Music and Memory

One of life’s more wonderful feelings is having that song come on the radio. You know, the one you used to belt out with your friends however many years ago. Our memory is powerfully tied to music – many oral histories include songs and poems because the melody and rhythm increase retention. In my own life, different songs elicit memories of different times, and usually a smile.

I’ve been thinking a lot about music lately because my brother taught me how to use Spotify last weekend. He saves songs he thinks I’ll like and got sick of searching up YouTube links for me, so now he can share them through Spotify. Once I figured out what I was doing, it’s a really fun way to go back to old music I love and to go through all the new things he’s found for me.

I’ve long used music to modulate my moods. Before bike races I would play “Final Countdown” by Europe, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “We Are the Champions” by Queen. My favorite song for ski racing GS was “Jerk it Out” by the Caesars and for slalom it was “Here it Goes Again” by OK Go. Jack Johnson reminds me of Telluride and Third Eye Blind of Winter Park. This music is my adventure music.

Other adventures have become permanently linked to songs. The summer I lived in Panama was when Daft Punk released “Get Lucky.” I wouldn’t be a huge fan of this one except for the fact that it was on so incessantly while I lived in Bocas that now I can’t not think of that summer when I hear it. When I’m on a plane I always feel like listening to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (for which I entirely blame United’s marketing department).

But the music I like varies wildly. When I want to focus I go in for Bach’s cello suites or Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I’ve been listening to a symphony radio channel for the last seven months and I’ve been really enjoying it. The pieces are long enough that I am only now starting to recognize some of them.

If I really need to get stuff done, I put on the soundtrack for the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It makes me feel like I’m on an adventure! If it gets too stuck in my head though I can’t relax anymore, which can be obnoxious.

When I’m with my dad we listen to Jimmy Buffet, the Beatles, and Eric Clapton. My mom taught me to love John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot. My mom also really likes George Winston, a new age pianist, and she would play it after my brother and I had gone to bed. I still have never heard the end of that CD because I fall asleep halfway through.

It’s been fun to find all of these things on Spotify (although I think I’ve confused the recommend feature a bit). But mostly I’ve been listening to music that has been closer to my heart in the last couple years of my life.

Gregory Alan Isakov is a Boulder-based artist who I’ve gotten to see play at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony. In particular, his album That Sea, The Gambler has been my constant companion through every difficult point of the last three years. The music is beautiful and calm. And lately my brother has introduced me to a band called Pandas and People. They’re based out of Fort Collins and their music always makes me want to sing along.

In January Jeffrey drug me out of my hobbit hole and we saw them play in Denver. I was up until one in the morning, which is FOUR HOURS past my normal bedtime. It was a small venue but Jeff and I had a blast. I almost never go to concerts because they are so contrary to my hobbit-self; they’re loud, crowded, and late at night. But going with my brother and seeing a band I know and love made it a really fun night.

But my favorite album, since I was six and still today, is New Moon Shine by James Taylor. We always played it in the car on the way to the cabin my dad and my grandpa built together. My dad always whistled along to it as we bumped along the dirt road. For me, this album means coming home, it means time with my family, it means running around in the mountains in my hiking boots. There is no music that makes me feel more like myself.

Your homework: What is your favorite song today? What memories are tied to music for you?

Hej då,




Doing Chores

I know, that’s the most exciting blog post title you’ve ever read. But really, I (almost always) love doing my chores. Think I’m a little weird yet? It’s ok, being weird is far more interesting!

Also, I’m not sure what “God of War 3” is, but other than that, this image could totally be my chore list. Every chore list should start with “download Harry Potter.”

This weekend is a four-day weekend, so I took one day to be one of those days where I spent several hours getting my physical space organized again. These kinds of days make me really satisfied. I thoroughly enjoy taking care of my space and I love the immediacy of getting to clean something up and see it be neat and beautiful.

The first thing my mom always taught me to do was make my bed. It’s such a huge physical thing in a room that if it’s neat, it makes a huge visual difference. In this case, I stripped the bed so I could wash my sheets, but it still was nice to have a cleared-off mattress rather than a heap of messy blankets.

