Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Basket: It’s more than just candy!

Easter is upon us, and with it comes the dilemma- just how much sweets am I gonna put in that Easter basket?

Well, I didn’t want to have no candy at all, but I also didn’t want to overload Mabel with candy, not to mention Nemo who is too little for candy.

So I brainstormed to come up with non-candy options for the Easter baskets and egg hunt.

A basket for Mabel, my nephew, and Nemo.

A basket for Mabel, my nephew, and Nemo.

So, what did I include?

There are bunny face masks (Mabel got pink, my nephew white, and Nemo blue).

Each kid is also getting a tambourine (a freebie I got from a friend who works for Parents Magazine).

Each basket has a clementine.

Mabel and my nephew are also each getting a toothbrush (to get those jelly beans!).

Additionally, Mabel is getting a My Little Pony drinking cup, a bunny finger puppet, and some hair accessories.

The eggs in Mabel’s and my nephew’s basket include some jelly beans and a peep.  Nemo’s eggs contain Cheerios and Kix cereal.

I also filled a bunch of eggs for the egg hunt with a single jelly bean (the point is to find the eggs, so there doesn’t have to be a lot in each one), some individually wrapped prunes (we call them “prune treats” here), and then there are some peeps and chocolate marshmallow eggs in fancy plastic eggs for the grownups.

There will definitely be plenty of candy on Easter, but I hope it will be secondary to the other gifts!

 

Some other ideas that might work-

coins (for older kids)

pens/pencils/erasers in Easter themes

Play Doh

muffins or cookies

little gifties from the dollar store (games, toys, etc)

The possibilities are endless.

What are you putting in your little ones’ Easter baskets.

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Filed under Mabel, Mother, Nemo

How About We: Date Day

On Sunday Mac and I had a Date Day.  Not a Date Night, a Date Day.  An entire 10 hour chunk of time that was just the two of us, no kids, doing stuff together- like eating a meal, going for a walk, shopping, etc.

I jokingly called it “Mac Day” because I’d organized it to be things that Mac liked.  He’s the stay at home parent, and he does nice things for me daily (packing my lunch, running errands, bringing me home flowers for no reason, etc.), so I wanted to reciprocate.  However, since he’s a guy, I can’t just bring home flowers.  So, I planned a day- all of it a surprise for him.  He knew when we were leaving and that we’d be in the city, but otherwise, he was in the dark.

I planned a whole day in Manhattan using HowAboutWe.com (and no, this isn’t a sponsored post or anything!).  I happened to notice a Sponsored Post from them on my Twitter feed because it mentioned bacon- specifically Baconery (a bacon bakery).  Mac likes bacon.  I wanted to take him to the Baconery.  So, I clicked through and explored HowAboutWe.com.  They had so many cool date ideas I thought Mac would like, that I actually paid for the membership so I could book them!

I think it actually worked out to be a good deal financially because much of what we did on our Date Day was free with our membership.  Since we live in the burbs of NYC, I’m not sure it makes sense to keep paying monthly for the membership, but perhaps a few months out of the year, when there are dates we like, it would be worth it.

So, here’s what we did!

Our first stop was Baconery on the Upper West Side for a late lunch.  In a word, yum.

date day food mcphd 032413

Some of the food we tried- at Baconery, Murray’s, and Bees Knees.

Our HowAboutWe “Bacon Me Crazy” date entitled us to drinks, sandwiches, “bacons” (ie a strip of bacon dipped in chocolate), and baked goods to take home.  I got the Wilbur (basically a BLT with avocado), and Mac got the Elvis (bacon, banana, honey).  For dessert, I had a bacon strip dipped in chocolate with rainbow sprinkles, and Mac got bacon strip dipped in chocolate sprinkled with more bacon (did I mention he likes bacon?).  There was a jazz duo (Beautiful Pussycats) playing while we dined cafe style.  After that, we were stuffed, so we got a chocolate peanut butter bacon cookie and a chocolate bacon Rice Krispy Treat to go.

From there, we headed all the way down to the West Village where we would spend the rest of the day.  I didn’t want us to feel rushed, but I also didn’t want us to feel bored, like we had a lot of time to kill, so I chose to book a Stray Boots Greenwich Village scavenger hunt- again through HowAboutWe’s “Urban Adventure” date.

