May 2014
Monday, May 05, 2014
Thoughts on Motherhood (as seen through the eyes of children)
Being a mother is one of the greatest adventures with which I have been blessed. Not only do I feel challenged with the duties and responsibilities that come with motherhood, but I also love to marvel at how each of my daughters have discovered the world around them.

My daughters love to play with baby dolls or pretend to be a mom while the other acts like a baby. I wondered if my daughters wanted to be a mom one day, so I asked them about it. Here is each one’s unique response:

Seven-year-old: “Yes….because when my baby gets older and goes to elementary school, and I’m a teacher, he and I would be in the same school.”

Five-year-old: “No, I want to be an artist AND a mom.”
Me: “Why?”
Five-year-old: “Artists make really cool stuff.”
Me: “Why do you want to be a mom?”
Five-year-old: “I want to have kids and change diapers.”
Me: “Why do you want to change diapers?”
Five-year-old: “It seems so interesting.”

Three-year-old: “Um-hmm, because I want to have a real baby.”
Me: “Why do you want a real baby?”
Three-year-old: “Because they cry.”

While I cannot say that the desire to hear babies cry or change diapers were EVER reasons why I wanted to be a mom, I loved the obscure and uninhibited responses of my children. I hope one day they will be so blessed to hold little babies in their arms.

Thank you to my mom and all the wonderful mothers who give of themselves daily for the love of their children.

Children’s stories that illustrate the endearing love of a mother and a child
Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram
I Love You Through and Through, by Bernadette-Rossetti-Shustak (www.bernadetterossettishustak.com), illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman (www.pdeastmanbooks.com)

Do your kids have thoughts about motherhood? Do you have a favorite book about moms and their children? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Baby Robins
Posted by Michelle
Monday, May 12, 2014
What if you could be invisible?
One of my favorite parts of the Harry Potter books is when Harry receives his invisibility cloak. Who hasn’t, at one point or another, wanted to be invisible or the proverbial “fly on the wall”? I know I have.

My children like to disappear when trouble approaches. I walk into a room and find the floor covered with toys, but no kids are visible. When asked, I often hear in response: “I don’t know” or “It wasn’t me.” As if, unbeknownst to my kids, some invisible nymph came in and scattered their toys everywhere.

So, the answers to my question, “Would you want to be invisible,” surprised me.

My three-year-old said, “No, I don’t want to be invisible. I’m scared to be alone.”

My five-year-old, “Nah, because being invisible is not real. But what if you could pretend to be invisible, like put a blanket over your head, like a ghost.”

“Why is that better?” I asked.

“Because you can take the blanket off [when you want], and you can’t take invisible stuff off!”

My seven year old said, “No, unless something bad is happening.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because there is nothing to be invisible for.”

Apparently, being invisible is not good (unless you have to pick up toys), but pretending to be invisible or, even better, dressing in costume is okay, like my daughter in her homemade Star Wars Halloween costume pictured above.

Children’s stories in which kids play another role
The Berenstain Bears and the Nutcracker, by Jane & Mike Berenstain (www.berenstainbears.com)
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, by Charles M. Schulz
Katie Kazoo Switcheroo series, by Nancy Krulik, illustrated by John & Wendy (www.katiekazoo.com)

Do you your kids like to dress up and play another character? What are your thoughts on being invisible?Feel free to leave a comment below.
Posted by Michelle
Monday, May 19, 2014
Scientist Writing Fiction:
What if fiction had a formula?
In short, it does! (At least it does in my scientist mind.) Here is why I think seeing math in the writing process is helpful.

Growing up, I was not the kid that liked reading. I would rather spend my afternoon organizing my Lite-Brite pieces into their appropriate color pile and seeing which pile was larger (yes, I did this many times) than read a book. I have memories of taking apart a golf ball to see what was inside or of observing objects through a magnifying glass. I do not have a childhood memory of sitting in a quiet corner lost in a good book. I can’t say that a favorite story awaited my attention every summer vacation. The first book I remember reading that I enjoyed and wanted to read again was River God by Wilbur Smith…and I was in college.

Why was I not fond of reading? —because I got tested on it. I had to read a long book in a short period and write a three-page essay from memory on why Elizabeth Bennet changed her opinion of and fell in love with Mr. Darcy…and give examples from Pride & Prejudice. All I wanted to say was “I liked it.”

