Monday, August 30, 2010

Accessible Research: Style over substance

Tomorrow Scott (my oh-so-talented husband) defends his thesis. He is, for a few more hours, a graduate student in the Chemistry department studying Physical Chemistry. Some of you might have cringed when I mentioned Chemistry, but probably more cringed at the mention of Physical Chemistry. One of the things I learned about Scott this year, seeing him present at the Penn State Graduate Exhibition, is that he is very good at making difficult subject matter relatable. He even took home first place in his division!

I was reminded of this when, earlier today, I spoke with Robin Bush, one of the council members of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE), and she mentioned something that challenges, not just the SMBE journals, but all scientists; how do we make dense, field-specific research accessible?

Leading to another person I worked closely with last year, Nate Brown, a mathematician with a passion for increasing the public's understanding and acceptance of evolution. Nate has been a real inspiration to me. He has boundless enthusiasm. Partner that with my overly-optimistic view of people's desire to learn, and we were unstoppable... till we ran into a tangle of red tape, and funding requests, and then his sabbatical, and now my trying to finish up my thesis... But, we still managed to produce a tangible product: a series of ads for public television designed to focus on style rather than substance. The aim is to increase awareness of and interest in science, without getting bogged down in the details. (Remind me and I'll post some of the ads later on - they're on a disc at work right now.)

Style versus substance.

Really, I think, this should be the goal. A couple years chairing the CFW Marketing committee helped me see this also. We are, or are becoming, a nation of news-bytes, computer-bytes. Tiny little chunks of what piques our interest. Something we can share with our family, our friends in 140 characters or less. That is how to spread science awareness, and increase enthusiasm. People really will dig in, if they're interested. I think our goal, however, should be to get them to the door.

I wouldn't be very appreciative of someone going into the details of 's life, but I can't help but hear the taglines, and then repeating it when my friend/husband/labmate brings up something related to said person. 

Hmmm... maybe a more appropriate example would be if my friend in Material Science wanted to explain all the details of her new project working with a new set of chemicals, A, B and D, and how they interact with this atomic compound of XZ to form...(eyes getting sleepy)... this special polymer that reacts under oxygen-depleted conditions... (my brain feels oxygen depleted)... to switch from a solid to a gas, but then returns to its original solid form.. (ooh! shapeshifting)... by breaking the hydrogen-nitrogen bonds... blah, blah blah...

I would politely listen, but would tune most of it out. Rather, if she told me, "I work with this cool material that can basically shape-shift, and could be used to make buildings. We're studying how we can change it from a solid state, to a gas, back to the same solid state. This could be applied to moving a large amount of this material through space with almost no effort!"

Not a lot of substance, but, "whoa, is that neat!?". It has the style factor. Something that anyone can understand, form an opinion on, and share.

The problem with scientists is that we're too preoccupied with having all the details correct. (Trust me, I know it is one of my character flaws to not accept even small inaccuracies in conversations - I'm sure it gets awfully annoying.) But, when it comes to promoting science, I think we need to learn to err on the side of style. Substance is thick. We get bogged down in substance. That isn't to say that our science shouldn't be rigorous, well-thought, and well-defended. It should. But, we need to learn to take a few steps back and accept that as fascinating as I find sexually antagonistic trait co-evolution, it's going to sound like a pile of "who cares" to someone following Brangelina's new spat. But Brad, Angelina, their fans and scientists (note that these are not mutually exclusive groups), are all voters, who choose who to send to congress, who decide whether basic-research is valid, and who deserve to know where their tax dollars are going, and why they should care.

So, after a long, winding road, I've reached my conclusion, that science outreach needs to focus on hooking our audience and highlighting the style. Yes, that also means we need to grin, and swallow the substance.

Accessible Research: What the heck is a microsatellite?

I've fallen off the face of the planet, with respect to my attempts at science blogging, and was jumped back into action today.

For our second installment, let's look at a paper recently published in Genome Biology and Evolution, found here:

What Is a Microsatellite: A Computational and Experimental Definition Based upon Repeat Mutational Behavior at A/T and GT/AC Repeats
Yogeshwar D. Kelkar1,2Noelle Strubczewski2,3Suzanne E. Hile2,3,Francesca Chiaromonte2,4Kristin A. Eckert*,2,3 andKateryna D. Makova*,1,2

This group of researchers aimed to identify what the defining factors of a microsatellite are (i.e when do we start to call something a microsatellite?). Wait a minute, what is a microsatellite? Where are they found? And, why do you care?

A microsatellite is a length of DNA found in your genome (not in the sky) with two important factors: 1. the "satellite" refers to a repeating unit - think of a string of identical beads; and 2. the "micro" part, referring to very short lengths of DNA - think very tiny beads. There are four DNA bases, A, T, G, and C, that can be arranged into these beads. So, so if each "bead" were made of a short stretch of DNA, say, "ACC", then the 6-repeat long microsatellite would be:

 1  2  3  4  5  6 

So what, right? Why do you care about repeats in your DNA? Well, you should care because changes (mutations) in these microsatellites have been, "associated with numerous neurological diseases". One you may have heard of is Huntington's disease, which gets progressively worse and debilitating over a person's lifetime. You can read more about it here

That reminds to me mention something unique about these microsatellites, compared to the rest of our DNA, they mutate very rapidly. This is thought to be because the replication machinery slips and forgets where it was in the repeat, either jumping a step ahead, or back-stepping to effectively increase or decrease the length of the microsatellite.  The replication machinery is always in action because our cells are always being regenerated - think of your hair growing, your skin healing over a wound - all of these things take new cells, and new cells require the DNA to be replicated using this machinery.

But, until recently it wasn't clear when a set of repeats starts to acquire this fast mutation rate, definitive of microsatellites. Do there need to be 3 repeats? 4 repeats? 10 repeats? This can make a big difference to diagnosing a disease related to microsatellites. If 3 repeats are not dangerous, but 4 repeats are, clinicians who can identify 3 repeats may have a head start of preparing their patients for potential treatments, and advise on the potential heritable effects (if the patient is considering having children).

Together the scientists above have combined laboratory experiments with computational predictions to determine that the threshold for a length of DNA to acquire the properties of being a microsatellite (namely the very fast mutation rate) is not a hard-and-fast number, but that it varies, depending on the DNA composing the repeats (beads), and the machinery used during replication. 

This means that, if we know what the DNA code is, and how it is being replicated, we can figure out whether a particular microsatellite has reached the threshold of being "dangerous" or if it is, so to speak, still "benign". 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

applying for funding

I had a great trip out to Berkeley. It was short, but I really got a good idea of the lab dynamics and think that my personality, and research interests, would fit in very well there.

The one teeny-tiny problem is that funding isn't guaranteed, so over the next few months I'll be writing several fellowship applications. Each needs to be tailored to the particular funding agency.

Yesterday I was reading through guidelines for the NSF postdoctoral fellowship in Biology, and then the directions for what kind of research the NIH BIO directorate funds. Nothing big, they just want to fund research that advances the,
"understanding of the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life." 
In contrast, the NIH supports research to,
"seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability."

Whew! And I was worried it would be something difficult like solving world hunger or eliminating poverty. All joking aside, I do think that the missions behind these agencies do need to be broad to encompass the wide variety of research topics, but still need to have enough specificity to limit the types of applications they receive.

Considering that the postdoctoral fellowships fund only 5-10% of the applications they receive, I need to be on top of my game. Hence why I've decided to dedicate at least an hour a day (more likely it'll be 2-3) to working on these applications until they're due (Between October 1 and early November 8). 

Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

can't sleep

So, of course my schedule is a bit off, coming from PA, spending 5 days in Nebraska, and now, after traveling out to CA, I was up at 4:47am local time.

I put some finishing touches on my presentation, answered emails, confirmed my registration for the semester, and am all ready for the day (and it is now 6:46!). Breakfast doesn't open downstairs for another 45 minutes, but I know I'm hungry (tummy growling) and I think the little lady is hungry too, because she's been kicking up a storm the past 15 minutes.

I had a great day yesterday - went out to lunch with the lab, came up with some great ideas for this research proposal, talked with the current postdocs, and got checked into my room.

I walked downtown to find something for dinner, and happened to walk by the local Yoga To The People (YTTP) studio. As luck would have it, class was starting in 5 minutes, so I hurried in, chucked off my shoes and socks, paid my mat rental fee, a bottle of water and donation for the class, and commenced with a really awesome 1 hr yoga class. It was quite hot, so I'm glad for the water. And I apologize to everyone for having to see my preggo belly because I had to roll up my shirt to keep from overheating. There were only a couple moves I wasn't comfortable doing, but overall came out feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. I was tempted to see if I could make another class today, but I think my schedule will be pretty full, and I have to leave time to make sure I get to the airport in time for my 11pm flight back home.

I really love the concept of YTTP, and especially here, I love the abundance of classes. I wonder, on average, if they end of making as much as any other studio (well, studios I could afford to go to anyway), because of the amount of people encouraged to go. The room was packed when I was there, only one spot left! If even half of them paid the suggested $10 donation, that would be more than they'd probably get if they were charging $20/person because so few people would come. But, then I'm assuming that people actually find the service valuable enough to pay for. I hope they do.

With relaxation in mind, I think I'll lay down for some quiet time until the breakfast here opens, see what's around, then maybe walk downtown for a smoothie - yum!

in the meantime

I will have more pictures/stories to tell from Nebraska and Berkeley, but just quick, I had to share this cartoon because I was thinking the same thing yesterday (and every time I have to read backwards on the road):

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

in California

Made it out to California! (I have more to blog about today, but I am too tired now, and so will just post what I wrote earlier, while waiting between flights - enjoy!)

I'm in Berkeley, and although people tend to think of sunny, hot California, Berkeley and the San Francisco area tend to be pretty mild (between 60-70F year-round). There just so happens to be a heat wave in the area right now, with temperatures creeping towards ~85F today, but cooling off to the low 70's or even high 60's tomorrow. Sure glad I'm layering.

I'm giving a talk tomorrow on campus, so stop by if you're free!

Evolution and survival on eutherian sex chromosomes
Thursday August 26, 2010
3pm (but I still don't know where!)

I'll focus on research from my thesis that's published already (in PLoS Genetics) and will give a sneak peek at the two projects that are in progress right now.

Three things about the flight:

1. The little one was quite active on four separate occasions on the flight - it is possible she really does, or does not like tomato juice. :) That, and a couple of times her kicks were so intense you could see my belly move from the outside... cool.

2. There was a guy that was on both of my flights (from State College to  Detroit, and Detroit to San Francisco) who had a bright purple cast on his right leg and foot. No one would pause to let him off the plane in Detroit until I got there - then he booked it faster on his crutches than most of the walking people. He happened to sit behind me on the second flight, so I was able to learn (from his conversation with the flight attendants) that the cast is the result of getting bit by a shark! Whoa! He said it was pretty severe, but didn't go into details. I wonder if he'll be on an episode of Shark Week next year? :)

3. They offered wi-fi (not free) on the flight. I was tempted to pay for it, just to say I had wi-fi on the flight, but instead figured I'd just write this post, and put it up tonight when I have free access. Not having internet helped convince me to take a very nice 45 min nap, then spend some time working on my presentation. On the way home, if I have the option, I might take it up. I was only flying from Detroit to San Francisco there, but fly from SF to DC on the way back.

in-flight reading

It seems the only time I have now, for reading, is while flying. I made it through two short books on the trip to Nebraska and back.

On the way to the Midwest I read the book, "A Rare Breed of Love". The second half of the book is composed mostly of pictures of the little dog with celebrities, and sometimes relevant stories about why said person supports animal welfare. The first half of the book describes Baby's story, how she lost her leg, and does give some details about puppy mills, and the author's struggle to work for animal rights. Overall it was a quick read, but really left me wanting more. More information about puppy mills, or at least references to other sources of information. More details about Baby's life (past or present), or about the lives of other dogs mentioned in the book. More description about the author's work to protect animals, and what she's working towards now. Maybe I expected too much, after reading about its reference in "Rescue Ink". It was more like an afterthought than the thought-provoking novel I was expecting. I gave the book to my mom to take into work - being a tech at a Veterinary Clinic, I'm sure she'll find someone who would like to read it.

On the way home I read a local book entitled, "Tales of Tails: From NEBRASKA Veterinarians and Families". My mom picked the book up for me, written and compiled by local veterinarians and their spouses (local to Nebraska, and Kansas). They're all the sort of stories you expect to be shared over dinner, or over coffee, or a slice of pie. Some are funny, some are heart-warming and some, as is to be expected with these kinds of stories, are probably very relevant to the story-teller, but lose some of their magic when out-of-context to the listener (or, in this case, reader). I think I'll give this to a friend of ours who is a Veterinarian.

Alright, have to board the plane to Detroit, then on to San Francisco!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

greetings from Kansas

It's been a few days, but so much has happened, I'm sure to make up for it. Although, I will have to apologize in advance because I won't be around for this coming week's plowshare. I thought I wouldn't miss anymore, but sorry ladies and gents, visiting family and then visiting Cali will take precedence this week. We have a friend picking up the veggies, so I'll ask her to take a pic, maybe I can post a belated pic.

After dropping off the dogs with some friends, Scott went to meet with his advisor for a last-minute planning meeting about an upcoming presentation and I finished laundry. Our early morning flight went off without a hitch - many thanks to the great TSA people at the State College airport who make my life much easier, and who I'm very thankful for every time I have to check in at any other airport.

We made it to Kansas safe and sound (MCI is still one of my most favorite airports, because it has such a simple design, and because of the free Wi-Fi). My mom and grandma picked us up from the airport and took us back to their house/video store. My grandpa wanted to go our for burgers, so we all went out to this local place for some pretty tasty burgers:

When I was growing up we didn't see my mom's parents very often and so always tried to get pictures of my grandma, mom and me. So, of course, on this trip we had to get a picture of the three (soon-to-be four) LaDuron ladies together:

And, because all of the belly-pics posted so far (on facebook if you're interested) have been of just me and the bump, we wanted to get some of the three of us. We'll have to try again when we're not laughing and the aforementioned bump gets a little bigger. :)

It was Friday, so my grandpa had to get back to work while we made the drive up to Nebraska, but not before my mom and I gave him some good-bye kisses:

p.s. Girly-fact of the day: I think it is super-fun that my hair is all-natural, but still has the look of highlights :)


I forgot to mention, we got caught in a terrible thunderstorm with a tornado warning on the way home. This was the sky we were driving into, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

week 13 of plowshare produce

This Week’s Veggies: carrots, edamame, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, fennel, green beans, bell peppers, sweet corn, and  watermelon.  I also picked up a loaf of Gemelli's kalamata olive bread.

We took out a bunch of the veggies to our friends' house last night where five of us we demolished most of them! We made salsa with the peppers, tomatoes (minus the one I ate whole, like an apple), and onions, with some lime juice. We also cooked up the edamame in some salt-water, grilled the zucchini and boiled the corn. 

The fennel, green beans and carrots will have to wait for another night. I'm planning to take the cherry tomatoes in for a snack at work, and will probably eat the watermelon (yes, the whole watermelon) for dinner or dessert tonight.

Sunday I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our share from last week, so just started chopping. First, a large onion and a whole head of garlic:

Then, the bell peppers and zucchini from last week. I was thinking of making pasta sauce, then Scott walked through the kitchen and asked if I was making chile. Ding! Chile!! I defrosted our grass-fed beef (from our plowshare's neighbor), and browned it with the onions and garlic, then added the rest of the veggies, a can of black beans, a can of kidney beans and a couple heaping teaspoons of chile powder. I wasn't sure about adding tomatoes, then found a jar of spicy green chile salsa to add for the acidic flavor. Best idea ever. 

I think this was the best chile I've ever made. I've always been a big fan of tomatoes, but the green chiles really made it, and the zucchini fit in surprisingly well. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Whatever happened to the Goo Goo Dolls?

Flashback 10 (or 15) years:

I remember loving the Goo Goo Dolls in Junior/High School (it didn't hurt that Johnny Rzeznik was totally dreamy), then they just kind of disappeared. The Greatest Hits has most of the songs I really loved. It's odd how my taste in music has changed now that I can listen to nearly anything I want, not just what is played on the radio.

Still, I really like this song:


Here are just some of the ducks I saw yesterday while walking the dogs. I saw three separate flocks, totaling over 80 ducks!! There is a pool nearby, lots of shrubs for shade and lots of tasty bugs, so I guess they like it here. Also, thankfully, the dogs didn't bark at them or try to chase them. Aro was just curious as to what they were. :)

In other news, I'm really enjoying feeling the little nudges from our little girl. It seems like every day she gets a little more active - something I'm sure won't stop for several years! Estimates this week say she's between 10.5-11.5 inches long (~26.5-30cm) from head to toe. Whoa! No wonder I'm starting to feel her move. I'll get some more belly pics up on facebook soon. I really feel a difference this week from last week, but I'm probably super-sensitive to it.

The end of this week we're headed to Kansas to visit my grandparents, then up to Nebraska to see my mom, brothers, sister-in-law and nephew, along with any other friends we can squeeze in there. I'm hoping to make time to head to the Henry Doorly Zoo up in Omaha - boasting America's largest indoor rainforest - my favorite!! The trips are always so short.

This one will go by especially quick because I will be preparing to head out to Berkeley, CA the day after we get home to talk about projects for fellowship applications for a potential postdoc position. I'm super excited to go visit the lab there - a ton of great research in a wide variety of species. The next week or so I'll spend brainstorming some ideas for what to propose.

C'mon brain, let's go work!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Every other day

For all my efforts this week, I'm still only posting here every other day! I can't imagine how quickly the days are going to pass once the little lady arrives.

Yesterday I spent a good amount of time learning how to apply for the NIH postdoctoral fellowship - so much paperwork!! But, hopefully it'll be worth it in the end, regardless of whether I get it or not, at least I'll know more about the process.

Today I have a good list ahead of me. After waking up early, taking the rats out for a 2 mile walk, then heading with Scott to pick up milk for the week from Meyer Dairy, we met up with friends for breakfast.
Here are the dogs waiting patiently for me to get ready:

Now Scott is finishing up the last of the changes to his thesis, so he can get it printed and distributed by Tuesday, and I am distractedly getting some work done.

I made another batch of no-bake cookies, this time substituting 2 cups of rye flakes for the oat flakes, adding an extra half a cup of oat flakes, and letting the rolling boil cook for 2 minutes (instead of 1.5min), and they turned out pretty well.

I also cooked the edamame from our CSA. I cut off the pods and boiled them in salted water. After draining the hot water off and letting them cool, the pods pop right open to reveal delicious little beans inside.

Our friends suggested salting them, but I think the salt from the water is enough flavor - to each their own.

Now that I have some snacks, and a cup of hot tea, there's not excuse, back to work. In brief:
1. Work on postdoc fellowships applications - pre-registering and learning about requirements
2. Run new analyses for male mutation bias project
3. Go through most recent results from pseudogene project and do a little theoretical work to see if I can explain them
4. Work on funding requests for USA Science and Engineering Festival - hopefully to deliver on Tuesday

Ah, but of course, as I write this the rats are telling me they need to go for a walk - I guess they have been good ALL day - a big feat for them. Plus, it wouldn't hurt me to enjoy a little more of this Saturday afternoon. :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Evolution is merely a theory, like gravity or the shape of the earth"

It would be a lot funnier if it weren't so true:

FuturamaThursdays 10pm / 9c
Preview - Evolution Under Attack
Futurama New EpisodesRoast of David HasselhoffIt's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

And, to be fair, we technically evolved from dirty ape-men and -women (because monkeys are all primates except prosimians and apes, but in the vernacular, monkey is used pretty globally.)

For your viewing pleasure

In an effort to keep the posts coming, I'm going to take a quick min here over lunch (delicious leftovers from last night's dinner) to say hello. :)

Last night we cooked up some of the beef we bought from Plowshare Produce's neighbor in beefy-noodly-cream of mushroom mix, eating our CSA green beans on the side. I have to rave about how fantastic the beef was - lean, flavorful, hearty. We're definitely going to get some more the next time it is offered.

I'll be up to my eyeballs in work the next couple weeks, but I'll do my best not to let it keep me from updating with some regularity. I'll be:
1. Rerunning computations for a paper about male mutation bias that we hope to have to our collaborators in a couple weeks - and plan to submit within a month
2. Finishing up analysis on a project studying pseudogenes on the Y chromosome with my undergrad protegee, who is leaving for MIT in a few weeks
3. Visiting family in Kansas and Nebraska
4. Visiting Berkeley to give a presentation and work though ideas for fellowship applications this Fall
5. Sending out requests for support for the GWIS booth at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, and making sure the activity is ready for the ~10,000 people who are estimated to stop by our booth.

Also, soon we'll have a PhD in the family (and hopefully another to follow in the next 6 months): Scott is defending his thesis on August 31st, 10am, 301A Chemistry Building!!

So, in case I miss a couple days, here is some rockin' guitar music to soothe the savage beast:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

week 12 of plowshare produce

No matter now much I try to post every day, days go by where I just completely miss it. Hopefully there's enough here to keep you all entertained?

We're halfway through the plowshare. This week's Veggies are: edamame, sungold tomatoes, jalepeno, lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, cilantro, carrots, bell peppers, onions and beets.

I made the best salsa in the world: tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalepeno, bell pepper, all from the CSA, and then some lemon juice.

This weekend I picked a bunch of cherry-tomatoes from my garden. Here's about half of them:

I didn't know what to do with them, so I blanched and peeled them all, and stored them for use in the next couple weeks (I didn't can them because I only had enough for two cans and it was so hot this weekend).

Also, this weekend I made a bunch of no-bake cookies, following this recipe, but I think mine should have cooked another 30-60 seconds because although they didn't firm up as much as I would have liked.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Saying farewell, Makova Lab style

So far, in the Makova Lab, we've had two people defend (i.e. graduate with a PhD). For the first, one of my labmates organized a hat where we all wrote notes in our native languages. For the second, I was in charge, and figuring that I'm much better at scrapbooking than hat-making, I decided to just collect well-wishes, in a variety of languages, and put them in a little book. I really like the idea because it makes a unique, fun memento of time spent in the lab. Here's a few shots of the book I made for Chungoo:

Here is Hindi:

and Japanese:

The idea is that the person will have to meet new people who speak each of the different languages to interpret what it means - facilitating new friendships at the new location. :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Busy, balance, bad dog

Today is one of first Saturdays in a long time where we have had nothing planned. No plans. What? I can just do what I want to do around the house? Get caught up?

The dogs let me sleep in until just after 8 (even though the she-monkey had me up at 6 for a potty break). We had a nice cool walk, then came home and organized the pantry, mostly all the dog-stuff, while Scott went for a run. When he got back we ate some hot rye cereal (like oatmeal), then got ready for the day.

Scott worked all day, and I set out for adventure:
- dropped off clothes/items to the goodwill
- spent an hour or so cleaning up our plot at the Penn State Community Garden - picking tomatoes, pulling weeds and trying to tame the butternut squash
- donated the extra small dog collars and leashes we had to PAWS, and chatted with the people there
- stopped into Target to pick up a few things we needed around the house (especially a nightlight so I don't have to turn on all the lights when I have to get up in the middle of the night). I also was hoping to pick up a couple stretchy maternity belly band things for helping extend the life of "normal" jeans, but they were out of all stretchy things, and also out of all nursing tanks - which I was just curious to look at. Weird. Some summer rush on maternity stuff?
- bought our oats, flour and yeast in bulk from the Granary, a locally owned food/health store

I meant to stop at Meyer Dairy also, because we're out of milk, but because some of my tasks took a little longer than I was expecting, and it was nearing 2:30pm, I figured I should get home and get some lunch.

We had lettuce and beets (pickled) from our CSA, tomatoes from our own garden, along with some tuna and cheese - yum!

We both worked for the next few hours. Scott is trying to finish up a paper to submit soon. I am working on re-running an analysis on a whole bunch of dna sequences, and because the analysis takes up so much memory, I have to run just a handful at a time (or they crowd each other out and all fail), and consequently am on babysitting duty all weekend.

After working, we headed out to the Nittany Mall for Chinese - yes, best chinese food ever - then to the dollar theatre to see Knight and Day. The food was, as expected, fantastic, and the movie was very entertaining. It was much funnier than I expected, lots of action and a few silly sweet scenes.

We came back home to tea bags shredded by the back door. I thought I had removed everything the dogs could get into, and Scott made sure all the doors were shut, but we learned that Aro can actually make the 4 foot jump onto our dining room table. I have to admit, I'm pretty impressed with the little rat. Plus, the mess wasn't nearly so bad as it could have been, seeing everything he had access to on the table - my green flip flops even made it out unscathed!!

Now, I'm checking my files again, and will probably work on my other project (looking at the time of death of Y-linked genes, now pseudogenes), while Scott focuses on his paper, and dogs enjoy us being home.


Friday, August 6, 2010

DC schools take steps to healthier kids

Via Ed Bruske (aka The Slow Cook)

DC schools will no longer be serving flavored milk and sugary cereals to kids. Way to go DC. Not that I don't love a glass of chocolate or strawberry milk, but I approach it as a treat, like any other dessert, because of the abundance of sugar. It's funny how some food items still have a "healthy" perspective, when they're secretly harboring the extra calories and unnecessary sugars/fats/additives that we would all be better off without (not just kids).

Ed writes:
Chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk, as well as sugary cereals such as Apple Jacks, Raisin Bran and chocolate-flavored Little Bite Mini-Wheats, have been standard fare for breakfast in D.C. schools. Flavored milks contain nearly as much sugar as Classic Coke or Mountain Dew, and when served alongside sugary cereals and breakfast treats such as Pop-Tarts. Giant Goldfish Grahams and orange juice, consitute meals containing 60 grams of sugar before classes even begin. That's the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar, more than a quarter cup.
Whoa! If I weren't already conscious of diet for me and Scott, just because I want us both to be happy and healthy, I'd really get off my butt to start investigating these things before our little lady (in 5-6 years) starts off in school. Or, really, even earlier, if she has to go to daycare.

I worked full time at a daycare in North Omaha for a year during undergrad. It was a supremely rewarding and enlightening experience for a variety of reasons. I helped care for children ranging from 6mo to 12yrs. I learned a lot about kids, nutrition, education, life...

I remember that every day we would have an afternoon snack; sometimes it was graham crackers and cheese (a very reasonable snack, I think), but sometimes we would have oreos or chips ahoy. Now, the kids LOVED cookie days. But, I wonder, how would they have reacted if we'd ever had fresh fruit or vegetables? Sliced apples, while still sweet, have no fat, and are loaded with fiber and vitamin C (relative to cookies at least). I understand that, given our limited staff, the number of kids, and the low budget most day cares have to deal with, that packaged snacks are convenient and affordable.

But, maybe that's the problem. The convenience is difficult to get around - preparing anything fresh takes time and hands that we didn't have, but I think that our country would be better if there was a shift to subsidize healthy - and fresh - options, at least for kids. I imagine that it is much easier to make healthy decisions as an adult when you've learned them as a kid.  I can say this with some certainty because I know the opposite is true; kids who are obese are significantly more likely to be obese as adults. They are also also less likely to be successful romantically, economically or educationally.

Okay, obesity is getting a little off track because nearly all the kids I took care of were very active and thin. That doesn't mean they are getting the right nutrition at home. Sure, cookies are calorie-dense, but that's about it. Also, diabetes isn't a disease limited to overweight people. Also, many impacts of poor nutrition don't manifest themselves in fat deposits. Poor nutrition can result in anything from anxiety, hair loss, fatigue and heart attacks to depression, strokes, hypothyroidism and acne. Further, poor nutrition can contribute to the decay of teeth and gums.

Nutrition education and implementation needs to start somewhere, and that somewhere should be with kids. It is easier to reach kids in a public school setting then trying to send home information to parents who may or may not read it, and, if they weren't taught growing up themselves, will be unlikely to make any permanent changes in their homes. Moreover, in addition to simply not knowing what is nutritious and what is not, many parents may not be able to afford healthy fresh foods.

So (stepping off my soap box),

Why shouldn't we do everything we can to help all kids get on the right track early on?

PAWS in special need of dog volunteers

Like to get up early? Wondering what to do after work?

Volunteer at PAWS!!

Because all dogs deserve the chance for a loving home, to get into blue highlighter, and to lick their people's faces:

If it makes you feel better...

I had a doctor's appointment recently and ended up (surprise, surprise) taking a tangent while talking to my nurse, or listening to her, I should say. I sat and listened, nodding when appropriate, while she explained the past couple of years of her life. At one point she started describing how important establishing her faith in god was to helping her, prefaced with a passing comment that she hoped it wouldn't offend me (without actually waiting to see if I had any objections). To be honest, it didn't offend me. She wasn't trying to convince me, she was just explaining (albeit completely inappropriate for the environment) about her life experiences to me. Who am I to be offended at what makes her feel better, so long as it isn't hurting anyone or anything else?

That's why I like Christopher Hitchen's (a vocal atheist) response to people praying for him (both for his demise and for his recovery). He knows it won't change his views, and it seems to make people feel better, so why get upset over it? The great thing about most of us is that we have the luxury of free time, and the freedom to choose what we want to do with that free time. Although we may disagree about what constitutes a good use of time, it can be said that one person's waste of time is another's treasure. So go on, spend your time however you see fit, so long as you aren't berating, abusing or neglecting people, animals or the environment (like my caveat!).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's a girl!!

Baby girl Sayres:

She stayed still long enough to get a picture of both feet:

and one more pointing out the face and arm:

week 11 of plowshare produce

This Week’s Veggies: carrots, beets, celery, swiss chard, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, cantaloupe, tomatoes, lettuce, garlic and parsley.

First off, thanks to any readers who found me randomly (and to those who check in periodically)! I'm always excited to find out someone reads the blog - it is a little hard to advertise because I include a little bit of everything here, but always happy to have you stop by, even for just a couple posts!!

Tonight for dinner I made an tasty spicy sausage and potato soup:
Spicy Sausage and Potato Soup
- 2-3 leftover grilled spicy italian sausage
- plowshare produce veggies: potatoes, onions, garlic (a whole head!), swiss chard (the whole bunch), and a couples cups of broth (1 chicken, 1 veggie)

Dice onions, smash garlic - saute together until onions are translucent
Dice potatoes, add to pot 
Add broth, bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender
Dice sausage and add to pot - bring to a boil again
Slice swiss chard into manageable pieces and add to mixture - cook until chard is slightly wilted

Here is an update on the last of our delicious chicken (purchased from Plowshare Produce's neighbor). I baked it to bbq-sauce-covered crispy, juicy perfection for dinner yesterday:

Last night, along with the BBQ chicken, I also finally finished up the last of our beets (until we received some more today) by pickling them:

Pickled Beets:
Cook beets
Peel and slice
Cover beets with a mixture that is equal parts sugar, cider vinegar and water
Refrigerate until ready to eat - at least one day

The carrots and celery will be sneaking their way into Wingfest this week. The cucumbers and tiny tomatoes will be afternoon snacks (gotta eat healthy for the baby!), and I'll cut up the cantaloupe for breakfast and/or snacktime. We will probably use the lettuce and larger tomatoes in a salad along with the picked beets. We just need to figure out what to do with the parsley, zucchini and the next installment of beets - maybe cook them up for our friends who have never had beets before! :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

How lucky am I?

Typing from my laptop, watching our freshly bathed dogs battle over a tennis ball, I just felt a little flutter from our developing seamonkey. I have a husband who loves, supports and cares for me. We are both get paid to do what we love, we have a nice home, and never want for food or drink.

How is it fair that half-way across the world, where people are just now waking up (it's nearly 6am there), women are subject to severe and life-threatening corporeal punishment at the Taliban's whim?

It is unfair of me, but I still am completely torn about our presence in Afghanistan. I think that US can do a lot of good for the people there, but, from what little I know, it should involve a lot more education, and infrastructure. And not just American education - we need trained Afghani instructors teaching boys and girls, and men and women, of all ages.
Literacy of the entire population is estimated at 34%. Female literacy is 10%.
Illiteracy is a weapon of the evil and the terrified, because it leads to people learning, seeking new information, and forming their own opinions. (Certainly mis-information can abound, as there are many examples of here, and while dishonest the writers of such muck know that they also have to compete with reputable, reliable information.)

So, I guess today, I'm just very thankful to be literate and loved.

Baby's now the size of a cantaloupe!

Really, at 20 weeks, it is just the length of a cantaloupe (~6.5 inches and ~10.6oz).

According to our email from

Baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid every day, both for nutrition and to practice swallowing and digesting. And, these days, those taste buds actually work! Studies show that after birth, babies respond best to tastes they've already had via amniotic fluid. Meaning, think about what you'd like your future child to eat as you prepare your own lunch.

So I'd guess I have even more incentive now (aside from the baby's health and my own) to eat well, limiting the sugar and fat.

We have our ultrasound tomorrow (Tuesday) evening, but tomorrow is also plowshare day! I'll do my best to get up both posts, but likely I'll make you all wait an extra day to find out the sex. (I have to find some way to keep you coming back for more!)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rescue Ink

I just finished reading the book Rescue Ink:

I highly recommend it!! The book is a hodgepodge of stories, both contemporary, and histories of each of the guys. It is a fairly easy read, that is both entertaining and informative. Although, like the Rescue Ink guys themselves, I am often frustrated by:

"seeing animals discarded like fast food wrappers"

and learning how much neglect and abuse is really allowed under our current laws.

As I write this, our two pound puppies (Chip, a chihuahua whose black and tan coat resembles that of a minature German Shepard, and Aro - pronounced "R.O.", short for R.O.U.S, Rodent Of Unusual Size - a black and tan, rat terrier-chihuahua mix with more energy than a greyhound) are sleeping contentedly in their kennels, only opening their eyes when I make a big movement.

It has taken a little while for them both to become familiar with their kennels, which they now consider a "safe spot", and although we have the basic commands down, we certainly need to train them more, especially before the baby gets here!

As the book states, though, we're not rushing it:

Slow and steady wins the race, and the same applies to dog training: It is better to end on success, and before the dog gets bored or tired.

Chip was neglected, about half the weight he is now when we adopted him, but very friendly and quick to learn. He never had an accident in our house (aside from being violently sick from the neutering the first night we brought him home).

Aro, however, was both neglected and abused. Not nearly so bad as many of the animals discussed in Rescue Ink, but enough. His old home rarely let him out of his kennel, he was kicked often, and he was not house trained. He was very skittish when we first brought him home, and is still wary of new people and dogs. Aro came from an Amish puppy mill. When we got him he needed surgery on both his knees for luxating patellas. Basically, his knee caps didn't stay put and were rubbing down the bones, causing him lots of pain and limiting his mobility - his left knee was basically useless. Thankfully there is a fantastic Orthopedic dog surgeon here, Dr. Michelotti, who did a wonderful job fixing his knees (although there is a slight possibility one will need to be re-done because the damage was already so severe. What really upsets me about the whole situation is that this problem generally occurs, with this severity, later in life, and it is a genetic defect, meaning that his mom and/or dad both suffer from it, probably severely, and they are still being bred because they made adorable puppies that people will buy.

In the later chapters of the book they discuss puppy mills, attending the fifth annual Puppy Mill Awareness Day. It was held nearby in Lancaster PA, because Pennsylvania has such a huge problem with unlicensed breeders, especially the Amish:

According to Puppy Mill Awareness Day organizers, in 2007 Pennsylvania mills sold 124,296 dogs and puppies, with 156,534 remaining at the kennels for breeding.

Many mill dogs live in wire-bottomed cages, which splay and deform their feet bt allow urine and feces to fall through, sometimes onto the dogs below them.

You would think that would count as neglect and abuse, but not under current US law.

I just ordered a book mentioned in Rescue Ink by Jana Kohl, Rare Breed of Love. I'll let you know how it is.