This worked out really great.  Since the rest of our scheduled activities were happening in the West Village, we could do the scavenger hunt at our leisure, in between the other scheduled activities.  It was fun to wander less than aimlessly, with a purpose, and explore the area (although at the end of the day Mac and I agreed that we weren’t sure we would have paid full price for it had it not been included in our HowAboutWe membership).

So, standing under the arch in Washington Square park, we started the scavenger hunt.

date day mcphd 032413

Just some of the sites we saw on our Stray Boots Greenwich Village Scavenger Hunt.

At 4:30, we took a break at the Bees Knees Baking Company.  Our HowAboutWe “What’s the Buzz?“date included a drink and two cake cups each.  We chose red velvet, honey bourbon, banana marshmallow, and chocolate peanut butter.  We shared the red velvet and honey bourbon at the bakery, and took the other two home.  We enjoyed sitting and people watching at the bar facing the front windows, and it was nice to sit and take a break; however, we both felt the cake cups were just OK, not anything spectacular.

After our little break, we resumed the scavenger hunt.  We were both thrilled when it took us to Murray’s Cheese Shop.  Mac and I love us some stinky cheese, and Murray’s is the place to go for any and all cheese (except maybe American Cheese?).  Since we were there, we decided to try some cheeses.  A friendly and knowledgeable cheese monger gave us samples of several Aged Goudas and we settled on Aged Goat Gouda and Roomano and took home two big hunks of cheese.

After all the sampling at Murray’s, it was time for our next stop- the highlight of my ‘Mac Day’ festivities- Goorin Brothers Hat Shop for our “Hat Trick” date.

Ages ago, I had recalled Mac saying that he’d really like a hat, but was never sure what fit him, how it was supposed to look, etc.  So, I figured that this “Hat Trick” date would be perfect.  Surely a hat shop that had been around since the 1800s would know what he should get, and have it in a size that fit him.

He was totally taken aback that I’d remembered, and totally stoked to find a hat.

The sales guy offered us Bourbon while we browsed (part of the date) and tried on hats.  He offered suggestions on what would work, what fit, told us the history of the various hats as well as the hat shop.  In the end, Mac narrowed it down to two different hats and wound up choosing the first hat he’d put on when we first walked in (made all the nicer by the substantial discount our date entitled us to).  I think he looks quite dashing in it, and am looking forward to occasions on which he can wear it.

date day goorin mcphd 032413

Goorin Brothers had plenty of stuff for the ladies as well, but this was “Mac Day” so I only browsed for myself!

With hat in hand, we left Goorin Brothers and picked up our scavenger hunt where we left off, shortly completing it in Washington Square Park near where we had started.  At that point it was almost 7pm, so we decided to see if we could be seated at the restaurant early for our 8pm reservation (and knowing it was an ungodly early hour for dinner in NYC, we didn’t have trouble doing so).

Another HowWeMet date (“Crave Worthy“) was our dinner at The Quarter.  We had a smokey tomato bisque with grilled brie croutons, wine, and two burgers with fries.  Everything was delish (although not amazing enough that we’d make a return trip)- and the menu board had several intriguing items.

With that, our Date Day was over and we headed back home.  Our favorite dates- and the places we’d return on our own- were definitely Baconery and Goorin Brothers.  The Bees Knees and scavenger hunt were fun, but I’m not sure that we’d pay for them outside the HowAboutWe membership.  That said, Stray Boots has a Museum of Natural History scavenger hunt that might be fun to do (since we have a family membership to the museum).

The final surprise, for both of us, was that the kids were already asleep when we got home!  A big thank you to my mom for babysitting!

It was really nice to get to spend a rare day alone together.  It was also a trip doing new and different things together.  Now that we have two kids, opportunities for adventures seem few and far between (having been replaced with parenting misadventures it would seem!).  I’m looking forward to Nemo being weaned so that we can perhaps get an entire weekend alone together!

___________________________

It just so happens that our date, and this post coincided with Kelly’s Show Us Your Life:  Date Ideas!

