The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Manual extrusion

Of course you have always wondered what it looks like when you manually extrude the spermatophylax from a male Gryllodes sigillatus decorated cricket. Well, here it is.

Male G. sigillatus produce both a capsule filled with sperm (ampulla) and a large gelatinous structure called a spermatophylax. After mating, the spermatophylax covers the ampulla. The female removes the spermatophylax and eats it, which prevents her from removing the ampulla before all of the male's sperm has been transferred.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Date night part deux

Danny and I had our second date night in Normal. (I realize that we should make an effort to go "out on the town" more often, but the paucity of exciting things to do around here plus the cost of the sitter are rather discouraging.) On our first date night, we went to Jim's Steakhouse and were easily the youngest people in the place. This time, we were hoping to find a younger (dare I say "hipper") place to go. We had dinner at Kobe Japanese Steakhouse which ended up being overrun by 20-30 high school students who were dressed (although not behaving) formally. The food was OK, but other than the kids and us, the restaurant was nearly empty. The elegant ambiance envisioned by the restaurant's designer was obliterated by the glaringly bright lights, Bob Seeger, and forgetful and scruffy waitstaff.
Our plan was to do a pub crawl in an effort to sample many of the well-reviewed bars and find somewhere that we would like to hang out. We went to The Loft in Bloomington, which was purportedly an upscale martini bar. Although there were indeed some 30-something people there, it was a total meat market, and not particularly ambient (no live music, and in fact, no music at all).

We headed back to Normal to check out all of the bars near our house. It is pretty cool that we are in walking distance of so many places, so we parked at home and walked Uptown. Biological Sciences people visit Medici's regularly for beers after work, and it is really a very beautiful restaurant and bar. However, the bar was completely empty at 10 pm on a Saturday. Also, they had no pretzels. So we left for the NV Ultralounge which has live entertainment and dancing. We paid the $5 cover and realized that were were literally the only people there over 30. The undergrads were of the drunk and disorderly variety, and we didn't stay long. We ended up at Maggie Miley's for a Strongbow and Long Ireland iced tea. Maggie Miley's is decently ambient, and there were a few non-college-aged people there, but the kitchen was closed and they had no bar food at all.
I came home feeling very disappointed. In CA, there were plenty of places to go out to eat, dance, drink, etc. that were frequented by people of all ages. When we went dancing, there were couples (especially Latino) of all ages that knew how to go out and have a good time. I look forward to the Latinization of America!

Clearly, the 30-something people have vanished from Normal. I don't see many of them at work, at the gym or anywhere, in fact. It is my suspicion that people from around here go on some kind of rumspringa where they leave Normal for the big city and only return after they have exhausted all other options.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Earth Day lunchbag

Sam brings his lunch to school. The school lunch program is not awful, but I would rather give him less processed food with fresh fruit, etc. I think that he is one of the few kids who brings a lunch. It is unclear whether brown bagging it is a cool or geeky thing to do: I have heard kids ask him why he brings his lunch, but also heard of kids drooling over his fresh strawberries and baked chicken drumsticks.
Last week was Earth Day, and his teacher mentioned to him that throwing away his lunchbag every day was bad for the environment, so he asked if he could have a lunchbox. Sam has mentioned numerous times that he hates to have to carry anything extra to school, so it would have to be a soft-sided lunchbox that could fit in his backpack. As it happens all of our lunchboxes have been RECALLED due to LEAD contamination (Thanks California Healthy Choices program!) So I made him one out of a pair of Danny's old jeans. Recycle that!

