Monday, January 26, 2015

Traveling in the Car

By Larry Collins, Guest Blogger

One of the many highlights of our daughter Kimberly’s visit last month for me included singing in the car on the way to Disneyland.

As we approached the parking structure, Kim, now in her forties, and I (I’m seventy) were happily singing the duet “Love is an Open Door” from the movie Frozen. And yes, I’ve seen the YouTube videos. In my opinion, we were just as good.
Singing comes naturally to our family. My dad and his three brothers harmonized around the piano at many family gatherings when I was growing up. Lorna’s grandfather was a semi-professional lyric tenor, and her mother both played and taught piano. Her aunts, mother, and grandmother sang hymns in parts while doing the dishes each night.

For many years, beginning when Kim was little, our family spent several hours driving between our home and our parents’ place at the beach where we spent each weekend. To pass the time, our trio would sing. After working through the latest radio songs and “Doe a Deer” from The Sound of Music, we would begin one of our other current favorites.

A special one was a round recorded by Spanky and Our Gang. The actual title is “Pedagogical Round #2. It is one of the most difficult songs to learn, but one of the most fun to sing. It was also a good teaching tool to learn the scale, as each number in the song corresponds to a musical note. For each repetition, we increased the tempo until either someone faltered, or we broke into spontaneous laughter.
I have included the link to the YouTube video above so you can hear it for yourself. It went like this:

One, Three, Five, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four,
Three, Five, Two, Three, Four, sharp Five.
And the Eight is the same as the One, but an octave apart
Try to learn it by heart.

Another was Don Mc Lean’s “By the Waters of Babylon.” We liked this one so much we taught it and sang it at church.

We’d sometimes take hikes into Big Santa Anita Canyon. On those trips, we sang Art Garfunkel’s “Woyaya” from his album, Angel Clare in harmony. Some of the girls from Kim’s Girl Scout troop may remember this one.

In addition, we read on those long journeys. Whoever wasn’t driving read to Kim. We went through all the Little House books, including the biographies, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Stewart Little, Charlotte’s Web, etc.

All of us have wonderful memories of those long trips and the fun we had on our travels.

Did any of you have special rituals for fighting the boredom of a long ride? We’d love to hear about them.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Wonderful Reunion

Today we fly home from Washington State after an eleven-day trip to attend the 2014 Rick Steves’ Tour Reunion. This event is held every January so those who shared a tour during the previous year can meet again in Edmonds. Many of the tour guides from Europe attend as well. This year, the little town of Edmonds hosted over 3000 people for this event!
Before the reunion last weekend, however, we visited with several of our friends who live in the area.

We started our visit with our dear friend Rev. Serena Sullivan in Tacoma. She had stayed with us in Dana Point for a few days last year, so we loved seeing her once again. We’d never been to this lovely city before, so we enjoyed exploring, and she was a great guide. Our friend is now retired, so she had discretionary time to spend with us.

We enjoyed the Glass Museum as well as the Natural History Museum. She drove us on a scenic tour of the area, and we wandered through the cute little shops in some of the charming areas of town. We even went to the show one evening to see “Into the Woods” in a charming old theater. Oh, and we ate in several wonderful restaurants.

While based in Tacoma, we drove to Woodinville o spend a day with our friends, the Newtons. We hadn’t seen them since about 1991, and really enjoyed catching up. We talked all day and still had lots and lots to share.

After several days in Tacoma, we checked into our hotel in Edmonds. While there, we went to Mukilteo to meet another friend from Whidbey Island for lunch. We hadn’t seen her in years, either. The Newtons surprised her by joining us. We all attended the same church many years ago, so once again, we had lots to catch up on. Fortunately, the restaurant wasn’t too busy because we occupied a large booth for well over three hours, and they allowed us to stay!

A couple of days later, we drove to Bellevue to spend the day with our friends, the Donovans. They are more former members of the same church family. They moved to Washington in the 1980s, and we have stayed in touch through the years. We visited them when we were in WA in 1991, but we haven’t been together since.

We were invited for lunch, but when asked to stay for dinner, too, we happily agreed. Another seven hours with still more conversation left for the future!

On Saturday morning, the day of the reunion, another tour member from our group, Mas, met us at the hotel, and we all drove together to the Edmonds Conference Center for the formal event.
What a great time! Nine of us (nearly half of our 21 tour members) showed up. One couple came all the way from Ohio! We laughed and talked and shared memories and caught up. Our guide, Virginie, had come from France, and we enjoyed seeing her again.

We were the group which had the most members present, and we won the prize—Gummy Bears!
We also had our photo taken with Rick, Unfortunately, Larry had run back to the car, and Dick took the photo, so both of them were missing. (We don’t have the copy of the photo yet.)

One Rick Steves’ tour requirement is for each person in the group to select a stranger to be their ‘buddy’ throughout the trip. When the group reunited at the bus or to start a new adventure, we did a ‘buddy check’ to make sure everyone was present. Mas was my buddy. Larry’s buddy, Dick, also attended. The relationships we had formed over the two weeks of our trip remained strong.

On Sunday, the company presented events for anyone interested in a future trip to ‘test drive a tour guide.’ Throughout the day, in three different locations, tour guides showed slides and described their tours. Then, if anyone was interested, the guides made themselves available for questions at the Conference Center.

We’d talked about going to Spain, so we attended the early presentation on the basic tour of Spain’s major cities. Since another presentation about a different tour of Spain was scheduled after one on Italy, we decided to sit in on that one as well. Rick himself provided the narration. We really enjoyed being reminded of all the great memories of our own Italian trip.

