Little Boxes All the Same

Once upon a time, I was a creative person. I wrote for fun -poetry, short stories, all assorted nonsense. I critiqued works and oversaw the creation of a literary magazine. Once upon a time, I was good at this.

Now I find myself with ample amounts of free time. Sure I awake at 4:30 to drive to work where I remain until returning home at 4, but that’s quite a slice of day to be able to do something. Instead, I come home and sit. Or watch tv. Or perform menial tasks like laundry or cleaning out my car. Intellectual activities persist. I finish almost a book a week and am saturated with stories from NPR. And maybe it’s because I just finished a biography on Hunter S. Thompson, but I am filled with fear and loathing that the substance of my soul is slowly dying.

And I wonder what it is which killed my creativity. Was it too long in the chem labs? Was it the day-to-day in-and-outs of work? By golly, was it having friends? What about Facebook and the eternal time suck of the internet? What has made these many ideas stagnate instead of roam free. And better yet, how do I fix it?

While I sit here and mope about being unfulfilled, make no mistake I’m excited about my job. Today we took a plant tour allowing us to see the inner workings of a nuclear plant. I love the machinery, the noise, the innovation. Fun fact, it would take 1700 tons of coal to produce the energy you get from one uranium fuel cell. Isn’t that amazing? Don’t you just go, “Gee that’s cool”? I have about a million more of these facts and perhaps next time I will speak my peace about nuclear power, but for now I am happy to same I am much more thrilled than previously anticipated.



First They Came

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-Martin Niemoeller

Probably everyone who moves to Birmingham says, “Gee, I should go see the Civil Rights Museum.” I feel it’s more of a guilt imperative than actual interest as you would have for art museums, gimmick museum, and other cultural history museums. What exactly are you looking for when you go to view atrocities of mankind because I sure don’t think it’s entertainment.

And for the 5 years I’ve been at UAB, I always said “Gee, I should go to that.” so yesterday I finally did. And if you’re in similar shoes where you’ve been saying that, you should because it was fabulous. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since it seems my mind is unwaveringly biased that museums are places where you go stare at things on walls. However, the architecture tells the story along with the artifacts through the dark times towards the light, and I was adequately moved.

Which brings me back to that first point. I went because I thought I should and what I received was a soul search. This one went even deeper than the one brought about by my trip to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. I suppose because it seems more distant but also more easy to reconcile. Would have I agreed with the Holocaust? Absolutely not. What would I have done during it? More difficult, that train wreck wasn’t easily stopped. And no matter what’s difficult, it’s hard to argue with twenty men on the street with machine guns enforcing it.

But here it was self-created and self-enforced. And it makes me ponder, what would have I done? But more importantly, have I done it already? Have I let arbitrary hatred rule me? And the thing that comes up is bullying. Have I bullied people? That’s all it really is isn’t it? Bullying on a grand scale. Where does that come from? What makes people do it? Why are we so inclined to do disastrous things? Where does all that hate come from?

Being an older sister, I can be rather protective, and I think as a kid my policy was that if someone was picking on someone I liked, I would gladly take up arms and go to battle for them. My sister, one time talked about how she was at school playing kickball or something and a bunch of kids were picking on someone who wasn’t very good. Her strategy was to cheer for that kid.

My sister is a lot smarter than me and most anyone else.



I Did Something Dirty This Week

Or at least it felt that way. And no it wasn’t trying to play around with the html for my blog and changing something and forgetting what I changed and having it look all weird now and being too lazy to fix it. Alas, a duty for another day.

But it wasn’t dirty.I didn’t do anything illegal, and in fact I have many arguments for how what I did is actually quite beneficial to the players involved, so clearly it is a societal good and not at all me being manipulative.

But still, it’s that feelings oftechnicallynot breaking the rules but not being in accordance with them either. C’est la vie. So what’s all the nonsense about?

For those of you unaware, Homewood Public Library has a bookstore in the basement. The books are super cheap. Paperbacks 25 cents, hardcovers a buck. I am also a fan of 2nd and Charles, another discount bookstore which while still cheap isn’t that cheap.

And so I got to thinking maybe there’s some leverage in the amount of cheap here. I decided to make a gamble -$10 to go stock up on books from Homewood then head to 2nd and Charles and see what I can get credit wise. I didn’t even spend the full $10. I got 6 hardcovers and 2 paperbacks for $8.50. Since I wasn’t sure whether I’d get a breakdown of the values, I wanted to try it out just in case I did.

