Category Archives: Stories

A Recent Adventure In the Scientific Method and Toothbrushes

Once again I have decided to dedicate my body to science. It all started during my trip to the dentist. I’m sort of a dentist junkie. I only go twice a year, but it’s my happy place. Thinking about clean teeth and the smell of disinfectant excites me. I know; this is odd.

I have perfect teeth, but my gums could use some work. Genetics come into play for both. I’m just glad I got at least one of the good genes, because I could have easily gotten bad teeth and bad gums. For those of you who don’t visit the dentist, they do this thing where they measure the pockets of the gums. I have a few “deep pockets” which is bad. I’m an overachiever, so naturally I wanted to know how I could improve.

My dental hygienist had lots of suggestions.

“Eat less chocolate.”

Don’t worry that was an automatic no, but I think she said it as a really unfunny joke.

“Use a vibrating toothbrush.”

“How does this help?” I asked.

“It stimulates your gums and makes them healthier.”

“OK I’ll give it a try.”

They happened to sell a cheap model in the office that was “lower than the store price.” I was not convinced that this was my ticket to success in the gum-improvement-campaign.

As I was leaving I turned to her, “I think I want to propose a study.”

She gave me an odd look. I get those a lot.

“I’ll use this brush and when I come back in 6 months I want you to measure those pockets again and see if using an electric toothbrush really does work.”

She seemed excited by the idea. I must have spoken to her inner tooth-geek.

“What a great idea!”

I started thinking of confounding variables and how I could account for those variables. And because I design research studies in my head for fun (that I’m sure is a sickness not yet recognized in the DSM-IV), I promptly began my new scientific adventure.

The first couple of nights’ of data had to be thrown out, since the idea of sticking a vibrating anything in my mouth sent me into a fit of giggles.

The next day I began my experiment. First I had to open the package and out popped an instruction manual. At first glance, the manual was a small, folded piece of paper. But upon further inspection it revealed itself to be an endless accordion full of confusing technical jargon. I’m pretty sure a NASA scientist designed the specs for this model. I panicked and then resisted the urge to text my resident technology genius (aka my husband). I can use a simple tooth brush for heavens sake I repeated in my head like a mantra.

You will not defeat me!

This is where it gets interesting. I have never used a vibrating toothbrush, so I was unaware of the sensation that would follow. Just out of curiosity: has anyone else experienced the jackhammer effect? That is the only way to describe what was going on in my mouth. My brain was vibrating at an incredible frequency. I think I may have blacked out.

When I finally came-to I wiped away the foamy drool and quickly pulled the still-vibrating toothbrush from my mouth. This is when I solved the most unsolvable mystery of my household. See, my husband is a longtime user of the electric toothbrush and for years I couldn’t figure out where the splatters came from on our mirror. Lets just say I made the connection.

I then had a flashback to the one and only CSI episode I ever watched. In this episode crime investigators were solving the mystery of where the assailant was standing at the time of murder by analyzing the angle of blood splatters. I can now accurately pinpoint the exact location of where both my husband and I stand while brushing. Thank you CSI.

It’s going to take me six months until my next dentist visit to get used to the new toothbrush. I’m anxious to find out if my suffering will result in positive data. If anything it will quiet my dental hygienist’s claims that the electric toothbrush can solve a dental health crisis.

Approaching 15 Seconds of Fame

Exciting news! The first story I wrote for this blog (First Haircut) is going to appear in the next Chicken Soup for the Soul book. I have been keeping this news secret for over a year.

I first submitted the story after being encouraged by my dad to publish it in a magazine. He had suggested Readers Digest, but after not being able to figure out how to submit a story that long I looked into Chicken Soup for the Soul. Chicken Soups publishers were looking for stories specifically about the first years of life.

I edited the First Haircut story down to the word requirement (basically had to cut a third of the story out) and sent it off. After a few months I heard nothing and assumed my story was not considered. I gave it a shot and publishing was not for me.

