Saturday, July 4, 2015

America's Autotrophs

Here in the US of A, it is Independence Day, the birthday of the country. Everyone is familiar with the flag, the Eagle, the Uncle, the music of America.. but where are the plants in all of this?! So today, in honor of America's birthday, I present her autotrophs (self feeder, aka plants)!

While the Bald Eagle was chosen to represent America in 1782, the first autotroph to represent her was the national flower which was not chosen until 1986. It took more than 200 years for America to pick a plant. The national flower, signed into existence by President Ronald Regan, is the Rose.
A rose in a flower arrangement - personal photo
Why the rose when it is, mostly, an introduced species? A few reasons. There is a beautiful rose garden at the White House. George Washington created a rose cultivar. It was brought over by some of the early colonists from Europe to America. I suppose this makes it a decent symbol, as it is as much a part of North America, as the colonists who founded the country. I still would rather have seen a native autotroph... thankfully America fixed that mistake with the national tree.

Oak - personal photo

The national tree was designated in 2004 via popular vote. The mighty Oak was declared the winner by a landslide. Oaks have several things in their favor for being the national tree of the USA. First, their genus name Quercus is incredibly fun to say! Next, there are over 90 native oaks in the US, almost every state has some type of native oak tree! The wood from oak trees were used to make log cabins as settlers moved west, create ships for commerce and war, and make very good wine barrels. And lastly, Oak gives me one of my favorite lines to spout from M*A*S*H.

Bet you don't know what kind of wood this is?
Nope, it's oak!
Oaks are angiosperms, meaning they are flowering plants. The male flowers look like little tendrils dripping down and dumping pollen upon unsuspecting allergy sufferers every spring. This design is helpful as it allows the pollen to be blown around to other branches and other trees where it can come in contact with the female flowers. These female flowers, once fertilized, will turn into acorns. The diagram below is from the white oak (Quercus alba).
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 622.

Oak leaves can be lobate, as seen in the white oak above, serrated, or smooth. These leaves will turn beautiful colors in the fall and then, often, remain on the tree, dead, until spring. Oak bark is very rough, and often furrowed (grooves). If you ever want to try and key out a particular oak species use this very detailed Flora of North America oak key.

So, there we have America's Autotrophs. As you go out tonight, you can tell all your friends as you watch the fireworks what tree and flower represent the nation. So far, none of my friends have been able to correctly guess (though they all got the eagle!), let me know if you have better luck with yours!


Friday, July 3, 2015

Child Care Issues

One of the hardest parts about being a single Mom is finding and affording child care for Boo. At least with 2 parents there is the potential for sharing the "babysitting" duties without it breaking your pocket book. For me, it's either me or hiring someone. Closest family support is 2 hours away, which could be a lot worse, but does not help much in the day to day. If Boo is sick, I'm taking the day off. If school is closed cause of snow day, I'm home. Going out with friends is confined to breaks when Boo visits his dad and I do not have to worry about who will take care of my child and/or how can I afford dinner out + babysitting. If something gets off schedule in the lab, I can't stay and fix/finish it because I have to leave to fetch Boo by X time.
Disney's Treasure Planet

For the last two years, he was in a public, large group setting after school situation and it was not very good for him. I kept him there because it was cheap, convenient, and he kinda liked it. But due to some issues, that is no longer an option for the next school year which has left me in a bind and added a great deal of stress to my life. The uni I'm attending does not have after school age care, they do provide infant/preschool at a slightly reduced rate for students (and even then it's the most expensive option in town), but nothing for older kids. The only other group child care place in the area is very expensive. Not to mention when I visited it, the place was really old, run down, and felt crowded with all the kids in a small place. It really did not feel like a good place to take him. So that leaves two options: A) leave lab at 2:30 every day to pick him up from school, or B) hire a private caregiver to pick him up and take him home until I get back.

Obviously A would cut into my research hours, to the tune of 2 hours a school day or 10 hours a week. It also is impossible the days that I teach as afternoon labs go until 4:20pm. It would be much cheaper (aka free!), and honestly, I think Boo would be much happier as he already complains about how little time we are together (which is already a source of Mommy guilt itself). But it is not likely to happen, which leaves option B.

Option B has it's own pitfalls. First and foremost, I have no idea how to even find a private caregiver. Sure I could look online, put an ad in the campus classified, but what do I really know about anyone from these sources? This is my only child we're talking about, I'd feel better if I could find someone I, or someone I personally know and trust, recommended. Plus, what if they can't make it! Having someone come to your house is not like a corporation where a substitute will be assigned if someone is sick/accident/whatever, if something happens to private caregiver, I have to figure out how to get home quickly. Secondly, private care is not cheap. 2 days of private care will probably cost what one week of group used to cost me. And ideally, I would use it 4 days a week. So we are looking at doubling my child care costs. Grad student budgets are already tight, doubling any of my expenses is not an easy feat to accomplish. How will I pay for this? I have no idea. Which loops me back to, is there any humanly possible way to return to option A? Or is there an option C I have yet to discover?

I wish I had answers. I do know it would be easier for me if my uni had after school care that was affordable. I do know it would be easier if I wasn't alone. I do know it would be easier if Boo could be trusted to hang out at my desk for more than 10 minutes without getting in my way so I could work with him around. I do know I'm not the only one struggling with finding affordable childcare. Now if we could only figure out how to fix it.