Sunday, October 23, 2011


When I get very upset and need a shoulder to cry on, my dog, Happy (a boy) runs away and hides in the closet. I think it's because males can't handle outbursts of emotion. He just wants to play--unless HE'S hurt, then he wants me to take care of him and he acts like a big baby. Sound familiar? Of course I'm being too anthropomorphic for a scientist, but I'm having fun with the comparison!

I've been in a few meetings lately that had mostly men. I like being on committees with guys. To solve a dispute over which one of us was to do more work on one committee, we Ro-Sham-Bo'ed (rock, paper, scissors) for it! Ro-Sham-Bo-ing in the middle of a professional meeting (with our Dean present) just doesn't happen with most women. When a meeting begins with Ro-Sham-Bo, it tends to be a fun meeting!

In another meeting, another teacher (Jon) and I wanted a third teacher (Nick) to be the chair of the committee, thereby having more responsibility. In addition to legitimate reasons for nominating Nick as chair, we decided to arm wrestle over it. Since Nick's strength is legendary throughout the land, we thought it was fair for him to be required to take us both on at the same time. Nick beat me pretty quickly, so I stood up and helped Jon push down Nick's other arm. The three of us were laughing and wrestling (and Jon and I were winning) as our Dean walked into the room. After Nick's arm hit the table, I said to Ray (our Dean), "Nick is going to be the Chair!"

I've also noticed lately that because of my softer voice, and the noted effort that it takes me to talk, everyone is really quiet and listens intently when I speak. One of my concerns at meetings had been that I wouldn't be able to contribute, because nobody would hear me. Of course, sometimes that is the case, but most of my co-workers are sensitive to my different abilities. So they listen--carefully! The pressure's on to say something profound when everyone is actively listening. If you want people to listen to you--whisper. It works!

Monday, October 10, 2011


I'm watching "Days of Our Lives" (yes, "Days of Our Lives," let it go!) and Sammie is being told she may have cancer. OMG, it wasn't nearly so dramatic when I was told I had to have brain surgery! Ok, now she's crying and asking why this is happening to her. Could it be payback or bad karma because of all the evil things she did in her life before her character became good? When your life isn't going in the direction you'd like, or when something tragic happens, you try to make sense of the tragedy. Why me? There are other people that are lazier or more selfish. There are some questions that you can't answer and driving yourself crazy with them is not going to help you move on with your life. "Why me?" "Do I have bad karma?" "Why am I even still alive?"

I'm not going to pretend that those types of questions don't plague me from time to time, but I've learned a few ways to deal with them that I'd like to share. My first piece of advice is to ask different questions. "What am I doing today?", "What should I have for lunch?", "Did I get any email?", or my favorite: "Where's Nemo?"

Simpler questions like these that you have an answer to will give a sense of accomplishment. 

Another way to stop asking those unanswerable questions is to focus on practical problem-solving.  We've all been told not to worry about things we can't change. For example, I was on my way to a potluck dinner at my temple, and I thought I had left my house with enough time to spare. I hit unexpected traffic on the way, so my timing was off. I knew that I couldn't go back in time and leave 10 minutes earlier, so berating myself for what I DIDN'T do wasn't going to solve any problems.

Instead, I accepted that I was going to be late and formulated a plan for my arrival. It's tough for me to "sneak in" places, especially when carrying food! I figured we'd just walk in, put the food on the table, and sit in the back! It turned out just fine, but my point is that in every situation, you should focus on practical solutions, instead of unanswerable questions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Today, July 26, 2011, marks 5 years since my brain surgery and resulting complications. Every year on this day, more so than on my birthday or New Years, I reflect on the dynamics of my life, my accomplishments, and my goals. Five years ago, in the months following my surgery, no one could predict whether I would regain my basic human functions, let alone my dignity or my spirit. I progressed from being tube-fed in a hospital, confined to a wheelchair, to participating in a physical education class 8 hours per week, working full-time, and, yes, eating whatever I want! These years have been about improving my physical abilities, modifying my career, and building up my stamina. In essence, the last five years have been about ME. Even writing my book, When Life Throws You Lemons...Make Cranberry Juice!, was cathartic for me. After it was published, I realized the effect that sharing my story had on many people. I began giving presentations to share my story. This helped me promote my book, rebuild my speaking skills, and gain confidence.

