Monday, December 28, 2009


The whole family went to Avatar today except Marie, Mike and the little children.  None of us were excited about the plot synopsis, but it was AVATAR, so we had to go.  Laura and I were the ones who waited for everyone with the tickets.   This gave us time to eat a baked potato and look around.  
Laura: "Ohhhh.  They used papyrus font for the Avatar poster.  This isn't going to be good."
Me: "Ya?"
Laura: "It just looks bad.  They spend millions of dollars on a film and then get graphic designers who use PAPYRUS.  No.  What were they thinking?"
Me: (Laughing) "It's like public health."
Laura: " Huh?"
Me: "After learning about public health, you question every statistic the media throws at you.   I mean like did they stratify for age, socioeconomic status, and activity level?  That kind of stuff. You become suspicious of everything when you know something about public health and here you are suspicious of everything because of the typefaces they use."
Laura: (laughing) "I am suspicious of Avatar."

So we went in,  a little late by the time all of the tickets were distributed and we waded through upset people to our pre-assigned seats.  About a half hour in, I felt something slide off of my lap and looked down.  The sleeve of my coat had shifted and it's a heavy lambskin coat so I thought I might be able to feel a sleeve shifting because it is a bulky coat.  I briefly considered that my purse may have slipped off of my lap but I just decided to search around after the movie.  

It ended.  It was long.  At one point, I had looked at Laura and said 
"I have to pee so bad."
"Me too.  We only have 45 minutes left. "
We made it.  It had cost the two of us ~$20 to stare at a movie screen for 3 hours and the special effects were worth it.  However, Laura's suspicions about the story, characters, and romance were validated.  Most importantly, we got to go to the bathroom.
I looked around for my purse.  I couldn't find it.  I started searching under the seats around me.  The girl sitting on my left wanted to get past and I wasn't letting her.  I wanted to see if my purse had somehow ended up in her bag.  I finally told her I was looking for my purse to see how she responded and she said very sweetly.
"Oh.  Well let me get out of your way."

I have no idea what to do when you think someone has stolen your purse, but you are in no way sure.  I mean I couldn't just start frisking people or going through their bags.  I considered what was in my purse.  A credit card, a debit card, a drivers license, temple recommend, Costco membership, various grocery store discount cards and three pieces of peppermint Trident.  I had just payed my dad back with my last $20, left my phone, camera and ipod at home and I had even commented earlier that my purse was looking worn out.  I let her go past, looked a bit more for my purse, went to the lost and found, and then called and put a hold on my credit card and cancelled my debit card.  I panicked later when I realized I didn't know where my keys were, but they were in my backpack after all.  

When I get back to Merced, I will get to spend about 3 hours at the DMV, staring at pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger and it will cost me ~ $20  for a new drivers license.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I stopped at a Del Taco in Elko, NV and pulled on my coat (mostly to disguise the fact that I was not wearing a bra) and went in.  I had been on the road for 8 or 9 hours and I was tired and wanted a shower.  I caught a glimpse of myself in a reflective surface and was surprised by how pretty I looked.  I certainly didn't feel pretty, but I was gorgeous.  I looked confident and relaxed and my hair was falling right and the coat made me look well dressed.  The girl taking my order looked slightly intimidated by me so I took off my sunglasses so that she could see my eyes. People always tell me that my eyes are my prettiest feature, but I think they are my kindest. She relaxed some.  It was a strange experience. So many times I have caught a glimpse of myself and been surprised by how disheveled I looked. Being surprised by my beauty was a first.  

 I am constantly surprising people.  I had lunch with a guy who is a Ph. D. student who asked about my holiday travels.  I told him I was headed for Utah and he asked in a sympathetic voice if my family was Mormon.  I told him that they were and I am too.  He headed into politics and wanted to know if there were any liberal Mormons who were good Mormons.  I told him there are, but he started to see that I wasn't enthusiastically grouping myself among them, though I am friends with many.  I guess he knew me as a professor and evolutionary biologist and assumed a lot about what that meant.  

On the other hand, I was at a Chuck Close/Ansel Adams exhibit and, I surprised that guy because I like Chuck Close better than Ansel Adams.  I guess he knew me as a nice Mormon girl and assumed that Impressionists and Naturalists are my favorites.  I don't know.

And then another guy was shocked that as a single 32 yr old Mormon I didn't want to marry him.  When he finally started listening to me after I explained this, he was surprised by how much I value education and intelligence.  It bothered me that he was surprised by that.  I felt that I had failed in some way.

I like Moroni 7, especially at the end where it says:

"45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

  46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— 

 47 But charity  is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever ; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

  48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.  Amen."

This is how I want to be and what I focus on most, but that isn't enough.  A lofty goal of becoming like God some day doesn't undo the necessity of figuring out what it is to be me. I hate that I am such a surprise to people.  I'd like to look like a good Mormon girl who is intelligent and educated and an evolutionary biologist, financially conservative, and who likes art and literature, kind but hard working, forgiving but determined and focused.  I don't know how to look like that all at once but I think I came close in the Del Taco.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

moving in

It is amazing how long it takes to become sole possessor of a house that was occupied for 60 years by the same people. I sometimes feel like their tastes are much more apparent in my house than mine are. However, as I get ready for Eileen and her family to visit me this weekend, I feel like I am definitely making progress..... Getting ready for Christmas and planning what to cook and where everyone will sleep etc. And it's weird, but some of the things that help are the mistakes I have made. It's easier to live with my own mistakes than the mistakes others have made. I have had some major condensation problems. I didn't even realize how much water was condensing on the windows until I saw a water stain on the floor and realized that water was trickling down from the window onto the floor. The finish there is ruined and I will probably have to refinish the floor again. I dread standing behind a vibrating sander for 15 hours again. (Honestly, I thought I would never feel still again) However, as I do these projects, my house becomes more and more my own one layer at a time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What happens when one listens to bad audiobooks.

When I was growing up, our home was located on the preferred route for escaped convicts to travel from the Utah State Penitentiary to Mexico. I imagine this had something to do with the Jordan River running between The Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. The river was kind of remote and undeveloped back then and all of the swamps and marshy places probably made it harder to track the escapee. (Since then, someone let their pet piranhas loose in the Jordan River and it turns out that they flourish in that environment, so I don't think it's a preferred route anymore. I could be wrong about the importance of the Jordan River, piranhas and development in the planning of prisoners. I don't run in those social circles and I am not up on their latest travel preferences.) Anyway, that fact was significant only once, which incidentally was when I learned about it. A serial rapist and murderer escaped and for about three days, the manhunt swarmed near my house. A pair of unexplained footprints was found one morning outside of a window at my cousins' house next door and our teenage minds went wild.

There were six of us who were teenagers and we lived on a long, dead end road. We had to walk nearly a mile to the school bus stop that was at an intersection by the home of our nearest neighbor. It was the closest spot where the bus could turn around. We lived in between two towns, and were incorporated into neither, though both towns sometimes wanted us. As a result, we could attend the junior high and high school of either town and between the six of us, we attended all four schools. We usually walked or ran separately to the bus stop depending on how late we were running. I think my cousin John could do a mile in about 5 minutes and he always cut it close. I carried 23 pounds of books in my backpack and I tried to leave a bit earlier.

That morning, we all got ready early and walked together. After a few minutes, Marie started yelling as loudly as she could "HEY! Keith baby! Come and get me because I really don't want to go to school today!" No one else said anything or smiled, and finally as the closest relative closest in age it seemed to become my duty to say "Marie, he might actually be able to hear you." She replied that she was glad about that because she didn't want to go to school and then someone else chimed in that he was a serial rapist on top of being a murder. Marie hollered "Never mind, don't come get us after all." We continued on in silence. As we went along, I was calculating our odds of survival should Keith actually make an appearance. John was a senior in high school and had been suspended twice for fighting. He was strong. Assuming Keith had no weapons at that point, John might be able to take him out alone. Tom was there and I already knew I could trust him with my life or anything else, but he was only 13 and my younger brother and I didn't like the idea of him fighting. I looked for large rocks that I could help out with if it came to that. I wasn't sure if Natalie or Eileen would be able or willing to get involved and I was pretty sure that Marie would come up with some brilliant way of saving everyone because she always comes up with amazing solutions to just about everything. All of my planning was really a backup in case Marie didn't pull off an amazing solution.

Marie's bus arrived first. We all knew it would, but a very small part of me wanted it to arrive last, so that she could stand out there alone and maybe get a little bit scared. She never got scared. I was always scared. Then came Tom's and I was glad my brother was safe. I hoped Natalie's would arrive next; she was the youngest and would have to wait alone. No luck. As we saw the bus that would take the rest of us away, we all had advice for Natalie.

