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.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Small Pleasures

Last night I drove down to Provo with my good friend Graham. We both lived in the same apartment complex for over two years, and we were going down to visit some friends down there. After some witty conversation, we ended up watching the movie "Oscar," which I recommend to anyone who enjoys lighthearted, clean humor. It was made all the better by the fact that our friend Nate is the king of accents, specializing in a mobster-type accent that we all love. So after listening to him and Graham converse in mobster for a while, Graham and I realized it was pretty late and we should get going.

As we got to Graham's car, his phone received a text message, so he pulled it out and discovered it was from me. I'm not so great at remembering to lock my phone, so I was pretty sure it was just a blank text, but upon opening it, Graham discovered a colorful display of balloons along with the words "Happy Birthday" and tinny music being played. We both erupted into laughter. I pulled out my own phone, and discovered that I had in fact sent him the text. The mystery was how the text had gotten into my phone in the first place and how it got sent to Graham. I am still mystified, but he was quite convinced that one of the guys we had been hanging out with had stolen my phone and sent it to him, so just to cover his bases, he sent it to all the guys who had been with us that night. Does anyone have a birthday coming up soon? If so, I can send you a great birthday message through your phone :-)

We've been having highly entertaining lunches at work lately, too. It's kind of hit and miss whether the lunch crew will make lunchtime witty or not, but one of my coworkers, J, is the king of providing entertainment. last week, he decided that we all had personas from the Hundred-Acre Wood, himself being Pooh Bear, of course. A was Piglet because she's very petite, E was Rabbit, I'm not sure why, C was Owl because she's older than us and wears glasses? and D was Eyore, probably because he worries about things sometimes. L became both Kanga and Roo since she is eight months pregnant, and I was dubbed Tigger. I was flattered to be selected as such a vivacious character, which I don't always strive to be at work, since it seems like being a Tigger at work could be counterproductive.

Oftentimes, there is a small flurry of emails sent out right before lunch to establish what time we are going to convene in the lunchroom. I'm not sure why we do this since the consensus is almost always noon, but it happens. On Friday, J sent out the official notice that said: "Lunch is at noon today. Please no ugly people, they upset my digestion."

We all assumed that he hadn't included any ugly people in his list of people that he emailed, so we all showed up for lunch. Always a good time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


This week, Angi asked me to critique an essay she wrote for English. The assignment was for the student to write about themselves- to give a basic overview of who they were and what their interests and aspirations were. Unfortunately, I didn't see the email until it was too late for me to give any suggestions, but it was fascinating to see how Angi describes herself and what things she lists as her main interests and desires. A lot of it I knew or could have guessed, but there were definitely some things that surprised me.

It's gotten me thinking more about the walls, both intentional and unintentional, that we put up around ourselves, that we use to protect ourselves and isolate ourselves. I'm sure everyone has desires or concerns that they've never mentioned to anyone, and I'm sure that there are aspects of everyone's personalities that they classify differently than the people around them. A lot of people who label themselves as shy get labeled as snobby by others. I often get frustrated at work by all the stony faced people I walk past, but then I wonder how often I look like that when I'm just thinking about things or feeling tired.

I think this interest in how people see themselves as opposed to how the world sees them is part of why I am so fascinated by biographies. It's also part of why I keep coming back for more in my love-hate relationship with blogs. Some people are very closed on their blogs, and I can't say I blame them. I definitely try to keep a high level of restraint, being aware that anyone in the world could read what I'm putting out there. But at the same time, I appreciate people who open up on their blogs, because it's so interesting to read the stream-of-consciousness of people, some of whom I feel like I know well, and discover that there's a lot going on inside of them that I had no clue about.

