Follow That Naked Intuition

New plans in 1981

New plans in 1981

I stood naked in my husband Vic’s office on a sunny afternoon. I had taken a fast shower after working in the garden. My wet hair was wrapped in a towel, but the rest of me dripped on the rug.

“I know what I want. I want to be a nutritionist,” I said. “I will be a nutritionist.” I spit the words out, loud and fast, so they wouldn’t slip away.

Vic turned his office chair toward me and grinned. He knew I’d been fishing for my next step. Our youngest son was starting kindergarten and I needed a project. I hadn’t thought about studying nutrition in years, but I came to Cornell in 1963 to major in nutrition. Instead, I was hijacked by anti-Vietnam war politics, marches on Washington, and “Hell no, we won’t go,” so I majored in government with a focus on Southeast Asia.

DSC05113When I stood naked in Vic’s office years later, nutrition was already my passion. All I had to do was notice how I spent my time. I grew organic food, cooked beautiful balanced vegetarian meals, stored food for winter, and kept my family healthy. I believed in the healing power of food.

Monday morning, I got on the phone. It was mid-summer. If I hustled, maybe I could begin in September. If I let it slide, it might fade into the land of lost possibility.


Homemade & organic for Baby David: 1971


After tracking down various options, I discovered Empire State College, part of the State University of New York focused on independent learning. I enrolled, got an advisor, and began planning a program combining university science and nutrition classes and alternative nutrition courses with tutors and Omega Institute seminars.

That’s how I found myself dressed but feeling naked in the front row of Chemistry 101. I stopped breathing as I read through the first quiz. I was stumped by simple high school algebra. Without algebra, I couldn’t learn chemistry. My intuition felt precariously close to collapse.

“It was the hardest class I ever took,” Vic said when he told his side of the story. Even though he was a physicist and hadn’t taken chemistry since he was an undergraduate, he knew how to teach math. He endured my emotional frustration and admired my dogged will. I solved problem after problem, got stuck, felt defeated, got help, and kept going.

DSC02474My diligence earned an A+ in chemistry lab. Clothed in an apron, I was at home with titration and exact weights and measures. I followed directions and added one careful drop at a time to my test tubes. I measured and took notes. The freshman and sophomores spilled liquids, smoked the room with overheated Bunson Burners, fudged the details, wrote slapdash lab reports, and left early. They wanted to go to soccer practice. I wanted a good grade in chemistry, a nutrition degree, and a new career.

I’ve remembered Chemistry 101 many times since Vic’s death. In 1981, I moved past failure and fear of flopping. I plan to do it again, this time without Vic’s help.


Now you know why there’s a large section of my website devoted to practical and reliable nutrition. In the bone health section, you’ll find more about food. Look in recipes for vegetarian favorites. I hope you enjoy an easy summer favorite found in Cooking a Bowl of Italian Heaven.

  1. I enjoyed this walk down memory lane and taste of your nutritional ventures. Somehow I can always relate to lines in your posts: “He endured my emotional frustration and admired my dogged will. I solved problem after problem, got stuck, felt defeated, got help, and kept going.”

    Just substitute Advanced Humanities courses for Chemistry 101 and you have the story of my forbearing husband during my struggles. I love how your photos are juxtaposed with the text. I’ll tweet this one!

    • Thanks, Marian. What a joy it is to have a patient supporter. Vic and I laughed about my chemistry class for years. (I spent plenty of time editing his books and commenting on his papers, so it was even in the end, but usually not so emotionally charged.) I went on to take many chemistry classes, but this was the hard one.

  2. Wonderful story, Elaine! I related to your dearth of attachment to math, which you somehow superseded on your way to success. I didn’t major in psychology because of fear of statistics, but wormed my way back into the sciences through a neurological approach to literature. It’s all good. Whatever works! Congratulations on your forthcoming book!!

    • I was diligent, got my head around algebra (I had one well in math 20 years before), and learned to love chemistry. Biochemistry was the best. Thanks for your congratulations. A new chapter opening for me.

