Saturday, July 31, 2010

We all need to eat

The State College Area Food Bank helps all people in the State College area get enough food.

A few weeks ago, when Scott was out of town, and I was headed out of town, I took some of our extra fresh veggies to the local food bank and was surprised to learn how many families they help, and how much need there is in this area. With only two full time staff, a few part-timers and as many volunteers as they can get, they do a world of good for the local community, and I think we should all do a small part to help out more.

I am particularly fond of Food Banks and similar programs (even WIC) because they provide nutritious food to those who could use a little extra help, alternatively, while a good idea, food stamps can often be abused - either being sold in order to purchase non-food items, or are used to purchase fatty, sugary, unhealthy foods. I witnessed both of these working at a grocery store in small town Nebraska for three years.

Obesity-related illnesses and complications are now responsible for nearly one-tenth of the nation's annual health-care costs.

With the negative effects of obesity ranging from physical and mental health, to economic, it is more important than ever to encourage healthy eating (alongside exercise). But, many people who cannot afford food cannot afford healthy food. That is where local food banks come in.

Specifically the State College Area Food Bank does its share:

* In 2009, we provided 15,031 bags of groceries to 2,242 people in 789 households. Approximately 37% were children under the age of 18 and about 7% were age 60 or older. Two hundred eleven people were first-time users of our services.

* The number of visits by those families needing service nine or more times in a twelve month period increased by nearly 70 percent from 2008 to 2009.

* In 2009, more than 75-85% of the food we distributed was donated.

Scott and I are fortunate enough to be able to purchase nutritious food (although we slack sometimes), as are most of the people who will read this blog. So, I encourage everyone to think of donating food, time or money to their local food bank. You can even donate online to the State College Area Food Bank!

Friday, July 30, 2010

because tattoos are cool...

Okay, so I'd be hard-pressed to admit that even most tattoos are cool (see the dumbtattooclub), but there are some cool tattoos. Even better, however, are the fun, science-related tattoos, presented for your Friday morning leisure.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Raystown lake

Our first few years together we went to Raystown lake several times each summer. Last summer we didn't make it at all, so we decided to make sure to go this year. We decided to bring the rats...which it turns out, are BANNED from the nice grassy area and beach, so we were relegated to the very sloping, somewhat rocky side-hill.

The dogs were just happy to be with us and be outside:

But man, was it hot!! It was 97F, with the heat index well over 100. And, being relegated to the rocky, hill, there was just a teeny-tiny shade tree. Neither the dogs nor I did very well in the heat.

Surprisingly, Aro didn't mind wearing the doggy life vest, and later in the day, at Whipple Dam, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, both dogs swam!! It was only a few minutes, but they were both so hot they didn't care.

We're planning to go back again this summer, but will, unfortunately, have to leave the dogs at home so we can both go swimming.

week 10 of plowshare produce

I'm a few days late - sorry!! Here's the update from this week's haul from Plowshare Produce:

This Week’s Veggies: carrots, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, garlic, and sweet corn! We also got 2.5 lbs of grassfed Scottish Highlander beef from outside of State College - it is still in the freezer, but I'll let you know how it is.

We sliced up the hot pepper from last week along with onions and bell peppers from both last week and this to saute as a side to the hot sausages Scott grilled up:

And, I finally tried out this onion soup recipe (substituting mozzarella for the two cheeses melted on top of toasted french bread, and caramelizing the onions in a regular saute pan instead of the dutch oven). It. was. delicious.


If the weather holds out (which it looks like it might now), Scott and I will be headed down to Wingfest tonight, and hopefully every Thursday through August 26th.

Wingfest features a couple bands, and a competition between different restaurants to see who has the best wings!

It is outside on a large grassy area, and it's just fun to go sit out, hang out and eat a variety of tasty wings (they also have hot dogs, chile dogs, fries and an assortment of other foods if you don't like wings). We also try to bring some veggies to have on the side, partially in an attempt to be healthy, and partially because they help cool the spicy sauces.

