Compliment Activation (or Geeky Fun with Words)

This has been a tough week in the world, so I thought you might like a little diversion.

Sometimes I hear interesting words or phrases that pique my curiosity. These three phrases suggested meanings, but when I checked, I discovered the real meanings were very different.

Compliment activation – What I hope will happen after I get my hair cut or if I’m showing off a new pair of shoes.

When I first heard this term at a medical conference in a previous life, I was delighted. After all, I’m a writer and love expressive language. But if you spell this the scientific way —“complement activation,” you get the real meaning:

The complement system includes 20+ protein molecules that circulate in the blood. When the body senses a pathogen (the cooties that cause disease), the complement system is activated and a sequence of events occurs to fight infection. So either kind of complement activation can be good for you.

Antisense – Sounds like a good description for current events. Also might describe what the chipmunks in my yard are saying.

“Antisense” just covers so many situations. Turns out, it also has a scientific meaning: Having a sequence of nucleotides complementary to (and hence capable of binding to) a coding sequence, which may be either that of the strand of a DNA double helix that undergoes transcription, or that of a messenger RNA molecule (Dictionary.com).

Whaaaat?

After more research, I learned that the concept of antisense evolved into a therapy for genetic disorders. When a particular gene is responsible for a disease, a strand of nucleic acid can be bound to the messenger RNA of that gene and effectively switch off the disease-causing gene.

Regional expression – OK, I think I got this. A regional expression is like “pop” in the Midwest or “soda” on the East coast. Or maybe the way I say, “crick” for “creek” – an Ohio thing. Unless we’re talking about genetics.

Every gene contains a particular set of instructions that code for a specific protein. Gene expression is the process that enables DNA instructions to be converted into something useful, such as a protein. Where a gene lies in the genome (its region or neighborhood) influences the regulation of gene expression. In other words, gene behavior is influenced by where it hangs out. Hmm. Just like people.

It can’t hurt to know a bit more about genetics, but I like my definitions better!

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Peering Past the Red Velvet Rope

While vacationing in the Hudson River Valley, my husband and I toured Kykuit, Rockefeller’s lavish summer home; Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s modest cottage; and the Hancock Shaker Community’s very plain dormitories.

Mindful of the red velvet ropes and little fences that kept us from exploring/trespassing, we craned our heads around doorways, peered into corners, and tried to imagine the lives lived there. Despite the tour guides’ colorful stories, sometimes it was hard to breathe life into those rooms. Occasionally, my mind drifted, and I entertained myself by imagining what a future tour guide would say about my home after I’ve achieved some unspecified (and as yet unattained) notoriety.

No doubt, future tourists leaning across the velvet rope blocking entrance to my office will say, “Ooooh, that’s where Ellen used to write! There’s the honey locust she used to look at while she wrote, and there’s the sad clematis on the too-big trellis—remember her blog about defensive landscaping?” 

The tour guide might add, “To preserve historical accuracy, we left the pile of mail on the loveseat. Family stories mention that she used to let it ‘age’ for up to two weeks before she dealt with it.” Visitors will chuckle and some of the more avid ones will lean in to snap photos of the mail pile.

“And over there—a see the cat bed on the radiator? Her cat, Pinky, kept her company on cold Minnesota afternoons. Maybe he was even her muse as she struggled to revise her blogs and essays.” The tourists will jostle each other to take pictures of the cat bed.

The guide will probably point out, “Some of the furniture is antique—like the Mission style oak desk. Supposedly Ellen refinished it when she first moved to Minnesota years before she moved here for good. It was the only desk she ever used.” One of the visitors will probably sigh in appreciation. “We believe that she might have been sitting in that beat-up office chair when she received the call about winning the MacArthur Genius Grant/Nobel Peace Prize/Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.” More clicking cameras and cell phones.

“Next, we come to the music room, where Ellen’s husband composed his opus . . . .” The tourists will dutifully shuffle across the hall to oooh and ah.

