Archive for: October, 2010

Scary repost: Neighbor kids, ergot, and zombies.

Oct 29 2010 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

A conversation that happened just over two years ago as my better half was clearing plates from the kitchen table and I was cooking something.

Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Hey, I thought our kids like zucchini bread.

Dr. Free-Ride: They do. That piece was [the kid across the street's] -- always gladly accepts a snack, never has more than a few bites.

Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Huh.

Dr. Free-Ride: I think that's why when our kids are over there, there are so many snacks. If you have a kid who only eats a little at a time, you have to feed continuously.

Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Why don't our kids eat like birds?

Dr. Free-Ride: I'm going to guess that genetics have something to do with it. But their metabolic reserves will carry them through when zombies have disrupted Trader Joe's supply chain.

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Friday Sprog Blogging scary repost: bloody minded.

Oct 29 2010 Published by under Biology, Book review, Kids and science

There are plenty of thrills and chills around Casa Free-Ride these days. Sadly, most of them involve stacks of exams and the horrifying spectacle of a wordy nine-year-old trying to write a concise summary of a 28 chapter book. While we get our diabolical workloads under control, here's a post from the archives appropriate to the spooky season:

Elder offspring: Blood is cool.

Younger offspring: (Covering head with blanket) I hate blood, because I hate owies!

Dr. Free-Ride: But your blood does all sorts of good things for your body. You know that you're filled with blood, right?

Elder offspring: Actually, your body is two-thirds water.

Dr. Free-Ride: And what do you think there's lots of in blood?

Elder offspring: Oh yeah, water.

Younger offspring: I hate blood. I wish I didn't have any.

Dr. Free-Ride: You need it to get oxygen to all the parts of the body.

Younger offspring: No I don't, I'll just breathe harder.

* * * * *
The sprogs recommend:

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Kids and drugs: difficulty with definitions.

I've become aware that discussions, both heated and measured, are raging in other parts of the blogosphere about the collisions between drug law, educational initiatives, and governmental agencies responsible for looking out for the welfare of children (e.g., see here, here, and here.) At the moment, looking at hundreds of papers to grade, a soccer game to coach, and a bunch of other tasks that will be significantly harder to complete (but that must be completed within the next few days), I am not jumping into that fray.

However, it did put me in mind of some of the ways our parenting has interacted with the elementary school's programing, including Red Ribbon Week, an anti-drug educational initiative that generally falls shortly before Halloween (and, coincidentally, that often coincides with National Chemistry Week. Four years ago, when both Free-Ride offspring were in the lower grades, celebrating Red Ribbon Week mostly amounted to wearing sunglasses or crazy socks or whatever that day's Red Ribbon "theme" called for. But there was also a wee bit of discussion in the classroom about drugs. As originally reported in this post, the Free-Ride parents decided to see what the sprogs had learned:

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National Chemistry Week repost: Happy Mole Day! (What's a mole?)

Oct 23 2010 Published by under Basic concepts, Chemistry

This is National Chemistry Week. It's always chosen to coincide with whichever calendar week includes October 23 (or 10/23), since October 23 is "Mole Day".

"Huh? Why would chemists celebrate a furry critter that burrows underground?"

Not that mole. The mole chemists celebrate is a unit.

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Social Studies: The Pressure to Procreate.

The following guest post was submitted by a reader who is struggling with balancing social and familial expectations as she tries to pursue a career and delays having children. She submitted this post seeking reader feedback from others who may have experienced this situation. She has requested to remain anonymous to maintain family peace, which is at a fragile state at the moment.

I adore children. I have a very sweet goddaughter who will be a year old next month, and I love her dearly. I also have an older goddaughter about to enter those dreaded teen years, and it's exciting to watch her navigate this portion of her life. My husband's best friend, whom we both consider a sister, just had a bouncing baby boy and I'm looking forward to hearing him call me "Aunty." And there are two beautifully pregnant women in the family currently—both cousins, one with her first child, the other with her second. So I am surrounded by babies. That said, I personally do not have any children of my own. This has largely been the result of careful planning on the part of myself and my husband. We have our own time line, but for many of our relatives the delay represents a huge social breach, and they are starting to bear down somewhat harshly.

I am a 28-year-old West Indian woman who married her childhood sweetheart, voluntarily, at the age of 18. He is Bengali. As a West Indian marrying into a Bengali family, you would think the transition would be easy to manage—we are from similar backgrounds after all. But it's been surprisingly difficult. I'm not sure how much of it is a cultural difference though and how much is a generational difference. It seems to be a fair mix though there are a fair number of young women who seem to be going the traditional route (i.e., getting married, having teh babiez, staying home, etc.) Now, you may also think to yourself, well, if you were childhood sweethearts, don't you know what you were getting into? Well, no. When I say childhood sweethearts, I mean real childhood sweethearts. He had a crush on me in the sixth grade! He brought me apple juice. We went to different high schools and reconnected in college, when we decided we wanted to get married. And we eloped, partly because we didn't want a a huge fuss made, and partly because we knew neither set of parents would agree to letting a pair of 18-year-olds get married.

