Posts Tagged ‘family’

The furry creature living in our house

In August 2016 on August 27, 2016 at 10:39 am

up close

Sarah: It took more than a year of cajoling, pleading and gathering of evidence from my tween daughter to convince me that our family needed a dog RIGHT NOW.

Don’t get me wrong: dogs were always a part of my life growing up, and I knew we’d get one eventually.

But having survived 10-plus years of night wakings, food messes and various secretions and projectiles from the bodily orifices of 3 children, the thought of another creature to care for in the immediate future was a very slow burn on my behalf.

The fact that my third child was inclined towards wheezing and itching in the company of my parents’ labrador was another stumbling block.

There was a lot of research. There was a lot of lifestyle examination. There was a lot of self reflection.

There were tears and teeth grinding.

Still, in December 2015, we took the plunge.

A chocolate labradoodle (with tight curls that did not shed) arrived, and we called him Raffy.

To say that our house is 100 percent more chaotic with Raffy in it would be an understatement.

He’s loud, he’s demanding, he is inclined to anxiety, he needs a lot of exercise, and he hassles my youngest son to play with him for every living minute that both are inside the house. If I focussed on these aspects alone, I would regret the decision to own a dog.

And yet there’s so much more.

Of course, my daughter is infatuated with him. She’s still blown away by his presence:

“I just can’t believe we have this little furry creature living in our house!”

She’s grown in her already considerable kindness and patience, teaching him many tricks and putting up with his thieving tendencies. He also provides a companion for her walks to seek hot chocolate from the local bakery. For her, he is pure joy.

Once fearful of dogs, both my boys are also obsessed with Raffy and indeed most other puppies we meet whilst out and about. They truely delight in the different breeds and personalities that we encounter.

To be greeted by Raffy after a school is the best part of their day.

When the puppy has sleepovers with grandparents, they miss him terribly.

My husband and I have started walking the dog together every morning, a great opportunity to chew the fat and catch up on each other’s work issues and other adult matters that can’t be aired during dinnertime family discussions.

Working from home, I walk him several additional times each day. It sounds like such a time-waster, but I plug in my headphones and make phone-calls and listen to podcasts whilst out and about. The perfect opportunity to lose my inner smart-arse.

We’ve all learnt that Raffy has his own personality, that there things he does not like and that actually it’s not within our power to change him. Raffy is Raffy: all we can do is teach him basic manners, love him and live as a family.

In our family, we love our humans because that’s our destiny. It’s the way it is.

But Raffy we choose to love. And that’s been a big step for us. A valuable step.




On International Women’s Day, free me from ‘should’

In March 2016 on March 8, 2016 at 1:03 pm


Sarah: ‘Should’. What a terrible word, huh.

You should be eating more greens.

You should get more sleep.

You should exercise more.

All these ‘shoulds’ haunt me! And maybe you as well. Many of us aim to live a life shaped by evidence and best practise.

Research tells us that a healthy body needs regular exercise, plenty of vegetables and fruit, minimal processed carbohydrates and 8 hours sleep a night.

Psychological and pedagogical studies report on best approaches for guiding literacy, optimal amounts of exercise and screen time for children, improving resilience, and managing homework and chores.

Mental health resources compile evidence on juggling the demands of family, work and other commitments, and the need for downtime.

All up, sometimes life feels like a constant battle between all the shoulds.

It would actually be a hell of a lot easier to eat fish and chips every night. To have the TV on from sun-up ’til sun-down. To dump gym memberships and early morning sports practises. To let the kids order their lunch every day.

We all know that’s not ideal. But for goodness sake, let’s also feel OK about offloading a few ‘shoulds’ every now and again.

So today is International Woman’s Day. To celebrate, I’m having a break from a few ‘shoulds’.

You should too.

[image thanks to]

Totes bushranger

In July 2014 on July 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm


Sarah: Kirsti and I went totes bushranger this school holidays.

Under the pseudonyms Blood Thirsty Kirsty and Saltrock Sarah, and accompanied by miscellaneous children and other family members, we explored Uralla in New South Wales.

Uralla is the home of the famed bushranger Captain Thunderbolt; the image above shows the table on which his body was displayed after being shot dead by a local policeman.

