sitting at my desk, blue pot.

In the left hand corner of a cheap cherry-stained desk, there is a true blue pot. A chip blinks out from beneath one of the slanted terracotta handles. The plant inside it is dead. This plant has made a failure out of me, where downstairs on my stainless steel shelves, there are plants that should have died long ago, thriving in winter months and dry spells. This plant, however, only found its end. I blame the blue pot, as it is not the first plant to stop growing, to stop taking root, to stop helping me breath when trying to live in that pot over there.

The pot is not very big. It has a flat bottom with a wide mouth. As of most fire-finished clay vases, there are discrepancies in its blue glaze. Flecks of black and grey darken the Grecian blue that tried to reflect the skies and seas of the world. There are no holes on the bottom of the pot to let the water drain and yet, the soil never stays moist.

I bought the pot haphazardly, one day, floating along aisles of a store I forget the name of. I do, however, remember that it was spring and that the birds were rehearsing their choruses as I heard them in the store while people shuffled through the automatic doors. It makes sense that I would buy a pot in the spring. In that season, I fall for flowers as hard as any diamond. Their colors warm up my soul from the cold New York winter. And their dwelling places, dirt and pots, seem to fill up my cart during my grocery shopping trips.

With them comes seeds. Carrots with the potential to be yellow or orange. Cucumbers for the vines. Mint to smell good. And basil, to eat quickly with fresh, wet mozzarella. I like plants that produce early because I am not patient with them. For plants, I cannot wait.

New green sprouts are like gems to me. Glowing like emeralds in the darkest of peat and moss soil. If I could, I would watch them every minute of my life. Where else to find peace but in the moist air, inches away from damp dirt, seeing the finest, first children of Mother Nature? That, I could do forever. People who don’t know love need only to sink into a newly planted bed in the warm sunshine, greens and freckles sprouting in the melody of spring, and breath deeply the musty, fresh, beautiful scent of the earth.

I stare at that pot now. Filled with a second-chance spider plant that could have had a good life. I could have loved it, and now all I see is dry brown. The once supple leaves crack under my fingers, just as the zinnia before it, her flowers fell of so quick, I had barely a chance to gaze upon the fluorescent blooms in pink, orange and sun-yellow.

I brought the pot home and it was brimming with hope. It gasped for wet dirt, wet water, and roots. So I provided. With dirt-hurting nail beds, I tucked in a vinca vine. Long stems with heart-shaped leaves, attempting to take hold to a new life in my new blue pot.

Water, air, food, water, check. Good. Growing, more water, less water, drying out, move to a new place, more soil, more sun, talking, whispering, then, death. Blue pots hold death. And here, my third attempt is about to be dismissed. How hopeful I have been for this pot, and how disappointed it has made me. Buying pots blue of color does not mean that they are meant to be home. Sometimes I am fooled by spring into thinking I can hold it on the left hand side of my desk forever while snow falls outside.

Time to learn to wait. After all, apples that taste best, come from no pot, but the oldest trees.

leaving for spain

So, for the longest time, I have had approx. three blogs going. Since this is going to be my main one from here on out, I will post the other posts from the postings I did before on the blogs of the past. So, be prepared to read all about my travels in Spain in these next posts. Why not? It was a fun time over there 🙂

Well I’m new to Newark. But, as of lately, not so new to airports. In just the last couple of days, I’ve been through the shoes off x-ray vision security of not only Buffalo, my home airport, but of Sacramento, CA, Atlanta, Georgia and now Newark, New Jersey. Sacramento and Buffalo are by far my least favorite airports, not because of any fault of their own, but because both were at which I had to say goodbye. No more family or friends, well scratch that, new family and new friends, but they will not be the same. I have to say that these airport rendezvous went pretty smoothly compared to my one encounter at Albany when they thought I was a terrorist because I was wearing my spirit pin from the Mock Trial Camp I had just left. Sure they can catch kids with spirit pins, but shoe bombers? No. But I digress.

A five hour layover in an airport gives one a lot of time to do things that they wouldn’t normally do. I went to the bathroom in multiple restrooms mostly just to see how the lengths of the lines differed depending on where they were located. The longest lines were at the restrooms just around the corner from international flights. Those flight attendants are too good at their job. Also, I sat and talked in the food court with these farmers who had never been to New York City and were going back home to Iowa. Good thing I was just in Iowa five days ago. We talked a lot about corn. I managed not to buy anything at the overpriced food court because I told myself it would be better to eat overpriced Spanish food than anything at McDonalds or Famous Nathans. The chili cheese dog did look good though.