On this anniversary, I am shifting my focus outward. Inspiring others to work hard to overcome their own tragedy is now a primary goal of my presentations, my blog, and my tweets. Setting short and long-term goals is an important tool to being productive. However, there are daily events/feelings/moods that can get in the way of achieving those goals.

Have you had one of those days recently when you are in a funky mood for no apparent reason? I have! Bouts of sadness can certainly interfere with your productivity. In a previous post, I talked about relieving a funky mood by having a change of scenery. An internal change of scenery. How do you do this? One great way is to use humor. Long before Harry Potter fought off bogarts by imagining them to be ridiculous, Marcia Brady imagined her driving tester to be wearing his underwear! One way to lift sadness from your heart is to imagine the source of your troubles in a preposterous circumstance. The other day, a honking tailgater was the source of my frustration. Before this “gentleman” completely upset my mood, I suggested to my son that instead of showing this guy a certain finger, what if I held up a sign that said, “You’re cute!” I didn’t actually do that, but the thought made us both laugh!

The next time life gets you down, please try imagining a completely silly twist to the situation. My bet is that it will make you laughand feel better!

Check out my new website,, where you can sign up to receive email updates, enter a drawing to win a free copy of When Life Throws You Lemons...Make Cranberry Juice!, and much more! 

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Everything's bigger in Texas. We went to Texas last weekend for my nephew's graduation from the University of Texas, Austin. Evan's graduation was on May 20, which happened to be my birthday. While we were there to celebrate my nephew's accomplishment, my family also celebrated my birthday with me. At lunch, following the graduation ceremony, Evan and I were given drinks in shot glasses, which we were told to gulp. I don't "gulp"; I “sip.” The sweet drink was quite tasty, and I had a warm feeling inside. After lunch, I took a nap while the kids went swimming. Soon, as typical of a family gathering (at least OUR family) it was time for the next meal.

After dinner, I was ready for bed, but I knew that, after skipping the midnight movie the night before, my brother would not let me end my birthday early. They asked me what I wanted to do and I said that I'd love to play pool. I hadn't played since way before my surgery, but I used to have fun playing and wanted to see if I could enjoy it again. Since the hotel didn't have a game room we were forced to ditch the kids and hit the bars. Evan, the recent college grad, knew all the hot spots, so my brother, Howard, Evan, and I grabbed a cab for downtown Austin.

One of the bars we went to served up flaming beer shots. Three glasses of beer were lined up on the bar with a shot glass full of liquor balanced on top of them. The bartender then put a shot-full of liquor in his mouth, and doused his fingers with the same liquor. Now comes the exciting part: he lit his fingers on fire and blew the liquor across the flames, igniting the shot glasses on top of the beer. After the fire died down, he put the shot glasses into the beer, and served them to us! I'm not sure what the point of the fire was, but it was cool! It's also the type of thing you have to SEE, so here's a video:

The last place we went was a bar to play pool. I kept up with Howard and Evan. Each of us had one ball left when Howard sank his last ball for the win. Of course, this was TWO HOURS LATER, which proves we all sucked!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


After  Brandy (my dog that had been a huge part of my life for 20 years)  died and my marriage ended, the kids and I lived with one dog for a couple of months, but I decided we needed some extra happiness in our lives. That happiness came in the form of a dog named Happy, who was always wagging his tail with excitement. We found him at the San Francisco Humane Society. Where Odie (our Australian Shephard mix)  was mellow, Happy was happy. Where Odie was subdued, Happy was happy. Where Odie was lethargic, Happy was happy. Happy always wanted to play; Odie preferred it if he stayed away. Although being a single mother in a large house with two dogs was a huge responsibility, I never allowed fear to dictate my decisions.

In 2006, when unexpected brain surgery complications forced the dogs to live alone for several months, Happy and Odie kept each other company and stayed out of trouble. They didn't escape, fight with raccoons, get unusually dirty, or injure themselves. They saved all of these things for Mommy. The latest incident involves Happy's knee.

