on breeding fruit flies and the fruit of it

I saw this story about fruit flies and sex on NPR’s website this morning, and it brought me back to the days of my first job in college. Breeding fruit flies. I made it happen. Well, not really, because apparently it’s the smell of rotting fruit that really makes it happen. But I helped. My bosses ran a genetics research laboratory, and sadly I can’t honestly even tell you what bigger picture genius they were aiming for in their research. They might have been fighting cancer as the fruit of my labor with these little buggers. All I knew at the time was that I came in every day to boxes containing vial after vial of many different lines of fruit flies. Each vial contained rotting banana at the bottom, and that’s where the squirmy larvae would grow and eventually hatch. Sure enough, after a week or so of transferring a mini swarm of flies into a new vial, the larvae would appear, followed by the next generation of little Justins and Annas. (Apologies if your name is Justin or Anna. I chose these names with no particular people in mind!) Sometimes, not many youngin’s would appear, and there might be only two or three flies in a new vial that should have ideally contained at least ten or so. My job was then to look to see if there was at least one male and one female (distinguished by the rounder abdomen of the male, as opposed to the longer, pointier abdomen of the female), transfer those two into a new vial, and pray that they would find each other attractive enough to want to make new baby larvae together. Other times, a vial would contain just a handful of some lethargic, sickly-looking flies. If that was the case, I would bring the vial to my boss who would immediately put the vial into the fruitfly ICU. I never actually knew what that meant. Did they get intubated? Were their wings restrained for awhile so they could conserve energy? Were they sedated with the fruitfly version of Versed? Alas. It wasn’t a glorious job, and it took me awhile to master the art of transferring flies from one vial to another without losing the whole swarm when I removed the cotton ball cork from the original vial. I was surrounded by unintentionally freed flies a lot in my first couple weeks on the job and probably bred some mutant strains as a result, but eventually I got the hang of it.

So anyhow, if you’ve actually read this far, I owe you a cup of coffee or something just for indulging me in my crazy and somewhat disgusting reminiscence. All this to say, I sure have come a long way in articulating my career goals and moving towards them. I am certain that my boss in the fruitfly research lab knew I wan’t planning to make a long-term career out of it. But I was there to work, and to work honestly. To learn how to be responsible with coming in when I was supposed to come in, show respect to my bosses and coworkers, and breed those little bugs to the best of my ability.

I remember looking for another part-time job during college, and hearing from a friend how she had really enjoyed working at Olive Garden as a food server. I didn’t know the slightest thing about food service, and I was so shy and awkward at the time, I was certainly not really cut out for it. Plus the fact that I had very few interviewing skills under my belt. I remember randomly walking into a local Olive Garden that had a sign posted, “Hiring Now!” The manager sat down with me and asked, “So, why do you want to go into food service?” My answer? “…Ummm…. I don’t know….” Needless to say, he kept that interview short and I never heard from him again.

I am grateful that through the course of much soul-searching, a number of very different experiences in different kinds of work, and not a small amount of tears, I have come to a place where I know with 110% certainty that I love what I do, and I have the privilege and opportunity to actually do it. Sometimes it’s so hard to see where the road is taking us, but there are lessons to be learned with each unexpected stop and detour along the way if we are open to them. Moving forward through the rougher patches on the road helps to clarify and refine our desires, and it makes the reaching of our goals that much sweeter. Don’t get me wrong; my job is not my life, nor is it my identity. But I do find it so wonderfully fulfilling. Yes, believe it or not, even more fulfilling than bringing new fruit flies into the world.

it’s not just business, it’s personal

I was tempted to pretend I wasn’t home, but I couldn’t pull that off very convincingly since the main front door was open, and the only things standing between me and the stranger on the doorstep were the screen door and my barking dog. It was a door-to-door salesman from US Beef trying to sell an extra box of their family steak package, and somehow with all his smooth talking and the great discount he was offering, he convinced me to buy more beef than my arteries know what to do with.