Healthy Choices, my ass!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Whale killer overshare

Last night I had a dream that I killed a whale. I was pushing one of the gray lab carts with a miniature toothed whale on it. We were kind of chatting as we went along, and I carelessly ran the cart into the edge of something. The whale went flying off and hit the ground with a moist thud. Its head was caved in and there was a big slab of blubber lying on the ground next to it. I tried to jam the blubber back into the whale's head, but the whale was clearly dead.
I have no insight into the meaning of this dream, other than that in reality I push around one of those gray lab carts and frequently run into things.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Passover pics

As you may have guessed, there aren't many Jews in Normal. The grocery store had some Passover food, although it was crazy expensive (and also went on the shelves and sold out a month before Passover). I thought that I would try to make my own Passover food.

I made my own gefilte fish! The process of making it was kind of nasty--I had to put fish in my food processor and mixer, which seems kind of wrong. But the end result was astonishing! It actually came out looking and tasting like canned gefilte fish, but much better--my gefilte fish was lighter and less soggy. I had hoped that it would be cheaper than canned gefilte fish, but I think that the price came out about even.

I made my own matzoh ball soup, but I did it from a mix, and it pretty much came out just like the canned kind. (Except that I didn't use a large enough pot and my matzoh balls got squeezed into all sorts of dodecagons, icosahedrons and triacontakaidigons.)
I tried to make tzimmes, but I have no ideas whether or not it came out OK--I have never had tzimmes before. I was imagining that it would taste like a Thanksgiving yam and carrot dish with fruit in it, but it did not end up like that at all. It was a slow cooker recipe, and the end result was sweet and savory, but black and slimy. I had a lot left over. I have decided that it is a chutney, and I am going to see if any of the vegetarians in my lab like it. (What a tzimmes over nothing!)
The haroset came out pretty well (It's hard to mess up haroset) and we also had chicken and green beans.

For the seder, we had some great new props sent by Grammy and Grandpa Joe! After years of coveting Catherine's 10 plagues puppets, I have some of my own!

Joseph loved the soft Passover seder set!

We have a lovely glass Passover seder plate that we got at our neighbor's estate sale in CA, but now the kids have their own custom painted (with delicious blue matzoh) seder plate.

Here is video of Joseph asking the Passover questions. I should have given the camera to Danny so that I could answer the questions myself, but I didn't think of it at the time.

Here is a two-part video of the plagues part of the seder, complete with finger puppets!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


We took the kids to the Gamma Phi circus, one of only two collegiate circuses in the US. The amateur quality of the circus made the show both more boring and more exciting. There were many interminable groan-worthy performances (Not so much into the Russian bar, the Lyric hoops, or the unicycles). However, seeing so many professional circuses makes one forget how difficult and dangerous circus acrobatics are. There were many dramatic bobbles and many performers fell and otherwise crashed and burned.
The finale was a guest appearance by Tony Steele a 71-year old professional trapeze artist. The "catcher" ended up dropping a few students, including one that ended up getting hurled into one of the side nets. We were all at the edges of our seats hoping that he wouldn't crack the old guy's head open. Luckily, he did not.

Tony Steele, the world's oldest functioning trapeze artist

The show was nearly three hours long and Joseph fell asleep. Also, the drunk undergrad in the seat ahead of us was threatening toward us because Sam was absently kicking his seat. But otherwise the kids had a great time.

Friday, April 18, 2008


There was an earthquake last night. The Normalites are all aflutter. Needless to say, no one in our house even woke up.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The beginning of the end

This weekend Joseph was invited to two consecutive Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties. Although it is heartening that Joseph is so popular, four hours of animatronic pizza hell is a lot to ask of a kid (or a parent). Danny volunteered to go with Joseph so that I could spend some time alone with Sam. Although I spend quite a bit of time alone with Joseph, Sam and I have fewer interests in common.

Ever since Sam was born, I have been anticipating with dread the day that he would become a tweenager and start hating my guts. I have tried to imagine the various ways that this could come about: Sam as a pre-pubescent emo sk8erboi (dyed black hair and eyeliner) "Mom, you are so embarrassing!" Sam as a dweeby gamer (pear-shaped with pimples) "Mom, get out of my room!" Sam as a aggro musclehead jock (fireplug with a buzz cut) "Mom, can you not come to my game?"