He tore his Anterior (Cranial) Cruciate Ligament on his left rear knee. I took him to the vet because he suddenly stopped using that leg. My vet referred me to a surgeon. I did a lot of research on this condition, so I was armed with information at Happy's appointment. After discussing all the options with the surgeon, I decided to go ahead with the procedure to stabilize his knee joint.

In my research, I came across a lot of advice for getting Happy strong again. Prescribed exercises, icing, heating pads, and massage were suggested. Ok, this was starting to sound familiar. As you may know, I am quite familiar with a prescribed exercise program. I always referred to it as torture, but you may know it under
its more common name: physical therapy.

My dog needs physical therapy? Okaaaaay, that's a new one. I didn't know how I was going to do doggy rehab, when I couldn't walk him or carry him myself. Abby suggested, half-jokingly, that I make this a project for a student. I thought this was a great idea, so I wrote up a proposal and showed it to my dean.

The next day, a student with aspirations of veterinary school contacted me with interest. Lisa works with Happy twice a week, and has researched an exercise protocol to strengthen his knee. She made up data sheets for the kids and I to fill out as we implement his therapy each day. Each week, new activities will be added.

Lisa will research which exercises Happy should do AND why they should be done. She will submit an abstract to present this project at this year's SACNAS conference and next year's honor's symposium. Happy's (and our) lemons are turning out to be Lisa's cranberries!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


How do you measure success? Success. When you read that word, what images come to your mind? We all know people that seem to succeed at everything. Everything they try works. They win many awards. They make a lot of money. They are recognized for their achievements. Their health issues are manageable.

Recently, I attended the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival. The program that Abby and I watched showcased films about shark finning, manta ray fisheries and saving whales. Based on the number of people in the theatre, the Festival was a huge success! The producers of the films were able to deliver their message. The shark-finning movie disturbed me greatly. The sight of a magnificent, powerful animal having its fins sliced off, then pushed, squirming, back into the ocean to die, was horrific. It really doesn't seem worth it for a bowl of soup!

Another successful event that I was honored to participate in again this year was the annual Expanding Your Horizons in Math and Science Conference (EYH). Young girls from all around the Bay Area attended this conference, participating in three different workshops throughout the day. Each workshop was led by a woman who uses math or science in her career. Now in its 32nd year, EYH has always been very successful.

These two events, which represent a lot of hard work by a lot of people, were measurably successful. Personal success is sometimes more difficult to measure. Some people measure their personal success by how much money they make. Others measure how much they like their job, how happy their marriage is, or how many friends they have. Part of looking for and accepting cranberries in the face of overwhelming lemons is recognizing your own, less obvious, successes.

I had four book presentations last month, and if I measure their success solely by the number of books sold, they were not very successful. But, still looking at this from a marketing perspective, telling my story to community groups can certainly lead to more community talks, which WILL eventually increase book sales. In addition, I have been told many times that my story is inspirational, and if I've inspired  even ONE person to continue to work hard despite tragedy, I consider that to be a success.

Part of being able to accept life's cranberries is the ability to modify your goals based on your own achievements or abilities. I'm NOT saying to just give up if you don't reach your goal, or to spin negative experiences into positive ones, but sometimes a modified goal can help you achieve success!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Scary Words

Tsunami: a cataclysm resulting from a destructive sea wave caused by an earthquake orvolcanic eruption.

Sounds scary, doesn't it? The recent tsunami in Japan unfortunately fit this definition. The one in Pacifica didn't. The media hype about the tsunami that hit the West Coast of the United States made me think about the power of scary words. Earthquake, cancer, wildfire (not just fire), tumor, hurricane. Some words carry more punch than others. The word "DANGER" followed by "Stay Back" doesn't seem to impress anyone and "Employees Only" is even less effective. But the word "tsunami" sent some people running for the hills-literally! 

Public safety officials said that it would be a really small tsunami (1 foot high), and that since it was set to come at low tide, it probably wouldn't cause water to rise higher than normal high tide. Voluntary evacuations were put into place in coastal areas of San Mateo County. Even though evacuations were not employed in San Francisco, Great Highway was closed. How did the local media capitalize on this? For one thing, I didn't hear the word "voluntary" until it was over. News of school and road closures, and evacuation centers, dominated. Most stations had local news on consistently, only giving updates on national/international news sporadically. This made keeping up with the real crisis in Japan more difficult.

