Sunday, December 28, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Please Enunciate Clearly

I love my family.
We've been a little lethargic today. Tonight, I decided we needed some bonding time and got Michael and Angi to come play a round of Pass the Pigs with me.
It was a lot of fun. We decided to do a tournament, best two out of three. When we were almost through the last round when Laura got home from work and Dad came through the kitchen. We convinced them both to play a double round with us, to 200 points.
Dad was kind of asleep through the whole thing, I think. He gets in autopilot mode sometimes and you know he's not completely there. He wasn't doing so well in the game, and I felt kind of bad for him. It was kind of late and I thought it would be nice if we could wrap up the game so he could go to bed.
Angi, meanwhile, was playing really well. So was Laura. For a while, it looked like they would be neck-and-neck the whole game. Then Laura had a string of bad luck, and Angi won. When she realized that she had more than 200 points, she exclaimed, "Yeah! I beat you down!"
However, what it came out sounding like was "Yeah! I beat you! Dawm!"
Laura and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. Meanwhile, it slowly registered with Dad that he'd just heard something that sounded like an expletive come from his daughter. His brow furrowed even as he began to chuckle.
Angi, aware that something was amiss, began exclaiming, "what did I say? what did I say?" and once I could breathe I explained to Angi what it had sounded like she said and to Dad that this was not actually the case. We all had a good laugh, which had the effect of waking Dad up a little more. In fact, he woke up enough to suggest we play a second round- but only to 100 points.

How do you measure a year?

There was a song that was popular with the music, dance, theater kids when I was in high school that went something like "five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?"

I don't know the answer to that- a year is so much time. so very much can happen in the course of a year, and at the same time so little. Looking back to last December, I am so different and yet so much the same as I was then. But here are a few of the events that took place this year, some funny, some serious.

This first picture is a magazine page that someone put up on the wall of my cyto lab on campus before I ever got there. I left it up because it was kind of funny, but some days it almost made me cry. This picture alone, in some ways, summarizes the first half of the year nicely. However, that's not entirely fair to say, because it leaves out loads and loads of personal growth.

Although there were some rather rocky times this year, I was eventually able to find peace. Thanks, David.

Michael took this great picture of my beautiful almost-18-year-old cat. Isn't he cute? We like him.

Also, I spent some time with some Kenyan models. Wasn't it nice of them to let me pose with them? And how come they're all so photogenic?

This is one of my favorite artistic shots. I'm not sure how I got the camera to focus on the bubbles instead of the people, but I love the effect. Angi and my foster cousin and my Aunt Marie blew a lot of bubbles.

This picture may not look like much, but the three people pictured here actually make up a very powerful superhero set, generally known as the Triple Triumvirate of Three, or the Triumvirate for short. Stu never forgets anything, Heather is always right, and I know everything. Together, we are unstoppable.

Heather and Stu really wanted us to go on a double date, so I found a willing candidate and we used our superhero powers to produce delicious food on an Iron Chef evening. Aaron was a good sport.

Family reunion: here we take advantage of Matt's height and Doug's skill to launch a water balloon high into the stratosphere- Curtis' invention

Post-balloon launch. I'm not sure if Curtis is scrutinizing the skill of the launch or trying to see where the balloon went . . .

It is a little-known fact that I learn obscure languages in my spare time. I don't have a lot of time to spare for this, so I go for the intensive courses.

Earlier in the year, my family and I rediscovered a childhood favorite of ours: marbles! For one of our post-family dinner entertainments, we taped down marble circles in the front room and tested our skills.

Typical Dad pose. Doesn't get much more quintessential than this.

The only wedding I successfully attended this year was that of James and Jenny Kendall. James was my high school friend; Jenny was my roommate (if you're noticing a trend, you're right). Heather, on the left, was also our roommate, last year. We had a very united apartment, which I miss.

This may be one of my favorite photos from the year. The young violinist- in concert black with green sneakers. Angi, you are fabulous.

Angi borrowed my camera to take some pictures for her photography class. She got some really cute shots of our cousin David, but unfortunately, Misha and I were feeling rather silly. I'm quite proud of this one, actually.

The love of a father

As noted (extensively) in my previous post, I've been having some car trouble this week. This is rather unfortunate timing because it, along with the weather, has been wreaking havoc with my attempts to start moving to Salt Lake, not to mention my attempts to get to my new place of employment to get some necessary paperwork and such taken care of before I start work.

As also noted, my dad is a pretty good hand with cars. So today, he and I went to the garage to see what he could figure out about what was wrong with my car and if he could do something about it. I asked questions while he did things but I tried not to ask too many, because I know how my dad works, and his brain doesn't process questions from other people while he's hard at work. He determined after a little tinkering that it was a bad connection and went through his toolbox to find the right things to fix it.

As I idly checked my car's fluids while he did some battery terminal replacement, I started thinking about my dad and how much respect I have for him. I watched him blow on his fingers to warm them up in the sub-freezing weather, and I thought about all the many, many things he has to deal with. His job is very demanding, and on top of that he has responsibilities at home that most people don't deal with. In many ways, he never gets to take a vacation. I know that no one really gets a vacations from home and family responsibilities, but his burdens are much weightier than most. And although he was tired and cold, he was taking time to help me with my car. Just because he loves me. As we finished up and I started the car to see how it worked and heard that lovely growling engine sound, he closed the hood and said, "oh, good. I feel a lot better about sending you off in this car now."

I wanted to do something back for him that would let him know just how very much I appreciate his time and skills and service. But presents for my father are of course ridiculously hard to do. He's so busy that even things he might enjoy like books or movies or games are rather pointless. Anything else he needs is already in the house. And it occurred to me that really the best way for me to help my dad is to continue what I've done for so long- help his children. Give them some of the love and attention and help that sometimes slips through the cracks in a situation like ours. In essence, remove a small piece of his responsibilities.

And as I thought about this, the comparisons between my earthly father and my Heavenly Father became so clear that I almost started crying. I can see the things that my earthly father does for me quite clearly, and from this I know he loves me- fixing my car, asking me questions about biology and genetics, buying me all kinds of gadgets that he's sure I'll like, giving me counsel and blessings (oh, how I'm going to miss being able to slip on over to his office for a blessing when I'm feeling sad or concerned. I've been so spoiled at BYU).

My Heavenly Father does even more for me, although I am not always aware of it, or I don't always recognize it at the moment. He grants me my life and my sense and gives me beautiful sunsets and starry skies and the ability to think and remember things, my family, my friends, my testimony. He also has much on his plate, although He is not hindered by time and does not tire. I want to show Him how much I appreciate His assistance and love and attention when He has so much to do, also. And there are not many things I can give Him that will be effective presents. In fact, the solution for showing both my fathers how much I love them is essentially the same: the best gift is to help their other children.

So, here I come. 2009 is dawning, and while I frown on making extensive lists of well-intentioned resolutions that will almost certainly all fall through, I look forward to a year for showing my thanks to my fathers for their love and their gifts to me- by helping their children. Because I have been so blessed- I need to pass the blessings on.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Adventures of a Christmas Eve's Eve

Is it just me, or is Utah colder than normal just now? It is quite possible that it's just me, since I still catch myself thinking about my toasty warm Kenyan village, but it sure seems pretty nippy out there.

Today was a peaceful day. I am in transition right now and consequently am spending a week or so at my parents' house. This morning, I got a call from my old roommate and comrade Emily. She married my high school friend Steve, and they are in town at Steve's parents' place for the holidays. Emily invited me to come partake of the family tradition of decorating gingerbread houses this evening, which invitation I accepted.

