Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year in Review

I first blogged in August 2008. I posted again in September and then called it a year. I wrote a bit more in 2009- today is post #137:


Things started slowly, but in March I discovered ScienceBlogs. Suddenly I had things to say. Sure, some of it was personal. Some of it was pure wackaloonacy. Some of it was practical, like wardrobe advice for traveling to scientific meetings. Some of it was bitchy.

Not enough of it was biomedical.

After my self-study, I am setting some goals for 2010:

  1. Three to five posts each week, with an average of 15 per month.
  2. At least once each month I will address something of substance from the world of biomedical science.
  3. I will continue to FWDAOTI as I see fit.
  4. If I want to write about something , I will, because this blog is for me.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stating the Obvious

While waiting for an elevator during rounds today the following PIeAlertarrived in my email box from Principal Investigator E-Alert:

Reader Question: A month ago I was flying to a convention of my research specialty in San Francisco, and in one of my checked bags was my notebook computer and three discs of raw data (non-encrypted) on about 800 patients we have enrolled in a clinical trial. But the airline lost the bag in transit. Of course, I filed a "lost bag" claim with them, but no trace of it yet. Little hope now. I have heard there is some new law called HITECH that applies to lost data. What should I do at this point? Should I already have done anything?

Expert Comments: Brace yourself, we're going to have to deal with some "alphabet soup" of U.S. government acronyms while explaining your situation.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH, is the U.S.A. Federal law that requires you take immediate action and notify those affected by a loss of protected health information (PHI).

First, figure out if HITECH applies. In order for it to come into play, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability of Accountability Act of 1996) has to apply to you. It does if you're working with patients. However, does HIPAA apply to the particular data you've lost? If you took all of the identifiers off the data, then you're ok because de-identified data isn't covered by HIPAA or HITECH.

View the remainder of the expert comments

Comments by Kristen H. West, J.D., Associate V.P. and Director, Office of Research Compliance, Emory University Atlanta

The expert goes on to more details about the relevant laws and notification requirements- you can follow the link above if you want more. Only the commentary addressed the real issue:

Why would you check a laptop?

  1. Laptops are fragile. Don’t let that aluminum exterior fool you; that screen is just waiting to be cracked. Have you watched the way checked bags are handled? Remember those Samsonite commercials when they gave apes at the zoo luggage to destroy? You really want folks to play catch with your computer in a tote bag? Really?
  2. Laptops are valuable. Even if it is years old and you have to duct-tape the CD drive closed, someone can pick it up and sell it for a few bucks. Your checked bags have to be accessible to TSA for search; do you really think everyone who touches luggage is immune to thievery? Really?
  3. Even in puddle-jumper jets like those by Embraer  you can usually keep your laptop. Roll-aboard bags must be gate-checked, but surely you have a padded tote for the laptop that will fit under the seat in front of you or in those tiny overhead bins. Even when the compartments are filled, the attendants can usually check the tote but tuck your laptop in one of their cubbies during take-off and landing.

My next question:

Why were you traveling with all those data?

  1. Planning to work in the airport or on the plane? And you checked your laptop?
  2. Planning to work during the meeting? Then why are you going? You are supposed to be meeting- learning, networking, and interacting. Not analyzing your own data in your room.
  3. Planning to work in the evening? At a convention of your research specialty in San Francisco? Go out and socialize; the best collaborations in science begin in bars!
  4. IRBs require data protection plans. At my institution, we specify that data will be coded and password protected on our servers. Any hard copies will be kept in locked areas accessible only to the PI and other approved personnel. So why did you think taking them on a trip was appropriate?
  5. If you absolutely need to access large data sets, invest in some sort of cloud computing. Your institution may be able to set up remote server access for you, and other options are out there. I subscribe to DropBox. Up to 2 Gb can be stored for free, and the applet synchronizes the most recent version with all computers you install it on. Other services also allow you to store files and access them via any internet connection with appropriate security measures.

The bottom line: The scenario described should not have occurred for a whole bunch of reasons. Traveling with a laptop often allows me to accomplish something during delays at O’Hare (as well as sharing my ongoing deep insights with readers of this blog), and I love my Lenovo Ideabook S10 netbook. I would never, never, ever check it!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nostalgic Dreams of Rustic Murder

My husband dreams of a rustic cabin in the woods. He fantasizes about surrounding drifts of snow, with nothing to do but curl next to the fire with a good book. Sometimes he talks of such a home for retirement.CabinWoods

Over my dead body.