I realize that some areas on the West Coast were affected more substantially. It would have been dangerous, for example, to be on a boat in Santa Cruz Harbor.

Now that the tsunami panic has passed, there is a potential danger from damage to a nuclear power plant in Japan. News reports, as well as government officials, vary widely on how serious and far-reaching the crisis is. I'm not an expert on the media, radiation, public policy or scary words, but we all teach our kids not to cry "wolf!"

For more news on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, including some miraculous survival stories, go to

Thursday, March 10, 2011


How do you know when you're not spending enough time with your friends? When you end up texting back and forth on 3 different subjects at the same time! The other night our alarm went off at 1:30 in the morning. After stopping the sirens, and ensuring that it was a false alarm, I called the alarm company to cancel the police. I didn't realize that, since I didn't answer my phone (I thought it was a dream), the company called my emergency contact.
Cindy texted me the next day saying she had a strange message on her cell phone. Some woman, who didn't identify herself, wanted her to call back and verify MY address. So, this was texting topic number one. While I had her "on the line," I shared a story about a Kaiser employee helping me. I had been whining about Kaiser for a while and I wanted to share a positive encounter. This was also a reminder to myself to notice and accept cranberries.
That was texting topic number 2.

Texting topic number 3 was just planning for Cindy to accompany me to a talk I'm giving next month. So, just three normal conversations, one philosophical; two logistical. All through texting.

Of course, none of this is remarkable, it just made me reflect on a couple of things: what did we do before cell phones and how important it is to spend time (real, face-to-face time) with friends. The truth is that if Cindy and I hadn't logged so many hours together, we never could have had a philosophical discussion over text messages!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


I watched an episode of Aquakids (yes, Aquakids) on TV. At first I wasn't going to watch it because I'm no longer into Saturday morning kid's shows. I changed my mind when they said that the kids would be swimming with manatees!

My first big dive vacation was a trip to Florida to SCUBA dive and swim with these same manatees, an awesome marine mammal that is related to elephants.

A long drive from Wisconsin to Florida brought us to the Florida Keys and a couple of beautiful dives on coral reefs. Following these great experiences, our caravan proceeded to our next stop: Crystal River, the wintering grounds of the Florida Manatee.

Manatees are large marine mammals: slower than dolphins; smaller than whales; bigger than us. They are also the only marine mammals to be completely herbivorous (plant-eating). Swimming with these gentle giants was a remarkable experience. I even got to touch one as it swam by!

While in Crystal River my dive group adventured out for one night dive--in a cave. Late one night, long after the sun went down, we got in the boat and carefully, while we avoided sleeping manatees, motored out to our dive spot. It was a moonless night and the only visible light was from the flashlight lighting our way. I was shivering, although I wasn't cold. My dive instructor, Rick, suggested that he be my dive buddy. I relaxed immediately upon this suggestion. With Rick in close proximity, I knew I would be safe.

Night diving was amazing. I felt, but didn't see, the fish as they swam past me. I heard, but didn't see, the swarm of bubbles being exhaled from my fellow divers' regulators. I listened carefully for sounds of popping shrimp, croaking fish, grunting seals or chirping manatees, but I heard only the sounds of the human intruders (us). At one point, we all turned off our flashlights, which made us feel really immersed in the underwater world.

Today, I stay in touch with my marine biology side by watching shows like this, going whale watching, attending conferences, and, of course, teaching marine biology!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bar Mitzvah

Today is February 13, 2011. For many months, I had been looking forward to February 12, 2011, the date of my son Andy's Bar Mitzvah. Now that it's over, I can look back on it with relief and pride. First of all, Andy did a magnificent job, chanting prayers and leading the service like a pro. He surely earned the cup of wine he was offered after reciting the kiddush (real wine--NOT grape juice)! Abby did a great job with her parts as well. She wasn't feeling well, but carried on as if nothing was wrong.

