Friday, May 30, 2008

Random Thoughts

Everyone should get a breath of fresh air sometimes. I definitely got one this week in a bit of an extreme way; by flying across half the country and visiting a different university. Now I'm sitting by the nice indoor pool at a hotel, wishing I'd had the sense to bring my swimsuit. What was I thinking? Hmm. Probably the answer to that was that I wasn't thinking.

We get so engrained in our own problems that we forget other people have problems, too. And it's amazing, but the fact is that sharing our problems with other people and allowing them to share their problems with us somehow makes the burden lighter.
Two examples of this really hit home for me this last week.

Example one: The postdoc I was working with at Mizzou does the same technique as I, which is why I was working with him. The acronym for this technique is FISH. It stands for Fluorescence in situ Hybridization, but FISH is much more fun to say. Unfortunately, my graduate adviser at BYU and I are about the only people in Utah, as far as I can tell, using this technique, although it is fairly common in the molecular biology world. In any case, I was feeling incredibly stuck, and to be honest, rather like a hopeless case who wasn't cut out to be a scientist. This is a hard thing to admit to people.

Most of this despair and discouragement stemmed from the fact that I was so secluded, there was no one else to talk to who could relate directly to what I was facing and offer either perspective, hope, or advice. So it was such a relief to visit another lab in another state where FISHing is done routinely (isn't it a fun acronym?), and to hear someone with a lot more experience than I acknowledge that there are many pitfalls and snags and that he sometimes can't get things to work, either. He very kindly told me that he would be willing to be my long-distance tech support when I return to Utah (or as he put it, my base with reality). This knowledge alone would have made the trip worth it, although I am very hopeful that it will pay off in other dividends, too. I'll keep you posted . . . I am carrying around tubes of fluorescent DNA with me now that I labeled at Mizzou. It kind of makes me giggle for some reason. All my little double helices . . .

Come to think of it, example two probably shouldn't be posted on the internet. Suffice it to say, I think that there is a very good reason that God gives some gifts to some people and some to others; we need each other; we need to serve and help and love each other, to bear one another's burdens and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and the sooner we figure that out, the happier we'll be, both from gaining more opportunities to serve and from discovering again and again by sharing our woes with our friends that we are not alone in our struggles and that everyone has suffered.

Okay, now on a lighter note, here are a few more of my random thoughts:

You know how certain smells and sounds and tastes just remind you of different experiences in your life? I've been pondering this lately, especially the smells, I think. Some smells
are just ingrained (what's the correct word, here? My spellchecker doesn't like "engrained," but "Ingrained" doesn't look right to me. Hum.) into my mind and are, I think, forever associated with distinct memories. For example,

Whenever I get a large whiff of the dieselly smell that goes with tour buses, I automatically think of marching band tour in high school.

Gardenia scented candles make me think of my first crush- I think I had one when the crush was ongoing.

The smell of water, like the smell you get around indoor pools or indoor fountains, doesn't have a particular memory associated with it, but it always makes me feel happy and relaxed.

The smell of distant raw sewage makes me think of Morocco. Fortunately, I don't smell this one too often.

The smell of coffee makes me think of the airport. Also, I associate the smell of cigarettes with vacations- notably Disneyland. I think this is because really the only places I smelled these smells growing up were when I went on vacation, Did I grow up in Utah or what?

Also, when I was driving across Missouri today, I put on the Newsies soundtrack and listened to it while I drove. It reminded me of the last time I had a rental car, which was a happy memory. My friend Danielle and I rented a car and drove from Minneapolis to Nauvoo, Illinois. I wish she was here now- it would be a lot more entertaining if she were. I much prefer to have an exploration buddy when I go on trips- it's so much better if you share with someone.

Also, I passed multiple signs for a town called "Forrestell" on the freeway, and for some reason, every time I saw one of those signs the first thought I had was that the town was called "Fahrenheit." Don't ask me how I got "Fahrenheit" out of "Forrestell."