If you're around, head out, text either of us, and we'll see you there!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Caught someone's eye...

I got my first piece of "hate mail" (for lack of a better term yet) yesterday. Unfortunately I marked it as spam then deleted it - because really, why keep that sort of negativity around, but I'm sure with my chosen career path there will be more to come.

This email referred to the abomination I study, namely evolution, and why I'm a terrible, deceitful person for studying and teaching it. Sigh...

I barely remember the contents because, after reading blogs like Pharyngula by PZ Myers, I've learned that there a lot of crazy people in the world, who just want to holler and hoot about anything, who just like to get riled up. My conclusion is it is best to let them cry it out. No skin off my back.

Am I terrible for admitting that I was just a little proud that someone thinks I'm enough of an intellectual force that they should send me such a note. (Am I blushing?!)

I find it more difficult to talk with people I know and love who think what I study is invalid. Not because I want everyone to love the things I do, but because they don't accept evolution because they don't really understand it. And with most people, I feel like it is difficult to talk about science, or evolution, or the news, without coming off like a pompous ass. How do get it across that "No, I don't think I'm smarter than you, I just have had the good fortune of spending a lot of time studying some of these things, and I want to share it with you because I think you will find it interesting and I know you are bright enough to understand it, even if I'm not so great at explaining it"? Too much?

Here are some people who are much better at explaining evolution than I am: Evolution Resources from the National Academies.

And I thought my last name would be unique...

Well, it still is, but by one letter only!

I found out that Woodrow Wilson's daughter, Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre, is quite similar to mine!

I found this out because someone linked to this photo from the Library of Congress of Jessie's wedding cake:

Scott and I have now been married for 270 days (two days shy of our 9 month anniversary!). I couldn't be happier as a Wilson Sayres!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Evil plans...

Yes, I am a huge nerd. Not that I need to admit it here (for crying out loud, the name of the blog is math - bio - nerd!), but somehow I feel the pull to continue to prove myself.

I would totally go pay to see this musical. I like that they take liberty with the gender of the characters. I think is is creative, funny and has the potential to be very entertaining. Certainly there's a bit of overacting, but that's part of its charm. I think I might have found a way to spend some time this weekend in the hot, humid weather. :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Breastfeeding and depression

This article considers the claim that mothers should avoid feeding at night, and after analyzing several studies finds that:

The results of these previous studies are remarkably consistent. Breastfeeding mothers are less tired and get more sleep than their formula- or mixed-feeding counterparts. And this lowers their risk for depression. Doan and colleagues noted the following.
Using supplementation as a coping strategy for minimizing sleep loss can actually be detrimental because of its impact on prolactin hormone production and secretion. Maintenance of breastfeeding, as well as deep restorative sleep stages, may be greatly compromised for new mothers who cope with infant feedings by supplementing in an effort to get more sleep time. (p. 201)
In sum, advising women to avoid nighttime breastfeeding to lessen their risk of depression is not medically sound. In fact, if women follow this advice, it may actually increase their risk of depression.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

week 9 of plowshare produce

This Week’s Veggies: potatoes, beets with greens, carrots, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, parsley, tomatoes, bell pepper, hot banana pepper, and a half a cantaloupe. We had also ordered a chicken from Rick Byler (neighbor to Micah and Bethany, who run plowshare produce). These chickens were raised in an open shed and grassy area and received no antibiotics after their 2-week birthdays.

I'm nearly a week behind using up all the veggies, but at least nothing has gone to waste yet - just need a push to keep going! It's so great to have all these veggies because they make sure we incorporate more into our diets!!

I'm going to try to get the most out of our chicken as I can (because, why waste it, really?). So, I butchered it tonight, cutting off the leg/thigh portions, wings, and breasts, to be returned to the freezer. I'm thinking we'll grill the breasts, and I can cook up the legs, thighs and wings for use either in chicken enchiladas or in a spicy hot sauce.

I used the last of the celery, carrots, onions and potatoes from last week, along with the chicken carcass, some parsley and a little sage from the pantry to make a tasty chicken-veggie soup:

I took half the broth out to save for another recipe, before shredding the meat left on the carcass to put back in the soup:

In addition to the soup, for dinner tonight, we had a very light (and amazingly flavorful) salad with just diced cucumbers and tomatoes from this week - that's it - no need for any dressing!

I also cooked up last week's and this week's beets to make another beet cake (either tomorrow or later in the week) to take to a party this weekend (celebrating my labmate's defense - Congrats Dr. Park!!).

Prius braking problems quantified

My Uncle Bob Wilson, in Alabama, along with another tester in Michigan, worked to quantify the braking problems experienced by some Prius users. The (extremely significant) benefit of this testing is that it is quantitative, not qualitative, meaning it is based on experiments and facts instead of heresay. This allows engineers and scientists to correctly, and quickly identify what the problem is, and solve it.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Parents are less happy than non-Parents, but why?

All Joy and No Fun, is an article discussing the effect of parenthood on people's well-being. Although many studies show that, statistically, people with children are not as happy as (and more stressed than) their childfree counterparts, I would like to make two points:

1. It depends on where you live:
One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.

Of course, this should not be a surprise. If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve. When Kahneman and his colleagues did another version of his survey of working women, this time comparing those in Columbus, Ohio, to those in Rennes, France, the French sample enjoyed child care a good deal more than its American counterpart. “We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,” says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, “instead of political change that would make family life better.”

And, I completely agree that the US would be a much more child-friendly place if parents weren't getting by on the skin of their teeth (financially, emotionally, physically and mentally).


2. Statistics don't matter to the individual

Do I think that parents sometimes often overstate the joys of having children? Yes, but likely because they honestly believe it, and believe that all the toiling and frustrations are rewarding. I expect that they will be rewarding (or at least I'm hoping they are!).

Do I expect having a child will be a lot of stress? Yes. Will it frustrate both partners? Yes. Are we prepared for it? As much as we can be, which probably means no, lol.

Overall, however, I think that I am fortunate to be with someone who is patient, works with me to compromise, and who understands that some things are just not worth stressing over. Certainly children can have genetic predispositions towards certain behaviors, but nurture can still make a heck of a difference in triggering those reactions.

As we near the half-way point of this pregnancy, I hope that I am learning how to be more moderate, and patient, and with any luck, that will make all the difference - for all you skeptics (myself included), I'll let you know how it turns out.

I heard this the other day and really liked it, as it applied to being a parent:

"I did the best I could, for who I was at the time."

That's the kicker, though, isn't it? To remember to do the best we can, and not give up or give in.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beet cake!

Ever wonder what to do with the abundance of beets (from your garden or CSA or that can that has been sitting in your pantry for months)? Well, after tasting this recipe, I would highly recommend it!! The recipe originally comes from "Simply in Season" as shared with our weekly plowshare, but I was missing some ingredients, so modified it a bit. Here is the modified version:

Chocolate Beet Cake (dense, more brownie-like)

Puree in blender until smooth, set aside:
* 3 c. beets, cooked, peeled and chopped
Combine in large mixing bowl and beat well:
* 1c. sugar
* 3 eggs
Add along with pureed beets and beat well:
* 1/2 c. cocoa
* 2 T. vanilla
Gradually sift into batter, mixing till blended:
1.5 c. flour
* 1 c. whole wheat flour
* 2 t. baking soda
* 1 t. cinammon

Pour batter into greased 9"x13" pan. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes. Allow to cool completely then top with your favorite frosting. (Alternative to frosting, sprinkle 1/2 c. chocolate chips and 1/2 c. chopped nuts on top before baking.)

