Monday, December 13, 2010

Just some thoughts

I am the ward choir director right now. I've only had the calling for the last four months, and most of that time has been spent working on Christmas music- and reworking Christmas music as people join the choir and require a catch-up. It's very frustrating at times, but at other times, it makes my heart soar and sing. After some extra intense rehearsals, we sang at our stake music fireside last night and . . . I can't quite express what happened to me inside. I looked out over the 20+ faces watching me while I conducted and the words surrounded me and supported me and tears came to my eyes. We will sing in church next week . . . and then I will be released from that calling, because the Temple Square Chorale and Choir School begins on January 6th and that will be my full church calling.

I finally concluded my internal battle about singing in church (because sometimes it feels like showing off) and asked my friend Chad to sing "O Holy Night" with me as part of the Christmas program. I'm a first soprano, Chad is a first tenor with a gorgeous voice. We sound quite stunning together, if I do say so myself. And Chad was super enthusiastic when I asked him, because unbeknownst to me, he loves that song so much that he sings it all year round. I think I may be crying a good bit during the Christmas program on Sunday.

A huge perk to leaving work after dark in the winter- at least in December- is that I get one gorgeous Christmas light show on my way home- first I drive past This is the Place Park and Hogle Zoo, both of which put up great light displays, and then through the fancy neighborhood along Wasatch Drive where some people really go all out. It does make my heart happy.

My good friends Sarah and Brian got engaged this weekend. I'm pondering again why I find myself becoming good friends with couples and spending time with them- on the one hand, it's great fun and we're always such good friends that it's not weird, but on the other hand . . . it would be kind of nice to have another guy there.

In related news, my brother Mark also got engaged this weekend. My cute little brother Mark. I love that kid. He's got some of the best people skills I've ever seen, which will be amazing when he's a doctor, after all his school is done. His fiancee, Jill, is a girl who grew up down the street. She performed in many of the neighborhood plays that Becca and I produced during the summers, and I taught her flute lessons for a few years. Come to think of it, I think I babysat her a few times. Although I'm not sure that it counted as real babysitting- we seemed to mostly just play with each other. Of course, that's what I mostly did with the kids I babysat. Anyway, Jill served a mission in Thailand. This is also a plus, because I adore Thailand and so maybe we can plan a trip there and she can be my in resource.

Jill's family is pretty much already part of our family in a way. Her mom, Jeannie, is my mother's guardian angel. Several years ago, Jeannie decided to take it upon herself to start giving assistance to my mom as she started getting sicker and sicker. Now the women from the Relief Society come over every day and visit with Mom, play the piano, get her meals, and get her down for naps. And Jeannie leads out. Laura and Angela refer to her as their other mother. Jeannie is a nurse, and when I had my first surgery in junior high, which was by far the scariest because I had no idea what it was like to have surgery, she came and found my hospital room and brought me a teddy bear with real feather wings to be my guardian angel bear. Oh, we love her at my house. So we don't foresee any in-law problems for Mark and Jill.

Yep, okay. I think I have all the rambling out of my system by now. Except- it's December 13th, T's birthday. His birthday is exactly three months before mine. This makes him my extra-special nephew. Happy birthday, T!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How Can I Keep from Singing?

It's been a very intense couple of weeks on the vocal front. I went to a vocal workshop last weekend that my teacher hosted and learned a lot of good things about my appearance while I sing. I had a great voice lesson yesterday in preparation for the recital I'll be singing in in two weeks (you should come!).

Tonight, I went down to Temple Square right after work for a vocal assessment. You see, that's the biggest, most intense thing that has happened in the last couple weeks. Two weeks ago today, I got a letter from the Office of the Tabernacle Choir. I had gotten mail from them a few times before in the last few months, but this was the final letter.

I got home from work that day and found it sitting on my pillow, where my roommate Kerstin had placed it. I was suddenly so nervous about opening it- when I got it unfolded, all I saw was the word "Congratulations!" before I was pounding down the stairs, letter clenched in my hand, to share my excitement with Kerstin.

I got accepted to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

It's still not real. It's a three-step audition process that I've been though, and technically there's one more trial, or probation period, but I'm not worried about that. That last step is being in the Temple Square Chorale, January to May next year, before I actually join the main body of the choir. It's a time to learn all the ropes, make sure I'm up to speed on working with a choir like this, and to show that I will show up, participate, and essentially be a good, dedicated member of the choir.

There are 29 of us- new members of the choir, who will be in the Choir School together. To get a better assessment of my level of singing and skill, tonight I went back to the Tabernacle for a vocal assessment.

My head is spinning a little after that. I don't think I've ever been complimented on my voice so much in my life. It wasn't a test, but Sister Wilberg was filling out a form as she went, indicating things like how my posture was, my vibrato, my straight tone, my ability to sustain my tone while changing dynamics- even things like my facial expression, since this choir is on TV a lot more than your average group (I was marked down as "camera ready." heh.). I got almost perfect marks the whole way down. The only thing Sister Wilberg told me to work on was singing super high notes and sustaining them over long periods of time so I can sing with the "high cadre" in a few years.

I'm feeling pretty good right now.

Every year, the Tabernacle Choir puts audition materials on their website during the month of July. During that time, they are available for download, but they are removed at the end of July for another eleven months. Interested parties then have until the middle of August to fill out the application form and submit it with a picture, a letter of recommendation from their bishop, and a CD with their singing on it. Then it's time to wait.

The first letter came back over Labor Day weekend. It was was a thick one- that was a good sign. I opened it to discover that I had advanced to the next round of auditions- the music theory exam. Now, I minored in music, so I knew a fair amount of music theory, but I didn't want to take any chances and I couldn't tell from the letter just how much theory was required. The Office of the Choir keeps copies of a music theory workbook that they lend out to applicants, so I picked one up and spent about three weeks taking it with me everywhere, fretting that I couldn't seem to perfectly memorize my relative and parallel major and minor keys. I studied key signatures while donating platelets. When we drove out to go skydiving, I brought along the book to study in the car- it didn't really work, though.

The week before General Conference, I went down to Temple Square (I got to park under the Conference Center and tell the man at the gate "I'm here for Tabernacle Choir auditions," to which he promptly gave me an exit token. I felt kind of schnazzy), where I was escorted in a back door of the tabernacle, down into the recording studio in the basement, where I took the music theory test with about fifty other people. (If you want to see a picture, the Tabernacle Choir actually has a picture of us taking that test on their website- it's about halfway down, and I'm just to the left of center in a brown shirt.) The first part of the test was listening skills. When they handed out the written portion of the test, for which I had spent so much time studying, I looked it over and almost started laughing out of sheer relief. This was it? This was a doable test. I could handle this!

They graded those tests fast. When I got back to Salt Lake from Orem after General Conference the following weekend, there was another letter on my bed. "Oh, drat," I thought as soon as I saw it. "This is starting to be important to me."

I was brave and opened the letter. 80 percent was required to pass the test. I did better than that. The letter gave me a scheduled time to go to an in-person audition in the Tabernacle with Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, and three weeks to think about it.

October 27th finally rolled around. I took a long lunch break to get in a voice lesson with Linda. She made me promise to not spend much time practicing that afternoon- a very hard promise for me to make.

I was somewhat surprised by the brevity of the whole experience. I had an interview with Mac Christensen, the president of the choir, which left me walking on air. Then I was escorted back into the recording studio, where Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy sat behind a table with all my information in front of them. I sang one verse of a hymn and sightsang five short phrases. Then I left.

I wasn't sure at all how I did, but I figured it was out of my hands anyway. So when that letter showed up, I really wasn't sure if it would tell me "thank you for your time, try again next year," or that happy word I saw first, "Congratulations!"

This will change my life quite substantially, but I think I'm up for it. Hello, my next big adventure. Now I can go back to the bucket list and put a check next to "Sing with a professional choir." I'm using the term "professional" here loosely, since the members are volunteers, but since it's a world-famous choir that has best selling CDs,I think it works. Hold on tight, life is about to change big time!

Friday, November 12, 2010

This is the hardest time I have ever had to think of this

A while ago, my old roommate Kristel sent us some marriage advice that her first-grade class had given to their teaching aid on the occasion of his marriage. I have laughed myself sick over it a few times and I finally decided that I wanted to share it with my internet audience. Please enjoy.

Take care of her when she gets a baby. And when she is sick you should make her breakfast in bed. And if it’s Mothers Day, you should do something special for your wife. And be nice to the baby when she gets the baby. And be nice to your family. Never be mean to your family. And never be mean to your friends and family. Do nice things like making the bed when she has to make the bed, because my mom always has to make the bed. And never, ever be mean to your class.
(it's pretty clear that some of these are from girls who are all about equality- I'm pretty sure this girl won't grow up to make the bed, at least)

Remember to take your wife out to dinner. When I was supposed to stay in my bed to sleep, my dad got me a baby doll that I really wanted. You should do that if you have a little girl.

Congratulations! Happy Wedding! Hope its good. Give your wife flowers. My dad hugs my mom to show her that he loves her. You should do that. Never spank your wife. Kissing is good. Help your wife go down the steps.

Give the lady a wedding ring. Are you writing what I say? The only thing I know is giving them a ring.
(Hehe. Some of the terminology used makes me happy. Give the lady a wedding ring. I'm so curious about the word choice of "lady.")

I don’t know. I don’t know. Do what you are supposed to do. Wash your car. I don’t know what else.

Well I don’t know. I am not sure I have ever done this... except for my mom…and that’s ‘cause I love her. This is the hardest time I have ever had to think of this. Marriage is hard. You make people feel glad and happy. You never hurt people. My Dad helps my mom, so help people

I love your wife. I think she’s beautiful. Probably you should marry her today at the school. And you should bring her to the school. Please.
(This sounds oddly like something that would happen in a Magic School Bus episode- "The Magic School Bus and the Wedding at the School." Or maybe in a sideways story from Wayside School. I'm pretty sure he did not get married at the school, as much as the first grade girls would have loved that.) happy about it. You should be friendly to your wife. Always go to work like my Dad. Be kind to her. Hold her hand even though that’s kinda gross.
(A truly chivalrous young man! He feels that hand holding is kinda gross, but he advocates it anyway because girls like that. What a good chap!)

Congratulations! Marriage is fun. And I bet you will be a good husband. How about give your wife flowers until you get married. Then you get kissed.
(Logical flow? Give her flowers leads to getting kissed at the wedding?)

I don’t know yet. Buy her stuff like phones and a ring.
(Yes, this was submitted by a girl. Yes, she probably has a lot of Barbies.)

You should be a good husband. You should be nice. You should comfort her. You should buy her flowers when it’s her birthday. You should let her snuggle you. She will hug you. Let her hug you.
(Another very gallant young man- if she wants to hug you, let her hug you. I like this kid and I don't even know him)

You are my helper. You are nice. You have a girlfriend. You should get married. You should help your girlfriend have a baby. And the baby will grow up and then it will be a big boy or girl. You will read to her or him.
(How do elementary school teachers keep their faces straight? I don't know if I could . . .)

You should bring her to the movies. You should go on dates. My dad sold the boat to show my mom that he loves her. In the summer, before I broke my arm, I went on the tube. Actually, you should buy a boat and go boating with her. You could even go fishing. Tell me how you like the wedding

You are very nice. You should clean up and smile. You should talk to your wife in funny voices. I am glad you like the school. You like reading. You will be a good friend your wife. You will be nice to your children. You will have a great married time. You will look beautiful. Well, one will look pretty and you smile all the time, so you will look happy on your wedding day.
(I really like this one. I want my husband to be a good friend to me. And then I will look pretty and he will smile all the time. Sigh)

When boys love girls, they kiss them, but I’m not allowed to kiss until I am the right age. You should also give hugs. You never fight. Never hurt her. Never marry someone else.
(All very wise and sage, including the bit about not being old enough to kiss.)

You can help your wife when she has a baby. You can help her by helping the doctors push the baby out. You can help her maybe change the baby’s diaper and cook the baby’s food. You can also read books. You can give your wife lots of hugs. And give her kisses. You can play with your wife. You can play games like Go Fish, Hide-N-Seek, and you can also watch movies. You can go on dates to the movies or to the restaurant, and you can go to Lagoon on a date.
(Now I'm having visions of playing Go Fish and Hide-N-Seek with a cute boy [of my own age, not a first grader])

Make a big birthday cake. Dance. Invite people to your backyard. Kiss.
(Recipe for a GREAT reception!)

Take her to a restaurant. Go to the store. Buy her earrings. Buy her a purse. Buy her some make-up. Buy her a new shirt. And a new fuzzy coat. Buy her some pants.
( . . . and then discover that love cannot be bought)

The aid his wife are getting married. He loves her. He likes her. Give her flowers and draw her a big heart. A marrying dress. A song, like the song Kiss the Girl. When the song hits the ice, it sings. When it sings, the flowers all move. And we are married. And the eagles eggs hatch and they all sing a song or something. When the flowers bloom, you will be married. You are a flower, you are going to marry. When the birds sing, you will sing beautiful. When the trees grow, you will grow. When the horses are wild, you are wild. When I smile, you will smile. When I laugh, you will laugh. When children are happy, you are happy. When the butterflies are beautiful, you are beautiful. When bears are cuddly, you are cuddly. I am thinking all about animals and making things beautiful. When penguins slide, you slide. When octopuses are wiggly, you are wiggly. When snakes are slithery, you are slithery. And when a cheetah is running, you are running.
(I'm not certain, but I think this kid might have a future in freeform poetry. Some of this is actually quite striking imagery, and then I get to "When the horses are wild, you are wild," and I think, what on earth?)

Go somewhere fun like Boondocks. Kiss her. Take on a honeymoon. Buy her a house. Be nice to her. Treat her nice. Make her breakfast. Get her jewelry. Help her with work. Never be mean to her. Never divorce. Never do something she doesn’t want you to do. Never sit where she doesn’t want to sit. Like, at the movie theater, let her pick the seat. Have a good honeymoon. And make sure she doesn’t ever divorce you.
(More advocation for chivalry- let her pick the seat. Well spoken.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

He's got me covered

When I was attending BYU, I took two New Testament courses from Camille Fronk Olsen, one of my favorite teachers. The people, places, and stories of the New Testament came alive in her class and I felt like I learned so much more about the context that the Savior lived in than I had ever known before.

One of my all time-favorite things she taught us was the actual Hebrew word used in the original Old Testament to refer to the atonement. The word was kaphar.

Its most literal translation into English is "a covering."

Kaphar was translated a few different ways into English. One of its translations, in reference to the tabernacle, became the mercy seat.

One of my favorite things about this word and knowing its original definition is that it brings a lot of color to so many phrases, both scriptural and in everyday usage. If I am going to do something that makes me nervous or scared, or so I go out on a limb somehow, I might have someone cover me. If I don't have enough money to pay for something, someone might offer to cover the expense for me.

Interesting, isn't it?

The scriptural phrases are just as interesting. A word search for cover shows some very interesting examples- as well as the difference between the Savior covering my sins and me wanting to do it myself. (Hint: If I try to do it myself, it doesn't work).

This is among the most beautiful imagery that I know. The Savior covers our sins for us because He knows that walking through life with a bunch of sins attached is like walking through life with a self-imposed handicap. A net drag, if you will. It's exhausting and it prevents one from doing all kinds of things- and prevents one from hearing a lot of the subtle direction given along the way about course changes and such. So He offers to cover us, so that we don't have to carry that burden.

I love the atonement. I love the feeling of being covered. I sometimes extend it mentally to include a covering like a warm blanket- a comforter, if you will- that not only covers my sins but also provides protection against a lot of the grit, grime, and winds that are out there. And it is the warmest, nicest comforter out there. Give it a try sometimes. I think you'll like it, too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Salt and Sand and Pictures

Bugging has paid off! Trevor and Dave relinquished their photos.

If you enlarge this photo, you can see some of the stars. It was a gorgeous night.

And the next morning, the sunrise was brilliant.

See the cars in the middle of the picture? Yeah. That was us. This was really the middle of nowhere. Nothing around.

Here's a closeup. No heads are visible because it was also pretty cold. I was glad for a blanket to put over my head, since I had no hat.

Sarah and Brian brought the potato gun, and Trevor was thrilled to use it. His first time firing a potato gun. The look on my face in this picture is fairly typical for me when I'm taking to Trevor. He's just one of those people who can bring that look out on my face. And yet, somehow we are still good friends.

Preparing to enter the first mine. I think we took this picture in case we didn't make it out alive.

Disturbingly, but in a cool way, we did encounter something that did *not* make it out of the mine alive

We also came across albino crickets- we didn't think the mine was big enough to have things like albino crickets, but, hey. We thought they were cool.

Cool enough to examine up close. Hello, there, crickets.

Such mountain goats we are- definitely the steepest hike I've ever been on. And yet, I still stop to examine the foliage.

The great view of the salt flats from higher up- what a crazy little corner of the world.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Salt and Sand

The adventure this week was a camping trip to the west desert of Utah, on the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats. I don't often head west on I-80, and every time I drive through those salt flats, I am fascinated. It's such a stark, inhospitable place, and yet there's a certain kind of grim majesty about it that makes it so intriguing as well. It's a very unusual kind of desert.

The trip was planned by Trevor, and the idea was to leave Friday night, camp out, and in the morning, go hiking in old mineshafts and caves. I drove out with Sarah and Brian. It was definitely dark by the time we arrived, and the half-moon cast brilliant light over the whole eerie landscape. Wendover was just a few miles away, but the mountains blocked out any light pollution, and we were very isolated from humanity. The outline of the mountains was even more stark by moonlight. The Silver Island Mountains are volcanic mountains, giving them a very twisted and strange outline in a lot of places. It was really rather captivating to look at.

Trevor's idea of a good campout is one that involves lots of scary stories. This is one thing that Trevor and I disagree on significantly. I don't do scary. I don't get the appeal of intentionally giving myself dark, frightened feelings, and I have an imagination that likes to play things up significantly in my mind. So fortunately, Trevor kept things on a moderately un-scary level, since both Sarah and I let it be known that we weren't fans of getting way creeped out.

The night was chilly, but not nearly as frigid as I had been anticipating. However, I was still grateful for the two blankets in my sleeping bag. After snuggling in deep and listening to Trevor and his friend Dave try to take good pictures of the moon without a tripod for the camera, I once again partook in the glories of the night sky, crammed deep with stars. It bothers me that I live in a world where people gear themselves to be so busy that we don't drink in the amazingness that is everywhere. Like in the sky every night. We counted half a dozen shooting stars in fifteen minutes, and then the next thing I knew, I was waking myself up about half an hour later because I wanted to see the sky.

The next morning, with the stars invisible due to that closest star, the sun, the focus shifted to the amazingness of things much closer at hand. Sarah teaches middle school science, and we had a few discussions about geology because of all the amazing rock formations and types. There were beautiful sparkly rocks and solemn creamy rocks and beautifully striated rocks with alternating orange and black stripes, and zebra rocks with wonderful black and white patterns and I actually picked some up and brought them home, which I haven't done in years.

There were also a few species of very hardy plants that grew bravely in the incredibly harsh environment of the west desert. There is no sagebrush on the salt flats. Sagebrush isn't designed to handle the excessive levels of salt in the soil. We saw a few chenopods, some creosote bushes, a few hardy kinds of grass, Ephedra, and an amazing plant that looked like some strange mega-moss growing down the barren sides of the cliffs until I investigated closer and realized that it was definitely not moss, due to its root system. Amazing. The sheer tenacity and willpower of these organisms to survive by sending their roots down into the solid rock with excruciating slowness is remarkable.

AS you may recall, the main object of the day was to go mining and caving. We did our best, and Trevor recruited his GPS, but we weren't overly successful. We found one mine shaft very easily that only went back about 40 feet. We searched for another and found a dead-end alcove. Then, because Trevor and Dave operate this way, we were scrambling up huge piles of loose alluvium in search of more caves. This is when I got up close and personal with the rocks, as there were places that I did resort to crawling on all fours- not just using my hands for support, mind you- to get up the loose stone. We found another shaft with neat turnoffs that also didn't go very far, and we ate our lunch way up on the mountain and looked out over the salt flats. We looked at the ancient water line indicating where Lake Bonneville used to shore, and thought how strange it was that this place used to be a fertile lakebed.

Another week, another adventure. So much to do and see and ponder.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Magic of a Late Summer's Eve

It's quiet in the house. Amber is downstairs studying, Cassaundra and Kerstin went to Institute, and Jamie left with Sarah for a birthday party. I could have gone, but quiet nights at the house where I am free to do whatever I like are a rarity anymore, and I'm rather enjoying sitting at the kitchen table with the back door open, feeling the pleasant night air, listening to the crickets chirp, and just breathing in that indescribable aura that accompanies summer nights, especially when they're smudging the border of autumn.

I chose to bake tonight. My parents have a Red Delicious apple tree in their backyard that produces very well and invariably ends up laden with worm-filled apples. However, by happy circumstance, I discovered a few years ago that the worm holes can be cut around, and the remnant pieces of apple are the juiciest, most flavor-filled pieces of fruit I've ever consumed. If I made cider, they would be perfect cider apples. But since I do not make cider, I began using them to make apple bread.

It's like zucchini bread, but with apples. After rubbing my thumb raw on the grater, the apples got grated appropriately and incorporated into the batter, and the kitchen smells like baked apples, and I am in heaven. I haven't made apple bread since I was in college, and memories are coming back of wonderful times and experiences. And I sit here on the edge of the city, listening to the cars drive by on the busy road not too far away, but knowing that less than a mile away is the wilderness of the mountains, where the leaves turn copper and red and dripping gold.

The seasons are turning. It's subtle still, summer is putting up a good fight. The days are still warm, but after a summer of warm nights with no air conditioning, I am finally rediscovering the use of my blankets. The tomato plants are recognizing the turn in the air, and showing telltale signs of growing old. Some days after work, rather than driving straight home I find myself going up the canyon in a very roundabout loop just to take in the amazingness of a mountainside in the autumn.

It's the kind of night that calls for laying outside, watching the stars, and pondering. It speaks of bonfires, good friends, and songs. I'm glad that I get to be here, enjoying it by taking in its stillness- which can only be taken in when I am still. It's no wonder to me that at times, God commands us to be still. Some things can only be taken in through stillness. And they are things that do not translate well into words.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Happily Ever After

I got to teach the Relief Society lesson for yesterday, and I was was super excited to do it. I love teaching a lot. This is why I hope that at some point in my life I am a professor teaching botany and genetics courses someplace, with an office laden with all sorts of interesting books.

But I digress. It turns out the lesson was to be based on the talk that President Uchtdorf gave at the Young Women's Session of General Conference in April, entitled "Your Happily Ever After". I was intrigued that a member of the First Presidency of the Church was basing his talk off of fairy tales. Then I read deeper and realized what he was saying, and realized that it was amazing.

Once upon a time, I lived with my Father, God, the King of the eternities. As His daughter, I was a princess, privileged in every way. The He told me that He had prepared a way for me to seek my fortune, as it were. He told me that this adventure would hold great joy and unbelievable sorrow, that I would learn amazing new skills and discover talents and abilities that I had not been aware of before. He told me that I would face challenges, both from without and from within. There would be mountains to climb and valleys to cross and heartache to endure, but that it was the only way for me to become the queen that I was destined to become.

So I agreed. He promised to send me with tools and weapons, and to place people in my life who would show me how to use them, but that it would be completely up to me whether or not I actually did use them. He promised me that every time I wrote Him a letter home, He would reply promptly, but that His messages would not be brought in with fanfare and pomp. They would be quiet, subtle messages, and I would get to learn how to recognize them. They would often contain advice or directions on how I could grow the most, achieve the most, and serve the most, and the more I heeded His letters to me, the more He would send.

