Monthly Archives: October 2011

My Favorite Bacterial Pathogen

So, the title might sound a little strange: what weird and twisted person has a favorite bacterium?  Me, your friendly microbiologist!  The recent news stories regarding the fatal listeriosis outbreak linked to cantaloupe got me to thinking of my favorite class in school: Bacterial Pathogens. Bacteria that cause disease are called pathogenic bacteria, just so you know.  What a fun class.  No, really, it was very interesting and, if
you don’t think about things too much, like I don’t, it’s not too scary.  After reflecting on the dozen or so bugs (that’s what microbiologists call bacteria, which I find amusing) we studied in class, I determined Listeria monocytogenes was not my favorite bug, but it is pretty interesting.

Listeria monocytogenes (Listy) is the bug which causes listeriosis, one of the nastiest pathogens known with roughly 20 – 30% of infections resulting in death. In my opinion, those are not good odds.  Listy, this little discussed bug, causes more deaths than Salmonella and Clostridium, two of the more common food borne pathogens.  Listy is responsible for about 2500 illnesses a year and 500 deaths in the United States alone.  One of Listy’s sneakiest attributes is the fact it can keep replicating in temperatures close to freezing, so the trick of putting things in the fridge to slow down growth doesn’t
work.  Listy just keeps replicating to keep warm.  Once Listy has taken over, you are blessed with: Influenza like symptoms of persistent fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Sounds like alcohol poisoning.  Ah, good times.

Not to knock Listy, but after reading about the conditions at the farm behind the cantaloupe outbreak, I thought of three things: 1. Why did it have to be a fruit I liked, huh?  2. Have I ever heard of cantaloupe being a concern for Listy? I knew about hot dogs and unpasteurized milk and cheese, which reminds me, note to all: unpasteurized
anything = bad, trust your friendly microbiologist.  Don’t believe those people, they are trying to sell you a product.  3.  I wonder how my microbiology teacher from Texas
State University is doing.  Then, I thought about my favorite bugs: Listeria monocytogenes is a scary little bug, but Pseudomonas aeruginosa is much more
intriguing and common.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Soody) is a bug found in soil, water, on the skin and on most manmade environments.  Basically, Soody is found everywhere you are going to be.  It especially likes to hang out at hospitals, skulking around medical equipment, a favorite being the catheter.  Yikes, my legs just slammed shut!  Soody is an opportunistic pathogen, which means it waits around until you start feeling bad, and then it jumps on you.  Soody usually infects the pulmonary tract, urinary tract, burns, and wounds, basically anywhere there is an opening.  Soody is the number one leading cause of hospital acquired infections, one of the many reasons I won’t visit you in the hospital without full doomsday gear.

I read somewhere Soody infects close to 700 million people a year, but I must have
misread the number because that is a whole bunch of people.  It is very common and seems to be everywhere, I feel stuff crawling on me now, but Soody isn’t my favorite bug.  Listeria monocytogenes is a scary little bug, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is more intriguing and common, but Streptococcus pyogenes is my favorite bug so far.

Streptococcus pyogenes (Gene – no relation to my brother-in-law, although they share some of the same qualities) is a clever little, constantly evolving bug that has wreaked havoc for as long as time.  I first read about Gene in school when we discussed the problems of disease in the Civil War (again, I’m talking about the bug here, not my BIL, I’m pretty sure Gene the man was not involved in the Civil War).  Gene, along with gangrene and Staphylococcus aureus, caused more death than actual warfare.  Gene is also one of the scary ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria.  Who doesn’t like a good zombie story?
Gene, when introduced to a wound, kills tissue by interfering with the normal blood flow, breaking down tissue causing quick dispersal of the bug to connecting tissue.  If not treated immediately, Gene will spread everywhere, leading to death, usually caused by

The really amazing thing about Gene is it has different strains of itself that release
different toxins which cause different diseases.  So one type of Gene found in the throat can cause Strep throat and another Scarlet Fever.  A skin Gene can cause Impetigo (a highly contagious skin infection) and another, through a wound, the horror book inspired skin eater.  I have had Strep throat many times in my life and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was my second introduction to Gene.  My first was through my Grandmother.

