Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Goals for 2009

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. They're usually vague, cliched, unmeasurable fluff. I resolve to get in shape. To take care of myself. To be more patient. To get in touch with my spiritual self. To savor the moment.

Yesterday I ran across a thread on the ScienceCareers discussion forum about career resolutions for 2009. People were posting specific, measurable goals. Publish remaining work from Ph.D. Publish first-person article. Join a professional society. Move to a new city. That kind of thing.

I, too, am going to set some very specific, measurable goals. Relatively modest goals. In fact, I am setting down here only two very modest career goals for 2009. I have a tendency to feel overwhelmed and anxious, so it's best for me to take it easy =)

1. Revise short story from this summer and resubmit to encouraging editor.

2. Publish one article with Favorite Trade Journal
(this is designated Favorite Trade Journal because they published a book review I wrote for them this summer. Now that the editor knows me, I should really follow up.)

If either of these resolutions are fulfilled, I promise to share the results here. And if anyone out there has some advice on freelance writing--scientific or otherwise--I'd love to hear it. Ummm, anyone with advice on conducting interviews for magazine pieces? I don't even know where to start with that, although "getting the quote" seems a necessity. Anyone with experiences using Skype to record phone interviews?

Barely 24 hours left before the New Year. Time for me to get some sleep. Tommorrow I'll be home all day with the bean girls, trying to fit in grant-writing, cooking, laundry (and maybe some sales shopping!) around the edges. Oh yeah, and trying to savor the moment, too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

End of the year odds and ends

It’s been snowing for days now, it seems. The snow keeps coming, swirling down as large, fluffy flakes, piling up in drifts as tall as our mailbox. This evening the other mothers and I complained as we picked up our preschoolers and herded them out the door. “Yeah, it’s pretty,” one of the women said. “As long as you can be inside, just looking at it.” We grumbled, but our children were enthralled, begging to be allowed to run through the snow (NO! the parents said, it’s time to go HOME!) Bean-girl and her friends lagged behind. Bean-girl scooped up handfuls of fluffy snow with her bare hands, then held her hands out to show me their prize. I lifted Baby Legume up, and Legume tilted her face up to the sky, raising one arm in delight at the snowfall.

It took almost 40 minutes to get home—more than twice the time as usual. The children were content in their backseats, Legume quietly sucking her fingers and Bean-girl firing away her usual string of unanswerable questions (“Why don’t we see Santa’s elves around? Why do the elves stay at the North Pole? Why don’t they come down to see children at the mall the way Santa does?”) The roads were iced with packed snow. I drove carefully, and perhaps I should have been annoyed at the delay, the traffic jam, the white stuff that kept falling from the sky. But the truth is that the snow was indeed beautiful.


This morning the Bean-girl and I had the following conversation:

Bean-girl: Mommy, will I have kids when I get bigger someday?
Me: You can have kids one day if you want, Bean-girl. If you want to, you can.
Bean-girl (as plaintively as any lovelorn teenager): But what if I don’t find a nice man??!
Me: Um, hopefully you will.
Bean-girl: But what if I don’t?
Me: Uhh….
Bean-girl: Why did you marry Daddy?
Me: Because I thought he was funny and cute?
Bean-girl: I wish I could marry Daddy.


A few days ago, Scientistmother wrote this about not keeping up with her blog:

"I also know that I'm not supposed stress out about the blog but its not stressed out need to cross this off my list type of stress, its the OMG I so haven't talked to my BFF and I totally miss her need to find time for her type of stress."

And that’s exactly how I feel when I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a while. Like I’ve missed seeing a friend. And I have indeed been missing my friends—missed catching up with you, seeing how everyone is doing. I haven’t been around as much to read and comment. Family is visiting, children are tugging at my legs, work is getting busy. Tomorrow my mother and sibling are supposed to drive several hours through the snow to join my own family and me for Christmas in our home. It will be the first time that Husband and I have hosted Christmas. The radio predicts snowstorms for the next two days. Hopefully they will all make it (but if the weather is truly bad I hope they all stay put!) Anyway. Merry Christmas, blogosphere. Or happy holidays, if you prefer. I hope to catch up with all of you soon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Late Haiku--apology

Apology to Sciencemama
Instead of writing
a haiku, I fell asleep
with Baby Legume.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On leaving the bench

It’s surprising how much I still feel like a postdoc. I still go to work in the usual postdoc uniform of jeans and sneakers. I still go to seminars, journal clubs, lab meetings. I sit at a computer right in the middle of a lab bench, surrounded by the glassware, conical tubes, equipment and buzz of a research laboratory. I shoot the breeze with my labmates, and I find myself part of scientific discussions. And to my surprise and gratitude, I find that my scientific opinions are solicited and respected. I’m not just a copyeditor, correcting typos and English grammar. As part of my job, I am often required to evaluate the quality of the data going into manuscripts, and I make suggestions on how to tighten a paper, what to cull, what points to bring forward, and (sometimes) how to reorganize figures for a better flow.

I really thought that I would miss the benchwork. To my surprise, I don’t.

The postdoc at the adjoining bench tells me heartbreaking stories of failed projects and projects scooped by his competitors. He is currently getting results that are very exciting. But the previous five years have been a desert, with not a publication in sight--and the stress and disappointment show in his eyes. I don’t miss that stress. I don’t miss that hounding pressure of GOTTA PRODUCE, GOTTA GET PUBLISHED OR MY LIFE IS OVER! I don’t miss the frustration of fruitless screens, of watching a year or more of work spiral down the drain.

Yet I loved bench research, I really did. I remember standing in the darkroom on a Sunday afternoon, heart pounding, waiting for that film to slip out of the X-ray machine. The thrill of holding a blot up to the red light, squinting to make out the dark bands that will tell you where your protein is expressed, or whether or not it interacts with another protein of interest. Looking down a microscope to see to how your cells have reacted in response to a particular treatment—did the cells proliferate, did they spread and migrate, did they round up and die? Pacing impatiently before the scintillation counter, waiting for the results of an enzyme assay. There is nothing like the feeling of being the first person in the world to know some new fact about our universe. Even if it is a fact that even 99.99% of scientists couldn’t care less about—that, for instance, protein X is found in liver cells but not kidney cells. Still, at that moment, you are the only person in the entire world with that knowledge. It is a feeling that is very difficult to convey to those who have not experienced it. I’m not sure that it can be conveyed.

When my experiments were cooking, when my science was working—it was fantastic. It was an utter high. When the experiments weren’t working, it was the deepest low. It was like being on a roller coaster ride, but a ride that spent most of its time creaking tortuously through a subterranean tunnel. I remember sitting around a lunch table with friends in grad school, chatting about school and science in general. One of the students said thoughtfully about research, “You know, about once a year I have a good moment.” I always thought that quote should be printed on the cover of every graduate school brochure.

To mix metaphors still further, I recall once reading that research science is like playing the slots at a casino. (And if, dear reader, I read that on your blog, I do sincerely apologize. Drop me a line and I’ll give you the credit =) Most of the time you come up empty. But every once in a while you’ll get a payout. Just enough to get you excited, to keep you feeding tokens and pulling that damn lever. We all live with the dream of hitting that big jackpot. We feed off the smaller wins, or just the memories of past wins. The hope, the adrenaline, keeps us going through the dry spells.

I don’t have that rush of adrenaline anymore. But neither do I have the crushing lows and stress. I see people around me so desperate to continue their research careers. I know a former postdoc who took a position as associate director of a core facility. She took the job with the understanding that she would be able to continue her research interests. But now she finds that there is neither money nor support for her research. She is struggling on her own, trying to live off reagents and equipment donated by collaborating labs, coming in every weekend to work on her “side” projects. I see someone like that, and I think Man, I just don’t have the heart for that. I loved research, but I don’t have the fire to continue in the face of those kinds of odds.

I did not plan to leave academic research. It was never a part of any five-year plan. I was devastated when I left (er, was laid off from) my former postdoc, and I don’t want to underplay that.

But I see a new path opening up before me now. I see a chink of light, and feel a breath of freedom that would never have been possible on the old road. I have flexibility to work from home when needed and spend all weekends with my family. And there is now a glimmering dream of someday going completely freelance as a science writer and editor—working when I want, on what I want, on my own terms.

