Sunday, December 27, 2009

We should all use logic like this

Today I was playing a game with K and he decided to give me one of his cards. I looked at the card and asked in some confusion, "Why are you giving this to me? I'm a little confused."

He shrugged and smiled and said. "Just . . . for happiness."

That's kind of hard to argue with. I took the card.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Huh?

So I registered for a one-night instructional class on artisan breadmaking through the U of U's continuing education program. I received an email confirming that my registrations request had been received, but that I had not been formally accepted into the class yet. My favorite part of the email reads thus:

Confirmation of your enrollment will be sent by email within 2 business days. If you did not provide an email address, confirmation will be sent via postal mail. Please allow time for delivery.


I'm glad that they sent me an email about what will happen if I didn't provide them with an email contact. These people are thinkers. But I am excited for this breadmaking class.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Feels like Home

I have a home! Not just a place to live, but a place that feels like home! I'm so content.
Welcome to the new abode of Maria. joining me on this adventure are Cassaundra, Sarah, Theresia, and Kerstin. We are collectively a pretty good looking, intelligent group of girls. We all either have a master's degree or are completing one- in topics as diverse as violin performance, social work, and biotechnology. You are all invited to come play with us. We are very good at playing. We are also very good at working. I moved in on Saturday amid a fair amount of confusion, because all the windows in the house got replaced last week and everything was still in disarray because of it. Consequently, after I got my room in some semblance of order, we went over the house and wiped off every surface and wall to get rid of the fine layer of dust.
Here I be and here I think I'll stay for a while. Moving every year is staring to get old- I think I'll need a pretty compelling reason to dislodge me from this house. Everybody come play!

Party Like It's 2009

Hm. It just doesn't have the same ring to it that it did a decade ago.
I would like to announce that the astronomical first day of winter is today! That means that the days are now getting longer instead of shorter. This is awesome!
I can't decide if I feel like this year whipped by or if it went so slowly. Definitely a lot of things have been packed into this year, that's for sure. Here's a sampling:

Apparently no one believes me when I tell them that I have an amazing view of the Salt Lake Valley from my apartment, because no one has taken me up on the offer to come visit. Just so you can all see what you're missing, this is what I see out my window:


And, after several months, we put together a pretty cute interior, too. I'm sad that I left my cute apartment when I moved on Saturday.



Car trouble: My car is a good car, but I guess if you buy a car that's ten years old you expect to have some problems with it. Moving close to the Great Salt Lake did a serious corrosion number on my rims and after four flat tires and a freeway blowout, I caved in and bought new tires and wheels. The first flat was greeting me in the long-term parking lot of the airport when I got back from New Zealand. After 18 hours of travel, that's not a sight I was hoping to see:


Later, I failed my safety test because of burnt-out bulbs on my car and I was too cheap to have them replaced in the shop. My most excellent neighbor Daniel helped me figure out how to put the new bulbs in. It just happened to be the first day that it decided to be cold and snowy, too. But I felt great after I put new blinker bulbs in my car.


Family: always a big, important part of every year. This year the first notable family happening was the passing away of Hazle the Cat, shortly before his eighteenth birthday. I made him a little shroud out of orange fleece with cat faces on it and Michael asked to be the pallbearer:


The next big thing that happened was the return of Elder Mark Sederberg from his mission in Spain! I still can't believe I left my camera in the car when we went in to the airport, but I got some good pictures from the Park-n-Wait before we went in. Here are Laura and Tricia depicting how excited they are.

The next big thing that happened was the birth of my third nephew, Becca and Mike's third little boy. I blogged about this recently, so I'll try not to dwell on how adorable my nephews are too much. But I love them and we had fun:






The other big things are still announcements in the family- Matt and Tricia's baby and now Tim and Tina's baby will be making their debuts in 2010. As I've said before, I love being an aunt and spoiling nephews. It will be great to have some closer to home.

Smaller family happenings this year include the fact that Michael and Laura had the same hairdo for a little while:



Also, Tim continued his BeatleMania by purchasing Beatles Rock Band. We rocked out when he brought it home on Halloween. Then we watched PeeWee's Big Adventure. Tim thought it was a great night.



And, as always, my family are just kind of a crazy bunch. I like it.







What else? Every year there are weddings and wedding receptions. I attended my cousin Luke's wedding and I'll attend Meagan and Daniel's next week . . . I lose track of all the receptions I go to. I did attend one at the end of the summer for my friend and old roommate Lexie, one of the most sincerely kind people I've ever met. This is catching up with more old roommates: me, Cammie, Lindsey, and Emily.




I got to go to New Zealand, too. Although the trip didn't go quite like I'd planned, I was spoiled rotten by the very kind and engaging family that hosted me. They really went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, which I appreciate a lot. I also appreciated the amazing beauty of New Zealand.






And of course, 2009 will be ingrained in my mind forever as the year of depression. But dang it, if I can make it through what I've made it through this year, I can make it through just about anything! Bring it on, world! I'm ready for you- with my hand firmly in the hand of God. A new year, a new decade, a new phase of life. I feel like celebrating!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Hands of the Lord

Life comes and goes in strange and unexpected ways. Death still has not touched my life in very many closely personal ways, but this morning I received word on the death of someone I don't know profoundly well who has touched my life profoundly.

I've written before about my friend James Njuguna and the work he's done with a charitable organization he founded in Kenya, Fadhili Helpers, which is the group that I volunteered with while I was there. James is truly an inspiration to me, one of my role models. I didn't know him all that well while I was in Kenya, my orphanage was in a village outside of Nairobi and I didn't make it in to the Fadhili office in town very often, but the little I knew of him impressed me. In recent months, I've been collaborating with him to edit and clean up his website, and in the process, I've learned a lot about him and his dreams and drive.

James is devoutly Christian and desires more than anything to be able to raise his countrymen out of poverty, physical, mental, and spiritual. He started from scratch just a few years ago with a group of like-minded young men, believing that it was God's desire, and built a program that brings in volunteers from around the world and places them in orphanages and school. He started his own orphanage in Nairobi and has a child sponsorship program in place. He orchestrates the work of missionary groups going into the most rural parts of Kenya to preach the good news of the Gospel to the tribes that live there. All this from a man who grew up as one of the youngest children of 13, in an almost destitute house, who could only finish high school because someone donated the school fees for him.

James is funny and easygoing and happy and always looking for ways to help. And there is a big hole in my heart right now because of the news I received from Fadhili this morning.

James was on his way home last Friday- almost there, in fact- when he was accosted by a group of thugs who shot him dead and ran, apparently without even taking anything.

My friend Anena, who went to Kenya the same time I did as a volunteer, extended her stay indefinitely, and started her own NGO, knew James much better than I and wrote about her perspective and the Kenyan perspective on death on her very eloquent but not G-rated blog (Anena is one of the most fascinating people I've ever met, but some of her habits caused James to tell her sometimes that she needs Jesus- something he never felt the need to tell me. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he felt that I adhered to religion a little too much, since I'd never take chai with them). Anena knew James much better than I got the chance to, working with him very closely as she began her organization to assist women and children with AIDS. And she has exactly the same assessment of him that I do.

But, the glimmer in this tragedy is that James' work is well-enough established that Fadhili will continue to assist Kenya's orphans and streetmen and children from broken homes. Now it might be even more important, because now, on top of being a wonderful organization to help so many who cannot help themselves, it is a living monument to the life of a good, good man.

I've given thought lately to the idea that God has no hands but us- that it is critical for us to do our best to be listening for God's nudges, because often those nudges are guiding us towards someone with a need that we can help. We are the hands of the Lord when we choose to be, and we assist in blessing His children by actively serving those around us. James, you were the hands of the Lord. If your life wasn't worn out in service, it's only because you didn't live long enough to do so. You are one of my heroes, and will be forever.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Late, I know

I was flipping through my photos of visiting Becca and her family in October and couldn't resist sharing, even though they're over a month old now.