Steve's family (ie his mom) are serious about their gingerbread houses- these are the real deal. At my house, we make houses out of graham crackers and call them gingerbread houses; these ones are really gingerbread. So I was given a nice little bare gingerbread house and set in front of a dazzling array of sweets and told to decorate it however I wanted. Dave, of orange soda bath fame, also made an appearance and since he didn't have time to decorate a whole house, he satisfied himself with decorating a few gingerbread men. The first one he did was decorated by a large frosting cross in its middle. He called it the Drawn and Quartered gingerbread man. This one was eaten quickly to put it out of its misery. The second one held a peanut brittle flag in a pretzel staff in its hand. This one survived to grace the door of my gingerbread house with its protection.

Steve and I also had an entertaining discussion about the unexpected way things turn out sometimes. I call him my high school friend; let's be honest. Back then we were more like acquaintances who were generally on all right terms with each other. Steve would frequently do things that annoyed me and change that status quo to acquaintances who were generally not on good terms. However, several years after high school, we found ourselves in the same BYU ward and discovered that we could be friends after all. In fact, as Steve likes to tell the story, it was in coming over to my apartment to discuss a dinner group with me that he first began to notice Emily, who was my roommate (even though Steve likes to tell it that way, it should be noted that there was no romantic attraction going on except between he and Em. Just sayin'). Anyway. I digress. The point is that nine or ten years ago, I would have raised my eyebrows so high they would have shot out of the ceiling if someone had told me that after we were both done with college, I would be making gingerbread houses in Steve's kitchen and watching him soothe his baby daughter. Upon hearing me voice this, Steve concluded and I concurred that it was because he married an amazing woman (and because that woman happened to be my roommate).

Upon finishing the gingerbread decoration, I drove to Provo to meet up with Cim and some of her friends for dinner at the Bombay House. Since Cim spent a couple of months in India last fall, she had a great time looking over the menu and asking our server about his hometown in India (which happened to be right near where the village she lived in was). Time spent with Cim is always good. I parted paths with them at the door with a smile on my face and strolled over to my car. It remained completely dark when I opened the door. That's a bad sign, I've learned the hard way. Sure enough, turning the key in the ignition had no effect.

Quicker then lighting, I whipped out my phone and called Cim. They were just about to pull out of the parking lot, but they came over to my car instead to help assess the situation. The first problem was our lack of jumper cables. Cim started going to other people in the parking lot (not that there were many) to see if she could find someone who could lend us some. No luck. She then went into the restaurant, where someone claimed to have them in their car, but discovered they were absent.

Then began our adventure. We all piled into the suburban and drove around Provo looking for jumper cables. We quickly discovered that by now it was quarter to ten, and not many places were open. Finally, we found cables at an AutoZone which was open until eleven, bless them. We returned to the cold, dark parking lot triumphant- and discovered that we couldn't get the two cars close enough to connect the cables. There were two other cars in the lot besides mine, and one of them was parked on my left, right where we needed to put the suburban. After some fancy driving over snowbanks in an attempt to get the suburban battery close enough to mine, we gave up that tactic and called the brother of one of the boys to bring his Pathfinder.

Fifteen minutes and several cheesy Christmas songs on the car radio later, we were once more happily hooking the car up to the jumper cables, only to discover that it still wouldn't turn on. We adjusted the cables and tried again and again- and then we heard an engine start up. The guy who was helping me was elated, but I furrowed my brow. Something about the engine being on sounded different than normal, and none of the dashboard was lit up . . . then I realized that someone had gotten into the car next to mine while we weren't paying attention, and they had just happened to start their engine at almost exactly the same time as I had turned my key. We were so cold and it was so ludicrous that I almost fell out of my car laughing.

At long last, we managed to adjust the cables just right so the car finally started. Then my faithful friends agreed to follow me home to make sure I didn't end up stranded somewhere. For this I was grateful. I didn't actually end up needing their help, but it's kind of unnerving to be driving down a highway at 55 mph and have your headlights and dashboard dim drastically.

Now the Vanilla Bean is sitting in my parents' garage, having undergone a minor checkup from my father, who, while he is probably not an MD as far as cars are concerned, could probably be likened to a NP. He knows a lot. And I am slowly learning from him. In this case, he is not sure what the problem is. So, since it is late and it is cold, we will wait until tomorrow. I'm not really one for long showers, but I took a long hot one tonight to try and return heat to my system.

So far, it's a rather unusual Christmas week.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Some people are amazing

I've had a few opportunities lately to talk more openly and deeply with some people I care about a lot that have really helped me gain so much more appreciation for them. It never ceases to amaze me how much I can learn about people and how much more I will be impressed with them and be able to relate to them after such conversation. It takes a lot of trust- that the other person really is interested in what you are saying, that they won't think less of you, that they will validate your feelings and ideas, and that they will prove trustworthy with personal information. And consequently, few things leave me feeling more flattered, more respected, more loved, and more loving, than sharing deep, thoughtful conversation with good friends. And since loving one another, caring for one another, mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort, and bearing one another's burdens that they may be light is close to the core of the gospel, this really makes sense.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Kenya vignette: News from November 4th- election excitement and language barriers

It’s election day and we are excited, even though we’re about 8-9 hours ahead of the States. Voting is going on now, but we won’t know the results until tomorrow morning.

Everyone is super excited for Obama to win. They have a lot of unrealistic expectations for what Obama will do for Kenya (kind of like the unrealistic expectations a lot of Americans have for what he’ll be able to do in America).

I guess everyone is excited for Obama except Ruth. She dislikes Obama because his father’s tribe has treated her tribe poorly. So she is a staunch supporter of McCain. Last night we had a discussion where Ruth explained to us that there were 42 tribes in Kenya- it’s the different tribes within the same national boundaries that causes so much political trouble in Africa. There’s a great deal of trouble in the Congo right now because of tribal differences.

Anyway, Ruth couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea that there are no tribes in America or Canada. She asked us a few times to make sure we understood her correctly.

Speaking of misunderstandings, Lucy called me over the other night to ask me about all the cushions I had. I got a little nervous, trying to think when I had told her that I had cushions. She told me that when we had been making my bed, I told her that I had a lot of cushions, and she wanted to know if I still had them. I looked at Cynthia for help. Cynthia was also confused. She asked Lucy if she meant blankets.

“No, cushions,” Lucy repeated. After a couple of minutes of this, a light suddenly went on in my head.

“Do you mean questions?” I asked her.

“Yes, cushions!” she replied. The way she pronounced the “q” and left out the “t” made the two words indistinguishable. And I had told her that I’d had a lot of questions.

Kenya vignettes

I spent the night before I left at my parents' house, and discovered while I was there that I had forgotten two essentials- my toothbrush and my journal. Since it was after 10 PM when I discovered this and I would be leaving the house at a little after 6 AM to go to the airport, I opted to just buy a new one of each as soon as possible upon arriving in Kenya. So, when our volunteer group was turned loose in the supermarket, I made a beeline for the school supply section and found an inexpensive 200 page notebook to use while I was there. By the time I left, I had used almost 3/4 of the pages to record my experiences, thoughts, and impressions, as well as recording contact information for lots of people, making arbitrary lists, pressing flowers, and for some reason, beginning a list of 100 things to do before I die, although I didn't get more than halfway through making that one.

Since the rest of my journal is currently in digital format, I've been starting to type up my Kenya journal to add to the rest of my journal for 2008- or random thoughts and journal 2008, as the file is called. Since blogging and even emailing weren't huge priorities while I was there, and also because I didn't take the trouble to upload any pictures while I was there, I'll be putting up a random sampling of journal entries and pictures over the next little while. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Is the real question "why," or "why not"?

