Tales From A Hungry Life

March 12, 2014

Sweating The Science Fair

by Maria Schulz

I was starting to panic yesterday because I knew it was time to write another blog post and I had no ideas for one. That’s right: zero, zilch, NADA. But luckily, I went to my dentist for a routine exam and came away with a blog post idea.

Don’t worry: I’m not going to tell you any horror stories about the dentist putting his foot on my chest to hold me down while he tied my tooth to the office door and pulled. I won’t even mention Carrie at the prom, and how I wanted to make my dentist burst into flames. I already told you about my fear of dentists in my blog post, Open Wide.

So what do you think of my teeth now?

So what do you think of my teeth now?

No, this time, I was actually really glad I went to the dentist, because inspiration hit while the she was checking my teeth. Why, you ask? Well, that’s when she appealed to my motherly expertise.

“Did you ever have to help your daughters come up with Science Fair projects?”

“Yes!” I replied, but it sounded more like “Yef,” because she had her arm across my chest while she was rooting around in my mouth.

My dentist patted my shoulder and said, “your teeth are looking good!” as she continued to poke and prod. Then, she crinkled her eyebrows and started to talk about the Science Fair. The more she talked about it, the more she looked like she was about to break out in a sweat.

“My daughter and I have to conduct an experiment that we can document in stages. I forgot about it last night, so now we have to do a couple of days’ worth of experiments. Can you believe I forgot?”

Oh yeah, I can believe that. For once I was feeling her pain. As a seasoned former child and present mom with undiagnosed PTSFSD (Post Traumatic Science Fair Stress Disorder), I know exactly what she’s talking about. There is nothing quite as awful as realizing there’s a Science Fair looming and you’ve done nothing for your project…except, maybe coming home from a long day of work to find your panic-stricken child clutching a Project Checklist and yelling: “But Mom! You said YOU’D HELP ME!”

My husband and I helped our girls build volcanoes with mountains of clay and a vat of baking soda/vinegar, conducted rust experiments on coins, formulated questionnaires on age and memory, and saw a ton of creative projects we wished we’d thought of while visiting our share of Science Fairs. When you go to a Science Fair, you get to see a lot of interesting projects.

Here are a few of my favorite Science Fair projects:

Look at what a little baking soda and vinegar can do

Look at what a little baking soda and vinegar can do

Does Soda Pop Destroy Teeth?

Do You Need The Sense of Smell to Enjoy The Taste of Food?

How Can You Make Your Own Fossil?

What Are the Physics of Throwing a Frisbee?

Does Your Dog Favor Her Left or Right Paw?

What Makes Volcanoes Explode?

Here are my least favorite Science Fair Projects: 

The Life Cycle of the Fruit Fly

Will Cockroaches Survive the End of the World?

Smell This!

What Makes Popcorn Pop?

Do Plants Respond to Music?

How Much Blood Can You Lose Before You Die?

Maybe the reason the very idea of a Science Fair makes me sweat is because of the yearly ritual of it at my grammar school and the intense pressure that came along with it. One year, my friend, Perette, and I worked on a volcano that rivaled Mt. Vesuvius for sheer size. We couldn’t wait to get downstairs and set it off on the last day of the Fair. When our big moment came, we found out the 7th and 8th graders beat us to it.

“It was great,” my brother Joey said. “When I was done setting off yours, we ran around the Parish Hall and set off everyone else’s too!”

After that, there was an outright ban on making volcanoes until the end of time, forever and ever AMEN at any and all Science Fairs.

Years later, there was more fun to be had with Mrs. Green, our old Science teacher. Mrs. Green would suddenly announce—with no warning and no hope of a reprieve—“The Science Fair is Coming! The Science Fair is Coming!” She was like a scientifically minded, perverse Paul Revere and we were the poor hapless citizens who had to brace ourselves for the battle to come.

Mrs. G wasn’t happy with the usual Science Fair Project. You couldn’t get litmus paper and put acid and alkaline bases in a beaker and be done with it. She wanted creativity! She wanted ingenuity! She wanted…something or other. What she was looking for was a complete and total mystery to the likes of people like me.

She’d go around the room and say: “You’ve got 30 seconds. Tell me what your project will be. GO!” Of course, Mrs. Green never liked any of our ideas, so it would take 4 or 5 tries around the room to get through everyone’s project idea before she okayed them all.

Here we go….

Here we go….