People are so complex. I think this is the biggest reason that we are commanded to not judge unrighteously, and I think that failure to forget that people are complex is the biggest error that goes into unrighteous judgement. I think that the more we are willing to let down our walls and allow others to see us as we see ourselves- which is usually as decent people who may be struggling, but who still want to do the right thing- the less judging there will be going around. I think that has a lot to do with Christ's admonition to be one, even as He and the Father are one. They share everything with each other and do everything together in a common cause. Talk about good communication- I think that is the perfect example of it right there. So the closer we come to each other, the more we will understand each other, and the more Christlike we will be. And when all is said and done, being able to define oneself as Christlike is probably about the best self-definition there is.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer Memories

Having just updated myself on Becca's blog, and having read the questions she asked at the end of her summer nostalgia post, I figured it would make more sense to respond on my own blog than in a massive comment.

Becca recalled a lot of things that I hadn't thought about in a long time, notably the days when we were young enough to go tearing around the backyard running through the sprinklers. There were days when I think we lived in our swimsuits, just tearing around the yard with the hose and the pool and the sprinklers- and the hot Utah sun always there to keep us warm. Becca reminisced about the garden, too (I just want to mention that it was my idea to put in those garden boxes- I was so proud), and I remember running to the garden while running through the sprinklers and eating fresh peas, pod and all. Those were good times.

Summers have taken on an interesting timbre for me since I was a child- it seemed that I was always recovering from a surgery or an illness in high school, and then I got to college and I seemed to have a penchant for breaking off relationships towards the beginning of the summer, making the summer a time of a different kind of recovery. I had almost forgotten that fun, carefree aspect that summer used to have.

Becca asks:
What was the tallest thing you climbed as a kid?
Well, to be honest, I'm not really sure. I mean, I was a tomboy in a dress for a good few years there, and I'm sure I scaled some very tall trees and playgrounds. I used to sit on top of the beam supporting the swings on the playground in the back yard, which I'm sure my mother hated. Once when Dad was up on the roof fixing the swamp cooler I scrambled up the ladder and walked up the roof to surprise him. I think he about had a heart attack as he guided me back down.

Becca also asks if the children of her readership enjoy the same things now that they did as kids. As I have not yet achieved the blessed state of marriage and motherhood, I don't think I can accurately answer that question at this time, although I fondly hope to be able to do so someday. Meanwhile, I just enjoy the sights of other kids enjoying their summers.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Returning to help

I generally do a news scan every day, emphasizing science news but also taking advantage of CNN's top news stories and my igoogle news links to get a general idea of what's going on in the world. This weekend, one story in particular caught my attention. It's my favorite kind of news story, the kind that reports the good things that are happening in the world. In this case, the article tells the story of one Jude Ndambuki, a Kenyan immigrant to New York and a high school chemistry teacher, who in his spare time works with his nonprofit organization called "The Help Kenya Project." The group works with schools and other organizations in Kenya, sending shipments of clothes, books, and refurbished used computers to aid the learning of students there. I highly recommend reading the article, linked above, to get a glimpse of what this man is striving to do.

I am especially impressed that although he now lives in America and enjoys a life with many more comforts than most of his countrymen experience, he is interested in helping as many of them as possible fulfill their dreams of education and a better life. He is quoted as saying, roughly, that many of the children he sends computers to have never seen one before. Having lived in a rural Kenyan village, this is very easily believable for me. My ipod was a serious novelty item.

I am often afraid that living the life I do, surrounded by more comforts than most people in the world can imagine, it will be only too easy for me to forget to reach out and serve those around me- and those not so close to me. There are so many good organizations in place already, it's so easy to choose one and begin influencing the lives of schoolchildren across the globe by sending them books to read or clothes to wear or an old computer to use. Don't ever forget what wealth we live in and don't ever forget how a small sacrifice on your part can result in a huge blessing for someone else.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The coin collection of T

When I travel, I enjoy bringing home presents for my family members, although that will probably change a little at some point as the family continues to expand. It’s fun to pick out little treasures for everyone, although it can also be a little stressful for the people that are a little harder to buy presents for. Currently, it is deiniftely the most fun to get things for my nephews, T and K, because they are so fascinated with small, simple things. All I have to do is give them a coin from the country of interest and they are quite content.

