Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Happy Birthday to P1! Celebrations to follow later, but will not be open to the public. We wouldn't want to shock anybody now would we?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Grad school and kids

Often when people find out that I'm in grad school and that I have, not one, but 3 kids, I receive wide-eyed reactions that go something like "how do you do that"? For a couple of years, I was even a single parent in grad school, and I lived to tell the tale. So, how do I do it?

Basically, the answer is, I just get up in the morning, do what needs to get done, get as much sleep as possible, and be happy. No point in bitching (too much) about it, I've made my bed, and I try to make it as comfortable as humanly possible. I've vowed to be happy no matter what life throws at me, and I'm a happy, fulfilled human being. I derive great pleasure from all aspects of my life: my kids, my husband, my work, science, and my colleagues.

My father told me once that having your first child is realizing that for the very first time you love someone else more than you love yourself. And becoming a better person as a result. I derive a great deal of comfort from the knowledge that this describes how my parents felt about me when I was born. I would take it a step further. Not only did I feel the same way when F1-1 was born, to my great surprise I love my second child just as much, and the third one too. They are all so different, with their own little quirks, likes, dislikes, moods, and personalities, and they are all so loveable, and a source of indescribable joy.

I suppose I do sacrifice a thing or two. A social life, for one. P1 and I go out to dinner once or twice a year whenever my mother-in-law is in town. And it is really hard to find time for myself, but I do have some. I exercise two evenings a week, and P1 and I spend most Friday afternoons together. He finishes early on Fridays, so we have lunch and then do something else together until it is time to pick up the kids. On the weekends we take turns sleeping, while the other gets up with the kiddos. Things aren't perfect. We should make a greater effort to do more as a family during the weekend, and we really ought to spend more time working with F1-2 on special skills such as communication, and P1 and I need to work on spending more quality time together, but all things told we're doing ok. And we're trying to do better.

There are actually also advantages to having kids. They help me out too. When I go home in the afternoon, I have no choice but to leave my work behind and relax the brain. Children demand our undivided attention. This gets a bit tricky when you have to work on the weekends doing qualifying exams, but overall it's a good thing. I derive a lot of pleasure from my children though, and it is very nice to be able to let go completely of the daily research stress, and just be a mommy.

I suspect every parent in a position similar to mine will likely tell you the same thing. You just do what needs to be done and try to make the best of it. The most important thing to me is to be happy, and I am.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

4 down, 1 to go

On Monday I turned in my 4th qualifying exam. Even though it wasn't hard, I procrastinated and had to do most of the work on the last day. Needless to say, the kids gave me a tough night, so I was exhausted. And it was P1's turn to sleep in, so I had the kids glued to me in the morning too. On top of that I didn't feel well all day. Recipe for disaster. It took me most of the day, but eventually I did get all the articles I had to read summarized and all questions answered by 7 pm. I never did re-read it. I just published it to pdf and sent it on its way. For better or worse. I'm now waiting on my last (written) exam. I still have an oral exam in February, and then, hopefully, this torture will be over. The last exam will be the toughest one by far. For now, I'm enjoying the pleasure of doing research. It's a nice change.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Some like it hot...

The weather that is. And although I can certainly relate, it never fails to amaze me that our microwave refuses to offer services when it's cold. The number pad simply does not respond to our insistent prying and prodding. Trust me, I tried. This morning was no exception. The very appliance that is supposed to heat my milk in the morning so that I can be warm and fuzzy (not to mention, less hungry), simply refuses to work until the temperature in the house rises to a more acceptable level. The last time this happened I had to wait for about an hour (with frequent pressing of numbers on the instrument), and finally the number 7 worked. So I put my mug with milk in, hit 7:77, then waited until 6:22 to take my milk out. Everybody else's heating activities could then be continued by counting down from 6:22. By the time the 8 minutes had been used up, the microwave had heated up enough for the other numbers to work too. One day, I promise you, we'll be able to afford a microwave that is not exclusively functional in the tropics.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Qual #4--Piece of cake

It certainly looks like it. This is going to be the easiest exam ever. Since the exam is from an external member on my committee, his field is very different from mine. Exam questions on his field (which is what I was dreading) would be very tough for me to answer, and I would most certainly do an inadequate job. On the other hand he would not be able to ask or assess questions on my field.