I have a couple of good friends, Dave and Curtis, who I know I can always look to if I'm in need of a good laugh, a zany adventure, or both. With these boys, I have participated in roll parties, random drives down to Payson just to see how far off the beaten track we could get before the people in the backseat noticed, intense country dancing (the only time I've ever been dancing that there were two boys and I was the only girl), Flight of the ConChords parties, ice cream consumption outside when it's 40 degrees, spur-of-the-moment trips to Seven Peaks, followed by watching any number of random YouTube videos, reading and discussing Steinbeck, poetry nights . . . My personal favorite was the dream contest we had at Curtis' house a couple of years ago. We all picked a couch, tried to nap for about twenty minutes, and then shared the dreams that we had to see whose was the best. My dream won. We were reading "A Man for all Seasons" in our book club just then (another Dave innovation), and I had a dream during my nap that Thomas More was bald and under trial for treason. However, during the course of his trial, he started growing hair, which was apparently a sign of divine approval, so he was let off the hook. For a prize, I was awarded two jars of jam that Curtis found by rummaging in his mother's kitchen.

Wait, I take it back. I think my real favorite was the time that Dave and I were having a G-chat conversation and he was logged in to the email account for our book club. I also had the password for this account, so out of curiosity, I tried logging in to it to see if I could while Dave was logged in at a different location. Lo and behold, it worked! I then proceeded to mess with his brain in a big, big way by typing things into his end of the conversation. Man, oh man, was that entertaining.

We have good times together. We even have special names for each other- Dave can explain where they come from, I just accept them. He's "Fate." Curtis is "Bust." And I'm "Marga." But no one besides Curtis and Dave are allowed to call me that.

However, in September, Fate and Bust embarked on a journey that I chose not to join. For about two years, Dave has been mentioning one of his great goals in life is to swim in a hot tub full of soda. I was given an invitation to join in- and I must admit that I was tempted until the dream became a reality and the type of soda they chose was orange soda. Somehow the idea of sitting in a pool of orange soda is much more disgusting to me than, say, sprite. I'm proud of them for fulfilling their dream, though. And although I did not join in, I did go and observe. And then I was reminded of it all when I found this YouTube video. By watching it, you can get a small glimpse into how these boys' mind work. Enjoy! Also, I'm interested- would you have joined in, or not? And why?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Home again

Having a cold and fever on the 28 hour plane ride . . . being weirded out by traffic going down the right side of the road . . . realizing just how close to the mountains I live . . . being disgusted with the commercialism that surrounds Christmas in the Western world even more than normal . . . wishing I was back in a little compound in a village surrounded by sweet, tough little kids. I wish very much that time and money (mostly money) had allowed me to stay for even a couple more weeks.

People ask me as a conversation starter, "How was Africa?" What do I respond? It was wonderful, terrible, frustrating, heartbreaking, maddening, faith-challenging, faith-enhancing, majestic, frightening, and amazing. It was full of experiences that I'm not sure I'm ready to share yet. It was full of others that I'll never be able to adequately explain. And it was full of others that I can explain, but they'll sound uncomfortably like bragging.

Maybe I'll give it a stab over the next little while- posting some vignettes of images and stories I glimpsed. I'll share the stories of some of my kids, and their pictures, and I may just do a little publicizing for my orphanage, which always needs funding and donations- and volunteers.

However, for tonight, I'll end on a light note before going to bed. Yesterday, I was pretty exhausted. I got in to Salt Lake Friday evening, with my cold, and spent the night at my family's house. Saturday evening found me at my own place, suffering from a lot of jet lag and poor health and I crashed into bed by 9 PM.

At around midnight, I think, my roommate Holly came in quietly to get ready for bed. I woke up just enough to be somewhat coherent, but apparently not coherent enough to realize where I was. I lay there for about ten minutes trying to decide if I was in Kenya, and if so, where in Kenya since I clearly wasn't in my bedroom there, or if I was in Orem, or someplace else. I was starting to get a little concerned when I finally recognized the shelf right in front of me and remembered that I was in my own bed in Provo! I fell asleep a happy woman after that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Count your many blessings

I made it to the west coast of the Indian Ocean yesterday. It looked a lot like the east coast to me, although that may have more to do with the latitude than the ocean itself. Probably if I ever make it to the Atlantic or Pacific oceans near the equator, it will look fairly similar- white sand, clear, clear water, and oh, so warm. In fact, considering just how hot and sticky it is in Mombasa, it might have been nice to step into a cool ocean, not something the temperature of a warm bath.

I'm on the coast for the weekend with Jo and Emily, two other IVHQ volunteers. We took a sleeper train from Nairobi to Mombasa on Wednesday night and we'll take an overnight bus back on Saturday. I've been excited to see more of Kenya away from the Nairobi area, but I can't say that the trip has been unqualified fun so far.

I slept pretty well on the train until I woke up in a drenching sweat at about 4 AM. Then I couldn't get back to sleep because my ears kept feeling pressurized to the point where it was pretty painful. It persisted in the morning and Emily said she was having a little trouble with her ears, too. The only thing we could think of was the change in altitude- Nairobi is at 5,000 feet and Mombasa is, of course, sea level. But, having been a mountain dweller essentially my whole life, I've driven from mountains to coast a number of times and never had a problem like this. It's very frustrating. My right ear cleared up pretty quickly but my left ear still feels like it needs to pop, thirty-six hours later.

I'm tolerating it pretty well, in general. This morning, Jo, Emily and I caught a matatu to the Swahili ruins at Gedi.The ruins themselves were fascinating; I enjoyed wandering around and seeing the old walls overrun by plants (knowing me, it's just possible that I found some of the plants more interesting than the ruins). There was one massive baobab tree that had a series of steps and a platform at the top, a good fifty feet in the air. My imagination is just active enough to make me a little leery of heights, especially when climbing wooden ladders is involved, but it turned out to be quite steady and provided a great view from the top (anyone who's read "A Little Prince" ought to recognize the baobab tree by name at least).

In fact, it was so nice and quiet and peaceful at the top of the platform that I lay down and closed my eyes. Emily and Jo climbed back down and I could hear them talking below me. Then after a while I couldn't hear anything and I decided I should get up before I fell asleep. So I did. I couldn't see them anywhere. I climbed down and still couldn't see anyone. We were there pretty early in the morning and not very many people were there, and the ruins are set into a forest. I suppose it's impossible to really get lost because I knew where the gate was and everything, but I suddenly felt completely alone. I assumed that the other girls had thought I was asleep and just walked away to see more of the ruins while I dozed, but I didn't really want to sit there and wait for them.

So I started walking. And then the strap on my flip flop broke. I might have considered going barefoot if I hadn't seen several humongous dead millipedes on the road on our walk there (not that flip flops are such great foot protection, anyway). And then my poor clogged ear started shooting a sharp pain into my head. And I felt like I'd love to be curled up on the bed in my hotel room with my ipod and maybe some passion fruit juice or possibly some chocolate and some tylenol so I could wallow in my misery appropriately and not be lost in some Swahili ruins with a broken sandal and a nasty earache and slightly impaired hearing.

As I was wandering around feeling sorry for myself and simultaneously trying to pray to know what the best thing to do to met up with my friends again would be (as a note, it's pretty hard to get answers to prayers while feeling sorry for oneself), suddenly a song popped into my mind unbidden. It was so unexpected that I almost started laughing.

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings! Name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

And I realized with a sharp jerk that my circumstances really weren't that bad at all. I decided to go back to the tree platform and wait there for half an hour before deciding what to do next. And I did so, and fifteen minutes later, Jo and Emily reappeared, having assumed I was asleep that whole time (I'm still just a little confused about why they didn't let me know they were going, but all's well that ends well, right?). And I was able to fix my sandal enough to walk for at least fifteen minutes at a time before it needed to be fixed, and Jo had some pain medication on her that she gave me that made my poor head feel much better, and we had a fascinating matatu ride back to our hotel, along some of the prettiest rural African scenery I have set my eyes on yet.

I don't know what I'd do without the gospel and the hymns of the church. They save me from doing so many foolish things and keep me from turning into a self pity-laden excuse of a person. One thing I've come to realize more than ever from this experience of being, as far as I know, the only LDS person for miles and miles around, is that the gospel really is for all aspects of our life. The Lord cares about everything we do and think and are, and His gospel affects every aspect of our lives, because every aspect of our lives affect our spirituality and our ability to return to Him.

