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.