Two of my books they didn’t take -but they were actually ones I half thought about keeping anyway. For the 6 books, I got $8.69 in store credit. So, as long as I choose my books carefully, I should be extending my book lust the slightest bit further.

Cheating? I don’t think so. I get to “donate” to my public library, entertain the sweet, old ladies there for a few minutes, and learn the good books from them. I can’t imagine 2nd and Charles is bothered by more books. So I think this will be a new hobby.



On a Peculiar Habit

I have a quote book I keep Two now actually, since I’ve been keeping them for about 8 years now. Just as long as my journals. As I may have mentioned already, I read a lot. When you walk in my house and think “Gee, that’s a lot of books”, you should always move next to my room since that’s where the true treasure lies. I think I have books on almost every flat surface up there, and currently no one is allowed to share my bed because five I’m working on currently are taking up the part I don’t sleep in. I also do magazines, blogs, news, and all outlets of other print media.

And anytime I come across a particular thought or idea I find appealing, I grab my quote book and copy it down. If I’m reading a book, I’ll write the page number down on a slip of paper I use as a bookmark, and come back around with the quote book once I’ve finished. My rule is if I can’t find the thing I liked so much on the second go around, it probably wasn’t a great independent thought so much as the wonderful emotional tug books create at certain points in time, so I’ll leave it.

But if it’s a little ole, run of the mill I write it down with the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t remember when exactly I started this habit. I imagine maybe I found a quote I liked, and then found a lot of them but didn’t want to pollute my journal with lots of thoughts that weren’t my thoughts unless my thoughts ruminated on the thought presented. Instead I picked up one of the funky journals I would never use to record my life’s history and deepest desires -the starting journal’s spine is red velvet and the covers have all sorts of Victorian roses and love scripts on it. My real journal from this time is plain black leather. -and plowed on ahead.

I think it is my Bible. Or Quran. Or whatever the heck Buddhists use as a Holy Text -wikipediaing as we speak. My source of poignant knowledge, wisdom, and guidance in troubled times.

And of course, this flimsy little thing is starting to fall apart from years of consultation, so I think today I shall go get a majestic leather shroud and begin the copying process. I feel like a monk who recreates the sacred text because it falls apart every 20 years. Did they do it as penance or study?

Which of course means that this flimsy piece of nonsense is falling apart now.



Why I Do, What I Do

Again, it’s been a while, I KNOW. I’ve had stuff ok. Lots and lots of mind-melting complicated stuff. I have, however, since turned 23 and once again the weight of “What are you even doing with your life?” weighs down upon me. And it came to mind that I’ve never talked about it on here, so here we go.

As always with opening conversations with new peoples, one of the questions is “So what do you do?” or “Where do you work?” to which my responses are “Oh, I do biochemistry.” or “Oh, I work at Whole Foods.” If the order of questions goes 1 then 2, people seem to be somewhat taken aback because seriously, if you’re a biochemist, why are you working at a grocery store?

And the answer to that is really more complicated than I can elaborate so I just say “Well, I work with vitamins and supplements.” Why? Because I can’t say “I assist people in obtaining health and wellness via alternative medicine and proper nutrition training with my extensive knowledge of chemical interactions that occur within the body” That sounds pretentious, and maybe it is, but that’s what I feel I do. I play walking, talking encyclopedia to people who are sick and who are trying to get better. And that’s why I love what I do. While we still get the “One-pill-wonder seekers”, most of the people who come to us are open to the fact that the road we offer is not short and sweet, but it probably does offer more long-term benefits and fewer ugly side-effects. And they want to talk about it and understand what’s going on.

So, when a person asks me a question my brain does this….

http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/etc/medialib/docs/Sigma-Aldrich/General_Information/metabolicpathways_updated_02_07.Par.0001.File.tmp/metabolic_pathways_poster.pdf

Those are the major metabolic pathways going on in your body. When you talk to me, I ask what you’re doing, what do you eat, what do you take, do you exercise, do you have any medical conditions? And my brain data sorts everything that could be going on to try and figure out what’s best for you. And if you ask me “What the heck is magnesium stearate?” or “What does CHI-lated (chelated) mean?” I can tell you exactly what it is, what it does, and why it may be better or worse than other things. But I don’t tell people what to take ever. One -because it is illegal for me to offer any statement declaring that these things will treat or cure anything, and two -because I don’t want to tell people what to do. I want them to understand what’s going on enough to make their own decisions.