Consequently, wearing my one-piece bathing suit to the beach affects my spirituality by showing the Lord and myself that I am grateful for and respect this gift of a body that He has given me. Keeping myself sexually clean does the same thing, only more so. Choosing not to swear shows respect for the Lord and also that I have enough intelligence to express myself without resorting to gutter language. Choosing to refrain from drinking alcohol shows the Lord that I appreciate my gift of agency and I'm not willing to give it up just to get a high off of ethanol. Reading my scriptures shows the Lord that I recognize the need to actively fill my mind with goodness, since I am passively absorbing so much junk from my surroundings constantly just by living in a fallen world.

It's taught me a lot. And I can say unequivocally that the biggest thing I've missed the last three weeks is the fellowship of the Church, the privilege of taking the sacrament, and feeling the strength that comes from congregating with others intent on worshiping the Lord. I can't wait to go home to that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


There's a woman who lives with my host family, a cousin of Lucy's, who's staying with them while she sorts some things out (I stepped into a regular soap opera here, let me tell you). Her name is Ruth and she does some cooking and cleaning for her room and board. She loves tea and thinks everyone else should, too.

Of course, being Mormon, I don't drink tea. I didn't see the need to go into details the first time Ruth offered me tea, so I just declined and told her I don't drink tea. But she kept offering it to me, so on the second day, I explained to her that I don't drink tea for religious purposes.

I think I'm pretty lucky that Ruth is a religious woman and respected my reason. Earlier this week, Cynthia, the other volunteer here, was feeling really tired and went to bed early, right after dinner. Of course, dinner wasn't until 9 PM. After dinner, Ruth always brews a pot of tea (except they keep it in thermoses here- not very aesthetically pleasing, but very practical. It keeps the tea hot for ages). It takes quite a while to make it, and Cynthia didn't want to wait up for it. So she told Ruth so and got ready for bed and got in bed. I was in our room reading. About half an hour later, when Cynthia was out cold, someone knocked on our door. When I opened it, Ruth pushed her way in with a mug full of tea. Before I could open my mouth to protest, she had started shaking Cynthia, who groggily sat up. Ruth pushed the mug into her hands and firmly said, "Drink. You will feel better."

Cynthia stared at her in unbelief, but she knew Ruth would persist until she drank it. So, she downed the mug of steaming hot tea and went back to sleep. I tried not to laugh out loud. You see what I would have been up against if "I don't drink tea because of my religion" had not been acceptable to Ruth?

Also, Kenyans eat massive, massive amounts of food. And it's all starch. We'll have bread and rice and potatoes all for one meal, with some greens on the side. We've made some headway here, but when I first arrived, they would dish us huge piles of food and expect us to eat it all, turning a deaf ear to our protests that our stomachs couldn't handle that much. Cynthia once tried to tell Ruth that she was Canadian and couldn't eat that much, to which Ruth replied, "here you are Kenyan. You eat like a Kenyan. When you go home, you can eat like a Canadian."

However, between the two of us (and with Kate's help, when she was here), we've slowly been able to convince them that we really just can't handle that much food. My personal nemesis is a very thick maize porridge that is one of the main staples in Kenya, called Ugali. It's super thick and pretty flavorless. It's also very cheap, so the orphans eat it almost every day and we eat it at the orphanage, too. If I eat too much, my throat starts constricting and I get a stomachache. In small quantities it's just fine, but the problem is convincing the Kenyans that a small quantity is big enough. Lucy overheard me once talking to Kate about how unpleasant it was to eat a lot of ugali and I guess my description of what it does made her concerned enough that she actually let me serve my own amount of ugali next time, although she looked at the amount on my plate with narrowed eyes after.

A final note- Obama continues to be a huge, huge deal here. In the internet cafe where I'm currently sitting, there's a calendar on the wall, the tearaway kind, that says "The Obama Year" and has huge picture of the president elect. Whenever people find out I'm American, they want to discuss Obama for the next ten minutes, which is starting to get really annoying, especially since I'm definitely not an unqualified fan. So the other day, when Cynthia and I went in to town to go to the market, I temporarily adopted Canada as my home country so people wouldn't preach to me about Obama's virtues on top of trying to sell me trinkets I didn't want at an exorbitant rate. Never fear though, I'm definitely not becoming an expat. I love America and the more I travel, the more I appreciate it.

I lied. I have one more note to add. Except for certain touristy areas, Kenya is very homogenously black in population. Even in downtown Nairobi, I can walk for a few blocks before seeing another white person, or mzungu. In fact, I saw one white guy this morning who was staring at me funny- I assume because I was white.

Anyway, political correctness has yet to be really born here. The kids especially have a tendency to treat white people like a novelty to be stared at and petted. I think their parents have a lot of work to do in teaching them that regardless of the color of people's skin, they're still people. And it's given me an appreciation I've never had before for how frustrating it can be to be classified by the color of your skin and not who you are inside. I still think that lots of people go overboard and tend to be extra sensitive and silly in America, but after being referred to as "the mzungu" enough times, it gets really old and I want to remind people that I have a name and a personality. Of course, almost all of the people that I have personal interaction with are great. My host family, the staff at the orphanage, and the workers at Fahihili Helpers in Nairobi all treat me quite personably. But I will definitely take a new appreciation home with me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama Day

And you thought the election results were a big deal in America! Here in Kenya, today has been declared Obama Day, a public holiday, and kids are out of school and shops are closed. We purchased our cow for the orphanage this morning and her name apparently is Emi Obama. Someone should notify the president-elect that a cow in Gathiga village has been named in his honor- a very pregnant cow, I might add, who ought to calf within a month. Maybe I'll be here to see it.

Josh sent me a link that ought to show you haw excited the people here are about Obama. I don't know if the actual musical is real or not, but it wouldn't surprise me at all. These people are nuts about Obama. The village where his family lives held a fake election on November 4th and they held parades carrying anything with his image on it after the election results were in. ON the news, which we watch a surprising amount, it's nothing but "Obama, Obama, Obama." This was the same tribe that was responsible for all the violence at the beginning of the year- I honestly think there would have been more violence if Obama had lost. They are known for being very clannish and not taking defeat well. If anyone from their tribe receives an honor, they all receive it. If anyone from their tribe is shamed or defeated, they all are.

Obama's face is everywhere, too. As one announcer put it in his broken English last night, "Any Obama paraphernalia is selling like hot dogs" (we think he meant hot cakes. But I like hot dogs better. Maybe I'll start incorporating that expression into my speech.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hakuna Matata

Now that the stress of the thesis is (almost) done, it's time to head out on the next adventure. The big adventure of choosing a job or a PhD program is still up in the air, but the immediate future is pretty much looming with adventure. It's looming so much that I can't believe how calm I am at present.

I'm going to Kenya on Thursday.

I'll be there for one month, more or less. I'll work in an orphanage for three weeks and the take a few days to travel by myself, probably a safari. I'll let you know if I meet up with Simba or any of his crew.

I have a travel bug, it's true.

Cim, I'm blaming you for the travel bug and also for making me confident (cocky?) enough to travel by myself. I don't think I could have done this before our Thailand adventure.

I'm not 100% sure how often I'll be able to get to a computer, although you can bet my camera will be going non-stop. I'm planning on emailing my family fairly often and updating my blog will be a little lower on the list of priorities. I'm not sure if I'll be able to upload pictures there or if I'll have to wait until I get back. If anyone's interested in getting email updates from me during the next month, send me a comment or an email and let me know. I hate mass emails, I actually much prefer personalized correspondence to the blog even, but I'm thinking that emails might be the most practical at first at least. I'll see how it goes after that.

