Tuesday, December 27, 2011

holiday entertaining debrief

The Christmas Eve meal was a success! We even made enough food to have a leftover meal last night in our  post-Christmas exhaustion!

I chose a featured meal from the Martha Stewart show.  She demonstrated the roast pork with prunes and brown ale on her show last month. On her web site she had recommended side dishes and desserts to go along. We chose the brussel sprouts with gouda cheese. I made a traditional holiday scalloped potatoes as well.

We started with a simple green salad with cranberries and pine  nuts. Then we served the pork and  Brussell sprouts with scalloped potatoes. Finally, we served some chocolate covered pomegranate with mint brownies and fluffy cookies made with egg whites.

It was a perfect combination of traditional recipes along with new adventure for extra spice.

Here's to next year and the joy of creative cooking.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I'm packing my supplies to make scalloped potatoes while I'm visiting some family up north. I was assigned Christmas Eve meal as my holiday project.

I confess scalloped potatoes are my weakness around  the holidays.  The warm butter mixed with flour moistens the potatoes so that they melt in your mouth. Such a holiday treat I cannot pass up.

This actually ties into a project I did in graduate school  with the Maillard Reaction. This is the reaction that is the basis of flavoring buttery flavored foods in the food industry. It occurs between a carbonyl and an amino group in a basic environment.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Beginner cooks pay attention!

If you have never cooked and want to try it then please pay attention! I was a member of the club that cooked from books titled "Idiots Guide to Cooking" about four years ago. Now I consider myself a fairly proficient chef. I'm not Martha Stewart but I can prepare a decent meal for two or even entertain a group of friends with my skills. Here are some pointers I've learned along the way:

1. Simple recipes do not mean less appealing food. The meals my husband raves about are not necessarily the most difficult, expensive or time consuming meals.
2. You must invest in some basic kitchen gear to get started. I recommend a basic set of pots (all sizes), several pans, a combo frying pan/stew pot (deep enough to hold liquid but wide enough to fry meat), and a set of kitchen appliances that include a Cuisinart, mixer, crock pot, toaster oven and several casserole dishes of varying sizes. By a wonderful stroke of luck I was given all of these items awhile back- it would be a considerable investment to purchase all of them but a necessity if you want to provide a wide variety of foods. I had no idea I would use all of these items. Never fear if you can't afford them- there are still many recipes that can be made with just a few pots and pans.
3. It is good to hold a few staple ingredients in your cupboard at all times: kidney and black beans, beef and chicken broth, sugars (powdered, regular, brown), flour, butter, olive oil, and spices. I would start by purchasing parsley, basil, oregano and chile powder. As time goes by you find your spice cabinet multiples itself abundantly.
4. Invest if a 1-year subscription to Cooking Light or another magazine about cooking. Some of the simplest, most nutritious recipes come from these magazines.

Give yourself a one-year grace period to experiment. It takes time to learn. The toughest part is the timing of the meal. Getting the roast to come out of the oven simultaneous with the vegetables and the bread is a challenge. This can only be learned with practice.

Here are some simple foods that are favorites around our house. Its amazing how these incredibly simple recipes create tasty and nutritious meals in short amounts of time.

1. Shrimp with pasta (This is a very, very simple recipe and one of our favorites. This is the recipe that made me give up my complex pot pies and other time-consuming endeavors. Why bother when something this easy is so popular?)
2. Pot Roast with bread (a crock pot is really useful for this classic dish. You load the crock pot in the morning and you have a ready-made meal when you come home from work at 5 pm)
3. Scallops with pasta (a bit expensive but not to bad if you buy frozen scallops)
4. Grilled Chicken (very easy if you microwave the chicken for 5 minutes and then put it on a Foreman Grill or a regular barbecue) with rice (a rice cooker is very handy here but you can make it on the stove also)

Add a salad and a side-dish of a fresh vegetable and you have a delicious, fairly-easy meal in a short amount of time. It is so nutritious to cook at home and such a rewarding feeling to know how to prepare a meal.

Good luck. May you discover a creative side of you that you never knew.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

children's books

A dear friend of mine from childhood just sent me an illustrated copy of Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. It inspired me to take inventory of children's literature on my bookshelf. I've actually been collecting various children's books for awhile now. I lived with an elementary school teacher about ten years ago and she lent me the book order forms from her classroom. The prices offered to children are great through mail order. I'm sure the Internet has probably changed all of that by now ten years later.

