Thursday, March 31, 2011


I'd make a terrible special agent. I have scars, tattoos, secrets, and plenty of "tells" when I lie. But there are some reasons why I would fit in. I change my haircolor drastically at least every 6 weeks. My ocd allows me to pick out extraordinary or abnormal things. I firmly deny occam's razor, because more often than not, the difficult complicated solution is right too. I like to travel. I value adventure. I party.

But alas, I'll never be a secret agent, or secret anything.

Me, my body, and my intellect will have to find more domestic affairs toward which I'll focus my attention and superpowers.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I am comforted by disinfectant.

I have always been more at home in a clinical environment than in the real world. In the hospital, everything makes sense. People either get better or worse. They either heal or they don't. There is no middle... no grey.

As a child, my father worked at the hospital. On rare occasions I would visit him. He showed me exciting ways that he helped people feel better, and mysterious places that I didn't know even existed... like the NICU, and underground tunnels.

It's true that as a child, dad gave me medical terminology books to read. At the age of 10 or 11 I was making words out of latin roots. I loved the terminology because the system was just that - orderly and predictable. An infection meant -itis, a growth meant - oma, a study - an 'ology. I valued this order when nothing else made sense. I was a smart kid who never fit in, my family was different, and all I knew was I wasn't like anyone else.

Along with medical terminology, I studied other systems. The phone book and dictionary were frequent members of my personal library. I would read anything really, if it gave me a chance to look for another pattern.

A waif, I never got into sports. I couldn't even run a mile without thinking I would surely die or vomit in public (equal embarrassment). I learned to enjoy activities that kept me isolated, like music and writing. Somewhere around the age of 14, when I got mononucleosis, I realized maybe I wasn't just weak and got sick more than other kids.

Of course I wanted to know why. It's hard to believe, even for me, but back then I had no internet to search for the cause of my illness. A nice doctor, who I really liked, called it Epstein-Barr Virus then, a consequence of the mono. In any case, it started a sequence of events that would bring me closer to medicine. Healthcare, like the hospital, seemed orderly. There was a science to every action. A drug prescribed for a condition, a cause and effect.

As I grew older, I felt more and more at home in this clinical setting. The order calmed me. Problems were always solved. Effects always caused, reason always consulted. I remember the first time I saw a dead body, my aunt, and touched her face... she was cold, waxy, but I wasn't afraid, I was comforted by the familiar clinical setting. Someone tried to solve this problem, but couldn't.

Maybe it's fitting that I am more at home in this clinical setting. Always uncomfortable with human interaction, I value the situation when gloves are required, and contact is avoided. I'm never scared by threatening situations in a hospital because a system is responsible instead of a few feeble humans. There are codes, procedures, ordinances that keep problems at bay.

So what kind of 'ology describes the study of the system that exists in institutions like hospitals? How can I dissect and analyze my comfort in this uncomfortable place? Why am I the family member anyone can count on to wait out a hospital stay with them... read them stories, do their laundry, sneak them food? Why am I unafraid to face mortality in this place? I'm not above the rules, and will someday likely die in a hospital, but I find that strangely comforting. The system, the institution, is built to shepherd us on in a strange, clinical, orderly manner.

And maybe that's it, the word clinical... I don't remember it from my med-term texts, but I'm sure it means to detach and objectively treat problems... and that's something I'm only able to do with a pair of gloves and a gown.

In any case, I prefer bleach to fresh-baked cookies. I remember everything I've ever heard in a hospital(and often nothing I hear on the phone). I put 'hospital corners' on the bed when I change the sheets, and I can inject my cat with anything without fear. I trust in the system. Healthcare, medicine, infection control, disease management, diagnostic screening, all of it makes sense.

If only I could have thanksgiving and christmas in a hospital operating room. No awkward hugging or uncomfortable small talk, we'd cut up the food and stay on schedule, and no one would get drunk and ruin the holiday.

And everything would be sterile.

Friday, March 18, 2011

RnR Worry About Grapes

OCD types know a thing or two about repetition... we belong to a league of hand-washers, door-lockers, and light-switch-on/off'ers. Rinse and repeat (R&R) is something that happens pretty often throughout the day.

Today's R&R - Worry about the grapes we planted last weekend. During the week I've done a few more prep steps, mulching, training, watering to make sure they get a good start. Just outside the window where I work most days, I can see one of the plants, and I swear it's telling me it's unhappy!

