Saturday, 26 November 2016

How to clean pennies - a fun kid experiment

This blog post is a joint effort with Ryder, who is now 5. He really likes playing with coins, especially when they are nice and shiny. A favorite activity is therefore cleaning his coins. Pennies are the most fun to clean. He wants to share his ideas about how to clean pennies with other kids, so I thought that a "how to" blog post would fit the bill!

First, assemble cleaning ingredients in small containers. Ryder recommends testing a few different ingredients, to see which work the best. Yesterday, he used these:
1. Ketchup
2. Baking soda and water
3. Vinegar and salt
4. Water and salt
Other ingredients you might want to try, alone or combined with one another or the above:
1. Oil
2. Dish soap
3. Lemon juice
4. Carbonated water
5. Water and sugar
6. Other beverages you have in the fridge; particularly ones your kid convinced you to buy because the packaging looks cool, but which taste disgusting and no one wants.

If you have an old toothbrush, you can use it to rub the ingredients on the pennies, which helps with the cleaning process. It's extra great if the 1 year old then comes in and grabs the old dirty ketchup and salt-covered toothbrush and starts cleaning her teeth.

To make this into an experiment, start with a bunch of pennies of the same level of dirtiness (it helps if they were all made either before or after 1982, when they switched from 95% copper to mostly zinc with copper plating [note that some 2009 pennies are mostly copper]). Try one solution on each penny, and then compare the results. Or, try one solution for different amounts of time on each penny. Take notes about your experimental setup and observations to make it official. Happy penny cleaning!

Friday, 28 October 2016

How to do it all

Hello out there! This poor blog has been quite neglected lately. Work seems to be 99% typing these days, so my writing energy is flagging. But, it’s 8:30 pm on Friday night and the kids are asleep – so here we go!

Life these days is a little hectic. I’m often single-parenting and my job is pretty demanding (many fledgling professors like myself claim 80-hour workweeks. I definitely do not, and could not, physically work that much even without kids, but it is relatively demanding, nonetheless). I’m often flattered and surprised by friends exclaiming things like “wow, look at you doing all of this and keeping your shit together!” The truth is that (1) my shit is about as together as this 
but (2) thank you, and it’s because of a lot of moral support and tricks I’ve stolen from other folks.

Here are some of the most useful tricks I use to semi-successfully parent two small kids while not completely sucking at my career:

  1. When the kids are in bed at night, I do the life-stuff that must be done, like contesting parking tickets, trying to figure out what the fuck excise tax is, and paying the seemingly endless bills. 
  2. I also have started cooking after the kids are in bed. I used to really enjoy cooking (especially when paired with wine and good music) and I do actually want to feed the kids good food, but the idea of getting home from work/school/Boston traffic hell and then cooking while the kids whine about being hungry and claw at my legs is awful. So, I just pull something I made the night before out of the fridge (or the week before out of the freezer, respectively) and zap it in the microwave. Voila! Dinner is ready in a few minutes with minimal effort, yet it's not always just Trader Joes packaged food (as it had been before I figured this out).
  3. My dad gave me a Roomba for my birthday, and…let me just say that if there were a fire and I could only save one thing aside from the children – it would be the Roomba. 
    forts >>orderly houses
  4. Most of my social life these days consists of texting, social media interaction, and commiserating with other parents of small children while the kids destroy one of our houses. 
  5. Ryder often goes to bed in clothes ready for the next day. His school serves breakfast, so as long as he is wearing clothing, I can just get shoes on his feet and get him to school and he will be fed and set for the day. I love the idea of changing into PJs each night and having breakfast at home in the morning together, just like in the cereal commercials. But the reality was that I was spending the 60-90 minutes of our time together in the morning nagging him incessantly to get dressed and/or eat his breakfast so we weren’t late, and we were still invariably rushing every morning. When he sleeps in his clothes, he can spend 45 minutes carefully arranging tiny scraps of paper on his desk, watch a cartoon, and harass his sister before we have to leave. We can be on time and he can eat French toast sticks and other delicacies served by the amazing school cafeteria that I don’t have the energy to prepare.
    A prime example of why my car is a pigsty. But, at least snacks like this keep the small people from mutiny during drives
  6. I shower as infrequently as possible. This saves time, and also makes me virtuous because we are in a drought. 
  7.  I only cloth diaper on the weekends.
  8.  I make the kids do errands with me. This usually requires bribery, often in the form of a sugary treat.
  9. I don’t work when the kids are awake and with me. If they aren’t asleep or at school, I try my hardest to focus on them (with the occasional foray onto Twitter or email when they are occupied and I crave a moment of fleeting virtual connection with other adults). We read books. We go on walks. We look for treasures in cracks in the sidewalk. We visit museums and clean pennies and count blue plastic gems and draw and decorate the porch with fake spiderwebs and go down slides and do all the wonderful things that we should be doing. I remember that I’m the luckiest person alive.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Climate change is depressing. Is there any point?