My collection now includes the following:
1. Wrinkle in Time (series of 4 books)
2. Narnia books (7 in set)
3. Harry Potter (I have the first 4 in the set)
4. Wind in the Willows (beautiful illustrations)
5. Secret Garden (beautiful illustrations)
6. Anne of Green Gables/Emily of New Moon (can't remember how many exactly- I keep these at my parent's house)
7. Jane Eyre (copy taken from my grandmother's house)

I regret to admit I've never finished Jane Eyre. Always something left to accomplish.

 Much to feast on for my daughter's upcoming bedtime reading. Let the fun begin.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

You just can't get away from regulatory.......

After graduate school I began looking for a job in.....??????  I didn't really know what I was looking for. Have you ever noticed that when you don't know what you are looking for you rarely find something that really satisfies you? This does occasionally occur but more often than not a person who is looking haphazardly for something doesn't find anything worth finding.

I landed a job in regulatory affairs at a large research chemical supply company. Looking back, although the position was not intellectually satisfying or even all that challenging, I learned something that I didn't identify until now: The power and importance of regulatory affairs in the American economy.

As I read articles about the economy and regulatory affairs I realize how the problems I encountered in my little cubicle in chemical supply pervade the regulatory climate that encumbers the banks, the housing market, high-tech ventures and other businesses.
 

Problem number one:
Companies do not want to follow the rules (especially new ones) because they must spend money to comply with these rules. If they invest money in meeting the demands of these rules they risk having the rules repealed only to find their monetary investment was for nothing. (Unfortunately, for the peon (that would be me) in the cubicle monitoring the regulations, this can drive you crazy. The system is messy, disorganized and totally unsatisfying to work within.)


For this reason, companies stall in following regulations that are new or poorly enforced. What is the point when it cuts in on their  profit?


Problem number two:

There are some regulations that nobody understands or that are so old nobody can remember the original purpose. It becomes a total waste of time to follow these: a bureaucratic nightmare to figure out which sucker in the organization keeps a database geared toward following such nonsensical and ridiculous regulations.

While this applied to me in my little cubicle in research science it applies to the high-tech world as well. In two different editorials in the Wall Street Journal on Oct 31 the problem of regulations and green cards is addressed. Why is it that we send foreign graduates of engineering and physical science programs back to their countries after they complete their degrees? Even in this weak economy we are short on engineers in the US. The editorial states that Steve Jobs could have moved manufacturing jobs from China back to the US if Apple could hire 30,000 engineers in the United States. We don't produce enough engineers here in the US (by the time we send all our foreign graduates home) to keep jobs here.
The current green card policy is a stupid rule that not only fails to serve a purpose, it actually harms our economy and (as the article states it) gives an unintentional gift to China of jobs/business.

Part of the problem here is a failure to communicate and work as a team.
I liked how Newt Gingrich summed up the problem in one of the GOP debates recently. He said something like this: The gridlock in Washington is best summed as avoiding something totally stupid by cutting off your head if you don't allow your leg to be cut off. So we will allow something semi-stupid to avoid something totally stupid from occuring. (In reference to the super-committee and the impending automatic budget cuts in the event they can't come to an agreement.)

This is relevant because the super-committee must come to an agreement about how to streamline current regulations that strangle the economy. I just hope we have insightful enough politicians to be able to maturely tackle the problem without too many political games and other wasteful behaviors. 

We must have leadership that can work with businesses on this problem. Regulations must make sense and be comprehensive of the needs of businesses. We must be able to enforce regulations and have the enforcers have a logical reason to implement the rules. Stupid rules have no place in American business.

We need leaders who act in the best interest of the country: this includes private business, private citizens personal lives and public government needs. Do we have enough integrity as a country to select leaders who can manage all of these needs simultaneously while also preserving their proverbial political neck? This is a tall order- one I'm glad I'm not committed to achieve. Why would anyone want to run for such political office?






Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Recitation as a tool of learning and a way to fight boredom

This is my day: 1. Wake up. 2. Feed baby  3. Change and clothe baby  4. hold baby and walk back and forth around the house to keep her from crying. 5. Take a walk with a neighbor who also has a baby (if I'm lucky)

As you can see my intellectual interests are stalled currently. Here is how I combat the situation:

I recite.


You recite? You ask. Yes, it is a tool I used to learn introductory chemistry when I was a freshman in college. I made flashcards with definitions, terms, key ideas and concepts. Then, I would review the flashcards at all free moments during the day: after/before meals, before dorm meetings and at other times of the day. Now I recite because index cards are all I can hold while still holding an infant.

