Welcome to The Mom Scientist. Here are some things you might have missed since my last post.

In the last almost-a-year, I left school, got completely divorced, and got a part-time job at…school. The classification of my particular job requires that I NOT take classes while I work, so while I was looking for work, starting work, and doing work, the “I for Incomplete” on my transcript converted itself into an F for Calculus I.

I’m okay with that. When I have time, if I have time, and when I’m working a different job classification at some point in the future, I can take calculus again and let the new grade overwrite the old grade. Or, I could…not. It is just not the biggest concern in my life right now. At any rate, actually learning calculus would be more valuable to me than any grade I would earn in a class.


I have put off writing this post because I was really hoping that things would have turned out differently, and I could happily and triumphantly report that not only had I passed calculus, I had aced the final, gotten the best grade in the class, and received extra credit for pointing out some glaring flaws in the Principia Mathematica. Alas, that was not the way things went.

But the way things went tonight was pretty cool. My youngest boy had his first sleepover tonight, but I had all the rest of the kids at home. And I was in a good place to tackle the cleaning, reorganization, and redecorating of the kitchen. So I was moving furniture around, throwing out stale snacks, and looking up microwave carts online when I noticed that the background noise had become almost conspiratorial.

“Do you know where the vinegar is?”
“Yeah, there’s a whole GALLON of it here!”
“I’ll get the boxes of baking soda.”
“MOM! Do we have any food coloring?”

I had stockpiled the household chemicals for a big foamy blowout over the summer, and we’d not gotten around to it. Until tonight, apparently.

First, they dragged the recycling bin into the driveway, poured in six packs of Mentos, and shook up a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke and added that, too. The resulting mix didn’t do much except run through the bin’s drainage holes and start flowing toward the foot of the driveway, but they were excited about it and followed it for a while.


Next they got a large plate and apparently covered it with baking soda. I think they moved their venue to the bathtub before pouring vinegar on the plate. (They never did find the food coloring, thank goodness.) They also combined vinegar and baking soda in the bathroom sink, which may have loosened up the crusted-on toothpaste. They used the whole gallon of vinegar and all four boxes of baking soda; I could HEAR the reaction two rooms away.

They also did something with cornstarch that used all my cornstarch. After that, I offered up my container of stale instant tapioca. That’s probably what clogged the tub drain.

I’m not upset about the tub drain at all (even though the trap is probably filled with pudding). They had a blast, nothing was truly harmed, and we’ll probably learn something about chemistry while we think of ways to get the drain unclogged.


I kept thinking about an anecdote I had read in at least one book about the scientists who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. They used to say that there were two types of scientists — those who got chemistry sets as kids, and those who took apart radios. And I remembered a story about one young scientist whose mother calmly took the flaming trash can outside and set it in the snow. Science was important then, and having a scientific kid meant that the next generation’s lot would probably be better. You gain nothing by saying No, Stop that, and What did I tell you? except the deaths of curiosity and imagination.


Most of the time, my kids want to watch videos and play video games. When they’re feeling creative, they design video games, write stories, and draw comic books. But on those special nights when the stars line up just right, they want to make stuff explode, and I’m going to be the one who lets them.

In the middle

Right now I’m in the middle of things in almost every sense of the word. (Well, probably every sense of the word, but I didn’t want to limit myself. Let’s leave room over there for future expansion.)

I should really walk to the stairwell and take my own pictures.

At work we’re in the middle of a move to our new building, Laurentide Hall. Departments are moving in a floor at a time, so as we’re putting the more-final touches on our space in the College of Letters and Sciences Dean’s Suite, Languages & Literatures will be moving in to the floor below us. And as they move, Mathematics & Computer Sciences is packing to be ready to move in two weeks’ time. People are griping, worrying, giving away books (!), looking forward, and leaving old things behind. There is much psychic disturbance in the air, and I’m sensitive to it to a fairly high degree.

I sense tension, Captain.

In calculus we’re in the middle of the course….the second exam will be on Monday covering the rest of Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4. I seem to be keeping up with the pack, so although I do need to do some studying, I don’t feel I need to panic at the thought of a test.

In physics we got the results back from our first exam… and my score was the median (I got 60 percent; low was 20 percent and the high was 88 percent). That’s not bad for my first physics exam in my first physics class! I am weak in some areas but doing my best and getting help. Anyway — right in the middle again. If I work hard and stay strong and shore up my vector-component calculation skills I can still finish with a strong B, which is my target.

It feels like the middle of fall. The rainy season has started, the leaves have turned, and the rain is pushing them from the trees. We haven’t had “Indian Summer” yet or the Cold Snap of Doom….all that has yet to come.

Not my barn, but close enough.

I’m feeling more enmeshed at school, too. I’m not sure if that’s due to the student job putting me in the middle of the action, or my classes finally putting me in with other physics majors and math aficionados, but I feel more involved and connected to things.

Ironically, it’s right now that I’m realizing that unless I suddenly receive a winning lottery ticket in the mail, I will most likely have to take a “study break” and make some money for a while and come back to school later. I just won’t be able to pay off this semester in time to register for the next one. I might be able to swing a late add of Calc II in the spring so that I stay enrolled and could keep my student job, with more hours. Or I might have to get a regular job and see how that goes. I’m not sure. I’m kind of in the middle of mulling it over. I want to maintain my sanity and my grades as well as my forward progress.

