Friday, December 17, 2010

Getting creative - baby-themed sugar cookies

At the Biology Department Holiday Party (which is always a good time), I ran into several people who made comments about how I must be ready to have this kid out of me.

Nope, not really. 

I feel pretty good. My two complaints: First, although not terrible, I'm not sleeping particularly well (e.g. last night I went to bed around 11, woke up once to head to the restroom, and another 4 times for no real reason, finally giving in and getting out of bed at 6:30); and, second, it getting a little more awkward to walk (a little because of balance challenges, and partially due to tenderness from baby's head hitting nerves). In the grand scheme of things, those are relatively minor. 

So, what does this have to do with getting creative? Well, I would like to bring cookies to the hospital when we go in, but it seems they disappear as quickly as I make them! This just leads me to making more, but I don't want to get bored by making the same recipes over and over, so I took some inspiration from my friend Laura, who posted this family recipe for sugar cookies and frosting. In conjunction with some adorable onesie-shaped cookie cutters my friend Christina gave out as favors at a baby shower she helped organize, I made these:

In contrast to all the pink we got, I chose to ice them with my favorite colors, shades of purple and green. I also attempted some designs, but by 11, I had run out of steam, so only some of them are fully decorated. Also, yes, that grey protrusion on the left is my sweater-swathed belly finding its way into the picture. The cookies are delicious! They are not too sweet on their own, so are perfect with a little icing. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I've been reading a lot of baby books lately. My in-laws picked up a series of "What to Expect" books, so I've read through:

What to Expect When You're Expecting: 4th EditionWhat to Expect the First Year (What to Expect (Workman Publishing)), and What to Expect the Toddler Years, 2nd edition.

My overall impression of them is that most of the information I could easily find online, and, with the books, I end up sifting through a lot of FAQs that aren't entirely relevant. Still, I suppose there a good place to start if you find yourself feeling lost as an expecting/new parent, to give you a starting point.

Several friends have also given me books to read through to help deal with challenges that may arise with infants and sleeping.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the NightSo far, I really enjoyed, "The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and would highly recommend it.  The book is structured well, and I didn't feel as if the author was condescending at all. I liked her emphasis on doing what is best for you, as a parent, giving many options, citing research on what has worked, but really leaving it up to the parents' choice. Further, although anecdotes are included, they are concise, relatable, and formatted so that they don't interrupt the flow of the book. Well done.

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep LongerOn the flip side, I have not been able to make it through, "The Happiest Baby on the Block". The author, a pediatrician, seems well-meaning, but started off on the wrong foot for connecting with me as a reader when he stereotyped the western cultures and the "backward" third world cultures. The first chapter was all build-up, with no real results, directions or conclusions. Perhaps this would have been good to read a few months ago, because I just don't feel like I have the patience to sit through it. Or maybe it is his, "let me tell you a story" style that rubs me the wrong way. I want to get to the point.

The Nursing Mother's Companion, 6th Edition: 25th Anniversary EditionFinally, another friend (thank-you so much!!) sent me a box of extremely useful baby-related items, and in it she included a tiny handbook called, "Nursing: the First Two Months: an Excerpt from the Nursing Mother's Companion". I just recently picked it up - as nursing will soon be upon us! - and have to rave about it. It is compact, highly informative, and no-nonsense. There is a lot of information, but it isn't overwhelming. I may have to wait until after I attempt nursing to fully rate it, but as someone attempting to learn about nursing, I would give it two thumbs up. I'm even tempted to buy the Nursing Mother's Companion, from which it is an excerpt. 

My last name is two words, take two

I recently received a question asking my thoughts about a last name with two words, a year after I first posted about changing my last name. As a small reminder, my last name is not hyphenated, but consists of two separate words, Wilson Sayres, where the first word is my maiden name and the second word is my husband's last name.

I love it. It was the best decision for me.

For family-related things, we are Melissa and Scott Sayres (which has been nice for Holiday cards this year!), and for publishing, research and professional applications, I am Melissa Wilson Sayres.

It has caused minor confusion at some places where the staff claim they can only allow one last name, so either require that I hyphenate it (instead of two separate words), or choose one, but it has been a minor inconvenience.

With respect to having kids, we have decided to give our children my husband's last name only. I had thought it would be neat to give them my last name as a middle name (Wilson is a perfectly acceptable middle name), and Scott's last name as their surname. However, we've moved away from that idea because it would only be fair to do that for all kids, and it might be a little weird for them all to have the same middle and last name.

I do have a friend whose last name is two words, one is her mother's last name and one is her father's last name, and she really loves having a piece of both of them (note that both parents kept their "maiden" names).

Now, regarding baby's first name... that's a whole other can of worms. :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nothing brings you back down to earth like being rejected

I was on a high after finding out I was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship (yay!!) to study at Berkeley. It is completely awesome. I have funding for three years to study wildly fascinating questions (i.e. questions I proposed), in collaboration with some rockin' scientists!

For a couple days I rode this wave of excitement, probably thinking a little too much of myself, then received word that the review article my advisor and I wrote was rejected, hard. Many thanks to the gods of science for reminding me that I need to constantly work on both my research and myself.

That doesn't mean all of the excitement from the fellowship has vanished (hardly!), just put into perspective.