Yesterday, I got the email below somewhat out of the blue, in response to my writing about how I feel about climate change. I was actually really glad to receive the note, and that I had a chance to respond. In the off-chance that these words might help others feeling the same way out there, I'm posting them here with personal information removed.


Dear Professor Carilli,

So, this is rather weird. I am really sorry about sending you this random email, considering you don't know me, and I am sure have more important things to do [note from Jessica: this is, to me, the definition of really important!]. I just need a little help, and I saw something you wrote on, and I thought...I have no idea. So, I suffer from severe anxiety and depression, and my mind has seriously focused in on climate change. It scares the absolute hell out of me, and it has basically led me to think that there is no point in my being alive anymore. The world is so screwed, there is no point in me sticking around anymore, or possibly having a child who would have to live in such a terrible world. I know this is partially my sickness, but I also feel like there is legit idea. I don't want to die, but the last few days have hurt so terribly, and I am so afraid all the time, I just have trouble finding other options. This morning, I started googling about finding hope in climate change, and I found what you said online, and I guess I just wanted someone to tell me that there is some hope for the future. Because right now, I do not want to see such a miserable future. God, I really did used to be such a happy positive person, but these last few years...they just been really hard.

Thank you for reading my email and listening to my depressing rambling. I hope that you have a wonderful day


Dear [redacted],

Thanks for your email. I’m glad you found what I wrote, and I’m not sure if it was helpful or made you feel worse, but in any case I’m glad that you reached out. While I can’t pretend to know how you feel, I can assure you that you aren’t alone in this sometimes hopeless feeling.

When I was 18, I got a tattoo that says “Never Give Up.” This is a reminder to myself that I often think about in this struggle with “what’s the point, when everything is going to shit?” It helps me remember that although humans can be really destructive and thoughtless, we are also astoundingly clever, and have come up with some really amazing technological solutions for environmental problems. I sometimes flip-flop between thinking that yes, the earth would probably be better off if humans all just kicked the bucket – and then thinking, no: humans are animals, and we have just as much right to live on this earth as other creatures – we just need to use our intellect to live on this planet WITH the other creatures more fairly. I love when I hear about some incredible technological solution that has the potential to improve the lives of humans (particularly the disadvantaged) as well as the environment. Killing ourselves, not having children, or living in caves is just not a good solution for anyone…so if there are ways that we can invent ourselves out of catastrophic climate change, I’m all for it!
I also like to focus on personal choices that make a difference for climate change - like hanging my laundry.
I firmly believe that many small efforts do add up to matter.
There are so many cool examples of major scientific progress and optimism, and this gives me a lot of hope.
Here are a few examples that I like to think about:

Sometimes it seems like it would be good to just abandon ship and give up, but the flip side is that this world needs people like me and you to work hard to make a difference, and to keep shouting about the importance of science and the environment. So I hope you don’t abandon ship, or give up on having kids. I think the world needs more people like us, who care deeply and want to make a difference, and will raise kids who care deeply and will continue making a difference into the future. It’s definitely scary to think that in a few decades, things could be much different from how they are today – and it could be bad. But it could also be better – maybe soon we will make drastic changes to the status quo, and instead of spiraling into disaster, we will rise to the challenge, turn things around, and rise like the Phoenix! What do you think?

Thanks again for reaching out. I hope this helps a little bit.
Also, VOTE!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

How to effortlessly get your 4-year old to accept vaccination shots

Maternity leave has gone by in a blur, seemingly punctuated with continual routine Doctor’s appointments for various family members. We had an awesome time getting the 4-year old’s flu shot, so I wanted to share my amazing story to inspire other parents who may be hesitant about this experience.