Also, I passed several signs for rest areas, which thoughtfully provided information on how far it was to the next rest area. Then I passed a sign that said: "Rest area 1/2 mile. Last rest area in Missouri."

I know that what they meant to convey in this sign was that the next rest area travelers would encounter would be in another state, but my mind suggested to me that all the other rest areas in Missouri had been cruelly and systematically destroyed, leaving this lone survivor, the last rest area in Missouri. This thought made me laugh out loud. I was glad no one else could hear me. Also, I'm glad no one else could hear me sing along to Newsies at the top of my voice. I guess there are some advantages to traveling alone.

However, eating out alone is not one of them. There are few things that make me feel lonelier than going to a restaurant, ordering, and eating by myself. I'm debating if I'll do that tonight . . . or splurge and order in. Either way will be pretty lonely. I'll be glad to return to Provo, where I do not often feel lonely.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Double Helix Hoagie

Every time I visit a campus other than BYU, I am struck by how different they look than what I'm used to. I rather think I'd like to go to one of them. One with a really great, really big life science research program. I love BYU, but the more I see of other schools, the more I realize that they have a lot more to offer for what I want anymore.

I'm busy drooling right now over the University of Missouri's complex of biology and agriculture buildings. It probably in part has to do with the beautiful, clean lab with big windows- windows!- that I spent the day in. My lab has no windows.

Also, I'm kind of jealous that they have a cafe in their life science center. They call it the Catalyst Cafe, which is a little silly but still makes me grin, and I ordered a Double Helix Hoagie there for lunch today. It was a really good sandwich, too. It will be kind of hard to go back to the Widstoe, where I normally live.

The farther I delve into Acadmia, the more I realize that there's a whole nother world that most college freshmen are not aware of. This world consists of lifelong scholars and researchers who are funded and sponsored by the University, and it appeals to me in many ways. I want to be a teacher and a researcher so I can keep learning and stretching my whole life.

I'm also a little nervous, though. It seems that so many who choose this path, of continued scholarship and research become narrowed and can't see out of their narrow realm of expertise. They become snobbish and have a hard time seeing the relevance of anything that doesn't relate directly to their research. I want so much to avoid this.

Lifetime quest: To learn as much as possible while avoiding the curse of intellectual snobbery.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


We have an epidemic.

I'm not quite sure how they found their way into the sterile lab in the basement, but somehow, a colony of small, annoying fruitfly looking insects have, in fact, found their way into the sterile lab in the basement. I suspect that now that they are here, they are surviving off of alcohol fumes and breeding in the experimental plants, which are our equivalent of lab rats.

They're not so bad except that they insist on flying directly in front of my face and won't leave even when I swat at them, unless I swat hard enough (kind of like your stereotypical younger sibling).

Also, they have apparently decided that pools of liquid are their burial grounds. There are quite a few of those around the lab, in melting ice buckets, gel boxes, random beakers full of various aqueous compounds, etc. And I have found a disturbing number of dead flies floating in these liquids. While it's not enough to gross me out, it sure is enough to annoy me- and make me throw out certain liquids that need to be sterile.

I'm not sure what tack to take exactly, but we need to declare war.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random things I've learned in the past few days

I'm not taking classes right now, but that doesn't prevent my keen sense of acumen from acquiring knowledge from my surroundings. For example:

1- If one adds water to magnesium chloride powder, it creates an exothermic reaction and gets really hot. This is normal and should not be a cause of panic.

2- Rolling up one's pant legs when walking to school in a thunderstorm can keep one's pants much drier.

3- Reading to make oneself sleepy right before bed at night is all very well until one falls asleep while reading and drops one's book on oneself, waking oneself back up.

4-Glass is a most amazing compound. It can retain heat for an impressive length of time, and yet not conduct the heat within itself very well at all. It's like it is selfish for heat, and it doesn't want to share it and it holds on to it as long as possible. I learned this while I was heating up glass rods in the flame of a bunsen burner in order to both sterilize them and get them hot enough to bend them into "L" shapes. If it were a metal rod I had been holding in the flame, there's no way I could have held the other end of it without severely burning myself. But holding one end of a glass rod while sticking the other in a flame does no damage to the hand that holds the cool end. Fascinating.