So, this weekend, Sam and I went to the ISU Bowling and Billiards Center. It was kind of a disaster--at every game, he got competitive with me, and then got pissed off when he didn't win. I kept emphasizing that we were a team and I was not competing with him, and I tried to help him to do better. But everything that I tried to do to diffuse his competitiveness just made him madder.
First Sam got mad at me for doing better at "Medieval Madness" pinball than he did. (Seriously, I went first--how was I supposed to know how well to play!) Then he got mad because he kept crashing his car in some street racing game. He got flaming mad at me playing billiards. We finally got around to bowling, and he blew up because he scored a 45 (a great score for a kid!!!) and I scored a 91. (What made this all even more depressing was that in the next lane was a mother with a son about the same age as Sam. They had their own bowling shoes, and were having a splendid mother-son day, complimenting each others' techniques, etc.)

I mentioned my conflict with Sam to an older friend of mine, and she had some rather depressing insight. She told me that her father was always trying to teach her sports, and she was always competing with him and storming off because she wasn't as good as he was. No matter how helpful he tried to be, it just pissed her off more and made her more competitive. I asked her (hopefully) if she ended up with an appreciation for any of these sports as an adult, and she told me that, no, she still hated all of the sports that her father taught her. Crap.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Car Kebob

In local news, the sculpture "The Spindle" featured in Wayne's World is for sale on ebay. Bidding starts at $50,000 (+$100,000 shipping). You know you want it! (Party on!)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Five minutes ago I was in the bedroom rating grant proposals, and I hear Joseph say to Sam in his wee little piping voice: "Put your sperm on me!" Clearly, I could not have heard what I thought that I heard, so I slip over to the doorway, and I hear it again: "Sam, you have to put your sperm on my eggs!" I peek around the corner, and see that both kids are huddled under the covers doing I have no idea what. I ask them what they are doing and Joseph tells me that they are both chickens and they are fertilizing the eggs so that they can have baby chicks. Both of them seem to be fully clothed and not actually making any kind of bodily contact. It would appear that this was a purely innocent re-enactment of the chicken life cycle depicted in one of their books. I am rarely at a loss for words, but I have no idea how to react to this. It did not violate the family rules about nudity, obscenity or keeping one's privates to oneself. It just skeeved me out. Aaaaaarggh!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday night

So what is it that one is supposed to do on Saturday night? I recall that when I was a kid, Saturday nights were GREAT because I would get to watch the Love Boat, Fantasy Island and maybe even Hee Haw. (I hear that Daisy Mae left you for a cowboy--bitter? Yeah, and I bit him, too.) However, I always suspected that somewhere out there, some extra cool kids were doing some kind of unknown cool activity that was way more fun.
As a grown-up, I guess that I could do whatever I want, yet I still have no idea what people are supposed to do on Saturday nights.

Before we had kids, Danny and I would go dancing, dinner, parties, etc. However, with kids, going out at all costs at least $40 for the babysitter, on top of whatever else we do. Consequently, we don't go out much. I am sitting here alone (Danny is elsewhere in the house doing the taxes) watching The Return of the Jedi on basic cable. It occurs to me that this is exactly what I was doing on Saturday nights when I was 8. I can hear that the kids are totally whooping it up in their room, despite the fact that it is after 10:00 and they are supposed to be sleeping. So they are actually having a better time than me. Sigh.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thawing doubt

What am I doing? Watching crickets mate. Are I happy about it? No, I think not. This current experiment has clearly not worked, and I am just accumulating data points to round out my sample size.

Also, the sub-80 freezer broke overnight, and although I spent a good deal of time making arrangements to get it fixed this morning, I have the vague feeling that my labmates are grousing about it on the other side of my closed office door. Perhaps if I cared more about pleasing people than getting my work done, I would have dropped everything to notify each of the 5 labs with samples in the freezer, find an alternative -80 freezer, evacuate their samples, and then stand in front of the freezer, wringing my hands until the service guy showed up and fixed it?