I am currently not reciting chemistry- I am learning a subject unrelated to science. But I still recite and can relay the information I'm learning by memory. It is really a great way to break up the boredom. You should try it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

the chemistry of breastfeeding

In a spirit of interest about the chemistry of breastmilk I ask the following question: Why is it that baby humans digest human breastmilk more efficiently than they digest cow's milk? I really wonder how much the nutritionists know about this in terms of the actual digestive path. I bet there is a nutritionist or scientist out there who knows.

It could possibly be related to the structure/function arrangement of the proteins in the milk. I'm guessing that the structure of the human milk proteins match more of the active sites of the digestive path of a baby human. Has anyone ever looked at these proteins in that level of detail?

I know that my baby human intakes breastmilk and excretes a byproduct very different from that of the formula-fed babies I meet at church. The exact chemistry involved here is fascinating. I'll have to research a chemistry-nutrition specialist who can map it for me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Aluminum, mercury and vaccines

An area of chemistry I would like to explore is how aluminum affects the body. Specifically, I would like to explore the metabolism, side-effect profile and overall toxicity of aluminum in the infant body.

My child is just starting vaccinations and I am learning about the process. Luckily, one doctor wrote a book about all the current vaccines, their chemistry (as is currently known), side effects, possible risks and his overall recommendations for each one. I have chosen to follow some of his advice. Sad, but true that it is worthwhile to question the overall medical establishment on this one.

I won't mention the name of the book because my own family loathes it. Yes, loathes it. Generally, medical professionals resent someone (especially someone from their own profession) questioning the recommendations of the academy. The academy has a recommended sequence of vaccinations that every child should receive. Unfortunately, as I am learning,there are some legitimate concerns with that list of recommendations. And the book that I discovered outlines those concerns and concedes that some of them are valid concerns. One of those concerns involves the role of aluminum as an activating agent in vaccines and our true lack of knowledge about how it affects the body.

So the dilemma becomes this: Do I comply with the establishment rules and have the regular schedule of vaccines given to my child? Or do I listen to valid concerns about aluminum research and our lack of knowledge about how aluminum affects the body. We don't know why autism and other disorders are multiplying. Perhaps this condition is due to some medical practice (like vaccinations) that has not been well researched.

The real answer to the problem is to wait many, many years until the health of large numbers of babies can be analyzed. We can't really run a control study with vaccinated and unvaccinated babies. Any volunteers? We could never find enough people to participate.

I hope we don't have an outbreak of polio in the US any time soon. According to the alternative vaccines schedule my child won't get that vaccines until past her first birthday. And that is just the risk I'm willing to take in order to minimize chemical/vaccines/aluminum exposure in my small, vulnerable, developing infant child.

There is no easy answer to this problem.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Buoyancy

I'm thankful for this scientific concept. I wore my ugly 38-week pregnancy swimming suit over to the pool the other day and gasped at my ability to float without effort in the pool. I guess my density is much less than water now that I have extra fat, baby and other nutrients floating around in my abdomen.

The nostalgia of being a competitive swimmer!

As I tried to do a flip turn my buoyancy prevented my simple head-duck to propel my body into a circular motion into my efficient turn-around. I don't flip to turn- I get too much water up my nose.

Hope I can swim my way back to low-body-fat content in the months following delivery.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Time is short....

So according to my doctor my membranes are "thinning." This is a good thing- when one is 38 weeks pregnant you would expect the membranes to ready themselves  to eject a human.

Sometimes I wonder if infertility is nature's way of getting parents ready for mother and fatherhood. Since infertility is NOT a problem in our household, we skipped that preparation step altogether. This is kind of scary- taking on the health and well-being of another human being. It goes so far beyond any principles of science or logical analysis. Becoming a parent is not logical- but we aren't entirely logical creatures- are  we?

It seems so easy to decide to become a parent and then when the dream becomes a reality it is a truly daunting task. Not that I don't think I can do it- I'll do it. I'll just do it as I am able. And I will make mistakes. And this is ok. 


Friday, June 10, 2011

cross-stitch and science


I pulled out some unfinished cross-stitch kits the other day contemplating making something for the new addition to our family. Surprisingly, I have finished most of the many projects I purchased from Michael's for various special occasions and gifts. It's so easy to purchase a cross-stitch or other craft kit and then somehow never finish it. I collect my past patterns, leftover floss and kit-covers of the finished product. I have over 25 finished kits in my archives- at some point I will organize them by category/topic and put them in a permanent archive for when a similar occasion arises.