6-pound Lament

I wonder what combination of tricks will help me lose weight this time?

I know Weight Watchers works if I just do it. In the morning I have good intentions and I’m determined to succeed, to once and for all lose the 6 pounds that stand between my clothes fitting comfortably and not. Disappear my Buddha belly. By evening, I am ready to sabotage the die-ette and eat some crackers (1 point), a piece of cheese (2 points) or a Dove ice cream mini (3 points).

Whenever I diet, I am setting myself outside my normal eating patterns and entering the Land of Crave and Denial, a place I’m sure to sneak out of or completely bust out of eventually.

Because I know I’m going to want what I can’t have, I’ve ruled out other diets like Atkins, Paleo, etc. There’s no way I’ll succeed by banishing whole categories of food – bread, pasta, sugar, fat, which in my mind equal toast with butter, pasta with anything, sugar in my coffee, ice cream, dark chocolate, salty nuts, potato chips, and anything fried.

I don’t want to diet, and yet . . . there’s this shelf of a belly, the same six pounds I’ve gained and lost for 30 years. Which is stupid. Why do six pounds or a piece of cheese matter?

There’s a body positivity movement afoot to accept your weight and quit worrying about a perfect shape. I admire the young women who feel sexy and at ease in their own bodies and proudly disregard their muffin tops and big thighs. But I am of a different generation, one that was taught from a tiny age to aspire to a perfect figure. Anything less than that and you are made to feel like a less valuable person. Which is also stupid. But I can’t get it out of my head, can’t stop mentally shaving off the extra pounds to see my perfect shape, or more realistically, my pretty good shape.

It’s not that I’m huge. I weight 20 pounds more than when I married and looked good objectively (or is that as an object . . . something set on this earth for other people to look at?)

I’m trim, but not thin. My extra weight isn’t a health issue. For now. But I dislike how I look. I wish I looked different. I’m not aspiring to lose 20 pounds. Just six so my clothes fit better. So far, I’ve avoided buying larger sizes. That’s the line I won’t cross. But if I gain any more weight, I’ll have to.

Besides eating a lot of fish, salad, fresh fruit, chicken breasts, veggies and walking for at least 45 minutes every day, I have all kinds of tricks like—

  • Every day, I can have a planned cheat, like one sweet thing a day—a cookie or a Dove ice cream mini.
  • I don’t eat low-cal chocolate or cheese. They’re a waste of calories and I’m only going to eat more of them until I have the real thing. Instead, I eat small amounts of the good stuff—like one Dove dark chocolate Promise, not five. It really does satisfy my chocolate crave.
  • Have a 4 o’clock snack – a little hummus or a small piece of cheese and 2 or 3 crackers to tide me over until dinner.
  • Drink some ice water or herbal tea at night instead of a mojito, a beer, or a glass of rioja.
  • When the chip crave overwhelms me, I eat and enjoy a 1 oz. bag of chips fromSuperAmerica. A setback, yes, but better than a big bag of chips.

All of that works until it doesn’t. Until I don’t want to do it anymore. Until I crave more salt and sweet. Until abstinence sounds too pathetic and silly. Really? I can’t have a cookie? I really have to feel bad about caprese salad with creamy fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, basil, and good olive oil?

Which is why I have those six pounds to lose. Again. Which is stupid.

An excellent article, “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner inspired me to reflect on my uneasy relationship with my weight. I highly recommend it.

Lost in Wonderland (or Wasting Time on Pinterest)

I was not an early convert to Pinterest. Even when a friend helped me set it up, I dragged my feet. Messing around with it might be fun, but there were so many other things I needed to do. However, when we moved to a new house, I began to see why people like the app.

At first it was strictly business—a shopping tool and resource for household tips. Our new house needed shower curtains, porch furniture, light fixtures, and a stool for the kitchen counter. The app became a good place to save photos and links for furnishings that I wanted to show to my husband.