Things really couldn't get better for us right now - both Scott and I get to research exciting topics for our postdocs, with top scientists, we're expecting our little girl any day now (due in 5 days, on the 20th of December), have two adorable doggies, and we are surrounded by incredibly friends and loving family.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Yesterday I opened a can of pumpkin and made a host of stuff: muffins, pumpkin roll with chocolate filling and pumpkin pie:

The roll and the pie are based off the Libby's recipes for pie and roll, but halving the sugar. The muffins are... okay - I used whole wheat flour, cut the sugar in half and omitted the oil, so they're okay, for being healthy, but I wouldn't make them again, so I'm not going to post the recipe.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter baking

I've been on a cookie kick lately, and since I haven't posted about food for awhile, here are some recipes/pictures to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Peanut Butter Cookies (modified from the recipe on the organic brown sugar from Woodstock Farms)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 1/2 cut butter
- 1 egg
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda

Cream together sugars and butters. Add egg. Stir in flour and baking soda. Drop by teaspoonful onto a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven (325 F).

From left to right, Orange cookies with lemon filling, PB cookies (recipe above), Lemon-scented cookies with vanilla filling, and in the back are Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (from Quaker's recipe).

The Orange and Lemon cookies are the same recipe as the PB recipe above, just remove the peanut butter and add either grated orange zest (apx 1tsp) or 2 tsp lemon juice.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Because Science is Fun!

Scott and I are looking for Christmas presents for our nieces and nephews that are a little more brain-stimulating than the majority of those promoted in the public scope.

Today I came across this website:

It seems like they have a lot of great toys mixed in with some mediocre toys, but I suppose that's always to be expected (especially when the one judging is a huge science geek!). Also, I am a little disappointed that when "Shopping by Age", the toys are divided into the most popular Toys for Boys and Girls of different age groups. It seems like a self-fulfilling prophesy. "Oh, these toys are the ones that have been most popular for 7 year old girls" so they'll continue to be bought by parents for their 7 year old girls. But really, at seven, I would have rather had the Carnivorous Creations Dome (#37 on the Boy's list, not included on the Girl's list) than the Fairy Triad Dome (#4 on the Girl's list, not included on the Boy's list), and so would one of my nieces. Furthermore, it pretty much excludes little boys who might want a Fairy Dome. 

I guess, I'd just rather them leave the gender-assignments off, and list the top selling items for all the age groups, combined. Science should be gender neutral. 

SunArt Paper Kit - 8 x 10 inchesAlso, I should note, there were a lot more foofy barely-science-related toys listed on the Girl's list than the Boy's list. 

I am kind of curious to try to the SunArt paper. But, I'm not sure if the packaging describes the scientific process behind why it works, or if it is just one of those "ooh, look! It's science! (but we aren't going to tell you what's going on)" toys. 

So, all in all, this site has potential, but, as with everything, keep your skepto-glasses handy. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The things we do to our pets

First, I'm excited because this morning I got the final email confirmation that my NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship was officially uploaded (two days ago, which is one day before the deadline). Yay! I had chosen to submit it on the 30th of November, so sent all my materials to the Sponsored Programs Office at UC Berkeley for their review on the 18th of November. I'm so very glad I did because rather than be submitted on November 30th (well before the December 8th deadline), it didn't get officially submitted until the 7th of December. Eek! Good thing I planned ahead.

And, in case that is just too boring for your morning, please enjoy these pet "sounds":

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Technology fail: EndnoteX3, Word2008 and the User

So, finally, FINALLY, I figured out what the problem was (and yes, I am proud to say that I figured it out all on my own!).

Word2008 and EndnoteX3 were both properly installed on my PowerPC Mac, both working away happily, but unwilling to talk to each other.  Our IT guy upgraded my OS to Leopard (apparently there isn't good support for Snow Leopard with Power PCs, like there is for Intels). And....drumroll... nothing.

After following all of the instructions in Endnote's pdf, all three techniques, to no avail, I had a wild idea. Perhaps the Word Startup file (even though I explicitly defined it) was not programmed smartly enough to look where I told it and, because of being on the afs server (So now my "home" directory isn't under "Users), it couldn't find the template files that allowed it to communicate with Endnote.

So, what I did was moved the template files to the Word Startup directory on my local machine (instead of the afs server), and - ta-da!! - it works! Yay!!!

Yes, yes, I am a technological genius.

But, as punishment for it taking me so long to figure it out, I now have a new operating system, and all of my applications have been erased (which our very nice IT guy neglected to mention). F. I know it shouldn't make me want to cry, but it does. I could have at least made a list of everything that was going to get erased. Guess I have something to keep me busy the rest of the day, and tomorrow - figuring out which programs are missing and which versions to install. F.

Monday, December 6, 2010

400th post to commemorate Dr. Ashton Welch

Flipping through the magazine from my undergrad (Creighton University) this weekend, I was caught off-guard by the obituary for my freshman advisor, Dr. Ashton Welch. I was surprised because he was always so vibrant and active (and only 68 years old). I remember him commenting on how surprised he was that some of his students would be winded walking up the stairs to his fourth floor office.

Dr. Welch encouraged and supported me when I first came to Creighton. He helped me through my first year, and always had something new and interesting bit of information to share when I would stop in to his office throughout, usually describing one of his new artifacts, the rest of my tenure at Creighton.