We have reached a new era in crafting. Michael's no longer sells complete cross-stitch kits. This means you must purchase or create your pattern independently and purchase the floss/aida cloth separately. While I think this probably increases the level of skill of your average cross-stitcher, it makes it harder to get started and requires a bigger committment for each project. Oh the days of convenience! While you can buy the completed kits online it is considerably more difficult to do so since you really can't see the picture on the front cover in any detail. It makes it difficult to judge whether or not you really like the design or not.

What does such a silly topic have to do with science anyway? Actually not a whole lot but I was trying to force a connection in my mind today. Is there anything scientific about cross stitch? I came up with one thing: color. The assembly of different colors with thread on a cloth is scientific in nature because it uses the principles of harmony/complementary colors to create pleasure. The absorption and reflection of white light creates the beauty of the combination of colors selected for any art project. Cross-stich does that with floss, aida cloth and a needle.

What beauty- I love crafts. Crafts relate to science as well. Almost everything in this world does.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

cooking and chemistry

I think it is more typical for people to garner an interest in chemistry from their interest in cooking. I, on the other hand can confidently say that I was never really interested in cooking before I studied chemistry. It is only since I got married and more interested in domestic matters that my interest in cooking has really piqued.

Today I made a french lamb stew that I found several weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal. Often on weekends WSJ has a food section- most notably I've seen this stew recipe as well as  whole section about how to cook artichokes. (Artichokes are hands down the best vegetable out there.)

After I browned the lamb in hot oil and then carmelized it with sugar followed by a heating in the oven I felt like I was in chem lab. Heating, cooling, thickening, wetting.......it took me all day to prepare the lamb to combine it with a few fresh veggies for a complete stew.

For the first time I used my joint frying pan/casserole pan to cook part of the stew on then burner and then bake it for a bit in the oven. The broth was made with whole garlic, chicken broth, flour, drippings from the lamb, fresh sage and, of course, salt and pepper.

All the vegetables were fresh except the peas and the pearl onions- I parboiled them in water and then plunged them into an ice bath. If that doesn't sound like something straight out of organic chem lab then I don't know what does! The "plunging" in the ice bath is supposed to prevent them from overcooking before they are neatly tucked with the lamb in the thick, bubbly, richly-smelling lamb base.

I love cooking and I love its relationship to science. I wish I realized this a long time ago.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Whatever will I write about as I am idle?

I am afraid of being idle. I get terribly bored very, very easily. This is why I hesitated before I said "no" to offers to teach in the fall. Am I crazy or am I just realistic? I have been told by numerous people, most notably my beloved sister, that I will be feeding around the clock for at least six weeks. By my calculation, that puts me at mid-August or so before the madness ends. This is exactly when the fall semester begins. This is why I declined offers to teach in the fall.

My spring schedule is already filling up- the question is really what kind of a load I can realistically handle. I would love to take on more classes and even move up in the ranks in terms of the level of classes that I teach. I'm not sure that will happen based on my tendency for exhaustion.

This is becoming a reality quickly- last night we ordered the pack n play and the stroller/carseat travel system. Next weekend we purchase our crib/changing table.

Motherhood has nearly begun. Embarking on the unknown is both tremendously daunting and excruciatingly exciting simultaneously. This is a bit like the curve, severe dip and then drop-off of your scariest roller coaster at the park. The question is- is it fun or just very frightening?

In recent years I vote more for frightening as I get severe whiplash on any roller coaster. Perhaps this is why traditionally, nature favors younger mothers. Am I too old for this?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Titration Help! Ahhhhh- how do I do the titration lab?

Titration help handout:


The acid/base titration with NaOH and acetic acid is the oldest experiment in the book. I did it when I was in college (a long time ago) and both schools for which I work do the lab. I know they repeat it in higher level classes with a few more steps to make it more challenging. So it is to your advantage to try to master it at this level so you can handle more detail when they throw it at you.


Part I: Standardization of a base (NaOH)

Why would you standardize a solution? Generally it is because you need to precisely know the concentration of it.

What variables do you know in the first part? You know how many moles of acid that you started with. (KHP). You can calculate moles of acid in your starting material. You also know that the balanced chemical equation for the neutralization of KHP and NaOH reacts in a 1:1 mole ratio between acid and base.