5- Also, skirt #1 is successfully completed on the new sewing machine! I had a minor mishap with an enthusiastic pair of scissors and an uneven waistline that led to the demise of a zipper, but a new zipper was purchased and inserted into the skirt, and I have hopefully learned the lesson that one should always check to make sure that one side of the waistline isn't higher than the other before trying to add zippers or facings to skirts and pants. *sigh*

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Plant of the Week: Flowering Cherry

I pass the most gorgeous flowering cherry tree when I go to and from the temple. Unfortunately when I took my camera, it was dusk, so it's not the best picture ever, but this thing is really gorgeous. When I have my own yard to plant trees in, I think I'll have one of these. They are brilliant for about a month in the spring, and they are a little messy after that with dead flowers, but once they are cleaned up, they are very nice shade trees for the rest of the summer, although they don't produce any fruit.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The fourth little pig built his house out of umbrellas

When I was at home last Sunday, Misha was taking advantage of the warm weather to construct what at my house we call a hut in the backyard, using umbrellas and blankets. Angi also decided to take advantage of the warmth:

However, shortly thereafter the hut met its untimely demise:

And its occupant was forced to find other methods of amusing himself:

Musical groups and the crazy things they do

Last night I went to my sister Lois' last high school band concert. At our high school, the final concert of the year is known as Band Spectacular, and usually there's some kind of honoring of the seniors that goes on, as well as the acting out of a skit in between the musical numbers. Sitting there listening to the music and watching the high school students be silly brought to mind my own band spectacular, many years ago. I remembered a lot of things that I hadn't thought of for a long time. For example:

The theme that we chose was a "West Side Story" idea, where the woodwinds made up one gang, and the the brass made up the other. The percussion players were policemen. Since our bandroom was on the south side of the high school, we called it "South Side Story."

I got to play the role of one of the star-crossed lovers (I am, after all, Maria), and my partner in crime went by the name of Number 1 in the skit.

During the whole production, my friend Ashleigh, who was not in the band, sat at a nicely arranged little table in the corner of the stage and ate spaghetti. She was on the program as "Spaghetti eater."

There was, of course a balcony scene where Number 1 came and professed his love for me. The way things worked out, my balcony was right next to Ashleigh's table, so it looked like she was eating spaghetti in my house.

And, completely irrelevantly, two of the boys in the band later (much later) married two of my college roommates. We none of us had any inkling of this at the time.

I'm hoping I can find the script of this event somewhere in my files, as well as the almost-complete videorecording of it. If I success at this and figure out how to convert the video to a digital format, I'll post the funniest bits here. It mostly just has nostalgic value, but there was one scene in particular that I am quite proud of.

Yay for silly high school traditions that make me nostalgic!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thoughts on the theme of the family

On Sunday, I was up at my house spending time with my family. My sister, who we sometimes call Lois, wanted some help looking for cute pictures of family members, and Misha wanted to watch a "Sunday video." So we piled downstairs to pull out remembrance books and watch Saturday's Warrior, Misha's choice.

If you're not familiar with the film, Saturday's Warrior is a low-budget Mormon film from the 80's. It's cheesy, the sets are about as low-budget as you can get, and it does contain some doctrinally inaccurate scenes. For these reasons, I do not generally watch Saturday's Warrior of my own choice.

However, for some reason, this time, something in the film really touched me.

The opening scene of the movie takes place in what you might call heaven, or the pre-earth life. A group of God's children are talking to each other about how excited they are to go to earth, especially since all eight of them are going to be brothers and sisters in mortality.

I'm not sure why it touched me this time in particular. I think it was something about the setup. I was sitting with three of my own seven brothers and sisters, looking through pictures of my family, and watching a show about another family, and the deep bond that they carried even before birth.