In all likelihood, I would probably have never seed Dr. Welch again, but he made his impact that first year I knew him, and I am sad that he will no longer be an active positive influence in the lives of new students.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Top five

I think I'm going to have to add Tim Minchin to my list of the top five people I'd like to meet.

Eco-friendly AND Made in the USA?


We have been transitioning to products made by Seventh Generation, and I wanted to highlight that, not only are they generally made of less-toxic materials in sustainable ways, but these products are also all made in the US of A.

I like that they disclose all ingredients (as far as I'm aware of).

Their diapers are chlorine, latex and frangrance free, and hypoallergenic. Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Baby Diapers (Pack of 4)

I say "transitioning" instead of "switching" because we aren't just throwing out the supplies we already have. Instead, as our current cleaning products, paper products and such run out, we replace them with Seventh Generation products. Partially I was encouraged to do this by a sound-byte claiming that the most "green" building is the one that already exists, and partially by practicality.

And, in case you needed something to help you remember to take your reusable bags to the store:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cheerleaders for science

At the USA Science and Engineering Festival there was a group of women cheerleading for Science. All of them are professional scientists and cheerleaders:

I have thought about blogging about it, but there are so many posts about it, I figured I could find someone who said it better than I would (especially because I've never been a cheerleader), and, thanks to the interweb, I did!

Please see this post by Andrea Kuszewski. I'll highlight this part:

"How does this relate to cheerleaders and sexuality and science? In short, the people that have a problem with women displaying their sexuality or scientists showing their fun, flirty side need to just get over it. As humans, we are sexual beings. Just because we may be serious as hell about the science we study, does not mean we gave up our sexuality and traded it in for a "license to practice science" badge.

Suppressing our sexual nature just because some people engage in maladaptive behaviors and have unrealistic expectations surrounding our sexuality is the exact wrong way to handle this issue. We need to keep on being who we are, sexual beings and all, and make those people deal with the fact that it isn't going away. They are the ones being maladaptive in their thinking, so they are the ones who need to change." 

Prosperity depends on us all

"In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue and that the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and none."
 - Queen Elizabeth II  as quoted here.

I think this holds just as true for the US as the UK. :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Accessible Research: How 1000 genomes can inform on male driving habits

Okay, so not really driving habits, but male driven evolution. Male driven evolution, also referred to as male mutation bias, describes the phenomenon whereby males contribute more mutations than females to offspring (because sperm experience more rounds of replication, and so have the change to incorporate more mutations, than do eggs).

Ideally, we could measure mutations directly in sperm and eggs, but it is very invasive to collect eggs from female mammals, and so we need to find alternative ways.

In the recently released 1000 genomes pilot project, they briefly talk about a very exciting potential dataset. Currently there are two trios (a mother, father and daughter) that were sequenced. The benefit of this dataset is that, with completely sequenced genomes from each of these, scientists can determine which mutations are new in the daughter (i.e. occurred in the germ cells of the mother or father), and can compute a human mutation rate per generation time.

It isn't discussed in the paper, but these kinds of datasets (genomic sequences of both genetic parents and one or more offspring) are ideal for determining the strength of male mutation bias, because the number of mutations can be partitioned into those that came from the paternal germline and which came from the maternal germline. But, in order to do this, I think, one must also sequence the germ cells from at least one of the parents (it would be much easier to sequence some sperm). This is because, in order to be identified as a new mutation in the offspring, by definition, it will not exist in the somatic tissues of the mother or father. So, although we aren't there yet, we are very close to being able to directly measure the male (and then compute the female) mutation rates in human.

Some potential conflicting factors to keep in mind are that: 1) we don't want to confuse somatic mutations in the offspring with parentally-inheirited mutations, so many tissues should be sampled to determine which mutations are shared across all tissues, and which are tissue-specific; and 2) there is likely a lot of statistical fluctuation in mutation rates between individuals, so any one set of trios may not accurately represent the majority. Thus, many families, and ideally families with many children, should be included in such an analysis.

(28 October 2010)

White wine in the sun

I don't know why, but the original version of the song is much more moving (I doubt I can blame it on hormones since it is hasn't been that long since I first heard it). The emotion in his voice really hit me and I couldn't help myself when a couple tears welled up.

This part especially got me:

And you my baby girl 
My jetlagged infant daughter
You'll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a petting zoo

And you’re too young to know
But you will learn one day
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people
Who'll make you feel safe in the world
My sweet blue-eyed girl

And if my baby girl
When you're twenty one or thirty one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself 9000 miles from home

You’ll know whatever comes
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum.
Will be waiting for you in the sun


How to decorate a little girl's room?

With some proactive posters!

Technology fail, part two

After completely reinstalling Word 2008 and Endnote X3, following all the guidelines online, including manually defining startup pathnames, ensuring all updates were installed, and being particularly anal about ensuring I opened everything in the correct order, I've still had no luck getting the two to communicate.

The last effort is to upgrade my operating system from Mac OS 10.4 to Snow Leopard, so as of noon today my desktop has taken a small vacation up to the fifth floor to be rebooted. Consequently I'll be working on my laptop the next day or two. The one small problem is that I forgot to restart my "Dropbox" (due to network security Dropbox requires me to restart it on my desktop to sync updates, whereas from home, all updates are nearly instantaneous). Now, I'm left with the option to either re-write two days of work, or take a vacation from the projects until my desktop returns home.