I put the blue grow tubes over the vines like the nursery said, and added soil acidifier and fertilizer.. I've been giving them plenty of water, but not too much. The sun finally came out today and gave them a wake-up, but I'm worried that all 6 of them won't put on growth. Two are already showing signs of life, with little buds of side growth popping out of the vine, but the other 4 are still dormant.

If I don't get the self-fertile varieties to grow at least, I won't have any grapes at all..

So I'm sending out mental energy and hoping to fertilize them with worry power. I thought about playing them music or getting them a friend - a dog might be too destructive but I could keep some pigeons? They would keep the vines company, and poop all over my yard too.

What if the spots I chose to plant them were not sunny enough, we'll have sad shady growth. Or maybe the holes don't drain because of the clay surrounding the amended dirt, their little grape feet will be wet and they'll suffocate. Of course I could have put the shelters on wrong and they aren't getting the right light or ventilation.

I read all the instructions and tried to do everything correctly... Now I just have to trust that nature, in combination with my nurturing will be enough for them to grow up. Until they get old enough to survive on their own, I'll just keep worrying.

This sounds like a sick allegory to child-rearing. I think if I were to have 6 children instead of 6 grapevines my head would implode with anxiety.

Are you all right in there? Are you sitting comfortably? This is your grape-godmother speaking, hello?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Pseudoscience of Toasted Tastebuds

Have you ever peeled back the glorious cheese layer on a french onion soup to uncover soup that is as hot as the surface of the sun? Or removed a pizza from the oven and been so excited and hungry that you took a bite only to instantly blister the roof of your mouth with nuclear sauce just beneath the cheese?

There are certain foods that get us every time, and while I'm sure actual scientists have some type of scale based on conductivity, density and water content for this phenomenon... I don't know about it, so Bart and I created our own scale. The HEAT RETENTION FACTOR or HRF scale. This scale describe the property a food has to retain heat after cooking, the ability to heat to temperatures that will burn your gingival tissues, and the stickiness of that food to said tissues (worsening the burn results).

Our love of frozen pizzas led us to discuss this problem many years ago and since we created the scale we have made a number of observations in HRF.

1. HRF is variable for each food depending on the preparation. Sometimes microwaving a food creates higher HRF than baking.
2. HRF differs for the same food item in different preparations. Marinara sauce baked in a ziti with no mozzarella cheese covering has less HRF than the cheesed version.
3. Certain foods are HRF multipliers, some exponentially. Because cheese traps steam below it in foods like pizza and french onion soup, it protects the extreme heat pocket, dramatically increasing HRF values.
4. The time component of HRF can be subjective. Some foods never reveal their potential HRF because they are cooled before eating or because they take longer to reach the table (like delivery pizza)

We base our rating on the following scale:

10 - most likely to cause serious burns on the tongue and roof of mouth: this rating is given to french onion soup for the extreme heat of the liquid, ability to retain large amounts of heat for a period of time, and stickiness of the cheese topping. The soup burns your tongue, the cheese takes the roof of the mouth. Plus it usually smells and looks so appetizing that consumers are unable to wait the 20 minutes it would take to cool.
5 - medium risk HRF foods: given the right circumstances, when eaten with haste will inflict burns on the eater. Foods like reheated mashed potatoes and cheese whiz belong near this rating.
1 - foods that lose heat at an alarming rate, pose no risk of burns and become less appetizing quickly after cooking: steamed asparagus and broccoli have the least HRF because they lose heat immediately after cooking and have no stickiness.

Why am I sharing my HRF scale with you? Because its so annoying to burn your mouth. Your tastebuds lose their ability to communicate the glorious food you're eating, it's painful, and if it blisters - impossible to stop yourself from running your tongue over the burn like a weird-tasting ocd tic. As I type, I'm licking my wounds - literally - from last night's pizza incident in which I tried a new oven configuration thanks to an article from the food lab over at Serious Eats. The pizza was cooked perfectly, but I prematurely bit (forgetting the HRF) and roasted my palate.

Other high-HRF foods that always need extra time to cool: steam-baked potatoes [HRF 8](wrapped in foil and baked or microwaved), baked macaroni and cheese [HRF 7] and microwaved soup [HRF 8+].

So if you do any cooking at home, which is where most HRF-related burns occur, consider potential HRF based on temperature, timing and stickiness before excitedly trying your dish. Your mouth will thank you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Private Prize

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me that rain was the tears of people who lived in heaven. She never had a good answer when I asked why they were so sad, but she regarded sadness as a part of living. I understand that more everyday.