I’m still in science. I don’t do the experiments, but I help interpret and communicate them. I even (as in the grant I’m now working on) have some input in experimental design. And I’m once again part of an active scientific research community, once again privy to unpublished, cool data, once again part of the “leading edge” of science. I don’t need the glory of a first authorship. I had thought that I missed benchwork the most, and that I would continue to miss it. But it turns out that this—being part of an active scientific community—is what I really missed most of all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday winter haiku

Baby Legume on a winter's morning
Snow in your dark hair
Like a fall of stars against
a sweep of night sky

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving weekend, heart-break Bean

The holiday weekend has a passed in a blur, a rush of snotty noses and mucous-weeping eyes (Baby Legume’s), travel and relatives and too much food, shopping and toddler tantrums and preschool tantrums to boot. I’ve had no time, no space, to sit and write. But today the snow swirled down, bringing a kind of visual silence. The girls went out briefly on the back deck to stamp footprints in the snow. Then inside for a rest and, later, hot chocolate (I fed Baby Legume hot chocolate from a spoon).

We went down to my parents’ for Thanksgiving this year. Sister B and her husband joined us. My mother elected to have a supermarket-provided Thanksgiving meal—prepared turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. It wasn’t that great, to be honest. But in our family, the traditional American Thanksgiving staples are not the stars. My mother’s Thai dishes are the true attraction. Her spring rolls are the real holiday staple. I’ve eaten so many this weekend that it’s embarrassing. She lays out an ever-changing buffet of Thai appetizers and side dishes. There are snacks as you walk in the door, and more dishes come out throughout the day. In the morning there’s jook, or noodle soup, stir-fried noodles with gravy (lad nah), or pad thai…

Bean-girl decided to eat just cranberry sauce. And chocolate.

Legume, of course, eats pretty much everything. I’m pleased to report that she no longer cries at the sight of her grandmother’s face. Indeed, she allowed her grandparents and aunt to hold her, and even smiled as they did so. She seems to have worked through her stranger anxiety, and has become a much more outgoing girl over these past few months.

And we all got through Thanksgiving with a minimum of family tension and squabbling (save the usual squabbling between my parents, who have been at it now for thirty-plus years).

Tonight we took the girls with us to Husband’s department Christmas party. One of Bean-girl’s friends from preschool/daycare, a little curly-haired boy I’ll call “A”, was at the party, too. Bean-girl used to behave as though all boys had cooties, but perhaps she is coming around. She was certainly excited to hear that A was at the party, although nowhere near as excited as A himself. “A” kept jumping up and down, beaming at her. He trailed her about the room. Bean-girl hid coyly behind my legs. “That’s right, play hard-to-get,” one of the women at the party advised Bean-girl. Bean-girl told me in a confidential tone, “’A’ is excited because I am here.”

Later, the two kids stood together and examined the restaurant’s Christmas tree. Little “A” continued jumping up and down. “Do you know why A is so excited?” Bean-girl asked her father coyly. “He’s excited about the Christmas tree,” Husband replied heartily. “Hey, A, you’re really excited about that Christmas tree aren’t you?” “No, Dad,” Bean-girl answered. “He’s so excited because I’m here!”

The Bean-girl knows a thing when she sees it.

The party took place in a private banquet room. Later, the kids gathered on the floor with a bunch of books and trains, brought by A’s parents. Legume looked at books, A’s little sister tried to toddle about, and Bean-girl and A took turns drawing on a doodle-pad, then chased each other around and around the room. When it came time to say goodbyes, A hugged the Bean-girl and proclaimed, “Bean-girl, I love you sooo much!”

Although Bean-girl didn’t go quite that far, she did ask when A might come over for a playdate. So I think, at the mature age of four, she’s decided that not all boys have cooties, after all.

And I suspect that she will be quite the heart-breaker one day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Random tidbits and memes

  • Every time I say the word “blister,” Baby Legume stretches open her palms and stares at her little blistered fingers. It is both the saddest and cutest thing.
  • I love the way Bean-girl insists on calling McDonald’s (the fast-food chain) “Old McDonald’s” (from the children’s song).
  • Sometimes, I really love McDonald’s. Like earlier this week, when Husband brought home Happy Meals and Big Macs and dinner was done!

    Baby Legume still has her hand-foot- and-mouth disease, and is now developing a cold on top of that, courtesy of the Bean-girl. Bean-girl’s cold has now infected the bean parents. I don’t have the energy for a coherent post. So it’s time to do a meme!

    And I have two memes today. The first is from Sciencegirl, and I think I was tagged with it ages ago.

    Six things meme

    The rules:
    Link to the person who tagged you.2. Post the rules on your blog.3. Write 6 random things about yourself.4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them.5. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog.6. Let the tagger know when your entry has posted.

    My random six things.

    1. I fear that I am a Luddite.
    I do not own and have never even used an iPod. I only just registered for a Facebook account (pressured into it by my youngest sister). Computers and technology intimidate me. When I had to use the confocal microscope as a postdoc I was always petrified that I would break something. (I really could have used Scientistmother’s help there). I do have this blog, but do you see any fancy templates, interesting doo-dads or bells and whistles here?

    2. When I was in kindergarten, I was asked to draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember drawing a picture of a woman in a lab coat peering down a microscope. I said that I wanted to grow up to be a scientist.

    3. Despite that initial statement, I spent most of the rest of my youth (even up to college) telling people that I wanted to be a writer.

    4. I was a sci-fi/fantasy geek. And the “Lord of the Rings” remains my sacred text.

    5. I took my first college-level biology course only to please my parents, who wanted me to be pre-med. But to my surprise, I fell head-over-hells in love with molecular biology.

    6. I want to start writing fiction again.

    The second meme is from fabulous new blogger, Ambivalent Academic. This meme makes me feel old.

    5 things I was doing 10 years ago:

    1. Falling in love with soon-to-be-Husband.
    2. Watching my first thesis project implode.
    3. Trying to come up with a viable second project (I did, and it produced two papers and my ticket out of grad school).
    4. Living in a tiny studio apartment that my sister referred to as a “hobbit-hole.”
    5. Eating lots of Subway sandwiches (I had a great fondness for the “cold-cut trio.”)

    5 things on my to-do list today:

    1. Finish this post.
    2. Come up with menu plan for the week and go grocery shopping.
    3. Laundry.
    4. Clean up the house a bit (ha!)
    5. Order photo presents of the kids for the grandparents.

5 snacks I love:

1. Cheese
2. Good bread.
3. Spring rolls (my mother's recipe)
4. Chips and guacamole
5. Anything salty and crispy.

5 things I would do if I was a millionaire:
Does it sound churlish to say that a million doesn’t go so far these days? Anyway if I had a free million I would:

1. Donate more to charity.
(Maybe start my own foundation? How far would a million go for that?)
2. Invest for my children’s futures.
3. Pay off my kid sister’s student loans.
4. Go to the Caribbean or any place warm for winter break.
5. Go on a mini Sarah Palin-style shopping spree (I’ve been meaning to update my wardrobe anyway)

5 places I've lived:

1. Tiny Midwestern town.
2. Los Angeles.
3. Large Midwestern city (large according to Midwestern standards)
4. Overrated college town.
5.Current under-the-radar, underrated location.

5 jobs I've had:

1. Research technician.
2. Postdoc.
3. Adjunct instructor/ “Visiting Lecturer” (take your pick of titles, the crappy pay is the same) at Regional State U.
4. Scientific writer and editor
5. Mom.