KHP(aq) + NaOH(aq) → KNaP(aq) + H2O(l)

With your buret, you measure the volume of NaOH required to neutralize your KHP acid. You know the experiment is complete when you see your indicator turn a faint pink color. This indicates the pH of the titration is greater than 7 (slightly past the end point the pH can jump up sharply). The true equivalence between NaOH and KHP comes a few drops before you see pink in the solution but we approximate equivalence at the point the solution turns pink.

How do you calculate the concentration of the standard solution? You take moles of acid and set it equal to moles of NaOH. (You know this is true based on the balanced equation).

You can read the volume of NaOH required to complete the titration on your buret. This is the total mL (or Liters) you used to complete the titration.

Simply divide moles of base by liters of solution to get the concentration of the standard solution.

In part II of this experiment you are working backwords. What are your known and unknown variables? Let’s think about this carefully:

Generally you are told to pipette a certain amount of acetic acid in a flask. Let’s say you have a 5.00 mL calibrated pipette. You have 5.00 mL or 0.00500 L of acetic acid in your flask. (Notice I used three sig figs by adding two zeroes to the end of my liter value)

In this titration you now have a known concentration of NaOH from part A. (No, it is not 1:1 as I often see in my lab reports for this lab. It is the value you determined in part A). At this end of the titration, your acetic acid turns pink when moles of acetic acid is essentially equal to moles of base. How do you use this data to derive the concentration of your acid?

Let’s say you have a 0.2540 M concentration of NaOH from part A and you used 26.80 mL of your NaOH to titrate your acetic acid. You can determine moles of NaOH used for the titration by multiplying your concentration of NaOH by your volume of NaOH.

0.2540 moles/Liter NaOH X 0.02680 L NaOH= moles of NaOH (moles/Liter X Liters is always moles)

We know this is equal to moles of acetic acid by the balanced chemical equation.

What volume is this divided by to get the concentration? The original volume of acid you pipette into your flask- 5.00 mL or 0.00500 L.





Saturday, April 02, 2011

Triumph!!

It feels so good to have the check box for "excellent" on one's performance review. Yes, I'm going out with a bang!

I leave my job at the end of May to embark on motherhood. I was worried about finding a place to teach when I want to come back to it. Would all of my schools replace me with younger teachers, fresh out of school, brimming with enthusiasm?

Of course there are no guarantees in life but I feel reasonably assured that I have a place to teach come January when my newborn will be six months old and ready to spend a few hours a week with a babysitter.

Hurray! Bravo for that "excellent" check box on the evaluation form.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lewis structures, VSEPR theory thoughts

My fourth time through this topic in lecture and lab is yet an other new beginning. I rewrote my handout AGAIN for the third time. My supplementary handout started out as a four-page document, evolved into an eight-page document and has now become a 12-page document. Whewwwww! Challenging. Every time I teach this topic I realize more and more exactly what the students don't understand. The strange thing is that out of the three textbooks I own on chemistry, only one actually explains it thoroughly from the lewis dot models to the VSEPR shapes to the dipole moments/polarity and overall symmetry of each molecule. Is this a new topic? I doubt it. I'm trying to understand why none of the book authors can sufficiently explain it.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Power Of a Personal Network

Today I'd like to share about the importance of networking. There are endless workshops out there about how to speed network, work a room, meet important people and build your network. Many of these workshops are helpful, yet leave out a personal element that makes networking all the more relevant to the individual. This is a true story about how I was hired at my current job:

I have played the flute since age ten, piano since age five. Music is strictly a hobby for me although at various times in the past I've taken it more seriously than others. About four years ago I attempted to join a community orchestra here in San Diego. What a shock! If you want to play in a high-calibre, amateaur group here in southern Cal you need a PhD in music performance. I am not kidding- there are professionals competing for unpaid community orchestras around here. There is one orchestra in particular that attracts professionals and high-quality amateurs. You have to be a very good musician to join and you have to know the right people.

Three years ago I started taking flute from a former member of the San Diego Symphony. Last summer she invited me to perform my Quantz Concerto at the  First United Methodist Church in La Mesa. (She is music director at that church). One of the ushers was a teacher/professor at Southwestern College in  Chula Vista. He asked me about my day job and I told him I had taught some chemistry at community colleges and worked in industry around San Diego. Small world! He told me that he taught physics at Southwestern and gave me the name of the department chair. The rest is history.

I did not perform at that church to get a new job. It was the last thing on my mind. I strive to become a quality musician; even someday join a high-quality orchestra here in San Diego. My performance at that church was purely for furtherment in the musical world. However, I walked away with a new contact in the chemistry education world.

