Thursday, July 31, 2008

Living in a van down by the river

I suppose I should have suspected back in May that I wouldn't be able to leave Provo in time to avoid getting a contract for student housing this fall. And now the complex where I currently live is all filled up and I have minimal desire to just pick an apartment and move, since I will a) only be around for a couple of months and b) spending all my time during those couple of months completing and defending a thesis and finding a job, which means my ability to make new friends will be sorely lacking.
Does anyone know of a place I can sleep at night from the end of August to October?


Here, for your viewing enjoyment, are a few scenes of life in the young Sederberg household, roughly two decades ago:

All I can say is, I had pretty good taste as a child. I was a dancing kitty and I had a cookie monster cake. Mmm, blue coconut.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The adventures of an accidental scientist: Part V

Heh. So about three summers ago, I had a fun little adventure in the lab. I was using a lot of DNA from quinoa plants, and to use DNA for genetic studies, it needs to be purified. The bet way to purify DNA out of plants is to take tissue samples from the leaves and treat it with a bunch of chemicals to remove different elements from the DNA.

Unfortunately, some of my plants died and I needed more DNA. One of the other students was growing some plants in a growth chamber on the bottom floor of the building and told me I could take some young leaves to get some DNA samples, for which I was grateful.

Now, the Widstoe has two basements. I work on the upper basement, but the growth chambers are in the lower basement. So I took my DNA collecting tools and headed down one more flight of stairs to get my DNA samples.

When I got to the growth chamber, I noticed that the door was designed to be opened from both the outside and the inside, so one could step inside the growth chamber and shut the door and still get out all right. However, the next thing I noticed was that the inside door latch was broken, so I left the door slightly open and turned around to collect my tissue.

When I was abut halfway through, I heard voices and turned around to see two janitors inspecting the temperature controlling system of the growth chamber. They greeted me and continued on their way, and I went back to collecting tissue.

I finished up and turned to leave, only to discover, to my dismay, that the janitors had pulled the door shut when they left! Sadly, my assessment that the door wouldn't open from the inside was correct. I was locked in the growth chamber!

After studying the growth chamber, I determined that it could have been worse. There was ventilation, so I wouldn't suffocate, the temperature was tolerable and controlled, and there were quinoa plants I could eat if things really got desperate. I sat down and hoped to hear someone walk by soon.

Fortunately, I didn't need to test my growth chamber survival skills. After a short but unmeasured length of time, I heard voices in the hall an pounded on the door as hard as I could. It was the janitors again, and they were slightly chagrined to discover that they had locked me in. I was just glad that I didn't have to spend the night in there. I kind of wonder what would have happened if no one had walked by for the rest of the day- would a search party think to look on the first floor of the Widstoe?

Friday, July 25, 2008

The most beautiful thing I've ever seen . . .

. . . okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But it's close. You know you're a true nerd when you can look at something obscure that would make most people furrow their respective brows, but it makes you want to weep for joy.

I remember when I was taking Bio 240, or intro to molecular biology, a good five years ago, and our teacher put a picture of a ribosome up on the overhead and told us it was beautiful.

I didn't understand then, but I do now.

And thus, I give you my FISH (please recall that this is an acronym, standing for fluorescence in-situ hybridization. What you see below is a small fluorescent spot of DNA on a chromosome, indicating how many copies of a gene there are and where they are located on the chromosome. And it makes me supremely happy). (Also, click on the picture to enlarge. It still won't make much sense, but you'll be able to see the blobs better.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Remembering my forefathers

The twenty-fourth of July is a special day for my church. It's the day that we celebrate the arrival of the early Latter-day Saints into the Salt Lake Valley in 1846, in search of the religious freedom that had been blatantly denied them in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa. The Salt Lake Valley offered them a chance to regain their footing and get somewhat settled before the ruckus started again with the arrival of Johnston's Army about fifteen years later. But that was fifteen years to get established, which was about as long as the church had been in existence before that- it was formally organized in 1830.

I've always had a special fascination with the history of my church. Part of that is probably because some of my ancestors were part of the beginnings of it, joining the church in Missouri in the 1830's. So July 24th, or Pioneer Day, has always been fun for me, because it's a chance to think about and recount the hardships and miracles that my ancestors went through.

Along with my fascination for the history of my church, I've always had a fascination with the history of my family. Some of the history of my family is very closely tied with the history of my religion, and some of it is not.

Some of my ancestors were about as unreligious as can be. My grandpa has been chronicling some of their stories in our monthly family newsletter recently. I take a short excerpt here that I especially enjoyed:

It was 1918. Within a year, prohibition became the law of the land. Under its terms it wasn't illegal to drink alcoholic beverages, just illegal to buy or sell them. (It has been said that more people drank during prohibition than before. The bathtub gin, moonshine, and home brew were readily available. Wine was probably the safest intoxicant because it fermented naturally.) Earl never talkd much about his drinking habits while he was in Michigan, but he did relate one story. In it, he and Elwood Whitinger took a fling at botlegging. They drove hundreds of miles to Canada and back, crossing the border on dirt roads to avoid revenuers. They bought fine Canadian whiskey and paid full price for it. They cut back on their purchase because they realized ath if they got caught they would lose everything. When they got back safely they decided they weren't cut out to be bootleggers and vowed not to try that funny business again. And so they destroyed the evidence. they drank it up.

Heh. That's a story about my great-great uncle who was a Norwegian bachelor farmer and lived in the Dakotas his whole life. My grandpa has been sharing stories about all the characters in his family and I'm so glad that these characters are not being lost to the winds of time completely. Another of my favorite tidbits:

Like his father before him, Earl had a cat. Grandpa called his cat "Carolinus" after the King of Sweden. Earl's cat "Commando X29" was part ocelot. He was leaner, meaner, and longer than a house cat and never tamed. Commando didn't die of old age. He just disappeared one day. As I remember, he could leap over a six foot fence.

When I was very small, my family went to visit Uncle Earl and his brother, Uncle Alfred. For reasons that I am not completely sure of, they went by the names of Uncle Honey and Uncle Slugg, which is what we affectionately refer to them as at my house. I wish I could remember visiting them, but I was too young.

There is such strength in knowing our family heritage. There is such strength in tying families together and understanding our ancestors, knowing what their weaknesses were that we might learn from the and be wary of them and knowing what their strengths were that we may learn from them also, and find pleasure in them. There is such security in knowing the stories and histories of those who paved the way for our entrances into the world.

Over the course of the last four years of so, it has been my privilege to work closely with my grandma in assembling her life story. The project is quite far from completed, but I was amazed at how much my eyes were opened to the multifaceted life she has led. As a child, the only part of her life that I was aware of was that she was "Grandma." It has been one of the best experiences of my life to realize what a rich, full life she has led by personally talking with her and listening to her reminisce. Last summer, I spent a week with her to tie up some loose ends, and I wrote about my impressions:

I had a good time visiting in Minneapolis. I spent a lot of time interviewing Grandma for her biography. It's the first time I'd done that since her accident, and, like she warned me, her memory is a little more fuzzy now. But her sense of humor is still delightful. I have a feeling that her sense of humor has helped her through a lot of tough situations in life- joining the Latter-day Saint church with no family support, attending church her whole life without her husband, and the challenges of raising a family. Her goodness radiates through her eyes, and I think it's mostly due to the fact that she hasn't let life beat her. She has taken life and used it to improve herself and she has loved so many people and helped so many people and because of the charity in her heart, she is one of the happiest, kindest people I know. The hours I spent interviewing her were golden.

These are the kinds of things that can't be learned from books. They can be read about in books and studied and debated and philosophized over- things like love and charity and the source of real happiness and humor- but they can only be really learned and internalized by going in to the world and interacting with people who have these things and seeing them and trying them out for ourselves and making lots of mistakes until finally, after years of attempts, we maybe start to get things right. But, since the whole purpose of life is to learn how to get things right, I figure that as long as I'm working on it, the Lord can't be too displeased with me. And as long as I have wonderful examples like my grandma to look to and learn from, I figure I can keep trying. What a blessing a good family heritage is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Will the real Aunt Maria please stand up?

I spent this last week in California with my sisters, at my big sister's place. She has two adorable little boys who joined us on many of our adventures. One thing we noticed pretty quickly was that, even though we see them a couple of times a year, they have some trouble telling me and Laura apart. Here you can see me and Laura with T, our older nephew:

(I'm on the left). Becca had us sit down with T and Ike and had them look at us closely to see if they could tell any good ways to keep us apart. After some scrutiny, T said, "well, Laura has curly hair and Maria has squiggly hair." On top of that, we noticed that Laura wears earrings and Maria doesn't, and that's about as far as we got. Despite the hair distinction, they ended up calling both of us Maria quite a bit. Maria 1 and Maria 2.