I think both of these memes have made their way around to most people I know. If you haven’t done one of these yet, and would like to, consider yourself tagged!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Haiku challenge--bringing my game

Baby Legume Meets a Coxsackievirus, or
The red pinprick rash
erupted into blisters
on her hands and feet.
Baby spreads her palm
and gazes curiously
at tender white moons.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Call for thoughts on science blogging

Graduate student and new blogger mouse is writing an article on the science blogging community. She would like to hear your thoughts on science blogging. I’ll let her speak in her own words (an excerpt of her e-mail to me, published here with her permission):

One of the avenues I've pursued in the interests of developing my writing skills is to take on a quarterly column for the Association for Women in Science magazine. The theme for my column will be balancing life and work, and the theme for the next issue is science, technology, and popular culture. I had thought it might be interesting to write my first column about the science blogging community, with a particular focus on female science bloggers. Our society has become very mobile now--people move between states a lot, and most people have family and friends spread all over the country. This can often mean that we don't have a support system of lifelong friends and neighbors right down the street anymore to discuss the daily successes and disappointments of our lives. To some extent, I feel like the internet and blogs are filling that gap. It connects people with similar backgrounds who are or have or will go through similar stages in their lives and careers, and lets them share their thoughts with each other regularly, even if they're from very different places. In the science blogging arena, women write about their experiments, their grants, their projects, and their work, but they also write about their lives outside of science. They post pictures of their children, they share recipes, they swap haikus (I really enjoyed that exchange on your blog), they talk about their families. And in the comments sections and discussions, they offer advice, support, reassurance, ideas, etc. Although most of the bloggers may never meet in person, they are a support network and a community for each other.

If you have any thoughts about blogging that you wouldn't mind sharing, I'd love to hear them :) Why you got started blogging, why you continue to blog, whether you do think that an informal community has formed between female science bloggers, and if you do, any thoughts you might have about the community and your own experience. Your favorite things about blogging, your favorite blogs, anything like that :) If you know of anyone else that would care to share their opinions, please pass them along to me too! I'll keep comments anonymous, unless anyone would like me to mention them or their blog in particular.

If you have any thoughts to share, please visit mouse’s site, Notes and Margins, and share your comments there!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Comment on a comment --publication of data that doesn't fit

Okay, I really don't blog much about science here. But in response to what I had thought of as a light-hearted, amusing post (albeit one that also sums up some very frustrating things about my new workplace), ambivalent academic posted a very interesting comment.

The authors are to be commended...if science is about figuring it out (rather than making it up) as we go along then it's important to include stuff that doesn't make any sense when communicating finds...then someone else might see how it fits or changes the working model and *presto* get it figured out. Unfortunately that only works if the stuff that doesn't make sense ends up in the publication so other people can see it...but it won't get published with stuff that the authors can't explain...I think that this is a major flaw in the way we report our findings.

And I started to respond to this in the comments, but then it got so long that I just decided to throw it out as a post. It's my blog, I can do that. And it's a very interesting point.

The data that's confusing, that doesn't fit a paper's hypothesis, usually isn't published. No suprise--why would any author include data that contradicts or confuses the story she/he is trying to tell? Negative results usually also aren't published. That transgeneic mouse with no phenotype? Will probably languish unknown. But if the experiements were rigorous and carefully controlled, then even puzzling and negative data is valid data. And when that data is not communicated, it can be to the detriment of the whole scientific community, as researchers waste time and money heading down blind ends . . .

But by convention, the scientific paper isn't a "data dump." By convention, it's a place to tell a clean, coherent, succint, and hopefully compelling scientific story. As with any story, extraneous and confusing details only (well, usually only) detract.

This isn't to say that puzzling data that dosn't fit the main hypothesis/story line is never published. I have included the odd pieces myself in a paper--sometimes this is necessary, as there may be a major experiment which *must* be done, and so you must report on it even when you don't quite understand all the results. But if you do have odd, confusing results, you better damn well try to explain or at least address it in your text, instead of just throwing it in there and hoping no one notices.

Or worst, not understanding that it's confusing in the first place (as seems to have happened in the manuscript I mentioned in the original post).

It is an odd business. Nature is messy, science is messy, but we try to tie it all up in a neat package for the journals, crafting a condensed, clear storyline out of months or years of frustration, failed experiments, trial and error, and sometimes entirely serendipitous discovery. And then we reframe the whole thing to make it appear as though blind luck was really brilliant foresight all along.

I agree that there needs to be a mechanism to more effectively communicate those puzzling results and negative data that don't get published in the peer-reviewed journals. I don’t know what the answer is. I suspect (hope?) the answer will have something to do with the growth of online scientific communities and of increased sharing of raw data in online databases. . .

Thoughts, anyone?

The science philosopher is now off to sleep. . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election 2008--The day after

Even as I watched state after state falling to Obama on the news last night . . . even when the news anchors announced that there was now no path for a McCain victory . . . even as the electoral counts mounted, reached, and then surpassed the "magic" number of 270 . . . still, I had trouble believing Obama would really be our next president. It seemed like a dream. (we know how the Democrats have f----- up the last two shots they had).
Husband and I didn't actually watch his acceptance speech live. Yes, lame, I know. Husband had to get up early the next day, we were both tired, and we turned in.
Today I've been immersed in the election news (in my defense, slow day at work. I really really need more projects there). I've just watched Obama's electrifying acceptance speech on CNN, and McCain's extraordinarily gracious concession speech. It's sinking in. It's real.
I can't think of a time that I've been prouder of this country.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Birthday letter to the Bean

Bean-girl, you turned four this weekend. I am still having trouble comprehending this. It’s such a huge number! The day after your birthday, you sat on my lap and said, “Mommy, I’m four now. I’m not three anymore.” I think you are used to the idea, as you have spent what seemed like unending weeks talking about it.

You said that when you turned four you would go to sleep by yourself in your own bed. And for the past month you’ve been attempting it. When I or your father try to lie down in bed with you after story time, you firmly ask us to leave. You say you want to go to sleep by yourself. Then, two minutes later, you show up in our bedroom (or downstairs by the computer—you track us down) with your stuffed sting ray and stuffed penguin in tow and complain that you cannot fall asleep. So a parent treks backs with you to your room, and we do the usual snuggle-till-sleep routine. You spend most of this time complaining that you can’t sleep and won’t sleep, and you flip and flop and chatter ceaselessly until you finally pass out. Right now, as I type this, your father is passed out in your bed alongside you.

Your birthday party was a success. I am so pleased to report this. After days of rain and cloud, it warmed up for Halloween, and the day of your party was gorgeous. It was one of those perfect, dream-like autumn days, when everything seems both lit from within and bathed in golden light. Only two of your friends showed up (only two of 8 invitees even RSVPed! Bad manners!), and though both you and I had been initially disappointed by this, it turned out not to matter on the actual day of your party. Your best friend was there, with whom it would not be a good birthday. And a new classmate was there, little J, and her mother. It was the day after Halloween, and the orchard was nearly empty of people, so strangely deserted after the crowds of two weeks ago. It was as though everything—the petting zoo, the clear sky, the sunlight and golden trees—was there just for you. You and your friends ran past all the animals, marveled at the hen that had escaped its cage, pushed each other on a porch swing. You all LOVED the hayride, the first hayride for any of you. Your friend Lisa did not want to pick a miniature pumpkin at the pumpkin patch, but you picked out two smooth, flawless specimens—one for you and one for Baby Legume.

Everyone shook maracas as you blew out the candle on your cake.

You had a little tussle with your best friend in front of the corn maze. She wanted to go through the maze again, but our other little guest wanted to see the animals. As Lisa stepped to enter the maze, the other mommies and I started yelling No, wait! We’re going to see the animals first, Lisa! And in your panic to steer Lisa in the “right” direction, you grabbed Lisa’s hair. She promptly shoved you and yelled, "Don’t do that!" "No pushing, anyone!" I said sternly. Then, upon being told that you had pulled her hair (I didn’t actually see it), I told you to apologize to her. And you responded by crying. .

You cried all through the corn maze. Lisa had immediately gotten over the tiff, and kept yelling cheerfully, “Bean-girl, come on! Come on! Come with us!” But you would not run after your friends. Instead, I had to carry you as you sobbed great, loud, heaving, snot-spilling sobs. You were completely incoherent. One of the other mothers held Legume’s hand for me, and toddler Legume carefully and seriously put one foot after another through the length of the maze.

The other girls kept calling your name as they ran ahead of us (your father, if you wish to know, was left behind at the picnic area; I can’t now recall why). Finally, something snapped you out of your sobs; I can’t recall what that was either, just that you suddenly cheered, left my arms, and ran after your friends. Then you were all three of you running and laughing and shaking your cheap plastic maracas as the wind rustled through the dry corn stalks.