I might have been surrounded by sadness as a child, but never knew it. My family did a good job of making hard times happy and leaving us wanting for little except maybe control over our finances. At a very prosperous time for my parents, perhaps before I was around, my mom bought a piece of art. This was a luxury even though she was a successful flight attendant and made a comfortable living. She spent the money on something that was purely for enjoyment and not at all practical - opposite of her way and a real indulgence.

I don't remember the day this piece first graced the wall of her bedroom, because it seems like my entire life it was there. The object of many aimless staring sessions, some studied fascination and a lot of mystery, this piece of art was the only one I'd ever seen... that was called 'Art'.

Sure, I'd seen paintings and prints.. I fancied myself an artist as a child, but nothing in the house, even cherished oil paintings of local Texas bluebonnets painted by friends, was called 'Art'. That is, except this piece. I'm sure I asked Mom at some point what made this framed wonder so special and why I couldn't stop staring at it, and I even remember some of that answer, but no one ever told me why it was so unique. Mom loved it. She would look at it a lot, and you could see her just jumping right in the frame with it, especially during the cold years when our family was less prosperous. It seemed to stand for something, something that she relied on to get her through hard times.

As it turns out, it certainly has value. It was made by a famous art deco artist known as Erte, one of his serigraphs. He's a celebrated artist and his works can be very expensive. This one, numbered and signed, I'm sure is worth some money, but it's not the monetary value that makes me want to have it and look at it now.

You see, my grandparents grew up in the depression, my parents were taught to appreciate money in their own way. My family was never achingly poor, but we felt the pinch more times than I care to recall. In those times, value of things and stuff was inflated by hope, those things - and especially this serigraph were assets of a family that had little and dreamed of plenty. I never knew then why I loved it so much. 'After the Rain' was just nice to look at, to stare for hours and explore. I imagined how it was made, what went through the artist's mind while conjuring the image, but most of all, why my mom liked it so much. I searched within the dots and layers to find what special part within made her happy.

Although it doesn't grace the same wall in her house, I can still recount many details. I've counted the raindrops in each column, carefully examined the face and its expression, appreciated the white space around the image... once opulent and wasteful, now I see that matting as a separation between what you see inside and what is the same around you. As it turns out, for me, what drew me to this piece was not what was embossed on the paper, but what was reflected from my life from within and without.

One might look at the image link and see a very sad person, surrounded by evidence of their pain, so much that the clouds had to weep along with the subject. When I was young and struggling financially or emotionally or socially my life was always better than what I saw in there. Nothing could be so sad that the real clouds would cry with me. Now, I see more of an equal reflection. Not sadness, just the line between it and happiness. Life has layers of bad and every once in a while, they all align like a serigraph to create a hell of a rainstorm. Things in your control like your own tears may stop, but you can't censor rain, or the clouds that come along.

The similarities look to the sky as well. Many times I have looked out the window of an airplane, as I imagine mom did, and have glimpsed clouds as two-dimensional. You only suffer their precipitaion or darkness while you are below, but when you climb above, a more sunny and beautiful side of them appears.

I'm sure there are many reasons to relate to art, especially Erte's pieces. I see balance there, enjoying relative happiness in a glass-half-full glow, and seeing reality for its more sinister beauty. Sometimes rain, tears, darkness and light, and hope all collide in front of you. If you're listening, you can behold a moment of clarity and this visage will be valuable... Not in dollars, necessarily, but in peering through the obvious to see the clandestine pieces of yourself reflected back.

It makes you want to share, to use your own vision to understand, to explain... but it is only yours. I'm the only person who sees this serigraph exactly this way, but I'm not the only one who sees it. For mom, the paper reflects something completely different, but no less significant.

Either way, it's beautiful.

Image courtesy of

Saturday, March 12, 2011

the world through my window

So very sad.

Part of my job is to educate others about a personality theory started by Carl Jung and continued by a couple of American women. I really enjoy the work. I agree that our innate preferences are somewhat set... If you don't like Brussels sprouts, you might never like them.

Most of the time, helping others explore their own type and preferences helps me internalize what I've learned about my own preferences and personality. Most of the time I chalk it up to solid science. Those two gals, Myers and Briggs, really did their homework.

Then there are moments when I do or say or think something that would have been discounted as random thoughts and dismissed. They wouldn't prove or disprove any theories about me.

Just now, with my boys asleep in the bed next to me, the breeze brought in the scent of grassfire and I had a sudden reaction. My desire for harmony and capacity for empathy, as expressed by my feeling preference, compelled me to suddenly feel a pain that is bigger than me.

Grasses are burning in nearby Oklahoma. Farmers and residents are hoping for an end. Across the globe, Japanese men and women are explaining to their kids that, for the second day, they're not going to school tomorrow. They look down the barrel of a beginning... The beginning of a healing that will take many years.

