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 fa├žade 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.