Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cleaning up, saying goodbye

There is a certain devil-may-care thrill in the clean-up that precedes leaving a lab. In my case, I am not pitching boxes of plasmids and spent reagents willy-nilly into the trash; instead, I am throwing papers--lots and lots of them--with abandon into the recycle bin. Pitching pdfs like this always carries a thrill of doubt--will I need these papers again? Will I ever want to look them up? But that old doubt is now assuaged somewhat by one of mankind's great developments: Mendelely. Thanks to Mendeley, my pdfs are all saved to the "cloud", stored on the Web and accessible from any computer at all. Progress is indeed great.

I am leaving the Institute for now, but I am hoping to be back. I'm counting on it, actually. After all, they just opened a fancy new cafeteria with a panini station (saving us the three-minute hike across the street to the hospital cafeteria).

A few weeks ago, I submitted a grant with a rising star of PI. Unlike the other grants I worked on this year, this grant application was for myself. If it gets funded, I will have up to three years of funding to work in the lab of this amazing PI. I think we have a good shot on this one--it's not a typical peer-reviewed grant, but an adminstratively reviewed career re-entry grant which suits my situation to a T. We should know of the official decision in April, although my (potential) PI hopes to get word of "intent to fund" before that time. If the application is not funded? I'll deal with that then. More I don't want to say right now--but I do really really want to work for this guy. I officially interviewed with his lab this past summer; since then, we've met multiple times to map out this grant application and plot out a research project which perfectly marries my past research experience with the current interests of his lab. It all meshes so beautifully--one would think that I'd planned my career steps to lead this way.

But it's goodbye for now--goodbye for at least a few months. Friday will be my last day. I wasn't kidding when I wrote once (a long year ago) that the camraderie of the scientific community is what I truly missed most during my time at home. And again, it will be what I miss most this time around, too.


I turn 35 on Saturday. 35 sounds so old. I take comfort that my husband will be forever older, and somehow age doesn't seem so old on him. But still. 35. Jeez.

I have white hairs at my temples. A body that betrays a slowing metabolism and the birth of two children. I am nowhere near where I dreamed I would be professionally back when I was a callow grad student--more than eight long years past.

But other dreams did come to pass--dreams I didn't even know I had. And as for the future? I am a cynic and pessimist at heart. And maybe still a dreamer, for all that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday photo FAIL

All I wanted was a nice photo of the girls in their holiday dresses, standing together before the Christmas tree. Something that we could perhaps use as a holiday photo card to send out to friends.

Turns out we could get a shot of one girl at a time in front of the tree, looking at the camera. But two girls in the same frame, with at least semi-normal expressions? A bit beyond my husband and me.

I don't think we'll be sending any of these out this year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

First Snow

The first snowfall of the season. It began last night, the white fluff piling up rapidly in between dinner and bath time. Bean-girl scooped up a cup of snow from the back deck, and she and Legume poked at it with their fingers and squealed. This morning we opened our eyes to a powdered sugar wonderland. “Look, Snow Forest came back!” I said to Bean-girl, pointing to the small stand of trees in our back yard which changes monikers with the season—from “Spring Forest” to plain “Forest” to “Fall Forest” and now “Snow Forest” again. (Bean-girl is responsible for these names). “Yeah, Snow Forest is back!” she cried.

Poor Husband took the snow blower out for a spin and it promptly died, a wire snapping before he could even clear two lengths of the driveway. He shoveled clear a path by hand and came back into the house huffing and puffing and soaked with sweat. I was scheduled to give lab journal club, and rushed out into snow, leaving him to deal with the two kids. The snow kept falling, and I realized it was nearly white-out conditions. Cars crawled. Halfway to work, I realized that the schools might well be canceled, and that lab meeting might well be canceled, too. I pulled into a suspiciously (near) empty parking garage. Sure enough, a quick check of e-mail on my computer told me that lab meeting had been pushed back until Monday. And the public schools were closed, too. It was still an official work day at the institute, but there was no work for me to do. I sent off a quick e-mail to my boss, tried and failed to get in touch with Husband, and drove slowly back home (more white-out! Cars on the side of the road!) By the time I finally got in touch with him, I learned that he’d brought Bean-girl into work with him and had dropped Legume off at her daycare (which had remained open). He had the afternoon off, and would bring Bean-girl back home for lunch.

What does a mother do with an unexpected morning off? Stand frozen with the shock of it all. Then grab a shovel and finish clearing out the driveway. I had just finished when Husband turned up with Bean-girl in tow. He, too, was taking off early from work. Obsessed with the broken snow blower, he went on the Internet to track down parts and then drove 14 miles (in terrible road conditions) to track down the replacement wire and belt. Indulgent and lazy mom that I am, I let Bean-girl watch “Polar Express” for the third time. Later, I bundled her up in snowpants and coat so that she looked like the Marshmallow Man. She plowed through drifts with her body like a little human snow plow, giggled, and fell on all fours to make her own bizarre versions of snow angels. Hot chocolate after and then more “Polar Express.” Bean-dad fixed his snow blower and fetched Legume early from daycare. Gnocchi with roasted squash and asiago cheese sauce for dinner. Family time on the couch in front of the tv (yes, I know, we watch—or rather, the kids watch—too much tv). Bath, bed.

The snow seems to have finally stopped for the night. The sky is lit with the pearled luminescence of a snow-lit evening. The kids are asleep; Husband has fallen asleep with them, and I have this time all to myself. Finally. Our Christmas tree is up, the stockings hung. Christmas is only a few weeks away.

The truth is that I hate the snow. All through the fall we Midwesterners start griping about the coming winter. “I hate snow!” Bean-girl told us a few days ago. But yesterday her eyes shone when she saw the first snowfall of the season. And today she loved it.

I felt that way, too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nemesis, grudge

I hold grudges.

I remember the little insults. The negative remarks. You may say a dozen sweet things to make up for it, but I will forget them all. Only the occasional stray thoughtless remark burns in my memory, taking on increasing weight with the years.

My older daughter is a girl after my heart. She holds grudges, too. She is only five years old, but her memory is long.

There is a boy at school whom she hates. She despises this boy. He took a glue stick from her during the first week of class. She will never forgive. They were sitting side by side, engaged in an art project. He asked her if he could borrow the glue stick; she gave it to him; after a few minutes, she asked for it back. He refused. She cried and cried. The teacher came over to see what the problem was and the Bean-girl, hysterical, could not explain. The teacher gave her a hole punch in her daily “Great Day card,” signifying a “Tough Day.” Bean-girl was appalled, and kindergarten pretty much went downhill from there.

(Note: kindergarten is actually going much better now. Thanks for all the supportive remarks! I will never hold anything against you, fair readers.)

I still do not know the boy’s name, but Bean-girl refers to him as the “mean boy.” He always does “mean things” to her. In truth, as far as my husband and I can determine, there has only been one other incident of “meaness.” Bean-girl’s class was spending a week on the concept of patterns—looking for patterns in the world, making and designing their own patterns. They were cutting and gluing shapes on a strip of paper to make their own patterns. The mean boy told Bean-girl that her pattern was not actually a pattern. This was obviously a very mean thing to say, because it was a pattern! But Bean-girl showed us her strip of paper, and well, that little boy was right. My Husband and I could not discern a pattern in the string of cut-out shapes she presented us. If it was a pattern, it was on a scale that we could not see.

So on the weight of two tiny incidents, Bean-girl has declared a nemesis for life.

“Why does that mean boy say that he likes me, but does mean things to me?” Bean-girl asked one morning while putting on her shoes.

“He says that he likes you?” I repeated.

She nodded. “He says that he likes me but he does mean things!”

“He told you that he likes you?” I say again, just to be clear.

She nodded, exasperated with my dimwittedness.

“Well…” I said slowly. “Sometimes boys like you but don’t know how to show it in the right way. So it comes off as kind of mean.”

“When they get older, will they learn to show it better?”

“Usually, Bean-girl.”

I haven’t heard much about “the mean boy” lately, and I wonder how he’s doing and if Bean-girl and he have interacted lately.

They do get better about showing how they like you, Bean-girl. But yeah, when they mess up and it comes out wrong—I get plenty mad, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bean-girl's 5th birthday, mother-in-law visit

This morning I still found helium balloons in strange places. One balloon hung limply from a window shade. Another was tied to the vacuum cleaner in the corner of our kitchen, the balloon's long blue ribbon wound around and around the vacuum's handle. Balloon in various states of deflation bobbed and sank in the living room. Yesterday afternoon I peeked at Legume during her nap. "Awwww," I said to my husband when I came downstairs. "Legume fell asleep cuddled with balloons!"