Man, when on earth are the nerves going to kick in? I've been so calm about this for so long- I thought that once the thesis defense was past, I'd start getting worked up over going to Sub-Saharan Africa, but I guess not yet. It's just as well. The less time spent worrying, the better, right?

Duck, Duck, Goose

This was a family weekend, and I loved it. Matt, Tricia, Michael and I headed to Idaho Falls to spend time with my mom's family, many of whom live in that general region. Any time I head to Idaho, a few things are assured:
1- There will be lots of good food
2- There will be lots of people
3- There will be lots of entertainment
4- There will be lots of laughter
5- There will be lots of stories told and made
6- No errors or embarrassments in your past are safe from being teased and joked about (which, 98% of the time, doesn't bother me at all. The other 2% of the time, I'm usually already in a bad mood).

The food comes from lots of sources, but our favorite chef is always Uncle Curtis, who had fresh tomato soup, hot bread, and homemade honey butter waiting for us upon our arrival.

The primary form of entertainment this time around was a game called Blokus, which we discovered on our last trip to Idaho (Matt documented this one). We played it many times and were surprised at how strongly we all became emotionally attached to the game.

On our first round, Grandma's napkin holder, which is wicker, and looks like a duck, was sitting on the table. I have no recollection of exactly how it started, but somehow I wound up with the duck and it henceforth became my mascot for the trip.

The next morning, we went to the Idaho Falls Riverwalk with Grandma and walked along a portion of the Snake River. Imagine my delight when we were met by hordes of ducks and geese! Upon closer examination of these live, organic specimens, I concluded that I had made a wise choice of mascot.

Ducks are very endearing birds. I especially like them for the following reasons:
1- Their quacking noises are quite pleasant
2- When they quack a certain way, it sounds like they're laughing, and I then laugh along.
3- Mallards often have tail feathers that curl into nice little curliques
4- They have very flexible necks. Can you imagine sticking your head on your back to sleep?
5- I have to admit it- I'm a sucker for when they shake their little behinds

After walking along half the Riverwalk, we came across a grassy knoll where the ducks and geese hung out. They were apparently used to being fed, because as soon as they saw us coming towards them, they all began marching towards us. If I thought there was any truth to the plot of The Birds, it would probably have been a slightly frightening moment.

However, we were able to peacefully coexist on the grassy knoll with the ducks and geese; they actually all turned and started walking around once they decided we weren't going to feed them. I like ducks, though. Maybe I'll have one someday.

These last pictures document the beauty of the Riverwalk with the Idaho Falls Temple in the background. I think that Matt, Tricia, Michael, and Grandma make a very colorful group. Also, Tricia is trying out her new magical abilities in that last shot. She got quite good at some spells while we were up in Idaho.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Things that made me happy today

After the vista from the mountaintop comes the return to plodding through valleys and up inclines. And there are definitely some steep inclines in the near future. I love climbing them, but boy is it hard and painful.

After being put into a rather sober mood today by some correspondence I received and some advice from Dr. J that I really didn't want to hear, I was at the grocery store, getting food to cook for my family tonight. An employee observed that I was in line with my basket behind two people with carts full of food and offered to open a new checkout counter for me. I thought that was very nice of him.

As he finished scanning and bagging my things, I idly watched the people beyond the checkout counters. There were a few hanging around the Redbox, and several hurrying out of the store with their purchases. Then, two very small boys appeared on the scene, running full tilt straight towards the restrooms. When they were mere feet from the door of their destination, a woman opened it and walked out. The older boy, who couldn't have been more than five, halted as fast as he was able and yelled, "stop! It's the wrong door!" to his little brother, grabbing him by the arm to prevent him from making such a devastating social gaffe. The two boys looked at each other with the expression of those who have narrowly escaped the jaws of a fate worse than death, and as they proceeded to the door of the men's room, they told each other loudly what a narrow escape they'd had just there.

Unfortunately, the guy bagging my groceries didn't see any of this, so he probably had no idea why I suddenly started laughing.

I got to the house and started cooking. Michael greeted me with a hug. That always makes me happy. Hazle, my seventeen-year-old cat, came to greet me when I got out of my car. Hazle's tail was recently severely damaged in a mysterious way; the middle is all scabby and nasty and he couldn't move it for a while. Michael suggested that it got sat on by another cat in a fight. But regardless of the cause of the tail-damage, Hazle seems to be on the mend, which also makes me happy. Sometime I'm going to write a post on that cat and how much he's meant to me over the years, and then everyone will think I'm one of those horribly sappy pet people, which really isn't true. But this cat is special to me, and to many of my siblings (certain other siblings could definitely do without him- such as my brother who made a New Year's Resolution once to like the cat).

At dinner, Michael announced that he wanted to play a game of basketball. We settled for Nine on the Line, a game that Tim taught us that is similar to Pig. It was kind of nippy outside, but once we got into the game, it wasn't so bad.

Also at dinner, Michael burped and Dad laughed for five minutes straight. There's a little more to the story than that; we were all sharing what we had studied in the scriptures recently and Dad asked Michael to share his insights. To which Michael replied "share my insides?" and burped. Whenever Dad laughs that hard, Tim and Michael also start laughing. It reminded me of Sunday dinners at the house. I laughed too, but not as hard. Angi was feeling really sick and I don't even know if she was coherent. Poor girl.

Anyway. All of these things were events that perked me up out of my mullings and musings. I appreciate each one. I'm going to bed now a happier person because of them.

ps- here's something else that makes me happy. This is my dad's handiwork, but Michael is the press agent.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The adventures of an accidental scientist, part VII

Kids, I have arrived. The committee passed my thesis, and I just have to make a few revisions, mostly to get it formatted properly. It was a long, hard road, and although I feel really good about the defense, it surely didn't tell my story, although it told the story of the plants I studied.

About six months ago, I told Dr. J that I wanted to title my defense "A Two-Year Study in Murphy's Law." This was about the time that I originally should have defended my thesis, and I still didn't have any data to work with. This was when I was spending fourteen hour days in the lab regularly working to get my results, and not seeing any results. At all. Everything was failing and nobody knew why.

I've come a long, long way since then. Standing near the end and looking back across the whole experience, I can pick out so very many things that I would have done differently or sooner, or wouldn't have done at all if I could go back and do it again.

I think it's a little bit like how I'll feel at the end of my life, when I'm looking back over the whole experience. I think I'll be pleased with what I accomplished with my time, and I think I'll be able to see how much I've learned and how far I've come and developed, and I think I'll also see a lot of things I'll wish I'd done differently.

There was one pivotal moment in this whole situation that really sticks out to me. Last summer, as I tried harder and harder and continued to fail, I started becoming very depressed. I was stuck and I had no idea how to get out. Then, in the course of a couple of days, with the help of my good friend Cim and a visit to the temple, combined with lots of deep, deep prayer and contemplation, the weight was lifted. The situation itself didn't change at all, but the terrible weight was gone and I was happier than I had been for quite a long time. Also, let me clarify that this contemplation and prayer took place over the course of months, not days. It was just that the experience of the burden lifting took place over a couple of days. It makes me think strongly of the experience that Alma the Elder's people had (notably verses 10-15).

Sometime after that, towards the very end of June, things suddenly and inexplicably started working. And then I wrote the thesis, and now it's defended, and my committee were very complimentary about my grasp of the information and my presentation skills. And they don't hand out compliments like peppermints, either.

Also, a lot more people deserve credit than I was able to acknowledge in the actual defense.
Stu and Troy- for the counseling and blessing they gave me right before I went to Missouri to troubleshoot. It did my soul much good.
My brother Matt for all the other blessings as well as all the encouragement and cheer.
David, whose words of wisdom, written on Sunday, pretty much geared me up for anything:

That's good that your defense got pushed back, so you have a bit more time to prepare. I think however that you should start calling it an attack rather than a defense since you're going to totally show those profs who's boss.