John: "You are close to the Hunsaker's house."
Eileen: "They are usually home in the morning."
Me: "Drop your books and run if you have to."
Natalie's response: "I thought of all of that already."

As we left Natalie standing alone out there, I gave the death penalty some serious thought. I agreed with it. It wasn't so much a matter of punishing the guilty, but that if prisons couldn't keep murderers locked up, then the murderers needed to die so that they couldn't get out and kill more people.

As we were driving away in our bus, we saw Natalie's bus round the corner and we all felt much cheerier.


When I went to college, I didn't have a scholarship. I was the only one from my extended social group who didn't have a scholarship. My grades were good, but not perfect. I hadn't known what I was doing and I had missed lots of extracurricular opportunities. It ended up being okay though because I got a two year neuroscience research fellowship and since I graduated in three years, I got paid enough to cover my tuition and books. I ended up in a lab studying the immune system and myelin. I pieced together a project about the immune system and epilepsy and came up with a model of how the immune system caused seizures. It all made sense and we were able to stop seizures and my advisors wanted me to stay in their lab for graduate school and they thought I was a genius. There was a problem with all of that though. I hated killing rats. I don't know what I had expected when I joined their lab. I had known that they killed rats. Once I inhaled a bunch of ether in high school and I nearly hit the floor. I had always thought death was something like that, a whoosh and a thud. I learned it wasn't the first time I loaded a rat into the gas chamber and turned on the CO2. It became absolutely frantic and tried to claw its way out and then, I had to snap its neck, just to be sure. (Shudder!) I hated the smell of rat blood and my hair and finger nails always smelled like it after a day of dissections. I hated hooking up electrodes to rats heads and shocking them to induce seizures. And then, once when I was sucking blood out of a rat's heart with a syringe, I missed the heart, ended up in the liver and it woke back up and started screaming and trying to bite and claw me. I think I would have been done with animal work anyway after that, but the absolute clincher was when I had to dissect out the testes of a baby rat and the mammary tissue of its mother. She was looking for him in the wood shavings the whole time I was chopping him up. After that, when I took out her mammary tissue, a stream of milk ran out of it. I cried for hours that night. The next day there was fungus in the cell cultures, which meant it was all a waste anyway. Later my advisors wouldn't publish my epilepsy work because we couldn't get a patent out of it, and that had been a waste too.

I was completely traumatized by killing rats. It was because I realized that death is more than a whoosh and a thud. It takes quite a lot to kill a body that is healthy, and that has been programmed in nearly every way possible to survive. Death is not painless for the sufferer of it or for the ones who love the dying/dead individual. A heart may go whoosh and thud when a loved one dies, but then there is the long while of wanting to share stories and not being able to, wanting advice and not being able to ask for it, just wanting to be close and not being able to. Even rats desperately miss their loved ones. It seems like it is so much harder for humans. September 11th mopped me up for 6 months. (It did that to lots of people around me too. There wasn't much smiling by any of us until the spring came.) I only went to ground zero because I needed to stay with the group I was with when we were in New York. I felt the same way when Carl wanted to go to a German concentration camp with me. I especially hated the gas chambers. I have a feeling that it wasn't a whoosh and thud sort of experience for the people who died in them.


I made the mistake last week of listening to a short story from Ford County by John Grisham which is out on audiobook. I don't actually like John Grisham but his audiobooks are abundant, readily available and cheap and I had a lot of driving to do. The second short story was about the death penalty and it ended cold after a description of the convicted dying as he inhaled sulfuric acid fumes and cyanide. The description matched the deaths of rats in a gas chamber and left me with unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and memories (many of which are unloaded above). Maybe that was the point of the story, or maybe the author was trying to create unpleasant thoughts, emotions and memories because he thinks we (the audience) are lacking our own.

To brighten my mood, I put on some old conference addresses and started thinking about getting my house ready for Christmas. I listened to Pres. Hinckley talk about the power of forgiveness and Elder Nelson talk about the healing power of Christ. Somehow those two talks mingled with the sense of Christmas and it occurred to me that the real reason for celebrating Christmas is because we can forgive. Everyone always emphasizes giving, or being forgiven, but I think that better than either of those is that because Christ was born, we can forgive. That said, I am not sure what forgiveness really is. Once I was mad at a sibling and I wanted to not be angry any more and it was hard to stop. I was reading Leviticus one night and as I read about a sacrifice where a goat gets chased over the edge of a cliff, I felt all of my anger fall off the edge of that idea of a cliff. I have been able to let anger go ever since even if the situation that makes me angry hasn't stopped. I think forgiving is also being able to let go of hurt and that has been harder for me. But as I felt the Christmas spirit come upon me, I felt like I could let hurting go as well and I think I can stop feeling traumatized by death.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Mostly I don't mind being hungry. It is just an aspect of being a celiac. Sometimes people feel bad when they are eating pasta salad or sandwiches around me and they ask me if it is tempting to eat what they are having. Honestly, it isn't. No one would feel bad to skip a meal if they knew it would give them food poisoning and that is basically the effect that wheat has on me. So I don't mind, mostly.

On Friday, I had salad in San Jose combined with interesting discussions about Soviet and Chinese politics. It was good. I was still a little hungry at the end of dinner, but by volume I had eaten the most by far and at some point it just gets embarrassing to keep eating.

The next day, I was chair in a scientific session at Berkeley and perhaps the strictness I felt as I skipped the bagel breakfast trickled though to the session I chaired because I didn't let one speaker go over by a second. I didn't even have to say anything. I think the look in my eye combined with my red painted fingernails as I gave the three minute signal struck terror into the hearts of the speakers.

Lunch followed and there wasn't much that looked safe to eat so I went in search of a salad which ended up being ridiculously hard to acquire. I felt like a hunter gatherer and was grateful for surprisingly intelligent directions and advice I received from students who looked like they had just rolled out of bed and weren't yet quite awake. I was annoyingly late to the business meeting that was put on hold until my arrival. I didn't feel a bit bad about it as I was eating an overpriced salad that barely took the edge off of my being hungry.

After nine hours of scientific talks, I was done. I tried to keep a cheerful and interested demeanor, but there were probably cracks in the façade because none of the students wanted to meet with me over dinner. Honestly, I was grateful. I couldn't have handled any more salad that day. I went home and by the time I got there, it was too late to eat much, so I had a rice flour roll with some almond butter, took a hot bath and went to bed.

I spent all day Sunday baking. Before church, I made oatmeal cookies that turned out pretty well. After church and tithing settlement, I whipped up some almond meal/sorghum flour/ millet flour muffins that were sweet and flavorful without any added sugar, and I took them to a friend whose dietary restrictions are more stringent than mine. Then I made some millet flour bread which was pretty similar to regular bread. All of the recipes are my own and while I was experimenting with them, my house felt like an engine of creation. When I was all done, I called Scott Rowan, a 16 yr old celiac in my Sunday school class who is usually much hungrier than I am. He picked up half of the baked goods I had made and had a huge smile on his face. So did I. My house was warm and the burned scent from hashbrowns that I had charred a week earlier had been replaced by the sweet warm smell of fresh baked goods.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Musica est Dei donum optimi

There was an ipod on my porch yesterday morning. (Thanks Mom!) I am enjoying it a lot. There are also two new radio stations in Merced! Music is good. I still don't have a favorite band, but that's because there is too much music to like.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pics and pottery thug

Here are some pictures of Jude, Carl, James, and Mom that I took during the Thanksgiving break.

Here are three of the first four pieces that I made in my pottery class. Only one is glazed. I had problems finding the others. When I was looking for them I kept thinking that it was like when I couldn't find my car in the MARTA parking garage in Atlanta (because I was on the wrong level). I would almost decide that the car had been stolen and then think about how it had been totaled by a snowplow, and in two other minor accidents and no one would steal it. I finally remembered parking on a higher level than usual and found it.

The bowl on the right has essentially the same story except that it really was stolen. When I had been through every piece of bisque on the shelf, I finally decided to just glance at the pieces that had been dipped in glaze that were waiting for the kiln. It was there. It had been dipped first in blue glaze, then black and then had blue drizzled randomly. It was awful. I almost left it because I figured some student needed a piece to pass a class or something and the bowl itself isn't that great. I kept muttering about the stupid pottery thug who didn't even glaze my bowl nicely and some of the experienced potters in my class just told me to take it back because it was mine and just wash the unfired glaze off and let it dry. At first I wasn't going to, but I finally got to the point of wanting to dip it in red just to be rotten to the student who swiped it and everyone said "JUST WASH IT OFF!" so I did and they were right. I felt lots better.