"What!" said Husband. "I took them away from her!"

Bean-girl smiled. "I put them on Legume!" she said.

"Why on earth did you do that?" we asked.

"I put them on her to make her look cute!"

"You sneaked into the room and put balloons on top of Legume to make her look cute?"

Bean-girl nodded.

That's the kind of thing that happens around here....


The balloons are left over from Bean-girl's fifth birthday party. Her actual birthday was a week ago, but her children's party was this past weekend. Seven children (five kindergartener/preschoolers and two toddlers) took over the craft studio of our favorite independent artsy flaming-liberal (for this corner of the Midwest)toystore. They decorated a birthday banner, made hats, paraded about the store, then made pizza and frosted cupcakes in the adjoining cafe. Bean-girl's best friend had a little meltdown at the sight of kids that she didn't know, but eventually cheered up (pink frosting has that effect). Bean-girl beamed nearly the entire time.

"Amah"--the children's paternal grandmother--was there for the party. She was here for ten days, and it was, ahem, rather trying at times. Let us just say there are gulfs of generational and cultural opinion. And although my own mother shares some of "Amah's" ethnicity, the two are really polar opposites in almost all ways... except for in those really really annoying ways in which they AREN'T.

"So, Bean-girl," Husband said after he'd dropped his mother off at the airport. "Did you like having Amah around?"

Bean-girl gave us a dazzling smile. "Raise your hand if you don't like Amah!" she said, and raised her own hand high.

Husband and I burst out laughing. He is well aware of how difficult his mother can be--he has, after all, known her his entire life. She made Bean-girl cry while she was here (scolding and trying to shame her) and she said that Legume had the face of a Chinese peasant (not a compliment).

Husband immediately got on the phone to his sister to relate Bean-girl's remark. His sister's children are themselves petrified of their grandmother. Instead of laughing at Bean-girl's comment, Husband's sister responded with a worried "Oh, I knew she'd been there a while. I was wondering how you were getting on."

"Oh, it's fine," Husband laughed. "She [Amah] gets everyone else all riled up, but I'm fine."

Yeah, my husband is, seriously, a very model of equanimity. I suppose he had his training early, and although the results are admirable that perfect even-keeledness can also be freaking annoying.


Bean-girl still has rough moments at school. She's clearly well-liked by her classmates--she has so many friends. She comes home chattering about a new game or song learned at school, and shows off her awesome art projects. But she still cries many days at drop-off. She almost NEVER cried at drop-off at her old daycare. She says kindergarten is not as much fun as daycare because you have to "sit and listen" instead of having free play. She says that she feels she "has to be perfect" in kindergarten. She doesn't seem to have trouble with the school's Kindercare (the daycare program run in the mornings before p.m. kindergarten). She loves the school's daycare. It's KINDERGARTEN that stresses the Bean-girl out. And I am still at a loss on how to help her through this.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Baby Legume (not really a baby)--28 months.

This is the cute age, a friend said of our two-year old children. Her blond son draws smiles wherever he goes. She holds him with frank adoration. I can hardly keep my hands off my own two-year old Legume. They walk! They run! They even talk! And yet they still have round cheeks, round arms, dimpled thighs. Babies with personalities, babies with (semi) thinking minds!

I’m not a baby, Legume tells me.

She tells me other things, too, not all of which I understand. Did I really hear her sing about going to “the miracle moon?” Or was it “miracle room?” Do you know what your sister is saying? I ask Bean-girl, and Bean-girl, absorbed with a toy, says indifferently, No.

She is fastidious, our Legume. Which is sad, in a way, because she is also so very very sloppy. Which directly contradicts her fastidious intents. I spilled! she screams at dinner as a spoonful of soup slops onto the table. I spilled! she yells when food ends up on her chair and her shirt. She is constantly asking for napkins to clean up. Yesterday our family went out to lunch at a casual restaurant, and Legume mistook the cracks in the booth seat for some kind of spill or marking. Frantically she tried to wipe them away with a napkin. No, no, it’s fine, her father said, and tried to seat her on the cracked seating. Legume screamed in the purest panic that I’ve ever heard. (I rescued her by seating her next to me on my un-cracked seat).

Is it funny? she asks me, holding up a toy or showing me some simple object or action.

Um, okay, maybe a little bit funny, I say.

A little bit funny?

A little bit funny.

Is it a little bit funny?

Just a little bit.

It’s a little bit funny?

Only a little bit.

Is it a little bit funny?

And so on . . .

She is mysterious, this funny funny little girl. How can she eat so much and still be so tiny? What solo game is she playing as she arranges books and toys in complex patterns on the floor? Why does she hate it when I pour water on her head in the bath, but laughs when Bean-girl does it? Why does she erupt into laughter at the scary part of a movie? What on earth goes on behind those glinting black eyes?

Do you understand what she’s saying? I ask Bean-girl again, as Legume repeats a mysterious, incomprehensible phrase.

No, Bean-girl says, again indifferently.

So much for older siblings interpreting for the younger ones. . .


I haven’t been writing much, lately. I had thought—hoped—that I might have more time when I went to part-time status at my job. But really, once you have kids I think you never have time. Full-time stay-at-home mom, full-time working out-of-the-home mom, part-time working-from-home mom and part-time working-out-of- the-home mom—I’ve been through all the permutations now, and in every single case there STILL IS NO TIME! In some cases there is more time spent with the children, sometimes there is more time for work or home-cooked meals, but THERE IS STILL NEVER ANY PERSONAL TIME!

I admit that I fantasize about personal time. I imagine working out a gym, toning my abs and honing arms like Michelle Obama’s (my husband would be snorting if he were allowed to read this now). I imagine decking myself in the latest fall fashions, becoming one of the stylish, thin women I see and envy on the street. I imagine finally printing out the family photos that are stored in the computer, hanging up pictures and decorating our home to look like a magazine spread or at least like the other suburban bourgeois homes I see. I imagine that I have time to write, that I finally finish this damn short story I’ve been working on. I dream that I write a series of lovely, heart-catching short stories; I publish a book to critical acclaim. And along the way, I succeed in science and publish a few Nature/Science/Cell papers along the way.

And yeah, I imagine that I do all this while still retaining the status (both outward and inward) of “good mommy.”


Not sure where I’m going with this post. Guess I just wanted to say: I’m still here. I want to try to keep up with your blogs, your lives. I want to have the time to keep up with my own.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Short comments

--Why are the "Supplemental Data" sections of papers often bigger than the main data sections themselves? And now there are even "Supplemental Discussions" to go along with the "Supplemental Methods" and "Supplemental Data." Somebody please make this stop.

--It's gray and cold. I have the kids bundled in winter-coat mode already. Happily, we are leaving for vacation to Florida tomorrow =)

--Bean-girl still cries when I take her to kindergarten.

--Hopefully, I'll have more interesting things to write when I get back.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New post at The Alternative Scientist!

I have a new post over at The Alternative Scientist! The lovely Emily Monosson has generously agreed to let me post the responses from her survey of a number of different science writers (including yours truly). And if you don't know who Dr. Monosson is, check out her book and blog here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Growing pains---redshirting is in and we're the outsiders who didn't do it

It doesn’t get easier, more experienced mothers have warned me darkly. As the kids get older, school activities start piling up and it just gets crazier and crazier. The kids still need you—in some ways, they need you even more.

I want to close my ears when these battle-hardened mothers speak, and I want to shout LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!

But I’m beginning to understand what they mean.

Bean-girl has only just started kindergarten and our family calendar is booked with school meetings and events to remember; there are still endless forms to fill and a parade fund-raisers to remember. Wow, my husband said, standing in front of the calendar. Yeah, I said grimly. Think of what it will be like when both of them are in school.

And it’s not just the new notes and folders and projects to keep track of… Bean-girl has hit a bit of a rough patch this week. And bean-mom’s confidence has been shaken a bit as well.