Because health is complicated business. Just look at that picture again. There are thousands and thousands of things going on in your body at once, more than are even on there. And how are you supposed to know what’s good and what’s not when you can’t even read the words properly? But it shouldn’t be the system we’ve had forever where you do what your doctor tells you just because they said it. And I don’t believe that any doctor should tell you to do anything, I think they should try to use the wealth of information they have to help you understand and make good choices. Of course, it’s frustrating when the majority of the populace don’t wish to make independent decisions, but I think we’ve gotten to a point where we reinforce the behavior too much.

And so, I like to think I’m helping health care by making people more informed. And at the end of the day when people say “Oh my god, thank you. This is so confusing.” I have a sense of accomplishment that I never really got when I got a reaction to go right in the lab. So, for now, I will continue to work at a grocery store until I move to a better venue.



When I Saw You, I Fell in Love. And you smiled because you knew it.

Today is my birthday. When I lived in Germany, my labmates introduced me to the idea that on your birthday, you give everyone a gift. They don’t bring you a cake, you bring them a cake. They never explained it to me, but I suspect the idea is that on your birthday, you thank the people who are in your life for being there with you –Germans are ever so practical. So this is my cake to you dear internet readers. This is the story of the first boy who ever came over to my house, because I think it will make a lot of you all grin.

I was a freshman, he was a senior. He had a black mustang with tinted windows and was he was tall, dark and handsome and popular. Everyone liked him. Everyone. So much so, that he was almost the Mr. of our high school. I had spent at least a week or two trying to ignore him. I was in high school only because I was going to be super smart and successful so I could get full on scholarships to anywhere I wanted.  I was a bossy, know-it-all, who had no time for anyone especially people who were not as smart as me -pointedly everyone else on the planet except for a few choice friends. I was no-nonsense and under the impression that I behaved exactly the opposite of how a girl should when she was trying to get a boyfriend, believing it would have a fitting effect. But then he asked if he could call me sometime, and I said sure. Actually I was shell-shocked and my head said “WHAT?” while my mouth said “Uhhh…” but I am also forever curious and eventually the “Uhhhh” turned into “Ok.”

So one bright Sunday afternoon when I was hogging the computer, the phone rang. Instinctively I picked it up and said “Hello, Ottenfeld Residence,” and when the voice said, “Hi, is Elise there?” I almost fell out of my chair. I know, you think I’m being dramatic, but I really did. I had a bad habit of tilting back the computer chair to the brink, and when I got surprised my foot lost its grip on the desk and I almost fell. Thank goodness for reflexes.

I don’t remember how I asked my parents, if I asked my parents –I assume I did, I normally asked them about anything because their answer was always ok –but voila, he was driving to my house. What I remember is what happened next.

He called me when he got into the neighborhood, and I went outside. My Dad was working in the yard, and as soon as he pulled up, he got out of the car to shake my father’s hand.

They looked at each other, and a distinctly male moment passed. I’ve remembered this look for almost 10 years now, and it took me at least half that to figure it out. At the time, I knew something was happening –that’s why it implanted into my memory, right? Significance - but it took a while to figure out what. All I knew then was that it was something I wasn’t privy to, and I didn’t like it.

Loverboy looked at first confident and then uncertain. Father looked supremely aware, and sympathizing. It was the sympathizing, I think, that made loverboy uncertain. Why would my father be sympathizing with him? He was supposed to be obstinate and all “If you hurt my little girl, I’ll rip your head off, shoot you, various degrees of murder and pain etc , etc.”

But my Dad was one of 6. He grew up with 5 older sisters. All of them were alternatingly cheerleaders, homecoming queens, and the like. And even more, Dad had spent 14 years dealing with me. And thus, he was an old sage, and he had been that way for a while. So I imagine the conversation to have gone something like this, even though there was no conversation other than that look….

Loverboy: Hello sir. I know what this looks like, and I promise I have nothing but the best intentions for your girl.

Dad: I am amused by the fact that you think what you want out of this situation has anything to do with you at all.

Loverboy: I’m sorry, sir?

