Gifting is Beautiful

The quote from Momentum this morning is “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” by  David Viscott. I wanted to know more about David Viscott as this quote is meaningful to my personal journey. From this article at the Quote Investigator I found some interesting information some of which I used to write this post.

David Viscott was a psychiatrist who hosted a pioneering radio talk show in the 1980s and 1990s during which he provided tough love counseling to callers. Unfortunately he died in 1996 of a probable heart attack.

Viscott’s statement was composed of three parts instead of two:

The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.

I like this three part version because I like the idea that effort and work are required as many gifts are wasted when we don’t work on them. On a personal level, I’m still trying to work out what my gift is and, hence, what my life’s work and meaning are. I know I want to use my food science technical knowledge to make the food system more equitable and I want to appreciate beauty in world more. By beauty I mean both enjoying and appreciating the natural world and to add beauty to the world through my own creativity and actions. I’m trying to link these two purposes together.

On the subject of gifts, Ralph Waldo Emerson stated that a gift should require effort. Thus, creating a gift is a more meaningful gift than giving one that was purchased.

Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a stone; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.

I’m definitely happier when I give gifts I have made. However, not everyone is appreciative of such gifts and therefore worthy of a handmade gift. Knitters call this knitworthy.  I wonder if Emerson was truly knitworthy.


Week 7/52: Love


Love and Valentine’s Day for me are always hard to represent especially in a photo.  I am not really into hearts and romance at the moment. So I tried to compose a picture of some of the things that I love: photo of Mum because I miss her and the rest of the family; fiber and spindle to show my love of fiber arts; flowers indicating my gardening.  Not shown chocolate [oooh an idea for this theme next year just comes to mind], books, music, and Murphy:


Copyright © 2011 cgdavies. All rights reserved.

Knitting Uh-ohs!

Perhaps since I have been able to knit more while convalescing I have had more opportunity knitting crises than usual.  In the last two weeks were a couple of doozies.

First up was this:

Look Closely

Look Closely

Here is a close up:

Broken Needle

Broken Needle

It broke towards the end of a heavy cotton project.  I had been worried about the cable join as that seemed to bend 180 degrees at regular intervals.  It never occurred to me that the needle would break off at the shaft.

The photo would have been more impressive if the project was on the broken needle but my immediate reaction was DO SOMETHING NOW.  So I did.  Unfortunately, the only needles I had long enough in the right size were these:

Altermative Needles

Altermative Needles

Which made a rather painful finish for the last few rows.  So I now need a new circular US 1… in metal.

The second knitting uh-oh happened on my return from Sock Summit. While at Sock Summit I finished Mum’s Socks:

Mums Socks

Mum's Socks

Don’ they look great.  I love that fishbone cable up the center:

Fishbone Sockes

Fishbone Sockes

Before I sent them off to my Mum I added them to the next load of laundry as they were in superwash wool.  Big mistake:

Tug, tug! Socks Dont F.....g Fit

Tug, tug! Socks Don't F.....g Fit

Obviously,  I am seriously pissed off about this,  angry and frustrated, so I used lots of words I don’t like to use in public (think Physioprof and add some), but only the cat heard.  Mind you, it is a good thing it didn’t happen to Mum, because she would be sad.  The most aggravating thing is that if I had checked Ravelry for this yarn, I would have read that it does felt despite being labeled “superwash”.

I love the pattern though, so expect that to be written up soon.  Poor Mum will just have to wait awhile for a pair of socks.

Home and Health Up Date

I got home from hospital Wednesday afternoon and slept for three hours.  I slept, read and knitted pretty much through yesterday’s downpour.  This morning I woke up feeling like I was one big bruise from the waist down, but a hot water bottle and pain medicine seemed to clear that up.

Meanwhile, I noticed this:

Blog Stats June 19 2009

Woo hoo, so many visitors!

Thanks for visiting and reading. I will get back into blogging soon.

What’s Next?

My first year at the new job is over!  I’ve quite enjoyed it [this is English speak “for loved nearly every minute of it”].  Teaching introductory and general chemistry was definitely a learning experience but I got the hang off it in the end.  The thing is to be tough.  Tell the students up front that chemistry is hard (even if it never was for me) and that they will have to work their butts off to succeed.  I am grateful that I do not feel as emotionally exhausted now as I did after my first semester in the fall, so I have learned to protect that side of me a little more. Mentally drained, yeah, but I can live with that.

So what’s next?

Scientiae wants to know how we are moving forward.  I hope my route is a little different than for other people as I am having a hysterectomy in a few weeks.

Last December it was found that I had three huge uterine fibroids which kinda explained why I was bleeding to death each month. Until the fibroids were identified, I felt that my recovery from the colon-resection I had in 2005 had stalled and that I would never be able to do as much as I saw colleagues and friends doing.  It couldn’t be age as I am too young really for me to blame age on slowing me down.