The rose is off the bloom, as my husband would say. The first week of kindergarten was filled with the excitement of novelty—there was kindergarten itself, and the “Kinder-care” pre-kindergarten daycare program in the morning (which she says is more fun than actual kindergarten), and then a separate after-care program after 3:30 pm. Bean-girl was shuttled from one room and environment to another and seemed to find it all thrilling. Her very first full day she did something astonishing—she went down the playground’s tall, twisty slide, encouraged by some older school girls in the after-care program who have taken her under their wing. This is the same girl who for years refused to go down even the meekest toddler slide—and suddenly she was happily going down the biggest slide on the playground! Bean-girl seemed to be making new friends easily, and everything was sunlight and roses.

Then the second week rolled around, and it seemed to sink in that she wasn’t going to be seeing her old friends from her old daycare anymore. The novelty began to seem confusing and intimidating. “I miss my old friends,” she said, tearing up in the backseat on the way to her new school. “You’ll see L (her best friend) at ballet this week!” I replied heartily. “But I miss my other friends, too!” Bean-girl replied. Then she began to talk about how she wished she were back at her old preschool/daycare. She said the teachers were nicer there, the kids were more fun, and that she missed the physical look of the room itself.

She was in that daycare/preschool for two solid years. From the ages of 2 to 4. She met her first and best friend in that room, and they grew up there together like sisters.

Bean-girl has already bonded closely with a new girl in her Kinder-care program and already been invited to the birthday party of her new friend. But understandably, she still misses her old school. Last week she had, in her kindergarten teacher’s parlance, a Tough Day, and started crying in frustration about something. And today, when I dropped her off for the afternoon kindergarten session, I asked her to walk down to the classroom herself, following all the other children who were walking by themselves and leaving their mothers in the school lobby. Bean-girl got upset, and before I could even change my mind, the school chaperone took her hand and led her away, saying that she was a big girl who should leave mommy behind (all the other kids have been walking in on their own for days now).

Bean-girl was led away crying.

The school counselor called me at home later that afternoon to let know how Bean-girl was doing. Apparently, the counselor saw Bean-girl crying in the hallway and followed her into the classroom to talk to her and help her calm down. She had a difficult time. She calmed down, but then a stray word set her off again, and she had to spend a little quiet time with the counselor in a separate classroom. It’s perfectly normal, the counselor assured me. I just wanted to let you know how she’s doing. We’re trying to teach her techniques—like taking deep breaths—to bring herself under control. By the way, is she a perfectionist? (She is, I admitted). I thought so, the counselor said. We’ve noticed the way she gets frustrated at some tasks.

All this is feeding into new insecurities raised by a new acquaintance of mine. There is a phenomenon known as “redshirting” where parents deliberately hold their children back from kindergarten an extra year to give them more time to mature. Bean-girl is on the cusp of the cut-off age for kindergarten in our state—she turns five in November, and in our state children who turn five after December are not allowed to enroll in kindergarten. We had the option to put her in the school’s “Young-5s” program instead of regular kindergarten, but we figured she was ready for the real thing. Some people expressed surprise at this, and suggested that we should hold her back, but we shrugged them off.

But most of the kids in the Young-5s program are OLDER than she is. It seems every single kid in the district who has a September birthday or later is enrolled in Young-5s as opposed to kindergarten.

And these are kids who are bright. These are kids who are mature. These are kids who can read and write and are clearly ready for kindergarten. But they are being deliberately held back by their parents for a social advantage.

“Did you know that Bean-girl is the youngest kindergartener in the entire school?” a new acquaintance called to tell me, worried. Worried Acquaintance (let’s call her “A”) helps to put the school directory together, and decided to look up all the children’s birthdays. “I know this is bold of me, but did you think of enrolling her in Young 5s?”

I’ve only just met “A.” She’s the mother of Bean-girl’s new best friend from the school’s daycare program—a very smart girl who is already 5 years old, who stands a full head taller than the Bean-girl, and who is in Young5s instead of kindergarten.

“I know it seems brazen, but I just want to talk to you as one mother to another,” A told me on the phone. “I have older children—my oldest is in high school now. I just want to tell you that this is a VERY competitive school district. We struggled with the decision to put our youngest in kindergarten, because we know she is so bright, but we’re looking ahead to the years down the line. We want her to fit in socially and be able to handle the pressures to come.”

I was taken aback, but I could tell that A was sincerely concerned for her daughter’s new best friend. I thanked her for her concern, and said that while I understood these reasons, I was philosophically opposed to holding a child back just for these social advantages.

“Oh, I hate it too,” the mother responded. “I HATE it. But you have to understand that everyone in this district does it. 99.9%. Everyone.”

And she’s right. It appears that everyone really does do it here.

Have I doomed my Bean-girl by putting her in kindergarten according to the supposedly regular schedule? I don’t think so. I think in the long run she’ll be fine either way—although perhaps I should have thought more about Young5s, and perhaps she would benefit from it. Apparently, Young5s, is the new kindergarten, which makes kindergarten the new first grade and first grade the new second grade… Bean-girl’s kindergarten teacher said she would check to see if a transfer to Young5s is even possible at this stage, just to see. I have a late December birthday myself and was always the youngest student in school. I was shy and socially awkward, but I attribute that more to innate temperament than to the accident of my date of birth.

But it just keeps getting clearer and clearer: school is not what it was when my husband and I went through the system. For both better and worse. And it does not get easier as they get older. The tug of the heart is as painful as ever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lab trajectories

Labs go through boom-and-bust cycles. I've been on the downhill side, seeing a formerly high-flying lab lose major funding, half the trainees kicked out or running for the hills. In the last few years, I saw and heard of more and more labs losing funding, downsizing or shuttering altogether.

During graduate school, I did my Ph.D. in a stable, middle-of-the road lab. That lab had gone apparently gone through a hairy period before I entered it, but it was pretty stable when I entered. Years after I graduated, that particular lab is still doing well, and still pretty much at the same level. It is neither expanding or contracting--it seems to have achieved a nice steady state.

Then there are the labs on an explosive trajectory. I think I may be soon entering one of these.

Several months ago, our research institute made available a large sum of internal funding in support of high-priority institute goals. PIs were invited to submit applications. It was a mad scramble, very similar to the craziness that occurred for the NIH Challenge Grants. And like the insanity that was the Challenge Grants, it seemed that everyone here submitted multiple applications for the Internal Pseudo-Challenge Grants.

Last night, the word came down on the internal grants. My current boss, sadly, did not get any of his applications funded.

But Hot Young PI, with whom I plan to work next year, did very well.

Today I had a meeting with Hot Young PI to discuss my career grant application with his lab. He'd e-mailed me to say that he had some exciting updates to share. I wrote back that I'd already heard of some of them.

Me, walking into his office: Congratulations! I heard you got 6 out of 7 internal grants funded!

PI: Oh, not really. (Slight pause) It was 7 out of 8.

Me: agog and speechless.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Still working (but enjoying this weekend)

Yesterday was supposed to be my last day of work at the Institute.

But in an almost literal last moment reprieve... my boss made the decision to extend my contract through the end of the year. Because I had already altered my daycare arrangements, I told them that I would only be able to work full three days a week. So as of next week, I'm officially on a 24-hour work schedule (and going to try my darndest to be disciplined enough to to keep it that way. I will NOT work on official days off!)

In a way, I'm actually a little sad about the loss of the freedom I'd envisioned working as a freelancer. Working part-time is better, of course--not just monetarily, but for other reasons as well. This way I still have continous access to the resources of the Institute, including access to cool seminars (yeah, I'm a geek about that) as well as the structure, camraderie, and steady income of a salaried position. And now it will be much easier to keep in contact with Hot Young PI as we work together on a re-entry grant for this winter.

(Yup, I'm still planning to submit a grant with Hot Young PI. And to hopefully transition to his laboratory at some point in the new year. So the timing and length of my current contract extension actually works out just perfectly.)

So things took an unexpected but happy turn... I took two days off this week to use up my last official vacation time and see the Bean-girl off to kindergarten. She is doing amazingly well, and is so excited and happy for the new adventures each day at her new school! Everything is thrilling for her--the kindergarten class, the pre-kindergarten daycare, using a locker, going down the twisty slide, making friends with older kids on the playground... In fact, she told me she'd rather go to school all day than spend some mornings at home with her mommy!

Bean-girl. At. Kindergarten! Legume kept saying after we'd dropped Bean-girl off. Bean-girl. At. Kindergarten! She said it over and over as she drifted off at naptime that first day. Then woke, bleary-eyed, but game to put on her shoes and go pick up her sister at school. Bean-girl. At. Kindergarten!