Summer vacation, part 4 of 5

I did get myself a few nice things for my 45th birthday — all additions to my geeky-ass bookshelf.

First and second of all, I searched the Half Price Books website on a whim, looking for the other two volumes of the physics texts I’ll need for Physics 181 in the spring. Did you know they have an online store, listing books from all sorts of locations? I found one for 99 cents (the first edition, but it should do), then searched for “Feynman” and found Volume III of his Lectures on Physics for 99 cents as well (a library discard — shame on them!). Coincidentally, it was printed in July 1966, just the same as my Volume I that I found at a local store for something like 25 or 50 cents. I love getting every volume in the same edition in a set. Look out, Volume II!

Collect them all and get a free set of bongo drums!

I also found a used copy of the other Physics 181 text that was missing, from Amazon.com. While I was there I picked up a lovely-looking book, Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character, that is not only a consolidation of two Feynman texts but also includes an audio CD of a talk he gave in 1975 about his time at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project.

One more Feynman bio — really two in one.

So yes, I treated myself. I also received a Kindle Fire and was pleased to see that everything I had on Kindle 1 was, magically, already present on Kindle 2. Hello Newton, hello Copernicus; good to see you again. I will try to spend as much time with you as I will with Angry Birds.

Work-wise I’m staying busy at my student job. All chaos broke loose on my missed opportunity for full-time work in terms of it being offered to me again, but since I had already registered for all those classes in the fall and agreed to take on some really interesting projects with my current employer, I decided to stay the current course and gear up for finishing the degree on time rather than in 20 years.

94-year-old college graduate Hazel Soares

Geeky-ass bookshelf, Part Two

I have added several new items to my book collection, and reorganized my bookshelves. Here are the books on my textbook shelf:

  1. The Ideas of Algebra, K-12
  2. College Algebra (Lial and Miller, 1973)
  3. Modern Algebra: An Introduction (Durbin, 1985)
  4. Intermediate Algebra (Clark and Anfinson, 2012) and Student Workbook. Also my folder and notebooks for Math 141.
  5. Precalculus: Mathematics for Calculus (Stewart, Redlin, and Watson, 2007) and Student Solutions Manual. Also my folder and notebooks for Math 152.
  6. Analytic Trignometry with Applications (Barnett, Ziegler, and Byleen, 1999)
  7. Calculus with Analytic Trigonometry: Functions of One Variable (Taylor and Halberg, 1969)
  8. A First Course in Differential Equations with Applications (Zill, 1986)
  9. Foundations of Astronomy (Seeds, 2007), plus my folder and notes for Astronomy 112.
  10. Cosmos (Sagan, 1980)
  11. Comet (Sagan and Druyan, 1989)
  12. A Brief View of Astronomy (Pasachoff, 1986)
  13. Chasing the Shadow: An Observer’s Guide to Eclipses (Harris and Talcott, 1994)
  14. The Binocular Stargazer: A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring the Sky (Peltier, 1995)
  15. Observing for the Fun of It (Melton, 1996)
  16. Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity (Kotz and Purcell, 1987)
  17. Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life, (Starr and Taggart, 1984)
  18. Fundamentals of Physics (Halladay and Resnick, 1988)
  19. Physics for the Utterly Confused (Oman and Oman, 1999)
  20. Six Ideas that Shaped Physics: Units C, N, R, and T, by Thomas Moore, 2003 (these are the texts for this fall’s Physics 180 [C, N, R] and next spring’s Physics 181 [T; if anyone has units E and Q, give me a call! — Never mind, ordered them from Half Price Books online for, get this, 99 cents each!])
  21. Student Solutions Manual and Study Guide for Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics, Volume 2 (Serway and Jewett, 2004) — on the lookout for this textbook, but only for the sake of completeness. [I just looked this up on Amazon — what I bought used for 25 cents you can buy new for $77.]
  22. Schaum’s Outline of Engineering Mechanics: Statics and Dynamics (5th edition, 1998)
  23. Schaum’s Outline of College Physics (6th edition, 1961)
  24. Bonus volume: the 2011 catalog for the Carolina Biological Supply Company.

As noted in a previous post, this list does not include anything from the history of math or science, anything related to Richard Feynman, anything related to time travel, or any science fiction or general-interest math or science. But it probably will be a complete inventory by the end of this summer.

In other news, I was bypassed for the real-person full-time campus job that I took the Office Support Exam testing for, so I’m back to Plan A — at least, I think it’s called Plan A — of being a full-time student with a regular student job in every spare hour. Tomorrow I should be able to make the last payment on my Spring tuition and finally be able to register for the Fall courses I’ve had sitting in my campus shopping cart since early April.

I’m still doing a pre-study of calculus so I won’t be overwhelmed with it in the fall. I need to add a pre-study of physics so I have at least skimmed all three volumes of the text before classes start. The other physics course is a one-hour Topics class that meets only on Fridays, so no preparation is needed. I sat in one it for about half the sessions last fall, just to get the flavor of it. Oh, and there’s also a massive physics lab that will take all of each Wednesday morning. Woo hoo!

It’s pretty busy for me this summer, what with the part-time job and managing the kidlets through their summer school sessions, vacations, and other explorations, but it will be worth it. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

More results are in

The results of my Office Support Exam just arrived, and I managed to score above 90 percent in the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced levels. This means I can be considered eligible to apply for the job I’m already planning to apply for. But since the job opening hasn’t been posted yet, I continue to wait and work and study. Thank you for your support.