For a couple of days after our 18 inch Christmas blizzard, our extended family did not leave our 3000+ square foot home. My husband and son bravely cleared the driveway so we would be ready to go after a plow came through the road. Basically, ten of us sat around by the proverbial fire. We still had heat and electricity (thanks to buried utilities in our suburb) and plenty of food.

I don’t think we could have survived another day inside.

I think about our pioneer forebears who sat through such storms in a one-bedroom log house. I wonder how often they regretted their decision to head west on those long winter afternoons when snow piled above their waists and the long shadows of early night kept the melting sun away. I wonder how many grabbed an axe or shotgun and sent their families into eternity.

The roads have been cleared, and the sun shines today. I am thankful that I live in an age with plows and indoor plumbing.

The print above is by Lori Putnam and is available in a variety of formats at this website. You can also click on the artwork to get there. I will feel much better about posting this image if you visit her site.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Please Quit “Dreaming of a White Christmas”


Please… STOP NOW!

In the movie White Christmas, the entertainers have the right idea. They travel to the small inn in Vermont to visit the snow rather than living with it. And although they sing lovingly about it, we never see them lifting that spade of snow, do we?

Omaha has been “blessed” with a white holiday…14-18 inches of the frozen stuff. More than enough to share with the world.

It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter.” Really? So I should just throw a case of Rice Crispies in the driveway?

Bah. Humbug. I’m ready for the pool to open.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


DSCN0004 More presents than you can imagine surround the tree now, making the current economic climate difficult to fathom. My son has appropriate clothing for all events planned, and my inlaws joined us for the holidays.

And it gets dark really early.

It must be time for Christmas.

Two days ago I spent hours foraging through two stores for supplies for cookies and tomorrow’s feast. Yesterday my daughter and I had our usual cookie bake, complete with Dogma on the kitchen TV. I realize the movie is not holiday traditional, but it is what we do.

This afternoon we move the festivities to my parents’ place (3 whole miles west of here) for dinner. Tomorrow morning the presents will be unwrapped, and Ozzie will get to play with more ribbon than he can imagine.

Happy holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dear Elsevier

I am writing a grant application. This morning I found a reference I need. You published it. Even though it is 6 years old, you want $34 for the reprint.

Fine, I need it. I will pony up this amount.

It has been long enough since I registered with “your fine service” that I cannot remember my password. Your automatons were kind enough to reset it to a string of letters and numbers chosen at random.

Now your site still will not let me log in. I’m using the email to which you just sent the reset password. The password was copied directly from the email, and I made sure there was no punctuation to mess things up.

Sword LadyWhen I try to register as a new customer, I cannot. I am given my username (my email address) and told to login. Your site then tells me that my username and/or password is “not recognized.” Even though your computer just sent them to me.

Maybe I can live without this paper. 

What I really really want to do right now is find my gleaming blade and confront whoever (1)decided to charge for downloads forever and (2)designed your clearly fucked-up online download system. Of course, you’re only hurting yourselves. And I did just save $34 of the university’s money.

Happy Holidays, Elsevier!

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Universal Truth

Over at the temple of Isis, she used her experience shopping for empanada supplies to fuel a discussion of white privilege. Now, calling out asshats who do bad things to people of color, women, or other challenged groups is a good thing. That part did not catch my attention. Since reading the post, I have been thinking about tiny meat pies.

As the discussion proceeded, we acknowledged that evmeat-pie-4ozery culture has its own version of the empanada. The British have pasties. We eat wontons and potstickers. And what is a taco or burrito but seasoned meat in a crust? Online you can order cajun meat pies filled with beef (shown), crawfish, or a breakfast mixture of andouille sausage and eggs. Mix the meat into the batter and you have a dumpling.

Tiny meat pies are a universal truth, a common component of the human experience.

A few years back my daughter composed a report on Malaysia. She wanted to bring in food to go with her presentation. I scoured my Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks and found this recipe. You can make the pastry from scratch, but refrigerated pie crusts do just fine.