Of course, we had our resident Thomas Alva Edisons on hand to make us all look bad as they shouted out: “Can you obtain nuclear fusion with nothing but an empty beaker and some perseverance?” (the answer, for them at least, was YES) and “How Can We Get to The Moon in One Day Or Less?” Mrs. G. loved them, and had high hopes of taking the Science Fair by storm and clutching those “#1 Project” ribbons in her hands.

As for me, I never had a clue what to do for my project. I would blurt out things like, “Will I be able to smell my grandmother’s perfume hours after she has left?” NO GOOD. “How many gallons of milk can you drink before your gag reflex is activated?” NO GOOD.“ “Does wax fruit have any nutritional benefits?” NO GOOD. Finally, because I was all out of ideas and I had been watching “Hawaii Five-O” the night before, I blurted out: “Can tropical plants grow in a wintry environment with minimal care?” To my astonishment and horror, Mrs. Green said: GOOD!

Could these plants survive my care?

Could these plants survive my care?

Now what was I going to do? I didn’t have any tropical plant seeds or any idea of where to get them. I was glad I mentioned that part about minimal care, though, since every plant left with me soon died from lack of sunshine, water, and an utter abundance of neglect.

Meanwhile, two periods later, it was my brother Chris’s turn to meet up with Mrs. Green. As his chance to suggest ideas came around, he shouted out things like: “How long can you hold your breath under water before you die?” NO GOOD. “How fast can a Volcano blow?” NO GOOD. “Do fleas bite some people more than others?” NO, NO, NO!!! Mrs. Green hated every idea that came out of my brother’s mouth.

Finally, his friend John suggested an idea. “Why don’t you do a project on the stomach of a cow?”

So, next time, Chris said: “I’d like to do my project on the stomach of a cow.”

“Okay,” Mrs. Green replied.

He looked at John, who burst out laughing. “What did you do that for?” John said. “I was only kidding.”

So, let me tell you a little bit about my stomach

So, let me tell you a little bit about my stomach

We spent the next few weeks in a panic, trying to create projects that would look halfway decent. Well, this is only partially true. Chris and I did spend quite a bit of time trying to make our projects look decent, but that was only a few days before they were due.

Since I never actually bought any tropical plant seeds, I raced out to the florist a few days ahead of the due date and bought 10 plants. Some looked hearty and some were near death (I figured this was more realistic, since I was supposed to be caring for them). I wrote down everything I did to those poor plants and managed not to kill the healthy ones, or help the unhealthy ones.

Then, I went to my friend Lillian’s house, where her father constructed the hinged plywood backing that would close on two sides and house my oak tag “research” findings. It also offered an attractive backdrop to my lush and lovely tropical plant project. For once, I got really lucky, since my father would have never constructed something like this, and there never would have been any tools or materials handy even if he wanted to.

Chris, unfortunately, didn’t realize we needed a plywood backdrop, or any backdrop. By some miracle, he was able to scrounge up some oak tag, which he forgot to do anything with until the morning of the project presentations.

The night before, he hastily wrote up something about cows having 4 stomachs and had my mother draw a picture of a cow for him. Then, he pasted his report onto the oak tag. He ran into school the next morning and asked our friend, Maureen, whose penmanship knew no equals, to write a headline on the top of his poster.

In her haste, Maureen wrote: The Stomache of A Cow.

Um...it's stomach

Um…it’s stomach

When it was Chris’s turn, Mrs. Green kept saying, “Stomache? STOMACHE?”

He looked at his poster. “Oh, I’m sorry. I seem to have a spelling mistake on there.”

Mrs. Green shook her head. “Now what are you going to do to fix it?”

Chris pulled her scissors off her desk and cut the “e” off of his poster, leaving a gigantic, gaping hole in his project. “Better?”

Mrs. Green was not as amused as Chris’s classmates, who laughed and laughed. But Mrs. G did have the last laugh after all since she had a special parting gift for him. Now, Chris was chosen to represent his group at the Science Fair—as one of the creators of the very worst projects!

Chris was so incensed that Mrs. Green would insult him that he went home and fixed his project. He got some new oak tag and didn’t write STOMACHE on top. He also got some plywood and tried to create the backdrop that was required. His project looked just good enough that it might NOT get voted the very worst project of that Science Fair’s bumper crop of terrible projects.

But my 4 stomachs are very interesting!