Now everyone loves a good bushranger story. But Kirsti and I were also very interested to learn about Thunderbolt’s partner Mary Ann Bugg. Some reports suggest that Mary Ann was the brains behind Thunderbolt’s success, as she planned, scoped, read and wrote on her man’s behalf.

It’s a theme scientists are already familiar with – woman plods away in the background, then man comes along and performs a daring exciting final move and gets all the credit.

Perhaps I’m being a little cranky, but we all know the story of Rosalind Franklin. And there are more cases of a similar nature.

We can’t change history, but let’s bring a few more ladies forward and get them robbing stage coaches, huh? There’s a bit of mongrel bushranger in all of us, regardless of gender.


Multiple ways of knowing

In March 2014 on March 29, 2014 at 7:01 pm


Kirsti: In processing information and making decisions, I typically use evidence conveyed to me via my senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Like Sarah, I enjoy a bit of repeatability (yes, this is a word, and it’s different from repetitiveness!). Logic and rationale are friends of mine, and lead me to what I’d like to think are relatively robust conclusions about the world around me.

But there are multiple ways of acquiring, organising and using knowledge. And because of that, there are multiple truths.

Last year I participated in some fascinating research looking into academics’ beliefs about knowledge and knowing. At the time, University of Sydney PhD candidate Kathryn Bartimote-Aufflick was conducting research to better understand formative influences on academics’ beliefs about knowledge and knowing, examining possible linkages to gender, cultural generation, discipline, institution, ethnicity, religion, and parents’ education and religion.

Completing her survey was one of the most mind bending experiences of my academic career!

The questions challenged my belief about how I obtained knowledge – did I construct it, create it, piece together ‘truths’ of my own? Or did I believe that I came across knowledge; that the ‘truth’ was always there and I just had to discover it? It was the first time I’d thought deeply about these beliefs of mine and I learnt a lot about epistemology – the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and scope of knowledge.

I got uncomfortable too – for a minute! I was one of the few surveyed academics who believed that there were multiple ways of knowing, and that ‘my way’ was not necessarily the ‘right’ way. She said I held quite a dichotomous view on such things, and I’ll tell you why.

I am similar to my Dad: we’re mostly evidence-based people. We seek out and acquire knowledge, and then organise it and use it to make sense of the world.  I’m comfortable with this approach, which is probably why I chose science. But in contrast, my Mum and sister create knowledge, based primarily on their perspectives, beliefs, passions and current directions. This is intuition.

What I couldn’t reconcile during the survey was that the intuitive way of constructing truths was any less valid than mine. The lives of my Mum and sister are fulfilling, successful and happy, and they are motivated, educated and knowledgeable people. It’s just that their truths are slightly different to mine, and the processes whereby we create them are different. Hence my dichotomous view on ways of knowing has come to be.

On occasion, the existence of facts in our family can almost divide us. However, in acknowledging that there is no one ‘right’, but many truths, we smile and nod, and love each other just a little bit more.

[image thanks to Ringling Brothers Circus on flickr]

TV in a test tube

In February 2014 on February 20, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Fail lab snip

Kirsti: If you’re like my family and don’t have a television of any sort, you might turn to YouTube, iView, SBS On Demand, and other channels that float your boat, or source apps that both entertain and educate.

Recently we’ve come across a channel that might pique your interest. If you’re remotely curious about anything, and like science in any way, shape or form, you will love TESTTUBE – a Discovery digital network.

There are so many shows it will blow your mind – even including one called Stuff To Blow Your Mind – and the presenters are a young, diverse, articulate and professional mob.

I can’t choose a favourite, but the FailLab episode that explores what makes us vomit, and some food textures that your mouth/stomach can’t deal with is pretty up there!

I (and I’m sure Sarah) would love to know what you think of these shows. Point us in the direction of your favourite science channels too.  We might rank them in a future post.

Happy viewing!

Observing nature

In October 2013 on October 2, 2013 at 11:27 am

Cicada moults

Kirsti:  On a recent camping trip we discovered dozens of trees covered in cicada moults. You know, those brown crispy near-whole creepy looking insect skeletons that cling to trunks of trees anywhere from the ground up to about 3 metres? Yep, those.

With five kids (ranging in age from 2 to 7) on the trip, there was no doubt that the moults were one of the greatest discoveries of the weekend; the shells caught the kids’ imaginations, and a natural treasure hunt ensued! The result was a whole lunchbox full of moults.