The best thing about spending time with T and Ike is how relaxing and refreshing children are when one is used to being completely surrounded by academia. They are so affectionate and curious and innocent that it makes my heart ache with happiness sometimes. They also both love books, which makes us kindred spirits.

They are also very, very funny. Now, for a shout-out to the humor and antics of a six-year-old and a three-year-old.

Here is Ike doing his impersonation of the kung-Fu Panda. Note that he is holding his own bear, fresh from the Build-A-Bear Workshop:

Ike also apparently has a thing for hats these days. We stopped at a little store in a flea market to try on hats and he joined right in the fun. Doesn't he look good?

Ike also is the proud owner of a cowboy hat. He wore it all over Disneyland. Then he acquired a crown and added that to his headgear. The waiter at the restaurant wanted to know if he was a cowboy prince:

Ike is 100% little boy. When we went camping, it took him about five minutes to get his hands full of sticks and dirt on his nose. We went on a nature walk and he insisted that we climb on every log and stump we saw. It was kind of fun.

T is know in our family for his quick mind, amazingly retentive memory, and fabulous imagination. Here he and Angela are building an ark in a children's museum. If you ever wondered how Noah did it, check out the speed at which these two are moving!

After building the ark, T enjoyed some time in the catwalks of the ark:

From the catwalks, one has a pretty good view of all the animal life on the ark:

T's mom, my sister Becca, is very creative, and his dad, my brother-in-law Mike, is an engineer. T inherited both traits. He loves building things and he adores cars. His favorite rides at Disneyland were the Mark Twain steamboat and the Autopia cars. Laura rode in the passenger seat of the car while T drove. At least, it started out that way. T discovered that he couldn't reach the pedal and the steering wheel at the same time, so Laura pushed the pedal. Then, T put her hands on the wheel and had her steer from the passenger seat. When they were all done, he jumped out of the car and enthusiastically told Laura that she was a good navigator:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Good friends are like good wine- they age well

I can't tell you how much I enjoy keeping in touch with people who have played a significant role in my life. It brings me such joy to meet up with old friends and realize that we're still friends, possibly a small-scale version of what Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah felt when they met up after a fourteen year separation. (Incidentally, "Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah" has always struck me as a good name for a band.)

Today I had the unexpected opportunity to have lunch with a girl that I worked with at BYU a couple of years ago before she graduated. Her name is also Maria, which she got a kick out of. She's a cute, happy, energetic little thing and it was really so good to see her again after almost three years. It was good to catch up and it was good to see what she's doing with her life now. To my sorrow, I discovered that she's going home to Singapore at least semi-permanently at the end of the summer. But being able to meet up with her and spend some time with her made up for a lot of little, annoying things that have happened this week.

Life is a lot better when the focus is on the good, beautiful things. I freely acknowledge that these things are often in the minority- life takes a lot of work and a lot of heartache and a lot of growth, which more often than not is accompanied by a lot of pain. But oftentimes many of us, myself included, are guilty of taking the good things in life for granted and whining that there aren't more of them, rather than being grateful for each one that comes our way.

Things that have happened this week that I am grateful for:
- A wonderful conversation with my good friend Nate that took place when he came over to take out our garbage for us.
-Practicing with Danielle for our upcoming recital
-Talking to Jacob, Danielle's adorable little boy
-Going to a fun and instructive voice lesson
-Trying my hand at counted-cross stitch for the first time in years
-Swimming in my apartment pool at night- so warm, so peaceful
-Playing volleyball with my FHE group
-Being pulled out of my apartment by my good friend Katherine when she insisted that I join her at her place to eat the pitas she had just made (like I would turn down very yummy free food!)
-Having dinner in Salt Lake with my friend Melanie during which she gave me a booklet and some very good advice about job interviewing
-Celebrating my brother Tim's birthday on Sunday with most of my family
-Preparing for our sister trip to California
-Actually seeing some of my great roommates (seriously, no one is every home at my apartment!) (Including me) and having some great conversations with them
-Enjoying the fact that my new roommates are much cleaner than the old ones- and also very much enjoying the fact that there is no TV in our living room right now!
-Accompanying my adviser and another student to my adviser's house and watching him talk baby-talk to his cat