Laura + Plane = Europe!

After a while, I meandered down towards the end of the carousal, waiting to see the rest of my group. There they were, all bundled together like a pack of kindling. Some of them had been there for a while, almost 2 hours, while others had just arrived. We all took together and went into the reserved room for our group. Expressing all of our concerns about heavy luggage, incompetent Spanish skills and professional child pick-pocketers, we sat around waiting for the plane to board. And then we still waited. It was a long layover.

At 7:45, we headed down to the gate, and heard just how bad our Spanish speaking skills were. The boarding information was being read in Spanish, and all of us just stood. And stood and stood, until finally one of us realized that they were just talking about if you had a child that you would be carrying on your lap, that you should come up to the desk. We, all of us thank god, are childless. That I know of.

The plane was a huge jet, filled with 180 Spanish, American and Texan people. Two of the passengers on the plane were sisters who looked like Victoria’s Secret models. They stooped under the lofted arched plane ceiling. I tried not to stare, but the men didn’t try so hard. On the back of each headrest was a video consol, but before I could even see what films were available, and even before we took off, I was asleep. Road trips to California can do that to a person.

In a couple of hours I was awakened by a flight attendant who nicely asked me Beef or Chicken? I don’t know why everyone else thinks that airplane food is horrible. I thoroughly enjoyed my chicken pasta whatever it was and my cranberry apple cocktail (non alcoholic) and my cookies n cream brownie and my salad. After that I checked out the movie selection, and chose a very adult film, Atlantis: Search for the Lost Empire. After that I again proceeded to fall asleep. And then I awoke in Spain.

apples to apples: the secret to staying young

In most illustrations, Johnny Appleseed looks young. Fresh-faced, scrawny and always smiling, this somewhat fictional character appears as the picture of health in each and every illustration. Some might say that his hours of caravanning across most of the country caused his trim and young physique, but scientists in the Food and Nutritional Sciences Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong would give credit to the apples.

For a long time, apples have been known as a great source of antioxidants. But, in a recent article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a publication of the American Chemical Society, research has shown that these antioxidants may increase life expectancy by almost ten percent.

The experiment was simple. The scientists used fruit flies, Drosophila melongaster, and treated them with a special diet, heavy on the apple polyphenols (AP). AP are an excellent source of dietary antioxidants and so with them, the scientists hoped generate a population of fruit flies that would live substantially longer than a normally fed group of flies.

Fruit flies are commonly used in scientific experiments because it is easy to track changes in the different generations.

But APs don’t just work like magic. These scientists and other chemists have spent many years unraveling the mystery of molecules like these. Polyphenols, they discovered, are organic chemicals (contain carbon) that come with phenol groups. A phenol group is a benzenoid ring (made of carbons) with attached alcohol groups (oxygen and hydrogen). These types of molecules have many different properties, but when doing experiments like the ones they performed in Hong Kong it was essential to know the following principle—polyphenols are water soluble.

As far as antioxidants go, there are mainly two types. They can either be fat soluble or water soluble meaning that they can either disassociate in fat or in water. Polyphenols are a water soluble molecule, needing water to break down and be absorbed by the body. Researchers in Hong Kong made sure that the diet that they were feeding the fruit flies had enough water integrated so that the antioxidants could dissolve and disperse.

Each kink in the shape above indicates a carbon. These two molecules are the same but the one on the right is a short hand version used by chemists to indicate there are alternating double bonds in the carbon-carbon connections.

After sometime, it was clear that the AP diet was having a significant effect on the life span of the fruit flies. Instead of living to approximately seventy days, they were living to almost seventy-five. For the human lifespan, this would mean an increase from 100 years to almost 107 years!

When these results came in, the researchers also had to make sure that they were seeing the results of the apple polyphenols and not just a reaction to an unusual caloric restriction. They determined that there was no undesired starvation effect happening. They knew this because they found that there was no difference in average body weight and stomach redness index between the control and AP fruit flies. But the researchers did not do the entire experiment with the hope of clearing only one hypothesis.