Becca was in twon with her boys shortly after I returned from New Zealand and while they were here I gave both T and K a New Zealand dollar coin. T liked it a lot. Shortly thereafter, Becca drove up to Idaho to celebrate the 4th of July with the family up there. I drove up a day later. When I arrived, Becca told me that T had been bragging to our cousin David, who is the same age as T, about his aunt Maria who traveled to lots of places and brought him home cool things. “In fact,” he said, “I wonder if she’s going somewhere right now to bring me home something else.” Becca had to inform him that I was actually traveling up to Idaho at the moment, not somewhere new and exotic.

Sadly, T misplaced his New Zealand dollar, so when they were back here for another visit last week, he asked if he could have a replacement. Then he asked if I had any money from any other countries I could give him. I kept forgetting to check my closet at home, but my wallet is full of random coins, so I was able to give him two different baht coins from Thailand and a Kenyan shilling, and I promised him that I would search my closet for Norwegian Kroner, Russian rubles, and Moroccan durums. T was thrilled and clutched his new little “coin collection” tightly.

That night, my dad had some colleagues from Japan over for dinner. As T doesn’t understand the definition of shy, he sat with dad at the table and talked to the visitors until Dad suggested that maybe other people would like a chance to talk, too. At some point, he shwoed the visitors his coin collection, and the next thing he knew, they gave him some yen to add to it. Then Dad told T that he had some coins from China he could give him, and T reminded him of this every fifteen minutes until he went and got them out. Now T had a little baggie full of his coins from around the world. Tricia offered to mail him coins from Ghana, Argentina, and Chile. Then I got all excited and thought that he should be able to visualize all the places he was getting money from, so I offered to find a map with just the outlines of all the countries in the world to send him so he could color in all the countries he has currency from. I like being an aunt. I get the fun of interacting with great kids and doing fun things with them- and it's a part-time position. I must start planning my next international trip so I can bring home more exotic currency for T.

All the world's a stage

I am one tuckered girl tonight. Apparently playing chaperone to two teenagers on a road trip is enough to tire me out. But it was a good time, I think.

Michael, Angi, and I just got back from attending the Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City. I've ben wanting to go for a while, and not being able to coerce anyone else into going with me (although not for lack of trying), I played the prerogative big sister card and asked Misha and Angi if they wanted to come. Angi said yes and as Michael refused to give me a straight answer (something about being fourteen, I think), I chose to interpret the fact that he hadn't said "no" as a positive answer. Consequently, we began our drive south yesterday afternoon, equipped with red vines, cheese sticks, beef jerky, and cherries. Angi kindly allowed me to eat cherries on this trip, although she was still concerned that I might choke on a pit, pass out, and steer the car off the road or something.

I must say, the older those two get, the more fun it is to talk to them. I was chuckling pretty consistently the whole ride down just listening to Angi's witty remarks and Misha's silly interjections.

It's still a little weird to me that I'm grown up enough to do things like drive my two baby siblings to another town across the state, reserve a hotel room, and buy expensive play tickets. I had to chuckle at just how laid-back things are at my house sometimes, too; when we were ready to go, I realized that I hadn't actually spoken to Dad directly about the trip, so when he walked into the room, I told him, "I'm taking your two youngest children with me. We'll be back tomorrow night." "Okay," he replied absently.

All in all, I think the trip was a success. I was surprised at how much Michael enjoyed "The Comedy of Errors," but then it was very well done. Not a bad way to introduce him to Shakespeare, I suppose. Angi's favorite part was probably when we got back to the hotel and she discovered that we could watch an entire episode of her current favorite TV show. I was looking forward to 'The Secret Garden," which has some of my favorite musical songs ever, but both Michael and I, who have been known to sing along to "Winter's on the Wing" and "Wick" in my car, were rather disappointed by the vocal quality of some of the main actors.