Flash forward ten years later to a recent baby shower, where the aunts were clucking as per normal when they spotted me. "When are you having babies?" I was asked. "Why don't you want children?" "Don't you like children?" "Your mother-in-law wants a grandbaby!" I managed to deflect all of this with good cheer as I normally do (e.g., "[The MIL] has [the family dog] to spoil!") and for the most part my responses were met with jovial laughter. I'm a pro at this discussion, I thought. And I should be—I'm used to it.

And then one of them dropped a bomb on me: "What? Can't you have children? You're going to need a test tube baby!" she taunted. This declaration/announcement was made at the top of her lungs in front of a room of family and strangers, and I admit it stopped me in my tracks. It stopped most of the room too as a moment of somewhat uneasy silence unfolded. I wasn't sure how to respond. I know I was embarrassed and angry all at once. For the record, I have nothing against IVF. I think that if it can help a couple have a baby when they're having trouble conceiving, then they should go for it. Kate Clancy, who went through this process was actually featured on CNN a few weeks ago. Her story is amazing. However, from this aunt's tone, you could tell that you would be less of a woman if you needed a "test tube" baby. But that's not the point. What I was reacting to was the assumption that there was something wrong with me because I hadn't produced a brood of children yet at the ancient age of 28.

This is just the latest jab in the mounting pressure from all sides that feel I should have borne a child by now. My waistline is closely scrutinized, and the slightest bump is reason to be questioned. And since I'm not pregnant, I have no reason to carry any extra weight, so any extra bulges are evidence that I am just fat, and just don't care. It's become exhausting. This shouldn't bother me, and it hasn't for a long time, but what is starting to bother me is the derision that accompanies their statements. "We know you're focused on your studies," they say as a lead in to the conversation. Studies?? What studies? I've been out of school for two years. I've been working—trying to establish a career. Do any of you actually know me? Actually know what I do?

I'm a successful blogger and published writer. I have an advanced degree. I've won numerous awards for academic accomplishments, been in countless science competitions, and I'm a successful professional. I help build leading websites and web tools. But none of that matters. Children to this group are a sort of cultural currency. I've been measured in public based on the bag I carry and the clothes I wear, and I am measured in private by the family by my apparent (lack of) fertility. And until I produce a child, I know I won't measure up to their expectations—hell, even when I produce the child I won't measure up. Partly because I am an outsider to their cultural background (and what will I know about raising children properly?) and partly because I plan to continue working instead of staying home and raising him or her, which is also somewhat unacceptable. (The hubby was once told that marrying a smart woman is fine, but it means the house will never be clean, that there will never be food on the table, and the children will run wild.) I feel these are personal decisions. Am I crazy?

The constant questioning adds another layer of annoyance. Will it detract from the joy when we do announce we're expecting? Will there be a sense that we got pregnant because we were told to do so? Instead of "That's wonderful!" will we get "It's about time!"? Will they take credit for the fact that we've conceived? Again, I'm trying to see this from their perspective. This is a culture where women traditionally maintain the hearth of the home by remaining in it. I realize that I am somewhat of a puzzle to them and this may be their way of fitting me into their norms and expectations. But in trying to fit me in—if that's what they're doing—they've managed to minimize everything else that I've done. And I just don't think that's cool, man.

The hubby does not buy into the traditional view. He's proud of me and my accomplishments and he deflects the baby question as often as I do. He does not think this should bother me, because at this point we both know that the family will not rest until we "prove" ourselves with a child. But I am exhausted from fielding comments and questions about my fertility. It's not anyone's business, but since it seems to be everyone's business, I'm doing an impromptu cultural/gender study: ladies are you experiencing the same thing? Is this a cultural issue? Or a gender issue? Have you been through the same? How did you survive and when did it stop?

23 responses so far

National Chemistry Week repost: Elements with Style.

Oct 22 2010 Published by under Book review, Chemistry, Kids and science

To continue our celebration of National Chemistry Week, and our traditional Friday sprog-centric focus, we dip into the archives for a review of a cool children's book introducing the chemical elements:


The book: The Periodic Table: Elements with Style, written by Adrian Dingle, illustrated by Simon Basher. (Boston: Kingfisher, 2007)

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Friday Sprog Blogging: the rock cycle.

Oct 22 2010 Published by under Geology, Kids and science

The younger Free-Ride offspring shares a diagram from school.