For the record, I’m probably drawn to Gene more, not because it’s impressive, but
because it allowed my maternal Grandmother (Granny) to scare the bejeezus out of me as a young child.  Granny had Scarlet Fever when she was 30 and lost all her teeth as a result.  I did not realize, at the age of 3 or 4, that some people had fake teeth, having just gotten all of mine.  When my brother and I would annoy Granny, she stuck her teeth out at us, causing me unknown number of night terrors and, to this day, an uncomfortable feeling around people who do not have all of their teeth.  I grew out of reacting to this form of terror from Granny in my teens and she stopped doing it, but I
think the real reason she stopped was because ‘they’ developed better glue and
it was too much work to pry them loose.  She is that mean.  So really, in a
roundabout weird kinda way, Gene is my favorite bug because it has impacted my life
the most, impacted my life through a mean, toothless, wrinkly, blue haired old
lady who lives in Everett, Washington.  I hope she doesn’t read anymore.

I don’t mean to joke at anyone’s expensive…if you’ve had any of the above diseases, or lost someone to a disease, I am truly sorry for your loss.  I just can’t help my admiration for such a worthy opponent.  An unseen, deadly force hiding everywhere, waiting for us to stumble, just a little, and open up the door of opportunity for them to slither through.  On that note, it’s dinner time!  Seriously, don’t think about it too much, clear your mind like I do…oh, look…squirrel!



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A Weekend in Bend, Oregon

Janet and I drove over to Bend, Oregon this weekend and didn’t want to come back to Portland.  What an outdoor adventureland.  I don’t ski so I can’t see myself going over for prime snow season, but I loved all the hiking trails, rivers and shopping.  Okay, not in that order.  We enjoyed it so much we’re talking about, once our lease is up at the end of April, spending the summer in Bend.  I’m not sure we can actually do it, not sure how the taxes would work out, but it sure is fun to think about.  I’ll have to write about Bend in the next book.

One of my favorite things to do is to go hiking.  I love to walk through trails that were cut out of the wilderness.  Actual trees and meadows and rivers and lakes.  We went to Powell’s Bookstore (in Portland) thursday night after Janet got back to town and bought a hiking book with 900 Washington/Oregon hikes.  We scoured the book and found a hike that sounded perfect: the Deschutes River Trail/Dillon and Benham Falls.  I loved the description: you could hit the trail at the beginning of the 17 mile system, or hit it from any number of entry points along Cascade Lakes Highway.  There were trails, a river, and impressive falls involved.

There’s something you should know about me right up front.  I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and to make matters worse when I get into a car my IQ drops at least 25 points.  50 if I’m with my friend Susie.  Susie and I could get lost in a corn maze that was only knee high.  Anyhoo, when I read how to get to the trailhead, “From Bend, take Cascade Lake highway 6.2 miles west to a sign for Meadow Day Use Area”, I took that to mean 6.2 miles outside the city limits of Bend.  I didn’t even pay attention for 10 minutes of driving, and by then it was too late.

After about 20 minutes of looking for the Meadow Day Use Area, we were pretty sure we had missed it.  We made it to the closed Mt. Batchelor ski area and headed to the right down a road filled with dozens of lumberjacks cutting down trees.   Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the truck driving, chainsaw wielding, Paul Bunyon types were very nice people; Janet and I just decided it was a good time to turn our little Prius around and get the hell out of there.

So, on the way back to town, after we had driven almost all the way back to downtown Bend, we saw the sign for the day use area.  We refused to turn around and felt that eating breakfast and shopping would be a much better idea.  We salvaged our step count by stopping, on the way back to Portland, at a magnificent park called Smith Rock State Park.  Wow.  That’s all you need to know about that park.  If you are within 500 miles of Smith Rock State Park, stop what you are doing and head on over.  Reminded me a lot of Zion.  My daughter, Jessie, will love it…and the candy store in Bend.

We had to stop by the McMenamins Old St. Francis School while in Bend.  I first learned of the McMenamin brothers when Janet brought me out to Portland a couple of years ago and love every thing they have done in the Oregon/Washington area.  It seems they like to buy old buildings, restore them, and create wonderful healthy businesses. The Old St. Francis School was now a hotel, theater, restaurant, and bar.  Really a nice place to go and hang out for a while.

Oh, btw, is it wrong to schedule your workouts (of any kind) around food?  Janet and I went to the community center and worked out this morning, but I’m pretty sure it was because we had pizza for dinner last night.  We also went for a walk this afternoon…to Applebees down the street (for happy hour) and Chuck’s Grocery store (for cake).  I am pretty happy that we went for a walk and worked out today, but I’m constantly amused by the reasoning behind our workouts.