You and Lisa were best friends again. When it was time to say goodbye, you hugged and kissed as usual. “Happy birthday, Bean-girl,” Lisa said. And you said to her solemnly, “Lisa, for all of my birthdays, I would like to invite you.”


Bean-girl, you are so grown-up sometimes, so articulate and resourceful and seemingly grown. Then you break down, you throw a tantrum, you get tired and the preschooler vanishes and a toddler-Bean (who doesn’t use her words) comes back. I am still trying to make sense of all this, as I know that you are as well.

When I saw you for the first time in the delivery room, I was stunned by your beauty. That perfect rosebud mouth. The shock of black hair. “She’s beautiful,” I recall saying in awe.

But I could not imagine then the beauty you are today. How perfect you still seem in your sleep. And the laughter and light in your eyes.

Happy fourth birthday, Bean-girl.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fourth birthday party this weekend!

I’m like a bride fretting about rain on her wedding day.

In our foolishness(?) hope (?), Husband and I booked Bean-girl’s fourth birthday party at an outdoor venue.

A year ago, I would have scorned a mother who fretted so about her little one’s birthday party. “Just let them eat cake!” I would have said. And then I would have ranted on about the overly elaborate birthday parties of today’s suburban, middle-class preschooler. After all, there were no party favors and “goody bags” (filled with plastic junk) during the parties of my and Husband’s childhood. No elaborate craft projects and entertainment. We had parties at home, maybe played pin-on-the-tail-on-the-donkey (I actually do have a vague memory of that), ate cake and opened presents, and everyone went home happy. See—there’s a picture of me in my parents’ photo album right there, blowing out candles. I look happy, and all the guests do, too.

But times are different now. And this year, Bean-girl started the preschool birthday circuit.

She’s only been to two parties, but one was at the local children’s museum, and the other was at the zoo. And so now she thinks (reasonably so, I give her) that birthday parties are functions that occur outside the home. Whenever I asked her, “Would you like to have your party at home, Bean-girl?” she would emphatically respond, “No way!”

Luckily, though, she’s pretty easy-going about where exactly outside the home to have her party. And I admit that I was not looking forward to cleaning my house and having 7-8 little girls and their parents running about in the small living room. Call me lazy that way.

I had a brainstorm. What about our favorite toy store? They have a wonderful craft studio, and there’s an adjoining café perfect for the cake and refreshments. “Would you like to have a birthday party at that toy store, Bean-girl?” I asked. She jumped up and down. “Oh, yes!”

We went to the toy store, talked to some people, planned out a lovely day. The managers said they would check with the store’s owner to make sure nothing else was scheduled on Bean-girl’s big day, but it all seemed perfect. Then we got home and a got a phone message: Sorry, but there was actually a huge store event on Bean-girl’s birthday. Would we like to reschedule?

So then I gave in to the Children’s Museum. “Would you like to have your party at the Children’s Museum?” I asked Bean-girl. She jumped up and down and said, “Oh, yes!”

The Children’s Museum got back to me after two days (you have to leave a message for their event planner). They were sorry to report that they would be closed that weekend for renovations.

The zoo, Husband and I thought desperately. Outdoors, yes, but their website said they had an indoors party facility, too. I didn’t tell Bean-girl about the zoo this time. After about a week, the zoo got back to me. Party already booked that day, they said.

By this point I was kicking myself over not planning Bean-girl’s party two or three months in advance, like any respectable mom. What about an apple orchard? Husband suggested then. There are only, like, a zillion apple orchards/farms in our area? And most have hayrides, petting zoos, restaurants, etc.

Eureka. And so this is how we ended up scheduling Bean-girl’s Nov 1 birthday at an apple farm. If all goes well, she and her guests will go on a hayride to a pumpkin patch, pick pumpkins (there’s the party favor), then have cider, doughnuts, and cake outside near a bonfire (to keep us warm). There’s a petting zoo, corn maze, and bizarre little story tent on the grounds, too.

If it rains/snows, we’re in trouble. The farm has table and chairs set up in a drafty old barn, but the seating space is small, and it won’t be too fun if the weather’s cold. Actually, I’m imagining sunshine but twenty degree weather and the kids all sniveling with red noses and frozen fingers and the parents quietly damning us under their breaths for dragging them out into the cold.

If it does rain/snow, we’re moving the party to our house. I’ll have to clean this place just in case, and then maybe I will have seven 3-4 year old girls running rampant in my small living room. The preschool craft project seems an essential part of this birthday ritual, so I’ve bought a bunch of miniature pumpkins for them to decorate. Of course, I’m not sure how to decorate them, and I’ve yet to buy the decorating supplies. Bean-girl still insists that a party at home will not be fun or “inresting” (interesting), but she seems mollified somewhat by the prospect of painting pumpkins.

A year ago, I would have never dreamed that I could work myself into a tizzy about something like this. Parenthood is full of suprises.

Friday, October 3, 2008

At home again

Last Thursday we flew to Denver, the “Mile High City.” We stayed with my husband’s sister and her family. She She did everything to make our family feel right at home. Bean-girl had an absolute blast playing with her triplet cousins. And on Saturday morning, my husband and I got up and drove two hours to Vail for a wedding. We left the our girls in someone’s care overnight for the first time in their (and our) lives.

Some pictures from Vail. I should have taken more pics!
The wedding was beautiful—one of the last people in my husband’s circle of friends to get married. It felt so strange to be away from the girls; we kept talking about them, and I kept daydreaming of Legume’s fat baby cheeks. But of course it was also lovely to be alone together, in a romantic setting. That night, before turning in, we watched a bit of CNN. Now that doesn’t sound romantic, I know, but after a steady diet of children’s cartoons, I must admit that cable news is quite enticing. As was reading the New York Times in bed the next day. Of course, we did engage in other adult activities in between…

The bean girls did GREAT in our absence. I think Bean-girl scarcely even cared that we were gone, she had such a great time playing with her cousins. When we got back the next day she ran up to greet us, and then was gone a minute later to continue her play. Baby Legume was fine, too. Their aunt, uncle and cousins had tired them out the day before with a trip to the zoo, a trip to the mall, pizza and a stop at the mall’s Build-a-Bear workshop store (but Bean-girl politely declined an offer of a teddy bear. She can be weird like that). The kids were so exhausted that they quickly and without fuss fell asleep that night. . . for nine hours straight. My sister-in-law is gifted.

This week my Bean-girl asked me to please stop changing my work schedule. “I don’t like going to school so much,” she said. “I think it’s too much school.” Ouch. I cuddled her in bed and said that there would be only one more schedule change. I am starting full time in two weeks. Yes, ouch, five straight days a week of daycare/school. I explained that she would still have “mommy days”, two days a week. That two days of the week, Saturday and Sunday, would ALWAYS be mommy-days, no matter what. This seemed to satisfy her. Perhaps she was afraid that every single day would be a school day? It’s a lot for a little girl, I know.

I know that there are many people who would not approve of my choice to go back to work at this time. And it really is a choice for me—my family does not need my income (nearly half of which goes to daycare costs anyway). I was amused to get my first troll comment on this blog about it. More hurtfully, I sense doubts on the part of members of my own extended family. But I don’t do well staying home full time with young children. I just don’t. Things may change in the future; perhaps, as they enter the demanding pre-teen/teen years, I’ll feel the need to step back and make more time for them at home again. Maybe this gig won’t go well, and I’ll feel the need to step back or quit six months from now. Maybe I’ll be in a position to negotiate a work-from-home or flex-time schedule in the future. The truth is that the job is quite flexible right now—I haven’t given up the flexibility of research academia (nor the jeans and sneakers dress code!) But I was not happy at home, and I had to make this change now. My mother was not happy as a stay-at-home mother, and it was something that I could see even at an early age. My mother has confirmed this unhappiness to me herself. And my witness to her frustration and boredom has colored my own thoughts, my plans and hopes for motherhood/career from the very beginning.