Isn't this baby adorable? I'm glad I got to spend some quality time with him, especially after Becca pointed out that he looks significantly like I did at that age. No wonder we bonded.



To bond even more, here's M wearing a Halloween onesie that I decorated for him laying on the blanket I crocheted for him. Spoiling nephews is fun.



I'm not a huge fan of Southern California, but I am very jealous that a winter garden is a feasible option there. T and K and I picked out two varieties of heirloom tomatoes, basil, chives, sunflowers, and a couple of other plants to go in their balcony planters. I was drooling at the garden center.



This is T's rendition of an UNO wild card, done in UNO cards. He's a very creative kid.



At the scarecrow display at the pumpkin farm. This was one of many scarecrows created for a local competition- T and K are doing their pirate imitations to go along with the scarecrows.



K is also very creative. One afternoon he grabbed both his and T's Indiana Jones fedoras and used them to cover up his whole head because he wanted to convince me that his head was missing.



This is during the creation of a pie that T and K helped me make. Fortunately, their parents were taking an afternoon nap and I think we had most of the mess cleaned up before Becca could come see what we were doing. Piecrust with two young boys can be a very messy affair.



Another baking excursion- making pumpkin bread, I believe. K specifically wanted me to take this picture so it would look like T had two heads.



A little farther north- going to the redwoods with McKay. I believe this tree had a diameter of seventeen feet (correct me if I'm wrong, McKay)



I think I fell in love with this place.



This is McKay trying out the very naturale benches along the sides of the path



McKay and I had a debate about whether sequoias are taller than redwoods and couldn't come to a conclusion. We tried to call Josh, sometimes known as WikiJosh, so he could either tell us or look it up for us, but McKay's phone wasn't getting any reception in the forest. I guess technology can only get you so far.



Yep, any time anyone wants to go camping in the redwoods, give me a call. (But not from the redwoods, as that doesn't work).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spread the joy

Melanie and I just got involved in an in-depth discussion of music theory. The debate was why sharps and flats are both needed and why we can't just do all key signatures with sharps. After drawing out the circle of fifths and several keys and trying to transpose the key of A flat major into the key of G sharp major by just changing the notation of the flatted keys, we determined that it was because you'd have to use both C and C sharp in the same key. Which turns out to be the same reason I gave her in the start that she didn't like- the presence of double sharps, just under a different name.

That was surprisingly fun. I didn't realize that the music geek in me was so hungry to get out and play. Bless you, circle of fifths.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Remembering the big picture

I got a great energy boost tonight that reminded me why I love science so much. Few things are as motivating as listening to a Nobel laureate speak- unless it's shaking his hand and speaking to him personally afterward. Wow, I feel energized.

I'm still not sure how we got this opportunity, but my stake had a combined FHE meeting tonight where we listened to Mario Capecchi, Nobel laureate for medicine and physiology for 2007 speak about his life and his science and his experience receiving his award. I highly suggest reading a little bit about his life if you want an inspirational story. I enjoyed hearing that, but I so enjoyed listening to him talk about his science, his passion. To him, science is an elegant, exciting, creative thing and it involves lots of creative thinking and reaching outside one's comfort zone and interacting with other people and doing everything you can to prevent yourself from getting so narrow in your focus that you can't see outside your own blinders. And maybe it's just that I'm also a scientist, but listening to him speak, I felt energized to plow back in to the daily grind with more enthusiasm and dedication.

Moments like these are so critical for anyone in any field- seeing the big picture and remembering why we do the small daily things that we do. As a scientist, hearing such an excellent scientist speak, or reading about great achievements, or brainstorming with colleagues or exchanging banter with friends helps me achieve that. Even more importantly, I remember the point of the entire daily grind and everything I do by going to the temple and taking the sacrament and engaging in good, deep, spiritual conversation with friends. It's amazing what you can do when you can both focus on the big picture with its excitement and thrill but at the same time keep your mind firmly on the day-to-day details that make these vistas and dreams a reality. That is a worthy life goal right there- being both farsighted and nearsighted, I suppose.

Speaking of which, I should stop philosophizing and go finish something for work that I ran out of time to complete today. The daily grind is unrelenting- but I think I'll enjoy it more with this fresh burst of energy. Hooray!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

One Year Becomes Another

I've been somewhat introspective all month as I've thought about how last November, I was in Kenya having all kinds of strange adventures. I've been going back and reading my journal and I'm surprised at what I've forgotten already and I'm glad I took the time to write so much of it down. Every evening after dinner while the family would gather in the living room and watch TV or chatter away in Swahili or Kikuyu, I would pull out my little, cheap writing notebook that I bought in the market my first full day in Kenya and write my experiences and impressions. One year ago today, I was driving back from the coastal town of Mombasa, the most humid, grimiest place I've ever been, to Nairobi, which is a good seven hour drive or so. This was on a bus, and it was overnight. And Kenya's roads are not paved. I don't think I really slept the whole time. Then the bus stopped and let us off in Nairobi. I got off with Jo and Emily, the other volunteers I was traveling with, and we looked around and realized that we had no idea where we were. Then a very kind taxi driver pointed out the Nairobi Hilton to us, which was a landmark for the volunteers. It was amazing how as soon as I knew where the Hilton was, I knew exactly how to get back to my village of Gathiga. I walked over to the matatu station and took the matatu back to the village. The one thing I could never figure out is why there were twenty other people who wanted to go from Nairobi towards Gathiga at 6 AM on a Sunday morning.

As I've been reading my notes from Kenya, I've also found myself flipping back through the rest of my journal, and once again, I've been surprised by what I've found. Here's a few reflections and observations I made in 2008:

April 7:
I walked back to Alta with Peter. It was kind of fun; we carried on a continuation of the conversation we’d had at the Dreamcicle. Peter is a fun guy to talk to, and it was a clear, slightly cool night, perfect for a short walk with a good conversation partner. Our conversation turned to other aspects of life, how part of the reason it’s so important to enjoy the moment is that the “moments” are usually in the minority. But then we made a pact that we would work on enjoying the moment. I told him that next time I see him, I’ll ask him how he’s coming on the goal. I hope I remember to. It should be fun.

So. Living in the moment. Also, as I’ve been continually admonished, looking at things from an eternal perspective. I had a pretty good day on Thursday;but this weekend was kind of hard again. But something else I’ve been trying to convince myself of is that it’s better to try to be your best and be inconsistent than to give up the fight and never be your best because you’re afraid of the inconsistency. Better to strive for better things and have inconsistent results than to be consistently living below your privileges. So it’s all right that I had a less than admirable weekend. I’ve felt the sweet peace of forgiveness before, I need to keep the Lord involved and trust Him.

April 27
Next time I write, I’ll fill in some gaps about new roommates, an exciting expedition to broaden my cooking horizons, and extreme sorrow and deepening faith. Tune in next time for another exciting episode of Maria’s life!

May 12
What a complicated situation. But, in any case, I’m slowly learning that if I keep my eyes on the Lord and have confidence and faith that He is the one guiding my life—and the lives of those around me—then it is much easier to be happy, and I don’t get panicky or resentful feelings welling up inside. If I take my eyes off of Him and focus on dissatisfying conditions or my own faults and foibles or anything else—if I focus on the boisterous waves of the sea, then I begin to sink, and I can no longer walk on the water. I need patience. I need to realize that as much as I so desperately want to graduate and leave, apparently that’s not what I get to do quite yet. Patience. I am ready to move on, but there must be someone who needs me here still. Do not be selfish, Maria. Give of yourself. Be patient.