And now, we are safely home again. The kids are deposited back with the parents, and I am back in my cozy little apartment, looking forward to my bed. Mmmm.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Act Two in a Three-Act Play

Recent events have caused me to think a lot more about life in terms of what it really is- one little segment sandwiched between our life before we came to earth and our life after we pass on, and while this life is brief, it really is critical in determining how we will spend the rest of eternity. And I have concluded, again and again, that one of the absolute most important things we can do to grow and develop into the people that Heavenly Father wants us to be is to develop patience. Be patient, for the Lord has great things in store for you. Be not weary in well doing, for you are laying the foundation of a great work, and that great work is your own eternal life.

This will be a long post, but a certain story, emphasizing the importance of patience in this life, as well as God's tender mercies, has been stuck in my head for days now, and I want to share. The following is a story told by Elder Merrill Bateman, back in 1997 when he was the president of BYU. It's from a devotional he gave called "A Faith that Preserves and Strengthens:"

I wish to illustrate with a modern-day story the trust that we may place in the Savior. I know that faith in Christ and obedience to the principles of the restored gospel bring answers to prayers and divine help when the hour is darkest. The story that follows concerns a young girl, the fourth child in a family of six children. Her name is Heather. Three of the children, including Heather, suffer from a rare disease called glutaric acidemia. In each case, the onset of the disease occurred during the first year of life when an enzyme attacked the brain, causing paralysis. The disease results in acid forming in the muscles, similar to that which occurs following a period of intense physical activity. The problem faced by the children is that the acid never leaves and causes great pain. Cindy, the first child with the disease, died just over one year ago at the age of 23. She was one of the oldest living persons known with the disease. At death she weighed about 40 pounds.

Soon after Heather’s birth, the parents realized that she would be physically handicapped and that her spirit would be housed in a body with great restrictions. As she grew, she was confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak, and could only send messages with her eyes. A direct gaze and a smile meant yes. A blink meant no. Despite the handicaps, one could feel the vibrant spirit inside.

As Heather progressed, it became obvious to the parents that she was extraordinarily bright. She would play guessing games with the family using her limited means to communicate. When she was old enough, the parents enrolled Heather in a special school to see if she could learn to speak. The teacher was a gifted therapist. One morning as Heather and the teacher visited about the prior weekend, the teacher learned that Heather had attended Primary. The teacher then sang for Heather “When He Comes Again” (Songbook, p. 82). The expression on Heather’s face revealed the delight within her. When the teacher asked Heather if she had a favorite song, the young girl’s wide eyes and engaging smile left little doubt. But what was the song? Through a series of questions, the teacher learned that Heather’s song was one she had heard in Primary. She wasn’t sure which songbook it was in, but it was about Jesus. The teacher sang all the songs she could think of, but to no avail. However, Heather was not about to quit—she wanted to share her favorite song. At the end of the day, the two were still searching. The teacher agreed to bring her Primary songbooks to school the next day.

On the following morning, Heather and her teacher continued the quest. From the first hymn to the last, the little girl blinked her eyes indicating no. They were still unsuccessful. But Heather was not about to give up. She wanted to share her favorite song. Finally, the teacher told Heather that her mother would have to help her find the song and then they would sing it. The next day Heather arrived with the green Church hymnal tucked in her chair, but there was no marker. So they began with the first hymn. The teacher would sing the first part of each song and Heather would give her answer. After the first 100 hymns, there were 100 no’s. After 200 hymns there had been 200 no’s. Finally, the teacher began to sing “There is sunshine in my soul today . . .” (Hymns, 1985, no. 227). Heather’s body jumped, and a big smile crossed her face. Her eyes gazed directly into the teacher’s, indicating success after three days of searching. Both teacher and student rejoiced.

As the teacher sang the first verse and began the chorus, Heather mustered all her strength and joined in with a few sounds. After finishing the first verse and chorus, the teacher asked if she wanted to hear the rest of the verses, and Heather’s eyes opened wide with a firm yes. The teacher began to sing:

There is music in my soul today,

A carol to my King,

And Jesus listening can hear

The songs I cannot sing.