Things at work have actually slowed now, and I’m a bit at loose ends there. My PI finally came to his senses last week and realized that he was in no position to submit an RO1 this grant cycle. We’ll submit it for February. He wanted to submit a big program grant for next month, but the program goals for this program grant had changed considerably since the last funding announcement, and his projects are no longer suitable for the grant. So. . . I guess it’s a bit of laid-back reading and polishing of the RO1 until the PI returns from his overseas trip and some more substantial projects come my way. Not a bad life, for right now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"This is what I think of your new job, Mommy!"

Baby Legume got hold of the paystub for my first paycheck last week.
. . . She put the paystub in her sister's old potty chair. . .
. . . then dragged it out into the center of the living room for
me to see.
Nothing like children to keep you humble.

Gratuitous photo of Legume, who will be 16 months old
next week!

Elegy for the season

Last week I took the girls to studio craft time at our favorite toy store. Bean-girl picked up a leaf in the parking lot and brought it inside with her. After painting two pictures in the craft room, she traced the leaf on a piece of paper, and drew a big circle around the leaf-trace to represent a tree. She drew a bird in the tree. And in the corner of the picture, she drew a red flower.

Bean-girl said the picture was a story, and the woman supervising craft-time kindly wrote Bean's story on the back of her paper.
The last flower of the season. There is a tree and it is raining and it is the last flower of the season.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The first week at work

Should I and Baby Legume go to the store with you, Bean-girl? Husband asked today after dinner. Or would you like alone time with mommy at the store?

I want you and Baby Legume to come, Bean-girl said.

Oh, how sweet, I commented. You really do love your sister.

Bean-girl nodded. Even though I sometimes do mean things to Legume, I still love her.

Do you do mean things to her? I asked.

Yes, I know that I sometimes do mean things, but I love her anyway.

Note: I haven’t really seen Bean-girl do any mean things to her sister. Um, not that I’ve noticed, anyway.

The past week has been exhausting, stressful, discombobulating. I started a new job and got thrown right into an RO1-deadline frenzy. I got repeatedly lost—lost on the downtown streets busy with construction, lost finding the parking garage, lost finding my way through the maze of the parking structure and Institute. The Baby Legume got sick. Fever-sick, stay-home-from-daycare sick, cry-all-night-and-keep-everyone-else-awake type sickness. I got sick. Husband got sick. Bean-girl, so far, is not too sick. We had random school/social/family functions, and I spent all weekend writing and editing, and desperately trying to read up on and digest a new field of research (thankfully, not too new from what I’ve done before!)

The past week has also been exhilarating. I get to sit in a corner of sunlight, at a quiet study carrel, in a gorgeous, glass enclosed building looking over the heart of downtown. I get to sit and think and read quietly for long, unbroken stretches of time. I find that I can actually concentrate. My attention is not blown to bits every few seconds by a toddler tugging on my leg, sticking her hands in the toilet, trying to fall down the stairs, dumping out the kitchen cabinets, and getting into any of an infinite variety of mischiefs. Nor is my attention shattered by a preschooler whining for candy, milk, a cartoon, a comic book; whining that her little sister is looking at her the wrong way; crying because I’ve looked at her the wrong way, or any of an infinite number of things that can disturb and distress a sensitive three-year old. I actually had lunch downtown with my husband last week. Just the two of us. While we were on our official lunch breaks. Imagine.

I get to walk through this dazzling Research Institute with my ID badge swinging from my neck, feeling like I am once more part of the Real World, the Outer World, the Working World. I’m not doing experiments, but I’m reading and learning about cutting-edge research. I get to go to seminars, journal clubs, and research-in-progress reports. I interact with scientists. I’m learning about grants and the administrative details behind grants—the administrative support that goes into actually running a research institute. The people in the lab seem genial, although quiet and reserved. I’ve only really talked to one or two people in the group, although I’ve chatted with people from other labs in the breakroom. Friendships will come over time, I trust.

Today I had a meeting with the PI and a postdoc about the grant that we are submitting. The postdoc has some very cool data, and the PI is rushing to shape an RO1 for the October deadline. So this meeting was actually a brainstorming session—what kind of specific aims should we have? What specific avenues should we explore? How can we specifically address these questions, and in a form that is appropriate for an RO1? I’ve never been involved in something like that before. Until last year, I had never even read an RO1 in its entirety. No PI that I’d worked for had ever bothered to give me, a lowly grad student and then postdoc, a sample RO1 to read, much less discussed one with me. My previous PIs closeted themselves in their offices and wrote silently for weeks when it was grant time, not discussing their ideas with anyone in the lab (except to emerge every so often to ask a student for a copy of this figure or that figure. Without discussing how the figure, or data, was actually being used). So this is all very new for me.

I am going to try my darndest to hold up my end of the project. I am officially working only part-time, but I’ve had to put in some extra hours at home. My best friend warned me that this could happen—full-time work for part-time pay. But it’s only temporary, only for this month. And I suppose I’ve never had a clock-punching job, anyway.

Both children seemed happy and healthy today (knock on wood).

I thought that I would miss the bench. In fact, my “desk”, or rather, work station (it’s not a real desk) is smack dab in the center of a lab bench. I have a pH meter to the left of me, pipettes to the right, an unidentifiable piece of electronics in “my” area. And my papers jostle for space with a colleague’s ice bucket. I thought that, watching my colleagues work all around me, I would feel a twinge for experimental work. I thought that I might pine for it. But the past week, watching my colleagues trot about with their insulated ice buckets—I found that I did not miss it at all.

Not yet, at least. We’ll see how this falls out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Quick post on new job

The bean children were awful the night before my first day on the job. They took turns waking up every few hours, and both ended up in bed with Husband and I. Where they both flailed and flopped about. Baby Legume kicked Bean-girl in the face, making her cry. They settled down. . . then Bean-girl started loudly crying for her stuffed penguin (which was right next to her), making the baby cry. Fun times.

But I got to work on time, found the visitor parking lot, spent the obligatory time with human resources. . . I'll have to spend another post comparing my initial impressions of work at a traditional academic research center with work here at this private, nonprofit research center. I will say here that this institute is physically absolutely gorgeous. And the core facilities, and IT support and infrastructure, are incredible.
And. . . I am supposed to be helping with an RO1 due Oct 5! None of which is yet written! Is the PI kidding me?!!
(off to bed now. . .)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Change of seasons

I start my new job this Monday.

I’ve delayed writing about this, for fear of somehow jinxing it. Because, you know, the final background check could turn up the evil doppelganger bean-mom who shares my name and has been convicted of several felonies. And then the offer would be rescinded, and I’d have proof of my umemployability and would have to cry into my pillow at night. There were so many false starts and stops in the whole application process. Hiring for a staff position at this institute certainly involves more buearacracy than hiring a postdoc at my former institution (they even do a credit check!) . But it looks like I really do have the job, and I start this Monday.

I have been hired as a science editor/writer for a large laboratory at a nonprofit research institute. The principal investigator of the laboratory has a joint appointment with an overseas institute, where he runs an even larger lab. The majority of his scientists (both in the States and abroad) are not native English speakers (no surprise, of course). And so I have been hired to help his students and postdocs prepare and polish their manuscripts for publication. I will also help out with the preparation of grant proposals, although that is expected to be secondary to the task of manuscript editing.

I’m excited, of course, and also a bit nervous about how this change will affect my family. Due to childcare issues, I will work only part-time this month, and then switch to full-time in October (when a full-time daycare slot opens up for Baby Legume). I’m thankful that my family and I will be able to ease into this change. Both Bean-girl and Legume have been going part-time to their daycare center for some time now. They are both doing well at the center, and this week the only change will be lengthened hours and an additional day.

There are other changes coming up, though. The entire daycare center is relocating to a new building this month. Baby Legume will soon be transitioning from the older infant room to the young toddler room (I can’t believe it!) Bean-girl is starting her first ballet class next Saturday (not my idea, but her best friend is going and Bean-girl wants to go as well. She keeps standing on one leg and calling herself a ballerina.) AND my husband and I will be leaving at the end of September for a brief couples’ getaway—the first time we have ever been away overnight from both our daughters. The first time we’ve gotten away together, since Baby Legume was born.

Big changes.

That’s life, I suppose. Last week I saw the first red maples, and this week I saw yellow leaves blowing across the road. The temperature abruptly dipped, and it’s already sweater weather; the bean girls are sleeping in long pajamas tonight. The seasons have shifted; we are sliding into fall. Those long, unstructured days of summer sun and warmth are gone.