And when we picked her up, Bean-girl pouted tha we hadn't let her ride the bus home.


In mid-September, summer finally makes her late appearance. The weather is gorgeous. Our city throws an end-of-summer bash at this time each year. My husband and I took the kids downtown last night to see the festivities. We sat eating strawberry ice-cream on an open deck, watching fireworks explode over the river. Baby Legume quietly chattered her wonder. Green! Pur-ple! Pop, pop, pop! Wow-wow-wow!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Talking Legume

Suddenly, in the midst of baby babble, fully formed sentences started appearing. At first we were unsure—is she just parroting us? Repeating without understanding? But now Legume is talking in full force. I’d say about half of what she says is intelligible and the other half is clearly intended as coherent language—we’re just too dumb to understand it.

“Ah wan jaba gooba,” she tells me intently, looking me right in the eye.

Um, you want something, Legume? I can’t understand what you’re saying.

“Ah wan jaba gooba,” she repeats more insistently.

Bean-girl, can you understand what you’re sister is saying?


Um, here have a cookie instead.

That cheers her up and makes her instantly forget about the mysterious jaba gooba.

Then she walks into the kitchen and tells me, apropos of nothing, “Ah wan slurpee!”

Oh, this I understand. No slurpee now. Slurpees from the 7-eleven are special treats. We can get slurpees another day.

“Slurpees anotha day!” she beams and walks contentedly away.

She has, mysteriously, picked up a Southern accent. “Mah teddy beah!” (translation: My teddy bear) she cries in the breathy drawl of a southerner. “Mah bicycle! Mah panda! Mah toothbrush! Mah, mah, mah!”

“I like mommy!” she proclaimed the other day. “I like sister! I like tissue box! I like Daddy!”

“Oh, great, I rank below the tissue box,” her father said.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prairie reverie

One of the pleasures of parenthood is rediscovering your favorite books of childhood with your own children. The Bean-girl and I have started the “Little House on the Prairie” series; the other week we finished the first book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” and are already several chapters into the second book, “Little House on the Prairie.”

It’s strange, re-reading these novels aloud. I remembered the description of a pig butchering, the scene where Laura and Mary use a blown-up pig bladder as a ball (toy stores being in scarce supply at the time); the scenes of Pa fiddling at night and the cozy warmth of the log house in the deep snow. Bean-girl loves these adventures, too. She laughs and her eyes widen when Ma and Laura face a bear, and when Grandpa Ingalls is chased by a panther. She identifies with Laura, of course, a little girl not much older than the Bean-girl herself when the series starts. But reading with adult eyes, I wonder now about Ma. I wonder—how did she do it? How did she raise those three little girls, all alone during the day in a cabin in the deep woods, miles from town or the nearest neighbor? Today’s suburban stay-at-home moms complain about their isolation—we’ve got nothing on these pioneer gals. And then in the second book, Pa Ingalls uproots the family and takes them even further into the wilderness. They leave a community where extended family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—lived at least within a wagon-ride distance and could gather together for Christmas and special occasions. But Pa claims that the Wisconsin woods are getting too crowded for his taste and feels the need to move West. The family travels by covered wagon to the great prairies. There is nothing and no one about them—only the tall grasses, the birds singing and flying overhead, the wagon tracks stretching before them and the wilderness all around. Roughing it for weeks with a baby and two preschool-aged children—can you imagine?

And here’s the kicker, the scene that I can’t stop talking about to any adult who will listen. In the middle of the great prairie, miles from civilization, Ma Ingalls stop to do the wash. She washes the children’s petticoats and underpants and dresses. She leaves them to dry flat in the sun. And then she happily irons them. She irons! Hell, my husband and I don’t bother to iron anything and we and our kids have to go out in public every day. Laura Ingalls Wilders describes the scene lovingly—the heating of the irons, the hiss of steam, the smooth pressing of cloth. All for the pleasure of freshly pressed frocks that no one outside the family will even see.

Way to make me feel like a slacker, Ma Ingalls.


There are patchwork remnants of prairie about our house. An overgrown field lies next to our property, just the other side of a little footpath. The field is tall now with grasses higher than my head, with Queen Anne’s lace and red clover and chicory. Wild raspberry bushes grow amidst the weeds near the bottom of the path. Little birds chirp hidden in the grass and then fly out suddenly.

“This is what it must have been like in Laura’s day,” I tell the Bean-girl. “Imagine, the whole country was once nothing but wild meadow just like this.”

My husband and I marvel at the idea, and Bean-girl and her sister Legume ignore us, running free in the golden light.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Interview date!

Hey, I finally got a date for my job interview! Next Thursday. I'll be presenting a seminar on research I did over three years ago.

Wish me luck, and I"ll keep my peeps updated =)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer silence

The summer is already more than half over—too fast, as always. Beach days, pool dates, —still left undone. It’s been unseasonably cool here, mid 70s, and I actually miss the muggy days that usually spell a Midwestern summer.

I’m in a state of waiting these days. I decided to contact a hot young PI at my institute to inquire about research opportunities with his lab. I had actually met this person three years ago during an informational interview, and I wanted to work with him then; unfortunately, he was just starting his lab and had no funding (and I was expecting a new baby). But he just got his first RO1 this year and a few additional private grants. He squeezed in 20 minutes for me, told me that he had lots of money and exciting projects, was interested in me, and would like to schedule a formal interview with me including formal research seminar. He ended the meeting by saying that he’d like to get in touch the following week to discuss things in more detail. And then. . . silence.

Well, not complete silence. A round of e-mail tag and then silence. He’s been busy traveling, and writing additional grants, and then traveling again. . . You get the idea. Summer is one of the worst times to try to catch the typical PI. My own current supervisor has been gone for nearly two months now, leaving manuscripts and projects adrift. I help his postdocs shape their manuscripts and grant ideas (believe me, some of them really need it) but at a certain point one needs the approval/input of a certain authority to move on.

Actually, I don’t have much to do at work right now, so I’ve been doing a lot of general reading, which includes reading in the field that I would like to move into. Because I really *do* want to join this other lab!

Anyway. . . it’s been silent here at my blog, too. No real reason for it. Just waiting for news on the job front and trying to enjoy this fleeting summer (as I bite my nails.) Legume has been talking a storm; she sounds like a high-pitched parrot as she mimics everything anyone says. Bean-girl alternates between oversensitive preschool dramatics and delightful, perfect cover child. I took Bean-girl to her first swim lesson last weekend and she loved it! I was so relieved, for she’s often a nervous child and I remember being traumatized by own childhood swim lessons. But her first swim class consisted of me holding her while she sang “Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle little star” in the pool while splashing and making hand motions with the other children and their mommies. . . and hey, what’s not to like about that?

Monday, June 29, 2009


Bean-girl: Mommy, do you love your two children more than anything and no matter what we do and do you love us more than anything at all in the world and think we are the most wonderful and bestest in all the world?

Um, yes.

Now please don’t make me think about all that when I say it to you. Your mommy hates getting sappy and teary.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Precious memories

You know what's really gross? When your two-year old is sitting on your lap (because she refuses to sit in her own chair)stuffing your scrambled eggs into her mouth with her hands. And then she spits out the scrambled eggs onto your plate. And then she re-stuffs them into her mouth and eats them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekend moments

What is it about children and bugs? Bean-girl is indifferent to the bright finches and cardinals that come to our bird-feeder, but is held rapt at the sight of an ant on the ground. Ladybugs, caterpillars, spiders and worms—all are fascinating, no matter how many times she’s seen them before. Legume is similarly thrilled.

This weekend I bought the girls a bug-hunting kit from a local nature center. One of the best six dollars I’ve ever spent. A simple net, a cheap pair of binoculars and magnifying class (which are too out-of-focus to really let you distinguish anything), and this nifty little bug-catcher, two halves of a plastic ball mounted on what look like the edges of scissors. You squeeze the handles of the bug-catcher together and the plastic halves close in and trap the bug in a sphere (studded with breathing holes, to boot).

The past two evenings we’ve been on bug-hunting walks. Bean-girl was absolutely thrilled to come upon a wriggling red worm on the sidewalk and carefully placed her net over the worm, proud that she’d finally caught something. She was so proud that, in fact, she “caught” the worm several times, repeatedly putting the net over it and then taking it off. Various ants and beetles on the sidewalk were caught in similar fashion. Legume grabbed the plastic ball bug-catcher and proceeded to flip bugs on their backs and pound/grind them to oblivion. There was a nasty moment when I thought she would do the same to a second worm we encountered, and I picked her up (howling her dismay) to prevent this occurrence.