Then comes laundry. I had, oh, about three weeks worth of laundry heaped in my basket. In dumping it on my bed to sort it out, I realized I’d stashed my ski helmet and an extra water bottle in my laundry basket for some reason. Clearly this organizational day was over-due. I put those two things away and then sorted out the things that actually needed to be washed (literally every single sock I own) and things that just needed to be put away (the sweatshirt I wear for two hours a night after I get home from school).

I like to put music on and sing while I fold laundry. I like the feel of fabric in my hands and laundry is definitely one of those things that goes fairly quickly but looks like an awesome accomplishment. I especially love folding laundry right out of the dryer, because it’s warm and it smells good. Seriously, what’s better than warm laundry?

After laundry, I usually go to pick-up parties. This is also something I learned from Mom; you can’t clean when there’s stuff everywhere. When my brother Jeff and I were young, she would have us take things to different rooms around the house. When we finished picking up one room, we’d get a chocolate chip (or three) for our efforts. I don’t (always) reward myself with chocolate chips anymore, but I still remember to pick up before I clean.

I like putting stuff away because it’s satisfying to me that it has it’s own place. One nice thing about moving so frequently during college is that I have my belongings reasonably trimmed down, so it’s easy to put stuff away. This weekend I reorganized two drawers so one was electronics cords and things and another was special gifts from friends (some CDs and letters and things). I don’t need these things out all the time, and having open space on the top of the dresser means I can see my pictures on it better.

Then comes the cleaning! My favorite place to clean is the kitchen. I like doing dishes because, like laundry, it’s warm, it smells good, and it makes a big visual impact on the place. I also just really like being in the kitchen. That’s where all the tasty food happens, after all. And I really do love food, both creating it and eating it. When I’m cleaning my kitchen, especially doing dishes and wiping down the counters, I’m getting it ready for the next round of cooking and baking.

In my current place of residence, the kitchen is the only place with wooden floors. I like sweeping them because it’s a small space and I love the feel of the floors when I’m barefoot. Crumbs on the floor are not as much fun to walk in.

I also weirdly enjoy cleaning bathrooms. I think it’s because it’s usually a small room, so I can do the whole thing fairly quickly. I also get fairly annoyed by dirty bathrooms. How is anyone supposed to get clean in a dirty place?

But then comes my downfall. I absolutely hate vacuuming.

It doesn’t make a huge visual impact. I know it’s sucking up tons of gross-ness out of the carpet, but especially on patterned rugs you can’t see that. And carpets cover whole rooms. They’re huge! I know I miss spots when I vacuum. And above all else, vacuuming is noisy.

This is actually a source of lots of amusement for people who know me. I don’t like anything that’s noisy. That includes, but is not limited to, food processors, blenders, electric mixers, lawn mowers, sewing machines, and snow blowers. And especially vacuums. I don’t like the noise myself, and I also feel like I must be disturbing everyone in a three-mile radius!

In my science classroom, I do several labs that require a blender; we puree a Happy Meal and test it for macromolecules and we also puree liver for a catalase enzyme lab. The first time I did the “liver lab” with my mentor teacher, she thought I was hesitant because of the liver. She told me I could also do the lab with pineapple, but she thought the kids liked the gross-factor of the liver. Really, it’s not the liver that bothers me. I don’t even mind the pureed Happy Meal. It’s the blender!

My home isn’t the only place I like to organize; school is WAY easier when I have my things put away. I think it’s been three weeks since I’ve been able to see the surface of my desk. This is not good. It takes me longer to find what I need, I’m not sure what I need to grade and what I need to hand back, and actually getting anything done is difficult because I have to shove stacks of paper aside to get my laptop on the desk. So there will also be a filing project at school soon.

I know that as soon as I put everything away, my things will start to creep out again. There’s already a tea mug sitting on the counter. My yoga mat is already hanging off the back of a chair in kitchen. I don’t mind these things either. It makes my house feel like I actually live here, rather than me having to erase my presence completely. But cleaning is a way for me to love my home, to take care of it and of myself. And that’s the hobbit in me.