Heh. Thanks, David

All the other grad students who I worked with, especially Taylor, who always made me laugh. Especially the time we got into all the professors' offices and swapped all their family photos. They were trying to re-sort them for weeks. Also, Christian gets a special mention for helping me develop more of an ability to say what I think without mincing words- it was either that, or let him walk all over me. Somehow we ended up being friends, sort of. Also, Jared always managed to surprise me with his niceness. And Leilani bought me lunch on my birthday. And Derrick always tried to startle me by walking up behind me really quietly so the first time I was aware of his presence was when he spoke in my ear. I am pleased that I rarely gave him any visible signs of being startled. We don't want to encourage that kind of behavior.

Then there were the students who did their research when I was still an undergrad. I have been kicking around this lab way too long. Dave and Shawn, who were always hanign together, and always, always made me laugh. Man, oh man, I miss those guys. They were great to have around. And Marc, the death stick, who is now close to done with medical school at Johns Hopkins University. Marc was one of the most energetic people I have ever known. He couldn't even be frustrated without being enthusiastic.

And of course, there was Shanna, the first grad student I ever knew up close and personal. She was the only grad student when I started working in the lab- it was her and meand fourteen guys. She told us often that she had sworn off men until she was thirty. She would also tell the boys in the lab that she was very glad that they were married so they understood her big mood swings. We'll just leave it at that.

I was also glad that the boys in the lab were married, because it meant that I automatically had fourteen big brother figures. Upon one occassion, Nate, who looks like Mr. Clean, told me that he and a guy named Jared were my godfathers. He then assigned Jared the job of providing my dowry.

And all you awesome people who came to my defense even though it was probably kind of boring- what good family and friends you all are! Dad, Matt, Tricia, Laura (who skipped class the be there!), McKay, Josh . . . my roommate Kristel wanted to come, but we thought it might be kind of tricky to bring her whole class of first graders. So she sent treats instead.

I felt so loved when I walked out of the room after my committee grilled me one-on-one and found everyone still waiting for me outside the door. I'm kind of surprised I didn't start crying right then and there.

And now this post is really long and really sappy, so I'll go get to work on the revisions that need to be worked in to my thesis. Thank you, and good night.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Practice makes permenant

I've used certain words and phrases so much lately with my thesis preparation that I suspect I will be saying them in my sleep for weeks. Sometimes when I study a certain topic ad nauseum, especially when there's a lot of pressure involved, especially at night, I have uneasy dreams all night long where the topic I studied hangs silently in the background. It's more like I can't get my mmind to stop processing information than it is like an actual dream, I suppose.

That hasn't actually happened to me yet with my defense. I'm hoping that I will be able to successfully make it through the next three nights without such dreams. I'm also hoping I can avoid the dreams the night before a big event where everything that can go wrong does. On the plus side, these dreams are usually interrupted every hour, on the hour, by waking up and looking at the clock, positive that I overslept, and discovering that it's only 2 AM- then 3 AM- then 4 AM.

In any case, although the dreams haven't set in, I have definitely noticed that at moments when I'm not thinking about anything in particular, a swarm of words will creep into my mind. They're kind of obnoxious and I'll be glad when they've receded a little. They include such gems as:

in-situ hybridization
ribosomal DNA
45S locus counts
nick translation
center of origin
phenotypic plasticity
subsection Cellulata
alveolate seeds
Chenopodium berlandieri subs. zschackei
Incan staple crop

And many more! So fun! Yet I somehow still manage to get some of the words mixed up when practicing my presentation. The worst is that quite often when I mean to say the word "locus," the word that actually comes out of my mouth is "chromosome." This could be a problem if I don't catch myself.

Anyway, there's a little preview- for you unlucky people who aren't coming to my defense, reading that list should give you an idea of what it will be like, except that it will last about 45 minutes. So I guess you can read the list several times for the full effect. Bonus points to anyone who can work them all into a paragraph. Also, spellcheck doesn't like most of those words, either (but then again, it also doesn't like the word "spellcheck . . .").

Goin' out on the town

Date at 6 PM. It is now 5:35. In characteristic Maria style, I'm pretty much ready to go. For some reason, I just hate the thought of making people wait for me, especially dates. It strikes me as incredibly tacky; if the guys goes to the trouble of planning and paying, the least I can do is be on time and look nice.

In non-typical Maria fashion, I've spent the last half hour trying to figure out what an appropriate outfit is. Semi-casual is the general pick, which limits the wardrobe somewhat, since I only have three pairs of pants that I would consider semi-casual. Hmmm. I decided on the brown pants, and then pulled out a few shirts that would potentially go well. Turquoise top is cute but then I notice the stain on the side. How does that always happen to me? I put on the pink top and am pleased with the results but decide it's kind of bold. Where are all my roommates when I need them? It's not often that I really feel like I need a second opinion on my outfit, but for some reason I really feel unsettled right now.

I decide to leave on the pink top unless someone comes home soon and tells me it looks awful. Then I realize that my nice purse is a reddish color. It definitely clashes with the shirt in a big way. I don't normally worry about things like this, either,
but this color clash is definitely not attractive. The pink top goes on my bed and I opt for plain white. According to Angela, this is my best color, anyway.

Wow. That was really more challenging than normal. Probably it didn't help that I can't find two or three of my standby nicer articles of clothing. I wonder how long they've been missing? Since the last move? In that case, I'm probably toast.

*sigh.* Even though the getting ready was challenging tonight, I am feeling good in that I actually know what the evening is going to entail, so I knew what to wear and that I shouldn't eat beforehand. I want to commend all men everywhere who convey these vital pieces of information to their dates before the date takes place.

For example, I went on one last month where the gentleman in question refused to tell me what the plans were beforehand, although he kept reassuring me that he did actually have plans. Heh. I was able to gracefully extract from him the information that we'd be inside in order to be able to dress accordingly (in civilian clothing, as he put it. I then wanted to know if we were doing undercover work). However, brethren, if you ask a young lady on a date for an ambiguous hour such as 7 PM, she has no way of knowing if dinner is in the plans. This means she can either eat beforehand and look like she's turning up her nose at your offerings, or she can not eat and risk starving if dinner is not in the plans. I don't think I've ever actually starved on a date, but I have sometimes opted for the "eat a small snack that can tide me over until later if no eating is part of the evening" plan. Good heavens, is it that hard to let a girl know?

As a female veteran of the dating scene, I strongly encourage men to make sure the girl gets three pieces of information when you ask her out: Make sure she knows it's a date, first off. You may think it's clear from what you're saying, but I can count at least three occasions when I didn't know I was being asked out until after the call was completed. Once, when I thought it was a gathering of old high school friends, I was on the verge of asking the guy if I should invite anyone else before it occurred to me that this might be a paired off situation. Using the word "date" in the conversation will completely eliminate any ambiguity. Kids, by the time you're in college, you're big enough to stop skirting the issue. Yep, you can date. As an addendum, if no money is going to be expended, then this is much less of a big deal in my book. It's when you're going out for ice cream that I need to know if I should bring my wallet or not.

Second, even if you want the actual activity to be a surprise, please let her know what kind of activity it is, just so she knows what to wear. Going hiking in the wrong shoes will definitely ruin the date (although that one has never happened to me, fortunately).

Third, like I mentioned, make it clear whether or not dinner is part of the plans. Obviously you don't have to come right out and say "we won't be eating," but if you are including dinner, let her know!

For some reason, I feel better after having got that off my chest. Also, my roommate Chante came home and told me that my outfit looks fine. Bless you, Chante.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Since I live right by Edwards Stadium, whenever there's an event going on there, I get to hear and watch it proceed, especially anything that takes place in the big parking lot outside my window. Tonight is the Rocky Mountain Invitation Marching Band Competition.

