Friday, December 3, 2010


Yesterday afternoon I happened to glance at my car's display around 5:28 pm, and noticed that I had driven 452.8 miles on the current tank of gas at an average fuel economy of 52.8 mpg.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Proloquo2Go will soon be the latest rage in Makita's household.

F1-2 is totally, entirely non-verbal, which isn't exactly easy. Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say.

F1-2 (like his parents) is often frustrated when he clearly has something to say, and we don't understand him. A few things have recently come together to allow us to take a gigantic leap in our interaction with him.

1. Since the Summer of 2009, F1-2 has discovered the wonderful world of computing, and he's quite good at it. We have a Netflix account and he can navigate to his favorite episodes of Blue's Clues (still his favorite, 8 years and counting). More than that, even with his limited fine motor skills he can navigate to his favorite part of each episode with remarkable ease. We've been looking for ways to use his skills in innovative ways, but never found anything that was quite right.

2. We started using a picture-based system called PECS to communicate with F1-2. It was a great idea, but there were some snags in the implementation. When we started our youngest, F1-3, thought there was nothing funnier than hiding the pictures that were attached to a board on the wall with Velcro. Later on, F1-2 caused problems himself.

When he wanted to use the computer, he would hide all the pictures except the one for "computer".

Of course, the pictures got crumbled, sucked on, lost, flushed down the toilet, you name it. And when the pictures aren't available the whole communication system just falls apart.

On the good side, F1-2 would very quickly pick up on the meaning of newly introduced pictures. We were running out of space, there were too many pictures. And we couldn't get very specific with the pictures either. We only had enough room for "drink", but couldn't ask "water" or "juice". We couldn't keep up with his increasing "vocabulary. This is a good thing.

3. The makers of Proloquo developed a portable version called Proloquo2Go to be used with the iPod Touch. Within a few months it was a big, big hit, being used for many children with communication issues. Extremely portable, lots and lots of pictures were possible, a huge leap. Not perfect though. The screen is small, so it's sometimes hard for children with fine motor skill issues (such as F1-2). Also, the volume isn't quite high enough to allow the iPod to "speak" for the child.

4. Apple came out with the iPad.Wow! It's a humongous iPod. Large screen, much louder, still very portable. Amazing!

So, a training, and several hundred dollars lighter, we're expecting an iPad and a couple of iPods next week. The iPad is mainly for use at home, the iPod for on the road. The Otterbox has been ordered to prevent major damage to the iPad. You wouldn't believe how excited I am, and how much I'm looking forward to hear what F1-2 has to say.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A meme!

It's time for a meme! I can't remember the last time I did one, so it's definitely time. I saw this one on Academic Ecology this morning, so let me get started:

1. What is your favorite word? Love
2. What is your least favorite word? Hate
3. What turns you on? Humor. Nothing more sexy than a funny guy (hi P1!!)
4. What turns you off? Lies. Ugh, the mere thought of a lie makes me shiver.
5. What is your favorite curse word? Crap.
6. What sound or noise do you love? Happy sounds. F1-3 singing in the bath tub, my husband talking on and on at night while we're lying in bed, it really doesn't matter what he's talking about, as long as I can hear his voice. F1-1 playing basketball in the driveway, F1-2 surfing the web and finding Blue's Clues.
7. What sound or noise do you hate? Gunfire (on tv, I don't get to hear it for real), or any sound of violence.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Astrobiology.
9. What profession would you not like to try? Stay-at-home mom. I have nothing but the highest respect for the moms that do that, but I would go berserk.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "What the heck are you doing here?"

Update on Makita's life

I haven't been posting much lately. Things have generally been going well, so there isn't much to complain about. Exceptions:

1. Our beloved cat had to be euthanized last week. A big hit for the entire family, she was a fairly young (6 years) kitty and she was a valuable member of our household. We're all devastated.

2. My plans to get the new Leaf feel through when my 12-year old car developed problems that would require large sums of money to fix. Unwilling to invest any more into the old car, I had to get another one, and I just couldn't wait for the Leaf. I did decide to lease the new car, so in 3 years I'll be back on the car market, and by that time the Leaf will be in it's 2nd generation or so.