First – be sure you talk a lot about the importance of vaccinations with your kid ahead of time. Small children are extremely logical and will totally follow your train of thought and get on board with the plan.

Next – if the flu vaccination is the one that you are aiming to get (perhaps to protect your tiny newborn baby from familial exposure), be assured that kids over 2 years old can get a burst of mist up the nose instead of a shot! Discuss at length with your child how much better this option will be, and how it won’t hurt at all.

At the doctor’s office – be sure to do all the other scheduled doctor-stuff for your visit before the vaccination. This will give ample time for your kid to get worked up into a frenzy of apprehension about being sprayed up the nose with something that is supposed to protect his little sister from invisible bugs.
The 4 year old in his natural habitat. Do not be fooled by their diminutive stature; 4 year olds are very strong and crafty.

Once your kid has gotten all frantic about being sprayed in the nose, ask the doctor to break it to him that you were wrong, and his little sister is actually too young to be exposed to any live (though weakened) virus he might shed after receiving the Flu mist, and therefore he must instead get the (dead) vaccine via shot.

Be sure there is lots of extra time between breaking this news to him and the nurse coming in with the needle. This will provide your kid an opportunity to dispel some of his pent-up fear via screaming at high volume, and/or throwing objects around the room. You will then get the chance to practice your hostage-negotiation skills to try to calm the situation down. This is a good time for lots of lies (delivered loudly over his yelling), for instance: the nurse is a magic fairy and she knows how to give shots with no pain at all. Or: the shot is guaranteed not to hurt because it has magic ingredients and will actually tickle if he is quiet and calm. This may also be a good time to try some bribery (cookies, ice cream, lots of extra TV), and/or threats if you start to get desperate (no TV, immediate nap, etc.). But none of these will work anyway.

Perhaps try interpretive drawing as an explanatory technique when you are appealing to the 4 year olds highly developed logical side before you head to the doctor.

By this point, the baby will almost certainly also be crying hysterically, so you can also practice your remaining-calm-amongst chaos skills, which may come in handy in a future natural disaster scenario.

Once the nurse finally comes in with the shot, don’t bother requesting backup. You are totally strong enough to hold down a writhing, kicking, biting 4-year old while the nurse stabs around with the shot, trying to get it into his arm.

Actually, you are not strong enough. Send the nurse for backup, while you keep cycling between the above lies, bribery, and threats in a vain attempt to get your kid to calm down and accept that he needs to be poked briefly for health’s sake. Also be sure to dodge his flailing arms so he doesn’t punch you in the nose.

Once the cavalry arrives, they will help hold your kid still enough to receive his tiny, 5-second prick in the arm. A short moment of (loud) calm.

Then they will all flee, throwing a few pamphlets and post-visit summaries at you, and you will once again use your chaos-triage skills (let’s be honest, ninja skills) to give the baby her pacifier (again), intercept shoes that are being thrown at your head in mid-air, stuff all the papers and strewn around articles of clothing/toys/etc into your diaper bag, dodge punches your incensed kid is exhaustedly attempting to lay on you, then pick up the angry 4 year old in one arm and use the other to awkwardly push the stroller while opening the door with your foot and get the hell out of there as fast as possible before your kid sets off all the other kids in the office.

You will be operating on 99% adrenaline and 1% leftover morning coffee at this point, but you will soon collapse. Hopefully your kid wears out first, or realizes that you have left the doctor and he didn’t even feel any actual pain anyway, so he will let up on the yelling and kicking. In a few minutes, he will just act like his normal self, while your body goes into recovery mode from that trauma. The baby will hopefully have fallen asleep by this time as well. Perhaps by now you are all sitting quietly in the car, or on a bench waiting for the bus or looking at the calming fountain outside the doctor’s office. Wherever it is, just try to be sitting before you go into collapsing-mode.

Now suggest and then head directly towards whatever food/beverage item you feel will revive you – coffee (well, perhaps suggest a hot chocolate to the kid), milkshake, ice cream, etc. Chat normally with your kid, as if nothing just happened. Perhaps ask him if he arm hurts, just for kicks (because he will say “no” as if you just asked some obvious question like what his name was). Sigh and pat yourself on the back. Perhaps think of a different strategy for next time, like surprise shots when they least expect it (while eating ice cream!? Is this why Rite Aid offers shots?!!). Or just push it to the back of your mind until next year.