You never know who in your network can help you at any given time in your life. Networks,  skills, hobbies and ALL of the people you know are very important in your network.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An article about introducing science to students


I just read this article from NEA journal fom fall 2010. It describes science in a very general way. I found it helpful in explaining the difference between science and other disciplines to my students.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

embarking on motherhood

As I pass the halfway mark toward my July 2 due date I am somewhat overwhelmed by the remarkable changes my life will undergo in the next year. I look at where I've been over the last twelve or so. I moved down to San Diego in the fall of 1999 footloose, fancy-free of obligation and responsibility; ready to tackle the world and anything that might come my way.

Much of what I've done has been very rewarding; I've taken this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be completely selfish. I've followed Ayn Rand's philosophy of being true to myself.

As rewarding as this has been, it is ending, and now I am entering a new phase in which I cannot keep this same mentality and behavior. It must be my responsibility now to think of the other people in my life ahead of myself. I must provide for their protection and education and well-being. I can no longer date that random guy (that ended three+ years ago when I got married), take a job in another state, or make other random decisions that ride on my daily desires.

In a way I have lost my freedom and in yet another I have gained so much more. The lack of responsibility and obligation seems initially very liberating, however, over time it becomes very empty. It is the responsibility and obligation in life that yields meaningful and lasting relationships. As hard as these can be sometimes they are really what makes life worth living.

I will be a mother, a protector and a care-giver. Hopefully I won't completely lose my professional identity or my sense of daily accomplishments completely inside myself. My first and foremost priority will be my child and my family. I will give my previous sense of self to the betterment, protection and furtherment of another human being in what may become my most significant relationship yet. I am so excited for what awaits me.

I am scared as well. Am I really ready for this? I think so. It has taken me nearly as much time to prepare for this as it took to raise and prepare an infant for college (18 years). I am now nearly 18 years out of high school. A completely different being has emerged with new ideas, values, and sense of the world. I am ready to be a parent.
Cheers to the future.

Monday, February 07, 2011

My husband the general contractor

One of the wonderful things about being married to my beloved husband is the way he surprises me. I thought I married a great guy three years ago when we walked down the aisle. I am finding out, day by day, that I married a truly amazing person who never ceases to amaze me. I'm constantly finding out new things about him.

Most recently, I've discovered he is a general contractor. What? You ask. The whole thing started with a notice from our home owner's association in October that we were required to leave our condo in the first week in December. Then, a week after that I confirmed something I had suspected for about a week- I was pregnant. It was decided that I would move out of our house indefinitely during the termite tenting. Because we packed up all of our belongings and moved everything into a storage unit, we decided there had never been a better time to tackle that kitchen remodel project.

That was just the beginning. Not many people are remodeling right now. With unemployment high and cash scarce many customers are shying away from Home Depot. For this reason, the barn-burner deals started trickling in. Pretty soon the budget we had allocated became enough to remodel kitchen AND bathrooms. And then we just decided to do the entire house all at once from the kitchen to the bathrooms with some new carpet and hallway linen closets.

And I discovered that my husband is a general contractor. He can negotiate deals with different vendors around town- he knows where to look, how to ask, and how to bargain. His business skills are about 150% better than mine.

What a deal. I love marriage.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chromium VI: A Human Interest Story




Today I taught nomenclature in my introductory chemistry class and I thought of a wonderful human interest story to make type II transition metals (type II ionic compounds)  all the more relevant. Here it is:

Have you ever seen the movie Erin Brockovitch? If you  haven't, I highly recommend that you do. In this 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovitch, a local electricity company releases hexavalent chromium (Chromium VI) into the drinking water of a southern California town. The chromium VI compound is used to prevent corrosion at a cheap price. Not just at a cheap monetary price; at the price of the general health of the surrounding population. This happened from the early '50s through the mid '60s. According to the film, Brockovitch took a low-level clerk position at a law firm to pay her bills amid her rather low-class, somewhat promiscuous, borderline-sketchy lifestyle. Initially, her treatment at the firm was very poor.

Whether it was luck, God, general intelligence or a combination of all of these attributes is unknown. However, in her filing and general administrative duties at the law firm she noticed something odd about documents she was given. She noticed several people in a real estate case had family members with severe health problems (cancer, chronic illness and other complications).

One thing led to another and by the end of the film Brockovitch won the largest class-action settlement in US history against PG&E.