June 22
One thing I hate about college life is the intense cycle of friends. You get to know people pretty well relatively quickly because there aren’t tons of pressures on your time- no family of your own to worry about. Everyone’s looking for friends. So friendships are formed quickly- and then they get interrupted quickly by graduation, marriage, moving, etc. I love all my friends now. I loved all my friends last year and the year before that and the year before that and the year before that . . . going back to my freshman year of college which was seven years ago now. It seems like I’ve spent the last four of those at least becoming good friends with people and then attending their wedding receptions.
I’m not really complaining, especially since it seems like so many of my good friends have married each other- such good friends! I love them all so much.
Maybe someday if I’m lucky, I’ll join their ranks. I kind of feel like I’m standing in the middle of a decaying sandbank- and all the sand is blowing away around me, but I’m still standing in the same place I’ve been for years. I know it’s not really true. I’ve grown and changed a whole lot since I started BYU. I sure hope I’m different now than when I was a freshman, at least. I loved my freshman year, but looking back, there are so many things I wish I’d done that I didn’t, and so many mistakes I made that I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d figured out how to be friends with guys sooner without being weird about it. I wish I’d figured out how to live in the moment more, although that was kind of tricky since I had chronic fatigue syndrome. I wish a lot of things that I can’t change now, so I don’t worry about it too much. I think I’ve always been something of a late bloomer. I guess as long as the lessons get learned, it doesn’t matter so much when they get learned, although sooner does seem to be a little better.

June 29
Meanwhile, Danielle and I are preparing nicely for our recital. I’m excited, I think it’s going to really come off well. Danielle is going to play Claire de Lune for a solo piece, and we have six or seven numbers we’re working up where she’s accompanying me. Our rehearsals are always punctuated by interruptions when her children need attention. Jacob is two and is definitely a little mischief maker. He’s very curious and likes to explore things. A lot of time we end up putting my backpack in the bathroom because that’s the only place he can’t get to it. He’s a cute little thing though; he kind of reminds me of my brother Mark at that age. He has apparently grown rather fond of me, because the other day he asked Danielle where I was. Danielle’s sister Kim is in my ward and she had a birthday party at her parents’ house on Friday night. Danielle was there with her family, and I was rather flattered when Jacob came over to me and kind of latched on to my leg. We played Bocce ball and Jacob gave me his ball to throw. I suggested that he might wasn’t to throw it himself, but he kept giving it back to me and saying “Maria throw it.” So, I threw his ball for him.

July 8
There are so many good, fun things I want to do, though, I need to remember the counsel that just because something is good is not a good enough reason to do it. I need to be careful to fill my time with the best things, not just with good things. A Also on my list of things to do right now are become a better biker, practice voice, practice piano for the piano support group, improve at cross-stitch, finish the two skirts, top, and pair of pants that I have fabric for, transcribe Grandma’s biography tapes, and try new recipes. It’s more than enough to keep me busy. But life is full, and life is good.
Life is also tired, since it’s almost midnight. I think I’ll finish this tomorrow. Good night.

August 24
I need so many miracles in my life. Or maybe all I need is more faith. Either way, I think sometimes I get blessed a whole stinkin’ lot.

August 28
We spent the night in a beautiful meadow about four miles up the canyon. The stars were gorgeous, but not as phenomenal as they could have been because we still got a little glare from the city lights. We saw some beautiful shooting stars. It was dark when we actually got to the meadow, so it was kind of fun to wake up in the morning and discover that we’d spent the night in a meadow full of flowers.

September 14
Time keeps flying. I think another reason that I’m still in Provo is to give me a chance to really savor the experience of being in a BYU singles’ ward one last time. Every so often I’ll stop in the middle of my mad scurrying or playing or flirting and take a moment to realize just how much fun it is and how lucky I am, and I’ll drink it all in. It’s so good . . .

October 2
Funny how lucid and contemplative I’m feeling at 4:50 in the morning. I think I’ve almost run out of things to contemplate for now. But I think it’s all the contemplation that woke me up- all these thoughts about jobs and PhDs and boys being very friendly and thesis defenses and traveling alone to Africa . . . I guess I can see why I couldn’t sleep. But I’m going to try again now. Because I am pretty tired. Hopefully soon I’ll pick thins thing back up and discuss how I went to the wedding openhouse of my first date, Jason Troyna, the huge thesis revamp session with Dr. Jellen, the big breakthrough in contemporary voice singing that happened at my last voice lesson, and other fun anecdotes from the life of Maria.

October 12
We talked a little about reaching out to others to fulfill our baptismal covenants, one of which is to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. I think we all need so much comfort, so very, very much comfort. We like to think that when we grow up we’re adults, which apparently means that we’re tough and we can handle hard things and we have to be brave and mature all the time. And while it’s true that we do have to be brave and learn how to be mature and handle more than we could as children, we still are children at heart, and we need solace and comfort so much. People who deny this are numbing their feelings somehow- whether it be in alcohol or escapism literature or selfishness or greed or meanness of spirit. By doing so, they stunt their character growth, their emotional growth and spiritual development. But turning to the Lord, allowing Him to both comfort you and allow you to face the struggle or the temptation or whatever it is and successfully overcome it, is in the long run such a better option.

I can’t really remember why I originally started typing my journal instead of writing it out in hand. I fought the idea for a long time, thinking it was highly impersonal and very clinical, which it may be. But it is astounding to me how much more I write when I can get the words off my fingers so much faster. Also, the added benefit of having my journal on my jump drive, easily portable, is huge. Anytime I’m at a computer and I want to throw down some thoughts, all I have to do is pop in the jump drive and open up the Word document that contains my journal. As a result, I have an excellent document covering the last year and a half of my life, which has been a time of tremendous growth and challenges for me. It’s contained some of the sweetest and the bitterest moments of my life so far. And I have it mapped out and documented in general how I’ve grown and how I’ve fought my battles and how hard the battles have been, as well as how sweet the good times have been and how good the friends have been and how happy I’ve been. I feel pretty lucky to have this little device for keeping track of how the Lord has worked in m life.

October 26
After we walked around the riverwalk, we went back a ways to visit a little farmer’s market, where we had tacos and tamales for lunch. They were quite tasty. Then Grandma spotted the Idaho Falls temple matron- Jean Groeberg. She introduced us, and I must admit that I was kind of excited, because I love Elder Groeberg’s books. I tried to imagine all the things this woman had done and all the places she’d lived and was amazed. She was in a hurry so we didn’t talk long, but that was kind of neat.

November 2
Speaking of church, it was an experience and a half. The church Lucy attends is held in the schoolroom at the orphanage. It started with a good 20 minutes of song from the preacher, during which we all swayed and clapped. Then the next 2 ½ hours were alternating preaching, praying, and dancing. We were told repeatedly, “dance for the Lord!”
I sat on a row with Ruth the cook and three or four orphans. They held my hands and stroked my arms and rubbed my knuckles, fascinated by my light skin. They ran their fingers over my nails and laced their fingers through mine. They discovered the ring on my right ring finger and the watch on my left wrist and that kept them occupied for quite some time. When we danced, they had an amazing amount of rhythm and flair. They were also captivated by my light, curly hair. The kids seem starved for attention—affection is probably more accurate. They all want to get close and hold my hand, or lean against me, or run their fingers through my hair, or whatever.

November 5
It’s raining tonight—a real downpour. Hopefully it’s not too muddy in the morning. I bathed in the washroom and watched the lightning light up the outline of the banana trees through the small high window. I also washed my hair for the first time since my arrival. The water was full of red clay particles by the time I was done. The rain’s making me feel all cozy—I’m sure the Kenyans are freezing. They whip out winter coats at the slightest sign of rain or cold—usually while I’m busy enjoying the slightly cool turn in the weather. Bless them.

November 8
I think I’ll postpone the rest of what I was going to write. It’s late, and the power generator just went off. Tomorrow apparently we’re going to the crocodile and hippo pond. Could be exciting!

November 15
9:30 AM- wow. Talk about being out of one’s comfort zone. I’m taking breakfast by myself at a little downtown hole-in-the-wall cafĂ©. I’m pretty sure the staff dislikes me for being white and not speaking Swahili. Also, they may think I’m crazy for ordering both eggs and French toast. And I have a huge, burning mug of Milo to consume before I can leave. Of course, it’s not like my meal has arrived yet anyway—African time. We’re all operating on African time.
Oh, good the French toast just arrived and looks more or less like I anticipated.