I am fascinated by salespeople who are really good at what they do. Besides his obvious passion for the product he was selling, he had a way of weaving in that personal touch that works to disarm your distrust. He remembers your name and uses it quite intentionally during the conversation. He asks questions and seems genuinely interested in who you are, and finds another way to show you from your own responses why you not only want, but need to buy what he is selling.

This salesman asked me two questions that I suppose made perfect sense for him to ask, in the context of his sales pitch. Are you married? Do you have kids? Fortunately for him, I was comfortable enough answering his questions, but I often wonder how much we really think about the casual questions we ask when we’re seeking to just make conversation, or have some other agenda like this salesman did.

We often assume that one, people are ok being asked some rather personal questions, and two, people most likely don’t have any underlying issues or drama behind those questions. I hear people ask the ‘Do you have kids?’ question all the time. I’m guilty of it too. But the more and more I hear people share their struggles with singleness or infertility, the more I think, perhaps I shouldn’t be so careless or presumptuous in the questions I ask of others, even when it’s with all good intentions of trying to get to know them better. I may benefit from being patient with getting a better sense of people before I put them on the spot with questions that they may not be quite so inclined to respond to with me.

So coming back to business, it’s tough. I have a lot of respect for this salesman who does not have an easy job. He seemed quite humble and sincere in his work. Most people just don’t do door-to-door sales any more.  As customers, we are a people who want, but don’t want, that personal touch. I recently heard a Southwest Airlines stewardess close out a flight with, “We hope you’ve enjoyed your flight with us this evening. Please come back again soon, we love your money.” That felt odd. I wanted personal, not business. And yet we don’t trust strangers on our doorsteps as readily any more, and we don’t like feeling hustled by slick chit-chat when we walk into a store. I want business, not personal.

Alas. This particular salesman seems to have honed his art quite well, and my husband will thank the stars tonight for one man’s business-savvy skills as he sits down to a glorious feast of beef.

the authentic poker-faced bird

I find myself in a good number of situations where a poker face is of paramount importance, though the temptation to give ‘the bird’ is real, and it gets me thinking quite a bit about this ambiguous concept of authenticity. (Yes, me. The pastor’s wife. I am tempted to give the bird once in awhile too.)

On the surface, we as a society love the idea of authenticity. Especially as post-modernism became popular, we elevated the concept of authenticity as we tied it in closely to self-expression and the right we felt people had to self-expression, even if it came at very high costs. A common justification for poor behavior has become, “Well, he’s just being real.” “At least they were being honest with who they were.” But just how far do we take this concept of authenticity? Is this about being “honest,” or is it about having a certain level of poor judgment and immaturity that we mask in the name of authenticity? I am all for being open about struggles and weaknesses. I hope people feel that I am real with them. But I also hold to the conviction that authenticity should only be valued to a certain degree before good judgment and self-control need to take over when these are in conflict with one another.

Sometimes, I have to admit, it’s kind of funny.  A lot of Facebook postings came out recently, primarily from young parents who could relate better than anyone, about the audio book narrated by Samuel Jackson called “Go the F* to Sleep.” I confess that I chuckled when I heard it. It’s got all the elements of a children’s bedtime story. The soothing sounds of harps and flutes, rhymes eliciting pictures of starry nights and sheep in green pastures, but many a stanza concluding with, “Now go the F* to sleep!” All the Facebook comments from parents were the same. “I’ve been tempted to do this!” “I’ve muttered this under my breath after my kid had a one-hour meltdown!” I confess I’ve muttered it in my mind to some of my less consolable little patients. But there’s no way that an excuse of “being authentic” would fly if I were to go on a verbal rampage towards a fussy patient at work. I am finding that keeping a poker face as a nurse in a pediatric intensive care unit is less about being ‘fake’ as it is about being professional and therapeutic for my patients and their families, so long as I have other contexts in which to work out my fears and frustrations about nursing in healthy, productive ways. I suspect this is true about parenting, teaching, and other tough jobs as well.