Heather’s reaction to these lines was so strong that the teacher stopped. As the reality and significance of the words pressed on the teacher’s mind, she wondered if those lines were the reason Heather liked the song? The teacher asked: “Heather, is that what you like about the song? Is that what you want me to know? Does Jesus listen? Does he hear the songs you cannot sing?”

The direct, penetrating gaze was a clear answer.

Feeling guided by the Spirit, the teacher asked, “Heather, does Jesus talk to you in your mind and in your heart?”

Again, the child’s look was penetrating.

The teacher then asked, “Heather, what does he say?”

The teacher’s heart pounded as she saw the clear look in Heather’s eyes as the little girl awaited the questions that would allow her to share her insights.

“Does Jesus say, ‘Heather, I love you’?”

Heather’s radiant eyes widened and she smiled.

After a pause, the teacher asked next, “Does he say, ‘Heather, you’re special’?”

The answer again was yes.

Finally, the teacher asked, “Does he say, ‘Heather, be patient; I have great things in store for you’?”

With all her strength, Heather’s head became erect and her eyes penetrated the teacher’s soul. She knew she was loved, she was special, and she only needed to be patient. (Story adapted from Jean Ernstrom, “Jesus, Listening, Can Hear,” Ensign, June 1988, pp. 46–47.)

Two years later, Heather died because of the ravages of the disease. Her younger brother, Mark, also suffers from the disease but not to the extent of his older sisters. He can talk, although it is not easy. As the parents discussed Heather’s passing and the funeral that would take place, Mark exclaimed, “No go Heather’s funeral!” Heather was his best friend. As the parents tried to explain death to him, he would not be consoled. He was crushed and did not want to attend the service. For two days he could not be persuaded.

On the morning of the funeral, the father went to Mark’s room to get him up. As he entered the room, Mark was sitting up in bed with a big smile on his face. His first words were: “Dad, go Heather’s funeral!”

The father responded: “Mark, what has changed your mind?”

“Dad, had dream.”

“What did you dream about, Mark?”

“Dad, dreamed about Heather.”

“Mark, what was Heather doing?”

“Oh, Dad, Heather running and jumping and singing ‘There is sunshine in my soul today.’ Dad, go Heather’s funeral.” (Mark’s part of the story was obtained through conversations with the parents and also from the book written by the family: Bruce and Joyce Erickson, When Life Doesn’t Seem Fair [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995]; see pp. 65–66.)

I ask each of you: Would the God of this earth who learned about Heather’s pains and sufferings in the Garden listen to a little girl sing songs to him even though she could not speak? Would he tell her he loves her? Would he tell her to be patient, that he has great things in store for her? If a little boy did not understand death, would he give him a dream to help him understand that life does not end with death? As Alma teaches us, Christ experienced our pains and sufferings so that he would know how to succor us (see Alma 7:11–12). We can trust him. He earned our trust in the Garden and on the cross. If we exercise faith in him, he will respond. He will strengthen and preserve us in our time of need.

I can't sing the song "There is Sunshine in My Soul Today" without thinking of this story, and I can barely think of this story without getting rather teary-eyed. Although Heather's was a special case, I think these words can apply to all of God's children who find themselves in trying and frustrating circumstances from which there seems to be no escape: "I love you. Be patient, I have great things in store for you."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ramblings on a Stormy Evening

There is some sort of strange weather going on outside that is kind of fascinating. The intense windstorm died down and left an unsettling calmness, punctuated by sudden bursts of wind. The Thai lights hanging on our balcony are now all skewumpus. I'll have to get the boys to come back over to hang them back up properly. The valley is filling up with dark, lowering clouds. It feels like it should have started raining two hours ago. But it hasn't, and the tension adds to the strange feeling. Even though the AC is running like normal, I feel warm and sticky, and I wish the rain would just come.

The events of the last five or six weeks seem to be sapping my reserve of energy and I find myself completely listless tonight. Everything I thought about doing seemed to take too much energy, and then I fell asleep while reading and had to forcibly wake myself an hour later so I'll be able to sleep tonight. To try to engage my mind a little, I pulled out a length of brown material I found at my parents' house and cut out the pieces for a new shirt. I think the brown material is left over from a quilt I made for one of my brothers' weddings. Now I'll have a shirt to match the quilt.