When I was a grad student, I would totally be standing there in the hallway. However, as a postdoc, I don't have relationships with the various people inconvenienced by the breakdown, and I don't want to become the "go-to" person for problems like this. Was I a "nicer" person as a grad student? Maybe. But my extended time as a grad student taught me that although everyone pressures you to "take one for the team," grad students who refuse to do all this crap succeed. Grad students who are competent at organizing and fixing things are thought of as a future lab tech for someone else, while grad students who do their research but are incapable of handling any practical issues are chucklingly considered future absent-minded professors. What the hell?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Many questions

Today Joseph has been uncharacteristically full of questions, including:

How does the oven make things hot?
How does the sound come out of the radio?
What does gas [gasoline] look like? What color is it? What does it smell like?
How does gas get into the pump?
Why does the car need gas?
What is energy?
Do we need energy?
What do plants do?
Why do we eat plants?
How do magnets work?

Danny and I are all worn out from explaining convection, radio transmission, internal combustion, photosynthesis, cellular metabolism, and magnetism. It is hard enough to provide satisfactory explanations of all this stuff to Sam, but reducing everything to preschool level is especially challenging. Answers have to be brief (less than 60 seconds) and fully descriptive without reference to unknown concepts or vocabulary. I think that the most unnerving part is how rapt Joseph is when we give him our answers. He is actually completely focussed--you can almost see the gears turning in his head. It is rather like some kind of high-stakes game show for parents: "60 Seconds of Science: Can you avoid mangling your kid's understanding of basic scientific principles?"

Friday, April 4, 2008

Joseph reads

I have been a little worried about how Joseph will do when he is expected to learn skills in kindergarten. He plays very well with other kids, but he has the rather remarkable ability to resist any and all peer pressure. Even if he sees all of the other kids in his class doing something, he won't copy them unless instructed to do so by an authority figure. He follows rules but he sees absolutely no reason to follow the crowd.
Peer pressure is not necessarily a bad thing--it can be helpful in civilizing kids. A lot of the rules that they follow are reinforced by peers noticing and evaluating each others' behavior. I have been worried that because Joseph doesn't care about achievement relative to other kids, he wouldn't have any motivation to learn structured things.
Although Joseph knows most letter sounds, I have been reluctant to push him to read--as you may have figured out, Joseph is a little contrary, and I didn't want to make an "issue" of it. However, he seems to have figured out how to read! Danny overheard Joseph reading Calvin and Hobbes to himself in bed. We tried to get catch him unawares on video, but Joseph heard the camera.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April Fool's

I have to assume that everyone else had a more eventful April Fool's Day than I did. I went to work for a few hours in the morning to do cricket mating trials, and then I stayed home sick with a fever. Under the circumstances, the only April Fool's that I could come up with was to put plastic insects in the kids' lunch boxes. When Joseph came home, he asked me if the spider in his lunch box was an April Fool, and seemed satisfied when I told him that it was. Sam pranked Joseph by switching the cereals in the cereal boxes. Otherwise, not so much in the way of April Fool's Day.

Did anyone do/have done to them any good April Fool's Day pranks?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Happy 2nd and orange belt

Today was Argos' 2nd birthday! He had the traditional birthday meal of pig in a blanket, cucumber, carrots and dog food.

When we brought Argos home from the rescue a year-and-a-half ago, 2-year old Joseph told me: "When Argos grows up, he will be a talking dog, and he will say 'Yes!'" Argos has indeed grown up, and although he doesn't talk he is a very positive dog and I'm sure that he would say "Yes!"

Here's Argos as a puppy. Before we civilized him, he was a climber. This is a picture of the time we came into the living room and found him just standing there on the dining room table.

In unrelated news, Sam tested for his orange belt in TaeKwonDo a million years ago, and it finally came!