Your homework: How do you feel about picking up, cleaning, and organizing? What level or organization keeps you functional, and what level of disarray is comfortable?

Hej då,


Gifts of Science

Yesterday I took eight of my anatomy and physiology students on a field trip to a cadaver lab. Good Samaritan Hospital in Lafayette, CO  has been running the lab sessions for high school students for the last five or so years. My students got to spend four hours with an instructor leading them through a preserved human body. It’s an incredible opportunity for students to learn about human anatomy, the medical field, and hopefully also about how incredible it is to be alive.

I do think my students learned a lot about anatomy, and I do think they have a new appreciation for medicine and for science. I was so proud of them – they struck a wonderful balance between respect for the person who donated their body and inquisitive nerdiness. But even as the “teacher” in the room, I still feel like I learned a lot! And I am deeply grateful I got the opportunity to go to a cadaver lab again.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in several cadaver labs over the course of my science career. When I was thirteen I visited the CSU lab. Later, when I was in high school, I got to see another cadaver. One of the surgeons in my town was pioneering a new surgical technique. In order to get it approved by the FDA, he performed the technique on a cadaver. Once he was done, he invited a group of students to dissect the cadaver with him. This was the first time I got to hold any of the human organs. It’s amazing how dense they are, and how tightly they all fit together in our thoracic cavity (chest) and abdomen.

I also got to see and hold dissected specimens of human brains when I was studying neuroscience in Uppsala, Sweden. That was a really cool experience. It’s just incredible to me that this tiny squishy thing is responsible for all of our thoughts!

Every single time I’ve been to a cadaver lab, I am in awe of the people who choose to donate their bodies to science. I am also in awe of people who choose to donate organs. These people give incredible gifts to science and to science education. I cannot be an organ or a blood donor, so I’m really grateful to people who can.

Yesterday was just as impactful and meaningful to me, for a slightly different reason. When I saw cadavers in middle and high school, my body was awesome. It did everything I asked it to do, it was strong, and it was healthy. Since then, I’ve had opportunity to realize exactly how fragile it can be.

When I was nineteen I had a blood clot from my right ankle to my diaphragm. This is a MASSIVE clot; most people who get clots in their legs have clots the size of a quarter. Add into the mix that I was young and fit, and the doctors were very confused by me. Turns out that I have a genetic defect called Factor V Leiden that increased my risk of clotting. (This is why I can’t donate.) It makes teaching genetics to my students really interesting because I can tell my story.

Clots in the veins of your legs are called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Sometimes you hear warnings against DVT on long flights, because sitting causes blood to pool in your feet and still blood is more likely to clot. When I had my DVT, I also had four pieces of the clot in my leg break away and travel to my lungs. These clots in the lungs are called pulmonary embolisms.

Clots are a problem because they deprive the tissue of the blood supply. The first thing that becomes a problem is a lack of oxygen. Tissue without oxygen quickly dies. Depending on where the clot is, it can be more or less dangerous. Some famously deadly places for clots are in the coronary arteries (which causes myocardial infarction or a heart attack) and in the brain (which causes a stroke). DVTs can be bad for you, but usually they’re very treatable. There are enough blood vessels in your legs that if one gets clogged up, usually another one can help out and the tissue still has a blood supply. Clots in the lungs, on the other hand, cause tissue damage and can, ultimately, cause death.

Now, I’m definitely not saying I’m a medical miracle. There are plenty of people who get pulmonary embolisms and live. But there are also plenty of people who get them and die. So I feel very, very lucky.

I had a surgery to clear out the clot from my leg and was in the ICU for two days on a medication that dissolved clots. In that process, the surgeon placed a small metal filter in my inferior vena cava near my kidneys to prevent any more clots from getting from my leg to my lungs. It was only last year, five and half years after the initial surgery, that the filter was removed. I still wear a compression sock to help with the circulation in my right leg, but other than that I have no on-going treatments.

I will say it again; I am very, very lucky. But I will also admit that when I’m buried under a mountain of paper and stressed and tired, it’s easy to forget that.