Staring at the pile of pattern pieces and pins on the floor, I am reminded that I need to assemble two or three things that "describe" me for a family reunion this Saturday. Somehow this thought turns to intense personal scrutiny. I think over my possessions. What do I own that accurately describes a piece of who I am? Suddenly everything seems presumptuous. The bookends from Kenya could indicate that I love to travel- but can I really call myself a traveler? My eyes fall on the volume of Shakespeare's works that I bought last summer, and then I feel guilty for not having read more of them. The musical dictionary? Am I well enough versed to really consider myself a musician? I suddenly feel like a jack of all trades, master of none.

I realize in the back of my mind that regardless of my true level of proficiency at any of my hobbies or talents, the point is not to show off but to give people a better idea of who I am and what I like. The key is to not try to compare myself to anyone else who will be there, which is a little tricky since my great grandfather's descendants contain some of the most brilliant people I know.

On an unrelated note (no pun intended), I feel more secure about my means of transportation now that I finally replaced the corroding chrome wheels on my car. I was trying to put it off until the end of August, but after another tire suddenly deflated on Tuesday, I bit the bullet and paid the cash. It's extremely aggravating to get a flat tire, know exactly how to fix it, and not be strong enough to work the jack by yourself. After going back in to work and wandering around for a bit trying to think who I knew who could come help out, I ended up going to Mel's desk and having a small breakdown. Sometimes it's really nice to work at the same place as my roommate. She was able to recruit a very nice tech who came out and did the grunt work for me. And now I am hoping that my new tires and new wheels will do their job properly and stay in one piece for a long, long time.

Time to stop rambling. Before I crash into bed, Mel and I are going to read a chapter or two from the book we're reading together called "Lethal Genes." Mel bought it at a library book sale for a dollar because it looked like a promising example of bad writing, and she loves to make fun of badly written books. As an added bonus, it's a mystery centered on a plant genetics and biotech lab at UC Davis and while some of the terminology is properly used, I must admit that we are enjoying being kind of snarky over some of the author's word choices and the way she describes some of the technology and such. We are truly biology nerds. What can I say?

Now it's dark enough outside that I can't see the clouds any more, but the wind seems to be picking up. Maybe I'll get to fall asleep to the sound of rain still, who knows?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review of a book and pondering life

I am always, always, always looking for new books to read. Books with compelling plots and interesting, three-dimensional and complex characters, books that make me think. Books are my escapism, my way of leaving behind my cares and letting my mind dwell on something besides my own overanalyzed reality for a while. Books helped me get through long weeks of pain and discouragement as a physically impaired teenager and they helped me relax as a stressed college student. Three years ago after a rather messy summertime breakup, I have no idea how many books I plowed through to prevent my mind from wandering back to the boy I had just severed from my life.

Oftentimes though, in seeking an escape, I discover a different door than the one I originally set out to find. Oftentimes the escapism ends up bringing me to a new reality and sets me down in the middle of a brand-new landscape, where I begin to feel my way around a new topic with curiosity and excitement.

The book I finished this evening did just that. To be perfectly honest, the book itself left something wanting; it felt to me like it couldn't make up its mind if it wanted to be a novel or a biography and it didn't seam the two genres together as flawlessly as I would like. However, I have read few books that present a more compelling story than Three Cups of Tea.

It's the modern version of the American dream come to life, the kind of story that inspires everyone because everyone would like to believe that they have the ability to do what the protagonist, Greg Mortensen, has done. By taking a wrong turn on his way down from an attempt to summit K2 (the world's second tallest mountains, found in the Karakoram Himalaya of Pakistan), Mortensen found himself lost in a remote Pakistani village called Korphe, where the houses clung precariously to the edges of mountainous cliffs. After observing how the children were so thirsty for education that they would study every day outside without the benefit of a building or even a real teacher, Mortensen was so touched that he promised the villagers of Korphe that he would return and build them a school.