Instead, the researchers also attempted to determine the effects of AP on gene expressions of superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), mehuselah (MTH), Rpn11 and cytochrome c oxidase (CcO). Though the chemistry and cellular biology of these genes is fairly complicated, the ideas behind them are not.

Every cell in the human body has DNA. DNA is made up of a mess of genes spiraled and twisted around each other in beautiful helices and sheets. And every gene or set of genes has specific functions in the body. The ones named before and investigated for this project, were interesting to the researchers because they are some of the genes that make people like you, me, and Johnny Appleseed, age.

What the researchers found in response to the gene expression, when the diets of the fruit flies contained more of the apple polyphenols, was that, not only did their gene shapes shift conformationally, but the fruit flies themselves also stopped showing signs of old-age diseases. This discovery, and others like it, is critical to improving human health. Though flies are quite different from humans, scientists know now that they share a 70% similarity in their genes. Therefore by understanding how diet affects fruit flies, scientists can then apply the knowledge to human medicine and design effective treatments for old-age diseases and the aging process.

In addition, the scientists are hopeful that they are well on their way to finding a nutritional and dietary solution to aging that will counter the common ineffective, or more accurately, poisonous treatments that are popular today. Instead of using chemicals injected into the body like Botox, experiments like the apply polyphenol one will show that with a diet filled with antioxidants will be beneficial enough to slow down the aging process and could even aid in curing diseases that occur frequently in the elderly.

So after all this time, Mr. Appleseed may have had the right idea. An apple a day keeps you young, beautiful and healthy. Which inevitably means the doctor will stay away as well.

marijuana makes us munch

This is an article I wrote for a college food magazine my group created in my publishing class. The concept of the magazine was to tell college students about food: the science, the culture, and the taste. Why I got assigned to a story about marijuana, I don’t know. Most likely, it was because I was the only one in the group who took organic chemistry. Finally, organic chemistry has some unforeseen benefit!


Dude, remember this?

Steven Hyde: I read somewhere that people in India fast, man. And, that it makes them think better. And, sometimes they can actually think themselves to death, man.

Michael Kelso: I wonder if that’s what I’m doing right now? Sometimes my brain is doing things that I don’t even know about.

Eric: Man, we think of some great stuff down here. But, later on I can never remember it.

They grew up in the 70’s, and I grew up watching them. Smoking “Mary Jane” is not my forte. I’ve never done it. No, really, I haven’t. But I did watch Eric Foreman, and his crew, sit in their peace circle and pass the pipe for a number of years until That 70’s Show went off the air. And all the while, I noticed a common theme during the time they toked—marijuana makes you munch. There was the time they passed around a tube of cookie dough, finished off a bag of Lay’s and gorged themselves with Mrs. Foreman’s homemade goods. College goers also get caught up in these munchies, putting on the pounds as they pack the pipe. But most don’t know, especially those who have smoked their personalities into resembling Kelso and Hyde, that there is a scientific reason why marijuana makes you munch.

Thoroughly studied during the period that it was most popular, the 1970’s, marijuana was ruled out by scientists to have any impact on fluctuations in blood sugar. Nowadays, however, researchers have found that although weed doesn’t want anything to do with your insulin levels, its chemistry does work on hunger receptors in your brain. In fact, the brain contains specialized proteins that respond to cannabinoids, which are the prominent molecular makeup of pot. The most common one found in marijuana is 9-tetrahydrocannabinol which is also known as THC. This molecule is actually large enough to see and can be found on the outside of buds, making them shiny and what cannabis connoisseurs call “sticky.” But the one that makes the body feel the need to munch is an endogenous cannabinoid, or endocannabinoid, which, when put into the body via smoke, vapor or brownie, tells the brain that it’s grub time. This, combined with the fact that most of the receptors that interact with the cannabinoids are found within the hypothalamus region of the brain, the part that controls appetite, makes marijuana users more prone to munching than those who don’t.

However, while incessant munching can be menacing to those college students who are halfway to achieving their full freshman fifteen nightmare, it does have its benefits. Scientists have shown in studies that THC, with its great tendency to stimulate hunger, can be used to treat patients who have lost the desire to eat. For example, anorexic individuals or people diagnosed with cancer and have to undergo chemotherapy can utilize the appetite-creating molecules in marijuana to keep the calories coming. Also, understanding how cannabis controls hunger has helped scientists create effective treatments for obesity that are currently undergoing case studies and clinical trials.