In my mind, reading and writing the essay was an unnecessary chore. I did not see that my literature teacher was trying to get me to show my “fiction math” work.

When solving the math word problem, Jane had 10 red apples. Tommy ate 3 of them. How many apples does Jane now have?, I could put 7 in the answer box. But my answer becomes better if I write the formula: 10 - 3 = 7. My answer becomes best if I not only show the formula but also draw a picture of the ten apples, cross out three of them, and leave the remaining seven unmarked.

My word problem could be viewed as a mini story, a fiction haiku, if you will. My main character (Jane) encounters her antagonist (Tommy), loses some apples (my plot), and ultimately ends up changed. Thus, in its most simplest form, my fiction formula is Protagonist + Antagonist + Plot = Changed Protagonist.

If I think of writing, like solving a math problem, answering the teacher’s question about Pride & Prejudice is like me solving my fiction haiku…and I like solving math problems (thus, why I became an engineer and a scientist). In my three page essay, I have to not only write my answer in the box but also write out my process for solving the math problem.

For me, looking at the math in fiction improves my writing. All math problems have a right or wrong answer. Thus, for me to be the best writer I can be, I need to solve my “fiction math” problem. My protagonist must change or the answer, my story, is wrong.

More importantly, I need to show how I solved the math problem. I need to not only put the answer in the answer box, but I need to draw out my apples and illustrate with words how ten became seven.

Are you a scientist writing fiction? Do you see a formula or math in fiction? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Posted by Michelle
Monday, May 26, 2014
Scientist Writing Fiction
4 Parallels between a Scientist and a Writer
1. Asking Questions
Scientists ask questions. It is the first step in the scientific method. As a biomedical engineer, I asked questions about the body and how the cells in the body responded to certain mechanical and pharmacological cues.

One such question: How do bone cells respond to being stretched?
A myriad of other questions come to mind…How does protein X, Y, and Z change in expression in response to N% cyclic strain? How does adding R drug alter this response? How does blocking channel C change the response? Does the communication between the cells increase? And so on.

As I writer, I ask a lot of questions too. Usually, I start with a “what if” question to begin the creative process for discovering a new imaginary world, a new character, or a new issue to be resolved, to name a few.

One such question: What if my bones could stretch at will (a la Elastigirl from the movie “The Incredibles”)?
Again, a myriad of other questions come to mind…How does one discover this unnatural ability? How does it feel to be pulled like a rubber band? Do all bones stretch or only the arms and legs? How far can the bones be stretched? How does my character feel about this ability? How does my character use this ability? And so on.

2. Research and More Research
In science, a lot of my time is spent doing background research to learn what is known and currently being studied about my topic of interest. This steps usually involves copious amounts of time spent reading published scientific articles and reference textbooks and learning the methods needed to accomplish my experiments.

In writing, I also spend time doing background research. In addition, I do “imaginary research” where I ask questions to learn more about and develop more fully characters and settings that exist only in my mind. This step, as in my science studies, also involves me learning more about the writing craft to improve my writing experiment (a.k.a. my novel).

3. Revise, Rewrite, Review, Repeat
After conducting my scientific experiments, I need to analyze my data and then repeat my experiments to see if my results are conclusive. In a some cases, I need to run completely new experiments to support my data and conclusions. I then write about my discoveries and submit my work to be reviewed by others.

In my writing, I need to edit my writing and sometimes add in new chapters or scenes to tie my story together more cohesively. I then revise and rewrite and send out for review by others. I revise, rewrite, and review again…the cycle repeats until it becomes accepted and published.

However, in both science and writing, not everything is published. Some data sit on a shelf to be used at another time in support of another scientific experiment or never see the light of day. Similarly, some writings stay hidden in a file only for me to muse upon at a different time.

4. Critiques and Rejection
Rejection is something I accept as both a scientist and a writer.

When attempting to get my research published, the initial submissions are often rejected. I must read through the critiques from fellow scientists and re-write my article and sometimes complete new experiments to support my data and/or build upon my current findings.

In writing, I need to submit my work to critique groups and rewrite until my work is the best it can be before submitting to agents or publishers. And, then, rewrite after I have read agents/publishers reasons for rejection.

In the end, the final published article is always improved. Thus, I gratefully accept the critiques and the rejections because they make my work better, and thus I become a better scientist and a better writer because of these thoughtful comments.

Are you a scientist writing fiction? What are some parallels you see between science and writing? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Posted by Michelle