But I’m excited about the change of seasons. Nervous, yes, and with recurring flutters of trepidation and doubt. But I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this will all play out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bean-girl growing up--some snippets

About a year ago, my sister-in-law gave the Bean-girl a story book that I intensely dislike. It’s sappy, New Age twaddle. In the book, a little girl suffers slights from peers and scoldings from authority figures, feels misunderstood and down-hearted. Her guardian angel then appears and gives the little girl words of affirmation and completely incoherent New Age-y slanted babble. The angel wears a crown, and is surrounded by tiny winged fairies.

Bean-girl, naturally, loved the book and had to hear it over and over. Thankfully she then forgot all about it. Until tonight, when she found it on her bookshelf and asked for it to be read for night storytime.

The angel has wings, Bean-girl observed when we reached that page.

Yup, I said.

Angels have wings so they can fly, Bean-girl said.

Uh-huh, I agreed.

Angels are part bird and part woman, Bean-girl decided.


There are so many cute stories of the Bean-girl I could tell. The things she says, the “jokes” and “riddles” she now makes up (she claims that her best friend, at least, finds her jokes funny). All the discoveries she is making at age three and a half, the way she is trying to grasp the complicated rules of the adult world. The pleasure of seeing her develop real friendships with her peers, and of seeing her and “Lisa” bond and try to figure out this world together. And, of course, the pleasure of seeing her care for and protect and play with her baby sister.

It’s not all sisterly fun and games, of course. As Baby Legume has gained mobility, she has gained the ability to knock down Bean-girl’s “art installations” (complicated structures of random toys heaped up on one another), tear her books, grab toys and cookies from her hands, and follow her everywhere. Bean-girl does not always take kindly to this, and has occasionally pushed the baby. But a stern reprimand pretty much put an end to the pushing, at least from Bean-girls’s end. Baby Legume herself feels no compunctions, and will readily grab the Bean-girl about the waist and pull her down to the floor. Sometimes they wrestle like tiny Greek wrestlers, or baby bears. They roll on the floor; Legume pulls at Bean-girl’s hair and clothes in delight, and Bean-girl laughs.

Don’t poke your sister’s eyes! I cry, as baby fingers jab.

Don’t worry, mommy, Bean-girl says, squishing her eyes closed. I’m squeezing my eyes shut.

Bean-girl’s friend Lisa has less patience for baby-toddlers, and has twice pushed my darling Legume down at playdates. “Go away, baby!” she yells as Legume toddles toward her and Bean-girl’s play. “This place is not for babies!” Poor Legume just wants to see what the big kids are doing! And she’s relentless; I may remove her from the big kid area, but she keeps going back, undeterred. I understand her. But I also understand the older kids’ point. They don’t want a toddler stomping on their intricate (if unfathomable) preschooler designs, knocking down and trying to eat their toys. Bean-girl wants to spend time with her own friend, and shouldn’t always be forced to play with the little one. Lisa has a little sibling of her own, still an immobile infant, relatively unthreatening. I predict that sparks will be flying in her household when her little brother learns to walk.
One of Bean-girl's riddles:

Q :How do you make a kite float in the air if there is no wind?
A :You tie a balloon to it.

I thought that was pretty good, myself.

"Self-portrait" by Bean-girl, Summer 2008.
This is actually a pretty good likeness.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In which I interrupt regular bean stories for a political aside

I have been mesmerized these past few days by the unfolding story of Sarah Palin’s nomination for the Republican vice presidential ticket. It’s like a car wreck in progress, a building on fire—I can’t look away from the spectacle, even as I feel sorry for the people trapped inside.

I was reading the first media responses to her nomination. (“Sarah who?” was my initial thought). Then, yes, I happened on the first Internet rumors that she had actually faked her last pregnancy to cover for the pregnancy of her teenage daughter. “Wackaloonery!” thought I (Physioprof’s language has been infecting my thoughts), but the conspiracy theorists did bring up some points that gave me pause. Then, of course, the bombshell that her seventeen year old daughter is indeed pregnant—not months ago, but right now.

The New York Times, our nations’s most esteemed newspaper, had, of course, to give a “mommy war” spin on the story. From the opening paragraphs of "In Palin, a New Twist in the Debate on Mothers":

“With five children, including an infant with Down syndrome and, as the country learned Monday, a pregnant 17-year-old, Ms. Palin has set off a fierce argument among women about whether there are enough hours in the day for her to take on the vice presidency, and whether she is right to try.”

And my first, instinctive response to this article was to inwardly exclaim “New York Times, give us all a break!” I was in initial disbelief that this major newspaper would even bring up this concern and give it play in a full-length article. Aren’t we all supposed to be past this, after all? Employers aren’t even allowed to ask job candidates questions about their marital or parental status in job interviews. It’s not supposed to be a consideration. No one ever asks a father how he is going to balance a high-powered job with his family life. Barack Obama has two young children—does anyone question how he will balance the presidency with his family responsibilities? If Sara Palin were male, with five children including a special-needs infant and a pregnant teenage daughter, would anyone in the media publish this story?

But she’s not male, of course. (The cynical among us wonder if she was chosen primarily because she’s not male). She’s a mother, not a father; and so yes, people do wonder, they do judge. According to the NY Times piece, at least, (which appears to have been pieced together by eavesdropping in the mom blogosphere) mothers, in particular, wonder and judge.

And it’s not true that the private, family lives of male politicians are not also considered. When John Edwards was running for the presidential nomination, he was roundly criticized in some corners for hitting the campaign trail with a wife who had been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Some people said out loud that Edwards should be focused on his family rather than political office, and plenty of commentators wondered if Edwards would have the focus to act competently as commander-in-chief, should his wife’s condition worsen while he were in office.

Our politicians’ personal lives have always been the subject of gossip and debate. How do those private and public lives intersect? When is it appropriate for the media (and voters) to analyze that intersection?

I suppose that for me, the real questions are: will a candidate’s personal life negatively impact in any way her or his ability to perform the elected job? And do issues in the personal life raise serious questions about his or her judgement and conduct in the public realm?

Frankly, I don’t care a flying fig if the president of the U.S. is screwing about with the White House interns—as long as he leads the nation well, that’s all fine with me. I wouldn’t want to be such a president’s wife, but then again, I’m not; I’m just a constituent. And I would guess that past U.S. presidents have not had time to tuck their children into bed every night, make the school recital, or have every needed heart-to-heart talk with a troubled teen. Barack Obama and Sara Palin are probably both having only limited time with their young children right now. And while that may be kinda sad. . . it’s not really my problem now, is it? Any more than it was my problem when Bill cheated on Hillary. Each family makes its own choices; in the case of Governor Palin, she has a stable marriage with the father of her children, and financial resources and support that are unavailable to most Americans. The only questions should be if she is competent to serve as vice-president and, potentially, as president.

(For me, the answer is NO! but that is a whole other post).

But look, I’m a mother and a human, and so even after this righteous rant, I am also still going to wonder about Palin’s family dynamics and personal life. It’s getting to be a sordid hillbilly soap opera affair now, splayed out over the Internet and mass media. When I opened up my Web browser yesterday, I saw that Salon had already dredged up the Myspace page for Bristol Palin’s boyfriend, and was dumping the contents onscreen for the world to see. Every time I see that now famous photo of Bristol holding her infant brother in her arms, I wince. And that part of me that is a mom, that sits in judgement of other moms (we all have that censorious self, don’t we?)—that part of me thinks: Sara Palin, as a mother, how could you subject your daughter to this? Because you had to know that by accepting the nomination, this would all come out. You had to know that your daughter’s privacy would be invaded, that she’d be pinned in the media glare, that she would become, in the words of columnist Maureen Dowd this week, “tabloid roadkill.”

I try not to judge. It’s irrelevant. And I sure as heck was not planning to vote Republican anyway. But I do wonder.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Tonight it was my turn to put Bean-girl to sleep.

It had been a long day. Husband could see how frazzled I was. And he volunteered to do the night-time routine with the Bean in my stead.