I am not sure where my other pieces were or have gotten to, but they disappeared and didn't get glazed and then showed up when it was too late to glaze them. So they have to wait until next semester. (One is on the shelf of unfired glazed things ready to go.) My teacher thinks I am great at pottery considering this is my first time really throwing anything. I kind of skipped the ashtray stage and he is impressed. I'm not. I am kind of wondering what hodge podge array of weird bowls I am going to collect before I get any that are really worth keeping.

Anyone want some slightly off center medium size bowls? They are perfect for either eating cereal by the quart, or mixing up a very small amount of batter.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moving on

I helped the Shaw family pack their moving van last night. The university that Glen is going to didn't allow much for moving expenses so he rented 16 ft of a moving van. Some of the Lopez boys were there helping pack the van. They are strong (Larry can lift 300 pounds easily) and gentle (there are 11 kids in their family and the oldest boys are so sweet to the little ones..... and to women...though they were kind to me and accepted my suggestions, I could tell that they thought I shouldn't have to help load a moving is something that their mom and sisters don't do...but I am friends with the Shaw's and I needed to be there so that I could give them my time as a token of my fondness for them) and they took especially good care of the possessions that they could tell meant the most to Anna Shaw. We had a good time. We all started swapping stories about how many times we have moved. It seems that moving is something we were all good at.

Moving on is another matter entirely. I remember going through culture shock for the first time and realizing that misunderstanding the people around me was not nearly as bad as being uncertain about how to be the person I was. Being one who drives up the canyon to listen to a river that is larger than the problems of the day is irrelevant in a place where "hiking" is walking down a paved and possibly hilly path in a city park. I started knitting instead and as soon as I got back to a place with real mountains, I realized I hate knitting, and I have never gone back to it.

So much harder than leaving behind the ways of being me, has been leaving behind the people in my life. They become a part of who I am and then suddenly they are gone and the places they occupied become like ghost towns in a Ray Bradbury story, houses conditioned by the habits and personalities of their precious inhabitants that keep functioning as though someone still lived there. It's strange to realize that there are cells in my brain that have been owned by another person more than by myself. As I have tried to sweep away the hollow husks of relationships that are no longer possible, I have found that there is little I can do, or not do to directly deal with them. But there are solutions to everything, even if they come from an unexpected direction.

President Monson is always encouraging people to serve each other. For his birthday, that was the only thing he wanted, that people do kind things for each other. I have been working on doing this. While I have always been willing to serve when asked, that simply wasn't good enough. I had to start identifying needs and addressing them without being asked. I had to look and reach outside of myself to help others. Doing this has changed and mended me. While I am not that different in most ways, I feel as though my hard drive has been reformatted and equipped with a different operating system. It has stamped an identity of "Miriam Barlow" on every cell in my body and that identity is not dependent on a particular location or the company of a particular person. An identity of helping others is something that I can take with me wherever I go, and it is something that I can use in any situation.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Family

My 4th great grandfather, Joseph Fielding, was one of the first Mormon missionaries to Great Britain and the second president of the Great Britain mission. When he left to Great Britain he was a financially stable farmer and when he came back to the U. S. he was was completely impoverished. He was able to farm some on Hyrum Smith's land in Nauvoo, probably because his sister, Mary Fielding was Hyrum's wife. But not long after, Hyrum went to Carthage jail with his brother Joseph Smith, where both were killed by a mob. Most of the Mormons then left Nauvoo and headed to Utah.

Joseph Smith's family stayed behind and were the heirs of the physical posessions of the Church, which had been held in Joseph's name. His descendants have held and cared for many sites that are historically important to Mormons. They also hid and guarded the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum until it became safe to provide them properly marked graves.

Hyrum's family left Nauvoo and they became Joseph's spiritual heirs. His descendants have included many leaders of the Church including Joseph F. Smith, George Albert Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith. My grandfather, Joseph Fielding cared for Mary and her son, Joseph F. Smith while they travelled to Utah and then afterwards.

Mary died while her son was still young and though my grandfather cared for him, it couldn't have been a very pleasant situation. My grandfather's journals indicate that he was poor until he died, that his two wives bickered a lot over the few possessions they had, and that it was a generally unhappy domestic situation. Joseph F. Smith was called to be a missionary in Hawaii when he was 15 years old. He had a dream that was very important to him while he was there.

This is how it went: "I was very much oppressed [when I was] on a mission. I was almost naked and entirely friendless, except [for] the friendship of a poor, benighted . . . people. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a . . . man in the face.

"While in that condition I dreamed [one night] that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize . . . what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion. . . . I thought I knew that was my destination.

As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice [which read B-A-T-H], 'Bath.' I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was [some] white, clean [clothing], a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my [clothing was] clean, and I put [it] on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: 'Joseph, you are late.' Yet I took confidence and [replied]:

" 'Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!'

"He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man. I knew him, and when I entered I saw my father, and Brigham [Young] and Heber [C. Kimball], and Willard [Richards], and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. I looked as if it were across this valley, and it seemed to be filled with a vast multitude of people, but on the stage were all the people that I had known. My mother was there, and she sat with a child in her lap; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names, who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted. . . .

"[When I had this dream,] I was alone on a mat, away up in the mountains of Hawaii—no one was with me. But in this vision I pressed my hand up against the Prophet, and I saw a smile cross his countenance. . . .

"When I awoke that morning I was a man, although only [still] a boy. There was not anything in the world that I feared [after that]."

To me, this story is mostly about growing up and returning to family and loved ones. Laura told me about this dream shortly after her divorce when she was coming back to our family. It is one of her favorite stories and one of mine as well.

I made my own little trek to Utah so that I could have dinner with my family today. There were 50 chairs set up, and most were filled. My grandfather, who is in his 90's was there, beaming that I had made it. He doesn't see me as often as he'd like. My aunts and uncles all took time to visit with me. All of my cousins fell into the comfortable teasing and banter that we have shared since we were very young. We told our troubles and triumphs to each other and it became clear (as it always does) that while the details of our lives are important, it is only because we want to show our love and support to each other in the best ways we are able.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Decorating for Thanksgiving

I made a resolution to decorate for the holidays this year, and I plan to stick with it, but I honestly hate looking at effigies of turkeys and yams and I do not plan to put any up any time soon. I might be willing to roast a turkey shaped marshmallow peep over a fire, but that doesn't help with the decorating problem. So I have been tackling it in a different way.

I remember one time Tom Fife was teaching an institute lesson about making our homes holy places and he suggested having good things in them. He showed us some beautiful pictures and books from his home. Though it wasn't his intent, I felt a little bad that I couldn't afford beautiful books or pictures to put in my home. Before I could feel too bad about it though, I had the thought that I pray, read the scriptures, and serve people in my home and that those things make it a beautiful and a holy place. So, in sort of the same way, I am decorating my home with gratitude for Thanksgiving. I have wondered if this was a good idea, because it seems like something Oprah might suggest, but I somehow think President Hinckley might have liked the idea, so maybe it's okay after all.

The gratitude decorating my home these days has kind of floated in the air like a mist, except that it has been warm and bright which is actually nothing like a mist at all. Here are a few of the decorations that have filled my home and made it beautiful.

-Dad's cancer went into remission on it's own after he incorporated heart healthy lifestyle changes, and he is alive and well after his heart attack.

-My brain is almost better. I think the last change I have to go through is adjusting to new ways of dealing with stress. I have been working on this for 3 months and nothing else has turned up, so hopefully this is the end of it. I feel stress more acutely than I used to and there is a sort of buzzing in my head when I get stressed out. From this sort of buzzing feeling, I have learned what stresses me out most. It requires a combination of four things. 1) Having PMS, 2)Feeling rushed, 3)Either being really hungry, or needing to go to the bathroom really badly, and 4)Having to listen to or read boring scientific material about a subject that I don't know very well. Perhaps pulling my fingernails out one by one would be worse than the combination of those four things, but I am not certain of that. However, I am grateful that needing to go to the bathroom badly is among the most stressful things in my life. The buzzing sensation is almost gone too I think. I'll probably find out next time I have PMS.

-I think I finally understand my problems with men. I am terrified of being attacked by them. That's it. I can work with that. I am grateful for the many blessings I have had in which I have been promised that God will protect me, if necessary, by the encircling of angels. They give me the courage that I need to prevent my fear from stopping me.

-I am grateful for Ofelia's exercise classes. They give me something to look forward to nearly every day.

-My writing skills are improving. This enabled me to write a letter that brought back Ofelia's Friday classes after they were cancelled by the gym coordinator. While grudgingly reinstating the classes, the coordinator said "Miriam, I have got to complement you on your writing skills." She did not look happy at that moment. I think I was experiencing the power of language for the first time in my life. I was enormously happy at that moment.