November 16
On a different note, it’s Sunday in Nairobi and the house is pretty quiet. Most of Regina’s family went to church, some of the new volunteers went to the animal orphanage, and Anina, Ollie, Brandon, and Cynthia just left to Nakumatt and such. So I have a quiet house to myself for now for Sunday—except for the drum that someone’ been pounding for the last half hour, the music and chanting coming up from the streets, and the occasional noise from a crow, a rooster, and a turkey. Unfortunately, my ipod is dead. A little Sunday music would do wonders for the atmosphere. Oh, well. At least it’s pretty quiet.

November 18
The other night, I showed Lucy a picture of my family. She was impressed with the size of it and asked questions about different family members. I mentioned somehow that Dad was a bishop, the leader of our congregation for a while. So Lucy started asking me more questions about my religion. She knows I don’t drink tea because of my religion, but she asked me if I believe in salvation, and Jesus Christ and God and some other things and she finally concluded that we believe the same things except for the bit about tea. I tried to explain to her things like living prophets and the Book of Mormon, but I don’t think she quite caught the significance. But she is a very good woman.


It really was quite the year, 2008. I'm glad I wrote down a lot of those things because I forgot just how much contemplation I did. Although I still do a lot of contemplating, so I'm not sure why that surprises me . . . and hey, look, it's getting late, so I'll end now, in case anyone read through this whole thing. Thanks for playing!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Laughter's medicinal properties

Today I was having an okay day, but a kind of blah day. Just not quite so on top of things as I would like. It was far too easy to rationalize not working out after work since I had to prepare a dish for our ward FHE Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, I was feeling blah enough for a little while that I wondered if I even wanted to go to the dinner at all. I knew I should and I knew I would have fun, but it seemed like too much effort.

Then Mel came home and we started cracking lame jokes and laughing at our silly senses of humor. This had the amazing effect of revitalizing me to the point where I was eager to go to the activity. I went with some friends and met up with other friends while I was there and laughed heartily at stories that my friends told me about Seth, the ward prankster, and laughed with my friend Chad, even though we were talking about the two staff infections he's had this fall, and laughed with Daniel when he was investigating the dessert table and wanted to know if a certain dish was a torte, even though he's a lawyer and should know these things himself, and laughed with Meagan when I was talking about the sensory experience she was having eating her bread pudding but the word that came out of my mouth wasn't "sensory," but "sensual," and laughed even more when Meagan told me how she was waiting for Daniel in his apartment last week and jumped out to scare him when she heard someone coming, but it turned out that it was my roommate Amy and not Daniel, and Amy was so weirded out that she just turned and walked into our apartment without saying anything to Meagan at all. And now I don't feel blah any more. The blahness has been purged right out of my system by the laughter. It's like a pollutant has been removed. Today, I am grateful for laughter shared with good friends.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The future beckons

I'm backtracking today. Yesterday's thanks item got supplanted at the last minute, but today I'm still grateful for amazing books- but more than that, I'm grateful that for whatever reason, Heavenly Father let me come to earth into my set of circumstances. Not only do I know how to read, I have a multiplicitude of books at my very fingertips- on my bookshelf, at the library, on the internet. Even in today's world, that combination is much rarer than it should be.
I took a good chunk of time to get through school (although I guess I did get two degrees one on top of the other, so it's better than it sounds), and I miss school a lot. I miss the feeling of actively engaging my mind, and, to prove what a nerd I am, I miss the rush I would get from really effective study sessions with the pressure of a test coming up. I miss the feeling of satisfaction I got from having mastered a concept and gloating over it like a prized possession.
However, I am so happy that the tools for learning are still readily available at my fingertips, and although I can definitely tell a difference in the dedication and quality involved when I'm not actively enrolled in classes, part of what I look forward to doing my whole life is expanding my mind. I'm so thankful that I get to!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Warmth of Spirit on a Cold Night

Earlier today, I was thinking that the Daily Gratitude Award would be going to the excellent books I've been reading lately, but I just got back from a great evening at the house I'll be moving into in a month and a half, and now, I'm just grateful that I have good friends in Salt Lake who seem to want me to move in with them as much as I do, and I'm looking forward to all the good times that are ahead. There's something about an environment that's filled with love and happiness that fills my soul like a parched sponge, which is probably the case for most people. And it's been a little while since I've lived in a situation like that. I like being an independent adult, but I don't like being so independent that my life is separated out from the people I live with, which has been the case for almost a year. It's a rather lonesome feeling. I'm ridiculously excited to be living with girls who pray together and sometimes eat dinner together and are a united group.

So, the future beckons brightly. The warmth of friendship is still making me happy- I'm so grateful that Meagan is getting married so I can move in with her roommates!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Contemplation Incurs Gratitude (and vice versa)

Seeing as how Thanksgiving is in less than two weeks, it's hard to go a day without hearing some kind of reference to, well, giving thanks. I often try to make a daily entry in either my regular journal or my thought journal about something that happened that day that I'm grateful for, or just something I'm grateful for, period (as an aside, this was actually one of my strongest tools when battling depression earlier this year. It's amazing to look back and read how many good things still happened and how many people were helping me out, even unintentionally). I love the perk I get by thinking about things that make me happy. In fact, I've often placed myself if a slightly awkward situation by thinking about funny things that make me grin, and then the next thing I know, I've started chuckling about a joke that only I'm in on.

But, all that aside, I've been trying really hard to steer away from patented things to be grateful for, like "family and friends," "the miracle of modern medicine," "education," "a good job," etc. The reason for this is not that I'm not grateful for these things, but rather that I don't want my gratitude to become rote. So, instead of looking at the huge, overarching blessings that cover so much, the joy becomes so much greater when thinking about the small, individual parts of these big wholes, which is what I've been striving to focus on.

Today's gratuity, because I like to misuse that word, is all the amazing different kinds of food I have access to. Since I studied plant biology in college, I got a taste of agronomy and was surprised to learn that the world lives substantially off of about eight different crops, including rice, wheat, corn, soy, potato, cassava, barley, and a couple others that aren't coming to me at the moment. It's understandable why these plants provide so much of the basic nutrition, they're generally inexpensive to grow and produce large quantities, and they're good carbohydrate bases to the diet. However, thanks both to globalization and some amazing horticultural practices, we have at our fingertips so many other kinds of food. I confess, I do get stuck in a rut more often than I'd like and my meals go through bouts of consisting of frozen burritos and nachos, but I do get unduly excited when I purchase something new at the store or make a foray to the Asian market. This week I enjoyed tabouli, quinoa, couscous, an awesome dish of sauteed vegetables with fried eggs mixed in, tangerines, spinach salad, mashed potatoes, and pomegranite seeds. I'm feeling pretty good this week. One of the things that I love about trying new foods is that it can be done from the comfort of my own home. Anyone have any awesome suggestions for new things I can try, since that's the gratitude topic of the day?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2n = 4X = 36

I know it’s a good day when I find fresh evidence that I am a nerd. A very special kind of nerd, although all nerds are special.

Today as I sat at my desk counting the bands on chromosomes, I found my mind wandering somewhat as I pondered on the fact that different organisms have different numbers of chromosome, yet it is generally a pretty significant and devastating thing to either gain or lose a chromosome. So how did this evolution of chromosome number differences occur?

I tell you what, I’m going to have a front-row seat in the theater when they play the premiere of “The History of Biology” on the big-screen in heaven.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Commemoration

Why is it that on the nights I really want to go to bed early I end up staying late?

But since I'm still up, I'll wish myself a happy anniversary.

Two years ago, I received my endowment in the temple.

One year ago I was in the Masai Mara in Kenya.

Today? Today I started the morning with some service, and went to work. Both of these are part of my lifelong quests to be worthy of the temple covenants I've made and to be able to go on more adventures. Life is a pretty big adventure.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Forward in Faith- Even When You're Laying Facedown on the Strait and Narrow and Think You'll Never Get Up Again

This is going to be challenging to write, and I've pondered over writing it for a while now. I've pondered whether or not it even ought to be written, but I feel that it does need to be written.