  3. Delightful and also powerful as your determination and commitment permeated your efforts to learn. I remember chemistry…not my favorite either. I envy your ability to cook such great healthful meals. I like to eat them but cooking them is another story.

    • Mary, the end of the story (not part of this snapshot) was my love of biochemistry. After I relearned algebra, I could enjoy the ideas. I don’t cook so much now, but I never waste the vegetables I grow. It’s also fun to cook with friends once in a while. Right now there is Swiss chard in the garden ready for dinner, so onions and chard on the way today. Thinking of you.

  4. You go, Mama Elaine!! Much love. xoxo

  5. I am impressed, Elaine, with your diligence in chemistry! I couldn’t make heads or tails of it in my first year at Rutgers. I was a much better student when I went back to night classes as an adult to finish my degree, but by then I’d switched my major from math to English.

    • I’m so glad I impressed you, Lynne. (Where’s the smiley face in WordPress?) It’s always interesting what we think we will study versus what we end up studying. I was in my mid thirties when I took this chemistry class, so a committed adult student. Once I relearned algebra, I enjoyed chemistry.

  6. Your talents never cease to amaze me Elaine. You are a remarkable talent! 🙂

  7. Oh what a headache chemistry was. I can’t even remember how I got through it. Thanks for the memories. and thanks for the peek into your relationship with Vic. You were so supportive of each other. Cheers!

    • Aren’t you glad you don’t have to include chemistry in your summer happiness project, Robin? Neither of us had supportive mothers, so that was a big part of what we needed from each other.
      You inspire me to make joy lists.

  8. Thanks Elaine for sharing… great story and analogy of life and its lessons….

    God bless you…XO

  9. Fear of failure – so powerful, so destructive. Thanks for sharing this story, Elaine. A good reminder that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and perhaps even more importantly, with every success – our confidence soars. I’m only now beginning to realize how “stuck” I was in my 27-year career with the same organization. Over the course of my life, fear of failure kept me from making a move more times than I can count. Suddenly, I’m alive again, I have a renewed hope and energy – and I believe in myself. Somewhere along the way, I had lost all of that. So good to have it back. With love, Ann

    • I’m so glad you feel that way about your new job and your life–and I’m not surprised. Takes courage to take the leap and wait for the right direction to jump. You inspire me.

  10. Naked. That got my attention. 🙂

    You have a way with storytelling, Elaine.

    I would have been a real mess if I had had to take college chemistry. High school was bad enough!


    • That was my hope.
      Thank you for encouraging words. I got through chemistry. I took a few more chem classes and by the time I got to biochemistry, I loved it. Magic to see my body through the world of enzymes, DNA, and the chemistry of ATP. In the end, I felt empowered and broadened my view of the Mystery of Creation.
      Enjoy your journey. I enjoy reading about the people you connect with on the way.

  11. I used to eat vegetarian meals, but unfortunately all the protein alternatives are highly allergenic, and I developed allergies to most of them. Can you still be vegetarian if you are allergic to milk, eggs, soy, chickpeas, nuts, and a variety of legumes and seeds? When I went back to eating meat, my airways opened up again. But because my husband is allergic to an antibiotic used in commercial animal husbandry, we only eat organic. That means buying meat from a hunter or finding a local farmer who hasn’t bought into antibiotics. Not easy, but it’s doable.

    • Ann Marie, I can’t imagine being a vegetarian with all those sensitivities and no protein. Sounds like you do better with animal products and, with your husband’s restrictions, you avoid most of the unhealthy consequences of factory farms. I became a vegetarian for a variety of reasons, as much ethical as nutritional. It seemed very important in 1960 and it’s still the best in terms of using the planet’s limited resources, but we ate fish when Vic was sick because he couldn’t get enough protein (he had a dairy allergy). I prefer vegetarian, but eat fish when I’m at someone’s home.

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