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It’s not that hard: a nursing mom’s dilemma

So, next week I am scheduled to attend a one-day conference not far from home.  When I registered, there was a section about special needs.  I filled it out to indicate that I will need a nursing mother’s room in which to pump.  The conference is from 9am to 5pm, with a two hour drive before and after it.  I will need to pump at least once.

So, today I get an email from the conference organizer, CCing the Director of Catering and Convention Services who, I’m told, “has a suitable room on the third floor of the hotel.”  And whom I should contact directly for specifics.

Below is our exchange.

___________________________________

3:34pm

To:  Director of Convention Services

From: Momma, PhD

Hi Director Woman-

I will be attending the [Conference Name] event next week and will need a private space in which to pump (I’m a nursing mom).

[Conference Organizer Woman] suggested I contact you directly for the details.

Thanks very much for your accommodations.

Momma, PhD

________________________________________

4:01pm

From: Director of Conference Services

To:  Momma, PhD

Hi Momma, PhD, I did speak to [Conference Organizer Woman]. We have a large REST ROOM* with a comfortable chair on our third floor. It is private and the door locks. I will be in at 8am on the 3rd. Feel free to ask for me and I can show you the space.

Regards, Director Woman

(*emphasis mine, as in, she wants me to pump milk in a place designed for people to urinate and deficate, and then feed it to my baby.  Is this the space that Federal Law requires them to provide?  Certainly it mustn’t be since that law specifies it can’t be a bathroom.)

______________________________________

4:05pm

To:  Director of Convention Services

From: Momma, PhD

I thank you for your effort, however, a bathroom isn’t going to work.  Is there a guest room I could pop into, or even a conference room with a lock?  Pumping milk in a bathroom isn’t really sanitary.

________________________________________

4:18pm

From: Director of Conference Services

To:  Momma, PhD

The meeting space is committed. What times will you need so I can come up with another solution.

______________________________________

4:24pm

To:  Director of Convention Services

From: Momma, PhD

The lunch break is from 11am to 1pm.  Assuming things will run over (as they always do), a 30min period sometime between 11:30am and 1pm would suffice.

In the past, venues have just given me access to a guest room (at hotels) or the employee nursing mother’s room.

Does the [large hotel] not have a nursing mother’s room available for employees?  That would work.

________________________________________

4:22pm,

From: Director of Conference Services

To:  Momma, PhD

I just spoke to our reservationist we are trying to work out half of a parlor suite. Please stand by.

________________________________________

4:28pm

From: Director of Conference Services

To:  Momma, PhD

We will certainly make a reasonable effort to accommodate your needs.* I am not sure if you had seen my last email.

(*Emphasis mine.  Where I come from, this translates as:  “You are a pain in the @ss and I’ve already exerted a tremendous amount of effort to deal with your unreasonable demands, so kiss my behind.”)

______________________________________

4:31pm

To:  Director of Convention Services

From: Momma, PhD

Well, if you cannot accommodate me, please let me know because it will mean I am unable to attend.*

(*Where I come from this translates as, “Give me a flipping break.  You are a HOTEL, full of rooms.  Check out is at noon.  Check in is at 3pm.  I need a room for a whopping 30 minutes anytime between between 11:30am and 1pm.  If I do not pump, my boobs will explode.  Federal law says you should have a room that fits my needs.  Figure it the f^$k out.”)

________________________________________

4:32pm

From: Director of Conference Services

To:  Momma, PhD

I am sure we can, I just need to make sure we have an available guest room. Honestly I am not trying to be difficult.*

(*Emphasis is mine.  Heads up- if you are in a customer service profession and have to say this to a customer in need of service, you are not doing your job well)

________________________________________

4:57pm

From: Director of Conference Services

To:  Momma, PhD

I will have a room for you but will have to let you know where it is the day of event. The hotel is going into a sold out situation and knowing you wont need the room first thing when you arrive is great information to have.

We will certainly work this out. You can ask for me when you arrive and I will get you to the right place.

________________________________________

5:03pm

To:  Director of Convention Services

From: Momma, PhD

OK.  Thanks.  I appreciate your efforts.  This is my second kid, and I’ve done this for many conferences, and never had it be such a problem for the venue.*

(*Emphasis mine.  Where I come from this translates as, “You are bad at your job and even though you are helping me, I’m still pissed off by your ineptitude.”)