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Say Hello To My Little First Draft

I finished my first draft yesterday. That felt so good. I’m not sure how long a ‘normal’ book should be and I have no idea how a word document translates into book form, so I guess I’ll just have to order it later on to find out.  If I buy the book, along with Janet and all 3 of my friends, I can call myself a published author, one of the few things I haven’t been called in my life.  Way to go, Jenn!
Janet and I decided to self publish our book so we won’t get any nasty rejection letters to hang on the wall. I’ll just have to forgo that character building on this project.  It seems pretty straightforward and I feel better about self publishing since ebooks now outsell paper books and a recent USA Today bestseller list had two or three $.99 self published ebooks. I think 99 cents is too cheap for a book, I will charge $2.99…really suck those readers dry. I’ll sit back and watch all the dough roll my way, dozens and dozens of dollars!  Yes, it still counts if it is mostly Janet and my Mom’s money.

It’s a good feeling finishing the first draft…I actually completed something. I’m taking a writing class on creating dynamic characters and figure I’ll wait until the class is over to work on the second draft. I’m really hoping I learn something from this class…it seems very promising, very eye opening. I have learned a lot already, just from last night’s class. Mostly that my writing sucks compared to the other students, but at least I got that realization out of the way early in my second career!
Oh, btw, anyone heard of hot yoga? Janet has taken a couple of classes (at 5:30 in the morning no less) and she says it is intense. They raise the temperature of the room to 105 and you hold 26 different positions for 60 seconds each. You wouldn’t believe the amount of sweat involved.  Isn’t that a lovely picture?  A room full of sweaty, writhing people trying desperately not to fling their used salt water on you.  Sign me up! Last I talked with Janet she was consuming copious amounts of water and drinking straight from the salt shaker.


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The Road to Happiness

It’s not often you hear about people who are in the very fortunate position to quit their job voluntarily, not pursue a ‘real’ job, and see if they can make it as a writer.
I am one of those people.  My partner, Janet, thinks I can write well enough to sell a book or two.  I honestly believe she is just incredibly biased, love tends to do that
to one, but she tells me, no, she is not that biased, and she will put her
money where her mouth is.

If I asked you to define the word ‘wealthy’, what would come to mind?  Lots of money?  Mansions? Yachts?  Want to know my favorite definition of wealthy?  It’s waking up every morning and doing exactly what you want to do that day.  If you can get to that point in your life…you are a wealthy person.  It doesn’t necessarily mean having a ton of money, I’m sure that would help immensely, it just means getting to the point
in your life where you enjoy every minute of it.  I realized this morning, when I noticed we were a third of the way through October already, that time is flying by.  Time did not fly by when I was working my last job.

I really didn’t like my old job.  My Mom taught me to never use the word hate, “it’s too strong of a word to use lightly,” she always said, so I reserve that word for the Yankees, light beer, and vegetables.  (To be honest, I don’t really hate light beer and veggies.
They’re just not my favorite things.)  I really, really didn’t like my old job, though.  Every time my alarm would go off I would think, ‘Really?’  I worked for the State
of Texas, was a microbiologist for 6 years when I decided to quit.  The work itself was very interesting, it was the people and the institution that I really didn’t like.  When the opportunity to move back to the Pacific Northwest, the place I desperately missed, presented itself…I jumped at the chance.

Yes, I realize how bad the economy is now, how bad life is for way too many people on this planet.  Please, don’t ever for a minute think I don’t know how lucky I am…I am incredibly lucky.  I have a loving partner who adores me (not sure why) and just wants me to be happy; I have a daughter who I embarrass on a daily basis (she doesn’t even live with me during the school year, my powers are so great, I embarrass long distance), who loves me even though I am a dork; and I have freedoms most only hope for.

I can never thank Janet enough because thank you is so inadequate.  I can just hear her now, “don’t worry about it, honey, my pleasure.”  No, that’s not what I meant, Thank You.  “Seriously, Jenn, it’s not that big of a deal.”  Yes it is.  Thank you for believing in me, for being there for me, for supporting me not knowing how any of this will turn
out.  For that I can only say: THANK YOU.  All I refuse and thee I chuse.



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Hello world!


So I find myself in Portland, Oregon, a city I have always enjoyed visiting.  My partner, Janet, our daughter, Jessie, and I moved here in June of this year for family reasons.  This summer was beautiful: warm and sunny.  Not Austin warm, but a gentle warmth needing a sweater in the evenings.

I grew up in Seattle, the weather is not shocking to me, but after 20 years in the southern part of the U.S., I find myself a little chilly here.  One forgets how truly magnificent it is in the Pacific Northwest.  I decided to quit my job in Austin, spend the summer hanging out with Jessie, and give writing a try (thanks to Janet).

This is all new to me, this blogging stuff, I just hope I don’t screw up too badly.  At least I saw a delete button earlier.

Take care, jenn


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