I started looking into writing lessons to be a better writer, because that was always something I wanted to change about myself. Shortly after starting a writing class I was contacted by Chicken Soup editors letting me know they enjoyed my story and were considering it for their upcoming book. Months went by and soon they sent me all the paperwork, still letting me know it was not a sure thing.

I kept it secret because I was nervous that it was not actually happening. I’m not a writer! I can’t spell and grammar is not my thing, but I love telling stories. I love writing them down and changing sentences until I know they will have the best impact on the reader.

A few months ago I went through my first copy edit experience. I didn’t really do much, they sent me a final version of the story and I looked through it for errors and approved it. Today I was told that my story would appear in the book. I’m really excited and honored to be published, especially as an amateur writer.

The book comes out March 8th 2011. Please use the link below to pre-order a copy (it will also be available on Kindle). It will make great Mother’s Day gifts or a great gift for an expecting mom.

Near Miss

I have often questioned my faith, but this was not one of those times. I first saw the bumper sticker on a yellow jeep. I was on my way back to college after the 4th of July holiday. It had been threatening to rain the whole trip and was close to dark. I was hoping to beat both home.

The first spats of rain fell on my windshield and I leaned forward to inspect their validity. I convinced myself that they were flukes and of course this was when the sky opened up and threw buckets of rain at me. I fumbled for the wipers, increased the setting with no improvement to visibility. For a while I used the vivid yellow jeep in front of me as a pace car. However, I have always been a nervous driver and finally convinced myself that now was a good time to get gas.

I pulled up to the gas station and realized I was unprepared for the weather. No rain jacket and a broken umbrella that flopped on one side. While pumping my gas I noticed a sign on the pump “Pay inside.” Great. I grabbed my wallet and ran to the store, my umbrella flipping and flopping as I ran.

The rain was losing its force and I was happy that I could get back on the road. I reached for my door handle and noticed my keys lying neatly on my seat, doors safely locked. This was turning out to be a wonderful side trip. I didn’t even need gas. I could have made it back to my apartment and I vowed next time I would talk my chicken self out of sneaking off the road in a storm.

It took a while for the tow truck to arrive, so I made myself cozy in the office. I’m from the country where we talk easily to strangers. I bought a pack of peanut butter cups to cheer myself up.

As the tow truck driver handed me my keys back he explained, “You’re a lucky girl. There was just a huge wreck on the freeway.”

I pulled back onto the road, easing my way with the rest of the congested traffic. The scene was unreal; clothes spilled across the road, broken glass. Cars littered the side of the road, ambulances and firemen attended disaster after disaster.

And as I drove through the midst of the wreckage I couldn’t take my eyes off of one thing: an inspirational sticker plastered to the bumper of a mangled yellow jeep. Someone was watching over me.

Baptism Class

Just as we were parking our car the anxiety waves started. I could feel them from across the street where a small group was gathering in the dark in front of a sign that clearly stated “Parish Office.” Nobody was talking to anyone else and trying not to stare at each other. Two groups were being defined: we were all either Catholic or trying not to be found out that we weren’t Catholic.

This particular adventure started a few years ago when my son was born. I kept having dreams where my Great Grandmother was trying to talk me into baptizing my new baby. In the dream we finally settled on the agreement that if I were to ever have a girl I would baptize both our children. I left satisfied and sure I would never have a girl and she walked off with a smug smile. This dream was reoccurring over and over the next few years. I finally pitched the idea to my husband and his response was “Sure, why not.” And closely followed by a concerned, “will it be a problem that I am not Catholic?”

I had a girl. Now here I am standing in a parking lot pulling her out of our car while she cries like a banshee.

The first step to being baptized I found out was both parents and the godparents have to attend a “class” about baptism. My brother and his wife are the godparents. My brother is like me and was raised strict Catholic. We were scooted off to church every Saturday (sometimes Sunday), attended catechism (a supplemental bible school for Catholic children), tried to avoid the looks and hisses when we crossed ourselves before prayer with our “Christian” friends, and tried to not fall asleep while attending Mass. I was recovering nicely from my childhood experience and hadn’t remembered the tension of Catholic gatherings until now.