-People keep offering me money to do things that I am already doing anyway. I just got an offer today to review 3 chapters from I text book I already use for my class. I read those chapters every semester already.

-My Mom listens to all of my little worries and concerns and helps me with them. She is planning Thanksgiving for a celiac, a heart patient, and a vegetarian. If Mike were at home, I am sure she would find a way of working with his poultry allergy as well.

-Knowing I am a celiac (which has improved every aspect of my health) and finding the things that make a gluten free life livable (Trader Joe's, Vitamix, millet flour, xanthan gum, vitamins and gluten free peanut butter.) Also, I can eat lettuce again! Salad is awesome.

-Family and friends who love me and give me advice and support and encouragement.

I have much to be grateful for.

Though I haven't pointed these things out to anyone, the people who have come to my home recently have told me how beautiful it is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Hobby!

The stock market is fun! I guess reading the WSJ almost every day has finally done it. I started investing in stocks. It seemed like a good idea because they are one of the best ways of keeping up with inflation. (A financial investor told me this and I assume he knew what he was talking about because he was a VP for Chase or Morgan Stanley of some place like that.) I kept thinking that maybe I should invest in Campbell's soup of hair buzzers or ebay or amazon or something, but secretly, I don't really understand the stock market so I just went for a managed growth fund.

I am treating the stock market like a Vegas slot machine. I am only putting money into it that I can comfortably afford to lose (which means not much). Then I read the WSJ and it is sort of like watching the wheels spin around in a slot machine. Every once in a while I check on my stocks to see if any money is coming out.

I once put four quarters into a slot machine and it was about as exciting as throwing money down a storm drain, except that when you throw money down a storm drain you might hear a clink when the coin hits the bottom and that tells you something about how deep the drain is. All said, I have developed a fondness for storm drains based on that perspective.

The stock market is way better than a storm drain and infinitely better than a slot machine. There is a lot of information to be had from it. Even though I don't really understand it, I do get that it is an indicator of numerous economic factors like economic growth and trade deficits and the federal deficit and interest rates and the weather and the cost saving strategies of housewives. Good stuff in that. So far, it is profitable. I have made $27.00 in two weeks. At some point, I may lose it all and my fondness for storm drains may increase even more. However, I think that the recreational/educational value of the stock market may be ultimately worth it even if I don't make a dime when all is said and done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sticky situations

I dreamed about ice cream last night. I was with some little children, Hazel perhaps since she loves ice cream so much, and we didn't have any spoons so we ate ice cream with our fingers. It was sticky and cold, but very sweet and good. I was as messy as a child and having just as much fun. It was a good dream, but a little uncomfortable because I felt kind of embarrassed too.

I don't think anyone would accuse me of being immature, but a lot of people call me "kiddo" and tell me that I'm a youngster (which is often true because in most professional situations, I am the youngest person by anywhere from ~10-30 years). Mostly people think that I am a "wonderkid" or something, but some people....particularly MDs older than 50 won't listen to me at all because I am a youngish woman.

The students in my Sunday school class (ages 14-17) love me because they see me as someone who is at the same place in life as they are, only I have been there a lot longer and so maybe I really do know what they are going through. They give me as much dating advice as I give them. That is the basic dynamic we have going on in the class. They mostly listen to what I have to say and feel that their opinions are welcome. We frequently have members of the bishopric open the door and check on us when things are getting loud. They look at me with surprise, and ask me if I'm okay, I always apologize and they say "Oh, it's no problem, just as long as you are okay." I am not only okay, I am quite possibly the instigator of the noise. I get bored and the students get bored and Church is much better when we are all having fun and participating in the lesson... even if it does get a little loud. (I know you don't get fired from church callings, but I sometimes worry that I might.)

Sometimes at Church events, I have been asked to sit with the little children, because they are comfortable around me. I mostly make sure they don't hurt themselves or each other, and that they are actively involved in something. I like being there even if my knees are at chin level because the chairs are so small. Good times are to be had at the kids table. Sometimes, the other adults seem to forget that I am also an adult and they look at me with a stern look, put a finger to their lips and say "Shhh". I guess I deserve it if I am the one organizing an anarchy of 3 year olds.

I think that I have been at the kids table my entire life, except perhaps for when I was small enough that the adults wanted to hold me, and they passed me around the adult table. I like the kids table, it's a good place, and a fun place, and I make the most of it. I am also trying to graduate from the kids table and I have been trying for years. My attempts are probably something like when Matty at age two would say "Me do it meself!" and then she would mostly be okay but sometimes she would get really stuck and start crying. Except that I am not doing it myself , at least not anymore.

Lynda Dyas called me last Friday to remind me about a photography class and she asked me about the latest guy that I am going out with and approved. My friend Maria (who gave me the best dating advice of my life....."Your only job on dates at this point is to have fun!") was there and overheard our conversation and when I hung up the phone she asked "Good Heavens Miriam! How many cheerleaders do you have?" I told her I had no idea. Since then I have estimated nearly 200. Collectively, it seems like too many, but individually, there is not one I would want excluded. The list goes from Grandpa, in his 90's, through the widows of Merced first ward, in their 80's, on down through Katie, Megan, Matty and Emma, all under age 8 who ask "Miriam, when will you have children so we can play with them?"

The answer is that I have no idea. I am indefinitely stuck at the kids table and until I graduate, I guess they will have to settle for playing with me instead of my children. We have good times I think.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hot Body

The brilliance of Ofelia is that she knows how to build muscle without bulking up. I feel like I have very well developed muscles, but it isn't visibly obvious. It is however becoming thermally obvious. I have not started heating my house yet. I swear that I will once it becomes uncomfortable, but I am not sure at what temperature that will occur. Last night, my house was 58º. My feet were a little cold, and I considered the furnace because 58º seems like it should be cold, but heating my house does little to heat the floor since it isn't insulated, so I just put on socks and I was perfectly comfortable.

When I went to bed, the temperature was dropping, but I have a down comforter which is quite cozy so I wasn't worried about getting cold. I actually woke up in the middle of the night and again this morning because I was roasting hot. The house was at 53º when I climbed out of bed and it was cool, but I just put on some slippers and it felt pretty good after roasting in my bed all night long.

I actually think I would sleep better if my house was in the high 40s or perhaps lower. No, I do not have a fever, just a super hot body.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Art of Drowning

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.

Billy Collins

Marie suggested I read this poem and I like it quite a lot. My only experience even close to drowning was when I fell over a waterfall. The things I thought of as I was going down were
#1 Getting flipped around so that my feet would go in first
#2 That if I kept my body pulled in as tightly as I could in the center of the main flow of water, maybe erosion would have cleared a smooth path and dug a hole at the bottom.
Thankfully Erosion was on my side and I survived. I was a little annoyed when others who had seen me fall and survive decided to go over the waterfall recreationally.

Since I haven't died I can't be sure, but it seems that perhaps you are less likely to drown if you are actively assessing the current situation rather than reminiscing over good and bad deeds done in the past.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I spent last weekend stoned. It was legal for me to be stoned. (Well, maybe legal, since I think a person untrained in anesthesia was responsible for getting me stoned, but at least legal from my side).

My friend Maria gave me a ride home from the doctors office. She told me that I was cute while stoned. I told her thanks and that no one had told me that before. She laughed and said that she was the only person who had ever seen me stoned. She was probably correct.

I made breakfast for Maria and myself while stoned. It was the least I could do for asking her to pick me up early on a Saturday morning. I did most of the prep before going to the doctors including putting muffin batter in a pan, and preheating the oven, and frying bacon. I can't remember what else we ate. There were eggs I think. I didn't prepare those in advance so I don't remember them. I hope it was good food. I don't remember.

My friend Chanelle came over for breakfast too. I didn't think I would be as stoned as I was and I had missed seeing her and Chanelle is always up at five, and she likes going places for why not make a party of breakfast? I think it is a bad idea probably to entertain while stoned because my main memory of the event is that I was trying very hard to remember to introduce Chanelle and Maria and that then I was aware that they were introducing themselves to each other.

I think that the anesthesia was badly applied because I remember less and less from the day as it went on, when instead I should have been remembering more and more. I was a little sensible though, because after my friends left, I climbed into bed and slept. I woke up in the evening with a splitting headache and after a few hours went back to bed and slept through the night.

When I woke up the next morning, it felt like someone had put a hatchet into the middle of my skull. I drank a glass of water and ate some carbs thinking that maybe I had a headache from not eating. The headache got worse and worse and at some point, it occurred to me that I was fitting the description of a hang-over. I recalled that drinking lots of water was supposed to help with hang-over, so I drank lots of water. After a few hours it seemed to help some. I think I was still somewhat stoned though because I don't remember much of Sunday either.