Next, I searched for advice on nontoxic ways to clean the shower. I was immediately bombarded with pins for shower cleaning tips along with photos of gross toilets that needed an intervention. I wanted to say, “Wait, no need! I’ve already know what to do about the shower, and God help me if my toilet ever looks like that!” But like most online apps, it’s programmed to show you more of whatever you searched for in the past.

The real magic happened when I followed a few friends. They like such cool stuff—who knew it even existed? ceramic sculptureI’d never have found such amazing ceramic sculptures or incredible fiber art if I hadn’t started following a sculptor friend and seeing her pins. That led to people across the world pinning my pins. Amazing.fiberart

My friends’ pins also led me to explore in a more playful way—not searching, just wandering in playland. That’s how I learned more about jadeite glass and how to grow fragrant lemon seedlings from lemon seeds . . . in case I ever want to.

Now Pinterest is my first stop for recipes, crafts, and garden ideas. I’m not a clever person who thinks up how to make Santa hat appetizers from strawberries and banana slices, but now I can impress my friends with that trick if I ever need to.

Messing around in the quilting and sewing pins gave me a zillion ideas for projects. And I never would have seen antique sewing scissors and sewing kits without Pinterest. antique sewing kit

This year, when I started planning my flowerpots for the patio, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration.flowerpot

What I’ve discovered is that at worst, Pinterest is harmless, but addicting, fun. I can collect eye candy and daydream (without obligation) about cool projects I might do. At best, it’s a good resource for inspiration.

What’s in a Nickname?

In Great Britain, more than 120,000 online voters recently suggested “Boaty McBoatface” as the name for a British polar research ship. The Science Ministry in Britain overruled the popular choice, choosing instead to name the ship after naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. Although I loved the silliness of “Boaty McBoatface,” I wasn’t surprised it didn’t make the cut. But it did remind me of the power and persistence of nicknames.

Some nicknames are just plain stupid and annoying like the ones I was given in high school. And no, I’m not giving them new life here! Other nicknames are mocking and hurtful. I never knowingly bestow those names. If I know that someone dislikes one of my nicknames, I try to drop it.

But for me, nicknames are sign of affection—a name I give someone to acknowledge our special connection. Or they can also be a humorous name for a car or pet. For example, my ’67 Chevy BelAir was “the Blue Whale,” because it was enormous. Sometimes we called my collie Tasha, “Slosha,” because of the way she dripped all over the floor when drinking.

When I was growing up, nicknames were common in my family, and my father originated most of them. They were affectionate (or at worst, teasing) and often nonsensical. I don’t know why he called my oldest brother, who certainly wasn’t smelly, “Big Barnsmell.” None of the rest of us called him that, so my brother tolerated the name with good grace. Dad called my next brother, “Sport,” which at least made sense, because that brother was athletic.

Sport called me “Snickersnee” because of my sneezing and allergies. Eventually that was shortened to “Snee” or “Snee Baby.”

After hearing my oldest niece call her younger sister, “Shorty,” I adopted that nickname for my younger sister, because she’s several inches taller than me. Stupid, I know, for a grown woman to call her younger sister “Shorty,” but I’ve done it for years and she’s never smacked me. Lately she’s taken to calling me “Shellen.” Aside from the rhyme, I’m not sure why she’s given me that name, but I’m OK with it.

My siblings and I also had nicknames for my father although we didn’t always say them to his face—“Big D” for Dad or Don (his first name).

It was probably inevitable that I’d have nicknames for my sons. I’ll spare you (and them) the dippiest names, which tended to be variations on their first names. However, during his middle years, I called my youngest, “Larry Bob,” which had nothing to do with his real name, but it sort of went with the goofier side of his personality.

When our sons got muscles and grew half a foot taller than me, I began calling them “Otis” and “The Other Otis”—kind of like calling them, “You big galoot”—a teasing way to acknowledge how much bigger they are than me. So far, they’ve tolerated it pretty well. No doubt they have names for me too.

Do you use nicknames for your family and friends? How about your car? Pets?