My husband and sister-in-law, however, are not Catholic. My husband admits that all he knows about Catholicism he discovered in the riveting Dan Brown novels: The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons.

We stood outside the office for an awkward minute before the teachers of the class directed us across the street over to the school. Apparently there was some sort of communication error and we were all locked out of the original meeting place. Once inside the school I began my count of Virgin Mary’s – one statue at the base of the stairs, one hiding in a picture above the door, one on a small card in the room. YES! Three in under thirty seconds! I hadn’t lost my touch.

Sorry, this a little game I play with myself: the first religious figure I see I try to find three more of the same as quickly as possible. The game gets really hard when the first one you see is Saint Francis of Assi. Secretly I sometimes cheat and pretend I didn’t see him.

The class begins and the married couple teaching the class introduce themselves and we all begin to introduce ourselves. I could tell the Catholics from the non-Catholics right away. The non-Catholics were nervously darting their eyes around the room as if they weren’t sure whether they should instantly give up their opposing religious position or pretend a bit longer for the sake of the Catholic friend or family member. I had two non-Catholic attending and as a bigger transgression both my brother and I had been non-practicing Catholics for a very long time. We had a very good reason to be nervous and yet we were by far the least nervous in the room.

It was easy to tell those of us who were born Catholics in the room, because we all looked guilty. Also we were all staring off into the distance. I was expecting a droning zombie like “Amen” to simultaneously blurt from each of our lips when we finished each prayer.

Ella, my daughter, either had sensed the tension in the room or was struck by the power of the Holy Spirit and was letting out random and yet inappropriate cooing noises. Under any other situation I would have described the noises as cute. Every once in a while she would let out a loud grunt like she was trying to test the boundaries of her empty diaper. Usually the grunts would coincide with the mention of “Jesus our Lord and Savior” remarks. It was like her own little baby drinking game except instead of taking a drink she was threatening a bit more and I prayed for the first time in ten years that she wouldn’t follow through with her intention. Tyler eagerly offered to walk with her over near the door. I think he just wanted to be closer to an escape if the opportunity arose. I gladly gave her over; a lady over in the corner of the room kept giving me the evil eye. I wasn’t sure if it was the fact my baby wouldn’t keep quiet or she too was worried about my baby disrupting the air quality in the room. Ella continued to speak in tongues over by the door, but it was now not as noticeable.

A nice couple asked all the questions my husband was burning to ask, but was afraid to because it would definitely give him away as a non-Catholic. “Do we have to tip the priest/deacon?” “How much?” “What should everyone wear?” Followed by endless questions as to how the ritual would be performed, who says what where, will they ask me for proof that I am Catholic or not? Ok, they didn’t ask the last one, but the questions were so innocently asked and it was obvious that neither parent nor the Godparent attended Church, ever. At the end of the class the teachers passed around a sheet of paper for everyone to write their name and number and this particular couple paused when the sheet got to them. The dad suspiciously poised his hand with the pen above the paper and narrowed his eyebrow as he asked, “What is this for?” But what I really heard in his body language translated into “uh, shoot… you aren’t going to call my house and check up on me and make sure I take my child to church every week are you?”

By the way, contrary to popular belief Catholics are not as strict as they would lead the general public to believe. The fact our party was only fifty percent Catholic was not a problem when I signed up for the class. I think this is in the hopes that someday you remember that they let you into their special club with obvious handicaps and either give a generous donation or slowly wear you away until one day you are bringing up the Gifts in Mass and wondering how you became a “regular” again.

Soon the class was over. And in less than forty-five minutes! A Catholic event record. The room perked up a bit. Ella suddenly was miraculously quiet. And as we walked out the door my brother and I made jokes to my husband and sister in law that everyone in the room noticed that they didn’t cross themselves. We also teased that others noticed they didn’t touch their forehead a special way when trying to pretend to cross themselves as people looked their way.

I was relieved to feel a step closer to my promise.