By Monday, I was fit as a fiddle and even did step aerobics, though I took it a bit easy.

To me, it seems that there should be a moral to this story, like don't do drugs, or drink a lot after doing drugs, or something, but I don't think that they apply super well to the story because I was simply being medically responsible for myself. However, as I have never reacted like that to anesthesia before, the moral of the story may be that one should avoid medical procedures in Merced. I have five years until I have to get anesthetized again. My goal is to be in a medically developed place before that becomes necessary. The clock is now ticking.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nerdy enough for this!

I got good news today! I won the Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Young Investigator Award. They said that I had done a whole lot of research in a very little bit of time and so I deserved the award!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not Nerdy Enough

After I wore a free t-shirt featuring a centrifuge jumping rope, Marie became convinced that I am especially nerdy, which is true. I have discovered however, that even within my own field of research, I am not the nerdiest. For example, I am not nerdy enough to appreciate microbial art. I like microbes a lot, but it is impossible for me to appreciate "art" that has been produced by painting an agar plate with them. Perhaps it is because I know how they smell. Perhaps it is also because I have seen three year olds do just as well with dull crayons.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I don't think that I have dreamed properly for years. My dreams were always brief and dim and I would wake up after them. Some one's face would appear, or a few words, but nothing in depth or developed. Now my dreams have plots and multiple characters. They start the same way that they used to with a face or a few words, but then when I near the edge of consciousness, instead of waking me up, the dream develops and becomes more complex. I sleep through the night now, which I have not done in many years. To say that my dreams are pleasant and good is simultaneously true and false. The content of my dreams is violent, hellish stuff, but I am not afraid of any of it. As I dream, I find that I relax and sink into a deeper sleep. There is almost a sense of relief that I feel.

Since I have started dreaming, it has become easier to put unpleasant things behind me. I think that I might be capable of handling horror movies now without feeling terrified for months afterwards (though I have no intention of watching any). I obsess over things less and in general, there is less going on in my head and it is easier to concentrate....almost like dreams are making room for new things.

Perhaps what dreams are doing for my head has a physical manifestation as well. I am becoming a good housekeeper. This is not something I have been trying for very much, but I find myself making my bed each morning, dusting the house every week, folding laundry as soon as it is done in the dryer and organizing things in better ways. These changes have been nearly as effortless as dreaming. They just sort of happened and I am only just noticing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gal Pals

I made the most delicious gluten free carrot cake last night. I am taking it to the pot luck lunch we are having for one of the women I eat lunch with. One of the other girls was going to bake a gluten free cake so that I could eat some too, but I told her that was ridiculous because she didn't have the ingredients, doesn't need the ingredients, and getting the basic ingredients is a little expensive when you are first getting set up to cook gluten free. It took some arguing and I finally persuaded her. All of those women take care of me. They give me dating advice and cooking advice and how to look hot advice and they tell me when its time to buy new pants so that people will be able to see that my butt looks good.

Most of them are single and in the dating scene again after nasty divorces. Except for me, the entire group is menopausal. I have learned more knowledge than I ever fathomed existed about hot flashes. They sound really terrible. I have learned which drugs work to reduce the occurrence of hot flashes and their side effects. That knowledge is proving to be valuable.

My friends who I walk with and sit by at church and eat dinner with also turn out to be menopausal women. I never realized this until they started talking about hot flashes and I have all of this useful information. They snap up the info about good drugs readily because hot flashes are really, really bad. The favorite drug turns out to be the one that prevents hot flashes and promotes weight loss.

Sometimes I think that it should seem strange to me that I hang out with a lot of women who are significantly older than me, but as I consider each one of them, I find nothing strange at all in our friendships. They are comfortable and happy and the aspect of living in Merced that keeps me going.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Subtle Creepiness

Matt Meyer says I have a subtle creepy side, but what does he know? He also says I'm soulless. (Of course these comments come after he invites me to his Oktoberfest, debates whether he should get alcohol free beer for me and I tell him not to bother because a) yuck! and b) it isn't gluten free anyway)

Maybe it's subtle creepiness, or just a slightly evil streak, but there are horrible things I would love to blog about but don't for various reasons. Even though I won't really blog about them, there are enough that I just have to make a list of them. I am sure after reading the list that you will be happy I have chosen not to blog about them.

1) Online dating -I could people rolling with laughter for hours, but I'd have to name names and obviously I would incriminate myself as well. I don't mind that thought now, but I am almost certain I'd regret it in the future.

2)Colonoscopy -Obviously not a choice topic, but many funny stories about it.

3)Pap smears -I'm almost ready to blog about these, but I am mostly certain I'd regret it. Still the facial expressions of doctors just talking about them makes me glad I opted out of the medical field. If I had pictures of doctors faces either giving them or talking about them, I don't think I could resist. Too funny.

4)Job politics -See #1, but I could also lose my job as well.

5) The nightmare I had in which I woke up after weeks of unconsciousness from a dune-buggy accident to find that I was convicted of murder and due to be executed in a week. I was sure I was innocent, but how to clear the charges? People I know in Merced (If you are reading this you aren't one of them) were featured as the bad guys. Marie was the hero. (That part was accurate. Marie is always the hero.)

6)Various people (if you are reading this, I absolutely guarantee you aren't one of them) who inspired #5 and their antics. (Ridiculous, juvenile and funny....See # 1 again).

7)Gay men hitting on women....I am sure it is not PC to mention, but it happens a lot and I don't quite get it.

8)A million and one different ways of doing push ups.. It would get boring really fast, but it seems so inventive while actually doing it.

And finally

9)Organizing my cupboards... See #8.

If you want to hear any of the funny stories just call me. If they aren't in print I can always deny I told them later....


Once, when I stepped on a piece of glass and a stream of blood started shooting about 3" out from my foot, Tom took of his shirt, tied up my foot and carried me into the house. Later, when he skinned himself badly in a motorcycle accident, I helped clean up his raw hip and checked to make sure there was no gravel permanently lodged in it.

When he was a mechanic, I brought him sandwiches wrapped in napkins so that he could eat without taking a lot of time to clean his greasy hands. In college, he brought me pizza or snickers if he knew I hadn't eaten all day and especially when I had no money.

I wanted to go camping with him and so he took me camping in the desert and taught me to rock climb without ropes and we both survived. I cooked breakfast and built the fire while he chopped wood.

When I started my postdoc, he gave me $100 because he knew I was flat broke after moving to Georgia. He was pretty much flat broke as a med student with one child and one on the way, but he came up with the money anyway. I sent the money back to him when he was broke and that $100 passed between us a lot of times after. I don't remember who ended up with it.

Tom called me from the distant location of his deployment after Dad's heart attack to make sure I was okay. We talked about how it's terrible when you are away from loved ones and something bad happens. He was tired after working all night. Maybe it helped him to talk to me.

So I shouldn't have wondered much when I came home and found a box of gluten free baking mixes on my porch last night, but I never fathomed that Tom would think of my mundane dietary needs when he is so far away.

I miss you Tom. I'd fly half way around the world to see you right now if dear old uncle Sam would let me.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I'm stronger than most girls. It isn't bragging to say so, simply an aspect of being Miriam. I hate this when it's difficult to find clothes that fit but love it when I watch other women struggle to carry a twenty pound sack of rice or flour out of the grocery store. For a while I decided to focus on weight loss rather than exercise in an effort to get more feminine proportions. That only worked until I needed to move a cupboard from my garage into my house. It was a heavy cupboard, but still, I was shocked that my shoulders got noticeably broader after that one move. It was probably good they did, because I just gave up on trying to mold my body a specific way. I decided to work with what I've got and just focus on being healthy. It's a lot more fun this way.

I take step aerobics on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Ofelia, the instructor, thinks it's great that I'm so strong. After taking two months off from working out this summer, I was stronger than ever in about three weeks. She was surprised and impressed. Ofelia is in her fifties, has been a personal trainer her whole life and knows exactly what a person is capable of. She teaches about four classes a day at different locations and often runs or bikes in between the classes. She is solid muscle but cute and feminine at the same time. She knows I show up to her class to work out and she does her best to accommodate that desire.....sometimes a little more than I really want. She has no sympathy for me when sweat is dripping from my face to the floor, or when I am so tired that I come close to tripping over the step.