So, in my forced vacation, I am motivated to work on some more Accessible Research blog posts. Look for a few more in the next day or so.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Older dogs need love too!

I listened to this report on the radio, from NPR, last week, about the needs of senior dogs, and how many dogs are take to the shelter in their old age, and then came across this little guy on PAWS' website (a senior dog who needs a home):

This one really struck me because he was a former shelter dog at PAWS, and has now been returned in his old age. I'm really such a sucker, but I think, when we've settled down a bit, I could really get hooked on being a "retirement" home for older dogs, one at a time. It'll be hard, I know, but so much better, knowing they're spending their golden years with a family to love (shh... don't tell Scott yet!).

I'm such a sucker.

Done!!! (well, sort of)

A week ago we submitted my second research article (studying variations in life history traits and both autosomal substitution rates and male mutation bias - I'll write more about it, when we hear back from the reviewers).

Today we submitted a review article about biomedical and evolutionary advances related to male mutation bias and the paternal age effect. Hopefully this one won't take as long through review.

AND... today I submitted my last fellowship application!! That makes a total of six (in order of submission):
1. Life Sciences Research Foundation Fellowship
2. Miller Fellowship
3. NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
4. President's Postdoctoral Fellowship (at Berkeley)
5. L'Oreal Women in Science Fellowship
6. NIH NRSA postdoctoral fellowship

Whew! They aren't as large as grant applications, but still good practice, I think. Especially the NIH NRSA - lots and lots of "paperwork" to complete. They aren't totally complete, two are still waiting on receipt of my letters of reference

Now I can sit back and relax...oh, wait, I forgot, I'm in academia, which means there's never really and end to the day, just small victories. But how sweet these victories are!!

I have another research project to finish and write up, and one more review article to assemble and write before defending my thesis next semester. The more I can get done on these now (i.e., before baby arrives), the better. I've been staying up way past my bedtime the past week, so I might take the afternoon easy - just start looking up references for the next review, but then will get right back at it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

technology fail

So, I decided to update my EndNote version (to X3) and update to Microsoft Office 2008 (for Mac). Everything is great, they're both installed, they just won't talk to each other. Fail. That's kind of the point of having a citation manager, that it will manage your citations in the documents you write.

So, I've wasted an afternoon attempting to get them to communicate. The IT guy for Bioinformatics just suggested everything I tried (which is nice, because he's a smart guy, so it makes me feel a little less like an idiot that I can't get it to work). I have two more things before I just remove and reinstall everything. Sigh. Awesome timing. I should have waited till AFTER I submitted my paper and fellowship application. Foolishly, I thought it would be as simple as it was when I installed in on my laptop.

In other news, we're 37 weeks today - which in preggo-speak means that we're technically "full term", so even though the due date isn't until December 20th, she's okay'd for landing anytime after today.

Also, in an attempt to get my paper in final form, so we can submit it tomorrow, I stayed up waaay too late last night (finishing around 2am, but couldn't fall asleep until after 3:15), so feeling a bit sluggish now, and hoping to hear back from my advisor sometime soon, to avoid another late night.

Monday, November 22, 2010


We are estimated at 36 weeks today (37 if the first due date was correct). The little seamonster is moving pretty regularly and, I think, trying to work her way down my abdominal cavity.

I have not been making it to the gym as regularly as I'd like, mostly due to this time-crunch I'm feeling to get work done. But, in the grand scheme of things, it's good for me to take time to head to the gym. It helps relieve stress, helps me maintain my health and, hopefully, will help make labor a bit easier.

The past few weeks I've limited my gym exercises to biking on the recumbent bike (with back support, and belly room), some light lifting (lateral pull-downs, triceps/biceps, sometimes hip sled), planks, and stretching. I always feel better after I go, but the experience has been kind of fun as my belly grows.

I am one of the few non-undergrads who goes to the gym. There are a good core of us, but the majority of people at the gym are 17-22, taking classes, and learning (by trial and error) how to make life decisions. This may be entirely in my own head, but I definitely feel like I stick out. I feel like a giant poster board, and it's kind of good. I don't want any of them to think that it's bad to have a baby, but I do hope that seeing my swelling stomach makes them stop and reflect. Of all the conversations I overhear in the gym and the locker room about drinking till they can't feel their faces, not remembering weekend activities, and skipping out on class work, I hope that seeing me makes them stop for a second and think about what it might be like if they were responsible for another person, or how their lives would change if they were expecting a baby. Or think about anything outside of themselves.

A girl in my high school gym class was pregnant, and I remember being very impressed at her dedication to work out, and her positive attitude, and every day I saw her, it reminded me to assess where I was in life and where I wanted to go. Of course, I could have used a reminder in college too - young minds are quick to forget.

So, for as long as I'm feeling up to it, I'll keep heading to the gym, for my own health mostly, but with a tiny bit of hope that I'll engage someone else into thinking about their future.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

getting back on track

Well, I'm at least posting once or twice a week. I'll try to get back to the daily or every-other-day updates.

Friday was a productive day; I submitted my second research manuscript, and submitted my NIH NRSA postdoc fellowship to the Sponsored Program's Office at Berkeley for their review. Yay!

Saturday was grocery shopping in the morning, enjoying a long lunch with a friend up from DC, then going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1). As someone who has read all of the books twice now, I was really nervous after the hack-job they did with HP6 (The Half-Blood Prince), but was very impressed with how they turned it around in this movie. Of course there are always little things I'd like to see included, but overall they did a good job of sticking to the book, while making it entertaining for those who haven't read them.

The rest of Saturday and Sunday was spent doing laundry: all of our clothes and linens, all the baby items, and all the dog beds. I thought it was funny that the best sorting method for baby stuff was "pink" and (mostly) "not pink. This little lady is going to be super spoiled. I hope the dogs are ready to share our attention.

Now, the rest of the night I'm going to work on updating a review article that my advisor and I are writing together. She is unexpectedly out of town next week which means our schedules are not very likely to line up before the Nov 30 deadline we've set for ourselves. It makes me very glad that we have the internet for communicating. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

dog boots (more abuse?)

Last winter the rock salt/chemicals used to de-ice our sidewalks really bothered Chip's tiny little feet - he would get about 20 feet before starting to limp. After doing his business he wouldn't even want to walk and would just sit there, in the snow, holding and licking his little paws. Being the sucker I am, I would pick him up and carry him back home, where I'd wash his feet off and then give him tons of affection to make up for the cold, cruel chemical salts I'd subjected him to. Like the author of this blog post about dog boots, I used to be very skeptical about them, but after last winter's experience, I'm leaning towards buying some for him and Aro. Of course he'll pout and think he's in trouble when I put them on, but if they allow him to walk outside in the winter without damaging his little tootsies, it'll totally be worth it.

My poor, abused dog

But, I have to practice with something, and he seemed pretty willing. The Sleepy Wrap, a gift from my friend Sherry in AZ, seems a little intimidating at first, because it is just a very long piece of stretchy fabric. My first attempt, a month or two ago, didn't go so well. It wasn't sturdy, and I didn't feel comfortable testing it.

This time, I found a different instructional video, and, ta-da!! Chip really did love being carried around in it. It was very secure, and he nestled in so nicely. I think I'm now ready for our little butter-ball whenever she decides to join us!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Many thanks

Many thanks to my friends, family and labmates (many of whom cross-groups!) for spoiling Scott and I with wonderful food and baby-stuffs.

Now, I'll take a short leave from blogging to work on:
1. Research paper re-writes and updates for a Wednesday submission
2. NIH NRSA (postdoc fellowship) for Friday
3. Presentation for lab meeting today - on the 1000 genomes paper
4. Finalizing figures for a review article

Other things, I should keep in mind to do:
1. Proof-read comprehensive proposal for a friend
2. Writing a summary of GWIS National fellowship winners by end of Nov
3. Updating GWIS (local/national) with pictures from the USASEF.
4. Harry Potter on the 19th!
5. Organizing baby stuff and figuring out what we still need
6. Thank-you cards
7. Holiday cards
8. Enjoying time with my wonderful husband, and making sure the doggies get lots of love

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Carl Sagan - I wish I could have met him

Carl Sagan tops my list of people (dead or alive) that I'd like to meet. He is thoughtful without being provocative, insightful without over-speculating, and he approaches difficult subject matter with poise, respect, and well-defended ideas. He doesn't come off as pretentious or intimidating. When addressing how the cosmos began, and how may perceive it to have been created by a god or gods he says:
"But if we wish to pursue this question courageously, we must of course ask the next question, where did god come from. If we decide that this is an unanswerable question, why not save a step and conclude that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question. Or if we say that god always existed, why not save a step and conclude that the universe always existed, there's no need for a creation, it was always here."
This video discusses how the Hindus were way ahead of their time, realizing the earth was much longer than a few human generations, and gives a brief introduction to Hinduism, as it relates to modern cosmology.

Even better, this is the first part of his last interview. It's frustrating that everything he says is still relevant today.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Haggling versus facts

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

a lull in posting

Well hello readers! I'm writing today to say thank-you for including me on your RSS feed, or GoogleReader, or just checking into the blog every now and then. I really enjoy it when someone mentions they've read my blog. It helps motivate me to write more often (it's been four days!!), and to be a little more creative with what I post - more than just sharing the news/clips/etc that pique my interest, although there will still be plenty of that. 

As you can tell, it is, and probably always will be, a hodge-podge of different topics. Hopefully that appeals to some of you, some of the time. :)

Yesterday we hit the 34-week mark, meaning - if all goes well - we have between three and eight weeks before our worlds get turned upside down. I'm trying to prepare for the three-week deadline, in hopes that it will be closer to six, but that I'll be prepared, as far as work goes.

So, what do grad students do with their time, besides blog? In the past couple of weeks I've written up the results to one research project, written a draft of a review article, both of which are waiting for my advisor's read-through, so I can make the final changes and submit them. The final changes/submissions will probably take a week or so per paper. This week I'm focusing on finishing up my final research project (the last big project I need to complete before defending my thesis), and trying to find time to work on the last two fellowships I would like to submit (the NIH NRSA and the L'Oreal Women in Science). I figure, if have a 5% chance of winning each fellowship, and I submit 6 fellowship applications, I have a 30% chance of getting something... right??

Okay, on that note, I'll get back to working - I make myself focus in 30 minute blocks of time. It helps keep me motivated and on-task, or at least I tell myself that it does.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Federal government spending

Wondering aloud about how the new Republican majority in the House is going to work on cutting spending, and hoping the Republicans and Democrats (and Independents and other small fractions) can find a way to do it together. Regardless of your political affiliation, if you are like me and try to stay out of debt, and live within your means, it has to cross your mind that the US government spends an awful lot (6.4 trillion??), and reducing that spending, intelligently, might not be a bad idea.

Maybe, though, the government is like a kid with an allowance - if you don't have to work so hard to get the money, you might not think as carefully about how you spend it. But, like everything written here, that's an over-simplification. 

I was talking with a British friend yesterday and he mentioned how the conservative party in GB is really serious about cutting taxes, so much so that they actually cut one of the largest expenditures: the military. I doubt we'll see anything that progressive, or productive, from our elected officials. 

And, to clarify, I don't think it would be effective, or correct, to chop military pay, benefits, hospitals, etc, but we do spend an awful lot sending our troops to different parts of the world (including Afghanistan and Iraq, but also 142 other countries) paying for lots and lots of expensive toys, and all sorts of "classified" missions, some of which could be a little more transparent. 

In addition to military/defense spending (20% of our budget), we should also think about targeting the other two big-ones: Social Security (20%) and Medicare/Medicade/CHIP (21%). 

I am not as familiar with what could make Social Security more efficient, but I think there are a lot of small changes that could add up to make our Govt. Healthcare more efficient, especially including incentives for healthy choices.

But, in all likelihood, because it is safer, the House and Senate will go after Education (3%), Scientific and Medical Research (2%) and Transportation Infrastructure (3%).

I'm starting to become more involved in the political process (so forgive my naivete) and am learning how much we get side-tracked (pay no attention to the man in the corner sort of routine), but big numbers, when it seems like whittling away on the smallest parts of the budget is like trying to carve a turkey by starting with the tail. Wouldn't it be most effective to bite the bullet and make some dramatic changes that will actually affect the overall fiscal outlook?

Cutting just over 8% from each of the top three expenditures would be equivalent to completely eliminating Scientific and Medical Research AND Education spending. 

Now, 8% is a lot, you might say, but businesses and universities are facing bigger cuts themselves this year, and in the past few years, to stay solvent, and many of them have managed to do so. 

And, more importantly, Research and Education are what help move our country forward. So, let's see what happens the next few years. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Speaking of Halloween...

I had to share this post from a woman I've never met. She's a mom of a little boy who chose to dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo. My niece dressed up as the Grinch last year, and everyone thought it was cute. This little boy dresses up as Daphne (a dang good Daphne, I might add) and all hell breaks loose.

She says it so well, so please go read it, but just to highlight a few parts:
"If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off."
But, what it really comes down to is bullying, and how early that is ingrained in us. As a soon-to-be parent, I hope I can learn from this example. Kids learn that it is okay to bully from their parents as easily as they learn that it is NOT okay to bully from their parents.
Just as it was heartbreaking to those parents that have lost their children recently due to bullying. IT IS NOT OK TO BULLY. Even if you wrap it up in a bow and call it ‘concern.’  Those women were trying to bully me. And my son. MY son.
Rock on Nerdy Apple Bottom mom. Rock on.

Thanks George Takei for this message:



Many thanks to my friend Adam for, again, turning me on (or off?) to the enlightened musings of a Ms. Jessica Uzar, a junior at Penn Stat majoring in journalism.

If you missed it, here's my response when last week Ms. Uzar was telling us ladies how great Halloween is because it is an excuse to dress in skimpy, provocative clothing and act suggestive.

Now, she has experienced something completely unacceptable, but rather than take a step back and try to find solutions for it, she complains about sex, again, and finds herself completely off topic.

First, let me say that Ms. Uzar and her friend should not have been accosted. The behavior of the gentlemen around her, yelling lewd and suggestive comments was completely reprehensible, and yet I have this feeling of deja vu that this is the same behavior she was apparently looking forward to when wearing her Halloween costume.... (from last week):
"After all, if we can’t attract him physically, he won’t want to reproduce with us, right? That’s one of our most basic instincts."
What really upsets me about her rant this week is this bit:

"If we had been walking along the Vegas Strip, wearing heels and dresses that were much too short, I would not be surprised by such behavior. I would actually expect some cat calls and lewd suggestions.
But we were walking through campus, after a football game, with heavy layers of clothing on. The only skin of mine that was showing was on my hands and face and I know I looked nowhere near thin in my bundles of warmth."
No. No, no, NO! No woman, or man, or person, regardless of what they are wearing, deserves or should expect lewd suggestions when walking in Las Vegas or State College. Her experience is a perfect example that it is NOT the amount of skin that is showing. Jack-off guys are going to act like jack-off guys whether the girl is wearing a bikini or a parka. 

She cops out by saying, 
"And I understand that boys are dirty."
"Our culture is obsessed with sex and females absolutely want to feel desirable." 
1. So are girls.
2. All creatures want to procreate, and of course, females want to feel desirable, so do males. 

There are huge conservative leanings to our social culture (remember an enormous fine for Janet Jackson's Super Bowl faux pas?), so trying to claim that our culture is obsessed with sex is a little off-base. We are at the same time fascinated and embarrassed by it. We are such a diverse group, and even, as the author clearly shows, divided within ourselves.

What we need to do is realize that there are general standards that we should hold ourselves, and our peers to, when it comes to normal human interactions. And we need to make it socially unacceptable not to live up to those standards, without becoming completely restricted. 

There aren't many absolutes, and certainly there is a time and a place for everything, but in general here is my "good and bad" list:

Skin is good. Sex is good. Nipples, and penises, and vaginas are good. 

Approaching someone who clearly doesn't agree with your intentions is bad. Accosting and harassing anyone, about sex or anything, is bad. 

Being a hypocrite... well, that's part of growing up. It never ends. We are all quick to say what we think, but if we're lucky, if we're not too proud, and willing to learn from our experiences (and from the experiences of others), then we will change our opinions as we learn and grow.

What did I learn from this experience? That we need to do a better job of holding ourselves, and our peers, to a higher standard of interaction - whether on a drunken football weekend, Halloween, or a quiet school night.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

week 24 of plowshare produce

Well, we've reached the end of our first experience with a CSA, through the lovely farmers at Plowshare Produce.

It has been fantastic having fresh, organic, locally-grown veggies each week, and getting to interact and directly support the people who are growing them! So, let's get to it.

This Week’s Veggies: potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, rutabaga, cabbage, and kale   

I was given the choice between a rutabaga as big as your head, or watermelon turnips. You can see which one I chose:

I used half of the rutabaga and a potato to make a soup. But before we get there, I have to show you the center of the potato. Amanda (model above) and I decided they were like two faces, having a conversation:

I will call this Rutabaga-as-big-as-your-head soup:

Rutabega-As-Big-As-Your-Head Soup
5 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 Tbs butter
1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and chopped
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. water (or more as needed)
1/2 giant rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 large potato, diced
1 c. skim milk
2 c. sharp cheddar, shredded

Saute garlic in butter. Add kale, chicken broth and water, and cook on high for 5 minutes while dicing rutabaga. Add diced rutabaga, let cook while dicing potato. Add additional water until veggies are just covered. Cover pot and simmer on high until rutabaga and potatoes are fork-tender. Puree soup (I had to do it in two batches), adding milk as needed to help puree go smoothly. Return soup to pot and add shredded cheese, stirring until melted. Serve with sliced crusty bread.

Scott said it tasted like broccoli. I think it was okay, but a little bitter (maybe from the kale). Regardless, it was a good way to use our rutabaga and kale.

And that, dear friends, is the last plowshare produce post for the year. If we move back to State College, we'll definitely sign up with them again, but will have to find some other way to get our local, fresh veggie fix in sunny California.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"I take you to be no other than yourself,

...loving what I know of you, trusting what I do not yet know, with respect for your integrity and faith in your love for me through all our years and in all that life may bring us."

One year later, as GI Joe and a Treasure Troll, we celebrated our first of many anniversaries:

Happy Anniversary! I love you!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

week 23 of plowshare produce

We only have one more week of our CSA from Plowshare Produce left. Unfortunately we won't be here next summer/fall, and so aren't signing up again, but I encourage all of you to consider signing up for a weekly, or bi-weekly share!!

This Week’s Veggies: potatoes or sweet potatoes, butternut squash, onions, beets, celeriac, broccoli, radishes, kohlrabi, kale or chard, spinach, mesclun, parsley or dill, thyme  

We choose not to get the mesclun or herbs because I don't want them to go to waste. You'll see we also picked up a loaf of locally baked bread (from Gemelli's) and a dozen "happy chicken", cage-free eggs.

When it gets cold, it's nice to have hot soup, but sometimes they are a little heavy. Below is a keilbasa soup I ate growing up that I really loved, using mostly ingredients from out plowshare:

Keilbasa Soup:
1 keilbasa (here I used turkey keilbasa)
1 small cabbage (from last week's plowshare)
4 small potatoes, diced (from last week's plowshare)

~2 cups green beans (these were frozen from a previous plowshare)
1 can stewed tomatoes

Layer ingredients in a crock pot (works best if potatoes are on the bottom). Add water until veggies are just covered. Cook on high until potatoes are fork tender. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Penn State prepares for Halloween

My friend shared an article from our student-run, University newspaper. I thought I could keep my comments to myself, but ended up writing more than he probably wanted to read on his facebook page, so I'm going to post it here as well.

Regarding this article about Halloween at Penn State.

I am, at the same time, speechless, and brimming with things to say.

As my favorite holiday (and wedding anniversary), I tend to expect a lot more than other people out of Halloween costumes. Yes, it is a time to dress up, but not just to be skanky. Furthermore, it isn't as if skimpy, low-cut tops, and nearly absent skirts are a rarity in State College on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Sure, costumes may show off bare skin, or be skin tight (for both females and males), but take some initiative and put a little thought into it. It is entirely possible to come up with something unique and creative that can be somewhat provocative and show off ingenuity. How about that? Girls can be both smart AND sexy.

Also, as a biologist, and a rational human being, am quite frustrated that the author tries to blame dressing like a trollop on some biological imperative, and then goes on to contradict herself by saying that, in reality, the kinds of "relationships" that will be produced by this sort of behavior only last 8 hours or less. It is not particularly advantageous to a female, who will be investing a large amount of time and energy into her offspring, to mate with the first package of semen that walks by. There are so many social mores that shape how and what we think, independent of evolutionary history, that to boil it down, and not even get it correct is annoying.

I'm distraught by how accepting, and even embracing, the author is of the slut-fest that costume manufacturers cater to. I don't think that costume-makers, or any other business in our capitalistic society make items and expect people to buy them because that is what is available. They make these outfits because that is what people are choosing to spend the most money on. If people quit buying "skirts up to here" costumes, the companies would put out other products.

Her main thesis, though, it seems, is that, more than any other holiday, Halloween is the time of year to whore-it-up, and that's exactly what college students, such as herself, should do.

Way to keep it classy, Penn State.

As an aside, I am taken aback by how many words there are to describe a female who is perceived to be sexually disreputable, and the glaring lack of similar words that apply to males, or that are gender neutral. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

the right to discriminate

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed in this editorial about the Boy Scouts of America choosing to discriminate which people can and cannot be affiliated.

As a private organization it is their right to choose who can and cannot participate in Boy Scouts, but as an American who supports diversity, and equality, I can choose not to support their bigotry.
"But if someone willingly joins a private club that discriminates against a particular segment of the population, then each time that person pays dues or attends a meeting, he or she is indirectly expressing agreement with the discriminatory policy."
I don't know the history previous, but finally, five years after I suggested it (and it was unceremoniously shot down), some turnover in leadership, and the efforts of several other people, the mission of the Graduate Women in Science, GWIS, are now gender neutral. As a woman in Science I think that working towards gender equity should be the primary goal, not inadvertently (or purposefully) discriminating against men. Further, we also now open membership to anyone who has a Bachelor's degree in a STEM-related field and supports the mission of our organization.

While I can understand that discrimination against women has left a huge scar on the collective psyche of women scientists, even those just 5 or 10 years more advanced than myself, I really do believe that the only way to move forward is to be inclusive, to not fall prey to an "us versus them" mentality. We need to listen to and genuinely consider the viewpoints of both men and women (and transgender individuals) when working towards policy changes, and having active participation from all parties can only make us stronger.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


That's how many slime samples we made (in two nights) in preparation for the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Four thousand, three hundred and fifty-four. Wow! I'm so impressed with our volunteers, and I know they'll do an amazing job in DC.

There were quite a few Nu chapter GWIS members, Scott helped by recruiting some of his labmates, as did some other labs,  a few volunteers brought their significant others and roommates. There were also girls from AWIS and SWE. So we had a good distribution of postdocs, grad students, and undergrads working together to get this all done. We had a pretty good assembly-line set-up.

People stapling labels to bags.

Making the glue solution. 

Mixing the glue with borax solutions.

(Some messier than others)

Kneading and partitioning slime.

Divided based on different colors.

 Packaging slime partitions.

And finally, after food coloring, mixing, resting, partitioning, labeling and sealing, we have our final packages!

Well done everyone!!

What do you call alternative medicine that works?


The mouse-over is so great, I had to share it to make sure you can read it:
"Not to be confused with 'making money selling this stuff to OTHER people who think it works', which corporate accountants and actuaries have zero problems with."
Also, this is not to discredit medical practices that, while still useful, have merely fallen out of favor with the development of new technologies (generally called "natural" medicine, but that can sometimes get confused with homeopathy). Oldies can be goodies - for example, putting sugar in a wound to help prevent infection. I helped with this procedure when I was a Nurse Aid after one of our doctor's prescribed it - and a recent study (Chiwenga, Dowlen and Mannion, 2009) finds significant benefits of sugar-wound treatment in Malawi.

week 22 of plowshare produce

As a preface, we didn't take everything this week because 1) we still had plenty leftover from last week, 2) we are going to be out of town this weekend, and 3) we know it'll go to a good home (leftovers are donated to neighbors/others who will appreciate the fresh veggies!!)

This Week’s Veggies: potatoes or sweet potatoes, onions and garlic, carrots, broccoli, rutabagas, cabbage, kale or chard, spinach or lettuce or mizuna/arugula bunches, peppers, herbs, hot peppers   

I've been wanting to make a cheddar-broccoli soup, after seeing the linked post by one of my friends in Nebrasksa. But, I also knew we had a lot of veggies to get through, so I made up my own, with hers as inspiration. We'll call it, Hearty Broccoli Soup.

Hearty Broccoli Soup
* 1 large onion, diced
* 1 head of broccoli, diced
* 4 med potatoes, diced
* 4 med turnips, diced
* ~3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
* 1 cup skim milk
* 2 cups shredded cheese (I used 1 cup shredded yellow cheddar and 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar)

In a large pot, saute onion until tender (in water or oil). Add diced veggies. Add enough broth to just cover veggies, cover pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Cook until all veggies are fork-tender. Remove pan from heat and puree veggie mixture. I did this in the blender in two batches, adding 1 cup of milk as the liquid for the first batch, and the vegetable broth for the second. If you're lucky enough to have a hand mixer - that would probably be much easier! Just add the milk to the pot, or omit milk and add enough broth to get the texture you prefer. Once the mixture is well blended, return pot to medium heat and stir in the cheese. I am generally not a fan of sharp cheeses, but recommend sharp cheddar for this soup because you'll get more "bang for your buck" with respect to the cheese-to-soup-flavor (i.e. more cheesy flavor, less fat). Using the potatoes also gives this soup a rich, hearty flavor, without the cream, and blends for a thick texture quite nicely without the butter/flour combo generally used. 

I also sliced a lot of the onions we had, caramelized them, mixed in a can of Yuengling Black and Tan and added some brauts that Scott seared on the grill. I actually didn't eat any of these, but our friends who came over seemed to enjoy them. :)