I thought about my family- all eight kids, three in-laws, two nephews, and parents- and about how I love every one of them so much and so deeply. A few years ago, I had a coworker with whom I had a conversation about family. She had three siblings and she couldn't stand one of her sisters. She was amazed that I not only had seven siblings, but that I honestly love- and am friends with- each one of them. How tragic that that should be such a surprise. We are far from perfect, but I really do cherish each one of my brothers and sisters. They are all a part of me. I have learned so much from each of them, and I gain strength and courage from knowing that I am part of such a wonderful group, forever.

As much as I hate to admit it, it can be summed up pretty decently by the lyrics to one of the songs in Saturday's Warrior. In the scene in heaven, the different children are speculating on the different challenges that they might face on earth, and each in turn wonders how those challenges might be overcome. The general response, cheesy as it is, is a fundamental truth for God' ordained purpose of the family:

Courage take, for goodness sake!
And when you're out of courage and you're ready to break--
You've got your father and mother, sister and brother
Pulling together we can work it out.
All alone, we just can't make it
By ourselves, we fall behind
If we lift and pull together, we can help each other climb!

Isn't that why God instituted the family? So we can help each other. Truly no man is an island. We are simply not designed to go through life alone. And so God gave us families to help us pull together, and so we can help each other climb the rocky challenges that litter everyone's path through mortality. And as cheesy as Saturday's Warrior is, I was reminded of that important truth last Sunday. Thank you, family, for being a strength and a shield to me. I love you.

Also, on a slightly lighter note, Lois got so involved in the excitement of watching Saturday's Warrior that she turned it into a sing-and-dance-a-long. Here she is showing her moves along with Jimmy Flinders and his friends:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sew excited!

I'm not really a gadgety person. I own a disturbing number of electronic devices considering this, but most of them were given to me. Thus, I have an ipod nano, but unlike everyone else who owns an ipod, it is not my fifth appendage. Likewise, my first cell phone was a gift, and now that I've come to grips with owning a cell phone, I own the cheapest model I could find that still seemed pretty reliable (and considering how many times the thing has been dropped, it's doing pretty well). Also, I can go for a couple of days without my cell phone in my pocket and be just fine. Computer? It used to belong to my brother; when he upgraded, I got this little friend for the cost of some repair work.

Actually, I'm a little disturbed by how reliant many of my friends seem to be upon their electronic toys. It is the plague of the 21st century and I'm doing my best to avoid catching it.

However, I do have a brand new toy that I am incredibly excited about. I suppose it can't really be called an electronic device, although they do come computerized sometimes. Mine is just electric. I don't think they sell them with manual foot pedals any more, although it might be kind of interesting to try.

This new arrival is my very own sewing machine! A sweet new pearlescent Bernina. Compared to my mother's sturdy old machine that's pushing thirty years, it seems amazingly high tech, even compared to its computerized cousins.

I'm a special kind of nerd, you see. I am honestly almost giddy with pleasure at the thought of having my own machine to create clothing, bags, and such things with. I'm not really sure how I learned how to sew. Okay. I know how I learned how to sew- my mother, bless her heart, taught me. But I had such a love-hate relationship with it for so long that it's amazing anything stuck, and even more amazing that I enjoy it so much now. In honor of the occasion, I also purchased material and patterns from the 50% off sale at the fabric store to create two new skirts, one in a beautiful pink embroidered gabardine, and the other an intense silvery orange polyester, with a silver underskirt.

This is the kind of gadget that makes my heart glad. Does anyone want to have a sewing party?

Friday, May 9, 2008

People who delve too deep into science and the terrifying results

My friend Mel came down from Ogden to play last night. We worked together for a long time, so it was really good to see her again.

Since we are both rather nerdy, in a scientific kind of way, we found ourselves, on a Friday night, talking about biology. Sometime during the conversation, I mentioned that Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of the shape of DNA, had wanted to name his daughter Adenine, which is one of the four building blocks of DNA. Fortunately, his wife didn't let him, although Jim Watson, the other discoverer of DNA's shape, also thought that it would be a great name for the little girl.