There’s the recent story about the Starbucks barista who got so fed-up with a customer that the barista decided to rename the customer on that Starbucks to-go cup, from whatever that customer’s name was, to a less-flattering 5-letter name starting with a capital B. I’ve worked in a coffee shop before and don’t know one person in that industry who has not been tempted to do the same or equivalent at one point or another. Of course healthy boundaries are always needed with unreasonable or rude customers. But most professional contexts have little tolerance for unprofessionalism carried out in the name of authenticity (or any other name for that matter).

Then there’s my role as a pastor’s wife. People who know me well know that I still cringe at being referred to as such. I just want to be referred to as me, by name, no role. But I can’t get away from it. It’s what I knowingly married into. Sometimes, when I’m driving around in the neighborhood near church, I get cut off by horrible drivers and am tempted to glare, to yell, to give the bird. But then the thought comes to mind, what if it happens to be someone from church? I would be mortified and humiliated. It would reflect poorly on my husband. Sometimes, I admit, that’s all that stops me. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. The accountability I have to my community keeps me from becoming the kind of person I don’t want to become in the name of ‘authenticity’, and helps me grow into who I really want to be.

I don’t have it all figured out, and I certainly don’t have it all together. I haven’t perfected the poker face, and sometimes, that’s perfectly ok. But if you cut me off on the road one day, I’ll try not to give you the bird. If I do, consider yourself warned and try not to be too appalled. I’m human too.

too small for my own good

Life nowadays always seems to feel so full and often cluttered, both externally and internally. I suppose to a certain degree, that just comes with the territory of working full-time as a nurse and being married to a pastor. Alas, if my life and my heart didn’t feel full, it would probably mean to some extent that I didn’t care as much as I probably ought to about these contexts in which I live. All that being said, I am learning to value self-care more than ever these days, and so much of that involves the simplifying of all that is within my power to simplify.

So I’m trying to make changes, some small, some big, all significant in their own right.

–       I am learning to bite the bullet and take care of those things that seem like a hassle at the moment, recognizing that if I just take the typically less than five minutes to just get them out of the way, it will make my life much easier in the long run. For example: Putting things in their proper place at home before a bigger mess builds up. Untangling my IV lines at the start of a shift rather than mid-way through when I’m feeling as wound up as my lines are. This unclutters both the external, as well as the internal. I’m no longer trying to remember or keep track of yet another thing I need to take care of, saving my already tired brain from information overload.

–       I am cutting down on the time spent checking email and perusing Facebook. The iPhone was a terrible culprit in this. I realized it started getting really bad when I started to use my iPhone as my second alarm clock, in case my bedside one didn’t go off. This was fine in and of itself, but I kept the phone too close to me at night, and as a light sleeper, I could hear it buzz when a new email or Facebook post came through. Slowly I fell into the bad habit of checking it in the middle of the night, and I can hear all your eyes rolling at me now. Terrible idea, I know. I think I’ve learned my lesson and I’m keeping that phone out of reach at night now. The people behind the iPhone and Facebook know human tendencies and weaknesses all too well. They’re not dumb. They know what will sell, what will pull us in and keep us there, and why. The iPhone and Facebook make things too easy, reducing my life and entertainment and everyone else’s life to this gadget in my hand, a gadget that is too small for my own good. True life is bigger than this, and true life is quieter than this. I desperately need to regain life again.

–       Throwing things away. Still working on this one. Ugh.

–       I am going to counseling again. It is expensive, but this is by far the best financial investment I could make in my overall well-being at this point in time. I realize there is a stigma in some peoples’ minds about counseling and people who go to see counselors, but that’s ok. I believe deeply that everyone can benefit from counseling if and when they are open to it. I know I have blind spots in my life. I am not perfect. I find myself in life situations that are often beyond me – beyond my experiences, beyond my wisdom, beyond my own capability to sort through in healthy ways with a perspective beyond my own limited view. Other people, some whom I love very deeply, are affected by my responses to these life situations. Having a counselor speak into my life about areas where I am not healthy, about burdens that are not mine to carry (though I thought they were), about practical things I can do to guard my sanity, has been an absolute gift from God.