So, he chose a totally different approach, and supplied me with 3 articles from popular science-related magazines, geared towards the general public, and has asked me to critique them. In one case he asks how the problem discussed relates to my own research. In addition he asked some questions about how I see my own future career, and my opinion about my education at this university. Interesting, unexpected, but interesting. Since the questions are largely opinion-oriented, I don't see how I could possibly fail this exam, short of not doing it at all. My answers are limited to 10 lines per question, and I have a full week to complete the exam. Dang, I wish they were all like that. Well, not really. The truth is, I may not have fond memories of the last 3 exams, but I did learn an awful lot. I feel so much smarter than I did 3 months ago. It's too bad that once my oral qualifying exams are behind me, it's all downhill from there on. I will never know that much about my field again.

Smart women

To contrast my post below on women (and children) who become victims of abusive men, this link.

Thanks to Bora for the link, thanks to Peggy for posting this.

The first computer programmers were women, for lack of available men during the war. Can you even begin to imagine what the world would be like without their efforts?

I can't help but notice that one of the women resigned her job to get married, another to raise a family. I'm hoping it was their personal choice (which I applaud), and not because they were prevented to have both a career and a family because of their gender (which I object to). I do know that everything needs to be analyzed in the context of the times, and that values change over time. Since Frances Bilas Spence and Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer were among the pioneers of the information age, I hope they were ahead of their time in their personal life too, and that they were empowered to make the choices for themselves and their families that they wanted to.


When I picked my son up from school last week after he had spent the holidays with his biological father, he had his hair braided in 16 braids, with clear beads. It looked very cute, I must say. I was also quite surprised when I saw that. Since when did my ex starting spending money on F1-1's hair care? It surely is a good thing, right? He's actually making progress.

Yesterday F1-1 asked me if I could re-braid some of the braids that were starting to come undone. When I loosened the one up front, it became immediately obvious that someone had cut off the front clump of hairs in a rage. It was coarsely and unevenly cut. I asked him what had happened.

F1-1: "My father cut it" he says.
me: "But why?"
F1-1: "Because I didn't do my homework."

I was literally speechless, and that doesn't happen very often. My eyes filled with tears, and I had to swallow hard to dispense of the lump in my throat.

me: "How do you feel about that?"
F1-1: "Well, I didn't do my homework..."

Have you ever seen a movie where an abusive husband/boyfriend cuts the hair of his wife/girlfriend? Why is this considered abuse? Here are the reasons I can think of (feel free to add more in the comments):
1. The woman feels humiliated by having her hair cut like that and has to actively hide this fact from her friends and colleagues.
2. It is a control issue for the abuser. He has control over the (quite possibly intimidating) scissors, and he subconsciously lets her know that he could have cut her neck if he wanted to. It is out of the goodness of his heart that he actually *only* cuts her hair.
3. The abuser may actually think he has "controlled his anger" by not physically hurting her, but in his anger, he could easily have hurt her physically. In addition, emotional hurt is just as abusive as physical hurt.
4. The wife may take great pride in her hair, and the cut of course, destroys it.

I realize that I may be posing this stereotypically as abusive male vs abused female victim. I understand that I'm biased and know there may be cases where the genders are reversed, but this is the most common kind of abuse, and one that hits very, very close to home.

Not only have I been on the receiving end of the abuse from the same guy that is now obviously abusing my son, I'm also nearly powerless to do anything about it. My son is getting humiliated by his father and I can't help him anymore than giving him a hug, and telling him I'm sorry, and that I'll take him back to the hair dresser to fix the braids, and that we'll cover the uneven spot off as much as possible until it grows back.