Love it or hate it, you always remember your first

Editor’s note: I haven’t written a story in a while for the blog, but I hope to have a few out soon. I did manage a small coup and got one of my best friends and an awesome writer to author a guest post (with hopefully more to come!) about her first racing experience this last weekend.

Thank you Meghan!

This is a guest post written by Meghan Ewald

The race started fine. Good spirits and good weather made for a great first 5 miles. I smiled at others, chatted, even shared a bit of toilet paper I had carried with me with a woman standing at a port-a-potty (ah, race bonding moments). Police officers trundled back and forth along side the runners, and AED operators rode their bikes back and forth. The wind would gust and die periodically, but that first 5 miles was a beaut.

Just after mile 7, I turned the corner of NASA Road 1 and Space Center Blvd. I realized there was nothing to cut the wind. I was drenched with sweat and wearing a thin long sleeved shirt as wet as I was. The wind turned the shirt to ice. At first, that wasn’t so bad. I was running at a pretty good clip and the cold shirt cooled me down. That wind though… I wasn’t expecting that.

I developed a stitch in my side and slowed to a walk. Then I started getting cold. The wind blowing through my shirt and shorts caused actual pain when the material snapped against me. I started running between miles 7 and 9 only to be derailed by the stitch in my side. As I tried to walk off the cramp, a constant litany marched time with me through my head, “you have to finish, you have to finish.” Besides… the food was only 3 miles ahead and 7 miles if I turned back.

I tried to catch a few of the walkers in front of me, but I was wiped out. I was hungry enough to be shaky, I had a stitch in my side that I couldn’t shake, and my legs felt like Jello. I turned the corner just before mile 9 and walked through the water station, grabbing a cup of water. The volunteers shouted encouragements, “you can do it”, “you’re almost there”, “just a little further.” I don’t think I even smiled. Just walked with my head down.

Another runner, clearly done with the race, was walking in the opposite direction and took one look at my face. She just held up her hand for an encouraging high-five. I slapped her hand, and she kept going. She didn’t say anything, just smiled at me. She could probably tell just by the miserable look on my face that I had almost given up. That one smile from a perfect stranger was all I needed. After the mile 9 water station, I started to run.

There were markers along the last mile for those like me needing just a touch more encouragement. My favorites were those that just said “RUN” and an arrow pointing forward. Really that’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? An arrow pointing in a given direction and a simple directive: “RUN”.

So I did.

After 2 hours and 21 minutes discouraged, hungry and wet, I finished 825th place, dead last in my age group. But, by God, I finished.

I continued beating myself up for a few days, completely discounting the first good 7 miles I put in, and only giving myself mild reprieve for running that last mile. I could only focus on the 2 bad miles I spent on Space Center Blvd wishing like hell a police officer would take pity on me and throw me over the back of their motorcycle instead of suffering one more minute.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to race again. Run yes, I told myself. Race, no. Although, now, I recognize that saying I wasn’t going to race was the equivalent of quitting running, too. Because once you start quitting on things, it gets easier and easier to do. I was tempted these last few days to cry off the Aramco Half Marathon in January. Clearly I wasn’t meant to race, what the hell was I thinking? My Easy run on Tuesday turned into a very long, very brutal Tempo run as I continued beating myself up. Consequently, my Speed workout on Thursday turned into an Easy run. I felt better after both, but not like I’d exercised the demon of my first USA 10-miler.

Then this morning, I found myself in a conversation about running. One co-worker said, with all the authority of a non-believer, “Running has to have a purpose. If you’re not chasing a ball, there’s no purpose.” I wasn’t thinking of the race, the race didn’t even cross my mind until later. I was comparing his statement to every good run I’ve ever had. The runs that make you feel powerful, as though you could go forever in any direction under just the power of your own two feet. Thinking of that, I responded, “Running is the purpose.” He scoffed, rolled his eyes, and gave me the “oh, you’re one of those…” looks.

And just like that, my faith was restored. I was a believer again.

Can I get a hallelujah.