Dad: It’s like this with Elise. She gets what she wants always. If you try to pressure her into something she doesn’t want, she’ll reject it purely out of spite of being told what to do. If you try to slowly guide her and push her towards something, she’ll pretend like she’s going along with you to appease you until she gets tired with playing and quits outright. She is more stubborn than a rock, and it’s absolutely terrible to deal with. I know who and what I raised, and I’m not worried about protecting her from you. If anything, I should be worried about protecting you from her, but that’s just silly isn’t it?

Loverly: Um?

Dad: Girls are terrible.  Because when they smile at you, it will slay you. And they’ll take your heart and chew it up and spit it out without a second thought. The only reason you’re here is because she likes to be entertained and learn new things. She’ll learn you and drop you like she dropped Spanish, painting, rocks, space, and hundreds of other things. But cheers! Have fun while it lasts!

Loverboy: Um, ok.

And that’s it. That’s what I think happened between them. I don’t remember when I realized this. I don’t know what was happening to me at the time to bring about the revelation. It was just a memory that surfaced from time to time like memories do, then all of a sudden I understood the look my Father gave. I love how ideas crystallize like that. It’s just a drip, drip, drip of one small bit after another and then there’s one drip too many and you finally have a tangible object.

And so I realized how wise my father was, and how unfair the love is, and that quite unfortunately there’s nothing to be done about it. C’est la vie.



How I Came to Be a Hippy

Specifically outside the influence of my parents. As their offspring, I was destined to tend towards all things natural. We had recycling before it was as convenient as curbside trash pickup -when you had to keep 3 separate bins in the garage and take them to the local center every so often. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have a compost, rain barrel, and home garden for fresh veggies. When I got a cold, my mother would make sickly concoctions called hottie toddies and even slip in some vodka to thin out the mucus coating my lungs. She would always consult these and other home remedies instead of taking us to the doctor right off the bat.

But as all young who stray from the house, new places ushered me to new things, driving me away from what home held. So why did I return? Well, as all young girls, I wanted glowing skin that was softer than a baby’s ass.

My skin was never particularly horrible, just overtly annoying from time to time. One day while visiting my grandparents, my aunt who worked for Aveda at the time grabbed my chin and said, “Yup, that’s hormonal.” Which elicited “What?” She rattled off some herbs I should start taking and then offered “Lay off the meat and dairy.” So I started looking into it, learned about the barrage of hormones offered to our animals to make them give more, more, more and said “Yuck.” to never look back. I was especially excited when I learned my new college town had a Whole Foods -a hallowed ground of no hormones, and thus my saga with them began.

I’m not as picky as some, but I stay away from as much “other” meat and milk as I can. If you haven’t seen the difference between a chicken breast guaranteed to be no hormones and the monsters you get from Tyson, I’d recommend it. Nothing has quite illustrated to me the difference as seeing a grotesquely sized chicken piece next to it’s natural partner. Clearly that thing is a monster which should never see the light of day.

I made some other switches too. As a precocious 8 year old, I begged why my mom never used make-up like all the other moms did. She said it was her sensitive skin, and as a result, I’ve never learned those feminine tricks. If I put on foundation or blush, I’m in a world of pain so I don’t. I can’t think of a day in the past year where I elected using it, except when I was trying to be a zombie for Halloween and mixed it with white paint. Hence my further desire to have a flawless face all on it’s own. So I stopped using facial washes relying on my basic coconut oil soaps to do the job. Which they did, better than anything else I’d tried. Today I use only the most gentle of cleansing milks which have natural oils and extracts, and I don’t think you could pay me to use anything you’d find at a CVS.

And so my efforts have seemed to be successful. I still have my mother’s huge pores, but at least they’re nice and I’d go toe-to-toe with any baby and day. My need for natural has extended all around, but here you have its roots.




Welcome to my house. As you can see, springtime has granted us plenty of green. I guess the front isn’t so bad, but my backyard could definitely be designated as wilderness space.
I do not have a green thumb. I’m a scientist. I feel more comfortable at a lab bench surrounded by hundreds of tiny chemical bottles and complicated equipment than in my house with a peony plant.
Which is not the family I hail from. My grandmother’s garden has been featured by renowned botanists and photographed by the city for being so full of life and diversity. Every year my parents tend a garden which produces tomatoes, multiple kinds of peppers, potatoes, garlic, carrots, cantaloupes, strawberries, and I don’t even know what else.
And half the time I can’t even keep an aloe plant alive. But that changes this year! At first, I was going to let my backyard grow to hell. Then I had a vision; clean cut grass and well-tended cobblestones -they’re in there, they’re just buried - and lights strewn through the bushes and trees. A moonlight soiree where can comfortably lay out a blanket and look at the mildly present Birmingham stars.
So I’m going to fix it. I’ve got tomorrow off and I’m going to spend it hauling around branches and killing weeds to try and get this ship into shape. I’ve got some herbs growing all right, so I’m going to attempt to have a garden of my own. At least there are about 20 cats next door to take of the rabbits.