It's making me super nostalgic. I was a huge marching band junkie in high school. I ate it up. I'm not 100% sure why, since I always seemed to be in poor condition during the marching season- one year it was right after I had surgery on both my arms, the next year I was dealing with tendonitis in both wrists and recent surgery on both feet, and the next year, although I did not know it yet, I was in the beginning stages of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Oh, boy. Why did Mr. Lemen even let me on the field? Once I was on, I was hooked. Yep, I was hot and sweaty and miserable and there were times when I couldn't march because it hurt too bad. But it was so much fun somehow!

The American Fork band has their trailer parked right outside my window. They still have their hats with the huge feathers on the top. I think they're supposed to look kind of cavalier, but they always made me giggle. AF has always been a huge, excellent band. We always kind of looked at them with poorly disguised envy because they were massive- sometimes they could stretch almost from one end zone to the other- and their formations were so tight, and their sound was so good. If AF didn't take home top honors, everyone was agog.

Now the drums are starting to practice their cadence. I always loved the quad drums. I think it's because they kind of epitomize the marching band sound. um . . . and now they're blasting soft rock music. That's kind of weird.

One of the funnest parts of marching band was band tour at the end of the season. We all piled on two buses and drove down to Vegas, because Mr. Lemen had connections with the band director there, a world-renowned music clinician, and he would run a clinic for us before the competition. Of course, since only part of the point of a tour is to actually fulfill your stated purpose, in this case compete, we spent a lot of time doing things about as wild and crazy as a bunch of teenagers from Orem, Utah can do. We always took advantage of the outdoor pool, since by then it had usually snowed in Utah. We gawked at the strip and weren't too sad that we couldn't go in the casinos.

One year we went to a little indoor amusement place with a small roller coaster and my friend Aaron, in the process of goofing around, which he was good at, managed to fall twenty-five feet into the pit where the track went. Fortunately, the coaster train wasn't actually moving at that moment, so they were able to stop it and get Aaron out. He claimed to have no memory of falling, and he did have a mild concussion. He also suddenly discovered that he owed a lot of people a lot of money. Funny thing about those concussions.

[Incidentally, as an aside, please do not ever put your phone on a setting where it will beep every five minutes when you get a message. I've been sitting here listening to my roommate's phone and contemplating what I am going to do to it if it keeps beeping like that. Highly annoying.]

One of the most memorable moments of high school marching band was definitely my final performance on the field. It was on our Vegas tour my senior year. This was a competition with a prelim and a final competition. We competed in the prelim and felt pretty good about it. I played the piccolo in the marching band and our marching piccolo was, frankly, a piece of trash. It was so out of tune that I had learned how to automatically rotate i to a certain angle for each note I played to bring it as close to being in tune as possible. It was no mean feat, and it still didn't sound super great, which was too bad, since it was one of the few woodwind instruments that could actually really be heard from the bleachers. Piccolos come in a few varieties and they're generally made of metal, wood, or a hard plastic-y resin. Usually the nicest ones are wood, then metal, then resin. The marching piccolo was definitely resin. And I think it had a couple of chips. It was a durability piccolo, which is why we used it on the field. The school owned another piccolo that I played in the wind symphony. That piccolo was wood and I treated it like it was my baby.

I had no such affections for the marching piccolo. After we completed our show for the prelims, I took it back to the bus. For some reason that I cannot remember at all now, I didn't put the piccolo back in its case. I think I couldn't find it; it was on the bottom of a pile of stuff and so I just tucked the piccolo in my backpack and figured it would be safe enough. Then I changed out of my uniform and went to join my friends.

We ate lunch and watched the other bands compete, which was always half of the fun. It was even funner in Vegas, because we hadn't seen most of those bands before. We generally competed at six or seven invitationals in Utah during the marching season, and we usually saw Provo High and Lone Peak and AF and Payson's bagpipe marching band
perform six or seven times, although there were always a couple of new ones at each invitational. But in Vegas, almost all the shows were new, and we enjoyed gawking at their moves and analyzing their technique and style choice.

The finals were announced, and we were called back. So we piled back to the buses to change back in to our uniforms and warm up. This was when my trouble started.

I put on my funny uniform pants that looked like snowpants because of the built-in jumper. I usually put on the jacket and hat a little later because they were restrictive, so in the jumper pants and a t-shirt, I took off my shoes and reached into my uniform bag to pull out my black socks and shoes. The socks were there. The shoes were not.

I stared into the bag. I emptied it out upside down. I looked in my backpack, on the bus, in the luggage compartments under the bus, in my suitcase just in case I stuck them in there, and up and down all the seats on my bus. No shoes. I looked again. They didn't appear. I was shoeless. I went to tell Mr. Lemen that I had no marching shoes. I couldn't wear my normal shoes; it would have been very tacky since they were the wrong color. Little things like that can really bring down the overall score that a band receives from the judges. Fortunately, I was one of Mr. Lemen's favorite students (because I worked hard and didn't goof off and was never involved in a traumatic inter-band relationship. Plus, I was his flute section leader for two years). Mr. Lemen was always stressed out right before a competition, but he refrained from yelling at me and after thinking for a minute, told me that I would just have to march in my black socks.

I turned to go get my piccolo from the bus, resigned to marching in stocking feet. It was dark by now, but I could see the tall figure of my friend Micah walking towards me. As he got closer, I could see a very . . . odd expression on his face. And he was clearly walking towards me.

Uh, Maria . . ." he started, "you know how you and I were switching seats all day? And you know how you left your backpack on the seat? Um . . . well, it was dark and I sat down, and I didn't know your backpack was there . . . and then I heard a snap . . ." and he held up the two jagged ends of my broken piccolo.

Poor little piccolo. I was so completely startled that I didn't know what to do at first. I just stared at him. I was, of course, grateful that the piccolo was a lower end instrument, but it was still an expensive thing, and without it, i wouldn't be doing much playing that night.

After Micah's profuse apologies slowed down, we hunted down some duct tape somehow. The piccolo had snapped off right at the base of the head joint, and we taped it back to the body. It was pretty wobbly, but it played, albeit even worse than it had played before.

So I marched on to the field in my stocking feet with my duct taped piccolo for my final marching performance.

* * *

Those three stars are to indicate that a little time has passed since I wrote the above. As in an hour or two, not days or weeks. But the pull of the bands was too much tonight so I poked over to the stadium, snuck in past the events staff (it was a free event, but it felt cooler somehow to sneak), and watched the last three schools of the night perform: Skyline, Davis, and American Fork. They were all huge and all amazing. And it was incredible what kinds of memories came back to me just from sitting in those freezing bleachers with the nippy October air slowly lowering my body temperature and listening to the sounds of the hyper, exuberant high school students, the cadence of the drums, and the burst of sound from the bands. So many memories, so many friends.

We've all scattered long since, of course. I know where my favorites are- Rachel, in Taiwan, teaching English; Amanda, in Eagle Mountain, raising two little girls; Steve in Missouri attending medical school (as a note, I probably would never have called Steve one of my favorites in high school. But he changed a lot after his mission. And then he married my roommate. And now they're about to have a baby girl); Melissa, right here in Provo teaching choir at Timpview High; Ivan, in Utah Valley somewhere with a wife and two kids. I guess there are a few who I've lost track of- Humble Heather the only female trumpet player, Richard, the trombonist who was the quintessential band nerd (I'm pretty sure he would have lived in the band room if he could have figured out how), Jenny, who was the flute section leader my first year and a much-needed ally and friend, Megan, the sweet, happy, rather ditzy girl who hung out with Rachel and I, and Amy, who was my best friend for two years and then we just started drifting apart for no apparent reason, although we remained on perfectly good terms. I wonder where they all are now. I hope they are doing well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Coming soon, to a campus near you . . .

Thesis Defense
Physical Mapping of Ribosomal RNA Genes in New World Members of the Genus Chenopodium by Fluorescent in situ Hybridization
Tuesday, October 21
268 WIDB
9:00 AM
General public invited
Refreshments will be served

. . .
Someone pinch me. Is this actually going to happen?

