About 10 days ago I casually asked the Girl if she had any big projects coming up at school. You see, this school always gives the kids creative projects at the end of the year, so I wasn’t asking out of idle curiosity. I was asking because I didn’t want to get stuck building a model of King Tut’s tomb on a 12-hour deadline, which is what happens when you’re the only artist in the family.
“No, no, no, o, wait, yeah,” said the Girl. “We’re doing this hot air balloon project.”
The hot air balloon project: every 5th grader picks a person from history and learns about them. Then comes a thought experiment. All these historical figures are on a hot air balloon. The hot air balloon is sinking fast! They have to vote, Survivor style, who to throw off the balloon. I am not making this project up. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a pretty cold way to teach kids about history.
Anyway, the Girl goes on to explain that each kid must also dress up as their historical figure, and may bring 4 props to illustrate that person’s importance. Who is she? Alice Evans. I had not heard of Alice Evans, but she made one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century: she discovered that bacterial infections could be transmitted to humans through cows’ milk, and that pasteurization could kill the microorganisms responsible for these diseases. And then, because she was a woman, they told her she was wrong. But, as it turns out, she was right. She did a lot of work on infectious diseases in her life.
So, Alice Evans seems like a pretty great human, unlikely to be voted off the hot air balloon, given that most 5th graders like milk and don’t like gastrointestinal distress. (The Girl obviously picked her because she loves milk.) But the problem is that she was just a regular lady scientist of her day. She didn’t have a signature look; she just tied her hair back and went to the lab.
But I am used to nailing this end-of-the-year creative project. So I go into the closet and sure enough, I own a lab coat. Where did it come from? Why do I have it? No clue. But that’s step 1. “OK, wear this lab coat,” I say, rolling up the sleeves.
“Maybe I could have lab goggles, too?” she asks. Lab goggles will impress her friend who likes science. Yes, of course I have lab goggles.
But what about props? A milk bottle?
Oh, yeah. Giant plush microbes. Obviously, I didn’t come up with the idea of giant plush microbes. They’ve been selling them online for some years now, but, contrary to what some people seem to think about the carefree artist’s lifestyle, I have not yet become wealthy from my work. In fact, I have no money except what The Man gives me. I’m not personally into stuff, so it doesn’t bother me too often, but I didn’t have a lot of cash to spend on giant plush microbes.
Yeah, I made these delightfully cuddly infectious diseases with my own 2 hands.
So here are my giant plush microbes. the one of the left is supposed to be salmonella, and the one on the right is listeria. I already had the white minky leftover from some Christmas stockings I made (badly) a few years back, and 2 sizes of red ribbon for what I presume are its flagellum. I got the blue minky, blue ribbon, and the batting at the weird discount fabric store I like for $3.31, which is slightly more than I had budgeted for giant plush microbes in the month of May, but substantially less than it would have cost to order them online.
I’m pretty happy with how they came out, even though I sew terribly. Sewing terribly is better than not sewing at all. But still, I wanted them to come out rounder. I considered putting eyes on them, but I thought maybe, given the potential outcome of being thrown off a sinking hot air balloon, you might want your microbes to appear as serious as possible.
And no, I didn’t do all the work. I made her stuff them.