–       I am learning to sit still. This is hard. I am relatively quiet and mellow in personality but I am Type A nonetheless in terms of my compulsions to stay busy and be over-productive. But these ambitions to be over-productive can also be too small for my own good. Sometimes, oftentimes, no….all the time, I need to come back to what is better for my soul. To do what I need to do, but to rest when I need to rest. To pray and to remember that I am not God. He is.

I know life is always going to be busy and complicated to a certain, unavoidable degree. But I’m learning, or perhaps re-learning, how to slow down from the madness where I can –  because sometimes, especially in our society, I think we honestly forget that we actually can – and constantly remind myself where my heart’s true home is.

One thing I have desired of the Lord,

That will I seek;

That I may dwell in the house of the Lord

All the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of the Lord,

And to inquire in His temple.

For in the time of trouble

He shall hide me in His pavilion;

In the secret place of His tabernacle

He shall hide me;

He shall set me high upon a rock.

– Psalm 27:4-5

Pacific NW Post #1: Seattle

This was my first time in the Pacific Northwest, and I must now join in the chorus of voices who just rave endlessly about the area. The natural environment is beyond gorgeous, there is clearly a huge appreciation for the arts, the food is incredible, and people overall seem very pleasant. We were spoiled with sunny weather the entire time, and we had to remind ourselves towards the end of the trip that the norm for the area is actually overcast and rainy.

This post will only describe a bit of what we saw in Seattle, and includes only a few pictures from the many, many photos that I took there. One day when I have more time, perhaps I will be able to share more. More photos to come from our time in Vancouver and Portland as well!

Well, as mentioned in a previous post, what seems to define trips for us more than anything is the food. And that remains true for this trip. Oh the gluttony we indulged in! Our favorite place by far was Paseo, with their Cuban sandwiches that you could literally smell from 3 blocks away. I have no pictures to prove that we were there because we couldn’t wait to eat the sandwiches! The Midnight Cuban Press sandwich was by far the best thing I have ever eaten in my life. Salty, savory, creamy, spicy, slightly sweet, crunchy, chewy, perfect. Another fun and favorite food experience was this taco bus, Tacos El Asadero. They sold Mexican street tacos for $1.25, which made our wallets and taste buds wonderfully happy! The kitchen was set up in the back of the bus, and there were a few stools inside, but mostly people just sat outside and enjoyed the grub from there.


Next we of course had to go to Pike Place Market. The fresh seafood and produce were an absolute delight for the senses.

Speaking of a delight for the senses, we went out of our way to find really good coffee and we were not disappointed. We read rave reviews about Espresso Vivace and their white velvet latte was pretty ridiculously delicious. We also got a good supply of beans from Stumptown and are now enjoying their Holler Mountain roast at home.

One site that we were surprisingly pleased with was the Chittenden Locks, which is this amazing engineering system of controlling the levels of freshwater and saltwater using gravity alone, such that the rise and fall of the water level within these “locks” is what allows boat traffic to navigate in an orderly manner through the waterways. The Locks help to prevent the mixing of seawater from Puget Sound and the freshwater of the local lakes. The system also includes a fish ladder that helps salmon through their migration patterns. It sounds very technical and yes, a tad boring, but when you’re there on a beautiful day, it makes for a lovely and relaxing outdoor activity, and it’s actually really fascinating to see how the system works. You can even see huge salmon leaping out of the water, and the sea lion who hangs around will catch himself a hefty meal every so often. In the picture below, the sea lion is at the bottom center of the picture, welcoming all the incoming boats.

Another thing that stood out about Seattle was the strong appreciation for the arts in this city. When a community turns a wall once marred by gross gobs of chewed gum into a lovely display of art (albeit in a lovely-gross kind of way) you know you’ve got some creatively-minded people dwelling in these parts.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is another incredible and fun display of art. Here are just a couple shots from that huge space.

And then there is, of course, God’s art. The green, the water, the evening glow of sundown, they were all unlike what we would ever find in Southern California. Just breathtaking. The two shots below were taken near Puget Sound.

