Saturday, July 24, 2010

How to get meals for you and two friends (plus dessert!) for under $5

It’s as easy as following a few simple steps:

1) Meet up with a couple friends at the Blue Plate Diner in Salt Lake City.

2) Order a Diet Coke; drink said Diet Coke like a thirsty beast. Ask the waitress for another one.

3) Have your new drink spilled all over the table, complete with a pile of ice ending up on your sandwich and fries.

4) In the all of the mayhem that ensues, brace yourself for the additional coffee inadvertently poured down your friend’s back. Onto her white shirt. And beautiful hair.

5) Listen politely to the manager’s profuse apologies and his offer for a free meal and dessert to go; take him up on said offer.

BONUS STEP: Leave a $5 tip because it’s just plain nice.

I headed out to brunch this morning, all set to catch up with friends and enjoy the holiday. Then the above occurred… After half a glass of Diet Coke almost ended up in my friend Andrea’s lap, she and I tried to stem the tide of cola with our meager scraps of napkin. Six seconds later we look up to our friend Jessica getting patted down by the waitress; Jessica is lifting up her hands in refusal and saying something to the effect of, “No, no, no!” Andrea and I both thought it was a bit odd that Jessica was having a freak-out (considering it was my drink and sandwich that had been ruined), only to discover that the waitress had a cup of hot coffee that had been spilled down poor Jes’s back in the midst of the hubbub.

The whole thing reminded me of the scene from Groundhog Day when they're in the diner and you hear all of the dishes crash... "Just put that anywhere!"

Food is delicious there, ambience is fun, so it really was quite a shame and a pity that our experience was marred by this unfortunate accident. The server felt extremely bad and couldn’t stop being as sweet as could be to try to make up for the mishap. The manager was incredibly kind, and I can’t help but feel for this poor woman and her clumsy act that made our (basically) free lunch possible. Well, monetarily it was free. I’m sure the emotional scars—and the laundry trauma—will be haunting Jessica for awhile.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

They come. They eat. They leave.

Jim: Question. What kind of bear is best?
Dwight: That's a ridiculous question.
Jim: False. Black bear.
Dwight: Well, that's debatable... There are basically two schools of thought--
Jim: Fact. Bears eat beets. Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.

This week, I went camping with my family. By my calculations, I should still be there even. But the best laid plans...

I got up there yesterday afternoon to the normal dulcet sounds of dutch ovens clanking around and the tent needing to be set up. Outhouses, canoeing, fire...yep, I love it all, and I was set to enjoy it until Thursday afternoon.

This morning, however, the wildlife up Nebo Loop had a different idea. A bear, who was not afraid of campers, decided to come rear its head and charge some campers this morning. I guess it had been around the campsites for the past couple days, but when it started endangering people, the rangers decided to clear us all out and take care of it.

As we were cleaning up, my bro-in-law reminded me a of a good Jim Gaffigan skit having to do with bears (keep watching...the camping bit turns into a bears bit):

Luckily we made it out at the prescribed time of 1:00pm (by the skin of our chinny-chin chins!).

Too bad bears aren't this nice:

And here I was, thinking all along that all bears needed was some better toilet paper...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't call me...I'll call you!

I have a beef to pick. And not the tasty kind with steak sauce.

A bit of an explanation, then back to the beef--it is what's for dinner, after all. I work at an IRB. That means Institutional Review Board. (What, that's not enough explanation for you?) Ok, here's what I do: I review medical research protocols and consent forms to make sure they fit the rules. And not just any medical research...the kind that's done on people. Who knew that a few bucks or the promise for some miracle drug could convince people to do crazy things to their bodies? Ultimately, our goal at the IRB is to make sure people are not harmed in the making of this film--wait, rewind. Ultimately our goal is to make sure people are fully informed of what is actually going to be taking place once they've signed up to play guinea pig. I am a 'coordinator,' which means that I put together one meeting a month (where research is reviewed and approved), and I act as the liaison between study teams (doctors and their lackeys) and the actual board reviewers (doctors).

So to recap: I review studies and push them through the process of getting approved at a board meeting. Thrilling, right? I feel a disclaimer is in order here: **DISCLAIMER** I like my job and the people I work with. It's like coming to spend the day with your friends and solving crazy problems together. And they pay me for it!

Lately we've been experiencing what we've been labeling an 'unusually large number of applications' being submitted. What this actually means is that we're being inundated with all sorts of crap--new studies, changes (aka amendments) to studies (which also have to be approved by a board), and renewals (each year studies have to go back to board to get re-approved). We've been vacillating between that complete drowning feeling and the sense of getting tiny breaths above water to tide you over until the next wave hits. You get thisclose to feeling caught up, and less than a week later you're back to feeling the weight of 50-some odd studies, each with their own delightful set of issues waiting to be unlocked as you review them, grueling one by grueling one.

So yes, we've been struggling. Kind of hardcore. To put it in a numbers perspective, we get about 40 - 50 studies discussed at our meeting each week. A couple months ago, I started out with over 100 items on a board meeting agenda before it was finalized down to about 44 items. All in all, this just means we never get to see that rapturous light at the end of the tunnel (wait, doesn't that phrase mean that you're dying?).