We pondered the fact that "Adenine" is actually not a terrible sounding name, out of context. Definitely a little strange, but no stranger than some names that are in fairly common circulation. We then proceeded to think about other biology and chemistry terms and names that might pass for baby names. Here are some of the ones we came up with:

Names that were mentioned but rejected include:
Methionine (especially after it's been shortened to Meth- just not a good idea)

We also pondered the use of scientific names. We thought that the scientific name for maize would possibly work for someone's first and middle names: Zea Mays. Zea is kind of a cool name. It sounds a little bit Nephite-ish to me. We got excited by this winner and tried to think of others. The name for wheat is a little strange, so we decided not to add it to the list (Triticum Aestevum. "Aestevum" sounds a little bit like saying the name "Steven" with a Spanish accent).

Then, we got lured outside to join a volleyball game. Someone had set up a projector on the neighboring basketball court, and a couple of people were watching an old, very funny sci-fi movie. It kept distracting me from the volleyball game. I'm not sure what the plot of the movie was, but there was a man who was a "scientist" who got too buried in his work, apparently, because at one point he spouted off this gem of a line:

"You know, it's rough being a scientist and always thinking scientific thoughts. Sometimes I wish I could just enjoy other things, like . . . cabins."

There you have it. One of the great curses of dedicating one's life to science is the inability to enjoy cabins. Suddenly my life makes a lot more sense.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

. . . and how are things down at the lab?

There are a set of standard questions that people ask other people, because they tend to be rather universal. You know the ones. When you first meet someone, it's
"What do you study?"

"Where do you work?"
"How big is your family?"

Then, after the acquaintanceship has been established, the questions upgrade to
"How are you?"
"How was your day?"

Then, once more of the particulars of each other's lives are known to the two people engaged in the acquaintanceship, they become a little more tailored.
"How's your book?"
"How was the date?"

And, the one that I am coming to strongly dislike,
"How's the research?"

This post now takes the form of a request. I greatly appreciate all the support I've gotten from so many of you so often lately. I really don't know how I would have gotten through some tough spots without some of you. Thus, I understand the desire to know how things are going and the desire to offer continued support, and asking how my research is going is a generally acceptable form of expressing that concern or support. However, it generally leads to a conversation like this:

Well-meaning person: How's your research going?

Me: It's not. Nothing has happened since you last asked.

Well-meaning person: Oh . . .

[Awkward silence ensues]

See? The only exceptions in this conversation tend to be when I'm being addressed by someone with a background in molecular biology or genetics, in which case the conversation then takes a turn which would, frankly, put the rest of you to sleep, or convince you that I secretly speak another language loaded with acronyms and strange Latin-sounding words (it's called Genetish, by the way).

In any case, it's getting rather tiresome to repeat this conversation over and over, even with the variety of people I've had it with. So, for the sake of my public personae, which is getting rubbed a little raw, I am requesting that such well-meaning questions not be asked at present. I assure you, when things start going well, I will be so elated that I'll be sure to tell everyone I know. It won't be a problem. For now, let's assume that no news means . . . no news.

I want to emphasize again that I really do appreciate the support and concern. Maybe I'm being petty. But that's the way it is for now. Thank you, and good night.

The cat who drank coconut milk and other humorous anecdotes

I cook dinner at my parents' house on Thursday evenings. Most nights, my seventeen-year-old cat, Hazle, meows at me incessantly and tries to get me to feed him whatever I'm dicing, stirring, or frying. Sometimes, I admit, I tease him by offering him such aromatic delicacies as raw onions and garlic. Sometimes I let him sniff at a small piece of whatever I'm working with to prove that it's not something he wants to ingest.