3. F1-1 who is particularly saddened by the demise of our kitty has taken his apathy to new lows, and is struggling to keep his grades up. No amount of positive or negative incentives have worked so far. We'll keep on dragging on, but it gets tiring.

4. My marriage to P1 is going through a bit of a low spot right now. Nothing serious. We're just over-worked, don't get to spend enough time together, always have kids around, you know the drill. We'll be ok, I'm sure, we go through ups and downs like any other couple, but right now, we're definitely in a down. The reason I think we'll be ok is that we genuinely are crazy about each other, and we see eye-to-eye on the most important things. The reason we struggle sometimes is that we're both incredibly stubborn, and a bit self-righteous, so when we do disagree on something, it poses some problems.

There is also some good news. My temporary (3-year) car isn't exactly horrible. I'm driving a brand-new 2010 Prius, and it's fa.bu.lous. What a pleasure to drive, what clever, modern design, what great gas mileage. I can go on and on, but you get the idea.

In more good news, it looks like my boss managed to secure funding for me for another 2 years, starting in January. Yeah! I love working here, so I've turned down two other job offers with better benefits to stay here. I'm so happy I stuck around. It's not cast in stone yet, but it's looking pretty good right now.

Edit: More good news, I almost forgot! Since about mid-Summer I've been trying to lose some weight. Simply eating a little better, and switching one meal a day to cereal (usually something oat-based) with fruit, I lost a whopping 18 lbs! I still have the same breakfast as always, I eat whatever I would normally eat for either lunch or dinner, and switch the other one to a modest oat-meal based meal. Today I'm wearing a pair of jeans that I couldn't fit in for the past few years. Not bad, eh?

Sunday, August 1, 2010


A postdoc (PD) in our lab was using another lab to do a particular technique that we're not well-equipped for. Such lab-sharing is not uncommon. PD asked a postdoc (SH) in the other lab to point out the location of the hazardous waste container. SH asked if s/he would be made co-author on the paper if s/he did so. PD stared at SH, turned around and returned to our lab.

I had worked briefly with SH in a lab some years ago, so PD asked me if SH is a very funny person. The answer was no, SH definitely did not strike me as funny. PD told me what had happened and asked again, if this was simply a display of dry humor. I again told her I didn't think so.

PD went to the SH's boss to ask the same questions. The boss apologized for SH's behavior. Apparently SH is been having some trouble getting data published lately. I understand that SH is desperate, but authorship to point out the waste container? That's got to be some kind of record.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Conversations in the lab

One of the post-docs in our lab says to our boss:

"I'm going to be in this other lab around the corner. I'm going to fix my tissue"

The boss (never missing a beat): "Why? Is it broken?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Next month, I will have my current car for 12 years. And my beloved little car is sure showing it's age. It's become very obvious that her days are numbered. We just bought a car last year, so we're not looking forward to do it again any time soon. Sadly, the choice may not be up to us. I've been very, very happy with my '98 Nissan Sentra. It's been reliable, low cost, a true pleasure to drive, so much so in fact, that we bought another one last year. We did look at other cars, however our experience with the sentra was the eventual clincher. Perhaps we've been infected with the brand loyalty bug, because I got really excited when I found out a while ago that Nissan is bringing an all-electric car on the market at the end of the year (in my area more like Spring next year). Meet the Leaf.

It'll go about 100 miles per charge, which is plenty for me, even allowing for lower efficiency because I'm hauling kids and cargo around. I've been drooling for weeks now.

There are some obvious drawbacks:
1. Although you can charge it on a regular 120V outlet, it'll take so long for a full charge (20 hours), that at least initially, Nissan will only sell the car to those who have installed a dedicated 240V charging station at their home. This will cost about $2000.

2. Even though it was designed for the general consumer market, it's still expensive for me, at a starting price of about $32k. Add tax, title and insurance, and.... ouch! There are supposed to be federal incentives, but for now those only extend to the end of 2010, no longer valid by the time I can get one.