Unfortunately, the fibroids, and my uterus, are too big for any other treatment than a complete removal of my womb.  We, myself and my gynecologist, hope to save at least an ovary as I have a few years before natural menopause would set in. My Gyn also permitted me to wait until the summer because of the new job and lack of sick days etc.  But then set up the op for the first day I told her I was free, so I guess she thinks it important I get this done.

This is moving forward for me, as I don’t know how I will feel after the operation.  Immediately after wards, and probably for about six months, I will feel sore and exhausted and tired and cranky.   But hey, what’s new?

In a year, as I won’t be losing so much iron each month, will I have my stamina back?  Will I have more energy to do more and better at both work and pleasure?  Will I start wanting to ride my bicycle and hiking again, which I loved doing four years ago?  I hope so.

On the plus side, I am also told I will lose 15 lbs when the fibroids are removed.  That means I’ll only be about 5 – 10 lbs over my ideal weight.

I cannot leave you with another garden photo:

Rhododendron Flower Close Up

Rhododendron Flower Close Up

My Hero: Marie Curie

Conveniently the topic for the next Scientiae Carnival, Role Models of Women Making History, dovetailed nicely with the next exercise for the Total Leadership process.  I found the examples in the book about Total Leadership hard to follow on from as they were both about family members that had overcome adversity and personal challenges. These stories are very interesting, but while I admire my family greatly and I know they have undertaken personal challenges, to me a hero is someone who has done something beyond every day living.  So I chose Marie Curie.

Teaching chemistry to freshmen undergraduates makes me realize how white male dominated it was especially at the beginning of the twentieth century.  A few women stand out in my mind as having been successes despite the system – Dorothy Hodgkin and Rosalind Franklin are two from the mid to late twentieth century that come to mind.  Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) succeeded as a chemist and physicist at an earlier time than these two and from within the system.  I admire her because she dedicated her life to science to such an extent that she left her home country, Poland, to do research at a better institution in Paris.  This was definitely unusual for women at that time.  When she found her scientific niche, she carried out her research at the highest level winning two Nobel prizes.  Every scientist dreams of winning one, but two is outstanding.

The first Nobel prize was the prize for Physics awarded in 1903 to Marie Curie, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel

“in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel.”

The second, the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was awarded

“in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.”

Marie Curie with her daughters

Marie Curie with her daughters

In addition to being a brilliant hardworking scientist she was also a wife and a mother.  Imagine Marie Curie, who discovered radiation, worrying about Pierre having holes in is socks or Irene getting enough fruit to eat*.

I connect to Marie Curie and see her as a role model because she gave her all to science despite the conventions and expectations of women at her time.

*I am sure she had governesses and housekeepers and was probably quite bourgeois, but still she did it.  She could have just stayed at home and done what every other middle class woman of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was doing.


Wikipedia on Marie Curie

Susan Quinn (1995) Marie Curie – A Life, Heinemann, London


Last year sometime, Molecule of a Day posted on Limonene, which I was interested to read because it is an important flavoring in citrus and considered to be an off-flavor product in the storage of ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

The last paragraph asks:

Green or not, limonene isn’t totally safe. You can actually get sensitized to it – essentially developing an allergy – and then you’re in the unpleasant position of being allergic to citrus peels. Careful lab technique and a certain amount of luck have allowed me to avoid sensitization to any lab chemicals. And that’s a great thing – everyone I’ve talked to who was appreciably sensitized to a chemical said it seemed to turn up EVERYWHERE after that.

Now, I have been tested for allergies and have no response.  Those skin prick tests – Nada, rien, zilch, nothing.  But I still sneeze when peeling oranges or when using Citrasolv for cleaning. I have other sensitivities too – hyacinths were the first I noticed. The hyacinth  story goes:

Back when I was a teenager, Mum gave me a hyacinth for my room.  I got a bad cold.  Hyacinth died.  I got better.  I was sad because I had missed the hyacinth.  So Mum gave me another;  cold came back.  I can now smell hyacinths ~100 m away.

Feathers in pillows murder sleep.  How can a hotel run out of hypoallergenic pillows?

Honeysuckle flowers take away the enjoyment of being in the garden and they grow like weeds in my garden.

Tea Tree Oil:  Shampoo is a nightmare – it all seems to contain sodium lauryl sulfate which makes my head itch, and tea tree oil and/or citrus oils.  It took me a couple of months to realize that one of the reasons I was waking up in the night snuffly was because my shampoo had tree oil in it and this was getting on the pillows and from there up my nose.  In fact, I would rather have citrus shampoo than tea tree oil.  But why cannot shampoo makers produce a scent-free sodium lauryl sulfate -free shampoo.  Even kids’ shampoos are too highly scented for me.