The cookbooks were originally published in 1970 and revised in 1979, but are out of print at this time. Each country or region in the set included a wire-bound kitchen book with just recipes and a larger coffee-table style book with text about the culture and origins of the foods. Some photos are dated, but the set still provides a good culinary overview of the world. Used sets and books can be found  on Amazon.

I will share this recipe with you:

Malaysian Curry Puffs (~3 dozen puffs)

  • 6 fresh hot chilies, stemmed and seeded (don’t forget protective gear)
  • ~1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, scaped and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves gralic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons strained fresh lime juice
  • Enough pie crust for 2-10-inch shells

Preheat oven to 375. Finely chop together the chilies, ginger, and garlic with a large knife or food processor.

In an 8- to 10-inch skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Saute the onions until soft and transparent, but not brown, ~3 minutes. Stir in the chilies, ginger, and garlic, and simmer for 2 to 3 more minutes. Then add the ground beef, breaking up any lumps. When no traces of pink remain in the meat, stir in the spices. Remove the pan from the heat.

On a lightly floured surface cut the crust into ~2.5-inch rounds. Put a scant teaspoon of the beef mixture in the center of a dough round. Moisten the edges with a finger dipped in water. Fold the round in half over the filling, then turn the ends toward each other into a crescent shape. Press the edges together with your finger or a fork.

Arrange the puffs on large ungreased baking sheets and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. May be served hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Earlier this week I expressed displeasure with the status quo in a work-related meeting. Basically, continuing our status is untenable. Unthinkable. And I got little argument from higher up.

So, why has this situation been allowed to persist? Can I work on fixing the issue(s) now? No, because other issues are considered more problematic and “the squeaky wheel” gets the attention. Yes, the squeaky wheel metaphor actually arose.

the old wheel

This wheel does not squeak. Everyone figured out how to live without it or work around it a long time ago. So what if the cart runs better with 4 wheels; at least it isn’t squeaking!

So far, that has been my approach to the problems of the status quo. Work-arounds just do not cut it any longer. Once again, I got no argument on that front.

I guess it’s time to make a lot of noise. Much more than a squeak. I can do that.

It won’t be pretty. Someone may regret this decision.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Know How the Polar Bear Feels

Photoxpress_1522113Let me make things clear; this post will not discuss the cold and snow that attacked Omaha last week. My title does not refer to the climate, nor will I address the Copenhagen conference.

This week, while covering the patient care service, I am carting around scads of reprints and the pertinent instructions for the new, improved NIH grant format. I believe I have a project ready (only time will tell if the study section agrees), and my submission date is January 25.

Without a grant, I am a threatened species. Just like the polar bear.

For several years prophets have proclaimed the dangerous plight of the physician-scientist, academics comfortable moving from bench to bedside and back again. We have trouble competing in the current funding wasteland. We can never crank out as many papers as our “pure scientist” brethren (unless we can afford “pure scientists” to run our labs while we see our patients). Clinical and translational work often suffers in study sections that are increasingly dominated by “pure scientists” who may not grasp the difficulties of patient recruitment. Yet all of this occurs at a time when the NIH recognizes the need for improved translational research support.

My “elders” supported me well through my career. Early on they blessed me with protected time which led to a career development award. Ultimately I obtained an R01. A second project received good initial reviews from NIH. I felt unstoppable.

Photoxpress_18933165 Then I hit the wall. The hypothesis of my funded R01 could not be accepted. That is why we do the experiments, of course. That project veered in a new appropriate direction. Unfortunately, novel techniques were required for the next step. Sometimes the reason something hasn’t been reported is because it can’t be done, at least in the current environment. We continue trying to make this effort fly (the science could be really cool), and today we have had our first taste of success with one essential assay. After almost 2 years of development effort.

The other project never improved sufficiently, in the eyes of the reviewers, to receive a fundable score.

So now, after a decade of continuous extramural funding at a significant level, I find myself “between grants” for an uncomfortable interval. An interval of departmental support that will have to end soon, one way or another.

I am not alone. Several colleagues have closed labs recently, deciding that the pressure to seek funding and the pain of the process surpassed the joys of the science. Ongoing pressure to generate clinical income also factors into the equation, along with the more immediate rewards one receives from patient care. Even patients who receive bad news can be grateful; reviewers’ enthusiasm is always dampened by something in the proposal.