3. I guess I'm still a little squeemish about the idea of not having a gas-backup. I'm totally aware of that fear being irrational. I'm never worried when I leave the house in my current car, that it'll run out. And I wouldn't have to make a detour to go to a gas station, my "gas station" would be at home.

4. My town isn't large enough I suspect, to invest on a large scale in charging infrastructure. Since I'd charging at home, this isn't too much of a problem, but still.

5. This doesn't have anything to do with the Leaf, but a major drawback is that my car might not last until next Spring. That's 9 months away! I'll consider myself lucky if my car goes for another 9 weeks. Wait, make that 9 days!

Check it out! I reserved my Leaf:

However, instead of the blue one pictured, I want the snazzy red one:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gotta brag

Did I mention I *heart* my boss? He went to TAM8 this past weekend and brought me back a present. I'll be up all night reading. Are you jealous yet?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Believe in an afterlife?

Late night tv commercial:
...if you've taken this or that medication and you've experienced one of the following: symptom1, symptom2, symptom3, or sudden death, please call the number on your screen.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

There's a lot more going on in there than we know

My son, F1-2, has special needs. He is completely non-verbal, he makes some sounds, but if they mean anything in particular, I don't understand his language. Over the past year or so he's made tremendous progress in communication by using pictures. Specifically, the PECS system of communication. We have a board with velcro strips on the wall, and the pictures stick to the board. If he wants anything, he gets the appropriate picture and hands it to us. We started out with 1, then 2, and gradually worked our way up to about 8 pictures.

A few months ago he also learned how to open a web browser, and navigate his favorite tv show on Netflix. So it was time to add an additional picture to the board, a computer. By the end of the first day, it was by far his favorite picture. We didn't really have to teach him that one.

A few weeks ago, all of his pictures suddenly disappeared. It was hard to communicate with him without the pictures. I finally found them in a stack underneath the couch. I thought he might have slid them in the crack between the wall and the couch, but why would he do that? Maybe it was F1-3? She's been known to pull pranks. And so has F1-1.

I put all the pictures back on the board. Within a week they all disappeared again. All, except for "computer". Huh? Now I'm certain that he must have done it. He wasn't going to risk losing access to his computer, so he was careful to leave that one out. I still haven't found the pictures. There really is more going on in his little head than we give him credit for. Sneaky little fellow.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


To my dear friend Joyce,who is Dr. Joyce now! Way to go Joyce, I knew you would finish up!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Panic mode!

Hi, I'm back! Remember how I didn't post much because I didn't have anything to complain about? Ok, here's a post. Well, not really a complaint, but I'm officially in panic mode, and it's my own fault.

I love, love, love my postdoc job. And I love, love, love my boss. In a he's the smartest-most-dedicated-best boss in the world kind of way. Of all the things I like about him, I think his best feature is that he very quickly realizes your strengths in the lab, and he tailors (as much as possible) your project to match with your talents. This results in a happy cycle of liking-what-you-do -> doing-it-well -> liking-what-you-do. I've always told him that the one thing that's missing from my job is a teaching component. Add that in, and I'll be in science heaven.

Be careful what you wish for, eh?

My boss is leaving for a few days, and has asked me to teach his classes while he's gone. Of course, I immediately said "yes!" Thinking: woohoo! Then it occurred to me to ask what he was teaching. "Piece of cake" he says. "Topic A, really basic stuff, and topic P, kind of related to topic A, and then a third topic, I don't really remember what it is. But you'll be great!" Sigh... I wish I had his confidence in me. I haven't really kept up with topics A and P over the last, uhm, 7 years. And I dread to think what the third topic might be.

Anyway, so I took a deep breath. How bad can it be? So I said (hoping that I sounded calm and collected): "Oh, ok, sounds good. These are undergrads, right?" My boss, casually: "No, this is the graduate class." Do you think he could see my heart sinking? Because I could feel it beating in my feet. I answered: "Oh, ok. No problem."

Excuse me for a sec.
Now there, that's much better.