Some of my sensitivities may have developed because my PhD research was with sulphites;  well known allergy and asthma triggers.  My advisor used to joke that when I drank wine, and sneezed, we could determine the sulphite concentration by the number of sneezes. Also, if I spilt any sulphite powder, I had to go outside and get a lungful of fresh air before being able to clear up the mess.

PS To all airline passengers sitting near to me,

I do not have a cold.  If you were not wearing so much scent I would be fine.  There is no need to complain, within my hearing, that you have caught some dreaded disease and people with colds should not be allowed to travel.  I was fine until I sat NEXT TO YOU 🙂

Luv LabCat

Total Leadership: Critical Events in My Life

At the age of 16 or 17, I realized that I wanted to “me” and not to follow a crowd or to be what people expected or wanted me to be if it was not what I was.   It is a really odd story as this self-revelation happened after an all night party when I was jumping off a gate in the local park.  We went there to see sunrise or something; probably just for the thrill of being in the park when we shouldn’t have been there.  When I jumped off that gate, my best friend asked if I was all right. Something about her question, or the way she asked, triggered the idea that I would be myself and not what anyone else thought I should be.

I have written before about how I fell into my PhD program and landed on my feet.  I cannot possibly explain the joy that lab research* gives me.  The lab was one of the places that I feel at home and do not worry about people judging me and probably find me wanting.  There were only a few of those when I was in my mid-twenties.  As I remember, another one was when I was dancing to folk-rock bands, such as the Barely Works or Davy Spillane.

Just over thirteen years ago, I moved to the US.  I originally came for a two year postdoc.  I did not realize what a big step I was taking.  Luckily, probably, otherwise I would not have come.  While my first postdoc was frustrating, it was at this same time I started voice lessons. I had the thought that since I was away from home I could do anything I wanted for about six months, at which time I would have caught up with myself**.   I can still remember the amazement and pleasure of knowing that I was singing in tune for the first time.  My creative side also grew when I roomed with Karen Searle in St Paul, MN.  Nothing like a fiber artist to teach you how to take your creative knitting to a new, higher, level.

Fortunately, in Minnesota, my professional life found a new leash of life and I grew as scientist there too.  That lead to my first tenure track position at a research university that was very supportive of undergraduate education.  I was delighted to find out that teaching did not have to me standing in the front of a big lecture hall and talking at my students.  This way, using student centered learning and group work, I discovered that I had a natural ability to help, teach, and inspire students.

Not getting tenure at the aforementioned research university was another kind of life event!  One that I am still dealing with today.  I found that I had an inner strength.  Even at the beginning, I picture a room where even though one door was shut there were other doors and windows to try.  Shortly after my tenure fiasco, I was diagnosed with a growth on my colon. Since, health is far more important than any career, I decided having both a research and teaching career was too much for me.  So I changed my career emphasis to teaching.

*After writing the above post, I wondered when did science come into my life?  Has it always been there or was my PhD the real trigger?  I don’t know the answer.

** I also took up beer drinking – in England I drank [hard] cider.  This did not turn out so well.

Total Leadership: Why I am Reading this Book

The first recommended exercise is “why I am reading the book on Total Leadership and what I hope to get out of it”.

As I said in my Total Leadership introduction I bought this book just as it came out because I heard an interview with Dr Friedman on NPR that struck a chord with me.  I am always interested in finding ways to be more successful.  Despite that, it turned out that I was not willing to carry out the exercises recommended in the book to become a Total Leader. Suddenly, this week I am eager to get started.

I am just restarting an academic career that was derailed by my being denied tenure at a research university.  This time I want to succeed while still having a personal life outside of work.  Fortunately, I work at a community college where I concentrate on teaching which I love.  However, giving up research means that I am concerned that I am not going to reach my full potential as a scientist.  I have lots to offer my profession but since I struggle to present my work successfully I have failed to convince many of my colleagues of my value as a scientist as well as a teacher.

I am hoping that this book will allow me to me to articulate my goals so that my colleagues, and I, recognize my successes and that they help my profession.

Total Leadership Introduction

About six months ago I heard a radio interview on NPR with Stewart Friedman about his new book “Total Leadership”.  I was so impressed with some of his ideas of linking all areas of life together that I immediately ordered the book from Amazon.  However, as it turned out at that time I was not ready to read through this book and undertake the introspection required for me to move forward as a leader. So I put the book aside and carried on with my life.

It seems that the time has come for me to pick up this book again and work through the exercises that are required for me to grow into a total leader.  I hope to share some of these exercises on my blog.  Not all, as I am cautious about being too personal and revealing in a public area so more personal questions will not be written about here.

If you want to find out more the book is available from Amazon and there is a website and a blog.