Welcome to my house. As you can see, springtime has granted us plenty of green. I guess the front isn’t so bad, but my backyard could definitely be designated as wilderness space.

I do not have a green thumb. I’m a scientist. I feel more comfortable at a lab bench surrounded by hundreds of tiny chemical bottles and complicated equipment than in my house with a peony plant.

Which is not the family I hail from. My grandmother’s garden has been featured by renowned botanists and photographed by the city for being so full of life and diversity. Every year my parents tend a garden which produces tomatoes, multiple kinds of peppers, potatoes, garlic, carrots, cantaloupes, strawberries, and I don’t even know what else.

And half the time I can’t even keep an aloe plant alive. But that changes this year! At first, I was going to let my backyard grow to hell. Then I had a vision; clean cut grass and well-tended cobblestones -they’re in there, they’re just buried - and lights strewn through the bushes and trees. A moonlight soiree where can comfortably lay out a blanket and look at the mildly present Birmingham stars.

So I’m going to fix it. I’ve got tomorrow off and I’m going to spend it hauling around branches and killing weeds to try and get this ship into shape. I’ve got some herbs growing all right, so I’m going to attempt to have a garden of my own. At least there are about 20 cats next door to take of the rabbits.



And the Results Are In!

All week I’ve been tweaking out about getting my cholesterol results -geez, that sounds lame. What am I 50?- but when you’ve been committed to something which requires lifestyle changes for 2 months, you’re invested. Finally on Thursday my mom called saying they had come in the mail. I called her back and….

She told me my total cholesterol had only gone down 10 points. Putting me still not even close to an extra discount.

Momentarily distraught, I told her to give me a breakdown of my LDL (bad) and HDL (good).

And I learned I brought my LDL down by 30 points. Which is awesome. And definitely discount worthy. So something in my cocktail of dietary changes, exercise, and pill popping works. Which one is it? Who knows. Too many variables all at once. My bet is the biggest thing is exercise, but everything helped a little I’m sure. For now, I’m glad I at least got something out of it.

Will I continue the pill popping? Probably not. The diet stuff? Maybe a little. I’m going back to my whole milk cause it’s so gosh darn delicious, but I’m still planning on keeping lean protein and plenty of omega-3 in my life as much as I can. The exercising, definitely. Perhaps my half-hearted efforts will keep me check.



And You May Say to Yourself “My God, what have I done”

This weekend, I went to Chicago intent on falling in love with the town which held one of only 2 graduate programs in the country I’m interested in. I’d been especially picky in choosing schools since my goals for grad school were well defined. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it and that this place was the best for it.

However, as I wandered the city early Saturday morning, light coming in across Lake Michigan reflecting on the metal structures of Millennium Park, I settled myself into the idea that this place would be my home for the next 5 years.

And I almost started crying.

Of all the breakdowns I’ve had, this one caught me most unaware. Granted a night of drinking doesn’t do wonders for your emotional state the next day, but I’m not one to really break down in public in tears. I’m not really one to break down in tears period. My friends have at times dubbed me “Spock” for blissful ignorance of regular human feats like emotional pain, so for something to come up on me unexpected, it was quite a moment.

And so, I sat on a park bench, quickly approaching tears.

I pulled myself together, had a coffee, rode around the metro to get a scope of the city, and tried to talk myself down from the cliff. Of course, I don’t know what it was specifically, but my body and I get along well enough that I trust it’s instincts about things.

Now with some perspective, I’m thinking space. No trees, no forest, no apparent wilderness. One of my most basic stress relievers is to get in my car and drive through the back country where it’s only green trees and blue skies. To head out to some secluded spot where I can just lay in the grass and get some fresh air. Ain’t nothing better to clear your head.

I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll do now which is strange since I was certain I’d be on my way. C’est la vie.