A few weeks ago, a freshman named Crystal started working out next to me. It was the week that Ofelia moved me up to a 12" step. Crystal was watching me and halfway through the workout, she took her step apart, reassembled it in the 12" configuration and then made a point of kicking higher than me, lifting her legs higher than me and then lifting weights heavier than me. She outdid me, but she had only done half the workout at the maximum height so it didn't count as far as I was concerned. The next time, we both did the whole workout at the same step height. She had heavier weights than me, but had to pause more often than I did. After that, Ofelia decided to push us a little harder and she had us doing kickboxing. Crystal crouches lower than me, but I can kick higher. We are an even match when it comes to lunges across the gym.

As much as Ofelia loves pushing me and Crystal, there is the rest of the class to consider. So to some extent, she leaves me and Crystal to improvise our own ways of pushing ourselves. I add kicks where there are normally just steps and Crystal does the same. I started doing the entire workout, jumping-jacks and all with 2lb weights in my hands, so of course, Crystal grabbed the 3lb weights and did the same, but couldn't quite handle getting her arms in the air during the jumping-jacks and then did push-ups off of her knees instead of her toes. Today, she was looking at my sweaty face and gritted teeth during the workout and I wondered if she has started comparing the relative amounts of our sweat.... maybe she was just wondering if I was struggling as much as she was. The answer was clearly yes.

In that moment, when her competitive nature was entirely visible, I started wondering what I am in for if she ever takes my genetics class. I find myself really glad that I have taught genetics so many times, and hoping just a little bit that she is a social sciences or humanities major.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The slow trickle of money

Money has slowly started trickling into my lab. (Slow and trickle being more noticeable than money...believe me.) I have secured 1 year of funding for a grad student to work on health care disparities and I get paid for one blessed month next summer. (I think I'll either insulate my attic or go to Vegas....both will pay back right?) Also, an undergrad got a fellowship for $1000 dollars which is about enough to buy half of the supplies his little project will need.

More important than the actual money is the fact that the influx of a little money gives me a little bit of hope that things may be getting better. I just re-submitted a grant. The only major criticism of the proposal was that the resistance genes I am working on make secreted proteins and secreted proteins could change the environment of the experimental cells. Matt Meyer (being brilliant and my friend) came up with this cute way of removing the secreted proteins without touching the cells. (I now love organic chemistry ant THAT is saying something). Maybe I will get that grant, It is a small one, but infinitely more than zero.

Certain collaborators who wish to remain nameless in the blogosphere are meeting with someone from DARPA who likes their work well enough that he occasionally visits to see if they are doing anything cool enough for DARPA to fund. A 10 minute discussion that goes well means lots of money for research. They are choosing to spend that 10 minutes presenting my research to the DARPA guy....(Yes, I feel cool...not as cool as if they wanted me to present my own research, but I guess I feel safer too).

And finally, Pilar Francino asked me to be on one of her grants. The positive aspect of this is that money follows her. The negative aspect is that she collects all of her bacteria from poop. I do not like to work with poop, but at this point I am willing. (Besides which, Leigh ann and I already make jokes about poopcicles. It will only get better if both of us work on them.) The data we get will also be really, really cool.

If my funding situation could move from that of a nearly dry rainspout to one more like a river (and it doesn't have to be the Mississippi, just something a little bigger than an irrigation ditch), I think I could launch the little life-raft I am bobbing around in and maybe set sail from here and head to sunnier shores.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Anyone up for Anarchy?

I am! One more very onerous rule about submitting grants to our deans who then send them to the grant officers, who then send them to the funding institutions was implemented today. One week before an application of mine that had very positive reviews is to be resubmitted. My last grant application got removed from the review process because the maximum length for biosketches was quietly reduced to half of its previous length (2 pages instead of 4). I might feel guilty about not reading the instructions through cover to cover every time I submit a grant except that they are 200 pages long. 200 pages of rules!!!!! Way too many. Anarchy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Halloween Resolutions

I never make New Year's resolutions.  It seems stupid to me to put off self improvement until an upcoming holiday.  If you need to change something, just do it.  Halloween however is a good enough holiday that it has inspired me to make two new resolutions.  The first is to start decorating my house for the holidays, and the second is to buy fewer shoes.

I really hate decorating my house for the holidays.  I feel like Joel Fleischman from Northern Exposure when he tried to put up a Christmas tree and ultimately decided he was too Jewish to really get why one would put a tree inside of a house. Last year I put up a two foot Christmas tree and that was a stretch.  I think it will require personal growth from me to decorate for the holidays, and growth is usually good.  So I am doing it.

The resolution about buying fewer shoes comes from the fact that as I went to purchase Halloween decorations, I almost decided to go shoe shopping instead.  I do NOT need more shoes.  I don't even really want more shoes.  Clearly shoe shopping has become a comfortable bad habit.  No more shoes for a while.

I went to Marshall's to get Halloween decorations because when I was dress shopping a few weeks ago, they had apothecary jars with skull-handled lids.  The labels on them said creepy things about Witch Hazel and Cures for Creeps and stuff like that. I thought to myself  "If I decorated for Halloween, I would get those."  I hoped that they were still there and when I couldn't find them, I went searching for other scary things.  I almost decided to get some Ed Hardy sheets with a skull and hearts that said "Love Kills Slowly".  They had a matching duvet cover and pillowcases and they were the most scary thing I have seen in a while.  After a few moments of fascination with the concept of terrifying sheets, I decided that the point of Halloween is to scare others and not myself.  

I found some wooden toadstools and a kind of woodland looking fall potpourri mix that seemed like it might be cute scattered around the wooden toadstools.  I also thought I might be able to put the toadstools among pine boughs for Christmas and cover two holidays with one decoration.  I wasn't sure that they were really Halloweeny, but they were at least a step in the right direction.  So I got them. Then, after purchasing them, I found the apothecary jars I had been looking for near the exit and so I ended up getting those too.  
My house is now set for the upcoming holiday!  And I didn't even look at any shoes!  I feel like a new and improved person already.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Feminism at its finest

I remember as a teenager thinking that Utah was a misogynistic place because people objected to me taking woodshop instead of home ec. Growing up in Utah, it was hard to separate culture from religion. I am still somewhat annoyed by the attitude that girls should not develop some skills because of gender. However, many things said and done by LDS church leaders have shown that those men are among the finest feminists on earth and clearly promoting the good treatment, development and well-being of women.

The first action that really hit me as incredibly feminist was several years ago when the Church started digging wells in villages in developing nations. Their reasoning for doing so was not to provide safe water, but that in many developing countries, most of a woman's day is spent hauling water. They said that there are better things for women to do with their time and that women needed to develop themselves more than was possible when hauling water all day.

The second was when Pres. Hinckley repeatedly, advised, commanded, persuaded, nearly begged all women to get as much education as possible. I loved it. There were so many people telling me that I should stop going to school and get married. He put a stop to that. Hah!

The third, was when Pre. Hinckley told men that good husbands let their wives spread their wings and take flight.

Many things continue to impress me that Church leaders are feminists. Last Saturday, Pres. Eyring gave credit to generations of Mormon women in the Relief Society for creating some of the finest organizations spun out of the Church. The list included Church Hospitals (LDS Hospital is routinely brought up at international conferences for its excellence), the Church Welfare System (also famous, especially in developing nations), and the Humanitarian Aid System (famous everywhere and the right hand of FEMA in the US).

Even the sticky point that Mormon leaders emphasize the importance of motherhood (which frequently causes Mormons to be accused of misogyny), strikes me as a fine example of feminism. I remember learning in art history and ancient world history that the position of women in society usually degraded as war gods became more important than fertility goddesses. Well, that is certainly happening today as fewer children are being borne and so many nations are at war. I feel personally degraded and angry when people tell me that bearing children is wrong....that it overpopulates the earth and is irresponsible. I feel edified when that uniquely feminine ability is reverenced and praised.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I went in for a physical today (ugh!). They found I had a slight fever and asked if I was feeling okay. Aside from being a little tired, I feel just fine and I figure that the tiredness is even a healthy indication that I didn't sleep much this weekend. I checked out okay with the physical, blood pressure is low cholesterol and lipids are low, good cholesterol is high and that's good I guess, I lost 5 pounds, the doctor thought I was in fine shape.

Honestly though, I feel better than fine. Since giving up wheat, I feel the healthiest I have felt....maybe least in a lot of years. Beyond that, I think I am better from brain injuries (other than that my hearing is still improving ever so slightly). Maybe that is why I feel so healthy. Whatever the reason, I feel great.