Last Sunday, I listened to President Uchtdorf's excellent CES fireside. One part in particular caught my attention. He read a question from a young member of the church explaining that this person often felt depressed and thought about ending their life. President Uchtdorf touched briefly on the fact that these are serious issues that ought to be taken care of with the help of trusted church and professional helpers. I want to spend a little longer on the topic of depression, which I'm becoming more and more aware of as a serious concern, especially for members of the church, because it isn't very well understood.

I'm becoming more aware of this because I've been there.

I'm not sure who out there needs to read this or see this, but I know that I've felt strongly that I need to write on this topic. The main thing that concerns me about Latter-day Saints and depression is that this one thing is so poorly understood: depression is a real, real, physical disease. The thing that makes it unique is that it is a physical disease with emotional symptoms. I feel that that point is so important that I'm going to repeat it: depression is an actual, physical illness that has emotional symptoms. And in a gospel that emphasizes a personal relationship with God that can be measured by feeling the presence of the Holy Ghost, depression can be especially devastating. The Lord speaks to us most of the time through our feelings, and a depressed mind is so biochemically mixed up that it simply isn't getting those impressions like it used to.

What so many people, including up until recently myself, have trouble realizing, is that this ought not be considered any different than any other physical illness in terms of treatment- and how the person ought to view him or herself. A person with diabetes has chemical imbalances that need to be treated and monitored if the person is going to live a normal life. A person with depression has chemical imbalances that also need to be treated, and I can't tell you how grateful I am that we live in an age when this is understood by medical professionals at least, and there are wonderful treatments available for it.

I consider myself fortunate in many respects- I'm almost healed, and as I get farther and farther from the darkest days, I can see better and better that although I wouldn't go through this year again for all the wealth of the world, as I read more and learn more and peruse the experiences of others, I've been so very, very blessed. However, like so many other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have learned the hard way that depression has devastating symptoms.

Please, please note that I am not talking about pessimism, cynicism, mourning, or even deep sorrow that comes from hard times. I'm talking about a dark, dark, unnatural feeling that seems to sap one's ability to feel joy or even remember that there's such a thing as joy. I'm talking about nights laying with one's head buried under the pillow because the thought of living for another fifty or sixty years is terrifying. I'm talking about curling up in a ball and wondering if you've has lost your testimony completely, because you're desperately reaching out for God and you can't find Him anywhere. I'm talking about despair so deep that I have a new, significantly deepened appreciation for the Atonement- because I've felt, more than I ever had before in my life, what it was like to be separated from God, which is the definition of spiritual death, which the Atonement saves us from. For a different angle, one person I talked to described it as the feeling you might get near a demetor, from the Harry Potter series, which I think is fairly accurate.

See the difference between depression and just normal doldrums or sadness? I doubt that anyone who knows me well would call me cynical or pessimistic- but I've been depressed. What I hope you also see is that it is entirely unrelated to one's actual spiritual status, regardless of what goes on inside your head. I have entries from my journal written last winter where I poured out my frustration that I was doing the best I could, I was doing everything right, as it were, reading my scriptures, praying so long that I often fell asleep on my knees, going to the temple as though it were a life raft, and I had never felt farther from Heavenly Father.

However, the other reason, and more important reason, I think I need to write this is that as much as depression is not a sign of unworthiness or weakness, the even better news is that it is actually a highly treatable illness. As I mentioned, I feel very fortunate in my experience, and a big part of that is that within a few months, I was working with an excellent doctor who has helped me get on a track to healing, including both cognitive work through reading books, and medication. I'm also very fortunate that the first medication I was given was very effective; I know that not everyone is so fortunate. As the year continued and more challenges occurred, I decided on my own to start working with a therapist to arm myself more effectively from any kind of large relapse, and I've also been very fortunate to work with an excellent woman here in Salt Lake. In fact, she co-authored a book about depression specifically for LDS women. I would recommend it to anyone dealing with depression or dealing with someone who is depressed: "Reaching for Hope," by Betsy Chatlin and Meghan Decker.

So, here I am, with the help of so many others, climbing out of the other side of my own personal valley of the shadow of death, and I'm sure that there are many, many others, probably even some that I know, who are still wandering lost in this valley, fearing that the rest of their lives will be lived with this feeling of darkness and despair. And I'm writing this to tell you that it's not true, and it doesn't need to be so. And if you can be brave and move forward, which I know is so, so hard to do when you're depressed, you can receive good, professional help, and become the person you used to be, the person that you feel is lost, but who I assure you is still there.

I don't claim to be any kind of expert, but I can promise to be a completely nonjudgmental shoulder to cry on and to some extent at least the beginning of a road map of how to get out of the valley. I don't even have any idea who I'm writing this to or for, but if anyone happens to read this who thinks they may be going through what I've described, whoever you are, I want to help you. Send me an email, give me a call, or at the very least, read this and know that you're not alone. I promise that God is still there and He's still watching over you. And that's the truth.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mishaps and adventures

After spending a week with T and K and their parents, I flew up to San Francisco and spent the weekend visiting McKay, who has returned to his original haunts of Palo Alto (yes, McKay, I know that's not where you're originally from, but it's close enough). I spent some time talking with T and K after I tucked them in bed on Friday night and I was very gratified that they were so sad that I was leaving in the morning. T told me that when he thought about it, he got a lump in his throat that wouldn't go away. Can I keep him? We agreed to be penpals so it wouldn't be so sad for me to leave. Speaking of which, I need to write him a letter this week.

The funniness started when I arrived at the San Francisco airport and McKay and I had some trouble meeting up. Turns out that Jetblue is the only domestic airline that uses the international terminal. Good thing McKay stopped and asked someone about this, or he may have been driving in circles for a lot longer while I chilled and watched lots of other people get picked up. But eventually, my luggage and I were happily situated in his car.

The plan was for me to explore San Francisco on my own for the day since McKay had to work, so he drove me as far into town as he could before needing to turn back around to be on time. This was where the second bit of funniness started. I hadn't been able to find out as much about public transit from the internet as I wanted and McKay wasn't very familiar with it, so we started just driving around looking for bus stations and things. We saw one and so McKay figured that was as good a place to drop me off as any, so he pulled into a randomly selected parking lot and left me to my adventure. Five years ago I would have died. Now, I looked for an ATM machine so I could pay a bus fare. Then I found a nearby gas station so I could buy some overpriced juice and a rice krispy bar, use the facilities, and ask the nice woman working there how I could get to Fisherman's Wharf. She kindly pointed me towards the correct bus stop and bus, which when it arrived, proved to the be the bus that also went through Chinatown. I could tell because I was one of about three white people on the bus.

I love the challenge of exploring new cities on my own, but there's always that moment or two when I look around me and wonder if I've walked into the wrong part of town. That's always a little disconcerting. I felt mostly safe in San Francisco since I was mostly staying in tourist areas, but after I left my matinee of Wicked (which I was very late for because of the way the cable cars are run- is it really necessary to stop in the middle of every intersection while the cars honk at you?), I walked to the train depot and definitely felt just a hair unsafe. Fortunately, I didn't make eye contact with the shady men and since I walk fast, they must have thought I looked confident. Or maybe they're really very nice men who just happen to look shady. Who knows?

McKay and I went on a very fun double date- he set me up with one of his friends (I just realized that short of when I was dating David this summer, every date I've been on this year has been blind. I'm not sure what that means. At least they haven't been deaf). Turns out that my date is a bookworm like me and is a teacher, so we talked a lot about books. He also quoted some T.S. Eliot poetry for us. I commend McKay for his choice of gentleman.

The other funny mishap happened after the date when McKay tried to drop me off that the house of girls that he'd arranged for me to stay at and no one answered the door or responded when he texted them all. Since it was almost midnight and I'd been up since 4:30 to catch a plane, in the end I just went back to the family house where he's living and crashed in the guest bedroom. Good thing we're not BYU students any more. Heh.