F1-1 has a great, wild mop of hair on his head, and he takes great pride in his handsome looks in general and his mop of hair in particular. This must hurt him beyond believe. It also explains, of course, why his father agreed to have his hair braided. It was to hide the short clump of hair, and to pretend to make up for his actions. It is all so familiar to me. He used to do something similar to me.

After he hit me, and stormed out of the house, he would come back home crying, with his arms full of flowers and chocolate. He was really, really sorry, he didn't mean to do that. But it was actually a little bit my fault too. If I didn't make him so angry, he wouldn't have had to hit me. For a long time I bought this. Yes, I know, I'm an idiot. But I'm not alone. This is very typical for an abuser/abused victim relationship. The abuser succeeds in making the victim believe that they are partly to blame for what happens, and that it is in their power to change it, and prevent it from ever happening again. Together with the strategy of preventing the victim to form meaningful relationships with others, this is the recipe for the continuing cycle of abuse.

My son is buying it too. "Well, I didn't do my homework..." means "I am to blame for what my father did. I was bad, and he did what he had to do to teach me a lesson."

After writing all this, I know I have to find a better way to help him. I don't know what I will do, but this cannot continue.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The PCR song

The new PCR theme song from Bio-Rad.

There was a time when to amplify DNA,
you had to grow tons and tons of tiny cells.

Then along came a guy named Dr. Kary Mullis,
said you can amplify in vitro just as well.

Just mix our template with a buffer and some primers,
nucleotides and polymerase too.

Denaturing, annealing, and extending
Well it's amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do.

PCR, when you need to detect mutations.
PCR, when you need to recombine.
PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is.
PCR, when you need to solve a crime.

(repeat chorus)

HT to Pharyngula

Friday, January 11, 2008

Update on Quals

As it turned out... that one question I had for my 3rd qualifying exam? Ugh! That was torture. It went something like this: How do you explain broad host range pathogenicity and limitation of host range in plant pathogenic fungi? Yuck! And my answer is... evolution. Somehow I didn't think that would be quite enough to pass the exam. I was supposed to finish the exam before I left for warmer and greener pastures for the break, but sadly, one kid after the other got sick, and then everything spiraled out of control.

I had to ask for an extension of the one week I was given for the exam. That wasn't a problem, luckily, the professor didn't mind. The bad part about that was that I had to take the exam with me on vacation. Not a good idea. Try writing a qualifying exam, when the only internet access you have available is dial-up at 28 kb/s, and when your main goal in life is to eat breakfast twice, lunch twice, dinner twice, and then go out for drinks and fun. Eventually I figured out that if I went to my aunt who lives a few doors down from my parental home, I could catch someone's wireless signal. Strangely this wasn't password protected, so I sat in my aunt's kitchen and downloaded a bunch of papers, to go home, and work on the exam there.

Between good food, drinks, friends, family activities, parties, and hanging out with P1, I didn't do much, and I ultimately turned in a mediocre, but hopefully just barely-good-enough-to-pass exam. It took me another week or so after I had gotten there to finish it up. If I pass, I'll post a cleaned-up version of my response for those who are interested in plant path.

I'm expecting my next exam either today or Monday. I'm hoping it'll be Monday, so that I have the weekend to clean up the house. Still a big mess after our trip.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I'm not as think as you drunk I am!

I wasn't even hungover on New Year's Day. I had a fantastic three weeks at home. Lots and lots of good food, quality family time, excessive dancing, thoroughly soaking the brain in alcohol. The stuff fairy tales are made of if you ask me. The kids had a great time with grandma. P1 and I went out more times in the past couple of weeks than we have gone out in the past 8 years put together. It was really nice to reconnect with him and my kids. I met so many friends that I haven't seen in decades, it's hard to keep track.

When I got back it was so cold, I was ready to turn back around and catch the first flight back. But, the work calls. This year I have to graduate, so I need to kick into high gear. I'm spending this weekend sobering up, unpacking, cleaning up the house to make a fresh start on Monday.

Happy New Year!!