Tonight we headed down the hill behind our house and through the open campus of the community rec center, skirting the edges of wild prairie-grass. Bean-girl thrashed the tall grass with her net. Legume plunged down a small path someone had trampled in the grass, and we had no choice but to follow her. Gnats and small grasshoppers (?) hopped and whirred, too fast for Bean-girl to deliberately catch. Then, heading back home, she noticed that her net was full of tiny bugs after all, prompting a moment of serious study, then much shaking to be rid of them.


Tonight I put Bean-girl to sleep and Husband put Legume to bed. As Bean-girl and I said goodnight to Legume, Legume waved happily (not crying for once). Unprompted, she said for the first time on her own, “I love oo.” And then, “Have a good night.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Welcome, two.

The cousins invaded last week, as I’d been warning Bean-girl for weeks. My sister-in-law and her four children arrived for their first visit to our home. I now have the barest inkling of the life Jon and Kate Gosselin might lead (minus tabloids and product endorsements, of course). When food landed on the kitchen table, it seemed to instantaneously vanish under the serving ladle. Whole bags of fruit—cherries, strawberries, grapes—evaporated from the fridge. The fridge mysteriously cleared itself out every evening. We go through four gallons of milk a week, my sister-in-law told me, and it’s no exaggeration. Little girls were everywhere in our house—laughing, chattering, long hair swinging. Bean-girl was in heaven, with the attention of four cousins, three of them sudden “older sisters” to play with. After her initial reservations, Legume warmed up and also plunged into the noise and chaos.

My husband’s amazing sister has triplet pre-teens—three 10-year old girls. Plus one fifteen year old boy. All of them beautiful and charming, with no trace of fabled teen sulkiness. It strikes me how young they all seem to me. I thought ten would seem old compared to Bean-girl’s four—isn’t ten practically puberty these days, according to media reports? But ten is still very much an age of childhood. My ten year old nieces can make their own sandwiches, scramble their own eggs. But they also still play games of make-believe. They giggle as madly at nonsensical jokes as any four-year old. They’re all in a zillion sports—track, swim team, horseback riding. They’ve read the Stephanie Meijer “Twilight” series and tell me that these books are all the rage in their school (a statement which rather took me aback). Yet they clamor Mommy, mommy! in the same tones as a preschooler demanding for their mother to Look at this! See me! Help me! Pay attention!

And the fifteen year old boy, despite having a drivers’ permit, seems young to me as well. Still affectionate with his younger sisters, unapologetically close to his family—none of the reserve that I imagined would come with his age, or the reserve that I imagine I felt at that age (and did I? Can I really remember?) Still so young they all seem—open and unguarded as summer blooms.

Bean-girl and Legume stayed home with their father and relatives all of last week. Husband took the week off work (I had to go into work, alas). Nearly every day brought an outing for the kids—to the zoo, the botanical gardens, the beach. Nights brought popcorn and movies at home. Despite the crowd, I will say that my kitchen was neater than it usually is, with conscientious house-guests jumping up to lend a hand. And there were four older kids to keep an eye on Bean-girl and Legume, to take them outside to play or entertain them while the adults cleaned up and maybe even relaxed.

Bean-girl bonded most especially with cousin M. They spent hours together, just the two of them. Holed up in Bean-girl’s room telling stories, playing with stuffed animals, cuddling in bed. One of their favorite games was one in which Bean-girl pretended she was M and M pretended that she was Bean-girl. They found this game endlessly, inexplicably amusing.

And in the midst of all this, Legume turned two. Exactly one week ago. It wasn’t a well-thought out party. My gifts, I’m rather ashamed to say, were picked up at a local toy store that very evening. Auntie E and the cousins made a cake. Helium balloons were left over from a trip to the grandparents the day before. Legume sat bemused in her high chair and ate her cake. She enjoyed her gifts, particularly the cheap $2 wind-up duck she chose for herself at the toy store. Two-year olds are easily impressed.

She is sleeping now, my little girl. I’ve been denying it, but my baby walked away from me months ago. When I wasn’t looking, a little girl took her place.

Hi there, big little girl Legume.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Grant writing crunch

--Bean-girl was in her first big dance recital this past weekend. She and her friends did wonderfully!

--Legume is walking up and down the stairs by herself, putting on her pants by herself, talking a lot more, and growing up too fast.

--I am in the home stretch of grant writing purgatory.

--And I was amazed to read this article in the New York times and learn that "Rooster brand" Sriracha sauce is made in America. All my life I've assumed it was a Thai import.

Okay, back to my stack of scientific journal articles. I've missed you, oh blogosphere, and promise to be back soon.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Inspiration: Rachel Carson, scientist and writer

I belong to the Council of Science editors and receive their monthly news publication, “Science Editor.” April’s issue had an eye-opening profile of Rachel Carson, the environmental activist best known for her book, “Silent Spring.”

I admit that I’ve never read “Silent Spring” or any of her other books. Actually, I know almost nothing of Carson other than that she was a famous environmental activist best known for “Silent Spring.” But the article I read makes it clear that Rachel Carson was a remarkable person with a remarkable career path and life. And it brought home to me (yet again) that career paths are often unpredictable, that they turn and twist in unexpected ways, and that long-held dreams can blossom late in unlooked-for spaces.

Adapted from “Rachel Carson, Science Editor” by Olga Kuchment. Science Editor (April 2009) Vol 32: 39-42. (Too bad there’s no online access to the journal!)

Rachel Carter was born in a rural setting in 1907. She started writing at an early age, and early on she dreamed of becoming a professional writer. But she was introduced to zoology at the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) and fell in love with the subject. She switched her major from English to zoology and decided to become a scientist. At the time she “thought she would have to give up writing.” (Kuchment, 2009).

She earned a master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University and tried to continue for a Ph.D. But her family was poor, the Great Depression hit, and she was unable to afford the tuition to continue her training. (Hmmm, seems you actually had to pay for a science Ph.D. in those days?) Rachel Carson became the main economic support for her widowed mother, sister, and nieces. She took a job at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, where she wrote scripts for a radio program on marine biology. The radio scripts jump-started her writing career; she reworked the scripts into articles that were published in the Baltimore Sun. On the urging of her boss, she reworked one of her government assignments into an article that was published in The Atlantic. She secured a book deal and wrote her first book “Under the Sea Wind.”

Her first book was not a commercial success, and she stayed on as a scientific writer/editor with the government for many years, eventually rising to the position of editor-in-chief of the publishing program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Kuchment’s article in the Science Editor quotes interviews from admiring colleagues who praised Carson as both an editor/scientist and person. Carson continued to work on personal writing projects in her spare time, and eventually hit commercial success with “The Sea Around Us.” She then retired from her civil service job and worked full-time on her own writing projects. “Silent Spring” was her last book.

I love this story. A dream deferred, put aside—the early dream of being a professional writer. A new dream and its loss—what a bitter pill it must have been to not be able to finish her Ph.D.! But then the marrying of interests—her initial job title with the government was “junior aquatic biologist”; she went out into the field and interacted with scientists; it seems that one could still call her a scientist, as well as a writer/editor. And then, at the age of 45, the realization of her dream to work full-time as a creative writer pursuing her own interests. Interests that sprang directly from her training and love for science.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spring break recap

Every morning, we woke up to this outside our bedroom window.

The blue waters of this Caribbean island are like nothing I've seen elsewhere. I spent the week trying to think of a name for this shade of blue. In person, it's an electric color that is almost green.

We spent a lot of time at the pool

And at the resort's splash park.

And the kids were enraptured by Elmo.

Sesame Street characters cavorting in the Caribbean sounds crazy, yes. But it works.
The Bean family's second annual trip to the Turks and Caicos was a smashing success, I'd say. It really did feel like paradise there. But spring in the Midwest, with the tulips abloom and all the pear trees on our street in full white flower? Coming back to that wasn't so bad after all. =)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

1 am posting

It's 1 am. I fell asleep with the baby around a little after 9 pm, woke when Husband stumbled into bed, lay awake for a few minutes, then followed the silent glow of the computer monitor (calling me from all the way downstairs) to this place.