I'd like to compare it to an episode of I Love Lucy (you know the one)...

Boiled down, a hold-up at the IRB means bad news for everyone. Study teams get their panties in a twist, passive aggressive emails start flying, we here at the IRB get all up in arms doing everything we can to help aid the process.

Enter study team coordinators. Literally. Our office isn't very conducive to the drop-by visit. I share a very large room with three other IRB coordinators, and so we don't usually have those people involved in the actual research come by to discuss studies. Most of our correspondence is done via email, with minimal phone discussion to supplement. I guess recently with all of the hold-ups, though, study coordinators have decided to revolt. In the year plus that I've been working here, I haven't had anyone come back to my humble cubicle to protest how long things are taking...until now. In the past two weeks, I've had three of the most persistent (read: annoying) coordinators hunt me down and practically demand that their study take precedence over everything else I'm doing.

I have something to say to these people: STOP.

1) Having you watching over my shoulder as I pull up your study only makes me feel like a deer caught in the headlights. I don't handle confrontation well.

2) I probably haven't looked at your study in awhile, so it's going to take me a minute to reacquaint myself with it. You rambling on in my ear about your problems isn't helping your case at all.

3) I have at least 100 studies at a time that I'm juggling, all of them in different states. The fact that you think you can waltz in here and get something done on your study immediately undermines the rest of everyone else who's waiting in line. Hello lunch line butt-er? Not cool.

4) Thanks, you've just thrown off my work groove. (I'm sorry, but you've thrown off the emperor's groove...)

And as long as I'm putting it out there to the universe (and to any study coordinators who may have stumbled across my blog), I beg of you: stop 'tattling' on me to my boss. He's on my side. I've done everything I can to help your stupid study through, so how about you do a girl a favor and NOT throw me under the bus? Trust me, I don't want to hold onto your study. I really treasure the times I am able to send out approval letters and move things to the done pile. But if you can't be bothered to do your job correctly or pay me the common courtesy of discussing things civilly with ME, you should probably face some consequences. Like having your boss (the doctor doing the research) get called up for a 'special meeting' with my boss. (It's like the grown-up version of "My dad can beat up your dad.")

I keep hearing around here, "In a few months, it'll be better." And I know it will be; we're hiring new people and making other changes that will ease the IRB process. But in the interim, I might need to keep a stash of chocolate in my desk for the moments when I just need to unwind. Or a punching bag with someone's face on it...

Monday, July 5, 2010

4th of July (and the 3rd...and the 5th...)

It's no secret: the 4th of July is my favorite holiday. There's no explanation really (and I don't feel like I should have to explain it), but I think I can sum it up by saying three things.

1) I love the color RED. And blue is a close second. (White just ties them together and makes them look good.)

2) I love summer.

3) My family can make (and eat!) a good meal like nobody's business.

Last year's holiday was a bit jaded by a few life obstacles--my grandpa's death, my little brother's departure for his mission, working through some personal problems, etc. I remember keeping tiny bits of sanity by holing up in my apartment and sewing my frenzied brains out, working on a red, white, and blue quilt. But when you stop on the way home from the Annual Waffles and Ice Cream (with the extended family) to pick up flowers for the arrangements at your grandfather's funeral, it's just not the same.

Long story short, I felt like I needed to make up for it this year by pulling out all the stops and celebrating the crap out of freedom and the 4th. And so, I did.

These cake balls were amazing in and of themselves, but Mike had the idea of putting sparklers in them. "Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it..." (Thank you, Craig, for the picture!)

Obviously, baking is how I really get into something like a family helped with all of the decorating.

Things I have loved about this year:

* The holiday actually fell on a Sunday this year. And since Utah moves Sunday holidays to either the Saturday before or the Monday afterward, I got to go to the festivities in my hometown on Saturday and then get the Monday off of work to lounge around in my pajamas and finish my book. (On a somewhat related note--if you haven't read The Hunger Games yet, DO IT.)

* The weather couldn't have been better. It didn't get hotter than 85 degrees, and the cloud cover was perfect. I kept saying, "Could it be like this every year?" I don't ever remember it being that cool and beautiful for this normally blazing holiday. I realize that this is a stupid thing to be raving about, but who wants to stand outside for a parade when the temperature is pushing one hundred degrees and the sun is beating down on you? I will take Mother Nature's offering this year and bless it.

* Having an excuse to go nuts with the sugar (among other junk food). Cake balls on Friday night were the straw that broke the camel's back when it came to my sensible eating. Cupcakes and homemade root beer and taffy and burgers and barbeque pork... America knows what it's doing as far as us shoving our faces full of fatty and sugary goodness. Who says you can't buy happiness? It's as close as a good potato salad. Good thing this isn't my normal nutritional strategy, though. No wonder Michelle Obama's trying to fight the childhood obesity epidemic in the US...

Anyway, tomorrow it's back to the usual day-to-day, unfortunately. For now, I think I'm going to go take a nap and dream of sugar plums--wait, wrong holiday. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Yikes.