I must also commend McKay for his choice of activity on Monday before I left. Knowing that I am a botany nerd, we drove up to the redwoods and had a great hike through them. Technically it can't really be called a hike since we didn't really increase elevation at all. But that's hardly relevant. It was really an amazing experience to walk through those massive, tall, silent trees with amazing ferns and things growing in their underbrush. McKay and I thought of all kinds of neat analogies that can be taken from a redwood forest. Maybe I'll type them up later.

Now I am safely reinstated in Utah, and I was greeted the morning after I got back by snow. Toto, we are not in California any more. I hope Becca and her boys enjoy the winter garden I helped them plant, because there aren't going to be any more gardens here this year, that's for sure.

Ruminations upon October

I decided something. I am incredibly fortunate to have lots of good examples of men in my life- not just good examples of men, but examples of good men in good relationships. There's my dad, to start, and my big brother Matt, both of whose marriages I admire a lot. This past month I saw again what a great guy my brother-in-law is, too. He gets up early for work and makes breakfast for his family, even though most mornings he's gone before they get up for the day. He's super supportive of my sister and is very involved in his sons' lives. He's a great father and husband, and a great example to me of what kind of man I want to marry.

I've discussed this topic quite a bit with Mel, and it's interesting how much our individual opinions of men and marriage have been shaped by our different life experiences. Mel has had essentially no good examples of manhood in her life, including men she's related to as well as men she's dated. She is quite happy being single and claims to be happier single than she ever has been in any relationship. Consequently, she is not looking to do any dating, let alone think about getting married, in the near future. She's had such poor experiences that she jokingly refers to herself as a man-hater. She's a great roommate and a good friend, but I have a hard time talking to her about boys, because any time a guy does anything foolish or that causes me heartache, she's inclined to chalk it straight up to the fact that men are all flawed by nature and you really shouldn't expect more than that. She readily acknowledges that there are some good men out there, but she just hasn't seen enough of them up close and personal to have real faith in them.

I can't tell you how fortunate I feel that this has not been my experience. I've definitely been agitated, frustrated, saddened, and heartbroken by men, but I've never been abused in any way, be it physical or emotional, and I've been so blessed to be related to a great set of men as well as very blessed to have, especially in the last few years, some male friends whose friendships make me feel very fulfilled, a couple romantic, mostly platonic. I'm not sure how many of them read my blog, but you know who you are- and thanks for adding so much richness to my life. I have all kinds of fascinating conversations with my guy friends, and I often find it surprisingly easy to be very open with them. Of course, I would be thrilled to have a guy friend who could become my best friend to the point that we'd want to spend the rest of our lives together, but I'm pretty sure that will happen with time. In the meanwhile, oh, am I so grateful for all the good men I know who have done so much to keep my positive and optimistic viewpoints about men and marriage alive and well. Thanks, friends!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nephews

I must say, there are very few things that melt my heart like having my adorable nephews throw their arms around me and say, "And Aunt Maria, I love you, Aunt Maria." Maybe it won't be quite so adorable when they're older, but at ages five and seven, it's pretty stinkin' cute.

And I am lucky enough to be spending a week with Becca and her family to dote upon my nephews and meet the newest one, little M, who was born just six weeks ago. In the morning, I am roused from sleep either by T cuddling up to me or K running across the floor and launching himself at me. I unintentionally addicted them to electronic solitaire- I never thought about it before, but it's a great game for kids, just lining up the cards in order.

Other highlights so far: T and K are both seriously addicted to Indiana Jones, which is interesting since neither of them have actually seen the films. But they love their Indiana Jones lego sets and theirs Indiana Jones lego video game, which they have played with me several times. In fact, they both wanted to be Indiana Jones for Halloween, and they got their costumes the day before I arrived. When T and Mike came to pick me up from the airport, T was sporting his outfit. I was pretty excited that Indiana Jones came to pick me up from the airport.

Also, K was singing to himself in the tub last night. He was alternating between singing the Indiana Jones theme song and singing the Pledge of Allegiance. You didn't know it could be set to music, did you? When I stepped into the bathroom while he was still in the tub, he recited the whole thing for me and made sure at the end that I knew it was the Pledge of Allegiance he'd just recited, and told me that he's learned a lot of things in Kindergarten. I was duly impressed.

And M is a very cute baby. He is a great napper and he's pretty patient for the most part, although he can be incredibly sad when he hasn't eaten for a while. Becca says that he reminds her of Wilbur the pig from Charlotte's Web- he's small and round and he makes little grunting noises. Hooray for cute babies!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Random work notes

A few days ago I walked into the bathroom closely behind another woman. There are four stalls, and the woman ahead of me proceeded to completely ignore the three stalls whose doors were slightly ajar in order to walk directly to the one stall whose door was firmly shut and try to push it open. Oddly enough, it didn’t budge, almost like someone was already in there. She seemed mildly confused, and I quickly entered a stall of my own and shut the door so that if I happened to be grinning or even chuckling quietly, this poor woman wouldn’t hear me.


Of course, I’m not free myself from silly mental lapses.Just this morning after swiping my badge on the time clock, I started up the stairs while busily engaged in trying to disentangle something from my badge so I could put it on. I should know by now not to do things like that on the stairs, because the next thing I knew my foot came down well in front of where the stair was and I did a graceful little stumble for someone else who was coming down the stairs. When I do dumb things like that, I automatically laugh at myself, and it came out as a rapid-fire burst this time, causing the person passing me to give me a startled look. Hey, whatever it takes to enter the office with a smile on my face, I guess. There’s something about small, absurd situations that has always made me laugh. The trick is to be paying enough attention to what’s going on around you that you notice them.


The client services department are situated right near my desk, and I walk past their tiny little stations a few times a day. I’m kind of fascinated by them. It rather seems to me that a lot of them are still stuck in high school mode. They regularly put up elementary school style decorations, they just started putting up their Halloween ornaments and to be honest I’m kind of jealous. Why doesn’t R&D provide us with Xeroxed copies of pumpkins and bats to color and cut out and hang up outside our cubicles? Or better yet, in our labs? Perhaps I shall just have to take the initiative for myself and hang up my own Halloween decorations.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More plays than you can shake a spear at

I got my share of Shakespeare this summer. It started with The Comedy of Errors at the summer Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City with Michael and Angi. It continued at BYU with a condensed version of The Tempest with Matt and Tricia. And the most recent addition was last weekend, viewing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Fall Shakespearean Festival with Daniel and Meagan.

Since we didn't know quite what to expect for this play, I read synopses of all the plays I wasn't familiar with the day before. We all brought our copies of The Complete Works of Shakespeare and on the trip down, we reviewed all the plays on the way down. We did really well on the comedies and okay on the tragedies, although I must say that I had never heard of Titus Andronicus before, and it has perhaps the goriest plot I've ever read about. But that's probably not saying much since the number of PG-13 movies I've seen is pretty small, and that's generally the goriest I get. Then we got to the histories and we were swimming in a lot of plot that we weren't sure about. But we felt like we had a decent hand on it by the time we rolled into Cedar City.

We were a little dismayed to discover that the playwright of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) thought that part of the hilarity of Shakespeare that needed to be included in the play was his sexual jokes that are often so buried in Elizabethan English that modern audiences don't pick up on it- which was rather disappointing and took a good deal of the enjoyment out of it for us. I know Shakespeare put a lot of that in his work, but I for one do not mind that it goes right over my head in the originals. I did enjoy their retelling of Romeo and Juliet and their five-minute version of Hamlet, followed by the one-minute version of Hamlet, followed by the five-minute version backwards. The comedies were all compiled in one super-comedy, since so many of them have similar elements- big storms, identical twins, cross-dressing, people falling in love with the wrong people . . . it's not too hard to get them confused. And the histories? Played out as a football game. These guys were clever. And I did enjoy it overall.

We also took a look around at the gift shop and we found this special gem (if you can't read the box, click to enlarge):



That's right, unicorns versus narwhals. You didn't know the unicorn had a natural enemy in the narwhal, did you? It makes sense- the land-based unicorn going at it with an arctic whale? I guess since they with have one horn, they each feel the other is a threat. Or something. But apparently this rivalry has been going on for a while, as you can see on the back:



This time . . . it's personal. If the kit had been a little cheaper, I would definitely have come home with this prize. As it was, we just took pictures so we can enjoy the memory.

We also tried on the Renaissance hats they had there to help us get in a Shakespearean mood:



We also explored the themed statue garden and tried our hand at impersonating different characters. Daniel does a mean King Lear:




My statue was labeled as Juliette. As a sappy, overhormonal thirteen-year-old, she's not my favorite Shakespearean heroine, but Meagan pointed out that I could pick out any other heroine I wanted- after all, what's in a name? So, this is me being . . . Beatrice. Although the pose is all wrong for Beatrice. It probably fits Miranda better. Or Ophelia, but I think I'd like to be Ophelia even less than Juliette. In any case, I posed, and Daniel took the picture.





Meagan and I agreed that the best thing we got out of this trip was an increased desire to learn more about the Bard's plays and see more well-done, traditional Shakespeare. After all, he did write a good many plays that I've never seen or read, and sicne I do own his complete works, I need to get a move on!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And the seasons turn

Yesterday was the first day of Fall- and it felt like it, too. For FHE, we had a clothing drive. I was assigned to go pick up clothing from a set of streets up in the foothills with my friends Netti and Dan. The houses were instructed to leave clothing out on the porch in bags for us to take, and apparently not many of the big, ritzy, multimillion-dollar houses we checked have spare clothing laying around, because I think we gathered two bags total. But several of the houses were designed so that we couldn't see the porch from the street, so Netti and I got a good workout by walking up lots of steep driveways.

The view of the valley from my balcony, while amazing, has nothing on the view from the streets higher in the foothills. The sunset was turning the whole sky pink and the city lights were starting to twinkle beneath the orange clouds and the sliver of moon that got brighter and brighter as the sun got farther away. And for the first time, I felt the crispness in the air that made me think of warm pumpkin treats and apple cider and playing frisbee in the refreshingly cool air and the invigorating, laughing feeling that seems to be so easy to feel when the leaves are vibrantly red and it's just cold enough that having a jacket to snuggle in is a pleasant thought. Bring it on, Autumn, I'm ready for you.

On a completely different note, my friend Daniel who lives across the hall from me got his results back from taking the bar this last Thursday (he got the results on Thursday- he took the test back in July. I think I would die of suspense if I had to wait that long to get results back from such a big test). To celebrate, Megan decorated his door with notes of congratulations and candy bars, and most of the notes and candy are still hanging on the door. I don't know how- or why- he does it. I can tell you though, sometimes when I walk past his door after a long day at work, the Butterfingers bar starts to look mighty tempting . . . next time I go to visit him I might have to ask him to take everything off the door to preserve my integrity.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend notes

All weekends should be this good.
It started on the right note with a condensed version of The Tempest at BYU with Matt and Tricia, followed up by a fun evening at their home. Instead of driving back to Salt Lake late (which I have done many times but prefer not to), I stayed at the family house and had a fun midnight conversation with Dad, which I've done more the last few months than any other time in my life, including when I was a teenager. I went to bed a lot earlier when I was a teenager. Something's wrong here.

Saturday morning was Lyndsey's baby shower in Salt Lake. I'm very excited for Lyndsey to have a baby next month but I'm selfishly sad that I won't get to see her at work any more while she's on maternity leave. Who am I going to joke around with in R&D? Everyone should get along with their coworkers as well as Lyndsey and I get along- J dubbed us the R&D twins a while ago because he never saw us apart. That was mostly because when I was training Lyndsey had to show me everything, but we do enjoy the times when we're in the lab together and we can talk while we work.

Since most of the people at the shower were from the clinical lab and they mostly do fluorescence in situ hybridization, abbreviated FISH, the party had a fish theme which was great. There were big fish drawn on butcher paper up on the walls of the house and Swedish fish to eat and we played the game where you go fishing and get a prize depending on what fish you catch. By far the best baby shower I've been to.

At the shower, Em invited me to go to Epic Summer 2009, a film festival featuring short films that people put together about their epic summers. It was fun to watch- I especially enjoyed a film called "Superfly" which featured a sport where people use windpower from giant parachute-kite devices to get some good speed and serious air on skis. It reminded me of kiteboarding, a similar sport that David introduced me to this summer where the kite is used to power someone on a surfboard (and when I say he introduced me to it, I mean he told me about it, not that I tried it). It was fun, but it also brought slight pangs as I realized that summer is almost over and I don't feel like I did anything epic. But that's not really true- I went to New Zealand and had some very unexpected "adventures" there, I climbed Timpanogos for the first time, and I've had some other adventures that don't really belong on a public blog . . . not the kind I would ever have asked for but I think I've done well with them.

Anyway, today was a great day for reminding me that I love the people in my ward. I'm the chorister in Relief Society, which doesn't give me huge opportunities to meet people through my calling, so I decided a while ago that part of being the chorister is to make people happy while they're singing the hymns. Consequently, I try to smile and make eye contact with as many people as I can while I'm conducting, and it's interesting to me how many people don't ever look up during toe songs. It's also interesting to me how many people look either bored or glum. So I'm hoping that if they happen to look up and see me beaming at them, it will cheer them up and give them reason to think about the words they're singing and realize how powerful the messages in the hymns are. This also works to my advantage because when I meet girls in the ward, they often will say, "oh yeah, I see you leading the music in Relief Society," and it makes me glad that I smile when I'm up there so it gives them a favorable first impression of me. I would love to be known in the ward as the girl who's always smiling.

After church, we had a ward mingle (singles' wards are great) where we were served snow cones and cotton candy. Don't ask me why. I have no idea. It was kind of entertaining- I don't know the last time I had a snow cone. But I did today! So I can check that off my list of things to do for the summer. Kids, summer is winding down and it's both sad and exciting. Change is always sad and exciting. But I'm trying to hard to focus on the exciting aspect of it and let go of the sorrow. What's in the past is done and can't be changed- all we can do is look to the future and use the past as a springboard for a good future. And I think the future will be good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Furniturially challenged

A bed! I have a bed! This is an exciting week.
Now, for those of you getting a strange image in your heads, I have not been sleeping on the ground. But I have been sleeping on a mattress on the ground . . . since January. For whatever reason, purchasing furniture has just been at the bottom of my to-do list for a long time. But a few weeks ago I decided that sleeping on a mattress is very teenage-esque, and since I haven't been a teenager for a good bit now, I should probably stop impersonating one and buy a bedframe. So, I am now the owner of a very nice, very sturdy loft bed.

Think miniature bunkbed. It's four feet high, giving me plenty of space to store things under it. The boxes along the wall are now tucked neatly under my bed and the room feels much more open and organized. Or at least it will after I haul the junk pile out and vacuum and Melanie does her laundry. But considering how messy we've been lately, this is a big step forward and I am pleased.

Last night was my first night up off the ground. I had Mel take a picture of me on it that I might upload here after I get my camera to a computer that will acknowledge its existence. But I must say, actually sitting on that bed with its little ladder and the guard to keep the mattress from falling off made me feel kind of like I was ten and I was back on the old bunk beds at home. So I guess instead of being mature enough to have a bed, I actually regressed. Huh.

Now the only thing lacking is to replace my plastic shelving unit with a real dresser. Then I'll really be grown up. And the room should look even tidier without the visual of my jeans and socks flopped on their shelves. This growing up business is very complicated. And it's taking a lot longer than I think it's supposed to. But that's not entirely in my control- so I'll be content to be 26 with a loft bed and a shelf set for a dresser. It's not a bad life.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Places on my block

-Sushi Bar
-Dry Cleaner
-Smoke Accessory and Hookah Supply Shop
-India Gift Shop
-State Liquor Store
-Pet Day Spaw (sic)

I'm kind of intrigued by this. The only one I've frequented is the sushi bar, which is pretty tasty. If anyone needs any hookah supplies, I can point you in the right direction.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Culture . . . and not yogurt, either

I coerced Josh into going with me to the Greek Festival in Salt Lake yesterday, hosted by the Greek Orthodox Church. It both sated and fed my travel bug. I've never been to Greece or anywhere close by- although the front of the program stated, "It's just like being there!" So I guess I have kind of been to Greece now . . . by going to 3rd West in Salt Lake. Josh was a great person to go with since he also likes the kind of nerdy intellectual conversation that I thrive on, so we discussed Greece and how different cultures influence each other and after we got a lecture inside the cathedral about the history of the church and the symbolism that goes into their cathedrals, we pondered the similarities between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Latter-day Saints, including similarities between cathedrals and temples.

We also partook of some dang good Greek food, all of which can be well described as savory and potent. We both made horrible faces after biting into very strong olives and I did a repeat performance when I tried chomping down on a chunk of feta cheese. However, I discovered that grape leaf wraps and spinach pie are both very tasty and if I'm brave, I might just try my hand at one or both of them sometime. Josh also professed an interest in trying to cook some Greek cuisine, aided by the fact that there were recipes included in the program. Excellent! We did turn down the opportunity to have a lamb dinner straight from the lamb carcass roasting on a spit, though. Josh thought that college apartments should be equipped with spits.

We spent some time discussing the geography of the central part of Eurasia and I discovered that I, at least, am a little shaky on how everything fits together in there. Which is why I've begun reading books about places like Greece and Turkey and Afghanistan, which, yes, I am aware is a little further east. I'm not sure why I'm so very hungry to learn about the world, but it seems to have taken firm root inside of me and I fear there's no going back. I wonder what other cultural festivals I can track down in Salt Lake? Hmmm.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A curious mind

Last night Michael and I were playing Uno. Partway through, completely out of the blue, he asked me, "So, what exactly is a gargoyle?"

We believe in constant learning, I tell you what.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The random events of Labor Day Weekend

I know that Labor Day weekend is only a third over, but it's already been kind of an unusual one. Once again, I am writing late at night and once again I am very tired. This seems to be a common theme in my life. My journal is full of entries that note that they would be much longer if I wasn't writing so late- and since my entries are usually a couple of typed pages long, I sometimes wonder what else I was planning on putting that was so much more extensive.

In any case, the best word for this weekend, chosen by Tricia, is random. Lots of things that weren't really planned and have made for a random and interesting time.

It started last night with a family dinner and a viewing of the movie Condorman. It's a great old show from the early 80's about a comic book writer who believes in acting out his comics so they're authentic, and in the process manages to get himself involved with the CIA in a major defection of a Russian agent. Matt describes it as James Bond for kids- less intense and very clean, and very funny. It was a favorite of his growing up, and it's loaded with nostalgia.

Today I spent several hours cajoling a teenage boy into cleaning his room, which was a serious job. We spent a good amount of time sorting, throwing away, vacuuming, washing, dusting, and tidying, but I am personally quite pleased with the results, although part of it was rather like pulling teeth. Meanwhile, Matt, Tricia, Grandma, Dad, and Mom were busy continuing the grand project of going through all the stuff in the house and eliminating unnecessary items. It's amazing what we've trimmed down this way- and also the nostalgia that we've unearthed. Last weekend, for example, I cleaned out a large filing cabinet with Mom and found lots of newspaper clippings, pictures, and notes that brought back lots of memories. I also found all kinds of great Homemaking papers that made me giggle quite a bit, including a list of 68 things for children to do besides fight. The first item on the list, interestingly enough, was to argue. Some of the ideas were cute, but most of them left me scratching my head or laughing out loud.

But I digress. Today's task was mainly sorting through books in the basement. We take our books seriously in our family, and there are plenty of them. Many of the ones we saw today are ones that belong to my dad, but that he hasn't seen for several years. There were many exclamations of "Oh! Look at that!" It was almost as good as getting the books for the first time.

Then I gave a rat a bath. This rat is a pet rat, though, so it's all good. Michael cleaned out Salt's cage while I placed her in the tub and listened to her squeak in protest while I poured warm water over her and soaped her up with baby shampoo. She was not happy. And the scratches on my arm can prove it. But she was quite content to sit in a towel on my lap when it was all over.

As any BYU fan knows, BYU played a game against Oklahoma tonight. 5:00 is such an inconvenient kick-off time. Matt and Dad ended up eating most of their dinner in front of the TV. For some reason, I had gone out to the garden earlier and picked a large number of tomatoes and decided to make salsa, so Grandma and I sat at the table after dinner and chopped vegetables while everyone else crowded around the TV. When we heard an exciting play, we would run in to see the replay. Not a bad way to go.

Just before halftime, we got a call from my sister Becca. For some serendipitous reason, Mom asked Dad to put the call on speakerphone, so we were all able to hear when Becca casually announced, "we had a baby today."

It's a good thing it was big news, because anything lesser might not have been able to pull the boys' attention away from the game. We were all rather startled as it was- we weren't expecting this for another week or so. But no one is complaining- we're big fans of nephews (nieces too, but I don't have any of those yet). Michael is now calling himself a thruncle, since he has three nephews.

Of course, once halftime was over, attention reverted to the game. McKay was in attendance at the Cowboys' stadium. Every BYU game that he's attended, BYU has won, so he thought this would be a really good test to see if his superpower will hold true. It looks like he worked his magic, since BYU beat Oklahoma by one point. Cutting it kind of close, McKay, but a win is a win, I suppose.

Huh. I just reread this post and discovered that it sounds much more like one of my typical journal entries than a blog post. Ah, wel. It must be on account of my tiredness and the lateness of the hour and the randomness of the day. I hope the rest of the weekend holds steady with the randomness, because I'm kind of looking forward to it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The double life

Sometimes I'm not sure if I live in Salt Lake or Utah Valley. Tonight I drove down after work to visit Steve and Emily, who are in town from Missouri, where they are going to med school. It also happened to be Steve's birthday, what better reason for everyone to get together and eat a lot of food! There is always a lot of food at Steve's family's house, and it's always very good food. After filling myself up on salad and fresh fruit and really good herb bread and corn on the cob and the best shish-kebabs I've ever had, I sat and contentedly listened to Steve discourse to everyone on why the proposed health care changes won't work. As Steve pointed out, he does a good job of playing devil's advocate, which I completely agree with. Then I went upstairs and talked with Emily while she gave her daughter a bath. Then I filled up even more on trifle, and as I was leaving, Em told Steve that I was planning to come visit them in Missouri sometime. Steve gave me a bit of a strange look, as if to imply he didn't believe me.

"Well, all right," he said. "But you know where liars go."

"Where?" I replied innocently.

"Hell. Everlasting burnings. Where the worm dieth not," replied Steve solemnly, at the same time that one of his other friends stated, "Congress."

I'm not sure if the two are synonyms, but it was enough to have me chuckling until I was out in my car. Heh.

With all this driving, my car is becoming more of a place where I spend time than it ever has before. It gives me lots of time to ponder various things- and also time to practice singing. I figure I might as well use the time constructively, and since I'm paying a fair amount of money for voice lessons, I figure I might as well put in as much practice time as I can. When I was in high school, I would get up at 5:30 to practice voice. Now, when I get in my car and drive to Orem or Provo, I play CD recordings of my lessons to practice with (my latest teacher is by far the most technologically savvy). I'm not sure why I've taken lessons for so many years, except that I feel like I should. But it's good for me, which is reason enough right there. It makes me think about things and gives me a constructive project and a structured way to improve. And it also makes me grin when I think about what other people might think if they should happen to see me doing a lip-buzzing exercise in my car, or if I should happen to have my sunroof open while I'm doing warmups.