Friday, October 3, 2008

There's no place like home- and no people like family

Does everyone have a funny family, or am I just lucky? Either way, I guess I'm lucky. Here is a short transcript from earlier today. I met up with my dad and Laura for lunch, which we do once a week. Normally Tim comes too, but he had to work. This is one of the perks of having your dad work on campus.

Since this weekend is conference, and there will be priesthood session tomorrow night, I wanted to tell Laura my plan for our girls' night. Here's what ensued:

Me: Lar, guess what we're doing for our girls' night tomorrow!
Laura: We're having a girls' night?
Me: Ummm, yes. We do it every conference weekend during priesthood session. Remember? So guess what we're doing.
Laura: Dancing for Dad!
Me: Nope. He'll be at priesthood session.
Dad: Yeah, it might be kind of distracting if you come dance.

Sometimes I think I should carry around my portable tape recorder so I can get some of the really good conversations transcribed. I forget them so quickly . . .

Saturday, September 27, 2008

You know you're immersed in academia if . . .

. . . you take a closer look at a rough draft of your thesis and discover that a third of the pages are just to list the references. Yeesh. No wonder I feel like I've read a lot of scientific literature.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More remembering

It's kind of exciting- looking back, it slowly becomes easier and easier to recognize the Lord's hand in shaping my life. But especially when I take the time to write it down so I can go back and ponder over it. Here's a (slightly edited) sample from last December:

This weekend, I felt like everything that I’ve been dealing with has kind of come to a head and I felt like I’d been punched and kicked until I fell over, and then I was still getting kicked in the stomach and I didn’t have the energy to get up. It was a combination of homework stress, research stress, family stress, dating stress, and stress over the temple- the inevitable feeling I guess, that I’m not living up to my covenants.

I was feeling worse and worse and I decided to call Matt and see if he would have time to give me a blessing that afternoon. He said yes, of course, so I drove down to Springville and spent a precious hour talking to Matt and Tricia. I feel so safe there, it’s amazing. We talked about everything that I’ve been concerned about. It’s nice to know that there’s a home I can go to and just enjoy myself. I love my house, but it’s hard to relax there.

Anyway, Matt also gave me the desired blessing. It was a beautiful blessing; I also remember how deep the love ran in that room right then. There is such power in family relationships if they are structured properly. Matt and Tricia both have such depth to them, such strength and compassion.

Today I’ve felt a little better. A little more in control. And this evening, my FHE group went up to my family’s house to hear a marvelous presentation by Michael Kennedy, the first descendent of Joseph Smith to receive the Melchisedek priesthood. He shared with us some most wonderful stories about his ancestors and also about himself. As he was talking, it was quite evident that the Lord had used him and is continuing to use him as an instrument to bring so many people to a knowledge of the gospel. But it’s not like his life has been easy or fun by any stretch of the imagination. It’s really late or I would take a little more time to type some of it up here. But two things kind of stood out to me.

First, he showed us an 18-minute preview of a movie that the Joseph Smith Family Organization funded about the life of Emma, minutely researched, from what he said. As I sat there and watched little glimpses of what Emma suffered for her faith, I recalled Matt’s counsel in the blessing to seek out examples from church history. What a good example Emma is of that.

Second, while he was telling us stories about how he came to learn about the church and be baptized and go from being a recently baptized member with an astonishingly poor grasp on what the gospel was or even who his ancestor Joseph Smith was to becoming a prominent member in close contact with the First Presidency and the head of the Joseph Smith Family Organization, I felt the presence of the heavens close by. He told us of so many "coincidences” that brought so many things about- amazing little connections that show just how closely the Lord was watching him and talking care of him. The Lord does that for everyone. It’s possible for us to kick against the pricks and make it hard for Him to help us, but he is constantly guiding and directing, or as Dad puts it, “playing chess” with so many lives. And since He has such an eternal perspective, He’ll put us through pain and suffering and subject us to misery if that’s what it takes to get us- and those around us- back to Him. Some girls in my ward have a sign up in their living room that reads, “What price are you willing to pay for eternity?” The Lord is there, and He is mindful of us. But He is mindful of us on a much deeper level than we can comprehend in this life, deeper than we can even be aware of ourselves in our mortality. Thanks to the connecting power of the atonement, we can catch a glimpse of what He feels for us, but just a glimpse.

I think I really needed that today. I'm so glad that sometimes I follow the counsel to write in my journal.

The value of remembering

So many times I've learned such amazing things about life only to promptly forget them when a new wave of challenges start inundating me. This is half the reason I keep a journal- so I can have a written record of what I've done and what it taught me and what I thought about things at the time.

Today I reviewed an entry I wrote last summer (2007) when I was dealing with some rather frustrating things, and I was amazed at how well the advice I gave myself still applies:

Meanwhile, I’m still dealing with the same things. I’ve been reading in 1st and 2nd Nephi lately, and Nephi’s experiences are really hitting home with me more than ever before. 1st Nephi 17:13 is one of my favorite scriptures: “I will also be your light in the wilderness . . . ye shall be led towards the promised land, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.” So much of life is a wilderness experience. But if you can still recognize that God is the light in the wilderness, and that by following Him you are going towards the promised land, even when you can’t see it—even when there’s a desert and an ocean between you and the promised land—and to get there, you have to build a ship, which is something you’ve never done before, if you can realize that you are going towards the promised land, and that the Lord is leading you there, then even though you’re in a wilderness and you have to catch your own food and there’s sand everywhere and the temperature fluctuates a lot and you can’t do anything about it, and your brothers keep trying to sabotage your plans, you know things will be good.
The Lord is the light in the wilderness, whatever that wilderness may be. Whether it is loneliness or unemployment or challenges with school or family problems or dating dearths or financial woes, and even when we cannot see for a long time where that promised land is, as long as we can hold on to the light of the Lord and know that it is by Him that we are led, we will know that we are being led towards that promised land, no matter how far away it it. Every day is one step closer.

I'm glad I took the time to record that thought last year. It sure gave me a boost today.

Time flies like a clock, fruit flies like a banana . . .

How is it possible for time to go so fast and yet so slow at the same time? I think if I spend much longer with so much looming and simlutaneously so little imminent pressure, I might just implode and defy the laws of physics.

Also, I think I need to stop rewriting my future plans. It's starting to take a toll every time I invest myself in a great idea and then keep coming up with new ones. There are so many roads in front of me and I'm still not sure which one I will take. Half the time it's exhilirating and half the time I think I might keel over from the weight of the choices.

Boredom and business, excitement and trepidation- for now, I live a life of extremes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A little change for the better

After having lived in numerous apartments with sixty different girls, I've concluded that apartments are just like families. Some are great and some are dysfunctional. Last year's apartment was kind of dysfunctional.

I'm happy to report that after moving yet again, three weeks ago, I am now very happily installed in a functional apartment. Not only do I actually see my roommates more than a couple of times a week, we actually do things together. Last night, for example, we all sat around in our back hall and just talked for a good long while. I got to bed much later than I intended, but I didn't realize how hungry I'd become for good friends in my apartment. I'm drinking it up.

A few weeks ago, just to make sure there are no criminals among us, we all took each others' footprints for documentation. Construction paper and blue acrylic paint is very tech-savvy.

This weekend, the adventure was making salsa for the entire ward to partake of at our ward prayer activity. The tomatoes were courtesy of my family. My father, being a great lover of tomatoes, always plants more plants than we can keep up with come fall. So Holly, Kristel, and I piled up to Orem and gathered about two grocery bags full of bright red, orange, and yellow tomatoes, grabbed some other veggies at the store, and proceeded to spend the evening chopping.

I noticed that I was slicing alternating red and yellow tomatoes. Aren't they pretty? And good for food art.