We searched high and low for at least 30 minutes.  We looked on big trees and small trees, rough bark and smooth bark. The kids ran from tree to tree and fought to be the one to pick them off. We talked about what they once were; that the noise above us was made by the very insects that once inhabited these shells.

But what if I hadn’t pointed them out? What if we had simply had a lovely lunch, admired the waterfall and gone on our merry way?

One of the kids from the other family asked me how I knew about all these things, and I told them I was a biologist.


they replied.

“So it’s your job?”

“Yeah, I guess so, but I also just really like knowing about our natural world”

I said.

“It’s cool that you know what all these little things are. Not many people would see them because they don’t take the time to look.”

It’s true. Most people miss so many of nature’s most incredible goings ons simply because they don’t look. We overlook tiny worlds by looking where we’re told to look; we neglect details in the everyday, and instead of asking “what’s that?”, we ask “what’s next?”. We rush to our destination without regarding our fellow travellers along the way.

The skill of observation is crucial to any scientific pursuit, but I would also argue that it is vital for experiencing child-like awe in our daily lives.

Look around in a familiar place for new things tomorrow. What do you see?

P.S. If you’ve not noticed, Sarah is a keen observer of beach flora and fauna. Click on her beach tag on the ScienceForLife website and you’ll see!  My favourite is her observations of circles on the beach.

Cicada box

Cicada moult in light

Intuition vs process

In September 2013 on September 26, 2013 at 11:19 am


Sarah: I’ve been helping my son learn how to do long division.

Being a bit of a maths lover, it’s something I enjoy to devoting time to. Plus, you know, helping my kids is nothing but pure bliss each and every day (apply highly sarcastic tone whilst reading that last phrase).

And yet I’ve come up against a bit of a dilemma.

I walked the kid through the steps that I follow when doing division, something like:

Problem: Divide 492 by 3

–> 3 goes into 4 one time, then carry the 1 into the next column

–> 3 goes into 19 six times, carry the 1 into the next column

–> 3 goes into 12 four times

Answer: 164

Good. It made sense. He told me that he got it, and did a few examples to prove his point.

In the classroom, he has been working with his teacher (a fantastic and dedicated lady) using blocks to carry out similar types of sums. The blocks consist of groupings of hundreds (a square of 10×10), tens (a column of 10) and units (individual blocks).

To create a visual image of the mathematical problem, the kids are asked to use the blocks to represent the large number to be divided in each case, and then work out how to divide them into groups. So using the example above, we would use the blocks to represent 492, and then divide the blocks into 3 groups of 164.

It makes sense, it’s visual, I like it.

But my kid is a bit inclined to be sloppy. Spending time and using fine motor skills to put teeny blocks into neat little piles is not his thing. He usually makes a mistake. This messes up the maths problem, and leads him to the wrong answer, or an inaccurate visualisation of what he’s supposed to be creating.

So this is my dilemma. I know using the blocks is valuable, and converts an ‘on paper’ maths problem into a 3D representation. But he can find his way through the division without them, and is improving with more practise. Should we insist he use the blocks? Or just let him work out his own favoured way?

I’m torn.

Day 337. Household shuffle

In July 2013 on July 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm


It’s a bit of a stretch to say that this post is about science, but it relates to my capacity to work effectively so I’m going to proceed.

(It’s also based on rather of a first world problem, so please forgive me if it irks you on that level.)

We’ve been rearranging the house over the past couple of weeks.

When we renovated nearly 4 years ago, we decided to create two bedrooms for children and one general ‘playroom’ which could house toys, games, puzzles, various shared electronic paraphernalia and drawing and painting supplies. You know, all the stuff that the modern Western child seems to accumulate faster than you can say consumerism. This room is attached to the main living space by two sliding doors.

A spare room in the older front part of the house was transformed into a slap-dash home office to be shared by my husband and myself.

This layout had not been working too well recently for a number of reasons.

Firstly, my oldest child – a boy aged 10 – was well and truly over sharing a bedroom with his three-year-old brother. Their wide age gap and shared tendency to be highly competitive and emotional about most aspects of life was wearing us and them down. Differing times of retiring to bed also got a little complicated. In addition, that their sister had her own room seemed a little unfair.