Look at how many great things I have to enjoy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Adventures of an Accidental Scientist: Part IV

After I started chronicling my adventures in science, my friend Danielle left this comment on my blog:
That really is interesting that you ended up so sciencey. I think maybe it's because you look so great in a lab coat
That made me think. Do I really look good in a lab coat? I don't actually wear one all that often, unless I'm really cold or working with nasty chemicals. But I thought I'd put it to the public. Do I look good in a labcoat? Here I am modeling my own personal lab coat just for this post. Please note the pipet on the counter (my tool of choice presently) and the microscope on the left (my second favorite tool of choice).

Also, please note the embroidery on the breast pocket. That's a relic from my first summer working in the lab five years ago when I worked with fourteen guys- all married (okay, one of them was just engaged, not married, I admit), and I felt a need to assert my femininity. It came out as stars and flower on my lab coat.

I got a few comments on it and then no one cared much until a couple of years ago when Channel 5 news did a story on our lab and the work we do with quinoa. They interviewed the professors, and Dr. M was frantically looking for a lab coat so he would look more official on TV. He happened to see me and asked me if I had a lab coat he could borrow. I hesitated. Then I told him I did . . . but it had flowers on the pocket.

He gave me a very startled look and asked, mostly joking, what I had gone and done that for. Needless to say, he did not end up borrowing my lab coat. Heh. That's one good way to designate something as your own in a male-dominant field.

The adventures of an accidental scientist: Part III

I work with a family of plants called chenopods right now. Most people don't really care about them, they're kind of weedy and the most significant thing they do is give people allergies. But they happen to be closely related to quinoa, the grain of the future, and so we are interested in taking all the cool characteristics of the other chenopods and giving them t quinoa.

So when I go down to the greenhouse in the morning to water my plants and take tissue samples, this is what I see:

It's a nice break from the windowless basement lab. But then I walk through the horticultural greenhouses on my way back up to the lab, and this is what I see:

Why can't we work on the genetics of pretty plants? Also, I want a hall in my house like that first horticultural picture. Maybe just along the back of the house. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

I just started reading a book about the tumultuous election of 1800 (Adams versus Jefferson; Jefferson won), and I was struck by how quickly America became a completely altered place once it was no longer a British colony. By 1800, there were no lords or ladies and the idea of class distinction was challenged to its core when John Adams, a common man from a poor family, became the president just prior to 1800. Also, with the disestablishment of state churches, religious freedom was at a new zenith, although tolerance still had quite a ways to go.

America is a great place. I feel very blessed to live here. Here's some vignettes from my Fourth of July weekend:

Balloon launch, 6:30 AM, Provo. This is one of my favorite parts of the Freedom Festival. We walked out on the field with about 20 hot air balloons while they were being inflated. This is me and my roommate Lindsay:That night, Misha tried lighting some fireworks:

While Lois and I tried to take an action shot of her leaping. For some reason, my camera was stuck on timer and wouldn't go off when I wanted it to. So we never got a good leaping picture, but we got a lot of funny action shots, anyway.The whole camera-stick-on-timer thing actually provided us with some pretty entertaining shots overall. This is my personal favorite:

Although this picture looks rather violent, do not be alarmed. Misha and Lois are in fact quite good friends, as can be seen here, where they pose atop my car:
The next morning, I made Misha and Angi go to the parade with me. They only wanted to stay for half an hour, and the longer we were there, the more they tried to shorten the amount of time. Misha somehow got ahold of my camera:

Please note how patriotic I am with my red shirt and white and blue eyes. Also, just before I finally gave in and took the kids home, the procession of emergency vehicles went past, blaring their horns. But they weren't the only things blaring. Here you can see one of Misha's hidden talents:

And here was his favorite part of the parade: Seeing the Cosmobile on the way back to our car. I did not give in to his pleadings that we hot rod the Cosmobile and drive off in it. As any good BYU student knows, crossing Cosmo is not a wise idea.Going back to the theme of my intro, I spent a great morning on the Fifth of July volunteering at Colonial Days in downtown Provo. I got to wear a colonial period dress and stand in a little piece of a replica of the Mayflower and tell people cool facts about the Pilgrims. It was neat. Also, it was funny changing in a room full of girls who were putting on hoopskirts and helping each other lace up the backs of their dresses. Have you ever read "Gone With the Wind" or "Little House in the Big Woods" or some book where there's a scene with a whole bunch of girls getting ready for a dance in a room together? I now know what that's like. I have experienced a room full of petticoats for myself. It's amazing how feminine wearing a petticoat can make you feel.
Back at the house, Misha and Lois tried to defy physics by riding an old banana bike together:

Then we all gathered outside for a big game of four square! We had six squares and three people rotating in. After some heated debates over which moves were legal and which were not (chicken feet was definitely an illegal move), we recruited Dad to be our referee, and he seemed to really enjoy it. Here you can see him and Tricia looking at the ball closely to determine if it landed on a line or not (lines were redos):
Then, at the conclusion of the weekend, we got out my great-grandma's old mink coat (isn't this how you celebrate the Fourth?) and Lois tried it on. It's the perfect article of clothing for a cat lover: you can't tell if it's been shed on or not!

Misha felt left out, so he found a long wool coat that went down to his ankles and modeled it.

After all that excitement, I was ready to go to bed and sleep for a very long time- except for the 8:30 AM church the next morning. But since that's part of my pursuit of happiness, I'm not complaining.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The end of an era

I've had a lot of roommates since I started college. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. As of July 2008, I have lived with 55 girls over my seven years of college. I know what you're thinking. Anyone can rack up that many roommates over that much time, right? But let's break it down. 55 divided by 7 is 7.8 roommates per year, which is still a pretty high number. Chalk it up to the fact that I move a lot.

There have been a lot of great roommates among those 55. There have also been some that I could take or leave, and a handful that I am very, very glad to not be living with any more. But even among the best ones, I never lived with anyone for more than twelve months until the last two years.

Two years ago, I moved to my current apartment complex completely blind. I moved in with five other girls that I'd never met before. Among them was Heather. I wouldn't say that we immediately struck off as great friends, but as we got to know each other, I began to value her friendship and opinion and sense of humor and advice more than just about anyone else. When all the rest of our roommates got married or got jobs at the end of the year, we moved to a new apartment together and had another great year of being roommates.

All good things must end, of course, and thus has my tenure as Heather's roommate ended. It's for a wonderful reason- she got married last weekend to a wonderful guy. It was a great thing, especially from my perspecitve, because he's one of my good friends. In fact the three of us together formed what we affectionately referred to as the Triumvirate, meaning that we're pretty tight. We're looking to expand to a Quadrumvirate, so that I don't have to be a third wheel.

As I was about to leave their wedding reception, I discovered that I didn't want to. Leaving the reception meant that the Age of Heather and Maria was officially over, and a new era would begin. It hurt my heart a little bit. This new era will be good, I'm sure, but I'm not used to it yet.

Summertime is here

Once we've been to the cousins' house to go swimming, there can no longer be any doubt that summer is here. It was a pretty swelteringly warm day, confirming the summeriness.

Lois was a little concerned about going out in the deep end of the pool, so we settled her in a turtle-floating device intended for small children and loaded her up with noodles. She felt better after that, but it still took her a while to warm up to the deep end:

However, once she warmed up, she was very excited to actually be in the water. With an exclamation of joy, she flung away the noodles:

. . . and converted Tricia to the joys of the deep end by taking her on a little swim while safely ensconced in the turtle tube:

Then the boys became jealous of the fact that the girls had the turtle tube, and consequently, Jake decided to impress us with his amazing technique by jumping directly into the leg holes within the turtle tube, designed for someone a quarter his age (or less):

(I'm pretty pleased with that action shot, by the way).

Below, you can see Jake enjoying the fruits of his labors (ie, he won the rights to the turtle tube in the deep end), while Matt relaxes by floating on his back. Note that Matt is careful to protect his eyes from anything harmful (chlorine, UV rays, bugs, small children), by wearing his goggles at all times.

Of course, Jake didn't get to enjoy it in peace for long, because there were other men around who wanted to try their figurative hands at jumping into the turtle tube. Below is an excpetionally fine still of Luke about to plunge into an inner tube. He did not land on Jake's head, although from the angle of the camera it looks like he is about to.