I could be editing pieces of a Challenge Grant that, in light of the gazillion impending applications this Monday, has a vanishingly small chance of being funded. Or I could read a review article or write another paragraph of the RO1 that I think may actually have a chance. These thoughts actually flickered through my mind as I walked down the stairs. But of course, I instead spent the last half hour wandering aimlessly through the blogosphere.

Because I need the down-time, people.

Husband and I feel that we have no down-time. And it's not even so much to do with work, really. It's the work plus kids thing. And heck, if I weren't working outside the home, it would just be the kids thing alone. In some way, I thought going back to work would actually free up more time for myself--more of a mental space, at least, where I could think about an intellectual subject for more than two minutes straight before being pelted with the demands of toddler/pre-schooler. In a way, I was right about that. But although it's a nice change of scenery for someone who sincerely needs to work outside the house for her own sanity--still, work isn't exactly downtime. (A reason, I suppose, why it's called "work.")

Fretting about the future, sorting through a tangled mix of ambitions and plotting (or rather, trying to plot) my way through a new, undefined career--that's not "downtime" either.

Only this--alone, completely alone, while all the family sleeps. Mad Hatter had a nice post up about work/family balance a few days ago. A number of commenters mentioned their need for "alone" time. Isn't it funny, when the commute to work becomes the most cherished portion of solitude in the day?

Not too long ago, I had lunch with two other mothers after Bean-girl's ballet class. Our children ran about the nearly-empty pizza parlor as the mothers chattered over the ruins of lunch. Yes, one of the other moms exclaimed, I so understand about getting time alone in the car! That commute time is the best! And the other mother, who works part-time with toddler twins and a preschooler, said ruefully I don't even get that much! I pick up the kids and drop them off from school, so I never get time alone in the car. And my husband just doesn't get it!

And then we chatted about kindergarten, and the mother of three nearly teared up as she talked about placing her oldest girl in a full-time kindergarten this fall. We nodded sympathetically. Five minutes ago, this mother (who is at home part-time) had sighed for a break from the kids. And now, at the prospect of a small break, the mother was sad about letting her daughter go. No one commented on the contradiction.

Parenthood is weird.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

--T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland.

I’m not sure about cruelest month. But it is an unsettled month here in my region of the Midwest, where the weather careens wildly about, soaring into sunlight and the 70s on one day, plunging into the 30s and frost on the next. Impatience swells, and Midwesterners take any excuse to break out sun-dresses, shorts, and flip-flops. Joggers and bikers start crowding the sides of the roads, even as I am still shivering in my fleece jacket (Despite the alluring sunlight, it is still NOT shorts-weather to me!) The first tight buds appear on bare branches; the dry lawn suddenly unfurls itself in lush green. To step outside is to be pelted with a riot of birdsong.

But the season is still unsettled; memory and desire are mixed. We fidget restlessly, longing for full-blown summer, warmth and swimming pools, beach days and melting ice cream in the park. The first tulips are starting to open. The spring light is brilliantly clear. And there is a feeling of fragility in this moment, an aching sense of the briefness of the spring. The air is cool, and the new mist of green in the trees seems almost unbearably tender.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Legume, 22 months

She’s warm and just slightly sticky, her breath sweet with strawberries and ice cream. She is sun-warmed toffee, a glazed Cinnabon. Grasping hands reaching for me, a warmth held against me as we cuddle off to sleep.

She is a loud and dramatic toddler. Mercurial in temperament, sunshine and tears. Today she happily picked out a purple sweater, laughing. Then burst into tears when I pulled the sweater over her head. Then stopped crying and beamed. She cries when you tell her to wash her hands. She cries when you stop her from playing in the waste basket. She cries when you tell her “No.” She cries when you hand her a bowl of cheerios. There are days that she cries at anything.

She's like a moody teenager who can't talk (other than a few understandable words) but expects you to read her mind.

She is a fashion diva. She loves hats, shoes, purses. She loves to wear her big sister’s ladybug Halloween costume (last year’s Halloween costume, discovered in a closet). She has very definite taste in clothes. A month ago we went on a little family vacation to an indoor water park resort. There, my husband introduced Legume to a pair of blue toddler Crocs to wear around the pool. Now Legume wants to wear those crocs all the time.

She is her big sister’s shadow. Her sister’s copycat, her acolyte, her worshipper and pupil and rival. Bean-girl gets up from the dining table to spin in circles on the floor? Legume begs to be released from her high chair so that she can do the same. Bean-girl practices her ballet moves? Legume must try as well. It’s no longer enough that Legume drink from the same color cup that Bean-girl uses. Now Legume is demanding Bean-girl’s cup itself! (it’s the same milk in both cups, little Legume). Whatever Bean-girl has, Legume must have as well.

Legume’s favorite words? “No” and “Gimmee.”

She refuses to use a toddler spoon now. She eats only with big-people utensils. At the table, she drinks only from an open-mouthed cup. She’s started to walk up the stairs, holding onto the railings with one hand (this makes me very nervous). She is slowly, all on her own, giving up nursing. We don’t even nurse every night now—not even when I’m the one putting her to sleep.

She’s not a baby anymore, as husband saw fit to remind me today.

She’s 22 months, and growing up so fast.

She’s not a baby, but she’ll always be my baby.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oh, well.

Guess I'm working on an NIH challenge grant after all.

There goes April.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bean-girl is a geek in the making

When the last story book has been read and the lights are off, Bean-girl will often ask my husband or I for a story told “out of your head.” I sometimes re-tell her stories about how her father and I met, or of our wedding (she loves these), or of the day she was born or the day that Baby Legume was born. Sometimes I make up a story about Moon the white unicorn, a chapter in our private serial involving unicorns and the Bean-girl. She’s got a unicorn obsession these days, along with her dinosaur obsession. Moon the silver-white unicorn usually takes Bean-girl on a flight somewhere, or sometimes goes to Bean-girl’s school for show-and-tell. I have a poor imagination, so the other day I threw in some Tolkien, and had Moon and Bean-girl taking tea with Bilbo Baggins in the forest. But after I had explained what a hobbit was, Bean-girl insisted that the hobbit be female, so the story morphed into one of Moon and Bean-girl taking tea with Rose the hobbit (I told you, I have a poor imagination).

What stories does the Bean-dad tell his four-year old at night? He tells her the saga of Anakin Skywalker and the Skywalker twins.

Not long ago, I overhead him telling Bean-girl about how Anakin gets his hand cut off by Obi-wan Kenobe. “Is that really an appropriate story for her at this age?” I thought, but did not voice. Then over the past two weeks, both trilogies of the Star Wars series were shown on cable TV. Last weekend I saw Bean-girl and her father cuddled on the couch, watching the climactic battle scene between Anakin and Obi-wan, fought above rivers of flowing lava (shades of Mount Doom…). “Do you really think this is appropriate for Bean-girl,” I said aloud this time. Husband waved me off, and Bean-girl watched as Anakin first got his hand sliced off, then burst into flame and was abandoned to die by his mentor. She appeared fascinated.

This morning the kids invaded our bed as usual. Bean-girl demanded to watch cartoons, and Husband sleepily reached for the remote. “Empire Strikes Back” was playing. In a scene that I had completely forgotten, Luke Skywalker was captured by what appeared to be the Abominable Snowman. To escape, Luke sliced off the Abominable Snowman’s hand. “There is a LOT of slicing off of hands in this series!” I announced.

Thankfully, we had places to be and things to do, and the Star Wars marathon was temporarily halted. But tonight, as I went to collect Bean-girl for bed, I found her sitting with her father, watching the end of “Empire Strikes Back”, nearing the climactic scene where Luke get his hand sliced off.

“I DON’T think Bean-girl should be watching this,” I said, and swept Bean-girl away just before Luke followed family tradition and got his hand severed.

“But Mom,” Bean-girl wailed. “I LOVE Star Wars! I really do! And I’m not scared at all, not at all, and I don’t know why you won’t let me watch it and I LOVE it!”

Uh, right. Can a four-year old really love this stuff?

She’s such a little chicken, scared of the playground slide and going too fast on a swing, stopping me when a bedtime story gets too scary for her, bursting into tears the time we took her to a movie theatre to see “Horton Hears a Who.” Shouldn’t watching dismemberment be at least as disturbing?