Secondly, all five members of our family seemed to be spending most daylight hours together in the main living area: the kitchen, the TV area and the play room. This may sound most cosy and loving and wonderful. But it was doing my head in. There was no escape. There was no rest. Nobody ever seemed to leave and find their own space. And the toys. The toys were everywhere.

Thirdly, we hired a piano to support our daughter’s recent love affair with this instrument. Unfortunately, we had no place to put it. She needed a larger room; the only one big enough was the home office.

I had to make a change. Finally, over this past weekend, I’ve completed it.

Three kids, a bedroom each. Big boy, stays where he is. Little boy, into the smallest room. Middle daughter into large ex-home office, with piano. Toys distributed into bedrooms.

Playroom converted to new home office.

And it’s worked.

Kids actually go to their rooms to play! Toys generally stay out of the living area. Kids can go to bed at age-relevant times, and read with the light on without disturbing others. My new home office is handy to the living area, and I am able to use the built-in cabinetry to file work and personal matters rather than endless photo albums and drawings of fluffy bunnies.

Yes, I sound selfish. But when you work from home in a relatively large family, you have to make it bearable. Otherwise it can do your head in.

[image thanks to janetmck on flickr]

Day 331. My real CV

In July 2013 on July 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm


Just now I read this truly realistic CV of a scientist.

I thought it’d be fun to write my own:

Hi, my name is Sarah Keenihan, and I’m a science writer. I love to read and write about many different kinds of science, and the people involved in it.

In an ideal world, I’d be set up in a sun-lit office with a comfortable chair for thinking and a standing desk for writing. I’d write from 7am to 3pm each day, and then prepare a leisurely and nutritionally-balanced meal.

In reality, I have a small wooden desk to which I dash back and forth over the course of a day. When I have a new idea, I hammer out some thoughts and walk away. Most of my thinking I do on my feet. I return sporadically to my desk to edit and rewrite. I am a caterer, with sandwiches and quick slap-up kid-friendly dinners my speciality. I am a juggler of laundry. I am a runner and a walker, sometimes to set destinations, sometimes just to burn off steam. I am a manager of three personalities in addition to my own – a sensitive and social 10 year-old, a musical and efficient 8 year-old and a temperamental and hilarious 3-year old. I have extraordinary skills in reading, signing and filing school notices. I do reading in classrooms and sometimes I boss other people’s kids around when they irritate me. Between 3-5pm each day, I drive, I watch balls of various sizes, I see kids swim up and down a pool and I load and unload enormous bags from the back of my car.

I finish writing most of my articles once the kitchen is clean and the house is silent from about 9pm.

If you are still interested in my professional activities, please click here.

[Image thanks to the italian voice on flickr]

Day 316. Running for life

In June 2013 on June 24, 2013 at 9:37 pm


Before I started  running, this is what I thought runners looked like.

Alone. Driven. Focussed. Fearless. Silent. Tall. Scrawny.

Then a girl I knew – someone who had none of the characteristics on this list – signed up to train for a marathon, and by jingos she did it.

I could do that!

I thought.

So I joined a running group.

I still haven’t cracked a marathon – life is too full of other things to commit to such a task at the moment – but I’ve become a runner.

And running is really not at all what I thought it would be.

Sure, I’m often alone when I do it, and I am driven to an extent. But I’m not fearless, and I’m definitely not tall. I’m leaner than I was when I began, but certainly not what you’d call scrawny. Indeed, I’ve met people of all shapes and sizes, of all ages and with varying motivations in my weekly running get-togethers.

One of the best things about running in a group is that you learn to run at a manageable chatting pace. Once you start heading out for longer than about 15kms in one hit (i.e. running for more than about 1.5 hours at time), being able to chat and distract yourself is a very valuable thing.

This past weekend I participated in a 5 km fun run with my nine year old son. Although he’s a good footballer and cricketer, he is not a particularly athletic kid. My goal was to encourage him to run the whole distance, enjoy the scenery and have a chat with his Mum along the way. I expected we’d end up walking some of the course.

But he made it the whole way running! It was a complete joy for me. And he got a real kick out of sprinting past his Mum over the finish line.

Running is a great skill for life. We’ll be doing plenty more runs together in the future.

[image thanks to familymwr on flickr]