The ongoing climate change dialogue includes the plight of the polar bear, a charismatic creature threatened by the activities of people living continents away. People want to save the wild polar bear, but do they desire it enough to make the hard choices? Our leaders preach the value of the physician-scientist, but will there be enough support to keep our labs open?

Only time will tell for both myself and the polar bear. Wish us luck. Now I have reprints to read.

Photos courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When Snow Becomes Snirt


Yesterday we had a refresher snow, just enough to cover the mixture of snow and dirt (snirt) left from last week’s blizzard. It did freshen things up, but left me with a wardrobe dilemma.

Today I participate in a clinic that requires parking in an outdoor lot. What’s a doc to do when she wants to remain a fashionista, presentable for patients, but has to wade through half-frozen muck?

Answer: booties.

I get way too warm in knee- or thigh- high boots (no menopause jokes, please). The just-above-the-ankle reach of these is plenty to keep the slush away from my tootsies in the civilized world. They rock with trousers or skirts, and prove practical as well as professional. The heel measures only 2.75 inches, and they slip on and off with a bit of effort; I would not hesitate to wear them through airport security for winter travel.

I acquired these [Hanley from BX by Bronx] at my local DSW; online DSW only has them in size 10 black, so you probably want to shop around.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Not In a Blogging Mood

Oh, yes, FWDAOTI is always there.

But I'm just not up for it tonight.

I have to go wrap a gift, and then go out with my husband and some friends on, like, a "date."

I hope everyone else enjoys their evening as much as I will.

By the way, if you are anywhere near Omaha, go see Silent Night of the Lambs at the Blue Barn Theatre.

It is over-the-top (Silence of the Lambs meets Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and of questionable taste (XXX-rated live nativity scene), so, of course, I loved it.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How Much Can You Cram In a 12-Page Limit?


The gold standard for funding of biomedical research in the US, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), changes it forms in 2010.

Formerly 25 page applications will be shortened to 12, supposedly to make grant preparation and review kinder and friendlier. Makes NIH seem all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?

Yesterday, a blogger over at The Scientist raised concerns about the new format.

According to Robert Kalb, a University of Pennsylvania neurologist who is also the chair of the NIH's cellular and molecular biology of neurodegeneration study section, the changes may favor senior scientist:

"it frees the experienced investigator to not provide as much feasibility and preliminary data because they can just cite their previous publications."
This, Kalb told The Scientist, means that applicants with robust publication histories, proven track records of scientific accomplishment, and more experience writing tersely about their research may have the edge over their younger, less experienced counterparts.

First, senior investigators do not always write well. I have reviewed plenty of proposals from “giants in the field” that were unholy messes of grammatical and contextual errors. Often there would be something good in the application- these are successful investigators- but poor communication skills made it excruciating to sift out. The contention that senior investigators are more likely to have published work with their techniques and data they can reference has more validity; however, a junior investigator without a paper citing most of the techniques in their proposal  is very unlikely to get a fundable score anyway. Even for programs that do not require preliminary data, lack of a publication record often “reduced enthusiasm” for the proposal.

As The Scientist blog, posted by Bob Grant, also points out:

The NIH has made efforts to make the peer-review process easier on young scientists, recently announcing guidelines that more generously rank applications submitted by younger investigators

My interest in this topic is, of course, selfish; I hope to submit a proposal in January 2010. I spent the past 2 days at an NIH-sponsored conference, gathering background applicable to my proposal. The changes provoke anxiety; I’m a “big-picture'” person, and reviewers have never felt my proposals include enough detail about experimental minutiae. Where am I going to write that stuff now? I guess I will just learn to deal with it, same as everyone else in my world.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

This post got delayed a day because my internet connection at Washington National Airport refused to let it upload; then we barely got home because of blizzard conditions in Omaha.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It’s a Four Letter Word

I have received several emails and texts from my family, wishing me well:

Photoxpress_5186782 Did you hear Omaha is getting up to 12 inches of snow tomorrow?

They have already cancelled school!

Think you’ll get home? We’re supposed to have blizzard conditions by the time you land!


Four letters that may ground me tomorrow evening. Of course, my “well-wishers” keep “warning” me about this coming onslaught.

I wonder what they want me to do about it?