Then again, one of the last times her grandfather was here, Bean-girl joined him in watching “Dr. Who” and the scary Daleks and whatever ugly monster race was featured that week. I dragged her away to bed, and she spent the next two days proclaiming that she loved Dr. Who and had to find out what happened at the end of that episode…

Between a mama who tell crazy unicorn/hobbit stories and a dad who lets her watch Star Wars, Bean-girl is going to grow up to be a helpless geek, isn’t she?

Hopefully she won't be traumatized as well.

*By the way, though I count myself as a sci-fi geek, I never ever could get into the Star Wars saga. Not even during college, when I was subjected to multiple marathon viewing sessions in the dorms. It has always just seemed rather cheesy to me. And don’t get me started on the wretched “Phantom Menace”, the only one of the “new” trilogy that I’ve seen all the way through. *

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why I loved my job today

Since starting in my current position, I have worked closely with one particular postdoc, helping her to prepare an RO1 based on her work. While I was gone on vacation these past several days, she finally completed a crucial experiment. You know, the obvious experiment that all the reviewers will demand. The one that you demand, to know whether or not this project is really viable. The big-time experiment that will make or break your entire hypothesis.

It worked.

She got awesome, beautiful data. She didn’t tell me until I wandered by her desk this afternoon… but it is gorgeous. Has the boss seen this? I demanded. Boss has indeed seen it, and was so excited that he took it to our new institute director (and that is an entirely separate and probably unbloggable topic—the major reorganization at our institute). Big Pharma Collaborator/Representative apparently also stopped by the lab while I was on vacation, saw the data, and got super excited. I’m excited and I’m just a bystander in this all. The postdoc has the wary demeanor I recognize, the I’m-not-going-to-jinx-this-so-I’ll-just-play-it-real-cool demeanor. In her place, I would think that I’d be jumping out of my frigging skin (maybe she did, when she first saw her results in private).

It’s not the same as being the first person in the world to see the data, the first person to understand something new about our universe. But peering over someone else’s shoulders will do for me. And I don’t envy having to do mouse work at all.


Today I had an interesting chat with the staff science editor at our institute. S.E. is the editor for our entire institute, working with any lab who requests his services. I work for only one laboratory. S.E. edits other people’s words, but I actually do a lot of de novo writing and very substantive editing (to the point where the line between editing and writing becomes very blurred).

S.E. was involved in my hiring, and today I asked him something I’ve been long curious about. What were the backgrounds of the other candidates who interviewed for my job?

I should note that I applied for this position with naïve confidence. Our institute is not a well-known one, and it is located in flyover country. I know that our location makes recruitment of American Ph.Ds. difficult. The faculty are all great (heck, people will accept faculty jobs wherever they can get them, right?). But there are very very few American postdocs here. The few that are here all have family ties of some kind to the area.

So I figured the job posting I applied to probably wouldn’t get many qualified American Ph.D.s The job description did not formally require a Ph.D., although the degree was described as useful. I applied with inward swagger, thinking: I have a Ph.D. from a prestigious program and a postdoc from Big Research U! Who could possible be my competition?

Well, today S.E. told me who my competitors were. Folks, it is a brutal world out there (like you didn’t already know that).

The job wasn’t nationally advertised, but yeah, there were other Ph.D.s applying for this position. Ph.Ds with postdoctoral experience. The other leading candidate was a faculty member from a teaching-oriented school several hours away. I was floored that a faculty member would apply for such an editing job. Apparently, the hiring committee was also surprised, and concerned about how committed this faculty member really was to the position (hence my hiring).

Then S.E. told me about other positions he’d hired for. S.E. is a long-time editor; he’s worked at a number of places, including Big Pharma, and in different fields. He told me that once he was hiring for an assistant editor and got flooded with 50 applications from people with advanced degrees. It was incredible, S.E. recalled. Most people had Ph.Ds., and it was a position that did not require a Ph.D. One person had a J.D. (I didn’t get that at all, S.E. told me. He was a lawyer—why wasn’t he out making good money as a lawyer? Maybe he hated being a lawyer? I offered).

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Even before this latest economic downturn, there was a desperate postdoc glut and plenty of trained scientists looking for a way out. I am luckier than I thought. And the job market—even in “alternative” fields—is more brutal than I had believed.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What you should be reading

A while back Sciencegirl gave me this lovely Inspiration Award.

Following Cath’s example, I am bending the rules and passing it on to one special blogger. SciMom’s blog was one of the first women-in-science blogs I stumbled upon. I never commented back then, but when she left blogging two years ago I missed her and always wondered how she was doing with her transition from academic research to industry.

Guess what? SciMom is back! And the last two years of her life have been tumultuous indeed. I hope she doesn’t mind if I quote from one of her introductory posts to her new blog:

"I haven't blogged for awhile because I realized my previous blog, which I called Doubleloop, just didn't fit my life anymore. So I've updated my blog look and changed the name (Tripleloop) to acknowledge what I now accept - that the last year's trip through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment has changed things. It's a part of my every day life now and what I blog about will often have some component related to that life changing experience.I will still write about academic science, hopefully in a more positive note with the new incoming administration. I will also blog about what it's like to juggle two science careers with two small children. I will blog about what it's like to be an "academic" in the world of biotech. And I will blog about breast cancer research, survivorship and it's impact on my life."

Check out SciMom's Tripleloop. An “Inspiration Award” seems more than appropriate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bean-girl's first symphony concert

“She’s changed so much in just three weeks!” my mother exclaimed of Baby Legume. Indeed, both children seem to be going through both mental and physical growth spurts. It’s more noticeable with Legume, who’s going through the fabled toddler language explosion. Just last week she learned the word “No”—pronounced more like “Neh!” in Legume-speak. So it has been “Neh, neh, neh!” around here, emphasized with a shaking head. I also swear that I heard her say “mine!” when she was tussling with Bean-girl over some thing. And she has finally learned to say Bean-girl’s name, much to Bean-girl’s amusement. “She doesn’t say it quite right,” Bean-girl pointed out.

The grandparents were in town last week, filling up on grandkid time before they take a month long overseas trip. Legume cried, as usual, when she saw her grandmother’s face. But this time she calmed down more quickly, and was soon sitting on grandma’s lap, listening to stories and playing. My mother is enamoured. “She’s good to me now, she likes me!” my mom kept saying of her youngest granddaughter. And Bean-girl has always warmed to her grandparents, from the very beginning. When she hears that they are coming for a visit she asks for how long, and is disappointed if they don’t stay the night.

Bean-girl went to her first symphony concert this weekend. There is a sleek modern community arts center down the hill from our house, in walking distance. We wandered through an art exhibit there when we first moved to this house, but had never attended a performance there. I saw in the paper that a childrens’ production of “Cinderella” was being staged over the weekend, with music provided by our city’s symphony orchestra. It seemed a good time to introduce the Bean to a little culture. My husband took a nap with the Legume while Bean-girl and I made our escape. The grandparents joined in on the pre-concert festivities—there was a “renaissance faire” (high school kids in medieval costumes wandering the lobby); medieval-themed crafts projects, and an orchestra petting zoo that Bean-girl took zero interest in. But she loved the crafts and the concert itself. I hadn’t realized that half an hour would be devoted solely to classical music from the symphony. Excepting the Police concert this past summer, I hadn’t heard any live music in years. The last time I attended a symphony concert was in grad school. There is something about the swelling of live music that cannot be replicated by any stereo sound system. The orchestra started off with an excerpt of the William Tell overture. “Hey, this music is like the Little Einsteins,” Bean-girl told me, referring to a favorite children’s cartoon series that features classical music in each episode. “Music can tell a story,” the conductor told the audience of children. “What story do you think that piece was telling?” “The Little Einsteins!” Bean-girl shouted from the balcony (I don’t think he heard her).

The conductor did a marvelous job of introducing short pieces to the children and explaining how music could mimic a rainstorm, or the bounce of Sancho Panza tossed in a blanket, or the flight of Baba Yaga the witch. Bean-girl beamed on my lap (although she also covered her ears at some parts of the musical rainstorm). Then the “Cinderella” production started. From the newspaper description I had expected a puppet show, but this “puppet show” was actually a ballet featuring masked dancers and dancers manipulating life-sized puppets. Bean-girl squirmed and got a little restless toward the end, but overall seemed to enjoy it. We went home afterward with her cardboard crafted dragon and sword, and she affirmed that she would certainly like to see a similar show again.