After cooking the beets (from our garden) yesterday, I chopped and blended them today with some water into three cups of brilliant fuscia puree:

After adding all the ingredients, it dulled a little, but was still a very pretty pink:

After 40 minutes in the oven, in the glass pan, the beets became hidden in the cocoa goodness:

And, finally, even though it wasn't completely cooled, we cut it and slathered a little frosting on to enjoy warm, melty, beet cake!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Week 8 of plowshare produce

Sorry I missed week 6 and 7!! But I'm back now, and shouldn't miss another (if all goes well). :)

This Week’s Veggies: potatoes, beets, carrots, celery, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, herbs, tomatoes and peppers

The basil was turned into pesto, which I'm hoping to use for pizza later this week (just basil, olive oil and parmesan cheese):

The four beets are still in the fridge, waiting to be cooked. Instead I cooked the beets from our garden and made some beet relish (like sweet pickle relish):

Also, with the potatoes leftover from last week (still debating what to do with the ones from this week), along with some of the onion, and other tasty add-ins, I made potato salad for dinner:

I have an onion leftover from last week, and two small ones from my own garden, so this week I'm going to attempt a french onion soup. I am eternally disappointed with french onion soups when we go out to eat; they are generally too salty, overloaded with cheese and croutons, and sorely lacking in onions. The onion soup I had in France, on the other hand, was exquisite. It was, hands down, the best food I had in France, and now I am eager to attempt it at home!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Accessible Research: Y chromosome sequence moves around in a fly

What better time to start making science accessible (and interesting) to the general public than now? Comments on whether there is too much or too little substance here will be much appreciated!

For my first attempt, here's a brief introduction to some work done by a grad student I met a couple years ago, in collaboration with her PhD advisors. She now has her PhD and is working as a postdoctoral fellow. Additional congratulations to her for being a successful mommy scientist!

This work can be found here, in the journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Translocation of Y-Linked Genes to the Dot Chromosome in Drosophila pseudoobscura

Amanda M. Larracuente *1, Mohamed A. F. Noor 2 and Andrew G. Clark 1
1 Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Cornell University
2 Biology Department, Duke University

Drosophila pseudoobscura is a tiny fruit fly. Why is it interesting to study fruit flies? Many reasons! Fruit flies are small and easy to raise (so you can look at many of them), have a very short generation time (so there are lots of changes between species), they have large chromosomes (that are easy to see and manipulate), and there are many recently-diverged species (so we can study how new species appear).

Fruit flies have 4 pairs of autosomes (non-sex chromosomes) and a pair of sex chromosomes (X and Y), along with an extra, very tiny, dot chromosome. (You can see them on this page.) In order for cells to divide properly to form sperm and eggs, each pair, including the X and Y, must partner up and segregate. But, how the X and Y pair in this little fruit fly is still not well understood.

This fruit fly is unique among those studied so far because many of the genes on its Y chromosome moved to the tiny dot chromosome. This allows scientists a useful opportunity to study how the X and Y pair. The three researchers listed above not only identified this movement, but also figured out that there is a stretch of DNA sequence, called the intergenic spacer region (IGS), found on both the X chromosome and the region of the Y that moved, meaning it could likely be the sequence that allows X and Y to pair.

Understanding how chromosomes pair is useful for understanding genetic disease where chromosome pairing goes wrong. For example, in Turner syndrome, a human female has only one copy of the X chromosome instead of two (occurs in 1 out of 2000 live births). Women with Turner syndrome may experience a range of symptoms from a wide and webbed neck to fertility problems. Although it can be treated, there is not yet a known prevention of the syndrome. Thus, research on a tiny little fruit fly may one day lead to a prevention of Turner syndrome.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Evolution of the blog

I'm still working through what I want my blog to be. As I wrote last time, I think I really want to showcase how balanced (or unbalanced?) a scientist can be. Perhaps it is presumptuous to consider myself a full-blown scientist, and even more outrageous to assume that I have any sort of balance in my life, so let's say that this blog will monitor the process of me working towards both. :)