I can’t leave earlier. If I could, I would not have a direct flight. A layover in Chicago or Milwaukee is unlikely to improve my chances of landing in Omaha.

And it’s not like I can control the weather. If I could, Omaha would be perfect. Like 72 degrees from mid-January through May, then 85 and sunny for June-August. Autumn would bring 70 degree days with a touch of crispness in the evenings for football games. We would have 2 to 3 weeks of “winter” with just enough snow to dust the evergreens over Christmas and New Year days.

Think what the NCAA would pay me to guarantee a College World Series with no rain-outs!

Since I can’t make this happen, I will just have to go with the flow of snow tomorrow. Now quit telling me about it; I can get weather reports in DC!

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

“All of the easy experiments have been done”*


I am attending a great meeting right now. About 110 participants are gathered in a nondescript conference room in the DC area. The morning session provided valuable background information for my next proposal. Multiple speakers reviewed the embryology and gene expression of genitourinary development. I am amazed at how many things must go right for the urinary tract to form correctly. Yet, most of the time, it works out!

My brain is really, really full right now.

Overlapping phenotype (clinical presentation) seems to be a huge problem within this field. Very few identified mutations consistently produce the same clinical picture, even within members of the same kindred. This is true for some mouse models also! Trying to find genes of interest with a variable phenotype  will be problematic. Throw in environmental influences, like intrauterine exposures or post-natal infections, and you have a real mess to sort out. Like most diseases, what we identify as a single diagnosis likely results from numerous different causes. A single causative factor or gene may produce multiple diagnoses as well.

For example, we know the genetic defect in branchio-oto-renal syndrome (BOR), an autosomal dominant mutation in the gene EYA1. I know of an affected family where one member was born with a single kidney (unilateral renal agenesis). The other kidney is normal, and the patient’s renal function remains normal at adulthood. This patient had no extrarenal manifestations of the syndrome. Another child was born with only one kidney, and it showed dysplasia (small with cysts and areas that appear abnormal on ultrasound). Eventually this child required a kidney transplant. Other children in the family failed to form kidneys at all and died in utero. These variable phenotypes all resulted from the exact same genetic mutation. What modifies this mutation to make it milder in some cases and more severe in others? If only one of the living children had been born, and there had been no family history, how would we have classified them for gene association studies?

Part of the meeting is devoted to discussing strategies to scan large populations for gene associations. Lucky for me that part occurs tomorrow; I will have a chance to empty a bit of my brain by then!

Congenital renal anomalies cause ~40% of end-stage kidney failure in children throughout the world. Clearly, we need a better understanding of this spectrum of disorders. Small, intense meetings such as this one are a great way to focus parties of interest on a common goal and make things happen.

I’m glad I’m here. And I hope I can help!

*The title of this post is the first of “Carmines Laws of Science.” Credit must go to Pamela Carmines, PhD, a colleague in Cellular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

STEM or Leaf or Something Else?


Over at Terra Sigillata, one of my favorite bloggers, Abel Pharmboy, asked if medicine and allied health fields should be considered STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers. The post and replies got me thinking (a dangerous occurrence), and my reply became too long for the comments. Thus, my own post.

Classifying professions is almost as difficult as classifying ethnicity; self-report is the gold standard.

In my own case, my advanced degree is an MD (even though mentors advised me to figure out a way to get a PhD). So 30% of my professional time is seeing patients; however, I play well with physiologists and study kidney disease in rats. So I would qualify as STEM, in that sense. Some would say that my work is not STEM in the government sense, because my funding source is NIH. I say science is science, whoever funds it. I know MD PIs who have had both NIH and NSF funding; where would they be classified?

If an allied health professional works in a clinical research center, is s/he STEM? The same skill set applies to those who work in purely caregiving settings- so why wouldn’t they be STEM? All have a certain background training in science; is that sufficient to qualify?