When it was my turn to climb up to the bima (platform), I didn't stumble. I offered a blessing to Andy during the ceremony. Since I wasn't able to do this during Abby's Bat Mitzvah four years ago, it was especially important to me to offer a blessing that was meaningful to both of them. As I was reciting the words, I truly felt God's presence. It was as if I was having a private moment with my children. The 100 spectators were forgotten.

Andy presented his prepared speeches flawlessly. He interpreted and found meaning in his Torah portion. He talked a lot about the Eternal Flame, but he was also able to incorporate his work at the zoo, the TV show Survivor, and the Disney movie Wall-E!

Following the service, we had a party, complete with a DJ, great food, and, of course, lots of wine. Everything went off without a hitch. The food arrived on time, and it was delicious! (I highly recommend Luigis in Pacifica.)

Andy with his Aunt Karen and Uncle Howard during the candle ceremony.
One of my favorite parts of the party was the candle-lighting ceremony. Andy lit a candle in honor of people who are important in his life. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends were included. A different song was played as each candle was lit.

Planning and executing this event meant so much to me--more so because of our situation, and the fact that I wasn't able to be as involved in planning Abby's Bat Mitzvah as I would have liked. But what I said in my last post is true, and I think it bears repeating because it applies to everyone: we all have to do the best we can do with the resources we have.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


“You can’t pause life.” Andy said this in response to having to do chores while he was playing XBOX Live, but I found it very philosophical anyway. What if you could pause life? How would you take advantage of it? In the movie Clockstoppers, the characters were able to speed up their actions to such an extent that everything else seemed to move very slowly. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was demonstrated in a great, fun, way in this movie. The characters did some goofy things while they were moving so fast that life stood still, and they fought crime.

There are still days when there is not enough time to get everything done, whether it is running errands, grading papers, or preparing presentations. In the week leading up to any big event, there are never enough hours in the day. Andy is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, coming up in less than a month. He is practicing all the Hebrew prayers and sections of the Torah that he will have to chant. He not only has to chant (sing) these blessings, but he also needs to present a speech explaining what his Torah portion means and how it is relevant to his life. Our wonderful rabbi is guiding him (and me) through this process, and I'm confident that we are both feeling closer to Judaism as a result.

Abby had her Bat Mitzvah four years ago. As I go through this uplifting yet difficult journey with Andy, I can't help but wonder how Abby went through this entire process while I was in the hospital. As she practiced chanting her Torah portion and prepared her speech--I wasn't there. She never complained about my absence-she knew that I HAD to be in the rehabilitation center, but I knew I was missing out on something wonderful.

I couldn't pause life--Abby did an amazing job at her Bat Mitzvah. I realize as I go through this with Andy how much I missed. I can't dwell on that; I can't change something I had no control over. I need to focus on doing my best job as a mom that I can do with the resources that I have. At this time, that means putting my whole heart into Andy's Bar Mitzvah preparations. I love listening to him practice, and I enjoy attempting to help him interpret his Torah portion. I can't wait for his big day. I'm sure there will be no need to press pause, rewind or stop!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Top Ten of 2010

Top Ten of 2010

Top ten what, you ask? Everybody does a top ten list to end the year, so I thought I’d reflect as well. Realizations, movies, tv shows, etc--this is a hodge-podge of Top Tens.

10. Last year at this time, I didn’t have a valid driver’s license. My license was reinstated in January 2010.

9. I posted 39 blogs in 2010; the most-viewed one was Black Belt!

8. One of my favorite movies of the year was Little Fockers.

7. My New Year’s Resolution has NOTHING to do with my weight!

6. I still think that a good dose of chocolate (especially Abby’s OREO balls) can heal most ailments. (Good thing my New Year’s Resolution has nothing to do with weight!)

5. My least favorite movie of the year was Kick Ass. It could have been fun--kids as superheroes. But it was wayyyy too violent to be enjoyable.

4. We went whale watching this year--for the first time since my surgery! It was fun: we saw lots of whales and I only fell once. Read more here…Whale Watching Blog

3. I developed three new courses last year--two online, and one honors biology section addressing the function of the human brain.

2. I began research into the effectiveness of Mirror Therapy, in a project called Mirror, Mirror. This goes along with Wii-hab!

1. If people who are not related to me annoyed me last year--I wrote about it! Altruism, Nastiness, and Car Dealer are examples.