He and I stood together in Bean-girl's bedroom, and he asked, "Who do you want to put you to sleep, Bean-girl?"

She looked in turn at both of us, smiled slyly, and said. . . "Daddy!"

For the first time that I can ever remember. The first time in her three and a half years in this planet. She chose her father.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer time

The sunlight fails earlier these days, blue dusk falling and shadows stretching into what once seemed endless hours of golden light. It’s now fully dark when Bean-girl goes to sleep, and her complaints of “But it’s still light!” no longer hold water. The teachers in my mothers’ group are already in the midst of curriculum training and preparation for the new school year. In a few short years, I’ll be preparing my own girls for school, buying notebooks and pencils and backpacks and new fall clothes (well, the fall clothes I can do already, at least!)

I cannot believe the summer is already passing. It seems I say that with the passing of every season. Each turn of the seasons leaves me slightly melancholy; even the passage of winter into spring had something bittersweet about it this year: that fragile new beginning, the vulnerable first buds of green and chill, unsettled winds. Now we tip into fall, the beginning of the earth’s long sleep. Soon this golden summer will be sealed and packed away, like the summer dresses and shorts that I’ll fold and put in untouched drawers and boxes.

For now, we have summer frozen in our refrigerator, in the form of homemade popsicles. My wonderful husband searched online and found rocket ship popsicle molds for the kids. Bean-girl loves pouring fruit juices in the molds. Both Bean-girl and Legume love the frozen results. Slurping them down on our back deck—soon another summer memory.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blog bling

Both ScienceGirl and Scientistmother gave me the lovely badge on the left! Thank you!

And part of the fun, of course, is passing this on. Many of my favorite bloggers have already received this award. But this still gives me the opportunity to update my blogroll (badly in need of updating) as I highlight some of the newer blogs I've found . . .

1. Mimi at Science, Food, Music, Art: the Meanderings of a Wannabe Wildlife Filmaker. She lives in the gorgeous Caribbean. She works at a butterfly farm. She studies biology, blogs a lot about science, and hopes to be a wildlife filmaker. How cool is all that?

2. Scientia Matris. She's a mother, a scientist, and she's making the big leap by starting her own research group. She gives us the low-down here.

3. Katie at Minor Revisions. You guys all know her, right? You should.

4. Wayfarer Scientista. You should all know her, too. Now this tough woman probably has good bear stories to tell! (Cath at VWXYnot? was telling bear stories the other day. Cath and I are terrified of bears).

Some non-science blogs:

5. Ophelia Rising just writes the most beautiful essays on, well, anything that she turns her mind toward. This is gorgeous writing.

6. MusingMommy--by turns funny, meditative, graceful, and always honest-- stories of motherhood and work (she runs an at-home daycare!!)in the Midwest.

7. Life as I Know It--warm, funny, insightful, and sometimes very moving.

Okay, here are the rules (if you want to play):

Put the logo on your blog.
Add a link to the person who awarded you.
Nominate at least seven other blogs.
Add links to those blogs on your blog.
Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Book meme

I'm finally getting around to this book meme! Mad Hatter tagged me about a week ago. I'm using her color scheme: bold means I've read it, red means I've read it more than once, and blue means I've tried to get through it but have not finished.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (I read the first two books and then stopped. Honestly, I can't see what the big deal is about these books--and I know how unpopular a position that is. I actually thought the movies were much better)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (I love this one. Beats the socks off Harry Potter)
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Um, I've read the tragedies and what are considered the "major" plays. Haven't read all the poems, and haven't read the more minor histories and comedies).
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (working my way through these now)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon (It's a great book; I just made the mistake of skimming the end, thus losing the mystery and driving compulsion to read it... then things came up . . . oh, well.)
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov (saw the movie, loss motivation to finish it)
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams (just couldn't get into this one)
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
And I tag . . . anyone who would like to have a go at it!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quick post

  • Baby Legume is saying "ball." So far, it's her only consistent word. Though of course, it comes out more as "baa."

  • Baby's new favorite thing is handing objects to people. Sometimes Bean-girl gets annoyed when the baby hands her things she doesn't want. Of course, she gets even more annoyed when the baby tries to take things from her (that she does want).

  • The mystery of corn:

This morning the kids lay in bed with us, watching cartoons and cuddling before Husband went into work. "Ugh!" Bean-girl announced. "Baby smells bad!"

"Did she have a poopy diaper! Husband and I asked. We sniffed.
"She smells bad!" Bean-girl insisted.
"What does she smell like?" we asked.
"Like corn!"
My husband and I sniffed and sniffed, turning the baby over. "What part of her smells like corn, Bean-girl?" Husband asked.
Bean-girl leaned in for a good whiff. "Her cheeks!" she announced.
  • And finally, in science related news . . . That science writing job may not be dead in the water after all. I'll let you know more, soon.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


An unclaimed field nearly bumps up against our lawn, just on the other side of a paved footpath. Our neighborhood is still under development; there are still parcels of unsold land, and so we see scattered plots of wilderness, of prairie grass and wildflowers, growing between and behind the neat, crisp lawns and homes of suburbia.

Queen Anne’s lace grows tall in these wild fields, and red clover, and a little blue flower whose name I do not know. At one point in the early spring, my husband commented on our neighboring field as “unsightly,” but now, in the full lushness of summer, even he has conceded that these patchwork fragments of prairie are really quite lovely.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Science job update

Some time ago I wrote this rather swoony post about career fluidity, and about returning to the scientific workforce in some capacity.
Well, I know at least some of you are interested in how that is going. . . So here goes. The one postdoc interview I had lined up was canceled when the position was eliminated due to lack of funds. And I have the feeling that the Science Writer position is headed the same way. After weeks of being put off as to an exact interview date, I finally got this e-mail from an admistrator (a few sentences have been removed to help maintain anonymity):
"I apologize for the delay; however, we have been instructed to hold off on pursuing the applicants for this position. . . I do not know when we will be able to schedule these as this is outside of my control."
Doesn't sound good.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Revelation for the Bean

This morning I coaxed the girls out to Friday story time at a bookstore, and then lunch in the adjoining café. Bean-girl noticed that the family seated next to us had three children.

Bean-girl: That family has THREE children!

Me: That’s right.

Bean-girl: Why do they have three children?

Me: Some parents have three children, Bean-girl.

Bean-girl: But you only have two daughters.

Me: That’s right. But some mommies and daddies have more. Some have three children. (dramatic pause). And some have four children. Or even five. Or six!

Bean-girl’s eyes get bigger and bigger as I count off these numbers. When I hit “six”, she just about falls off her chair, laughing.

Actually, I have the same reaction. And this is written with no offense intended toward anyone who comes from a large family, has a large family, or intends to have a large family. It’s just that these days, with these two little girls running me ragged—one 3-year old who no longer naps during the day, and the one-year old force of destruction that is the Baby Legume—well, the idea of three or more children is absolutely hysterical to me. Hysterical ha-ha, and also hysterical in the sense of padded room and tranquilizers, please.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Toddler Legume (~13.5 months)

I am still often startled to see her standing and walking. I’ll leave a room while she is sitting on the center of the floor, out of reach of any hand-holds. I’ll come back mere seconds later to find her gone—where is she?? In a brief space of moments she’s walked into a corner, or into another room. My tiny girl. Not a baby anymore—a toddler.

She’s always walking now, and just in the last day, it seems, has improved measurably in grace. Around and around she toddles about the house—living room to entrance foyer and back through the length of the kitchen. Her days are spent walking and pulling things off shelves. Books go flying. Mommy’s bedroom closet? All clothing on low shelves are pulled down. Today she got into our spice cabinet, and promptly began pulling out the plastic bags of bulk spices my husband buys from Penzey’s. I let her amuse herself with them as I made dinner. Later, the Bean-girl picked up all the spice bags, put them back, and closed the cabinet door. (Note: Bean-girl isn’t always so helpful. But she does have these moments).

Baby Legume makes one unholy mess when eating. I had completely forgotten the vortex of destruction and chaos that is a one-year old child.

Baby Legume now has five teeth. With those five teeth she can take on the world. She eats vastly more than her sister. Three chicken nuggets and a bunch of apple slices. And milk. And more! More! An entire banana!