Oh, and the brilliant mathematician I collaborate with did some simulations based on my experimental data. The result of those simulations is that we get to credibly argue that one of the most popular population genetics theories is incomplete and wrong. Hah! What a good way to start the week. (Being an iconoclast is one of the most fun things about my job. Hah!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My brain is sexier than yours

Sometimes I hate girls.  Especially the ones with large breasts and narrow hips who wedge themselves in between me and the man I am talking to.  They are skinny enough to slither in and then their breasts are at eye level with the guy and it doesn't matter what stupid thing they say.  They have his attention and I don't anymore.  Well that used to be what I thought anyway, but I recently had a change of attitude.  

Hilary told me my brain was one of the sexiest things about me and that I should use it accordingly.  It took a while, but I decided she might have something there.  I read the New Yorker most of the way through each week.  I read the Wall Street Journal every day.  I can talk movies, politics, travel, current events based on those two things.  I am a scientist so I can talk statistics of speed dating, the psychology of flirting, nerve control of head turning while kissing, and oh yes, antibiotic resistance of course too and a few other technical topics like string theory, computers, software, Bayesian inference, optics, wireless networking and so forth. My dad is an engineer who launches rockets and tells me all about it so I can talk outer space, satellites, defense. My mom teaches me about history and theories of government as well as religion.  From my sisters, I learn about online teaching, lactation, fashion, graphic design, art, and David Byrne.  My brothers teach me about the Navy, nursing, Dubai, South American ecotourism, music and sports.  I take pottery, I read books, I work out, I hike, I remodel my house and change the brakes and shocks on my car.  My backyard was turned into a productive garden by me.  I have roofed houses, poured cement, driven across the country, traveled more extensively outside the US than many Americans and I have many international friends who love telling me about their countries because I listen to them. I have invested a lot into my intellect and I think I can pretty much talk to anyone about anything.  

So now, instead of letting a pair of large breasts run me off entirely, I wait for the initial ogling to subside some, resume intelligent conversation and ultimately, the girls with the large breasts disappear.

All I really want

It's funny, I think that Laura and I are on the same wavelength tonight.  Not about Joni exactly, but that song of hers touches on my thoughts of the evening.  I am trying to figure out what I want.   It's funny that it should be so hard to decide what I want.  It seems like it's easy for most people.  Somehow it isn't for me.  I think it is probably a result of brain injury, but it has never occurred to me that what I want is relevant.  I have tried making good and responsible decisions my whole life.  It seemed like I never really had more than one option, so I just did the best with what I had. 
 For example, I am good at evolutionary biology and I enjoy it most of the time, so this seemed like a good educational path.  Did I ever want to be an evolutionary biologist?  I don't know.  It just sort of happened.  I think it was the right thing for me to do and in that way I'm lucky.  I can remember being a little surprised though when I started applying for positions as an academic scientist.  Most grad students want that job badly.  It was never my goal to become an academic scientist though.  I just did the best science I could and I became competitive as an academic scientist.  

I feel like in the last year I have been defining things about myself.  What colors of nail polish I want to wear.  What kinds of clothes I want to wear.  The sort of people I would like to have as friends.  What I want to read. What I want to say.  How I want my house to look.  I think I should have developed this part of myself a long time ago, but somehow I didn't, and this is still a hard thing for me.  I struggle to decide what music I want to listen to.  It is hard for me to decide how I want to spend my time.  It's sort of like how I knitted for three years before realizing I hate knitting.  It's so strange that it should take so long to decide that I don't want to knit.

I think I am more capable of making decisions now than I have been before.  It's good because I have a lot to make.  I want to fall in love, but I don't even know what I want, or should want from a relationship.  The only thing I usually think of is someone to load the dishwasher while I pack suitcases.  That isn't enough.  I could hire the neighbor kids to do that for me for about $5.00.  I need a relationship worth more than that, but I have no idea what I want it to be like.

I want to move out of Merced and there are a few different ways of doing that.  Going into industry (bad idea in this economy), becoming an instructor (I don't want that), applying for a job outside the US (probably Europe), sticking it out in Merced until I get a grant (that may not ever happen).  Do I want to move to Europe?  I don't know.

I think that I can have whatever I decide I want, but I am not quite sure how to do that.

Friday, September 18, 2009

dressing up

On Monday, I found out I needed a dress for Saturday. I hate dress shopping. I have awful t-shirt tan lines, my legs are winter white from wearing jeans all summer and I don't want to wear a dress. So I went dress shopping with a chip on my shoulder. I went to Ross and Marshall's because they are all we have around here and I didn't want to drive an hour to get a dumb dress. There is never anything wearable at either Ross or Marshall's and this was no exception. So I sucked it up, drove the hour and went to Macy's. I eased into the awful evening by trying on a skirt. Skirts are better than dresses. The one I tried on was loose and flowy with ruffly tendrils hanging off of it. On me, it looked like something black that had crawled out of a swamp so I went on to the next one. It was a brown, knee length knit dress with a hoody. I had picked it out for comic relief, and indeed it worked. Standing there in my flip flops, white legs exposed, hood up, I looked like a Ewok. I swear I almost stopped with that one. It would be hilarious to show up to a formal event looking like an Ewok.

Responsibility took over at some point and I went for the next one. It was cute and fit well, but I couldn't get the zipper (located under my arm) to go up all the way. Something about twisting enough to reach it made it impossible to do up. Besides which, I look terrible in black. My reddish skin stands out a lot and I look flustered and morbid all at one. The next several dresses were all black and all had the same effect. Terrible.

So then I went skulking around through the store glaring at dresses as I collected an ever growing array hanging over my arm. Finally a clerk asked me if I was okay and I said "Yes...I mean no. I have to buy a dress and I hate this." She grabbed a few items, ushered me off into a dressing room and then acted like my big sister bringing me piles of clothes and handing them to me in the dressing room. She commented on the colors, the slimming effects, my need for nylons, instant sunless tanner and sexy shoes.

We finally agreed on a purple printed dress with well cut sleeves and a princess waistline. It was the best we were going to do. I brought it home, tried it on with nylons and sexy shoes and found myself asking a very important question which was "Why do dresses always look so much better in a dressing room at a store?" It must be something with the lights. At home, the dress kind of looked like a sack. Which brought me to the second important question which was " Why are all dresses made out of knit fabrics?" It's a terrible idea to do that. They end up looking like sacks.

Despairing, I looked in my closet and found an unexpected coupling of a ruffly skirt and floral top that got hung up next to each other after doing the laundry. I put them on. They looked a million times better than the stupid dress I had on. So I will be returning the dress next time I have two hours to blow driving to and from Modesto.

Note to self: Never buy a dress again...Ever...for any reason.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I am not a pragmatist. I would love to be one, it's just that things keep getting in the way of that lofty ambition. The latest blockade to pragmatism is my agreeing to be the faculty advisor for The Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA) at UC Merced. It is not good for me to be the advisor of this organization. It draws attention to the fact that I am a Mormon evolutionary biologist and this combination does not go over well with most people. Most Mormons don't believe in evolution (even though they don't know anything about it) and most evolutionary biologists think that a deluded idiot would choose to be a Mormon (even though they don't know anything about it). Born Again Christians and most of the Religious Right hate me for both reasons. At one of their protests against Mormons, held in front of a gathering of Mormons, I found signs saying I would go to hell for both of those reasons and then a third sign saying I would also go to hell for being an independent woman. Maybe there will be a special suite there reserved for me since I am so bad. Anyway, I have dreaded being the LDSSA advisor since the school opened and I have not encouraged the formation of that organization.

This situation changed slightly in the wake of proposition 8. None of the Mormons at UC Merced were enthusiastic about joining in the proposition 8 campaign. We all have gay friends who are really sweet people we care about. I dragged my feet and happily found excuses to not be involved. The campaign was kind of on the edge of my awareness. However, as friends in larger cities told me about Mormons they had seen being assaulted by Prop 8 protesters and then never finding anything in the news about it, I became more concerned. In the news papers, I found articles that were disparaging to Mormons and mostly false. Finally, when a television ad showed missionaries as menacing people who forcefully invade homes, I decided to get involved. It was just such a low blow. Missionaries in coastal California are treated poorly. They get people in cars dumping drinks out on them as they pedal by on their bikes. They get their bikes stolen. They get called all sorts of horrible things and they just don't get too ruffled over it. Producing an ad that might cause greater harm to come to the missionaries, who had been specifically forbidden from participating in politics was just over the top. The people protesting prop 8 argued that marriage for homosexuals had nothing to do with religion and would not affect the freedom of religion, but there they were specifically attacking my religion in a very low way. So I got involved. Many others got involved at that time too.

After the campaign was over, newspapers reported that Mormons were gloating over the victory, but I didn't know anyone who was. Even right after the vote came in, there was a grim silence among all the Mormons in Merced. There is no direct joy to be had from denying others what they want even if it is done as a defensive act.

