Sep 26

Paper Dolls for my Daughters

by Hannah Holt »


A few years ago, I was out collecting data for a mall redevelopment in Salt Lake City and had my headphones tuned into NPR. As I worked I heard part of Larry Summers’ infamous lecture on diversifying science and engineering.

At the time Mr. Summers was president of Harvard, and in his lecture he postulated that there aren’t as many women in science and engineering because of “issues of intrinsic aptitude” (or lack thereof). I found his remarks puzzling but finished my data collection and headed back to the office.

I’m an engineer, writer, and woman. I’m not an academic. However, I can tell you why there aren’t more women in science and engineering, and it has nothing to do with intrinsic aptitude.

It’s because being different is hard. It’s much easier falling in line with expectations.

When I told my darling grandmother I was majoring in engineering, she scolded me, “What?! So you can wear coveralls and crawl around in attics all day?”

At university, there were the occasional anonymous creepy notes. Once while working in the computer lab at 2 am, someone inside the lab hijacked my computer screen and started sending me updates about my personal appearance. I bought a bike, so I wouldn’t have to walk home alone in the dark.

Now I found engineering, the profession, to be mostly welcoming towards women. However, stupid people seem to gravitate towards minorities. On my second day of school, a tall boy walked up to me and said, “I don’t know why they let women into school here. It takes more spots away from men, who will be the bread winners after all.”

I believe in the power of words. Even false ideas said over and over again start sounding like truth. So we must give our daughters different words to live by.

Here are three stories to help them change the tune.


For a pdf copy of the engineering paper dolls click here.

For a pdf copy of the firefighter paper dolls click here.

For a pdf copy of the scientist paper dolls click here.

I made the dolls interchangeable. So if you want Barbara to be a firefighter or Leela to be a scientist, you can mix and match.

When I pitched the idea for this paper doll series on my Facebook Page, I received a tremendous response. I loved the range of suggestions for other non-traditional paper dolls. In the coming months, I plan to make more. In the mean time, if you have a career suggestion for my collection, please tell me in the comment section.

May 12

Hey Girl, Happy Mother’s Day

by Hannah Holt »


I’m a visual person, and I like check lists. Crossing items off my to do list is satisfying in the utmost. Perhaps I should have become a hit man instead of a stay-at-home-mom because young children have no respect for lists.

I often start my day with a simple list like this:

  • Go to bank
  • Reserve family reunion campsites
  • Mail thank yous
  • Meet Evelyn at the zoo

Now that doesn’t look too hard, right? In fact, it sounds like fun. I mean, who doesn’t like going to the zoo on a sunny Tuesday afternoon?

However this day and this list became derailed by a simple box of lettuce.

While I gathered checks for our bank run, my son Michael decided he wanted lettuce. He removed the lettuce from the fridge and took it to his room. Why his room? He told me later, “So we could have fun with it.”

And fun is what they had.

His room looked like a lettuce explosion. Weeks later, I would be finding pieces of lettuce lodged inside random toys. My one-year-old twins found the lettuce game particularly delightful. I removed the twins from their lettuce heaven (kicking and screaming- who knew lettuce was so much fun?) and cleaned up the remains.

Sometime during this process, I accidentally left the pantry door open, and the twins found the dried beans.

If you ever need to remove something like… oh say… a dried bean from a child’s nose, here is a good trick: cover the unblocked nostril and blow through the mouth. That bean will pop right out.

Some of you might wonder why I keep dried beans within a one-year-old’s reach. In my defense, I don’t. They climb!

Now this story is all very nice, but why am I telling it to you? Well, it’s because I need some help with my to do list. I have one more item, and it’s about to get away from me.

You see, we need a new couch. I saw one the other day that made my heart skip like Neil Armstrong on the moon. It’s in our budget and would look awesome in our living room. There’s just one problem: It’s white.