The Rock Cycle

As promised, much of the science so far this school year has been earthy, and part of that is learning where rocks come from. (No, it's not the stork.)

Sedimentary and Metamorphic

Different kinds of rocks, of course, have different origins. They also present different spelling challenges. (Yes, I'm looking at you, "metamorfic".)

Igneous and Sediments

I kind of want to ask if there was a discussion about the size cutoff between a sedimentary rock and a sediment. (What's the biggest you could get and still be a sediment? What's the smallest clump of compressed sediments that you'd count as a rock?) But my offspring inform me that this kind of request that they spell out distinctions makes me sound like a philosopher or something.

Molten rock

Molten rock is always the prettiest.

But, I'll confess, I look at all the forces at the center of this schematic of the rock cycle:

Prevailing forces

and I feel a lot of empathy for the rocks. I think these are some of the same forces acting upon me this semester.

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Repost: The ethics of snail eradication.

Oct 20 2010 Published by under Environment, Ethics 101, Food, Garden, Personal

Since I recently reposted an explanation of one method for dispatching snails and slugs, it seems only fair that I also repost my discussion of whether it's ethical for me to be killing the snails in my garden to begin with.

In the comments of one of my snail eradication posts, Emily asks some important questions:

I'm curious about how exactly you reason the snail-killing out ethically alongside the vegetarianism. Does the fact that there's simply no other workable way to deal with the pests mean the benefits of killing them outweigh the ethical problems? Does the fact that they're molluscs make a big difference? Would you kill mice if they were pests in your house? If you wanted to eat snails, would you? Or maybe the not-wanting-to-kill-animals thing is a relatively small factor in your vegetarianism?

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National Chemistry Week repost: elements.

Still swamped, but National Chemistry Week must go on. Here's a post from the archives about one of the basic concepts of chemistry, what defines an element.

As far as chemists are concerned, the world is made up of atoms and various assemblies and modifications thereof. Those atoms and modifications of atoms are, in turn, made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons have a +1 charge and a mass of 1.0073 amu [1]. Neutrons have zero charge and a mass of 1.0087 amu. And electrons have a -1 charge and a mass of 5.49 x 10-4 amu. Various combinations of these three will give you atoms, radicals, and ions [2]. Protons and neutrons hang out together in the nucleus of your atom (or radical or ion), while electrons can be thought of as zipping around the nucleus [3].

An element is defined by the number of protons in the nucleus. The element oxygen has 8 protons in the nuclei of its atoms. Any atom (or radical or ion) that has exactly 8 protons is an oxygen atom, and all oxygen atoms (or radicals or ions) have exactly 8 protons. It doesn't matter how many electrons there are zipping around the nucleus; that determines the net charge. It doesn't matter how many neutrons there are in the nucleus; that determines the atomic mass (and which isotope of oxygen you have). The number of protons in the nucleus is all that counts when you're determining the element you're dealing with.

Lots of compounds (like water) are made up of more than one element (here, hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms in a ratio of 2:1). Elements, however, have molecules that are made up of a single kind of atom -- elemental hydrogen is H2, while elemental oxygen comes in two forms, O2 and O3 (ozone). Most textbooks will define an element as a substance that can't be broken down into simpler substances. (This means that chemists must view protons, neutrons, and electrons not as substances, but as the building blocks from which substances are made.)
[1] The abbreviations "amu" stands for atomic mass unit. 1 amu = 1.66056 x 10 -27 kg.

[2] Ions are nuclei (or multinuclear assemblies) where the total number of protons does not equal the total number of electrons — meaning they have a net-positive or net-negative charge. For example, Cl- has one more electron zipping around the Cl nucleus than there are protons in that nucleus.

A radical is a nucleus (or a multinuclear assembly) with an unpaired electron that’s “looking for action” (i.e., is generally highly reactive). For example Cl. has the same number of protons and electrons (i.e., a neutral charge), but one of its 17 electrons is not paired, and thus the radical is “looking” for an opportunity to react with something else that will provide an electron to pair with.

Not to get too anthropomorphic or anything …

[3] Strictly speaking, you really shouldn't think of electrons as having a well-defined location until you go looking for them with a "measurement event". But as far as anyone can tell, they probably don't stray too far from the positive charge concentrated in the nucleus.

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National Chemistry Week repost: How does salt melt snails?

Oct 19 2010 Published by under Basic concepts, Chemistry, Critters, Garden

It should be noted that for some of us, nearly the whole world comes to us through the lens of chemistry, every week of the year. Here's another post from the back-catalogue that brings my chemical sensibilities to the garden:

In light of our recent snail eradication project:

Why does salt "melt" snails and slugs? (And how do people manage to prepare escargot without ending up with a big pot of goo?)

To answer this question, let us consider the snail as seen by the chemist:


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