Then the real backlash against Mormons began and the little handful of Mormons at UC Merced quietly went into hiding more or less as our friends turned on us, calling us bigots and Fascists. Remarkably, the friend who was slowest to turn on me was my gay friend, who I think understands the discrimination Mormons face better than most people. He only turned when there was a broad call by the gay community to single out and bring harm upon the Mormons who had contributed money to prop. 8. He never did anything to me. We just stopped spending time together. I couldn't blame him. When the time came for me to chose a side, I did. He was just doing the same.

Finally, after the backlash died down most of the way, the students wanted to form an LDSSA chapter here, and they needed an advisor, so I agreed. I think that all of us wanted to have a little nucleus of Mormons here, just so we wouldn't feel quite so isolated, and so that we would know who the other Mormons on campus are. There aren't many of us and most of us keep a low profile. After all, even the Mormon students who didn't support prop. 8 were singled out and treated poorly.

So I find myself in a sticky situation now. I am the advisor of a club that is entirely based upon a religious affiliation that I don't go around advertising. But I have a sign on my office door for the society for black engineering students, because there is a demographic here of very bright and hard-working but very intimidated students here. They all happen to be black and while I don't know the reasons for that correlation, the sample size is too large for it to be random. If a club for those students will help them become more comfortable here, then I will support it. I find myself in the moral dilemma that what I do for a club that I am in no way associated with, I must do for the club I advise, so a big LDSSA sign will be going on my door. Soon, my colleagues who haven't realized that I am Mormon will. I will also sit at the club table during new student orientations, so all of the incoming freshmen will know that I am Mormon.

The surprising thing to me about all of this is that I am immensely enjoying advising the LDSSA. Mike Meiners comes down from Modesto to teach us lessons about the parables of Jesus. He is way cool. He has studied the Bible in a fairly serious way and so we get to have some intellectual discussions. They aren't the sort where we are musing over the origins and evolution of life, or how modern events tie into the Book of Revelations, or even much about the history and politics of biblical times. They are more discussions of imagery, symbolism, cross references and allusions, the composition of the text, the choice of wording. It's fun. I also think that everyone in the club is enjoying getting to know more Mormons. There are quite a few Mormons who have stopped by for just one meeting, but then we all become aware of each other and we stop and chat when our paths cross.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Playing in mud

I started a pottery class last night. My friend, Chanelle recently started going to college again. Perhaps she enjoys my company A LOT, or perhaps she thinks it is a good idea to have a professor as her friend in any class (even if it is unrelated to what I know well), or perhaps she thought it was time to put the potters wheels in my garage to good use. I don't know what her reasons are, but she went to a lot of work to get me into the class. She found the class and delivered the information to me and got the materials list and went with me to get supplies and then called and reminded me about class and we went together. (Quite a friend huh?)

The first thing that the teacher announced is that they have been so frugal in years past that they had a huge excess of funds and so we didn't have to pay tuition for the class. No, I'm not kidding. It was weird but I'm okay with free pottery classes. I still had to fill out a registration card and get officially enrolled and then when I had done that, the teacher gave an excellent demonstration about centering clay and turning out a bowl.

My goal for the night was just to get the clay centered perfectly. I didn't care if I had a piece by the end of the night, and I remembered how critical centering was for glass blowing. I think that all the glassblowing classes Laura and I took payed off because I centered the clay once and came very close a second time. I may be able to get faster at it, but I think I can do it now. Then I moved on to throwing things and worked on bringing the clay up and keeping an even edge of top. I would pull it up and up until it got too fragile and collapsed, or until my long fingernails (which I was informed have to go) got stuck in the clay and tore it. I didn't care when the pieces fell apart, I was playing in the mud and learning at the same time. How much better can it get? I threw pieces and collapsed them and then I would wedge the clay to get the air bubbles and some of the moisture out and then I'd rework the clay over and over again until it got too soft and then I'd get a new piece and start in on that. Everyone thought I was nuts to keep collapsing my pieces, which the other beginners thought were really great. Honestly though, I wouldn't have paid 50 cents at a thrift store for anything I had made so why would I fire it? My goal for the class (besides having fun and hanging out with Chanelle) is to be able to make dishes that I can eat from and that seem cool to others as well. I have a long way to go, but perhaps I'll get there. When I do, you may all get handmade dishes from me for Christmas, kind of like when I got into knitting and made lots of hats. Hopefully the dishes turn out better than most of the hats did.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Autumn is good. I am stylishly wearing gray and brown nail polish and I started pulling out long sleeved shirts to assess my fall wardrobe. I found that most of my clothes are too big and that's kind of nice, but kind of not since it means I have to go clothes shopping.

It has also started raining. I am hoping that it might help some of the farmers successfully finish growing their crops. We just went down to the Church vineyard in Madera and harvested grapes that will become raisins. That farm is almost entirely cared for by novice volunteers who know nothing about grapes, but it always yields a lot of raisins. There are many more than the hungry need, so the rest get sold to Sun-Maid and the money gets used for other charitable causes. We could tell it was especially dire this year because we had to watch a training video about how to maximize the grape harvest. I think they should have made one ages ago. It would have stopped a lot of bickering between the people who think they know what they are doing. I guess it was never worth it though.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I have been contemplating femininity a lot, but I haven't been quite sure what to say about it. Today it kind of came together as I walked up the hill to the science building. There was something being broadcast at many more decibels than was really comfortable to listen to, and when I got close enough to the speakers so that the echos and distortions of sound were at a minimum, I recognized that it was a rebroadcast of the September 11 attacks. I was in New York when those attacks happened. Not the city, but the state, six hours away in Rochester. It still felt very close and way too close for comfort. My mother, sisters and cousins called to check on me that day. Besides the towers falling, I got an inquiry about whether I had been in Central Park when a gang was terrorizing that area and raping women. Thankfully I hadn't been, but the concern for me was still appreciated.

Within a few days of the 9/11 attacks we heard that there was too much blood that had been donated. What the survivors really needed were pillows, blankets and bedding. It didn't have to be new or anything, just warm and clean and in reasonably good shape. I had purchased two new pillows the week before. I couldn't afford anything more but I donated my two pillows and went back to using the old flat ones that had served me so long. At the drop-off site, there was a mountain of bedding so tall that I didn't know how people had put things on top of it. There were many women bringing bedding and whatever other comforts they thought practical and adding them to the pile. There were a few dads there too, with their sons, but mostly women were there.

I remember the effects that those attacks had on women much more clearly than men. At the day of mourning service I went to, it seemed like I had arms wrapped around me by countless women and I can't even begin to remember how many I held while they cried on me. My friend Elaine had a cousin who was with her daughter in the plane that struck the pentagon. Lindsey knew people who worked in the towers, but who hadn't been in them when they collapsed. Bev collected stories from survivors. Julia from Ukraine told me how she sat there thinking that she hated America as the towers collapsed but that she told her friends back home to be quiet when they said that America deserved what it got. Collectively, women agonized over whether their families should assemble for Thanksgiving or Christmas when the apparent risk for having their families blasted apart in a lasting way seemed great. Almost universally, the families I knew decided to reassemble despite the recent attacks. While most mothers left the decision of whether to fly or not up to their children, most of the children decided to risk it so that they could see their mothers, give them support, and seek the comfort of being home and safe. While soldiers were being sent over seas to fight the groups who had terrorized America, or allowed it to happen, women gathered their families and fought the actual terror that had come over America in whatever ways they could.

I read a description of "being feminine" that included doing nails and make-up, reading Vogue, talking on the phone for hours, and cleaning a house to impeccable perfection. I have fond and feminine memories of doing all of those things, and my sisters and mom are in every one. I also do those things on my own, but those memories feel more like chores than me reveling in my femininity.

Recently I joined a canning club where we combine the produce from our gardens and turn it into salsa or jam and then pack it away for later. While we were working we started talking about why women don't run the world and what's holding women back. I suggested that the main reason is that women think raising children is more important than being a CEO. The mom who was there agreed with a smile while the other single woman there said something about THAT being our problem.

I meant that comment about motherhood more as an observation than as an opinion or judgement of what women do or don't do. The epidemiologist in me was just coming out. Since then however, I have formed an opinion which follows: It is entirely impossible for a woman to feel feminine without the presence or context of a family in her life.

However, women I know who have more than two children are literally terrorized for being irresponsible, taking on too much, sacrificing their careers, consuming too much, and overpopulating the planet. The shift in thinking that has promoted this sort of attack has certainly affected the planet much more that the destruction of the World Trade Center. However, there are women quietly fighting those attacks too... as they give birth to and lovingly raise their families.....then send their children out into society to work, contribute, influence, and enjoy........then gather them back to be together again.