________________________________________

5:06pm

From: Director of Conference Services

To:  Momma, PhD

The issue is we are very busy. Which is good! [insert smiley face emoticon here]

________________________________________

That was the exchange.  How do you respond to a smiley face emoticon?  Is that standard operating procedure for a Director of Convention Services?

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Filed under #scimom, breastfeeding, Mother, Scientist

Squeezing in play

Working full time means most of the hours I spend at home, my kids are asleep.  Most of their waking hours, I’m at work.  It stinks.  It’s hard.  I miss out on a lot.

Playing with them is something I don’t get to do much of.  I have to squeeze it in when I can.

One of those times I can squeeze it in is first thing in the morning.  I have fond memories of my sister and I piling into my parents’ bed on the weekends to snuggle and play and tickle and laugh.  Since my dad was always an early riser, our only chance was weekends.

Since Mac and I are NOT early risers, but Nemo and Mabel ARE, they pretty much come into our bed every single morning to snuggle and play and tickle and laugh.

Mabel 'checking her email' on my alarm clock.

Mabel ‘checking her email’ on my alarm clock.

Mabel pretends she’s jumping into a pool by jumping onto our blue comforter.  Nemo plays peek-a-boo with a blanket or a burp cloth.  There’s just roughhousing and merrymaking- although some mornings Mac and I are only half awake to experience it.

On mornings that I have an early meeting or there is a doctor’s appointment that alters our schedule, I really miss our morning snuggle times.

It may not be ideal, or educational, or long enough, or often enough, but it is quality play time with my kids and I cherish it.

Snuggling with these two is an excellent way to start a day.

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build em up

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WARNING: Pseudoscience!

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Source: IFLS

For more info on how to vet sources of information, see here.

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An open letter to girls interested in STEM

Today I had the privilege of spending my morning talking to high school girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Below is what I said to them, and what I’d say to girls everywhere who are interested in STEM.

I hope they enjoyed meeting and hearing from me even half as much as I enjoyed meeting and hearing from them.

Hi Ladies- I’m really happy to be here to talk with you today. You’re lucky to have this event.  I would have loved to attend this kind of thing when I was in high school.  Growing up, I didn’t know any scientists- it wasn’t until college that I met any.

So, what kind of scientist am I?  I’m a bioengineer.  That means I apply principles normally associated with engineering to biology.  So when you think about engineering, building a bridge for instance, you think about how long is it?  How many cars does it have to carry?  Is it a one lane bridge over a brook in a rural area or the new Tappan Zee that has to carry thousands of cars a day, hundreds at one time?  Is there lots of wind?  Does the bridge have to flex and sway?  Are the pilings in a river, exposed to flowing water or on the banks in the dirt?

Well, the same kinds of questions apply to biology.  What kind of cell are you studying?  A bone cell that’s used to a hard surface or a mammary cell that’s used to a soft surface or a blood cell that’s meant to float around with no surface at all?  Is the cell exposed to flow like a lung cell exposed to air flow or an endothelial cell (those that make up your blood vessels) that’s exposed to blood flow?  Does the cell have to move and flex like a muscle or the skin on your knee or does it have to remain still and cushioned like a brain cell?  Is it meant to carry a heavy weight, like the cells in your foot, or no weight at all, like the cells in your eye?

If you want to study breast cancer, are mammary cells used to a soft surface or a hard one?  Would it make sense to put them on a petri dish that’s hard like bone?  No.  So bioengineers look at all the kinds of signals a cell gets normally in the body, and tries to recreate those in a lab.  This lets us learn about how the cells behave normally or misbehave in the case of a disease.  There’s also a large area of research into recreating tissues- bones, organs, skin, etc. to treat broken bones, organ failure, burns, etc.

So there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on.  In my career, as a graduate student, I studied breast cancer, and used a model system that allowed cells to form mini-mammary glands in the lab to understand how different scaffolds changed the behavior of the cells to make them more like tumor cells.  As a post-doc I studied liver, and designed two different systems that let hepatocytes (those are what we call liver cells) to form mini-livers in the lab to try and keep the liver cells functional outside the body.  Now, as a scientist at my company, I’m growing mini-guts in the lab to study colon cancer.