Perhaps a little silly, that the suffering of humans hundreds or thousands oc miles away would waft in on the pleasant breeze. That the smell of woodsmoke would instantly connect me to the global harmony network. Maybe silly, but my need for harmony has no state lines. I'm at the mercy of my inborn being... The person I am.

Most of the time I love finding a new understanding of myself. Motives, limitations, strengths, faults...

But every once in a while, I just want to enjoy the breeze. I want to smell an innocent, warming, comforting fire. I don't want to be stitched together with the pain of others like we belong. It's a lot of responsibility.

I hope that the aftershocks and waves and building collapses and homelessness and hunger, disease, meltdowns, setbacks are nothing like history. I'd like to be pleasantly surprised by recovery in japan, and Oklahoma. Here's to harmony ahead.

Pleases donate if you're able, and ask your employer to match that donation. And continue to hope for others devastated by disaster.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First, plant grapes. Next, worry about grapes.

Muscadine Love?

In my lap, a cat sleeps soundly
On the tele... discovery
Out 'round back, my grapes are snoozing
On Saturday, I'll let them breathe

Till their planting, I imagine
Their strong arms spread across my yard
The smell of their leaves, a story
Their heavy fruit, a willing bard

A painted fence, their home will be
They'll climb for air, up trellised string
And peek beyond our backyard bounds
And stretch out in Texas sun... free.

I should curtsy to them, I think
For once the Muscadine grew here
Without my help, it held fast then
To riverbanks and fields nearby

Time has lost the poor scuppernong
Wild sanctuaries are long gone
But I'll make a place for new friends
And in my garden... history - Lives on.

I'm going to try to make a place for some natives to grow up here. Long before people changed the water patterns of Texas rivers, muscadines grew wild and thrived on the heat and sun. I don't have a green thumb, but mother nature sure does, and if she says they'll grow here, who am I to stop them?!

Plant a ringer this spring, something that's from here and adapted to our conditions to help your own enviroment live in harmony.

Good Enough? Well that's just like... your opinion, man.

I was born to be a lot of things... a writer, maybe... an inventor, probably... but mostly, normal. My parents and grandparents did a fine job of indocrinating me in a lifestyle and religion that would steer me toward right for the rest of my days.

Part of this legacy was to be modest in my appearance. Beautiful women stun the world with their intellect and insight, not their tan and cleavage. Beautiful women were strong and honest, not faint or bold, like 40's actresses.

So it makes sense that I would eventually meet some conflict with the inner beauty and the incogruence outside. Most women, in fact, endure this body image struggle... where the inside looks nothing like the outside and you can't understand how the two are related. Sometimes this ends up in painful experiences like anorexia and bulemia. As heartbreaking as these conditions are, I can understand the underlying problem. You look in the mirror and don't feel like the image looking back could possibly be you... well, unfortunately it has to be. So then what?

What happens to the part of womankind who looks in that mirror and disagrees? I think the majority of them just agree anyway... and accept what stares back at them as an uncomfortable reality, afforded by a perspective they can't get to from their current perch. Another portion runs screaming into destructive behaviour, trying to change what they see with eating disorders, drugs and alcohol. Another few try a new hobby or wardrobe, hoping they can try on another style to feel more at home in their skin.

And then there are those like me...

I have known since I was a skinny little kid that I wanted a different body. I dreamed of looking like everyone else. Blending in, making no impression at all. Instead, I was too thin, compounded by smoking, so much that my friends still tell me they wanted me to eat a cheeseburger 10 years ago. I look back on those days fondly, but not because I was younger or thinner, but because I was oblivious to the discord between by body and my body image. After I quit smoking cigarettes and got married (two blissful experiences in my life), I put on weight. And grew further from whatever I thought was normal before.

I don't think I'm fat, I don't think I'm out of the ordinary, in fact.. I have attained my goal.. average height, average weight and better than average personal life. But I can't go to the store and buy a size 8. All the changing I did to get there, and all I get is a well-fitting behind and too-big top.

I wanted a 'boob job' since the day I thought I had boobs... I can remember thinking that I was different then and wanting so badly to belong. Now, as a full-fledged woman, complete with uncomfortable jeans and slimming undergarments, I still want to have proportional problems, big boobs and big hips, curves, something besides a skinny girl with some extra weight.