Brockovitch did not have a chemistry background and probably did not know what the health ramifications of Chromium VI might be. Can you imagine how much faster her work might have gone if she had known about this?

Today we looked at Chromium is several different oxidation states. Do you know how to figure out the oxidation state of chromium in a type II ionic compound?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

molecule vs compound. What is the difference?


I realized recently that I use the terms molecule and compound interchangeably. Someone asked me what the difference is and I said, "same thing." This answer is actually incorrect- there is a difference between molecules and compounds although many people (chemists included) use the terms interchangeably. The reason for this is that the two have many things in common.

Both molecules and compounds follow the law of definite proportions. Another way of saying this is to say that in every molecule of water you have one atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen. An alternate way to state this is to say that for every 16 grams of oxygen (per molecule) you always have 2 grams o hydrogen. This is true whether you refer to molecules or compounds.

The terminology differs however when we talk about the type of bonding that occurs in molecular compounds vs other compounds. (Notice how I used the word "compound" in both terms. It implies that something molecular is a compound by nature meaning that it follows the law of definite proportions.) A molecular compound is one that only contains nonmetals (generally) and is held together by the sharing of electrons. Whole molecules might be held rigidly in place by intermolecular forces between molecules but there is never any official chemical bonding between molecules. The sharing of electrons might not be equal. This is the cause of polarity and electronegativity differences. The degree of polarity can actually be calculated on a scale of severity to rate the nature of the polar bond. A bond that has a high enough polarity or electronegativity difference between atoms is actually no longer considered a polar covalent bond but moves into the ranks of the ionic bonds.

Two atoms that have vastly differing electronegativities are bound together by forces of electricity, not the sharing of electrons. It can be thought of as a donation of electrons from one species to the other to create two charged species- positive and negative. The bond is then an electrostatic interaction. One of my students expressed it this way, "It's like the difference between lego legs and a magnet- the ionic bond is the magnet attraction." (and a compound as opposed to a molecular compound)

The "lego legs" illustration refers to the characteristic of molecular bonding in which the sharing of electrons (through overlap of orbitals) creates distinctly arranged atoms that form distinctive shapes with distinctive angles.  In the "magnetic" bonding, the atoms arrange themselves to minimize repulsions and maximize attractions.  In some ways the atoms all float together in magnetic attraction (as if they don't form individual compounds but one big centralized compound made up of many formula units) but if you broke the unit down into pieces it would always have the same ratio of atoms as the compound itself (due to law of definite proportions).

What a talented student! Lego legs vs magnets! I love it.

Randall Knight comes alive in my classroom!

I've finally implemented the idea of instant feedback from the Five Easy Lessons book by Randall Knight. Did I need complex electronic equipment to do it? No. I passed out large index cards and each student divided them into 4 parts. A, B,C, D. Now whenever I want to estimate the number of students who understand my point I ask for people to hold up the appropriate card.

I learned what does NOT work. If you ask the students to give you a rating on the easy/hard nature of the quiz they have no idea what they are talking about. Almost everybody gave me "B" (the quiz was easy). Funny thing that the average was a 65%. Guess they are remiss in the idea of easy vs hard.

Its a subtle change in teaching technique but I already feel a difference. I am connecting with my students on a deeper level. I can't wait to continue.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blog2Print: Try it- it's great!

Blog2Print

If you want to see your electronic words in hardcopy print HERE IS YOUR CHANCE.  Some of us enter blogging contests like Bora's Open Lab publication in hopes of being published. But- amind 900 entries what odds are there of actually seeing your name in print?

Blog2Print is a web site that will automatically turn your blog into a book for a small fee. My blog was a total of 60 pages in color and cost about 30$ with all of the shipping costs. I love it- my words are preserved for all of eternity in a hardbound copy I can keep on my shelves.

The best part is you get to dedicate it to someone. Mine is "For my husband John Shamon who makes it all possible."

Good luck becoming a hardcopy published author. You don't even have to win a competition to do it!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Personal Journals of LM Montgomery: My growing interest in a topic




The evolution of my interest in these literary works spans twenty-five years. For the amount of time I have been interested in this topic I should have received a PhD by now. The unfortunate part of this is that my studies have never been official or affiliated with any kind of university. But, nevertheless it is true, I am fascinated with the life and works of LM Montgomery. Her writing never ceases to lift my spirits in times of trial or provide general entertainment on a rainy day.

