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?”