jay, Sheena, and I thought we would take my family out to eat. So, Friday night we all went to the famous Shady Maple Smorgasbord! Shady Maple is a truly unique place. It features miles and miles of homemade Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, all of it there for you to eat and eat and eat until you can’t eat anymore. Buffet places are very funny. At least for me, whenever I go to a buffet I feel obligated to eat as much as I can so as to make the restaurant pay dearly for giving me free-reign over the food bar. Many of you may do the exact same thing. Instead of just saying what I had to eat at Shady Maple I thought I’d do it in a more comical manner…

The following is a fictitious conversation between myself and a waiter that would have taken my order had Shady Maple not been a buffet. Enjoy…

Waiter: Welcome to Shady Maple sir. May I take you order?
Me: Yes. I think that I’ll start off with something light. Perhaps a fillet of Cajun catfish, as well as smoked salmon, and a thin slice of beef brisket. Also could you fit in a skewer of fried shrimp? For my side dishes I’d like some potato salad and a dab of pasta salad.
Waiter: Certainly.
Me: Oh yeah I’d like 2 homemade rolls: one wheat and the other white with jalape├▒o slices in it.
Waiter: Of course. Would you like anything else?
Me: My man, you better stay right where you are! ‘Cause I’m just getting started!
Waiter: My apologies sir.
Me: Okay, next I’d like a plate with several pierogies, a small Chinese spring roll, some French fries with cheese and ketchup, and a slice of fresh raspberry bread. I’d like some more shrimp as well, but this time I’d like them breaded and fried.
Waiter: Anything to drink sir?
Me: Yes, I’ll have a glass or two of water. No sodas for me. I’m trying to watch my figure you know.
Waiter: Okay and…
Me: Wait! Actually could I have a cherry slushy?! I saw the machine on my way over to the table. Could I have a small one of those?
Waiter: But of course sir. I assume you’ll be wanting dessert.
Me: You betcha. I’ll have a slice of key-lime pie, raspberry cheesecake with a chocolate crust, and to finish off this meal I think I’ll have some of the ├ęclair casserole.
Waiter: Right away sir. I’ve have that out for you immediately. Enjoy your meal, and be sure to come back and see us again.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is exactly what my order would have sounded like if I had been forced to verbalize it! I know! I know! I’m disgusting, but I did share some of it with my family that was sitting around me, and if it’s any consolation I didn’t eat until the next day at dinner!!!

Friday, July 17, 2009


I don’t understand how I can be so lucky sometimes; I must have been born under a lucky star or something. I recently stumbled into a once-in- a-lifetime experience while I was at work. One of Jay’s colleagues, Steve, had scored two premium tickets to watch the reigning Wimbeldon Champion, Serena Williams, play an exhibition tennis match in Philadelphia, and unfortunately Steve’s friend who was originally going to come wasn’t able to make it (unfortunate for Steve’s friend! NOT FOR ME OF COURSE!). I later found out that I was the third or fourth person Steve had tried to give the ticket to, but when I found out about the chance to see Serena “freaking” Williams play tennis, I was immediately down for the adventure!

I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to tag along with Steve. I didn’t realize that we were going to be living the V.I.P./Boss Status life! (Looking back I should have expected as much; Steve is probably the most “ghetto-fabolous” person I know…simply stated, he’s a P.I.M.P. with a capital “P”!)

You may be thinking that I’m exaggerating when I say “Boss Status”, but you have no idea! Before we even watched any tennis, Steve and I were able to see Serena give a private interview for about 40 people. We were served cold beverages and h'orderves on silver platters while we waited for the interview to begin. It was enough to make you feel like you were a celebrity yourself. We were even given free grab bags of stuff just for showing up. It was so cool to hear Serena talk about her recent Wimbeldon experience! She had hoisted the prestigious Wimbeldon Trophy only 9 days before and there we were sitting not 15 feet from her! You don’t have to say it, I know, total V.I.P.! (,

The VIP evening was not even close to being over. In fact it had really just begun. After listening to Serena’s interview we were escorted to a buffet tent that had been constructed outside exclusively for VIPs like me and Steve! It was kind of strange for me to be among so many people that reeked of money and “high society”. Everyone was dressed in designer clothes and looked like they had just come from the local country club; women with matching earrings, necklaces and bracelets were all around, and little kids were decked out in Lacoste “this” and Banana Republic “that”. While waiting in line for our food, Steve asked me, “Can you smell it?” at first I thought that he meant the food, but then I realized he was talking about all the money that surrounded us. I suppose that tennis is one of those sports that attracts a more affluent crowd. Much like other sports such as golf, horse-back riding, etc. it takes money to participate; not like basketball where all you need is a 15 dollar ball and you’re set! Also while waiting in line we unexpectedly brushed shoulders with Serena Williams as she passed us on her way to the court as well as the great tennis-icon Billie Jean King who is still affiliated with the sport. We were a little star-struck, but we played cool so as to fit in among the rest of our VIP counterparts. However, you can’t teach an old dog too many new tricks in one day; once we got to the food tables, we piled on as much as we could on our plates and stuffed our pockets with complimentary sodas and water bottles (I guess I have a ways to go before I’m to fit in among the cultured elitists of the greater Philadelphia area). Sufficiency fed and watered, we made our way to the stadium where the match would be played.

As we waited in line among the “commoners”, we over-heard a white man say that he hoped no one was sitting in his seat. Steve, being an African-American, turned to me and jokingly said that this was one of the biggest differences between white and black people. He said, “White people are always saying that they ‘hope nobody is sitting in their seat’. While a black person says ‘there better not be anyone in my seat or else!’” I had to laugh at the subtle truth in this statement.

I didn’t realize at first how good our seat actually were until one of the ushers started taking us to our seats. We were like the Energizer Bunny, we kept going and going and going down, closer and closer and closer to the court! When we finally did stop, we were right on top of CENTER COUNT sitting in the 5th ROW! Steve immediately began snapping pictures of Serena with his “paparazzi-approved” camera, and I did likewise with the camera on my phone. The exhibition was a team match that featured 2, four person teams (2 men and 2 women per team). 5 sets of tennis were to be played during the exhibition: 1 set of Women’s Singles, 1 set of Women’s Doubles, 1 set of Mixed Doubles, another of Men’s Doubles, and a final set of Men’s Singles. Steve and I stayed for the first 3 sets only because; let’s face it, after watching Serena Williams play tennis, who really wants to sit and watch a bunch of nobodies?! Besides when you’re a VIP you never stay till the end of anything! Show up late and leave early right?!

Before leaving the match I thought to myself, “Man, here I am sitting at center court in the 5th row! I’ve seen Serena Williams both play tennis and give a personal interview, I got catered meal, and all of this was comp-ed?! I could really get used to this!” (haha) It really was a once in a life-time experience, one that I won’t soon forget.