My head says no, but my heart says YES! I have it all rationalized:

  •  It’s leather so it will clean easily.
  • I will NEVER become distracted when caring for my couch. (har, har)
  • We love each other, so everything will work out! Right? Right?

Will someone please slap me before I run off to Vegas with this couch? Or if you consent to our union, please join the wedding party. You know where to find us, and the couch will be the one dressed in white.

Now without further delay, here are the winners from our photo caption contest:

  • The photo caption winner: Kat Moore!
  • The sweepstakes winner: Stacy S. Jensen!

I loved reading all the entries, and choosing one was incredibly difficult. Thank you so much everyone who entered! You made my Mother’s Day special!

Winners: Don’t forget to send me your address within seven days.

Apr 10

Planting Words

by Hannah Holt »


A few weeks ago I stood amidst piles of books, boxes and packing tape when my son walked up and asked, “Mom, can we plant our garden now?”

I looked at him. I looked at the stacks of items to be sorted and packed. I thought of my long to do list, but said, “Sure. Let’s do it.”

We gathered the seedlings we had carefully nourished in the days before our move became final. My son collected his shovels and the watering can. In the middle of our hurry, we took an entire afternoon to garden.

It was my favorite thing all week.

That was Colorado. We now live in Oregon. We will never see the fruit of our garden, but planting it felt right.

Along a different vein, I recently entered a piece I wrote into two grant competitions. In the large national competition, it did very well. In the smaller local competition, it didn’t even place.

There are a variety of reasons for this, and I won’t go into them other than to say: I can’t decided how other people should received my work. I can do my best, but some will always dislike the offering.

Earlier in my career, I received a series of emails from a woman we’ll call Kate. Kate hated my work. I’m not sure why she kept returning to my site. Perhaps she enjoyed finding new ways to disparage my work.

Her emails used to make me mad. What is her problem? I thought. I write about graham crackers and pipe cleaners for crying out loud! I never replied to Kate and eventually she went away. (Trolls usually disappear if you don’t feed them.)

But it made me wonder: Maybe I’m not any good. Maybe I shouldn’t spend my time on these meaningless creative pursuits. At the time I didn’t have many followers, and no one would have noticed if I’d simply given up.

However, that’s when I realized, I don’t write for other people. Well, alright I DO, but that’s not WHY I write. I write because it brings me joy. It’s my garden of contentment.

In Colorado, I didn’t plant a garden because I expected tomatoes. Yes, I hope someone, someday will eat tomatoes from my garden, but planting it was enough.

We left our home in Colorado a little more beautiful than before. I can’t control how the world will receive that beauty, but I can create it all the same. And that is a beautiful feeling.

(Garden of the Gods National Monument, from our trip to Colorado Springs last December)

Mar 06

The Lightbulb Post

by Hannah Holt »


Almost every day, someone stumbles across my website because they are looking for “books about light bulbs” or “lightbulb coloring pages.”

I can only imagine what these people think. What? No books about lightbulbs! How misleading. (This is an idea place for children’s literature and crafts.)

And then I thought, Why not give them what they want? So here you have it:

Lightbulb Fact Sheet

Lightbulb Coloring Pages

Also, I  occasionally receive emails from middle school students asking for help on their lightbulb homework. Here are a couple of the most frequently asked questions:

Q: Is it “lightbulb” or “light bulb”?

A: Both spellings are acceptable. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary favors lightbulb, so that’s the spelling I use. However, other dictionaries list it as “lightbulb or light bulb.” My spell checker prefers “light bulb,” but I thumb my nose at it every day. It makes me wonder. How much influence will spellcheckers have over conventional spelling in the future?

Q: Who invented the first lightbulb?

A: The answer your teacher probably wants is Thomas Edison. So write Thomas Edison and be done with it. However, it’s not really true. If you want the longer answer, read on…

Several people before Thomas Edison worked on electric lights– Humphry Davy, Joseph Swan, and Charles Brush to name a few. However, there’s a reason why Edison is a household name, while the others are remembered mainly by lightbulb enthusiasts. He is remembered because he surpassed his contemporaries in two important areas.