We couldn’t miss a chance to ride the ferry, otherwise known as the poor man’s cruise. (I kid. Sort of.) But it was quite lovely since we caught it right at sundown, so the light on the way to Bainbridge Island was gorgeous, and then we got to see Seattle at night on the way back.

Finally, the last couple of shots were taken at or near Kerry Park, which provides one of the best views of the entire Seattle skyline and coast. If these don’t entice you to go up and visit for yourself, I don’t know what will! I’m already counting the days when I can return to explore and enjoy more of this fantastic city.

Are You Wearing the Right Mascara?

That was the subject line in the most recent email I got from Sephora. Why I have kept myself on their emailing list, I have no idea. It’s probably the Chinese in me that can’t stand the idea of missing out on a good deal. But beyond that, anyone who really knows me knows that I would be more lost than found in a Sephora store. The rare times I enter, I try to avoid the salespeople because I feel as though it’s literally written all over my face that I don’t have the least idea about proper makeup. They ask if they can help me find something. I respond, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be looking for. Get me my basic Bare Escentuals mineral veil and foundation, and I’m done. My discomfort with the store and ultimately with myself only grows, the longer I linger and browse at the endless beauty products and all their promises of sultry lips, smoky eyes, luscious lashes, flawless skin. I really didn’t know I needed all that until I entered the store. (Well, besides the flawless skin. I know Heaven isn’t all about me, but when the grace of God brings me there one day, I am secretly looking forward to finally having pimple-free skin. And believe me, I will be praising God for that one.) I was quite content until the ads and the model-ish faces and the promises printed with italics and exclamation points started to tell me that perhaps I needed something more. Perhaps I needed to make sure I had the right mascara.

One of my dear friends who has two young children once shared with me how she was so greatly encouraged by another young mom’s reminder,

Don’t compare your internal with other peoples’ external.

They talked about this in the context of new motherhood, and how easy it can be for new moms to feel terribly flustered, and on top of that, feel the additional weight of guilt and incompetence when they see other young moms who appear, in that brief moment, to have things all together. Little do they know, those other moms are thinking the exact same thing about them. I wish I could be like her. What’s her secret?

Isn’t this how we are with so many things in our lives? Physical appearances. Job performance. Relationships. Artistic skills. So much fodder for comparison and envy, until we get honest and see that 99% of the time, what we see around us is not the real picture, or at least not the full picture.

In my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, what I quickly re-realized is how much I love being behind the camera, but am terribly uncomfortable in front of it. There I go again. Feeling my insecurities and thinking about how other people are so much more photogenic than I. It’s still so hard to get away from that.

Alas, I will end this post on a lighter note. These two gentlemen clearly didn’t feel so self-conscious about what other people thought of them. While I don’t know that I’d ever do what they are doing, respectively, I’ve got to give them kudos for their level of comfort with themselves.

Yes, he is walking his cat on a leash.

This one simply leaves me speechless.

out of my way

The husband and I just returned from a most fantastic vacation to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. And the one thing I quickly realized about both of us is that we will go out of our way to find really good food, really good coffee, and good photo opps.

Sterling Coffee Roasters in Portland most definitely met the coffee and photo opp categories. This awesome little vintage-style stand with the. world’s. best. mocha. EVER. Think dark chocolate. Top notch espresso. Perfectly creamy steamed milk.

I think I need to book another plane ticket. Soon.

a house divided

It was the first time I ever caught him lying to me. I wanted to scream but had no one to scream at. I was home alone when I realized it, and I couldn’t even think of what I might say or do when he got home. How did he manage to keep such a poker face for so long? I thought I could read him so well, but obviously, I was wrong. I didn’t know what else he had told me that I had to start second-guessing.

He taught me to whistle one of the USC fight songs, and told me it was UCLA’s fight song. So he, being the die-hard Trojan fan that he was, would walk around the house whistling one of USC’s songs, and the naive, ever-so-trusting wife that I was, would whistle my supposed UCLA fight song in retaliation. He let it go on for months. Until that evening when he was out, and I was home alone watching a USC football game. USC scored their first touchdown, their band started playing, and suddenly my ears perked up. That song. The song I’ve been whistling all these months. That’s not the UCLA fight song!