He promised me that if I did this, and listened to His guidance and followed His path, that I would return home to Him at the end of my adventure, and I would, indeed, live happily ever after- literally. For ever.

Isn't that great? It is by far the best fairy tale I've ever heard, and it's my life. There are no fairy godmothers in this one, but guardian angels and the power of faith, hope and charity, powered by the greatest miracle of all, the atonement of Jesus Christ. There are no magic wands that are waved to create a carriage from a pumpkin or glass slippers for my feet, but rather a spark of divine power inside of me, giving me the ability to create my own story, whether I choose to create joy and determination and friendship or anger and bitterness and selfishness. I choose whether I create my future as a queen or as a wicked stepmother, as it were.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Maria, who was blessed with many friends, a great job, wonderful talents, an amazing family, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the whole beautiful world. And she was a princess. Every day, her Father the King would send her messages that brought her happiness and guidance. Her life was blessed.

But, President Uchtdorf points out that the main focus of every fairy tale is the adversity that the hero or heroine must go through before they can achieve their happily ever after, the heartache, the disappointment, the unkind and cruel actions of others. It is only by conquering some great challenge that the princess can truly claim her privileges as a queen, by proving that she is worthy and able. Princess Maria is no exception to this. While the beautiful princess has a multitude of blessings in her life, she has experienced hard physical illnesses, lost friends, death of loved ones, illness of loved ones, and challenging relationships. And despite her great beauty, dexterous talents, and capable nature, the princess finds herself still searching for her prince- perhaps he is the one who fell under the hundred years' sleep this time around?

But even with these challenges in her fairy tale, Princess Maria is amazed at the way the hand of God is present in her life. This is why she keeps a journal- to chronicle the miracles that take place. Who wouldn't
want to record and remember such a great adventure?

One amazing thing that has happened to me over the past year or so is a deeply increased awareness that every day and every experience is a gift. There is something I get to learn from every experience I find myself in. I either get to learn how to change the situation, or how to change my attitude towards the situation, or change my choices so I don't wind up in such a situation again. I do not at all profess to be an expert at living this way, but I do profess to know that it is true, and it brings a lot more enjoyment to life. My fairy tale.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Entertainment of the day

This is what can result when I talk to the right people in the lab.

J: how was lunch today?

Me: it was great. We had a very enlightening conversation about freezers.

J: How enlightening was it? On a scale of 1 to 7?

Me: about a 4. Brian and I are both thinking about buying chest freezers.

J: Frost-free?

Me: We didn’t get that far. That’s why it was only a 4.

J: They don’t cost very much money. You can get them for a buck eighty- uh, a hundred and eighty dollars at Sam’s Club.

Me: Yeah, I’m going to do some shopping around

J: Of course, you can get them for free on KSL. They have their whole free section. There was one for free on there a little while ago. But it didn’t work.

Me: Yeah, I’m willing to pay for the quality that I want.

J: Sam’s Club. One eighty. Just little things. They would work for you. You’re not a big person, so you wouldn’t need a big freezer.

Me: Uh, so you pair people up with freezers according to size?

J: Yeash. Freezers and fridges. And closet space, but for a different reason.

Me: Why is that?

J: Well, fridges is because of consumption. But closet space is because of sheer cubic volume of fabric.

Me: Okay, so you’re not assuming that larger people have more clothing.

J: Nope, it’s just the volume of the individual articles.

Me: Like if all your clothes were like your fat pants.

J: (gets a dreamy look on his face) yeah. Like my fat pants. I love those things. I feel so swift in them.

Me: What?

J: I can take twelve steps in them without touching the fabric. I feel so fast.

Me: Uh, right

J: I should wear them again. You don’t think they’re actually a skort, do you?

Me: What?

J: I’d be concerned if I was wearing skort. Emily wears them sometimes.

Me: Um, I’m not an expert, but I’m picturing your fat pants just like fat . . . pants. Like oversized. Not like a skort.

J: Okay, good. I’m not very fashion savvy sometimes.

Me: I can picture you wearing oversized pants. I have a really hard time visualizing you wearing a skort.

J: Yes. Please do not visualize me wearing a skort.

Me: (laughing while I pick up my binder)

J: Are you going to write that down? It might be important.

Me: “Do not visualize J wearing a skort?”

J: And underline it. Twice.

Me: Yeah, I think we’ll both be happier if I don’t visualize you in a skort.

Josh: Yes. Underline it. Twice.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Random notes of the week

A while ago, I did quite a few research odds and ends for Dr. S at work, and some of my results were particularly pleasing to her. She half-jokingly told me that she would take me to lunch as a way of saying thanks. The very same day, Em also assisted Dr. S, so she told us she would take us both out for pizza. We weren't quite sure if she was kidding or not, but we somehow managed to extract from her, very delicately, that she was quite serious. There was rejoicing. Then, of course, a few weeks passed, during which time the pizza was periodically mentioned so we knew it hadn't died. And then, through some diplomacy, I set this past Monday, my half birthday, as the day.

And consequently, I have now been to Rocky Mountain Pizza Company, which I had been wanting to do for a while, and I am happy to report that my experience there, at least, was delicious and fun. Dr. S is from India and she told us a little bit about where she used to live and quite sincerely took me up on my half-joking suggestion that when I go to India someday, I'll get the scoop from her on where to go and what to see.

Then, on Wednesday, we had a special inservice at work. We're in the middle of an activity (for lack of a better word) sponsored by the wellness center to encourage people to eat more fruits and veggies (eat at least 100 servings in 20 days and get a free ticket to a corn maze- where you'll find even *more* veggies! Heaven!), and to coincide with that, they brought in a bonafide chef to give us a lecture on proper eating. I was actually surprised at how much I learned. One thing she talked about was how the coating on nonstick pans is not designed to be used on settings any higher than medium heat, and when heated higher than this, they can sublimate and cause nasty reactions in people and even- brace yourselves- kill pet birds.

At this point, I almost cracked up, because I suddenly recalled a blog post by my friend Gabe from almost a year ago that, upon rereading, cracked me up all over again. Those poor birds.

Between that inservice and my friend Michael the Chef's dictations on good cookware and other things I've been reading lately, I think that as I continue to accumulate my own cooking tools, I'm not going to be able to get away with passable quality. I am being indoctrinated into the school of high-quality cookware, which probably means I will take longer to get a full kitchen complement, which is just as well, since my kitchen is currently full of cookware that is not mine. In fact, and Michael will laugh at this, I have recently bought a couple of things I'm excited about and am now keeping them in my room for the dual reasoning that there's not lots of room in the kitchen and I don't want them to get tossed around like the cheaper supplies that are already there.

Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure we have incurred a curse on our glasses somehow. There have been several breakages, especially since our dishwasher decided to quit working. Two weeks ago, I got to fish a piece of glass out of Kerstin's foot with some tweezers because the glasses just keep breaking. Somebody used to own a set of goblets and now I think there are three. I knocked one off the counter with my elbow just the other night where it was sitting next to the dish rack to dry. It has strengthened my resolve that I'm never going to use glass goblets for everyday use in my own house. Yeesh!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Bucket List

When I was in Kenya two years ago, I started a list in the back of my journal of things I wanted to do or accomplish during my life, what some people have affectionately begun to call a bucket list. Originally I had in mind to have 100 special goals on the list, but I'm still only up to 55. They vary in complexity, expense, and how easy they will be to complete- reading the complete works of Shakespeare is time consuming, but not as involved as spending at least a day in each of the 50 states. Some of them are very involved but I've made good headway on them. Visiting every continent is a big goal, but I'm over halfway done with it. As for seeing the east and west coast of every ocean- I've achieved that for all of them except the Arctic, and I'm figuring out what the east and west coasts of the Arctic ocean really involve. Maybe I'll end up going to northern Alaska and Northern Norway. Both of those would also assist me with my goal of seeing the Northern lights at least once.