And I was reminded that someday, Husband and I will have to get out on the town ourselves for a full-length symphony concert or bit o’culture. It’s been quite a while. But this past Sunday it was also lovely to share the moment on a one-on-one date with my bestest Bean-girl.

Things have been busy here, what with work, kids, relatives, etc. Blog posting and reading are both taking a hit. I hope to remedy that soon. . . But it’ll have to wait a little while longer. The Bean family is taking a short vacation this Wednesday to a water park resort. Umm, it’s not the kind of vacation I would have planned sans kids. But other parents have all raved about this place.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interview meme

The five-question interview meme has been sweeping the blogosphere! Scientistmother asked me these:

1. Are you done with having kids or is there a possibility of more?

I admit that sometimes, holding my no-longer-a-baby Legume close to me, I feel a twinge and momentary longing for another baby. But the moment passes.

I have the two little girls I always dreamed of, and I can’t really imagine adding another to the mix. Husband and I have agreed that we are done having kids. In fact, we’re so sure that next month Husband has an appointment with a doctor to really make sure. (Oversharing? That’s what the Internet is for!)

2. What do you hope your girls want to be when they grow up?

Short answer? Whatever will make them happy and fulfilled.

Okay, that sounds too easy, but it’s true. I want them to be able to follow their bliss. I’m aware that following your bliss doesn’t always work out (sometimes it conflicts with things like paying rent, sometimes it ends in utter heartbreak) but my dream is that they will be able to follow their dreams.

A few weeks ago my four-year old announced that she wanted to be a doctor and an artist. And that she also wanted to be a mommy and take care of her kids as a third job. Lately she has added the position of paleontologist to the mix. I would be thrilled if she could do all that. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if she and her sister never felt as though they had to sacrifice one passion for another? If, for instance, they could concurrently pursue interests in both science and art without feeling like they had to give one of them up? And if they could feel that it is possible to choose both career and motherhood without backlash, negative career consequences, discrimination or guilt? That’s my dream for them.

Now having said this, if Bean-girl comes to me in 18 years saying she is really torn between medical school, art school, or paleontology... okay, I’d have to say that med school would be a whole lot more practical.

3. What is your favorite drink?

You mean alcoholic, don’t you? I have to admit that I’m not much of a drinker. When I do drink, I favor those fruity girly drinks. I like dry white wines and can’t stand the red stuff. Mostly I drink lemonade. Whenever I go to a restaurant I order lemonade.

4. What would you be doing if you didn't have kids?

Hmmm, reading more novels and watching “Battlestar Galactica” instead of “Dora the Explorer”?
I might actually still be at the lab bench, still trying to fight my way through academic research or trying to make my way in industry. I really don’t know where I’d be. To tell the truth, I really can’t imagine it.

5. If you could invite any person (living or dead) over for dinner, who would you invite?

Gar, this is going to sound completely lame … but the first person that always pops into my head when asked this party-game question is John Keats. Yeah, John Keats the poet. I came across his poetry at an impressionable age. I have a collection of his letters—and in many ways, the letters are even more interesting than his poetry, and give such a vivid picture of an extraordinarily sensitive, passionate, brilliant, and yes, romantic young man. I admit that as a teenager I developed something of a crush on the personality evident in those letters, a crush that (evidently) persists.

Now what would I say if I had young mister Keats at my dinner table? No idea, of course. Ask him to expound upon his literary theories of “negative capability?”

Now it's your turn! Do you want to be interviewed?If you do - here are the rules:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me" AND leave your email address (or blog link) in the comment!
2. I will respond by emailing you (or commenting on your blog with) five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions. (If you don't have a blog, I can post your answers here).
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gaming and talking

The children are bursting with sweetness, all cute sayings and doings and new tricks. Bean-girl has learned to confidently use the computer mouse, and now she is a full-fledged gaming geek. I now know what it’s like to live with a teenager. Or maybe I have a hint of how she feels when I’m absorbed at the computer, reading blogs. This past weekend Bean-girl spent nearly every free moment at the computer, playing a Diego-and-dinosaur game. She’s got a fierce competitive streak. She couldn’t let the game go, because she had to advance through the levels to assemble as many dinosaur skeletons as possible. Somehow she even figured out how to click on the screen showing the highest scores earned; she took great interest in learning her highest scoring games (which really aren’t that high, actually). Today the gaming fever seemed to at last abate a bit, and I had the pleasure of interacting a little with my four-year old before she went to bed. She played hide-and-seek with me, and she and Legume padded about together after their bath, wearing matching fuzzy pink robes.

And Legume? Legume is learning to talk. When she was just a little over one she learned to say, “ball.” (Or rather, “baa.”). And there she paused for a very long time. She was soaking words in, and she understood perfectly what was said to her. But would she open her mouth to say any words in response? She even stopped saying her first word, “ball.” She was our silent little enigma.

Neither I nor husband really worried about it. But when I mentioned her lack of speech to the pediatrician at a check-up, the doctor saw fit to call the county early childhood development specialists on us. A specialist came out to the house to play with Baby Legume, and told us to our great surprise that Legume’s expressive speech (how well she talks) was months behind—our 18-month old’s speech patterns were at the level of a 9 or 10 month old, the specialist claimed! On the other hand, Legume could point correctly to all the animals and objects in a picture book, and could even point correctly to depicted actions (a child sleeping versus a child eating or running). So Legume’s “receptive speech” (how well she understands speech) was above age level, and closer to a two-year old’s.

“Is she always this quiet?” the specialist asked of Legume. “Or is she just so quiet because I’m here?”

“No,” I said resignedly. “She’s always this quiet.”

Fast forward a month and a half. We are living with an echo that can’t be turned off. Legume repeats everything that we say. “Stop!” she cries, echoing her father as he tells Bean-girl to stop doing something. “Red!” she echoes as someone mentions the color of an object. “Socks!” she says, as we pull socks on her pudgy feet. Her diction still needs work, and “bear,” “ball,” and “book” are distinguished mostly by context. But she can be understood. “BEAH,” she cries, showing me a picture of a bear in a book. “BEAH, BEAH!” she shoves the book in my face. Yes, yes, Baby Legume, it’s a bear. “BEAH!!” she insists, now practically shoving the book up my nose for emphasis.

Last week a second county speech therapist came to our house for a follow-up evaluation of Baby Legume. The verdict? Her expressive speech now falls within “normal” standards.

“I told you not to worry,” says Husband.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sleepy time

What I like is how the kids can be practically stumbling about in tiredness, wilting on the vine, big purple bags under their eyes—and yet they loudly protest that THEY ARE NOT TIRED (one protests with words, the other protests without words), THEY ARE NOT TIRED and THEY ARE NEVER GOING TO SLEEP!!! Bean-girl insists, in fact, that she NEVER GETS TIRED and she NEVER SLEEPS! We may think she is sleeping when she lies in her bed with eyes closed all night, but really she is just lying there with eyes closed pretending to sleep. That’s what she says. Because, you know, the Bean-girl never ever ever sleeps. And then two minutes later, after mighty protestations, she is out like a light.


Last weekend the Bean-girl came down with a terrible stomach flu, couldn’t keep anything down for a day. She was the most compliant little patient I’ve ever seen. She hated “spitting up” (actually, it was throwing up) so much that she would do anything to avoid it. She sat there sipping her Pedialyte, calling it her “medicine juice.” Later that weekend the nausea hit me, and Bean-girl suggested that I drink some Pedialyte, too.

“Did I make you sick, mommy?” she asked. “I think so, but it’s not your fault,” I said. “The germs in your body made me sick.”

“I think the germs snuck into my body when I was sleeping,” Bean-girl said. “And then they snuck into your body.”

Bean-girl crashed out on the couch. Baby Legume came by to lovingly pat her sister’s back. One of Legume’s favorite games is patting baby dolls and stuffed animals to sleep. Now she had a real live big sister doll to pat.

Husband caught this picture. It’s one of the few that we have with both girls in the same frame. Trying to take pictures of the two children together is, well, in my sleep-deprived state I’m having trouble coming up with a clever analogy. Let’s just say it’s very difficult.

When Bean-girl woke from her nap, she insisted she had never fallen asleep at all. Confronted with the evidence, she could only laugh and claim that she’d been resting her eyes.

(Note: Baby Legume came down with the same stomach flu a few days later. Fun times.)