Ok, so I realize that it’s a bit pathetic that I had been such a terrible Bruin fan (a two-time Bruin, for that matter) that I didn’t even know my own school’s fight song. And it’s even more pathetic because UCLA is so huge with its sports life, as opposed to my first alma mater, UCSD, which had absolutely zero sports life to boast of. I suppose I have some responsibility to account for here. But even still! He lied to me. He lived that lie for months. And he loves to rub it in my face that I fell for it.  

We are without a doubt a house divided. A UCLA blanket lies next to a USC blanket. A UCLA baseball cap next to a USC cap. Mugs, plates, t-shirts, it all testifies of the animosity that pervades our otherwise happy home. Football season has started and I always re-realize just how obnoxious my otherwise kind-hearted husband becomes at this time of the year. I see the same Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde phenomenon in my Trojan friends whom I otherwise love and get along with wonderfully. The trash talk flies unabashedly and they take tremendous joy in waving those two ridiculous fingers in my face. One family of six in particular, the majority being Trojan alumni, even made arrangements to have the USC marching band come to play at their son’s wedding reception, big ridicuolous feathery helmets, sunglasses, brass and all. The Bruins there were outnumbered and we had to endure a good 30 minutes of Trojan cacophany, including the majority of the crowd yelling “UCLA sucks!” at the top of their lungs when it came time for the band to play “Tusk.” You can be sure my husband was eating it up.

For better or for worse is what I signed up for. And now that football season is here, it’s definitely for worse.

a search for a sort of life

I recently started reading a most curious book titled Working by Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer-prize winning author. Written in the 70s, the book is a collection of interviews with an unpredictable variety of people about the work that they do, day in and day out. Interviewees include a heavy equipment operator, airline reservationist, hooker, sanitation truck driver, film critic, cabdriver, bar pianist, gas meter reader, piano tuner, hospital aide, gravedigger, and many more. I’m only a few interviews into the book, but already my perspective is changing, widening. That’s one of the things I love about reading, the way certain authors are able to cultivate affection and deep concern in your heart towards the characters they present. Some fantastic reads this past year that have had this effect on me have included Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

Anyhow, I digress.  This book by Terkel is brilliant, and it’s gotten me thinking about the work we do. It’s a curious thing, how work can be such a huge part of our lives and yet be so far sometimes from who we really are. I love my job as a nurse, I feel very much called to it and shaped for it, and yet I have plenty of insecurities in my capabilities. Even after very wonderfully rewarding days at work, I am always happy to be going home because… well, home is home. Despite my very personal sense of calling and belonging in this profession, I also experience these other moments when it’s so clear that while this is my work, it is not me. After all, things like writing or photography express and bring out parts of me that most people at work will probably never see. And yet somehow I think that if I were to ever become a professional writer or a professional photographer, my feelings about these activities would change once those became my work. It’s funny how that is.

A lot of times, when I see custodians in the hospital or in hotels where I happen to be vacationing, I wonder a lot about how they feel about their work. I don’t mean to be patronizing. But I think it is safe to say that the majority of people who work in these positions would most likely prefer to have other occupations, if they had the opportunity. I remember attending a conference at a lovely hotel in Chicago many years ago, and I saw an older custodian in a hallway as I was headed to the ladies’ room. It had obviously been a very long, busy day for him. I stopped and said to him, “Thank you so much for serving us.” I didn’t say it because I’m so noble or virtuous, I just really meant it. He had done a lot for us and I just felt like I ought to thank him. I remember the startled but most sincerely grateful expression on his face. “Oh…!  …You’re welcome.” A number of people in Terkel’s book talk about how they feel like robots, animals, anything but human in their work. Less than human.  And so Terkel says,

It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.

How do you feel about your work? Do you find it life-giving, or the opposite? Or both?