So now you know why marijuana makes you munch, and also how it can even be helpful, but in order to feel good when your high it is going to take some work to stay light. In order to maintain your weight while still satisfying your need to snack, here are some foods that you might want to stash next to your stash for chowing down.


Sitting next to the orange colored carrot sticks, celery (not with bleu cheese) is a great snack to munch on. This is because celery actually as a negative caloric value, meaning it takes more calories to chew it and digest it than it actually contains. With celery, you will be able to smoke away the day and lose weight while your at it. This green stalky vegetable has been used in multiple diets as a high-fiber low-calorie filler upper and will help a stoner stave off the hunger during a bout of the munchies.

Peanuts, in the shell:

True, peanuts are full of fat. And not just the good kind. But there is a reason why they make the list. This is because a pile of peanuts with their shells on can only be consumed if someone takes the time to crack them open. This can be a hard task to those who have skyrocketed to a higher level than normal and will keep them from eating too much. If you want an even harder snack to crack, try walnuts. But be warned, you may never satisfy your must to crunch with walnuts as they are a tough nut to break.

Jalepeno poppers:

If these spicy beasts, with their creamy cheese filling and butter-logged coating don’t satisfy your high level of hunger, then I don’t know what will. But, here is something that maybe you didn’t know about poppers and peppers. Spicy peppers, like jalepenos, can speed up your metabolism and may contain a healthy dose of vitamins and nutrients crucial to a healthy diet. Also, the poppers will prevent you from over eating because, afterall, who wants to keep eating when their tongue is burned off? I guess that all depends on how much you you smoked though because you may not feel the consequences of your munchie craving if you are way off the deep end, man.

Overall, there’s nothing you can do to stop marijuana from making you hungry, except to not smoke, which for some people at college does not seem like an option. Taking care of what foods you surround yourself with can help you manage the extra weight that the munchies may lead to. And not following the bad, yet hilarious, example of Foreman and his buds, will aid you on your get high, not fat, quest.

broccoli rabe and bacon grease

It is amazing what bacon grease is capable of.

Most of the time, it gives me problems. Splattering, spitting, spilling, splotching. Any sort of mess-making verb, and bacon grease can be the noun. My mom would tell you that it’s my fault; the heat should be lower under the fry pan. But I blame bacon.

My most recent encounter with bacon grease happened when a leafy bunch of broccoli rabe showed up in my crisper. When you have friends who get too many vegetables from their community garden, this tends to happen. I had never really cooked with/heard about/was interested in broccoli rabe before its appearance in my fridge. But I was interested. And hungry.

So I sat around for a few minutes and decided to research it. Turns out that broccoli rabe is a complicated and bitter vegetable.

The love of my life, Wikipedia, told me that broccoli rabe is also called rapini, which, to me, sounded Italian. Surprise! The rabe is consumed continuously in Puglia and Sicily, areas of Southern Italy. In that part of the world, it is casually sautéed with garlic and olive oil. But what isn’t in Italy? Maybe tiramisu…

Broccoli rabe is so named because of the appearance of its flower, which resembles a head of broccoli. The entirety of the plant can be consumed, although the stems of the leaves, closer to the root, are more bitter and fibrous, making them a tough chew. But if cooked long enough and at low enough heat, they will soften. The leaves have the texture of collard greens but they leave the bitter taste alone. Their flavor is more nut-like–earthy and warm. Butter, a good fat, would have heightened these flavors because of the presence of diacetyl, the molecule that gives butter its caramel undertones. I chose, however, to use bacon grease. Here’s why.

Besides the fact that I have been eating two pieces of bacon everyday for breakfast and have generated a Tupperware-full of rendered fat, bacon grease has a flavor that makes more sense. It has the hickory, the smoke, the salt. It melts quick, burns slow and seems to call out for something bland like broccoli rabe. Bacon grease is also good to use because it is semisolid at room temperature due to its chemical composition. Fats, like bacon grease, that are not fully hydrogenated are soft at room temperature. This makes them easy to cook with. Although I am sure Paula Dean uses bacon fat more for the flavor than the chemical ease. Rendered bacon fat, fat that has been cooked out of the bacon over some sort of heat, is very popular as a base for gravies and potatoes in the American South. But, bacon has its place elsewhere as well. Like in the pan with my broccoli rabe.