The only problem was that Mortensen was essentially broke. He returned to California and lived out of a storage unit and his car while he saved all the money he could to take back to Korphe. After years of incredibly hard living, his dream of building a school in Korphe was achieved, and slowly evolved into the building of the Central Asia Institute, dedicated to the cause of building schools for children, especially girls, in the remote regions of Pakistan and now Afghanistan. Mortensen believes that the war on terror will not truly be effectively fought unless we focus our efforts on the root of the problem- ignorance. It is where ignorance lies supreme that terrorists find their most willing recruits, taking them out of the poorest villages and offering them their own form of twisted education, padded by a payroll that they cannot garner at home.

With all this, I was fascinated that Mortensen feels so strongly about focusing on educating the girls of the villages. However, as he points out, "Once you educate the boys they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities. But the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they've learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls."

I think that's true, and I think it makes an excellent case for two things that Latter-day Saint leaders have been counseling for a long time: women should get an education, and they should stay home to raise their children whenever possible. An education is not wasted on a woman who then chooses to use it not in the workforce, but in the walls of her own home. I don't have the blessing of being a wife and mother at present, but when that opportunity becomes available to me, I can't wait to take my master's degree and apply it towards raising children to think inquisitively and question the world around them, hopefully finding as much joy in learning as I do.

Really, if women are going to stay home and raise children and be responsible for the upkeep of the next generation, it's inconceivable that they shouldn't be educated. Which is why I'm developing a deep-rooted interest in the Central Asia Institute and the work they're doing to improve the lives of everyone in Central Asia by improving the educational opportunities of Central Asia's girls and women. I encourage you to check it out, take a look. See what you think for yourself. Get a copy of Three Cups of Tea and see for yourself what you think. And let me know.

Central Asia Institute homepage:

Three Cups of Tea homepage:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mad Scientists and the Wonders they Work

As a scientist, one of my favorite things to hear about is when an unexpected discovery is made from an unexpected quarter. That's one of the beauties of science- the whole point of science is to map out the unknown, and just like the early European explorers had no idea what they were encountering when they first mapped out new physical lands, scientists have no idea most of the time what 's happening when they put certain things in contact with each other.

My example, and the reason I am pontificating on this topic, is an article I saw earlier this week discussing how scientists recently discovered that rats with spinal injuries could retain their ability to walk and were not paralyzed if their spines were injected with a dye called brilliant blue G (abbreviated BBG). Granted they walked with a limp, but that seems to be a better fate than being permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The only observable negative side effect was that the rats temporarily turned blue in their extremities- we are talking about the dye used to color blue M&Ms, after all.

But honestly, who thinks of using food dyes to treat spinal injuries? This is what we really call thinking outside the box.

A second article I read is another kind of thinking outside the box, albeit one that I consider to be more humorous. Apparently there are Japanese scientists who are working on developing a kind of fabric that works well for space travel- meaning that astronauts can wear it for extended periods of time without unpleasant odors being emitted. They did a trial run this month on one willing astronaut who wore the same underwear for a month straight and will be turning it over to the scientists upon his return to earth for their inspection. Bless those scientists- someone's got to do the dirty work. (Incidentally, there was a notice in the last copy of my company newsletter that two techs from the company just got married- and they both work in the fecal matter and parasitology lab. Thinking about their romance makes me giggle a lot more than it should).

Lastly, I hope this one will not win me any enemies, but a comprehensive review of studies done on organic versus non-organically grown produce over the last 50 years indicates strongly that there are not any noticeable benefits to eating organic produce. This makes me pleased, since I must admit that I think that the organic movement is largely hype and costs more than its worth. Now, whether the pesticides used in growing produce are substantially worse for the environment than organic crops, I am not prepared to make a statement. It's quite possible that chemical pesticide treated crops are substantially worse for the environment. But if we're just talking about human consumption, the two are essentially identical, friends.