But, like I said, I've still only gotten up to 55 items on the list, and that's only after I pulled it back out this weekend and added a few more to it. One of them, whether or not this is cheating, I added right after I'd done it. It wasn't really something I'd dreamed of doing, but I'm really glad I did it.

This addition to the bucket list, which some might think would put the kicking the bucket part into the bucket list, was skydiving. I have some very active friends in Salt Lake, and some of them decided recently that they were going. TO be honest, I mostly just felt like it would be some kind of admission of defeat to turn down the opportunity. I knew that I would always wonder what it would have been like- so I signed up, and this last Saturday morning found me driving out to nowhereland- I mean, Toelle- suiting up in a harness, and getting on a very small plane.

I'll be completely honest- I was so nervous that I didn't think about it all week because I knew my mind would just work itself in circles. But somehow, once I was there and on the tiny plane and soaring up in the air, my logical brain just couldn't figure out waht I was doing and shut off. I wasn't nervous at all- just fascinated.

There were seven of us, so Heather, Cassaundra, Jared, and Trevor jumped first on the first plane, and then Costley, Amy, and I went up second with another girl.

I was jumping last, so I got to watch Costley and Amy and the other girl on the plane with us hurtle out into space. That was pretty surreal, to watch them fall away from the plane. Then it was my turn. My jump partner, Brian, had secured our harnesses together, and he guided me to the door of the plane, where I put my toes over the edge, and before I really had time to register where I was, we were out, falling through the air at over 100 miles per hour.

I would have screamed out of pure instinct, but I couldn’t get the breath to do it. We fell face up horizontally for a bit; I remember seeing the plane in the air above me, and then we rotated, and I was staring at the earth, so far down- so far away. It was so bizarre to think that I was plummeting towards it, so fast that my lips were flapping in the wind, but I was so high up that it didn’t look like we were getting any closer. One thing they instructed us to do was to breathe through our teeth, or getting a breath of air would be like drinking through a fire hydrant. That was pretty accurate.

We were in freefall for about a minute before Brian pulled the dragline and then the chute. I got a bit of a jolt with that, which might have been the worst sensation I experienced. There was no feeling like I’d lost my stomach or anything at any point. Then we were just hanging in midair under a parachute, up so, so high, and falling gradually downwards. Brian used the steering lines to do some spins, which were fine at first but then made me feel nauseated. I did keep feeling kind of ill after that, which was a bummer, but it was still an amazing experience. I was surprised at how much control those steering lines gave us. It was especially useful when we got near the ground and Brian was able to get us right over the landing field by pulling left and right. The landing itself was incredibly smooth, too. Brian told me to keep my feet up so his touched the ground first- if mine touched first, we would end up landing on my face. So I pulled my feet way up high, and touching down ended up to be a very gentle, safe experience.

When I got home, I remembered my bucket list. I hadn't looked at it or thought about it for over a year, but I felt completely justified in pulling it back out and added "go skydiving" to the list, with a big check next to it. Then I kept it out and looked at it and mulled it over for a while. I was surprised to see that I had achieved one or two things on there without even consciously remembering the bucket list. There are a couple other things on there that are being set in motion right now. I added a few things to it as well, some silly, some serious. Life is so amazing. I went to see "The Lion King" with Laura this last week, and the lines from "The Circle of Life" keep playing through my head: "From the day we arrive on this planet and blinking, step into the sun- there's more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done." Sometimes I feel like I don't want to sleep because there's so much to experience and do and live for- and I don't want to miss it. Life is my great adventure, no matter what it brings- joy and sorrow, ease or challenges, quiet night laying in the backyard and looking at the stars or falling from the sky with a parachute on my back. I don't find it hard to believe that I sang for joy with the morning stars when I knew I got to come to earth.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sandstone, Temples, and Shooting Stars

This week's adventure took me to Southern Utah again, but this time it was the southeast corner instead of the southwest. You see, at the beginning of the year I decided to attend every temple in Utah during 2010. One nice thing about living in Salt Lake is that there are seven temples within an hour's drive of where I live (where else in the world can that be said?) and I have attended six of those. However, the remaining six pose potential challenges, being a bit more of a drive. However, they are still manageable, and with a little planning, can easily all be attended by the end of the year.

Today, I made it to the temple which had the place on my list as the hardest one to reach. The Monticello temple is about a five hour drive from where I live, through the barren stretches of Central and Southern Utah, past Price and Helper and Moab. The original plan was to get together a group to go down for the weekend and spend the rest of the time in the Mesa Verde/Four Corners region, but plans got revamped, and my roommate Cassaundra, our friend Amy, and I set off on Friday early afternoon to spend the evening in Arches National Park, the night at a KOA campground in Moab, and this morning in the Monticello temple.

Which is what we did. We listened to Cassaundra's book on CD of Pride and Prejudice on the way down, and I solidified my opinion that Pride and Prejudice is much less a romance novel than it is a social commentary both on social structure and the absurd personalities that Jane Austen herself most likely encountered in society. I think I've had my fill of that story for a while now, though, after listening to it this weekend and watching a theatrical production last weekend . . .

We arrived safely in Moab right around supper time but as none of us were very hungry, we drove straight into Arches to enjoy it while the daylight held.

After fully exhausting the daylight, we drove through Moab to the KOA where we spent the night. We started unpacking the car, but before the tent went up, I realized just how brilliant the stars were and put in a bid for using them as our canopy. I wasn't as tired as I initially thought, so I lay on the ground with my eyes wide open for the better part of an hour, marveling at how even the dark parts of the sky seemed to hint at some twinkle of light and counting shooting stars.

In the morning, we got up, packed the car, took advantage of the showers, realized how out-of-place we felt wearing nice skirts at a campground, and drove south another hour to Monticello. This is the first true mini temple I've done a session in and I was surprised at just how small it was. We got there at about 9:20 for the 10:00 session, and the dressing room was completely empty. So we got changed and sat in the tiny bride's room talking quietly for about fifteen minutes until a temple worker appeared.

It was a good experience. The drive back was peaceful, and while I enjoyed the incredible scenery along the way, I am very glad that I don't live in dry, dry red rock country. A visit is sufficient for me.

X marks the chromosome

Some days at work I’m in the lab all day. Some days I’m at the computer. Today was a computer day and my fingers were getting a little lazy. I was typing up a lot of documentation on a gene found on the X chromosome, and both the words “X” and “chromosome” were being typed a lot, and also the word “XIST,” which is the name of the gene. Suddenly, I realized that I had been typing this gem: “xhromosome.”

I rather like it. Could it be used as a way to abbreviate the term for “X chromosome?”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sacred goals and eternal consequences

A week and a half ago, I went stargazing with McKay and a few other people. McKay is notable because he's the astronomer, and he just got a new high-power laser specially designed for stargazing. The moon was a little bright to really have an amazing view of the sky, but that was just as well, since Spencer and I spent most of the time peppering McKay with astronomy questions. I learned a lot of interesting stuff. I generally study science on the micro scale of things, not the macro.

As always happens, I was strongly hit by the fact that what I was actually viewing was an image of what the stars looked like millions of years ago. Sitting up in the foothills and staring up at those points of light, I felt surrounded by eternity and just how eternal some things are, even when they happened long ago.

The next morning as I cleaned the railings in the living room, I talked to Kerstin about my experience the previous night and we discussed just what an interesting feeling it is when it really hits me deep that I'm gazing into the past when I stare at the night sky. Then we went on to discuss how, just like the stars, so many things in the past are always affecting us. Even my experience stargazing came forward in time with me to affect Kerstin's life, the result of which was the conversation we had. We talked about how our choices and actions often shine forward through time in unexpected ways, and may have unanticipated repercussions through a long chain of time.

It was in a similar vein to one of the philosophies I've been building lately for myself. In church one Sunday a few months ago, I picked up the phrase "sacred goal" from a hymn in Sacrament Meeting and the expression "eternal consequences" from the Relief Society lesson. I liked them both and started mulling them over and over in my mind. Then it occured to me that the gospel is really nothing more than a set of sacred goals that we all set before we arrived on this earth and the eternal consequences that achieving- or not achieving- each one of them will have, both on me and on those I interact with directly and indirectly.