“Who will win the growing race?” Bean-girl asks. “Me or Baby Legume?”

“Baby Legume, if you don’t eat enough,” I say. “You, if you eat more than she does.”
“But Baby Legume eats a LOT!” Bean-girl wails in complaint (she’s got a competitive streak, hates to lose anything).

She’s still round and pudgy, my walking doll. And just this past week, she started engaging in imitative play. When I grabbed a baby wipe to clean up a mess, she also grabbed a wipe and bent beside me to scrub at the same stain. She imitated her sister playing a musical instrument. And yesterday, after countless days spent chewing at the tip of Bean-girl’s Dora doodle-pad pen, the Legume learned how to use the pen and doodle-pad herself. And oh, did she doodle. Squiggle squiggle squiggle.

So proud of herself, as she masters these skills. I clap my hands at her, and she laughs and walks toward me, clapping in glee, her front teeth showing in the broadest baby smile. She’s not quite talking, but she clearly understands much of what we say. One of her favorite things is climbing into boxes. And storage baskets. And anything small and enclosed. She laughs at me from a cardboard box, and finds herself trapped. I take her out, and she promptly climbs in again. And oh, can she climb! She’ll scale anything, my fearless one. She’ll stand on Bean-girl’s toddler bed and attempt to scale the Bean’s bookshelf (and succeed).

My determined little baby. They say that it is with the second child that you learn how different babies can be. You think your first child’s baby behavior is typical of all babies; then you find out that it was typical of only that baby. From the beginning, the Legume was her own distinct person.
Why is the baby smiling? Why is she laughing? Is she laughing because she loves me, her big sister?

Yes, Bean-girl, she does.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The New York Times article on women and science--this crap passes for journalism?

John Tierney has written this inane article for the New York Times. In it, he discusses recent efforts to apply Title IX standards to increase the representation of women in the sciences. He reveals his utter lack of understanding by professing that (1) any underrepresentation of women in the sciences is because women just don't like science, that's all. We like to deal with people, not things like numbers and facts. (2) Women earn the majority of docorates in the life sciences and psychology, so really, there's no problem anyway. (He apparently does not know, or completely ignores, the fact that this very statistic makes womens' marked underrepresentation at the higher tiers of scientific employment all the more shocking).
Physioprof is guest-posting at Feministe, and has this response, in his usual blistering, funny, and absolutely obscene style. Go read it.
Then you can go spam Tierney's blog.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day in the country

In the space of a week, it seemed, Baby Legume went from the hesitant one-step, two-step, fall-on-the-bottom drunken baby lurch to walking upright across the room. Her favorite ambulatory mode is to walk with objects clutched in each hand. I feel as though I’m watching human evolution occur before my eyes—the hominid creature progresses to bipedalism, and with that gains the enormous advantage (so anthropologists have said) of being able to transport random plastic blocks and toys in both hands across the room!

Then the evolving hominid sticks said objects in her mouth. To me, this doesn’t seem to have any obvious benefit, but baby hominid does enjoy sucking on plastic things.

Yesterday we drove down to my parents’ house, two hours away. My mother is turning sixty this upcoming Sunday, but we will not be able to see her on that date as Husband will be on-call at the hospital. Baby Legume nonchalantly demonstrated her walking abilities for Grandma and Grandpa. Bean-girl enjoyed herself playing with Grandma’s many decorative knick-knacks (many of them choking hazards for the Baby Legume).

We went on a prolonged quest to pick sweet cherries with Grandpa. My parents live in lush orchard country, and always seem to be asking us if we would like to pick one fruit or another. Grandpa was trying to take us to a new orchard (one that did not require us to pick a minimum quantity of fruit), and became completely lost, making more than one U-turn and, at one point, a dead stop on the rural highway. “Grandpa’s lost it!” my husband declared, and zoomed our car ahead of Grandpa’s to the cherry orchard he had spied ahead. Alas, no sweet cherries left in the first orchard; they’d all been picked, and only tart ones were left. “Will we ever pick cherries?” Bean-girl asked. “Bean-girl is asking existential questions,” Husband said. “Will Godot ever come?”

We did eventually find a cherry orchard (I think it’s the one my father had wanted to take us to, although I’m not sure). “Not sweet,” my father complained, tasting the fruit. “Don’t pick any fruit until you’ve made sure it’s sweet. Then pick everything from that tree.”

My girls didn’t seem to care about the quality of the fruit, happily eating whatever cherries they could reach. My father wandered further and further into the orchard, searching for the mythical Sweetest Tree Of All. He found some wooden ladders, and began directing my husband to prop them against specific trees and specific branches of trees, pointing to clusters that he should pick. Then Bean-girl started rubbing her eyes and complaining about being tired. I looked and saw that her left eye had swollen half shut.

I pointed this out to my husband, then scooped the tired Bean-girl up and carried her back to our car to rest. After a while, Husband came back to us, carrying Baby Legume. “I think she swallowed a cherry pit,” Husband said of the baby. Baby looked perfectly happy, if a bit vampirish with red juice smeared on her face. “I hope she doesn’t get a bowel obstruction,” Husband added (this is the kind of comment you hear when you’re married to a pediatrician).

“This,” Husband declared, sitting next to me in his seat, “has been a bust.”

“It’s not that bad,” I protested. “We got to be out in fresh air. It was fun until Bean-girl’s eye got swollen.”

Husband went to tell my father that we were taking the kids home. My father stayed in the orchard by himself for a long time, patiently and meticulously filling up two large buckets (10 pounds!) with yellow and red cherries that he complained were not sweet. We gave Bean-girl a bath in Grandma’s house to wash away whatever allergen (Tree fuzz? Sunscreen?) had gotten into her eye. She felt better after that.

Dinner outside on the back patio, and a dip in the pool. My parents insisted on both children swimming. I splashed Baby Legume in the water; she smiled, but her jaw trembled with cold, and I took her out. “It’s NOT cold!” my father kept insisting, even as the baby’s mouth trembled pathetically.

At one point, Bean-girl was left in the pool with Grandpa while Husband and I went into the house. When I came out, Bean-girl was wrapped in a towel on a chair, crying hysterically. “She flipped over her inner tube,” my parents explained. She’d been holding onto the side of her inner tube, and it flipped over and got away from her. She was still wearing her arm flotation devices, so she didn’t sink into the water. And Grandpa was right there with her. But she got very scared.

Finally, after more food (springs rolls, barbecue, ice cream) and packing, the Bean family got away. We drove the miles back through gently fading light and the pastoral landscape. I asked Bean-girl about her scare in the water. “You were crying and in a towel when I saw you,” I said.

“I was crying,” she said, “because I didn’t know I was back on land. I thought I was still floating in the water.” She seemed to digest this, said again, “I didn’t know I was already on land.”

Then she added seriously, “Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“Okay, Bean-girl, what is it?”

Intently—“I don’t ever want to go back into the pool with Grandpa again.”


But she also kept asking, that night, “Can we go back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house another day? When can we go back? How soon?”

And that is a typical day with the Bean grandparents. The End.

Monday, June 30, 2008

These summer days

Summer is a promise. A promise of long, lazy days of sunlight, of farmers’ markets, and beach trips; of strawberry fields and dripping ice cream cones and fuzzy peaches and bubbles blown by my children into the lingering twilight.

It’s a promise that, alas, is never completely fulfilled. Last week I asked another mother if she’d yet been to our town’s new farmers' market, and she said she that she hadn’t. “I always have so many plans for the summer,” she said. “And I never do even half of what I have planned.”

Sing it, sister.

Like today, when Husband announced that we would take a family walk after dinner. We had our dinner outside on the deck, and it was lovely. But afterward Baby Legume was so incredibly, unbelievably encrusted with food (as always) that Husband announced she needed a shower right then. So I gave her one, and one to the Bean-girl, too. And then we were in our PJs. And then the family bed looked so delicious, and Husband collapsed upon it, and the girls giggled and climbed all over him. So… there we were. In bed, watching cartoons in our PJs instead of enjoying the lovely summer weather.

It’s only the end of June, of course, and there are months left to go. But I already know that it will go by too fast.

At least we did get to go strawberry picking this past weekend.