He made it endure:

Previous attempts at the electric lightbulb resulted in short-lived illuminations. Edison made electric light that could last more than a few seconds. Here’s how… What do you think fills the space inside a lightbulb? If you think it’s the air you breath, you’d be wrong. Lightbulbs are filled with inert gas. The oxygen in normal air causes filaments  (the part that glows) to burn out quickly. Inert gases make lightbulbs last much longer. Thomas Edison made this important discovery.

He made it convenient:

Edison’s original oxygen-free bulb glowed for more than 13 hours (much longer than the previous attempts!). However, he knew it needed to last even longer. He kept tweaking and testing different types of filaments until he found one that could last more than 1,500 hours. Thanks to his efforts we have safe, convenient, and relatively cheap lighting in our homes. What if he had stopped with that first bulb? Do you think electric light would have become as popular?

So Thomas Edison wasn’t first, but everyone agrees that he did it best. It just goes to show, how you finish is usually more important than when you finish.

Let me illuminate this point by telling you the story of another scientist, Dr. H. Tracy Hall.

Dr. H. Tracy Hall is the scientist commonly credited with inventing the first man-made diamond. Tracy might not have been first, but like Edison there’s no doubt he did it best. Here’s why.

He made it endure:

Tracy made it possible for other people to recreate his work. Several scientists before Tracy were able to produce one diamond, but that’s all. There’s been some argument about whether or not these other diamonds were legitimate, but after Tracy it didn’t matter. Tracy’s machine could withstand the high temperatures and pressures demanded for diamond synthesis over and over and over again. There was no doubt he was a diamond man, because he showed others how to do the same.

He made it convenient:

Tracy Hall first synthesized diamonds in 1954. At the time, he was working for General Electric, Edison’s company. Despite his success with synthetic diamonds, he had trouble securing funding for his other research projects. So he left G.E. Within five years, he had built and patented a completely different diamond press. Scientists had been chasing the diamond dream for over 150 years. Tracy solved the diamond mystery twice in less than a decade.

Now you might think that a man with diamonds at his disposal would have a house in the mountains and another by the sea. But not Tracy. He never moved from his modest house in Provo, Utah. Instead he used his wealth to establish chemistry scholarships.

I met one of Tracy’s scholarship recipients several years ago during a summer research stay at Purdue University. He told me Tracy’s scholarship made it possible for him to complete his undergraduate degree. At the time, this recipient was wrapping up a PhD in Chemistry.

Tracy’s giving back has helped scientists and citizens in more ways than they probably realize. From the roads we drive on, to the gas in our cars… the cutting power of synthetic diamonds makes modern life easier. He used his genius to make life better for others.

Tracy passed away in 2008. He was a my grandpa.

Dec 21

Joy in the World

by Hannah Holt »


The day-to-day demands of mothering can be wearying. And this year was a doozy.

One night last spring I sat at my computer searching in frustration for “how long before you don’t need to burp babies anymore” when I came across a mother’s chat board. There were some helpful tips. However, one commenter (happymother214) posted:

Don’t worry about how long you need to burp your baby? Just enjoy this time with your little one. It goes so fast.

Enjoy the moment? Six hours of sleep and showering were the miracles I prayed for daily. I shook my fist at the computer screen.

Yet strangely enough, this year has passed quickly. My babies no longer need me to burp them (although I feel no nostalgia about that). Any day now they will start walking. Soon they’ll pass the threshold from baby to toddler.

So now that I can breath again. Now that I CAN take time to enjoy moments with my children, I put together a short video diary of some of the simple things we do each day:

This Christmas I’m grateful for many things: sleep, showers, the occasional date with my husband… But most importantly I’m grateful for joy: having it, sharing it, and feeling God work in my life.