After the second Spain presentation, we decided to go to lunch, and who did we run into? Our friend Mas! We all ate lunch together, enjoying one last chance to connect.

After lunch, our tour guide, Virginie, took part in the presentation on the trip we had enjoyed. So we attended that one to give her support. She did a wonderful job! If we hadn’t done it already last year, we’d have been ready to sign up.

We took the opportunity to say goodbye to her once more before returning to the hotel late in the afternoon.

During the night, we had a six-hour power outage. When we woke in the morning, the power was back on, but some parts of the area were still in the dark. The wind and hard rain the night before had caused several severe outages.

After breakfast, we packed and drove to the hotel near the airport for our last night in Seattle—careful to avoid the traffic for the football game! (Seattle won, and the city went crazy!)
We checked in and then returned the rental car.

So today,we’re headed home, ready to get back after a terrific trip filled with visits with old friends and new ones, including those with whom we experienced the glory of France.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Inside Story on Biologists Who Become Writers

Today my friend biologist/author J.L. Greger gives some insight on why she writes. Welcome, Janet!

Did you ever wonder why so many physicians and other biologists write novels? Maybe we all secretly dream we’ll write a best seller like Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, or A.J. Cronin. Note: I said dream not expect. What are our other reasons?

Medical thrillers and mysteries are an opportunity to educate readers about science.
Like most scientists and physicians, I shrink into the corner when I hear acquaintances disparage all vaccines. I’m usually too polite, or maybe cowardly is a better word, to make comments, but these experiences remind me science literacy is suboptimal in the U.S.
The trick to doing science education in novels is to do it so gently the reader doesn’t realize (s)he learned a little science. Readers mainly want to be entertained.

Let me show how I turned science into a fast–moving adventure in my latest novel Malignancy. Recently Cuban scientists patented a therapeutic cancer vaccine to treat a rather rare type of lung cancer (non-small cell). This drug revs up a patient’s own immune system to produce cells, which recognize substances found on the surface of tumor cells but not on the surface of normal cells. These immune cells then slay the cancer cells, but not the normal cells.
Okay that’s a heavy dose of science. Boring!
What’s the social relevance? This patent demonstrates Cuban scientists are doing competitive science, and Cuba wants to market it through the free enterprise system. That suggests political changes in Cuba.
It’s getting more interesting. Right?
I also discovered U.S. scientists were trying to augment existing scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, despite the embargo on Cuba. Check out the editorial “Science diplomacy with Cuba” in the journal Science on June 6, 2014.
Now I’ve got the basis of sending Sara Almquist, a scientist and the heroine of my previous medical thrillers, to Cuba to do a little “scientific diplomacy.”
Let’s add a bit more info. Cuba is in a special trading alliance with Bolivia and Venezuela, and one of Bolivia’s biggest exports is coca and its derivatives (i.e. cocaine). I’ve got the ingredients for a thriller.
Accuracy is important in medical thrillers and mysteries, but shouldn’t seem labored.
In my third novel, Sara Almquist learns silver miners in Potosí, Bolivia carry little food or water into the mines. In order to endure the pain caused by thirst, hunger, and heavy exertion at a high altitude (13,000 feet), they chew coca leaves. The active ingredients in coca leaves and its derivative cocaine are not analgesics that dull pain. They are stimulants and help users ignore pain. Accordingly, I named the book Ignore the Pain not Dull the Pain, but didn’t discuss the pharmacological effects of coca.
Medical novels are a chance for biologists to introduce readers to their colleagues.
First off, I should note no character, except Bug, Sara Almquist’s Japanese Chin dog, in my novels is real. Bug (the character) is based on my own Japanese Chin named Bug. He is a pet therapy dog and a black and white ball of fuzz who outsmarts me daily.
Although I show my protagonist’s warts, I don’t trivialize her into being a bumbler, who clumsily forces her way into police investigations, as the authors of many cozies do. She’s a smart, attractive, and assertive (Isn’t that a nicer word than pushy?) middle-aged woman. Typical of many women scientists.
As an epidemiologist, Sara, in essence, is a professional snoop who analyzes all types of data to discover patterns, which suggest factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of health problems. The analyses of epidemiologists are sometimes the basis of public policies, and experienced epidemiologists are often public health consultants in foreign countries. Thus Sara’s trips to Bolivia in Ignore the Pain and Cuba in Malignancy are logical and allow me to show the locations from a different perspective than that of a tourist.
In Ignore the Pain, I tried to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of poverty in Bolivia. My description of how the indigenous people handle twins when the mother can’t produce enough milk is, I believe, a more effective way to illustrate the dire situations faced by many in Bolivia than to cite statistics, i.e. six percent of the children born in Bolivia die before their fifth birthday.
In Malignancy, Sara meets with sophisticated Cuban scientists who know much more about the U.S. than their counterparts, including Sara, know of Cuba.
Now do you want to know the rest of the story?
I’m a retired biology professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bug and I live in the Southwest. My website is:, my Amazon link is I can be reached at
Here are thumbnail sketches of my novels:
● In the suspense novel, Coming Flu, learn whether the Philippine flu or a drug kingpin caught in the quarantine is more deadly. Coming Flu:
● In the medical mystery, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, discover whether an ambitious young “diet doctor” or an old-timer with buried secrets is the killer. Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight:
● In the thriller, Ignore the Pain, feel the fear as an epidemiologist learns too much about the coca trade while on a public health assignment in Bolivia. Ignore the Pain:

● In the thriller, Malignancy, know the tension as a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a risky assignment in Cuba. Malignancy: