Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm not dead yet

I know, I know. A four month hiatus. Life's been a little tiny bit hectic.

I was invited to give a talk at the conference I attended in September, so I spent the entire month of August scrambling for some last minute data and putting together my talk. The talk went well, though I was terrified (as I always am when it comes to public speaking). People seemed interested in my project which is always a nice little confidence booster.

We also had our gender ultrasound towards the end of August. It's a boy! We already had a boy name picked out, so as soon as we found out the gender we got to tell Bean about her baby brother and tell her his name. Since then she's been much more interested in the pregnancy and in her little sibling. We talk about him a lot, and she often asks us about him. The other day she asked me if he is naked in my tummy. I told her yes, but when he's born we'll put some clothes on him and wrap him in a warm blanket. "I'll help," she replied.

Husband is deep in the throes of job market hell. He has applied to over 100 places so far, and there are still more deadlines through December and even into January. No interviews lined up yet, though it's hard to tell whether or not that's a bad sign. It's starting to feel a little anxious though.

Bean moved up to the early preschool class in September and has been loving her new classroom environment. She is just amazing with her letters now, and will often spell out signs as we drive or words in books. It's pretty darn amazing. She's definitely entered a "testing the limits" stage of her development, and that gets a little tiring. Most days I have just nothing left by the time I get her to bed, and I fall asleep on the couch soon after.

I'm up to my eyeballs at work just trying to get things finished up before the baby is born. He'll be term just before Christmas and would likely be born sometime between Christmas and mid-January. (Though you never know. A friend of mine had her second child 12 days past her due date.) We're close to writing up my project, and so I'm trying to get some figures put together now and starting to outline the papers. But the days are flying by, so we'll see how much I can get done before the little one decides to make his debut.

So yeah, it's been a little busy around here. But good. Busy, but good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Potty trained (?)

Bean seems to be completely and totally potty trained (*knock on wood*). It was remarkably painless, which makes me think she may have been ready to potty train before we were. She hasn’t had an accident in almost two weeks, and this weekend she even napped in her underwear and still woke up dry. She’s still wearing diapers overnight, but in the morning she asks to potty when she wakes up and her diaper is almost dry. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s also somewhat stressful when we’re out and about. This weekend we were at the farmers market, and the nearest potty was quite a ways a way. But Bean has been a trooper and we’ve never ever had an accident while we were out.

Actually, the funny thing is that being pregnant while potty training is actually an advantage. My body acts as a built-in timer for reminding us to take Bean to the bathroom. Every time the pregnant lady’s gotta pee, chances are the toddler should too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All grown up

This weekend Bean spent all of her waking hours in underwear.  And, through diligent watch checking by her parents, Bean kept her underwear clean and dry all weekend!  

Yesterday was her first day wearing underwear to school.  She did go through two pairs of underwear, but her teachers said she did great for her first day.  I expect there are going to have to be a lot of accidents before Bean starts to understand that underwear are not the same as diapers and before she starts initiating potty breaks, but that's okay.

I'm really proud of Bean for doing such a great job on the potty.  Frankly, potty training hasn't been that much of a struggle with her.  She's generally happy to go use the potty, she's proud of herself when she uses the potty, and she excited about her big girl underwear.  I wish I could take some credit for her success, but her positive potty attitude has made this process pretty easy so far.  *Knock on wood*

Seeing her in her big girl underwear is kind of a surprise to me.  The underwear really make her look like a big girl:  she's lost her round baby belly, her legs have lost almost all of their baby chub and now look muscular and strong.  She's gone through a growth spurt I think, and drawers she used to hang on trying to reach she can now easily peer inside.

Sometimes I think my baby girl is gone, but then she cuddles against me for a story and sucks her thumb and I still have to lean down to put my head in her hair.

Baby Bean, I love you so much.  I'm so proud of you my big girl.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Food porn

Recently my dear friend Ruchi wrote a post about how most food porn features decidedly unhealthy foods. It makes sense in some ways... porn is by definition photographic fantasy, and right now I am fantasizing about vanilla bean gelato swimming in a pool of Bailey's Irish Cream, topped with almonds. (I just came up with that off the top of my head and man do I wish I was eating that right now...)

But healthy cooking is my favorite hobby. I long since stopped subscribing to Bon Appetit and Gourmet (seriously? who has that many dinner parties?) but I am an avid fan of Cooking Light.

So I couldn't resist Ruchi's call for some healthy food porn.

Here's a quick and easy "recipe" that I threw together a few weeks ago inspired by the amazing heirloom cherry tomatoes growing in my mom's back yard. Bean, who has yet to meet a tomato she doesn't like, DEVOURED it. So I recreated it tonight, paired with grilled zucchini and a grass-fed organic steak from the farmers market. Yum!

Summer Tomato and Corn Salad

15+ organic cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ear sweet corn
1 slice red onion, minced
~2 tsp fruity olive oil
1 splash balsamic vinegar
~1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Cut the raw corn kernels away from the cob (this step is messy but worth it). Combine corn kernels, tomatoes, red onion, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Let sit for ~15 minutes to let flavors meld. Enjoy wholeheartedly.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Random Bullets of I'm Too Tired to Write A Coherent Post (RBOITTTWACP)

  • Bean and I went to my brothers wedding a few weeks ago.  Some of you may recall he was in a terrible accident last year (just weeks before his originally scheduled wedding day) and almost lost his legs.  At the wedding, which was beautiful, he danced with the Bean.  I must have kissed my brother and my new sister-in-law about 2,000 times each.  It ranks as one of the happiest days of my life.
  • After the wedding we had a few days with my mom before Husband joined us to attend his family reunion.  Every single member of Husband's family there for some time out in the wilderness.  Bean spent every waking second either splashing in the water, chasing her cousins or looking for bugs and frogs.  It was a really great time.
  • Bean is really into bugs right now.  Ants, snails, moths, spiders, she loves them all.  I am doing a pretty good job of repressing my "ick" response and encouraging her interest.  No need to pass on my irrational fear of spiders.
  • Bean's most popular phrase right now is "Mama, look at me!"
  • I've gotten some really beautiful looking data in the past few weeks.  And while the analysis is kind of a slog, I'm really excited.  Before starting this experiment, I would have given it about a 20% chance of success, and it totally worked.  It almost makes up for all the times when stupid easy experiments don't work.
  • I gave lab meeting yesterday and everyone Ooh'd and Aah'd over my lovely new data.  It's nice to put one in the "Win" column now and again.
  • This pregnancy is shaping up to be very different from my first pregnancy.  I got much sicker in the beginning, I'm much more tired, and my belly has already popped.  Not in the cute "ooh a pregnant tummy" way, more in the "wow, she really let herself go" way.  
  • ...but, I've started feeling the baby kick already.  That'll put a smile on a girls face.
  • This weekend, Bean is transitioning to underwear, and next week she's wearing them to school.  She's been pottying 6-10 times a day, and I haven't changed a poopy diaper in about a month.  Um, awesome.
  • Is anyone else loving the summer produce?  I can't remember the last time I had such consistently good summer produce.  The berries, cherries, tomatoes and corn have been amazing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Birth survey

The lovely Kate over at Academic Ecology recently posted a link to The Birth Survey, run by the Coalition to Improve Maternity Services.  The survey is designed to collect detailed feedback on specific providers and hospitals/birthing centers in order to help women make educated decisions on where and with whom to give birth.

I never understood how profoundly the choice of provider could impact ones birthing experience until I gave birth to Bean.  Now the idea of informing and empowering women before and during the birth process is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

So if you've given birth in the last three years, please go participate in the survey.  I think it will be a powerful resource for expectant mothers.

Big sister Bean

Thank you to everyone for your well wishes!  We have, in fact, told the Bean the happy news.  She’s too young to really understand.  She knows “there’s a baby in mama’s tummy” and she will put stuffed animals under her shirt and tell us that they are growing, but that’s about the level of her understanding.

My earliest memory is of being just about Bean’s age now (a little over 2 years old), and seeing my mother, very pregnant with my younger brother, getting out of the shower.  I remember being amazed at the size of her belly.  You’re fat” I told her.  And she gently reminded me (for no doubt the 8,000th time) that there was a baby in her tummy.  So yeah, I don’t have high expectations for Bean understanding the situation.

And to be fair, I didn’t really understand what it was to have a baby until Bean arrived.  And though she sort of understands the concept of brothers or sisters, I don’t expect that she will really know what it means to be a big sister until the baby starts drooling on all her stuff.

But, I hope Bean will get excited as the time nears.  7 months is a long time for her to work on “getting it”, and I’m sure the big sister books will help.  For right now though, I’m happy to let her enjoy being an only child for a little bit longer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back in the saddle... sort of

Some of you may have noticed that my running counter hasn't been ticking upwards for, oh, about 6 weeks.  Frankly, I've been too sick and exhausted to run, but it's for a happy reason.  Husband and I will be expecting our second little Bean in January 2010!

It's been a pretty rough first trimester (and I'm not out of the woods yet).  I don't remember being THIS exhausted or so darn sick with Bean.  But maybe that's just the hazy mommy memory (what?  labor was painful?  I don't remember that.).  It's also possible that experiencing first trimester woes was significantly different when I could baby myself all I wanted instead of chasing a toddler around.  

Either way, it's been tough.  But I seem to be through the worst of the nausea now.  And though I'm still ready to keel over and die of exhaustion at the end of each day, I've started some light running again this week.  Getting back to a more regular exercise routine is bound to make me feel better both mentally and physically and I hope I can keep it up.

The bonus is that 6 weeks of semi-forced rest seems to have allowed my shin splints to finally heal.  *knock on wood*

Anyway, we're pleased as punch.  It's a little strange being pregnant the second time and feeling like it's already so different from the first pregnancy.  All of my symptoms started earlier, including some very undesirable symptoms that didn't kick in until late in my first pregnancy.  I also don't feel as focused on or connected to the new baby yet, most likely because I'm so focused on and connected to the Bean.  That will probably change once I start feeling the baby move.

I also feel much more paranoid this time around.  I feel like the Bean came out so perfectly and there are so many things that can go wrong... how can we get that lucky twice?  We're doing prenatal tests this time that we didn't do with the Bean, to hopefully settle my nerves a bit.

But we're excited as heck.  I know the first couple of years managing two kids will be tough, but I know too what a gift our second little one will be.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Springtime "snow" storm

The cottonwoods in Dissertation City have started shedding their fluffy little seeds.  At my house, the trees are dropping their seeds so rapidly that the fluff is falling through the air like snow, accumulating in drifts in the parking lot and along the edge of the grass.  

Bean is very excited about this new development and for the last two days has wanted to "step in the fluff", as she puts it.  I was a little hesitant, as Bean has somewhat sensitive skin and I didn't know if it might irritate her little legs.  So last night I put her in her rainboots and she had a grand time stomping around, kicking up the fluffy seeds and squealing in delight.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Silence is the Enemy

I am shoulder-deep in really exciting data, but while my motif search is running, I wanted to take a quick moment to draw your attention to this piece in the New York Times, as well as an effort led by my favorite blogger Dr. Isis to not only raise awareness of the crisis in Liberia.

Dr. Isis has some excellent suggestions on how you can get involved, from donating to Doctors Without Borders to contacting your representatives in Congress.

Thank you to Dr. Isis and her fellow bloggers for highlighting this critical issue.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

41 things about Bean

1. Do you like blue cheese? Um, yuck. But my mama sure likes it.
2. Have you ever smoked? Nope.
3. Do you own a gun? Nope.
4. What flavor Kool-Aid was your favorite? Never tried it.
5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? Nope, but I scream like hell when the doctor starts trying to examine me.
6. What do you think of hot dogs? Never had one.
7. Favorite Christmas movie? My mama let me watch a few minutes of Frosty the Snowman at Christmas. I wasn't impressed.
8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Milk.
9. Can you do push-ups? Nope, but I'm pretty darn strong and my newest trick is turning doorknobs.
10. Favorite piece of jewelry? Anything dangling around my mama's neck.
11. Favorite hobby? Describing everything I see/do in real time.
12. Do you have A.D.D.? Is there such a thing in a toddler?
13. What's one trait you hate about yourself? I actually love myself a lot. To the point of singing songs about how much I love myself. My mama hopes that never changes.
14. Nick names? Bean, Goosey, Ticklebelly.
15. What are you doing at this exact moment? Napping.
16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink? Milk, water and milk.
17. Current worry? Pup stealing my food.
18. Something you hate right now? People getting all up in my grill.
19. Something you love right now? The spider that built its web right next to the front door.
20. How did you ring in the New Year? Chilling with Grandma B.
21. Where would you like to go? To the zoo.
22. Three people who will complete this? I'm taking all comers.
23. Do you own slippers? I got a hand-me-down pair of polar bear slippers recently, but I mostly like wearing them on my hands.
24. What shirt are you wearing right now? A little navy henley with polka dots.
25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? Never had the pleasure, but my mama thinks they're creepy.
26. Can you whistle? No, but I try to copy Daddy's whistling. It basically sounds like I'm saying "hoo hoo hooo".
27. Favorite color? Pink. (I know, my mama's a little worried that she's already warped me, but nonetheless I always choose pink.)
28. Would you be a pirate? I'm not sure I understand the concept, but I'd like to have a parrot.
29. What songs do you sing in the shower? Singing in the Shower by Sandra Boynton.
30. Favorite Girl's Name? Kylee. It's my best friend's name, and I name everything I can Kylee.
31. Favorite boy's name? Daddy.
32. What's in your pocket right now? Nada.
33. Last thing that made you laugh? Mama kissing my belly button.
34. Best bed sheets as a child? I have no interesting sheets. Just stupid green ones with little flowers.
35. Worst injury you ever had? I bonked my head at school and gave myself a giant goose egg a couple of weeks ago.
36. Do you love where you live? Yes. I'm a Dissertation City Baby.
37. How many TVs do you have in your house? One, but I've only watched it a couple of times.
38. Who is your loudest friend? My dog, Pup.
39. Does someone have a crush on you? I don't think so.
40. What is your favorite book? Currently: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.
41. Favorite Sports Team? Me and Daddy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kids say the darnedest things

Me:  Bean, Auntie H just found out that she has a baby girl in her tummy.

Bean:  And Uncle J has a baby boy in his tummy.

Me:  Seems reasonable.

Monday, May 11, 2009

RBO Mothers Day

*I had a really lovely Mothers Day, and it kicked off with Bean sleeping in until almost 7:00. Awesome. 

*As I lay in bed, Husband got up and retrieved Bean from her crib and then while Bean and I cuddled and read books, Husband made us challah french toast.  Double awesome.

*Bean sang "Happy Birthday dear mama" during breakfast.  Close enough.

*We all dressed and, after a brief stop off at my lab (colonies!), we went to meet some friends at the park for playtime and a picnic.  I spent a blissful morning running barefoot in the grass with Bean, helping her dig in the sand, and blowing bubbles for her and her little buddy.

*An exhausted Bean took a really good nap, which meant that I could take a really nice nap.

*We ended the day on a high note, with Bean as a willing dinner table participant and probably 45 minutes of cuddly reading before bedtime.

All in all, pretty much exactly how I wanted to spend the day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Home again, home again

Oh my poor neglected blog.  I have ignored you, and for that I am sorry.  But I had a good excuse!  A wonderful, though sometimes heartwrenching, excuse.

I took a vacation.

A real bonafide vacation.  And oh internets, it was lovely.  It was only the second big trip I have ever taken.  All other trips have been trips to see family, weekend camping excursions, or weekends in Vegas (twice).  Three years ago Husband and I took an amazing (belated) honeymoon trip to Spain.  On returning, we immediately began socking away money for another big trip.  Italy?  Belize?  New Zealand?  We didn't care, but we were saving.

We had socked up quite a little nest egg, or at least a pretty good one for two postdocs with a kid and a mortgage.  But ultimately neither one of us could afford to take much time away from the bench, and neither one of us felt comfortable spending a lot of money on a vacation at a time when the economy is so terrible.  

Husband convinced me that what we really were in short supply of was couple-time, so we decided to leave the Bean with her grandma and take a little 4 day jaunt to a warm and sunny locale which shall remain nameless (but which may or may not have been stricken by a horrible and fast moving virus).

Now, this all seemed like a good idea when we booked the trip in February... a few days of sunshine and margaritas, sleeping in and generally talking to each other about things other than poop and crayons.  But as the time approached, I became less enthused with the idea of being separated from Bean for 4 days.  In fact, if we had bothered applying for a passport for her, she would have come... I literally wouldn't have been able to leave her.  But as it was, she didn't have a passport and Husband said if I didn't go he was going alone... so we went and Bean stayed.

And apparently Bean did not miss us at all.  My mother said she never cried once because we weren't there.  I, on the other hand, was totally pining for my daughter the entire time.

But, while my mommy side was heartsick and missing Bean, the wife side of me had a fantastic time.  I can not tell you how lovely it was to not only spend time with my husband, but just to be outside in the warm warm sunshine.  And to swim in a lovely pool.  To eat ceviche.  To read 3 books which did not have animals as main characters.  To sleep 8 hours a night.  We went snorkeling (which we could never have done with a toddler).  We had wine with dinner.  We stayed up late.  We got up and drank coffee watching the waves.  It was lovely.


On the other hand, with Bean waiting back at Grandma's, I was more than happy to come home.  Bean met us in the airport, and I cried when I hugged her.  

Now we are back in Dissertation City where it is grey and rainy.  My commute has been a total mess.  Husband is taking time points in lab in the middle of the night.  Bean is working on one of her molars.  But surprisingly, I'm happy to be home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Open Letter...

...To my Bean,

Sunday is your second birthday.  It’s trite, of course, to say that these past two years have flown by quickly, that you’re growing up so fast.  To say that it feels like just a heartbeat ago that I lay down in bed with you still nestled in my belly, breathing with my lungs.

The night before you were born I felt you try to turn.  You got your little body transverse, which must not have been an easy feat in that crowded little womb.  After a minute you settled back into position (little did I know your feet were pointing down).  I like to think that you knew that your birth was approaching, and that you tried your best to get into the right position.

Labor was like white noise, like static, isolating you and I.  The doctors around us, talking to each other, talking to me, but they were miles away.  It was just you and me, sweet girl.

Later in our room, as I nursed you for the very first time, daddy played a CD for us, Iron and Wine.  When I listen to that album now, joy still balls up hard in my throat.

I still have an image of you, in our first days home, napping with your daddy on his bare chest.  He’s asleep, you’re swaddled but you’ve slipped your thumb into your mouth, and my entire world is there resting in cotton sheets and new pillows, grey filtered sunlight and the smell of too much sleep.

Every night before I go to bed, I sneak into your room alone.  I pet your damp curls and stroke your cheek.  I slip a finger into your palm and you close your fingers around mine.  I stay just a minute and tell you that I love you.  Sometimes you sigh and my heartbeat responds, a perfect harmonic.

Last night after dinner we settled down for story time on the couch.  This is my favorite time of every single day.  You snuggle into my lap, thumb in your mouth, rest your head on my shoulder.  It’s one of the few times each day when I still get to hold you.  I kiss the back of your sweet little neck, or bury my face in your soft fine hair.

When we read stories now, you often show your little stuffed animals or dolls the pictures.  “Look Froggy,” you say, pushing your frog’s face into the page.  Sometimes you “read” the books to us.  I love to see how much you know and understand, to see you discern patterns in the prose.  You love rhythm and music, and are lulled by the cadence of my voice as it rushes over the words.

You’re singing, always singing.  Songs I don’t even know.  You make up your own words to songs sometimes, telling us what you see or wish to do.  You ask us to sing to you too, and sometimes ask “Mama and Dada and Bean sing all together?”

You’re growing quickly, my sweet, precocious, mercurial little girl.  But no matter how much you grow, how strong and independent you become, you and I will always be connected.  You will always be mine.

Happy birthday, sweet baby.  Happy birthday.

With Love,

your mama

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nerd Humor

Labmate 1:  I'm such a moron

ScienceMama:  You're not a moron, you are the complete opposite of a moron.  You're an anti-moron.  *thinks for a second* Hey Labmate 2, Labmate 1 is a subatomic particle... an anti-moron.

Labmate 2:  An anti-moron, huh?  

ScienceMama:  Yes, that's why LB1 and I are such good baymates.  She's the anti-moron to my moron.

Labmate 3: But wouldn't you annihilate each other?...

Labmate 1:  Maybe that's why my experiments aren't working.

Labmate 3:  ...and for the universe to exist, wouldn't there have to be more of one particle than the other?  Are there more anti-morons or morons?

Labmate 2:  I think we all know the answer to that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Mother of All Recipes Carnival!

I asked, and you answered. The Mother of All Recipes Weeknight Cooking For Busy Girls and Boys Carnival (TMOARWCFBGABC) is here!

Dr. Isis tempts us with her Herb Coated Filet and Basil-Feta Pasta Salad. A easy weeknight treat, especially if you make the pasta salad the night before, and/or marinate the filet in the herb paste overnight.

Efficiency guru EcoGeoFemme takes us on a magical one-dish journey with her Asparagus Quiche, a.k.a Egg Pie. A true weeknight special, this dish has your veggies, your protein, and your butter food groups all in one convenient dish! Using a store bought crust, or by doing it as a frittata instead of a quiche, this recipe only takes about 15 minutes of active work. Throw in a salad and you've got yourself a well-rounded meal!

EthidiumBromide has a classic weeknight cleaning-out-the-fridge suggestion, Shepherd's Pie. Chock-full of veggies, but with minimum chopping requirements, this is another well-rounded dish that comes together with minimal counter time. (Also, her picture looks straight out of a magazine!)

ScienceGirl posted two great weeknight meal suggestions, including an awesome looking schnitzel. I'm drooling just thinking about it, and I know it's something Bean would LOVE. Throw in some steamed veggies and you're good to go!

Scientia Matris also serves up two loaded-with-veggies toddler-friendly recipes, Fried Rice and a yummy looking Chicken and Sweet Corn Soup. Both easily fulfill the nutritious, delicious, and quick and easy requirements.

Your favorite snarky postdoc, Candid Engineer, shares her weeknight standby Shut Up and Eat Pasta. She clearly knows the way to my little Bean's heart, who loves both eggs and pasta. Put 'em together? That's a happy Bean. This recipe scores points for being easily adaptable to whatever veggies you have in the fridge... throw in some asparagus, some cherry tomatoes, heck even some peas, and you've got yourself a nice well-rounded dish.

ScientistMother shares her weeknight standby recipe, Broccoli Chicken Casserole. This dish can be assembled in about 20 minutes (probably even the night before) and certainly looks like it makes yummy leftovers.

As for myself, I shared my Everything But the Kitchen Sink Pasta recipe, and now my favorite Jamaican-Spiced Chicken Thighs recipe.

Female Engineering Professor also recommended the Cook's Illustrated 30-Minute Meals Cookbook. Based on my experience with Cook's Illustrated (i.e. that their recipes never fail), I'm going to have to pick this one up myself. I'll let you know how I like it.

Thanks to everyone who participated! I'll be trying these recipes out in the coming weeks! I'm always happy to add new recipes to my stockpile of favorites!

And in the future, I think I'll post more easy weeknight meals. It sounds like something we could all use for inspiration!

Weeknight Recipe #2: Jamaican-Spiced Chicken Thighs

So this recipe is not a ScienceMama original.  It is ripped directly from my favorite cooking magazine Cooking Light.  It's been a standby in our house for a couple of years, though we've had to tone down the heat (i.e. leave out the jalapeno and cut the red pepper by half) to make it toddler friendly...

I wanted to have my own pictures for you, but I had some kind of stomach bug for the last two days.  A photo from the Cooking Light website will have to suffice.

Jamaican Spiced Chicken Thighs

1/4 cup minced red onion
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp dried thyme
optional: 1/4 tsp red pepper
optional: 1 Tbsp finely chopped, seeded jalapeno pepper
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

3 sweet potatoes, sliced up into french fry-like shapes
olive oil
salt & pepper

broccoli, green beans, salad or other green veggie

Mix together red onion, sugar, spices, cider vinegar, soy sauce, and jalapeno if using.  Put chicken into a ziploc bag and add marinade.  Marinate 20 minutes to overnight (I like to make this up the night before so the marinade really gets up in that chicken's business).  

Preheat oven to 450.  Combine sweet potatoes, 1-2 Tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, tossing gently to coat.  Spread sweet potatoes in single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet.  Put sweet potatoes in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Using a spatula, flip the sweet potato "fries" and then return to the oven until crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, about 10 minutes more.

Grill or broil the chicken breasts until done, about 12 minutes.  Plate with sweet potatoes fries and green veggie of choice.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Race day

Yesterday was my half marathon, the third half that I've run.  It went really really well.  I beat my previous best time by two minutes, despite a very hilly course.  1:57:48.

Today my legs are aching pleasantly.

Tomorrow a light run.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Weeknight recipe #1: Everything but the kitchen sink pasta

So here is a great weeknight dish.  The recipe makes enough for 2 hungry adults and one starving toddler, with leftovers for lunch the next day.  It may seem weird to use beans with pasta, but believe me, it's delicious.  And my little Bean loves beans.

Figure 1.  Ingredients, lovingly displayed.  All quantities are -ish.

-2 oz of thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
-1 medium onion, chopped
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
-1 can crushed tomatoes
-1/2 cup basil leaves thinly sliced, stems reserved
-1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
-about 1 tsp fennel seeds
-about 1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
-about 1 tsp kosher salt
-optional: 1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
-2 cups spinach leaves
-1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
-1 lb pasta (large shells worked nicely)
-fresh ricotta cheese (1 Tbsp per serving)

Serve with:
salad (or for toddlers, cherry tomatoes and cucumber)
asparagus, grilled or broiled
bread for sopping

All right, let's get started.

First, dump your pancetta into a pan over medium heat.  Cook that (fancy, salty Italian) bacon until it starts to brown on the edges and the pan is nice and greasy (see Fig 2).

Figure 2.  Mmm, bacon.

Next add your bell pepper, onion and garlic to the hot greasy pan and cook about 6 minutes until the onion looks brown and caramel-ly.

Figure 3.  Nothing says lovin' like onions cooked in bacon grease.

Optional step:  At this point, if you've got a bottle of white wine laying around, definitely deglaze the pan with the white wine, pour a glass for yourself and then continue.

Next up, add your tomatoes, spices and reserved basil stems.  (The basil stems should impart a bit of basil-y goodness to your sauce as they simmer, but should be removed before the next steps.)  Now, while the sauce is simmering (for about 20 minutes or so), sit on the floor of your kitchen and read a book with the kiddo(s).  Or have a conversation with your spouse.  It's totally up to you.  DO NOT read a Nature paper.  It will totally kill the mood.

Figure 4.  A steamy pot of goodness.

Okay, once the sauce is nice and simmered, remove the basil stems, add your spinach and white beans.  Let the spinach wilt (~2 min).  Sauce is, as the say in France, le done.

When your pasta is ready, dump your sauce over the top and stir in the parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Figure 5.   Tomatoes, bell pepper, spinach, beans... all add up to a well-rounded sauce.  But you'd better believe I'm adding two kinds of cheese.

Putting it all together:  Top your pasta with a generous dollop of fresh ricotta, the shredded basil, add your grilled asparagus and bread, and TA-DA!

Figure 6.  Plated for grownups.

Figure 7.  Plated for kiddos.

Figure 8.  A saucy little Bean enjoying her "big" asparagus.

The case against breastfeeding(?)

My dear friend Ruchi passed along this article about breastfeeding to me and wanted to hear what I had to say about it. The main thesis of the article is that despite the claims of breastfeeding advocates such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, parenting know-it-all Dr. Sears, and La Leche League, the evidence that breastfeeding actually reduces the rates of childhood obesity, allergies, and illness, increases IQ, and promotes mother-child bonding and attachment is far from definitive.

[The medical literature] shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes. More like tiny, unsure baby steps: two forward, two back, with much meandering and bumping into walls. A couple of studies will show fewer allergies, and then the next one will turn up no difference. Same with mother-infant bonding, IQ, leukemia, cholesterol, diabetes. Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design. “The studies do not demonstrate a universal phenomenon, in which one method is superior to another in all instances.

The author goes on to discuss the fundamental problem inherent in most human studies: that in order to perform the study ethically, you can not randomize participants into breast-feeding and non-breastfeeding groups. And because of that, scientists are always chasing their tails, trying to control for factors which could confound the results (things like age of the mother, income level, number of siblings in the household). It's not surprising then that studies are often conflicting... some studies show that breastfeeding is beneficial in one area or another, other studies show no difference between breastfeeding and formula. The author notes:

The IQ studies run into the central problem of breast-feeding research: it is impossible to separate a mother’s decision to breast-feed—and everything that goes along with it—from the breast-feeding itself...

My decision to breastfeed had little to do with whether or not there was "proof" in the literature. My decision to breastfeed was based on the idea of breastmilk as a whole food, while formula is more of a synthetic food. I think of breastmilk as YEPD and formula as SC. I know my yeast grow a hell of a lot better on the rich, complex mixture of yeast extract and peptone than they do on synthetic amino acids and ammonium sulfate. I find the complexity of breastmilk reassuring... I mean there was a time when we didn't recognize that Iodine was an essential trace element. I really don't expect that we have identified all of the essential components of newborn nutrition that promote optimum growth and development.

That being said, I think that the benefits of breastfeeding are relatively small (when compared to the contributions of things like genetic makeup, family income, parent's education level, etc). And this is why observational studies like the ones the author discusses have such a hard time proving any significant benefit.

The author's main point, which she obscures with her rather bitter and unfriendly tone, is that the small benefits that breastfeeding may (and I would argue likely) provide don't justify the (sometimes militant) pro-breastfeeding culture. And I couldn't agree more. There has to be a balance between providing women with the cultural and practical support that promotes breastfeeding, and one which does not demonize women who, for any number of reasons choose not to breastfeed.

And, somewhat off topic:

Given what we know so far, it seems reasonable to put breast-feeding’s health benefits on the plus side of the ledger and other things—modesty, independence, career, sanity—on the minus side, and then tally them up and make a decision.

I actually found this sentence a little offensive. Just because this author finds breastfeeding miserable doesn't mean that everyone does, and I resent the way she presents breastfeeding as nothing but minuses. Yes, breastfeeding can be challenging, demanding, tiring, but it is also immensely rewarding. I wouldn't trade my time nursing Bean for anything.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2 days of clean

The past week has been a little nuts. Husband is quite literally burning the midnight oil… he’s doing an experiment that runs 24 hours a day for 6 days. He brings the microscope home with him at night and sets it up in our bedroom, then has a timer set to wake him every 2 hours to attend to it. Thankfully this little experiment in misery should finish today. I am so tired, it’s like having a newborn all over again.

On top of the experiment from hell, we are also hosting our parenting group for dinner tonight, and tomorrow Husband’s mother arrives for a visit. And last but not least, my race is in 10 days, so I’m in the heaviest week of my training schedule. Phew.

Each night, after I get Bean fed, read and off to bed, I’ve been baking, cooking and scouring the house (with much help from Husband). I keep a pretty clean house in general, but whenever we have an out-of-town guest or host a dinner, I’m absolutely neurotic about getting the house clean. All the little things that you don’t clean every day (like, say, scouring the little grease pans on the stove) and all of the big cleaning chores (like, say, washing the curtains and bleaching the grout of the kitchen counters) are suddenly staring me in the face.

I have this very visceral memory that is always in the back of my mind whenever guests are coming over. One time, in grad school, I went to a Thursday night poker game at another students house. When I went to the bathroom, I was literally assaulted by the mounds of pubes covering the bathroom floor. It was kinda disgusting, just the sheer volume of pubes. So I perched rather gingerly and did my business.

I always have images of that bathroom in my head when guests are coming to my place. What mess have I become inured to that is screaming to my guests that I am actually a slob? And so I overcompensate. I clean like a deranged lunatic.

But, at least my house is spotless for once. That’ll last for about 2 days, I should think.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Mother of All Recipes Carnival

All right guys and dolls, for several weeks now I've been pondering hosting a cooking smackdown here in the blogosphere. My inspiration is this: there are a lot of domestic and laboratory gods and goddesses here on the internets. You aren't just bringing home the bacon, you're fryin' it up and serving it hot for your spouses and kids.

I personally cook 6-7 nights a week, and it's essentially all from scratch. I admit that I'm not making my own pasta or making my own butter (like some amazing mothers I know), but I'm not serving up hamburger helper either. I'm servin' up nutritious, homemade, well-balanced meals every night. But a girl needs more than just her standby recipes, and I need food that's hot and fast (like yours truly).

Your challenge, dear readers, is to decide on your favorite homemade, nutritious, and preferably toddler friendly weeknight meal. Leave a comment here on this post when your recipe is up, and I will post it as a carnival (along with my own submission) on Wednesday, April 1st.

Pictures highly encouraged. Especially pictures of your toddler slathered from head to toe in your submission.

All right, you have your marching orders. Now give me something hot and tasty. Werd.

ETA: Being a parent is not required for participation in this carnival, I simply encourage recipes for a busy weeknight. If you have your own blog, please post a link to your recipe in the comments. I'll compile the carnival for April 1st. If you don't have a blog, leave the recipe in the comments, and I will post it here on MOAS.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The generation of lost post docs

With the economy in such dire straights, it’s been a terrible year to be finishing a post-doc. Post-docs that have done incredible work, who at any other time would have excellent job prospects, are finding themselves without a single interview invitation. Many universities have canceled their job searches. Other universities that are continuing their searches are rumored to be less likely to hire a candidate, and even if they do hire someone will likely offer less generous start up packages to new hires.

I can’t help but wonder if this will be the generation of lost post-docs. Husband is certainly worried about his job search this fall. A few years ago I would have said that he would be a shoe-in for a position somewhere, but in this economy no one is.

Will academia lose out on the scientists who are currently (or will soon be) out there in this toxic job market? Where will we all find jobs if academia isn’t hiring and biotech is laying people off left and right?

I feel like we’re all dressed up with no place to go.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Interview Meme

Bean-mom has tagged me for the interview meme. And although my response is quite belated, here goes...

1. Several months ago, you wrote that you were exploring alternative career options in science and had taken on some contract work (in science writing, I think?) Could you give us an update on how that's going?

In short, not that great. I take do a little bit of editing/writing contract work last year as a way to broaden my CV and explore some alternative career work, but I haven’t had much time to do any further exploration. Somehow between a postdoc, raising a toddler, and dealing with the legal fallout from our household troubles I haven’t had much time for extracurricular activities. Which is sad, but now that life is settling down a bit I might have a bit of a chance to get back to that in the coming year. And I’m open to suggestions!

2. What is the latest cutest thing that Bean is doing?

Um, Bean is awesome right now. She is BIG on pretend play which is so much fun. She crawls around roaring and pretending to be an ocelot. She is caring for her stuffed animals, feeding them and putting them to bed. She has recently been acting out the story line for Goodnight Gorilla, first freeing all of her animal magnets from the “zoo” (aka the refrigerator), then pretending she’s Zookeeper Bean and returning each of the animals to the “zoo”. She has started singing songs with a tune now, and she will initiate songs that she’s learned at school, teaching them to us. She tells us bits and pieces about her day at school, who she played with or what work she did. She wants to do everything “by self”. Whether it’s walking up the stairs or putting on her pants or clicking into her car seat, everything is by herself. And we’ve just had our first unprompted “I love you”s. Um, best episode ever.

3. If you'd never taken college biology, what do you think you'd be doing now?

I truly have no idea. In high school I planned to study literature. In fact, I was registered as a lit major until my junior year at Hippie U. But my freshman year I decided I wanted to be a physical therapist. Hippie U didn’t offer a physical therapy degree, so I started taking the premed classes instead. I ADORED my science classes, and excelled at them. After my sophomore year I was offered a summer research internship, and the rest is history.

So had I never taken college biology, I might be a librarian. I might be a physical therapist. Or I might be a pastry chef and own my own bakery (that’s my other secret second career). But lots of days I daydream about becoming a nurse. So yeah, I have no idea.

4. What is your favorite vacation?

I have only taken a handful of trips in my life that were to do something other than attend a wedding or see family. The most vacation-y vacation I’ve ever taken was when Husband and I took our honeymoon in Spain for 10 days. It was a-freakin-mazing. It was hot and lovely and we wandered around visiting lovely old mosques and walking on cobblestone streets and hiking and visiting olive farms and just generally doing what we wanted when we wanted. It was fantastic.
My requirements for my next vacation: someplace warm and sunny where I can lay around and get tan and have a beer at 2:00 in the afternoon because I feel like it. Doesn’t that sound just lovely? (In case you’re wondering, they’re predicting more snow to hit Dissertation City this weekend. Sigh.)

5. Would you ever consider relocating to the Midwest?

I consider it a very likely possibility. Husband is planning to submit one paper in the next couple of weeks and another paper in a couple of months. And then this fall he’ll (finally) be applying for tenure track positions. So chances are pretty good that we’re relocating, and furthermore that we’ll have little say on where we’re relocating to. Sometimes it breaks my heart because I miss my family in CA so much, but I try to look at the positives. We’ll get to explore a new place, hopefully live someplace more affordable than either California or Dissertation City, and hopefully settle in for the long haul. So I’m looking forward to the move, wherever we land.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Sometimes my bench is clean. Sometimes my desk is clear. These events appear to be mutually exclusive.

I'm not dead yet

Wow, have I been remiss! I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last posted… Between training for my race, simultaneously potty training and weaning my toddler, jury duty, car troubles, a weeklong visit from my very best grad school friends, and wrangling with some awkward lab politics that I can’t get into, it has been an incredibly busy month!

The briefest of brief updates: I’m doing fine, great actually. My project kinda has me frustrated right now, but I’m through the “is this ever going to work?” phase and into the “I will clone this motherf***er if I have to ligate the phosphate backbone myself” phase. That’s usually more productive.

Husband has been burning the midnight oil. We have an incubator set up in our dining room and a microscope on the desk in the bedroom so that he can make it home for family dinner and then get back to work once Bean is off to sleep. One of my dear friends mocked us deservedly for our home lab setup, but one of my friends used to bring her western blotting supplies home with her at night, so surely a microscope can’t be that bizarre.

My training is going fairly well. I’m logging about 35 miles a week right now, and several of those runs are quite hilly. But I haven’t been keeping as strong a training pace as I’d like because my shin splints are back and I’m trying to avoid a full-blown injury. I’ve come to accept that I may not finish this race under 2 hours, and I’m only mildly annoyed by that. I figure if I can just make it to race day and complete it without injury, I’ll have done pretty well. Although I’m secretly hoping for some race day adrenaline that pushes me to finish in 1:59:00. But we’ll see.

Bean is, indeed, potty training right now. She’s using the potty around 4 times a day right now, to much praise from her doting parents, but I’m hard pressed to see how we will go from potty as novelty to full-time potty use. I have to do a bit more reading I guess.

And this week I officially weaned the Bean. She’s done pretty well with the transition. She’s still asking to nurse at our usual times, but doesn’t seem too upset at my explanation that the “milk is all gone.” I, on the other hand, have been in terrible pain all week and hope that my body gets the message soon that there will be no more nursing.

In my next post, I will (finally) respond to the Bean-mom’s interview meme. But for now, there’s a 0.8% gel with my name all over it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A change in the tides

I don't know what kind of president he'll be. He might screw up, he might not do everything he promised. He'll compromise on things that I think shouldn't be compromised (gay marriage for one). And he probably won't change the way that Washington operates as much as he would like to.

But damn. It feels good to have a president who shares my values again.

Can I get an Amen?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wait, do you work here?

2009 has gotten off to a kind of rocky start. In addition to finding out that Husband’s change in funding source meant a net decrease in take home pay (and that he doesn’t qualify for his institution’s retirement benefits because he’s apparently a “new” employee), my paycheck dropped as well as our health insurance premiums quietly jumped 33%.

But the thing that really has me down this week was a more long-term stressor. Husband and I want to have a second child, and I’ve always been biased towards trying to space the children fairly close together. I was hoping for 2 years between babies, but with Husband’s job search happening a year later than we had hoped, we figured three years apart would be the most practical. Which would mean trying to get knocked up sometime this summer.

As we try to figure out where the hell we’re going to get the money for a second child, I tried looking into what the maternity leave policy would be now that I’m being paid by a private fellowship instead of off my boss’ grant. I couldn’t find any information on family leave in my Fellow’s Handbook, so I contacted the American Cancer Society directly. The response shocked me.

No paid parental leave. As in 0.00 days of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Instead they offer to put the grant on hold until I return to the lab and extend the grant termination date.

I was really taken aback by their response. In 2008, the NIH extended their parental leave benefits from 30 paid days to 60 paid days of leave. Damon Runyon offers their fellows 12 weeks of paid leave. So I was really really surprised by the ACS policy of no paid leave.

It’s really frustrating. As a postdoc, you don’t accrue vacation days or sick leave or personal holidays. Postdocs are often in a weird unclassified vortex of suck. We’re not employees, we’re volunteers… who happen to have bosses and get a paycheck. We sometimes qualify for benefits. Sometimes not.

I know that I’m lucky to have a paycheck and health insurance and some stability in my employment. But I’m getting old here, people, and it’s frustrating to feel like I still don’t have a “real” job. Instead I’m still stuck in the confusing world of not-quite-an-employee. It makes me feel like I’m still a grad school.

I’ve contacted one of the officers of the Postdoc Association here at the University to see if I have other options, and I’m waiting to hear back. But I’m frustrated and grumpy.

I’ve also started reading “Nickeled and Dimed” to remind myself just how lucky I am.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An open letter...

To the lady who happens to take the 6:30 a.m. bus with me from the Park and Ride:

It is 6:30 in the morning. I am a pretty polite person in general, but you should be able to tell from my body language that it is too early in the morning to engage me in a conversation about the weather, the bus system, or about pretty much anything at all. Until I get in a cup of coffee and my run, you are dead to me.

Grumpily yours,


To the driver who tried to run me over this morning:

Look left AND right before turning right on red.

See you in hell,


To the forces of nature:

Thank you. After weeks of temperatures below freezing, 40 degrees feels downright tropical.

Happily yours,


To the Bean:

Please, please, please... go back to sleeping through the night. Mommy is so tired. So tired.


With love,

Climbing up the academic ladder

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The ghost in the lab

It’s the beginning of a new year, and Husband has run out his time on his training grant. So for the first time in five years he’ll be paid by his PI.

The change in funding source shouldn’t bring dramatic changes to ones income, but it always does. The most obvious example is going onto a private fellowship. These often pay slightly above NIH scale, and can provide a little bump to your paycheck. But there are much trickier ways in which the funding source can affect your net pay.

For example, the last two years Husband was on a NIH training grant. For some reason, getting paid on a training grant (at least at Husband’s institution) isn’t treated like regular income. Taxes, Social Security, Medicare weren’t taken out of his paycheck. But it’s still taxable income. So Husband dutifully paid his estimated taxes each year, but got to pocket money that might otherwise have been taken out for SS and Medicare.

Moving onto his boss’ grant, those things will now be taken out of his paycheck, to the tune of something like 8% of his income. That’s a huge net loss for us. A couple hundred dollars a month.

The bright side, we thought, was that Husband would finally be allowed to participate in the institution’s retirement plan (with associated fund matching). So yesterday Husband marched in to the benefits office to sign himself up.

No dice they told him. He is considered a new employee and won’t qualify to participate in the retirement plan until he had been at the institution for a full year.

Um, he’s been there for almost 6 years.

Crap like this happens all the time and it’s complete bullsh*t. I don’t understand the principle of penalizing your grad students and postdocs for successfully acquiring their own funding. At both of our institutions your position is classified according to who’s paying you, and it changes the number and types of benefits that you qualify for.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.