I had a wee bit of imposter-syndrome when I graduated. But having to teach graduate-level classes on topics A, P, and who-the-hells-knows-what-else is bringing that to new heights. What if there are 5 students from professor So-and-so in that class? You see, that lab works on this topic, and they'll know far more than I do, and will be more up-to-date.

I have no one to blame for this but myself. I got *exactly* what I asked for. Part of me is also a bit excited. I have a book on topic A. It's 16 years old, but it covers the basics. I dug it up, and since I'm home with a sick little F1-2 today, I've been reading a bit, and trying to refresh my memory. There is not better way to learn something than having to teach it. I like learning, I want to learn about these topics. I just wish the students were a little less advanced, and I was a little more advanced. That'd be nice. I would feel a little more confident.

My boss has very graciously offered me his class notes, and will go over them with me this week. I have time to prepare. And I have time to get over this nervousness. I sure hope I do, otherwise my stuttering may not get me past the first 2 sentences.

Normally, I perform well under performance pressure, and hopefully that'll proof to be the case here too. Just having written this post makes me feel better. That's what blogging's all about for me. I'll let you know how it turned out. Or not. In which case I probably dug a hole for myself in the backyard, crawled in it, and closed it up above me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On the playground

F1-3 talked about her day at "school" last week. School means daycare.

F1-3: We played at the swings today.
Makita: Oh. Was that fun?
F1-3: Yeah, we were pushing each other and talking and laughing.
Makita: What were you talking about?
F1-3: Joey was using potty-words. That's not allowed in my school. But he was doing it anyway, and it was very funny. So we were laughing.

Typical. She's knows it's not allowed. But if it's funny, who's to stop her?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Some things never change

This post is part of the virtual baby shower for Sciencegirl . After 3 kids, one of which has special needs, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on kids. Of course, my kids go out of their way to prove how arrogant that is of me. They never fail to come up with something that makes me think: "now how do I deal with this!"

So, I guess that's the first thing I want to share with Sciencegirl. Kids have a mind of their own. They may resemble both parents, but they're very much individual people, even before they're born. Someone asked me once whether it isn't wonderful to have a little life to mold. You've got to be kidding me! They mold you and not the other way around. Having said that I found that my children bring out the best in me.

I also found that children have a personality before they're born. F1-2 was always a very quiet baby when I was pregnant, to the point that I was concerned, because he wasn't moving enough, and he is still my most docile kid.

A couple of weeks before the birth of my first baby, F1-1, we had a huge multi-course family dinner. Lots of fun! We were served the most yummy soup ever. The dining table was a little lower than normal, and my belly was resting against the bowl of soup. F1-1 had always been a little wild during my pregnancy, I didn't know any better, this was my first child, so I figured this must be normal. Suddenly F1-1 gave one of his huge kicks and the bowl tipped over. In my efforts to save the bowl, I spilled the soup all over the table.

Yep. he was a wild one, my F1-1. Some things never change.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Frequency of posts

Why does Makita not post as often as she used to? It only occurred to me recently. Well, I know I haven't been posting very often, but I didn't realize why until recently. I still enjoy reading blogs, and I like writing blog posts. I love getting comments, however small. So what's up?

When I started this blog as a graduate student, things were a little.... shall we say hectic? Crazy? Over the top? Take your pick. It wasn't easy. Being a full-time graduate student with 1, 2, 3 kids. Some argue I have 4. Horrible health insurance, questionable stability in immigration status. Blogging was a great outlet for me. I could rant and rave in (relative) anonymity, and bitch and whine, and complain. If my readers didn't like it that was fine, there were plenty happy, easy-going bloggers out there to entertain them.

But 2009 has been very good to us. After graduating in late 2008, I found a job quickly. It has turned out to be a wonderful job. We won a major court case in the Summer, we traded in our car in the cash-for-clunkers program, cutting our fuel bills in half, P1 started the application process for tenure. I almost feel bad. So many people have been hit so hard in the recession. A number of my friends have had a hard time in their pursuit of degrees, losing loved ones either by breaking up or death. Many of my friends have dealt with financial hardship. But 2009 was good for us.

