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.