Finally, I wish to illustrate some parallels between clinical medicine and science. Healthcare is hypothesis driven, just as science is…

A scientist gets an idea and then

  • Collects background data
  • Develops a hypothesis
  • Experiments
  • Evaluates results of experiments and adjusts hypothesis accordingly

A healthcare provider sees a patient and then

  • Collects background data (history & physical)
  • Develops a differential diagnosis
  • Tests the diagnosis, either through diagnostic tests or through response to treatment
  • Evaluates the results of tests/treatment and adjusts diagnostic possibilities accordingly

There simply is not a firm boundary between healthcare and STEM. I will be interested to see what AbelPharmboy’s  poll shows [at this writing, the poll is in favor of healthcare=STEM, but the commentary is running the other direction]. Frankly I just don’t know that it matters. Except to those wishing to make a statistical point of some sort…

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What I’m Reading


I have not addressed this topic for a while. I have been reading, but books  best described as mental marshmallow fluff. Not something worth putting pen to paper (pixel to screen?) about, really.

Last week I received a review of this new tome, and I had to check it out. Those who know me understand that I am a bitch, a woman who has goals and tries to achieve them. I believe we should embrace this term, rather than giving it the power to derail us.

I just finished the first part of am-BITCH-ous. Thus far Debra Condren, a psychologist and career coach, provides numerous anecdotes of women who gave up their own dreams to support those of their significant others and family members. For those of us living with these pressures, this section is repetitive and, at first, seems rather unnecessary. However, given the radical argument that Dr. Condren makes, it ultimately proves its value. What is that argument?

As professional women, we are being hoodwinked into believing that life-work balance is our dream.

I can hear you out there now. “But that is what I want- a great job with time for other things like my significant other, kids, hobbies, whatever.” The anecdotes provided illustrate how often women get shunted from a successful career to something else that seems more noble because it puts the needs of others first. And not just their needs; their desires and dreams and comfort. These women are applauded for putting the needs of others first, but they may later find out that they volunteered for the shaft.

Living with others, no matter how much you love them or what their relationship, requires compromises and hard choices. I realize that, and my family has negotiated such issues in the past. Never did I feel that I had to give up all of my dreams for my husband or children. I maybe didn’t get 100% of what I wanted, but I never felt like I got skunked.

It’s that time of year when stations start trotting out Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Wonderful LifeLife. A few years back I heard this movie discussed by a psychiatrist  who really didn’t like its message. Yes, everyone loves George Bailey and bails him out at the end of the movie, but giving up one’s dreams and being so self-sacrificing is ultimately unhealthy. [I wish I could find the interview] Of course, this movie is FICTION. In real life, Mary Bailey would have been giving up her dreams of a career. Of course, all she wanted was George and a house full of kids…

Women who “make the correct choice” always seem to give up themselves for others. A few years of that would make one a desperate housewife…

I just now reached the meat of the book on how to avoid the trap. So far the exercises appear helpful, although I am guessing it will take a lot of work to get most women out of the martyr game. Especially since women are so applauded for successful martyrdom.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Timeless Advice from Calvin

Some days a comic strip ~20 years old just sums it all up:C&H Substitute the words “paper, grant, or talk” for “book report.”

Substitute the words “subject you haven’t researched” for “book you haven’t read.”

OK, so I have started researching everything on my to do list, but none of it is ready to be organized into its final form. I know I will get everything done on time, so I have decided to stop worrying about it today. Just like Calvin.

I deserve a bit of happiness today.

Comic strip was “borrowed” from; I hope this attribution is sufficient to keep their lawyers from calling. I mean, they offer free access to online comics, so what’s the diff if I post it here and give them credit, really?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Solstice Celebrations & Smiting Darkness


Since ancient times, every culture in the northern hemisphere has acknowledged the winter solstice. December 21 marks the shortest day of the year, a period of darkness that heralds the cold of winter. As we approach a period of cold and, in the past, dependence on stored foods and our ability to hunt those animals still out and about, what better show of faith could there be than a great big party? Eat up, because we know our deity will provide!

As someone whose mood falls with the shortening day, Solstice Holiday (Christmas) preparations provide a great distraction. Decking the halls with greenery and lights makes those long evenings more cheerful. I love knowing that these “Christian” traditions have their roots in ancient pagan traditions as well.

My family went a little insane with Christmas when I was growing up. I have restricted my home to a single really big tree. This year a 12-foot Frasier fir is decked with 800 lights. We almost have all of the ornaments on it (I collect them anywhere I travel, and I can’t resist any shiny piece of blown glass, especially if fashioned by Christopher Radko).

What better way to smite the darkness than putting up a few thousand lights and other shiny things?

Art courtesy of PhotoXpress.