Yesterday our instructor passed around many of the organs from our cadaver so the students (and I) could get a closer look at them. As I was holding her lungs, the instructor was explaining pulmonary embolisms to my students. He detailed why they were so dangerous and what symptoms they caused. Pulmonary embolisms can cause varying levels of chest pain. I found myself nodding along – been there, done that.

And reflexively, I took a deep breath. I felt like I had been smacked with my own good fortune again. I was standing there, holding a pair of human lungs, feeling mine expand and relax, knowing that process hadn’t worked so well at one point. Breathing is a glorious feeling! And for me, yesterday, every single breath felt like a gift.

Take one of those really deep breaths. Feel how the cartilage in your ribs stretches to allow your lungs to expand. Feel your diaphragm drop and your sternum lift. You can’t feel the membrane around your lungs slide along the membrane on the inside of your ribs, but it does, every time. You can’t feel your alveoli expanding and your red blood cells exchanging gas molecules, but it’s happening.

We can’t spend every second glorying in the feeling of being alive. Our brains have to focus on a million other things. But I think it’s really important to acknowledge how incredibly cool our bodies are! They are so strong and resilient, and for the majority of us, they hardly ever fail. But at the same time, they are so delicately balanced and one mishap can affect the entire thing. The science is one window into appreciating it, but just feeling my breathing and my heartbeat is another way. I’m really glad I got to revisit this feeling.

My homework for you: How do you appreciate your body? What makes you feel alive?

Hej då,



The Technical Delegate

Happy February! We finally made it to February! Since I started back to school on January 2nd, this month has felt long. Very, very long. But it is in fact February, so it’s time for an adventure post!

Today I’m going to give you a window into the world of ski racing, and especially ski race officiating. I ski raced for fifteen of my twenty-five years, and I’ve been a ski race official for nearly eight years now. Many of the life skills I can claim now I learned from ski racing. But that’s another story.

For those who are not winter sports enthusiasts, I was an alpine ski racer. There are different kinds of alpine racing, depending on how big the turns are. The smallest turns are in an event called slalom. The next biggest turns are in an event called GS (giant slalom), then the next biggest even is called super G (which stands for super giant slalom!). The biggest turns of all, and the highest speeds, create a downhill.

(Even if you knew all of that, click on the videos anyway. I spent way too much time trying to pick out my favorite racers and courses and such. Every single one of those racers is one of my heroes!)

Ski racing was amazing, but while I was racing I never gave a lot of thought to the people who were running the race. It actually takes A LOT of people to make a race happen! At absolute minimum, you need nine certified officials, plus twenty-five-ish volunteers, to make a race happen. So let me walk you through exactly what it takes to put on a ski race.

I’ll start with the volunteers. These are usually the parents helping out, and they’re super awesome! Gate keepers stand on the side of the hill and make sure all the racers go around all the gates. Course crew is in charge of keeping the course from getting too rutty (bumpy) and replacing broken gates.

And then there are the certified officials. The Race Administrator handles all the paperwork required for the race: the athlete entries, the start orders, the official results. The Chief of Timing is in charge of running the clocks and the computer; usually that person has an assistant also. The Chief of Course is the leader of the course crew, and is responsible for all the shovels, extra gates, and protective fencing. Two of my favorite positions are the Start Referee and the Finish Referee. They stand at the start and finish, respectively, and are responsible for ensuring the correct athlete goes out of the start or through the finish at the right time. I love working at the start because I like getting to interact with the racers. Everyone is excited at the start!

Then there are the three jury members: the referee, the chief of race, and the technical delegate. These are the people responsible for making any race-day decisions. The referee is usually also a coach because their job is to represent the athlete. The chief of race is the local hill’s representative and has one of the hardest jobs because they do all of the pre-race work to get everything organized. And the technical delegate, or TD, is the representative of the governing body, either USSA (United States Ski and Snowboard Association, and yes I know there is an S missing) or FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski, for higher-level races that qualify for international rankings).