So how did I get here?  Well, I went to Carmel High School up in Putnam County and won the college admissions lottery by getting into Yale. I wasn’t the valedictorian of my high school class or anything, but I worked hard, did well enough, did lots of volunteer work, and something about my application clicked with admissions and I got it.

Once I got there, it was really hard.  I’m not going to lie.  I remember sitting in an orientation and chatting with another freshman.  She told me how she won some prestigious science award for discovering a new treatment for burn patients.  I thought to myself, “Oh Lord.  I am out of my league!”  There were lots of times I really doubted my abilities.  I thought for sure I didn’t belong there.  I remember calling home to my mom and telling her I couldn’t cut it.  Her response was, “Courtney, that school has been accepting students for 300 years.  I don’t think they made a mistake letting you in.”

Lo and behold, she was right and they were right.  I just kept chugging along. I wasn’t a superstar or a super genius, but I did well enough.

One thing that really helped me was finding a support system.  My freshman Chem Lab lecturer, Dr. Iona Black, the only black woman in Yale’s Chem department, took me under her wing and encouraged me to apply to a  fellowship program she had started.  It was called STARS:  Science, Technology, and Research Scholars.  She started the program to help keep women and minorities in the sciences.  They organized study sessions, had upper classmen serve as mentors and tutors, had study breaks at her house, arranged for our work study money to pay us to do lab research, helped us get into research labs, taught us how to give scientific presentations, and generally helped to encourage and support us.  STARS was crucial to my success in college and beyond- as much of what I learned has served me well since.  So, when you get to college, seek out a community, a support system and work with each other!

After graduating from Yale with a BS in Molecular Biochemistry and Biophysics, I went on to Princeton for grad school and was again blessed and lucky to find a supportive advisor, another woman who was an excellent mentor and role model for me.  After getting my PhD in Molecular Biology, I moved to MIT and the lab of yet another woman in the Department of Biological Engineering.  You may have seen her work.  Has anyone ever seen the picture of a mouse with an ear on its back?  It was in an episode of South Park once.  Well, that was her research- trying to engineer cells to make cartilage in the shape of an ear, for a little boy who had been born without an outer ear.  Amazing, right?

Now that I’m out of school and have a real job, I’m always happy to reach out to girls who are like I was- interested in science, so they can see someone doing that job and realize the possibilities that exist- like all the women on this panel.

So what is a typical day like for me?  Well, they vary, but usually include doing experiments in the lab, analyzing data, meeting with my Research Associate to go over data or experimental plans, designing experiments, one on one or group meetings to share data and give/get feedback, working on presentations for those meetings, or administrative stuff like timecards and safety training.  I enjoy it a lot- I find discovering something new exciting.  Figuring out how something works, getting a new piece of data, solving a problem- there’s a thrill associated with it.

So what advice can I give you- future women in STEM?  My first piece of advice would be, “Be careful who you take advice from.”  Not everyone is rooting for you.  Not everyone, including yourself, knows what you are capable of.

I’m going to tell you a story from my own childhood to prove this point. I know that after today, you probably won’t remember my name or any details about me, but I want you to remember Mr. Cucaruto.

When I was in 5th grade, I was in a Reading class for gifted and talented students.  However, I, apparently, was only gifted and talented in reading- not science or math or social studies, or any other subject.  So, on days when the kids who were gifted and talented in everything got to do ‘enrichment activities’ like cool field trips or special assemblies, I got to sit by myself in the main office during my reading period.

I remember sitting there and being really disappointed and jealous that I didn’t get to do all those things, knowing I’d hear all the kids talking about it the next day in Reading class.  So, I asked my mom why I wasn’t able to participate.  She said she didn’t know, but that I should ask my guidance counselor.  So, I arranged to talk to Mr. Cucaruto, my guidance counselor.  I asked why I wasn’t in the gifted and talented program except for reading and he gave me a bunch of bull-oney about “working my butt off” to get into that program.  I went home and told my mom she had to talk to him because he’d pretty much blown me off.

So, she went and spoke to him.  She reported back the simple fact that my standardized test scores weren’t high enough to get me in, except for the reading.  That was a real answer and I was satisfied.  I kept going in school, doing my best, for the most part, (except for one quarter of French where I did really bad).