The scriptures are loaded with sacred goals and their eternal consequences. The Beatitudes, for example, are a listing of goals and then straight up pair the consequence of striving for that goal with them. Blessed are the meek- there is the goal. For they shall inherit the earth- the consequence of being meek. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. That's a pretty good consequence right there, I'd say. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Isn't it delightful? We are given set goals and told straight up what the consequences of reaching for them will be. I also love doing this in my patriarchal blessing, a special, personal document that members of my church are given when they feel that the time is right. They are full of personal guidance and direction, and, as I've discovered, sacred goals for me specifically to reach for, and the eternal consequences that will be mine if I obtain the goals. I love it. If you have a patriarchal blessing, read it from that perspective sometime.

Goal setting has always appealed to me, but never more so than when I apply it to the overarching course of my life and focus on sacred goals. These are the goals that work towards softening my heart, opening my eyes, and bringing me nearer to God. And the closer I am to Him, the easier it is to hear the specific guidance He gives me. Sometimes the goals He gives me are small and I am not sure what their purpose is right away. This is why I love this scripture that I just really read for the first time with comprehension last week-

D&C 123:15 Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things.

In other words, when the Lord commands and it seems like a small or tiresome thing, be careful. I never know when what I am doing now will shine forward into the future and affect my preparation for future experiences. Just like those stars, shining millions of years ago, had no idea that the light they emitted at that particular time would be used, millions of years later, for travelers to navigate across deserts and oceans.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

All that glitters is not gold

I am coming to the conclusion of a most excellent weekend. I got it in my head a while back that I wanted to go to the Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City this summer. That was the easy part. The hard part is finding people who want to go with me- and will actually follow through when they say they want to. Has anyone else noticed that this is a problem with our generation? It drives me nuts sometimes.

But that's a tangent. In this case, I was most fortunate to be favored by the good company of Emily, Alice, Melanie, and Mel's sister Maggie, and we had a most delightful time.

The plays themselves were excellent, but so was just about everything else about the trip. We saw stage version of Pride and Prejudice, Hitchcock's The 39 Steps redone as a comedy with only four actors (most of whom played multiple, multiple parts), Much Ado About Nothing, and The Merchant of Venice.

I quite liked the Mr. Darcy they had in Pride and Prejudice, although it took me a while to figure out the play was staged to bring out the comedic aspect of the book. Trevor asked me why the drums after all the jokes hadn't given it away. Silly Trevor. In any case, I liked it better than the new version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly, and thought they condensed it into a play pretty well.

I wish I had words to describe the production of The 39 Steps. Em summed it up as "creative and random" and I must agree. The actors did an amazing job and the play was packed with random references to other murder mysteries and a lot of other Hitchcock movies that had me in stitches most of the time. Ask me in person sometime and I might be able to describe some of it to you.

Much Ado About Nothing was pretty well done, but I must confess that the Kenneth Branaugh version of that play has kind of spoiled me for anything else. I did like the Hero and Claudio in this stage version better though- I always felt like the Claudio in Branaugh's version was kind of a wuss.

I had never seen a production of The Merchant of Venice, which was a big part of why I was willing to stay and see it on Saturday night, driving home pretty late. (Okay, really late. I went to bed at 3 AM last night). I am so glad that I did. It was quite spectaular. It was the only play I gave a standing ovation for- I am of the dying persuasion that standing ovations should be earned and not handed out like pretzels. The actors portraying Shylock and Antonio were exceptional, and the scene with Portia's would-be suitors the princes of Morocco and Aragon were beautifully and humorously executed. And even though I knew what was going to happen, the courtroom scene with Portia stepping in at the last minute to save Antonio was very gripping. Worth the late drive home.

Other than the theatricals, there were plenty of other things to keep us occupied. We admired, although we did not purchase, the masks in the gift shop:

This is what we look like without the masks, minus Mel, who took the picture:

While Emily and I chose to laugh heartily at The 39 Steps, Mel, Maggie, and Alice chose to spend Friday evening involved in heavy tragedy watching Macbeth. We parted paths and Em and I entertained ourselves with all the enjoyable things there were to be seen in the other gift shop:

We concluded that we shall have to have a girls' night in order to make masks, wreaths, and other girly things.

Here is the Green Show. I liked the Celtic music so much that I wanted to get up on the stage and dance with the SUU students. I also concluded that it wouldn't be *that* hard to make an outfit like the girls are wearing and prance around in it on Halloween. Maybe I'll see if there are any community classes on Celtic dancing.

After a good night's sleep at the local KOA campground, we packed up the car:

And took off to do some driving around the gorgeous Cedar Breaks area.

Since there were wildflowers, I was required (by myself) to identify them.

On the way up to Cedar Breaks, we passed lots of sheep and a sink hole. I didn't want to take any chances:

This is the sign at the trailhead for the main lookout. Don't go sliding down the side of the mountain! Could be bad.

Of course, the wind was strong enough that Alice was afraid to stand up lest she be blow off the edge.

But all things considered, it was quite an amazing view and well worth the trip.

We went to dinner at a bright pink stucco building advertising itself as La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant. Aside from the bright pink decor, we got our first taste of the ambiance in the parking lot whit this:

It just got better inside. There were all kinds of entertaining murals, including this one, located near our table.

Yes. That is a monkey waiter wearing a speedo. This place has character. Here is a piece of the mural across the hall from the restroom:

The sundial watch is a nice touch. And finally, one of many entertaining signs:

Um, yeah. We didn't stick around for it.

On the way back to Salt Lake after The Merchant of Venice that night, I read "Howl's Moving Castle" out loud by flashlight so Mel could stay awake while driving. It added a very nice road trippy feeling to the evening and made the time go much faster. Now it is time to go catch up on the sleep that I did not full get last night. Hooray! I love adventures.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Small Gratitude

I've done some pondering this weekend on the way life often goes. You see, my grandmother had a heart attack. That alone would be enough to incur pondering on life, but it was the events that led up to the heart attack that really are stirring up the meditation.

I should start by saying that as far as I know, Grandma is okay. She did have massive surgery yesterday (quintuple bypass, I was told), but I haven't heard anything since then, which I am taking to mean everything is going as expected for a recovery
Now that that is established, my story begins a week ago from Saturday. It was a lovely day and I was up at a decent hour and grocery shopping for our family trip to Bear Lake. I was quite pleased with the prospect of a Saturday with no plans, since that doesn't happen very often. In fact, the pleasure of having a day to myself and anticipation for the coming trip were creating such a feeling of exuberance within me that somehow after the groceries were all put away, I found myself elbow-deep in grime in the kitchen, attacking the splashboards and the oven in an attempt to remove a few years' worth of junk.

Sometime during this auspicious situation, my phone rang and I was surprised to see Grandma's name pop up on the screen. Grandma loves to talk, but she's never called me to just chat.

This was no exception. It became clear within two seconds that this was no social call. Grandma was very agitated and calling for . . . comfort? Advice? Reassurance? Maybe all of the above. It turned out that she had left Idaho Falls that morning to fly to Kentucky, via Salt Lake. My cousin Nathan was getting married in Kentucky a week later (so that would be day before yesterday now- congratulations, Nathan!) and she was flying out to assist and to be there for the wedding. However, she had gotten a call from her sister Shirley that morning as she had left the house to say that Shirley's husband had just passed away. Shirley lives in Vernal, where Grandma grew up. Now Grandma was at the Salt Lake airport on a layover and didn't know if she should continue on to Kentucky or change her flight plans and go to Vernal for a few days to be with her sister. She had called all of her children to get their advice, and gotten conflicting opinions. Then it occurred to her that I live in Salt Lake, so if she did end up going to Vernal on the bus, she could stay with me until the bus left. So she gave me a call.

I could tell under the conflicted surface that her heart really wanted to be in Vernal, and I suggested as much. After I said that out loud, it didn't take long before she agreed that she would change her flight plans and then step out of the airport for me to come pick her up. Which I did, in my grimy clothes.