The TD is the person responsible for making sure the race is safe and fair and the rules are followed. Normally the chief of race and referee do most of the work, but the TD can step in if the other two jury members miss something or don’t agree. In short, the TD is the top official on the hill.

I’ve been spending some of my time this winter getting certified to be a USSA-level TD. I took a written test in November about the rules of ski racing, and then I’ve completed two shadow-TD assignments. In these, I get to follow the TD around and learn from everything they’re doing on the hill. If you’re an educator, it’s like a classroom observation. I did my first shadow at home in Steamboat at one of my favorite annual races. The Holiday Classic is a series of slalom events at Howelsen Hill (that’s the picture at the top). One of the races is a night race, and the whole town turns out for the party! I did my second shadow at Beaver Creek and got to watch a top-notch race organization do what they did best. It was a very easy assignment in some ways, but it was also really good for me to see how a good race should look.

I’m currently in the middle of my third and final shadow, which is like a practical exam (or student teaching). I have a real certified TD with me, but I’m the acting TD and doing all of the normal TD things. I’m doing this one at Eldora, which is very close to where I live in Boulder. Hooray for getting to sleep in my own bed!

Being a TD is fun because you get to consider all of the things that ALMOST never happen. What do you do if a moose/fox/squirrel/raccoon/elk runs onto the course and interferes with a racer? What do you do if the timing doesn’t work correctly? (The variations on exactly how the timing can fail and what you do to fix it are ENDLESS.) What do you do if an athlete misses their assigned start position? What do you do if it starts snowing half way through the race and you get two feet in two hours? How and why do you disqualify an athlete? What requirements for the spacing between gates? (Every event and age group has their own set of rules, just to keep it exciting!) What equipment are athletes permitted to use? The list of questions goes on. And on. And on. (And yes, all of these are real situations. Including the moose.)

For a different sports analogy, and in honor of the fact that some of you will be watching a game of it tomorrow afternoon, let’s take football. The 2012 Super Bowl was the Giants-Patriots rematch, and the very first points scored in that game went to the Giants. They scored a safety because Tom Brady got called for an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone. Yeah. Consider that for a moment. These weird things do happen, and the officials have to know it all.

(And then, for a laugh, consider the fact that I remember this vividly only because that was the spring I spent living in Sweden. I was trying to teach football rules to my new friends from Germany and France. We were still trying to figure out what a yard was. It was a very fun night, but it was a little confusing for them!)

I love being around ski racing, and talking about ski racing, and listening to the crack-thwack of hitting slalom gates. I love the first run of the day; we get to go up very early to set the course and I’ve watched sunrises from the tops of many Colorado mountains that way. I love being outside all day and hanging out with the other officials and coaches.

But there is nothing I love more than sharing a race  course with my dad. He’s taught me everything I know about being a good official, and we spend hours on the phone swapping stories about crazy situations so if we ever see something similar we have some idea of what to do. I’m really lucky because I’ve spent years listening to my dad tell stories. He became a ski race official when I was racing in middle school. This gives me a lot of second-hand experience to draw on when something weird happens. Because, inevitably, something weird WILL happen.

At the moment I’m sitting here writing this knowing that my face is an interesting combination sunburned and windburned (I swear I put on sunscreen, but at 10,000 some feet it doesn’t matter much), my backpack is full of wet gear and old start lists, and the road up the canyon is windy and icy. Tomorrow I get to go back on the hill for eight hours of standing in ski boots in winter weather conditions, watch over 100 athletes come down the hill, and fill out paperwork at the end. For some people, this makes me completely insane. But ski people will understand when I say I couldn’t be more excited.

Tomorrow’s my last day of TD shadowing; once all the paperwork gets turned in from this race I’ll officially be a certified TD. It’s a wonderful way to give back to a sport I love, to meet new people who also love the mountains, to go outside, and to nerd out about ski racing rules with my dad. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Your homework: What’s one really obscure body of knowledge you know A LOT about? (Like, for example, alpine ski racing rules…) How did you learn about it? How do you maintain ties to the things you loved as a child?

Happy adventuring this February!

Hej då,