But my 4 stomachs are very interesting!

Mrs. Green placed Chris’s project squarely between the paper airplanes that wouldn’t fly no matter how much our clueless classmate, Hans, tried, and the diorama that was supposed to show a glacier melting…but was just a crumpled ball of loose leaf paper in a shoebox, courtesy of our classmate, Juana.

My project was on display too, but it was so full of colorful graphs and had so many lush plants crowded on there that no one really looked too closely at my research “findings.” Mrs. Green was just impressed that I didn’t actually kill everything in my care.

So, what did I learn from my Science Fair experiences?

  1. STOMACH and STOMACHE are two very different words
  2. Cows and their stomachs are not as fascinating as they seem
  3. Ignore your prankster friends when they give you advice
  4. The Scientific Method was just not for me
  5. Setting off a room full of volcanoes is the BEST part of the Science Fair
  6. Yes, you could still smell my grandmother’s perfume hours after she left
  7. No, wax fruit has no nutritional value
  8. The average person’s gag reflex is activated when they drink more than 32 oz. of milk at once, which I learned when my brother gave me $20 to drink 33 oz. of milk
  9. Yes, fleas do prefer some people over others
  10. When creating a diorama titled “How Fast Do Glaciers Melt?”, a crumpled paper ball does NOT look like a glacier

Now I ask you: can tropical plants survive in a wintry climate with minimal care?

The answer is: How should I know?

Recipe: Volcano Cake

An explosion of flavor!

An explosion of flavor!

No Science Fair would be complete without a volcano…so I say, let ‘em eat Volcano Cake!



So, Hungry Lifers: do you break out in a sweat when you hear the words: Science Fair? What was your best project? What was the WORST project at your Science Fair? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!



  1. Again I must draw on my own experiences when I went to school and have no recollection of any fair of any kind ever. We did have “Shop” which was given at 7A through 8B where you made some things with the best being an inlaid end table. I never got to that point. Ah but I digress. Our science fair really occurred outside of school without parental help, usually on Halloween. We would try and see what made up the worst stink bombs which we would throw into terrible neighbors house when they would answer the bell. If caught in the act we would be severely disciplined and the fair would be stopped in it’s tracks. Back in the day school and life was very different. Parents didn’t help primarily because many were too busy working and had little schooling to rely on and the streets were safe so we kids were always outside playing if not in school because it was always a “nice” day to be out of mom’s way.

    Comment by Bglou — March 12, 2014 @ 10:26 am | Reply

    • Really? No Science Fair? But I thought you people were so much starter than us…and you walked 12 miles uphill in the snow, both ways. Ha ha ha. I kind of miss those days of parents not helping, come to think of it.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 6, 2014 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

  2. Maria I don’t think as a kid I ever did a science project. I don’t even know if I took science and I always have to think about the way i spell stomache I mean stomach. When my kids would tell me they had a project I would get so happy that I would get to show off my skills, I mean their skills. I’m kidding but I never had skills with projects but I could decorate the board!

    Comment by Suzanne — March 12, 2014 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

    • I will keep that in mind if I ever need some boards done for future book readings/signings….

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 6, 2014 @ 9:03 pm | Reply

  3. Maria, my science project was somewhat like Chris’. I had to show a cow’s heart. I was working with a group and they drew it and did some research. All I had to do was get a real cow’s heart and present it at school. What a mess. Back then Tupperware was something of an expense. We never had it. I went to the butchers the day before and brought it home. No one told me to put it in the refrigerator. I brought it to school soggy in a brown paper bag (where is a parent when you need them?) Ms. V. was impresses and had it mounted on a pedestal she had for something else. After a couple of hours a terrible odor emanated from where my project was. By the end of the day the dilemma was how do we get rid of this body part. Ms. V. wanted it to be medically sealed and was horrified that I did not make arrangements to do this. So what did I do. I promised her mom was coming up with something to get rid of it. I took it downstairs in the school, went out the back door, and flung it in the dumpster. Everybody was happy and I got an A.

    Comment by Tony Lagalante — March 13, 2014 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

    • Wow! I didn’t know you also went to the trusty cow for inspiration. Does Chris know this? He probably would be mad to hear you got an A. And you didn’t even have to create a four-hinged plywood backed stand for your project. How did you get so lucky? I guess your Science teacher wasn’t as old and grumpy as ours.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 6, 2014 @ 9:06 pm | Reply

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