Tonight I was cooking Thai, a new hobby of mine. The dishes called for coconut milk, and I used almost a full can. I put the rest on the floor to convince the cat that he wouldn't like it. Imagine my surprise when he proceeded to sniff the coconut milk and then immediately start lapping up the contents of the bowl! I suppose I shouldn't be surprised- this is the cat that eats olives, any number of cooked vegetables, and peanut butter. We can now add coconut milk to the list.

I also spent some time this evening with my youngest brother, Misha, who is twelve years my junior and a great friend. He's a very witty young man, often coming up with clever expressions. We were engaging in an exchange of friendly banter this evening that made me chuckle. I was going to record a couple of his clever puns, but they have unfortunately escaped me. Instead, I will take the occasion to relate my favorite Misha pun.

Last fall, Misha and I took a trip to the library. We do this usually at least once a month, but this time Misha was in a rather silly mood, prompting me to tell him, "You behave yourself in the library. I'm going to watch you like a hawk!"

Imagine my delight when he promptly threw back at me this priceless line: "Oh yeah? Well, I'm going to hock you like a watch!"

I tell you what, I love my family.

Update on Saturday: I remembered Misha's pun. We were watching Disney's Robin Hood, and Misha said that he thought that Little John and Lady Cluck should have gotten together. I teasingly pointed out that Little John was a bear and Cluck was a chicken. Misha thought for a moment and then replied, "so, their kid would be a chair."

Think about it for a moment.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The desert shall blossom as a rose . . . if it doesn't flood first

I woke up this morning to the not-so-common sound of rain hitting the pavement outside. This was a delightful surprise, since Provo, being a rather arid land, doesn't get many rainy days. It stopped around lunchtime and I assumed it was done for the day. In the late afternoon, I headed out the door to complete some errands on campus, and discovered it was raining again. So I poked back inside to get my jacket and umbrella.
I probably shouldn't have bothered. The first part of my commute is a walk across a vast, empty parking lot. By the time I reached the other side, my shoes were full of water and my pants were wet halfway up my calves. (Is the plural of calf, meaning lower leg, still calves? Or is it calfs?) The wind just about knocked me over, too. In other words, it was a recipe for making Maria smile really big. Upon arriving at my lab twenty minutes later, my umbrella had been turned inside out at least twice and my pants were wet up to my thighs. I wasn't intending to make a dramatic entrance, but I suppose the combination of the squelchy noise my shoes made and my dripping attire was slightly out of place in the dry, sterile lab. Heh. I was very glad that I was only going to be on campus for a short while.
I finished my business in the lab and squelched to the library. I felt kind of bad tracking my excessive moisture into the building full of books, but I did need to go there- I had turned in a book last Friday that was still showing up as checked out. Since it was now overdue, and someone else had placed a hold on it, this meant trouble. Consequently, a nice librarian wrote down its call number for me and I squelched down to the first floor to see if the book had been shelved without being checked in. Lo and behold, it had! It was innocently sitting on its shelf; I triumphantly squished back up the stairs to show the librarian my evidence, and she kindly removed the block on my account, as well as the fine. Since I am a regular patron of the library, this was a beautiful thing.
Then I walked home before my shoes decided to become small lakes and grow ecosystems. I may not be able to wear those shoes for several days.

A New Foray

I've debated with myself many times about whether or not I would start a blog, and I've actually concluded many times that I would- only to talk myself back out of it. I think it boils down to my long walks to and from campus. I often spend this time composing fabulous essays in my mind about things I've recently read, seen, or heard about, and I often get excited to write these things down and share them- possibly in the form of a blog. But then by the time I get to a computer, the beautiful ideas have lost their shape and I conclude that the blog wasn't a great idea, after all.
I'm not sure what finally changed. I don't have any neat experiences with a cute spouse to catalog, like can be found on my brother and sister-in law, Matt and Tricia's blog. I don't have adorable children to document, like can be found on my sister Rebecca's blog. I don't follow sporting events, as can be found on my brother Tim's blog. I do however, have some rusty writing skills that need to be honed, lots of funny little moments and thoughts, and plenty of observations. We'll see how it goes.