We're not by any stretch of the imagination rich, especially not since we're still paying off our attorney for several more months. But we have a roof over our head, wheels to drive our kids and ourselves around, and we eat well.

So that's the reason I haven't posted much. I don't have much to complain about. I had to think whether that would mean the end of my blog. Should I stop blogging, because the initial drive is gone? Or should I re-program myself to blog even if things are going relatively well? I love writing, I guess I choose for option 2. I'm sticking around for a while longer. For as long as it's fun. And if things go wrong, I'll have a ready-made outlet to complain.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I have 4 kids

I thought I had 3, F1-1, F1-2, and F1-3. But I stand corrected. This morning I was reading "Two Peas in a Pod" by Annegert Fuchshuber with F1-3. It's a cute book about animals that have 2, 3, or more babies. The beetle even had 51, and didn't even think it was too much. I then asked F1-3 how many children I had. She answered right away: "4."

Huh? Me: "How did you get 4, I thought I had 3 kids?"
F1-3: "No, you have me, F1-2, F1-1, and daddy."
Me: "But daddy is not my child, he's a grown-up."
F1-3: "But you call him 'baby'."
Me: "Oh, ok."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Credit card commercial?*

We recently got a brand-spanking new high-def cable box (the lead-up to that is another post entirely, in the works). As I was setting it up I explained to hubby that the way I was setting it up would allow us to tape our favorite shows, but we would not be able to watch another cable channel at the same time. "That's no big deal. Shouldn't be a problem" he said.

So how come, that on the very first occasion it could be a problem, it turned out to be a problem? On Friday nights I like to tape Numb3rs. I like Numb3rs, and I've taped it every Friday it's on since.... well I don't remember for how long. A long time. Years. About 5 minutes before the VCR is set to start taping, my beloved husband sits down with the remote and starts flipping channels. "Baby, the VCR is about to start taping Numb3rs" I gently remind him.

He looks at me with shock in his eyes. "So?" Me: "Well, remember how I explained we wouldn't be able to watch another channel at the same time? You can watch a DVD if you want, but no cable right now." Indignant hubby: "But I want to watch the NBA game!" There is no use. I don't really care that much about tv, while he does. But you know, there are a few things I *do* like, and Numb3rs is one of them, and it ought not to come as a shock that I would like to continue taping it as I have for the past few years. I told him I could watch it online in a week or so anyway (that would be a little more involved for his NBA game). I walked off, went to bed, and read a book instead. But I was pissed.

I had a hard time concentrating on my book. This was going to be a problem. On Mondays I want to tape House, on Fridays I tape Numb3rs. This was going to happen again, and again. And every time I had to postpone watching the few things I like, there would likely be a problem.

This morning, I disconnected the cable box and changed it for one that records, a DVR. DVR: $9.99 per month. Saving a marriage.... pricelesss.

*For those who don't understand the title of this post, a credit card company uses statements like: "Cool item that you can pay for with our credit card: $XX, cool side-effect of doing so.... priceless.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


First of all.... Happy New Year!! I know, the year is two weeks old already, but I figured I had to say it.

I've had this coffee mug for almost 9 years. It's been with me through my MS, my job in between, my entire PhD program, and a year of post-doc. I like it. I've used it every day I've been in this building since I got it through some kind of graduate student event I helped organize back in '01. So when I dropped it on the floor this morning, and it shattered into a thousand pieces, I was a little sad. It's just some ceramic, but it's been with me for a long time. You know, emotional ties and all that.

To top it off, it shattered so thoroughly that it required me to sweep out the entire storage room. Shards were everywhere on the floor. It took me about 10 minutes to clean up the floor. And while I'm crouched on the floor, sweeping with the hand broom to get every last shard, I just barely notice this little tube underneath the -80 degree freezer. I pull it out to throw it away, but then I look at the label.

It's a tube I had taken out of the freezer this morning and needed desperately. I would never have found it if it wasn't for the fact I had dropped that mug. That tube was important. I figure, that's worth my 9-year old mug. Thank you mug. For many happy years of warm coffee, and your sacrifice for my tube of DNA.