It goes deeper, I'm sure... I was raised in a religious household, and have restrained myself - always - when it comes to my appearance. I have always wanted very badly to have nice breasts through breast augmentation. I have a genetic disorder called pectus carinatum, which almost always affects men, one in 300,000 live births are female and afflicted. Despite having it 'repaired' using drastic invasive surgery 6 years ago, my breasts are very uneven and disproportionately small for my frame.

Bart and I have talked about a breast augmentation, what it would cost, what it would mean in terms of healing and consequences, but this whole time, I have kept back from him the reason I haven't done it yet.

It's not financial, there are plenty of financing options, and it can't be social, no one in my circle judges plastic surgery with a negative eye. The reason I haven't done it, is because having a perfect chest will require a certain confidence to accompany my new body, and I am sure I don't have it just yet.

Perhaps I'm holding myself to a ridiculous standard, that I have to be able to defend plastic surgery at this phase in my life. That it means something, I'm promiscuous, or desperate.. unhappy or having a control moment... When the reality is, if it happens, it is entirely to make me feel better about myself. It should be perfect reason, everyone deserves to buy a bra at a department store or wear it comfortably, but for some reason, it's still not good enough for me. The vanity that is associated with wanting to be beautiful outside, is something few women admit to. And I do admit it... I want to be Marilyn Monroe, or Katy Perry, especially Helena Bonham Carter. And they all are beautiful because they exude confidence. They wear their confidence outside.

I've struggled with body image for a long time, in the opposite of most struggles... and what I realize is that it doesn't matter if you're too fat or too thin, too top-heavy or too bottom-heavy. Our pain is a suit we put on each day. We carry our differences like they are a burden. If I were to counsel a young woman with body image issues now, I would tell her to love her unique self and worry about what she can change later...

And for that reason, I wait. I wait to buy my boobs, and the resulting confidence and new set of problems. What if there is no solution to looking in the mirror and not recognizing the face that looks back? Isn't there a bigger problem that I should solve before I drop $5000 on a perfect rack? Or am I being too hard on something that is perfectly normal to want.. equal boobs in proportion to my curves. I just can't help but think I'm too old for this...

I wait. For the later that all little girls are promised. Someday soon, dear, you will be a beautiful swan... you'll be desired and successful and all your dreams will come true. Reality, evidently, looks more like me. A troupe of women told to value modesty from people they trust, and told to covet beautiful bodies by everyone else. Who to believe?

Well, life is all about choices. I either distance myself from pain with new boobs, or wear it around everyday as a reminder that I'm "unique". Taking my own advice is hard.

I feel like I wear body image issues pinned to every piece of clothing I own, don't even have a mirror in my makeup bag and avoid talking about this to anyone, and I'm not alone. I want to try harder, to appreciate many different shades of perfect and find myself in one of them, but eventually, I'm pretty sure I'll pull the trigger and buy some boobs. They might help, but I promise to never tell my niece about them so she can grow up thinking there isn't a way to buy self-acceptance.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wasting time in the kitchen

I'm becoming very practiced at failure in the kitchen. I take a lot of risks in there, and you're bound to flub things when you're cooking with passion.

Well yesterday was no exception. I tried, for the very first time, making risotto. Cooking shows make it look so easy and fast, even. I just had to do it and watch the magic unfold before my eyes.

Magic, huh... well there was at least some physics and chemistry afoot, probably no magic, though.

I think my first mistake was trying to make it healthy by using brown arborio rice. I didn't think about the fact that brown rice takes twice as long to cook as white and as a result, my stirring arm is quite rubbery today. Also, I underestimated the amount of stock it would take to cook said rice. I started with a quart, as the basic risotto recipe instructed, but ended up needing about 2-1/2 quarts of liquid to soften the hull of the inpenetrable brown arborio grain. The final oversight was one of flavor. I decided to write my own recipe for this risotto, based on Indian biriyani. This meant using rich spices like coriander and cumin and as the rice toasted, so did the spices, developing into a super-rich concoction which I only compounded by adding butter and cheese at the end.

All told, it took an hour and 45 minutes to cook down the rice, all the while stirring and carefully adding stock. I did feel a scientific connection to the dish, however, as I watched the little stubborn grains of rice give up their starchy goodness into the surrounding gravy. The development was quite spectacular, even if it was painfully slow. The end result was rich and tasty, having absorbed all the stock and flavor and released enough starch to glue my cabinets back together.

I ate a little of it, but it proved too rich for me to finish. The moral of the story? Sometimes taking a risk in the kitchen means missing all of your tv shows while standing over a hot stove being blasted by aromatics for too long, only to leave you too baked to eat what you've made. Buy risotto in restaurants, don't make it.