Grandma ended up sitting at my table for most of the afternoon making phone calls to make a bus reservation, contact the appropriate people to let them know what she was doing (including all six of her children, I believe), and writing everything out so she could remember it all. After I changed my clothes, we met up with Uncle Gordon for dinner and a lovely stroll through Red Butte Gardens, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Salt Lake. And as we meandered around the gardens at sunset and felt the cooling desert air amidst all those glorious plants, I was glad that I got to be an angel for my grandma that day.

I was still glad when I dropped her off at the bus depot the next day only to discover that she had been given the wrong time for the bus to Vernal and we would be required to get up at about 5:15 the next morning (Monday) to get her on the next bus out. I was even glad when I got up before the crack of dawn and drove to the bus depot again.

However, I was even more grateful when Friday rolled around and I received the slightly sobering news. Grandma made it to Vernal just fine and from there to Kentucky. It wasn't until after she arrived in Kentucky that she had the heart attack, requiring quintuple bypass surgery and a multi-week stay in Kentucky before she's strong enough to come back out to the west. She is doing well and has an excellent prognosis. However, the likelihood of her making it out to Vernal to see her family in the near future is very small.

So she made it out there in a timely manner and I got to serve her in getting there. How often do I get an opportunity to be God's hands where I get to see the results so clearly? I feel pretty blessed.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How essential are these oils?

A few months ago, my friend Em gave me a recipe for zesty lemon balm jelly. My parents happen to have a huge patch of lemon balm in their yard, so I promised her I would try it. After a few ziplock bags of the stuff went moldy sitting in my kitchen, I decided to actually do it tonight. It didn't look very involved or time-consuming, so I thought it would be easy to get done in one sitting.

The first step is to make a lemon balm infusion, by pretty much boiling the balm to death in a pot of water to get all the essential oils out of the plant and into the water. I started the pot boiling and walked away. However, the unwatched pot didn't boil very quickly, and it ended up taking a good forty five minutes.

Also, the smell of lemon balm infusion is . . . interesting. I'm not quite sure how to describe it, except it almost is a combination of artichokes and lemon. Not really bad, but not really amazing, either. However, my kitchen now smells like . . . lemony artichokes.

Since it took so long to make the infusion, I opted to store the infusion and finish the jelly (which will hopefully not taste like artichokes) at a later time. I went ahead and took advantage of the little screw-top containers I got to put the finished jelly in to store the infusion. All I can say is it's a good thing the infusion is such a dark color or my roommates might be concerned.

Now I am going to finish my evening by enjoying the scent of some other essential oils. I am in love with ending my day by reading out on the back porch, which is where the tomatoes and basil and mint are growing. Mmmmm . . . now those are smells that I can unequivocally say are delicious.

I'm reading a fascinating book called "Wide as the Waters" about the history of and leading up to and resulting from the translation of the Bible into English. I love it. And off to read I go.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The squashed molecule of life

We have a lot of DNA squashed into every one of our cells. Did you ever think about that? Well, now's your big chance! Almost every human has 46 chromosomes in each and every cell of their bodies. Each chromosome, stretched out completely, is several feet long. Wrap your mind around that. Now think about how compact each of those chromosomes gets crammed up into the standard chromosome structure. Here's a visual to assist you:

There's the chromosome- can you make out the strands of DNA packed in there? Coiled around and around those histone proteins . . . I love biology.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What I do at work

I get to do some cool things at work on a regular basis. The kind of cool things that make me an official nerd, but still . . .

One thing I get to do is extract DNA. There are a variety of tests that can be done with DNA, and the purer the DNA is, the better. Removing all the extra stuff does wonders.

The first thing I do is take a sample of cells as my source of DNA. Since I work in a hospital reference lab, these are human cells I'm working with, and usually blood cells. Now, the DNA is securely sitting inside those cells, and I'm sure you've noticed that cells don't just break open for anything. I mean, look at your arm. Think about all the things your arm goes through in the course of a day without having all its cells ruptured. Yeah, cells are pretty tough. So the cells in my centrifuge tube aren't going to just break open either, even if I vortex them really fast.

However, what I can so is break them open with a surfactant. You are familiar with surfactants in the form of soap. Soaps break open cells. Don't worry, your cells are safe for a few reasons, so don't stop using soap. But when I have cells floating in a tube and I add my strong surfactant and the cells are completely surrounded by it and get all mixed up, then the surfactant gets inside that lipid cell membrane and tears it right open. It probably even gets inside the nucleus membrane and does the same thing.

This is great, because the cell membrane and the nucleus membrane are really the only things standing between me and the DNA. However, even though the DNA is floating freely among the membrane fragments now, it's far from clean. First, there's all the membrane fragments in the way. Second, DNA does not exist by itself inside a cell. It's wrapped up around and around tons of proteins to protect it and give it stability. This is great in the cell, but I want purified DNA to run tests on. So I add a protease.

A protease is, ironically enough, another kind of protein, but it is a protein whose sole job is to go around chewing up other proteins. Once the proteins have been chewed up really small, I add another solution that will precipitate the proteins to the bottom of the tube.

Now the DNA is floating in the liquid- or supernatant- and the proteins and membranes are pelleted at the bottom. From here, it's an easy step to pour the DNA into a separate tube containing ethanol for one final wash, and to store it in a special buffer that will keep it stable until I want to use it for some interesting study.

That's one of the things I did at work today. I have a cool job.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who needs TV with kids around?

Last week, I acquired my fifth nephew. As Laura pointed out, whenever one of us gets around to having a girl, she will be the most spoiled baby in the world.

We do love our boys, though, and I was quite happy to get to meet baby Z on Saturday. Tim is quite proud that he and his son were the same weight at birth. They seem to have the same personality so far, too- very laid back and easygoing and stoic. This kid never cries, to his parents' joy. He also wouldn't open his eyes for me, but I'm sure we'll have time to get to know each other.

I ended up spending Saturday night at the homestead instead of driving back to Salt Lake, and both T and K decided they wanted to have a sleepover with me. The only problem with that was that I was staying in a room with two twin beds. In my mind, that meant that one of the boys would be sleeping on the floor. I sat them down and pointed out that there were only two beds, and K piped up, "you can sleep in my bed." Which, I suppose, was very generous of him. I didn't have the heart to ask him to sleep on the floor after that. By about 5 AM, I was very tired of being squashed in half of a twin bed, though, so *I* ended up sleeping on the floor. Looking back, I have no idea why I didn't go into Laura's room, since she was gone, or find a couch or something.

By Sunday evening, K was definitely wound up. After doing some silly and annoying things, I hunted him down in Dad's closet and asked him if he'd like to go outside to run around. We ended up running races across the length of the backyard. T came out and wanted to join in. K had been having me give him head starts, but when T came out, he suggested that I should get the head start. Bemused, I asked him why. "Well," he replied, "I noticed that you're not a very fast runner."

At that point, I decided that I was doing too good of a job of letting them win, and so for the next race, I booked it across the lawn and easily beat the eight year old and the five year old. Then they both stripped all the flowers they could reach off the Rose of Sharon and gave them all to me. Maybe I'm still single because no man has showered as much love and attention on me as my nephews have. Hm.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

One thing that I simultaneously love and dislike about this single LDS life I lead is the sudden opportunities that appear for exciting new experiences, be they fun, thought-provoking, or service-oriented. Like all opportunities, these have a limited window during which they are valid options, and these windows tend to run on the small side.

So it was on Thursday when I got home from work and discovered an email from my good friend Sarah P, inviting me to go backpacking in the Uintahs this weekend, a quick overnight trip to Jewel Lake, a place that her boyfriend, Brian, had been wanting to show her for some time.

So it came to pass that I found myself on Friday afternoon leaving work to frantically cram Heather's loaned backpack with food and a toothbrush and a spare pare of socks, before leaving for the beautiful, scenic drive from Salt Lake to Kamas and on into the Uintahs with Sarah, Brian, and Trevor.