I chopped up the rabe into large pieces figuring it would shrivel like spinach and threw it into a large fry pan with some bacon grease, garlic and a sprinkling of cumin. As the leaves wilted, the garlic mingled with the nutty flavors of the rabe and helped me decide on the last ingredient I needed to complete the dish—Parmesan cheese.

Parmesan cheese is a nutty block of dairy that comes from the Parma region in Italy. Perhaps the cows, whose milk makes Parmesan cheese, eat broccoli rabe in their spare time. Anyway, I digress. The milk is taken from the cows, the cream separated and removed, and the remaining liquid is curdled in copper vats. And then, like most cheeses, it is allowed to age, with some brining and molding incorporated into the process. What kind of beautifully aged Parmesan did I have in my refrigerator? Kraft. I know, sue me. But it’s not like the broccoli rabe or the bacon grease could tell.

I added the Parmesan cheese at the end of the dish so that it warmed and flavored the sautéed leaves through, but did not burn. Then I felt weird as I took a picture of it to accompany this post. Overall, my first rabe was good. But, like Paula, I think a lot of it had to do with the bacon grease.

mindful music

After the whole semester, I finally have found a piece worth its salt. Or its notes.

In the Science Times this week, a piece called To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle The Neurons, inspired me. The subject, the writing, the style, the facts etc. Everything about it was science based and yet it found a way to convery scientific research so beautifully and creatively it was almost like art.

On top of that, emotion was integrated into every part of the writing. In the organization, the personal level of all of the subjects and the musicians was deeply felt as the piece flowed from the who and why and how that scientists are studying to the mystifying emotions that music compels people to feel and harness.

In addition, the subtitles increased my desire to read this long piece. As an avid reader of online publications and a person who finds it much easier to scroll through than to flip open, I was afraid that this piece, which comes in at a whopping four pages, would get dry like beef jerky. Instead, the subdivisions acted as cliff hangers and propelled the piece forward. Though I think that the actual organization of the reading had the most to do with this, I think it is an important part of science writing to understand how your piece works and what will make the reader interested.

Another aspect of this piece that I thought worked, was the many sources/people that were integrated into the writing. I found that mentioning Paul Simon and the results of the experiments through the eyes of musicians, scientists and non-specialisits, gave the piece and edge that would be left unaccomplished if they had not been integrated. I particularly enjoyed the way that the references were used again and again and were bounced upon casually to keep the reader engaged and remember what had happened at the beginning of the piece all the way through to the end.

In reading the Science Times this week, I found that this was by far my favorite piece. Though I do not think it had the strongest introduction or grease spot, the subject and the simplicity of the writing kept me intrigued from page one to page four, which sometimes does not happen, no matter how much I love to read.

Overall, what I am seeing in the Science Times is that when a piece has a lot more time dedicated to it and the subject strikes a chord, pun intended, with the writer, the overall effect, readability and awe factor of the whole piece is pushed up so many levels. To me, I would rather have a section filled with three of these really interesting and well written pieces than a longer section as a whole filled with, excuse my language, crap about the BP oil spill.

Instead, I think we, as writers, should bide our time and figure out how a story works. Just as musicians figure out how to make their music work in the minds of listeners. Can you tell that I was meant to write for a monthly publication and not a daily one? I can.

middle school book reports go pro

I can remember sitting at a desk in English class in 7th grade. This was back when my chair was still attached to my desk, the spelling words were simpletons such as restaurant and monotonous, and book reports were due every Friday.

The book reports consisted of selecting your own book, reading it during the week and summarizing it on paper. Most kids just stuck to what had happened in the book, where it took place, what the characters were like and what they liked most about the book. Now, book reports are not like that anymore. Take the book report, or review, written by Dr. Abigail Zurger of The Panic Virus, a book about vaccinations by Seth Mnookin.

In her review, Zurger makes sure to create a piece that is much more than your 7th grade book report. She expertly weaves in her, albeit very one-sided, opinions on the subject of pro vaccination and avoids telling the reader what The Panic Virus is directly saying. I think that this is a good technique when writing a critique because then Zurger can get her opinion out and discuss the topic of the book she is reviewing at the same time. Most book review writers tend to shy away from this because they do not want the reader of their review to finish reading their piece and then not move on to the actual piece. Zurger, however, drives the reader to reading more. She makes you want to fight her or side with her. Her opinions are so pointed that you need to read The Panic Virus to find a pillow to soften the blow or a sharpener to support her.

In addition, the way that Zurger explains the difference between this book and others that have been published on the same subject, is fantastic. She harps on Mnookins history, personal experience and research and explains how is viewpoints are so different from previous ones that it would be ashame for a person to not read this book. I think that when writing a review, if it is a positive one, that is a good way to get people to read a new book on an old subject.

As for science writing, I think writing reviews must be very helpful. Even if they do not get published, reading a scientists or writers writing would be beneficial to someone who wants to write about science and then analyzing it and putting your opinions about it into a piece would be the icing on the cake. In general, I feel that writing book reviews would help any sort of writer because you have the two most beneficial activities to improve your writing skills: reading and writing. What could be better? And, if you are someone like Zurger, you will be able to compose a piece that is not just plot and character analysis and setting description, but a symphony of opinion, fact and encouragement that could convince anybody to be in your book club.

Oliver Sacks–the man, the myth, the legend

Oliver Sacks has always had vision with a vision.

At ten years old, when most little boys would be playing with matchbox cars in the dirt, Oliver built a stereoscope to look at the universe in a new dimension. When most college-aged boys were doing keg stands and attempting to woo women, Oliver was getting into Oxford and Columbia to study the fields of neurology and psychology. And now, when most men resign to grandfatherhood, Mr. Sacks writes stories, like Stereo Sue, about neurological conditions he finds that confound and perplex many in these contemplative fields.

The stories that he writes come directly from his own experiences and research subjects. He recounts his trials with drugs in their trial stages and comments on the diseases that threatened to take the lives away from his sickly patients. As the poet lauret of medicine, as called by the New York Times, Sacks is not only a doctor and lifesaver, but an artist with a passion for expressing his gift. Who knows, medicine may be a new medium.

turning up the volume for stereo sue

Sometimes, when you have a good story, all you have to do is learn to turn up the volume on it. Oliver Sacks, the author of a story from the New Yorker entitled Stereo Sue, needs some lessons on how to do this very thing.

First off, his topic was extraordinary. The history and stories of stereovision really did captivate my attention and make me think about the evolution of vision and the technology that has developed to support it. However, subject only gets a writer so far.

Right off the bat, I was bored. Fact after fact after fact. On and on it went, with Sacks spewing every possible word he could write about the history of stereovision. Though this information, I felt, was critical to the story, I thought it could have been better integrated into the finished piece. This brings up something I thought about quite a bit while reading Stereo Sue–reorganization.

After writing a story, I often find myself loving individual paragraphs but hating the flow. In science writing or in any type of beat, it is important to have a flow that weaves in all of the necessary facts to describe the subject but that keeps the reader interested because every sentence has purpose and belongs next to the one before and the one after. Personally, I never used to believe that outlines would help me to write a story. Now, through an altered version of a traditional outline, I can see how useful they are. When I begin, I write down all of the questions I would like my piece of writing to answer. Then I put the questions in the order I would ask them if I were to talk to a real person. I find that when I do this, my writing can flow like a conversation and that is also the kind of tone that it develops.

This is what I imagine Sacks might need to do for Sue. I think that a little reorganization, especially at the beginning of the piece where the writing needs to grab the readers attention, would go a long way.

On a more postitive note, I really did like how Sacks integrated the personal story of Sue and how she overcame her own difficulties and the obstacles that were put in place for her by the people who were supposed to be eliminating them. I think this aspect of the piece strengthened the story and made it easier to read and understand. In addition, it gave Sacks and opportunity to break up the heavy flow of facts that stormed the piece as a whole.

Lastly, I think in his reorganization, it would be important for Sacks to think about using different sentence structures. Much of the time that I was reading Stereo Sue, I would get lost in the commas and complex sentences most of his piece is constructed with. I think that using some short grabby sentences would break up the piece and give it more of an edge.