Yesterday, especially, was scientifically productive for me. After meeting with so many people, during one of the seminars, a ton of ideas all just came together, and I think I have a good skeleton for a postdoc research proposal put together. Honestly, it might be a little bit overwhelming for that, but I'd rather have to many ideas, and have to shave off the bad ones, then sit and stare at a blank page. I hope that on the trip home I'll have some time to hash out the ideas a bit more, but I also want to work on:
- the manuscript for the research I presented here at SMBE (Life history traits affect the magnitude of male mutation bias)
- look at the raw data for the MMB project - adding some analyses that came after meeting our collaborator
- assess the project on the pseudogene project sent to me by the undergraduate I'm working with

I didn't realize how much the carb overload (oh baguettes) and paucity of healthy food options (cream sauce and cheese anyone?) would, together with this pregnancy and the skipping across time zones would affect me. I'm completely exhausted, and very ready to go home - heading out in the wee hours of the morning here.

I just wasn't in the mood to be around lots of people, or do much of anything after the conference ended this morning. I took a nice walk. Then, while eating my store-bought salad and attempting to read the paper, I noticed that Twilight (yes, it is a guilty pleasure of mine) was released yesterday in France, so Cal I and I headed over to see it. The theatre was a nice reprieve from the hot weather that has settled in here.

Now I am all showered, packed and ready to go when the taxi comes - off for a nap. Adieu!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I was supposed to go to bed, since I'm entirely exhausted (1:30am here in Lyon, even though my computer is still on PA time), but I was inspired to give a few quick updates since it has been awhile since my last post:

1. The science and people at SMBE 2010 are awesome. I've really been having a blast, will post more about conference specifics, but feel free to catch up on the tweets (

2. The food in Lyon has been mostly disappointing (for the culinary capital it was built up to be - may just be bad luck)

3. I've decided to read "On The Origin Of Species" and will attempt to blog here regularly about it - need to look through it, but will try to get a section a week.

4. I figured out that I want my blog to be about science and life, kind of how it is now, to showcase that scientists are people to. I'll have to think of some catchy tagline like, "a scientist in the wild can be nearly indistinguishable from any other person," or something to that effect.

5. I think I have a really great idea to write up and submit for a postdoctoral fellowship application. Still no postdoc, but working on it.

6. It is too late for me and the seamonkey, we're headed off to bed - Good night!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

flashback to coming home from Evolution

On my way back from the Evolution2010 conference, I flew from Portland, Oregon to Seattle Washington. From the airplane I was able to see both Mt. Hood:

and Mt. St. Helen's:

Here is a picture of Seattle from overhead:

And my favorite shot. I had just perfect timing to catch the sun coming through the clouds, without reflecting off of the scratches in the airplane window. I think this one is just beautiful:

In a few hours I'll be headed out for Lyon, France, for the SMBE 2010 meeting. I'll do my best to keep you posted about this trip. However, with all my layovers leading to 29hrs travel time there, and 30hrs travel on the way home, I may be a bit more jet-lagged this time. :)

Friday, July 2, 2010

The 100 Greatest Movie Insults of All Time

Inappropriate for work, but funny.

My favorite insults are the ones that don't rely on curse words - they're more creative - but every now and then a good curse word can have the desired effect. This site has them listed by movie, or you can watch it below.

A favorite of mine from childhood:
"I'll use small words so you'll be sure to understand, you warthog-faced buffoon."

And a few others I liked:

"You despise me don't you?" Responded offhandedly with: "Well, if I gave you any thought, I probably would."

"You are a smelly pirate hooker."

"You're a cantaloupe."

"There's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society... outside of a kennel."

"I'd go with you..." Cut-off by, "I know, there's a problem with your face."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

bionic era


Canadian filmaker Rob Spence has a bionic camera eye.

And, in other bionic news, prosthetic feet for a cat:

"Lol, the key to all great technology is tape"

plowshare produce on pause

You may have noticed there was no picture of our plowshare this week, and unfortunately there won't be one next week either. I was out of town, with the camera, so Scott picked up the veggies. I'm hoping to make something tasty this week, before I leave again (home for just a couple days) - if so I'll share it. If not, I'll be back after July 9th and will back to updating regularly about our bountiful veggies.