It didn't really occur to us until we were driving up through the Mirror Lake Scenic Highway that it was a holiday weekend, but we felt it was appropriate to celebrate our Pioneer heritage by roughing it and reconnecting with nature.

I am proud to report that, although the hike in was only a couple miles and not really strenuous, I did carry my own pack the whole way with minimal problems. My body really is a lot stronger than it used to be, and I rejoice.

I actually fared a lot better than Trevor, the king of backpacking and camping, who, on the way in, misjudged a log's ability to hold his weight, wasn't able to catch himself as the log gave way, and awkwardly fell forward, managing to sprain his ankle. Being a tough, manly man, he proceeded onwards and really didn't complain too much considering the amount of pain he must have been in. It did have a sad effect on the amount of hiking we did after that, though.

Although I love camping and "roughing it," I must confess this was some of the roughest roughing I have yet done. We didn't take in any firewood; while Sarah and Brian took a romantic stroll around the lake, Trevor and I pulled tinder off of trees in the form of dead pine branches and located some long dead logs that Trevor broke into the appropriate size by hurling rocks at them. It didn't take long before we had a merry fire going, and although Trevor initially laughed at me for bringing a whole six pack of sausages, he was quite happy to eat two of them for me in return for some of his gourmet instant mashed potatoes.

I also had the great pleasure of inroducing Sarah and Brian to the roasted cinnamon bear, a delectable family tradition that is much less gooey and harder to ruin than roasting marshmallows. Yum. Brian and Sarah effectively cleaned out the bag of cinnamon bears, they liked them so much.

Trevor is a media aficionado, and he just got a nice new camera, which, of course, he brought along on the trip. We took it down to near the lake to do all kinds of crazy stunts with exposure time- next time I see Trevor I'll bug him to send me copies of them so I can display all his awesome ideas for cool pictures.

The next morning, we took a few nice strolls, I found my personal shrine in a pile of moraine rock that covered an inlet for the lake and also was a haven for all kinds of gorgeous wildflowers, we cleaned up camp, and began hiking out. Sarah and Brian began falling behind, and we somehow wound up separated from them. It ended well when we got back to the car within fifteen minutes of each other. But since Trevor and I got there first, we had time to contemplate what it would be like to get a covered wagon through the Uintah mountains. We concluded that the pioneers were very smart to not go through the mountains, which would have been a death wish on the whole expedition.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Race You to the Top of the Mountain

As I was leaving work today, I discovered a text from Trevor on my phone indicating a hiking trip was in the works tonight. I haven't been hiking much this summer, so I ended up hiking to the top of Red Butte with Trevor and Tyler, and having a most enjoyable time.

As we sat on the peak of the hill and looked out across the valley, it hit all of us what a unique kind of beauty Salt Lake has. As we watched the red sun set until it met up with its reflection in the Great Salt Lake and vanished over the horizon, and the lights of the city slowly came on and began to twinkle, filling up the whole valley, we basked in the slowly receding desert heat. The beginnings of the evening canyon breezes curled down Emigration Canyon as the sounds of a thunderstorm further south wafted towards us.

We squinted at the beautiful panorama and were able to just make out all four temples in the Salt Lake Valley, starting with the nearest, Salt Lake itself, then moving much further south down the valley, to Jordan River, Oquirrh Mountain, and Draper. The half moon poked out from behind its shroud of stormclouds, tinged pink from the still-setting sun, and I sat in awe of this marvelous place that I live.

So marvelous. Life is so good. I love when the moon shines so bright and I can see the path clearly by its light. I love spending good time with good friends and discussing all things, silly and sober, along the way. I love it when my friends who are true mountaineers are patient with my slightly slower and more cautious approach to climbing hills. I love coming home from a tiring hike and letting the shower wash away all the grime. I love throwing my windows wide open to let the summer-ness of the night come in while I sleep. I am a blessed woman. And there are always more mountains to climb.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Journ-al of the Journ-ey

I am a pretty regular journaler, not as frequent as I usually set out to be, but my journal entries tend to be usually at least a page typed and fairly in-depth. My journal is not so much a place to vent as a place for me to state what's going on in my life and what I feel about it and what insights I've gained from it and what I'm doing about it. It's also a place to record all the things I'm grateful for, all the blessings and miracles that take place in my life, and how I'm progressing on any goals that I am currently working on.

My journal has been a huge blessing itself because I get to go back and read through it to remind myself of where I've been and where I'm going. It's fascinating how remembering where I've been can be both a testimony to how far I've come and also a testimony of how many good things I've experienced and can continue to experience if I allow myself to.

That was the blessing of my journal this week. I found myself staying up later than I intended last night because of some concerns I had with some situations in my life. I ended up pulling out (or pulling up, since it's all digitized now) my journal from last year and reading several pages worth of entries. It did so much to remind me that I've had a hand in creating miracles in the past and I get to keep right on creating miracles as long as I choose to. It pulled me through my rough spot last night and now tonight I feel so much more peaceful and really just grounded in my convictions and faith. All because I took a little time last year to record what was going on around me.

It also brought to mind the stories and teachings that I've been reading in the Book of Mormon the last little while. I just read the end of the Book of Omni, which contains the record of the people of Nephi leaving the land of Nephi under the leadership of King Mosiah the first and happening across Zarahemla and his people. If you are familiar with the Book of Mormon, you are aware that Mosiah and his people were descendants of Nephi, Sam, Zoram, Jacob, and Joseph, who had a record called the brass plates that had a history of their people and a lot of doctrine, as well as the gold plates which their people had used to keep a record of their current history and teachings. The people of Zarahemla were descendants of Mulek, and they had no such writings. The Book of Omni indicates that the Nephite people were grounded in their knowledge of God, Christ, and the gospel, as well as their ancestral language and their ancestral heritage. The Mulekites hadn't had this advantage and had really fallen apart as a society. They lived without the blessings of the gospel and the blessings of knowing where they had come from and why they had been brought there by the Lord.

I have found that the more conscious I am of what I do with my life, the easier it is to direct myself on a clear path in the direction that I desire. And it never ceases to amaze me how enhanced my memory is by the aid of my journal. The more clear I am about where I've been and what I've already experienced, the more clear I am about where I am going. What a great tool for good my journal can be.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Inner strength

As life usually does, tonight did not go according to plan. The plan was to be in bed by 10:30. We gathered for apartment prayer at 10. Then Jamie passed out and went into a seizure.

This is not an uncommon thing, unfortunately, but her cardiologist had instructed her to go to the ER the next time it happened so she could be monitored with professional equipment. Jamie has been dealing with seizures for a long time, and a number of specialists have been unable to determine exactly why. So after she had her first active seizure and was laying on the floor unconscious, we had our roommate prayer and Sarah called the paramedics. Sarah was once an EMT herself and has known Jamie for years, so she was able to give them the full run-down. Cassaundra and I sat quietly in the living room next to Jamie and talked to her to keep her from going into more active seizures, which partly worked and partly didn't.

It must have been a slow night, because shortly there was an ambulance and two fire trucks in front of our house, and at least eight men filing into our living room with various equipment. After some discussion and tests, Jamie was strapped on a gurney and she, Sarah, and Heather left with the paramedics for the hospital. Methinks they are in for a long night.

After all the hubbub died down, Cassaundra and I talked for a bit about the various challenges that face each of the girls in our house. It absolutely amazes me what each girl is experiencing and how much fortitude we all have. I believe our current list includes boyfriends with commitment issues, mononucleosis, unemployment, unique work challenges involving troubled teenage girls, broken bones, being single and 30, depression and anxiety (which doesn't count me, by the way- I've been depression free for a good bit now :-)), siblings with health challenges, and parents with terminal illness. Spread that across five girls and you've got a cross section of my house.

I am constantly amazed at the girls I live with and how they carry the challenges they've been given to bear. They are some of my favorite people and they are bearers of the light that they were born with. And we all draw strength from coming together and sharing our experiences and joys and sorrows. And so I don't get weighed down when I think of the burdens we bear. I smile and feel the solemn joy of knowing that I live with daughters of God who are in the thick of their training to become like their Father. As am I.