Then in 7th grade we took more tests to see if we would qualify to take high school Regent’s math and science as eighth graders.  I placed into the high school math, but not the science.  Then, a week into 8th grade, Tiffany Radovich (who had placed into the science) decided she didn’t want to take it.  Her spot was offered to me and I took it.

I always struggled with the math- but never really liked it.  I struggled with the science too, but I loved it, especially the biology.  So, a few summer programs later (UCONN Mentor Connection, which is still in existence if you are interested really clinched it for me), I wanted to be a scientist.  I applied to college, and as I said, I won the lotto and got into Yale.

The very day that I got my acceptance letter from Yale, and my parents realized the financial aid package would make it possible for them to pay the tuition, my mom told me a secret she had kept since I was 10 years old in the 5th grade.

She said, “Courtney, do you remember when you were in 5th grade and Mr. Cucaruto blew you off?  Remember how I told you that he said your scores weren’t high enough?  Well, that’s not all he said.  He told me, ‘Mrs. Williams, you’re just going to have to accept that your daughter is a mediocre student at best.’  I never told you.  I didn’t want you to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I’m so glad he was wrong.”

And I’m so glad my mom kept that a secret from me.  Can you imagine a guidance counselor saying that?  That a parent shouldn’t expect much from her kid?!  What would that have changed about my perception of my own abilities if this guidance counselor, and educator, thought I was ‘mediocre at best’?!

So what I didn’t score as gifted and talented on a standardized test- that didn’t make me mediocre.  My dad barely finished middle school.  To this day he struggles to read and write.  I remember him asking me for help when I was still in elementary school.  It stinks he didn’t get the help he needed in school, but he’s brilliant- he can (and does) fix everything, from a motor to microscope stage to an earring, he can figure it out.  His ability to take a test tells you only about his ability to take a test, not what he is capable of.

There is an Albert Einstein quote that I love, he said, “Everyone is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”  Thanks to my mom, I didn’t spend my grade school career thinking I was mediocre at best.

My path to being a scientist wasn’t easy.  It was challenging, and there were plenty of times I felt like a fish climbing a tree and failed or came really close to failing.  There were (and still are) days I doubt my abilities and am certain that I’m not as smart or capable as people think I am.  What made the difference was staying the course- failing and trying again, and again, and again.  And not listening to the Mr. Cucaruto’s I encountered, even the Mr. Cucaruto in my head that tells me I’m ‘mediocre at best.’

If you want to be in STEM, you have to learn to fail.  Science it all about failure and being wrong.  Who has heard of the Scientific Method?  You form a hypothesis, then design an experiment to test it, right?  Well, sometimes the experiment fails and you have to do it over and over again to get it to work.  Then, once it does work, it might prove your hypothesis wrong.  You didn’t get it right.  You need a new hypothesis and you have to do more experiments.  It’s a cycle of failure and being wrong over and over again.  The trick isn’t being right, the trick is being okay with being wrong.

So, how many of the women in this room have been wrong?  How many have failed?  How many of us have failed SPECTACULARLY at something and felt like a big failure?  How many of us tried again despite that?  Looking back, are you glad you tried again?

If you can do that, you can fail and put aside that feeling of failure, and try again, you’re well on your way to being a scientist already.

Don’t listen to the Mr. Cucarutos you encounter, OK?  Fake it till you make it.  What do you do when you’re in a bad neighborhood and have no idea where you’re going?  Do you stop in the middle of the street looking confused and worried?  No!  You walk with purpose and totally pretend you know exactly what you’re doing.

Do that in other areas of your life.  Ignore the Mr. Cucaruto in your head who says you’re mediocre, and fake it.  Fail and try again, and again, and again.  Be a big, huge, embarrassing failure.  Then move on.

I’ve failed over and over again, with some successes sprinkled in here and there, and look where it got me?  I’m here getting to spend the day away from the lab to meet with all of you and have a free lunch!

So, even if you forget my name tomorrow, promise me you’ll remember to ignore Mr. Cucaruto, OK?  Promise?

Thanks a lot for listening.  I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say during lunch!

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Wordless Wednesday: Spring hasn’t sprung.

Happy first day of Spring.

I’m trying to be optimistic even though there is snow on the ground here and I had to wear gloves and my winter coat this morning.

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