When I was ten years old I had very little exposure to television or movies. My viewing was limited to Little House on the Prairie and a few other harmless shows. However, one night I got lucky: Mom and Dad were having a party and needed me to stay upstairs for the entire evening. This meant that not only did I get to watch TV but I got to move the TV into my bedroom to watch it. Since this had never happened before I was thrilled beyond belief. My mom set up the TV in my room to watch the brand new Canadian version of the classic movie Anne of Green Gables. From this moment (was it 1985 or 1986 that it made its debut on television?) I was a hard-core Anne of Green Gables/LM Montgomery fan. Little did I know how my life changed the night I saw the movie for the first time.

Shortly after that I had my own copy of the book, then the entire Anne series (8 books). Not too long after that I had the Emily of New Moon books and a few others. By the time the second movie came out I had parts of the first movie memorized.

As I grew older my enthusiasm waned a bit. Anne seemed a bit juvenile as I got into high school and then during college I was too busy for my old love affair with a fictional character. It wasn't sometime after college that I discovered LM Montgomery  had written novels for adults. There are actually two novels for adults: Blue Castle and A Tangled Web. Both were written while she was living in the Toronto area. A Blue Castle is actually based on a location she visited as a tourist in Toronto; the owners of the hotel have created a museum to commemorate the fame she created out of their hotel in her novel.

When I met my husband one of the things that interested me about him was his Canadian origins. He had lived in Toronto for a number of years before he moved to the United States. I wondered if he had ever heard of famous Anne and her creator. Of course he had not.  (Most men are not overly fond of Anne in the way I am.) I told him about my love affair with LM Montgomery and her origins on Prince Edward Island and he convinced me we should pay her hometown a visit. So we did. And thus began my second love affair with LM Montgomery.

In 2009 we fulfilled a life-long dream of mine and went to Prince Edward Island. Cavendish is just as beautiful as Montgomery describes in her books. We were even able to stay right across the street from the Cavendish cemetery that borders the MacNeill family property. Green Gables is just down the road. Of course the guest house was named after Rachel Lynde (of all people) and ties in with the theme of the different buildings Anne used from Cavendish in her Anne novel. The entire setup is a fairy land.

How much delight it gave me to roam the old MacNeill property so elegantly described in LM's books. The old MacNeill house was torn down long ago - apparently Uncle John was not thrilled with LM's literary fantasies (as obvious in her journals) and rid the property of the house in a utilitarian sweep of the unnecessary. However, John's son and his wife Jenny refurbished the old foundation and created a walking path with a gift shop nearby. You can traverse through the haunted wood to the Green Gables house and walk through the famous Lover's Lane. Surprisingly the Lake of Shining Waters is not there but  over at Park Corner (Campbell home) which is several miles away.

Trips to Rustico and to the North Cape proved to me that there is even more to PEI than Cavendish and Green Gables. I could buy a summer home there it is so beautiful.

It was at the gift shop on the Macneill property that I first became interested in autobiographical information about LM Montgomery. There is a book called the Alpine Path in which she describes her literary career. It is the only such book available by her about her own career and decisions. I read it from cover to cover and found it fascinating. (As an added bonus, John MacNeill's son David MacNeill signed a copy of it for me)

Here in Brampton I discovered that Montgomery and Ewan Macdonald (her husband) served in the Presbyterian Church in Norval. It is about fifteen minutes down the road from us.  In the town there is a bakery owned by the Crawford family; Marion Crawford was one of the children who grew up in the house Montgomery used as her scaffold for Green Gables. The Webbs were cousins of the MacNeill family in Cavendish.  The bakery has a museum in the back dedicated to the memory of LM Montgomery. Of course they sell the 100-year anniversary memorabilia, display her belongings like old teacups and dishes, first-editions of her novels, and display pictures, flyers and other advertisements from the many theatre, church and other functions during her time at the manse. Apparently there is a garden dedicated to her memory- it features her favorite flowers. You can drive by the old Presbyterian manse; however, it is not a museum because the current  pastor of the Presbyterian church (and his family) live there.

The University of Guelph nearby (about 1.5 hour drive from here) owns all of the original journals, scrapbooks, fiction manuscripts and correspondence of LM Montgomery in a special collection that is available for public viewing. Her son Stuart donated the collection shortly before his death in 1982. I am drooling already in anticipation of going there. And go there I will because my in-laws live here. What luck for me!

Meanwhile, The Blue Castle and A Tangled Webb are high on my list of books to read in the near future.

May the love affair continue!