What is a disability?

The word “disabled” usually refers to a person who has a physical or mental handicap that keeps him or her from doing certain tasks—or makes performing them unusually difficult. Most physical disabilities, like blindness or paralysis, are easily noticed, but many mental disabilities are harder to detect. Mental disabilities can include diseases like schizophrenia, which causes severe disturbances in people’s thoughts and emotions.

Another type of disability is a learning disability, such as dyslexia, which is a learning disorder that makes reading very difficult because the brain reverses the order of letters and words. Many disabled people prefer the term “differently abled,” a description that doesn’t divide people into categories like “normal” and “disabled” but addresses the idea that every person has different abilities.

How does the combine harvester help farmers?

The combine harvester saves the farmers time and labor. Before modern machinery, harvesting crops was a painstaking process. Gathering and removing mature plants from the field had to be done by hand. Farm workers used sharp-bladed, long-handled scythes and curved sickles to cut down cereal crops like wheat. Even the fastest reaper could only clear about a third of an acre a day. Because rain could ruin harvested wheat, workers called sheaf-makers quickly tied it into bundles, so that it could be safely stored if the weather turned stormy. During the long winter months farm workers used jointed wooden tools called flails to thresh or beat the dried wheat in order to separate its edible grain seeds from its stalks.

But in 1786 a machine that threshed wheat by rubbing it between rollers was invented, replacing human threshers. And around 1840 a reaping machine—whose revolving wheel pressed grain stalks against a sharp blade that cut them down— replaced human harvesters. Today, farm machines called combine harvesters do this work in much the same way. These machines are very efficient and combine all three jobs of cutting, collecting, and threshing a crop. A single combine harvester can process five acres of wheat in less than an hour!

What is the difference between self-pollination and cross-pollination?

Since flowers possess both male and female parts, some flowers can fertilize themselves— or fertilize another flower on the same plant—which is called self-pollination. Or the ovules of one flower may be fertilized by the pollen of a different flowering plant of the same species, a method called cross-pollination.

The wind, water, insects, and other animals help to carry pollen from one flower to another. Crosspollination usually produces a better plant: the offspring of cross-pollination possesses the genetic traits of two parents, which may give it new characteristics that will help it survive in an always-changing environment. Cross-pollination is so desirable, in fact, that many flowering plants have developed different ways to keep selfpollination from happening. In the flowers of a spiderwort plant, for example, the stamens are ready to release pollen grains before the pistils are ready to accept them, so the pollen has to travel to other spiderwort plants in search of a ripe pistil.

Why do husbands and wives divorce?

Husbands and wives divorce when they can no longer live happily together. It is usually a sad thing, because when people marry they expect to be with their partner for the rest of their lives. But over the course of a marriage things happen, people can change, and the happiness that the couple was so sure of in the beginning sometimes disappears. When couples with children get divorced it is even more unfortunate because more people are affected. Many children feel bad when their parents divorce because their family will not be the same. After a divorce, they generally do not see one of their parents as much as they did before.

Still, just because the feelings between a mother and a father change doesn’t mean that their love for their children changes in any way. It’s important to remember that divorce is something that happens between a husband and wife—it has nothing to do with the kids. Many children feel that if they adjust their behavior somehow their parents will want to stay together, but divorces are not caused by anything children do.

What’s an Achilles heel?

Muscles are attached to bones by tendons, the longest and strongest of which is called the Achilles tendon in your heel. This thick band of tissue attaches the muscles of the calf to the heel bone and is the key to the foot’s ability to flex.

The Achilles tendon allows you to push off of your foot when walking or running. In ancient Greek myth, the hero Achilles died from a wound to his heel, so the popular expression “Achilles heel” often refers to a physical weakness or limitation.

What is an avalanche?

An avalanche is a huge mass of ice and snow that breaks away from the side of a mountain and slides downward at great speed. Most avalanches result from weather conditions, such as heavy winds and earth tremors, that cause snow on a mountain slope to become unstable.

A large avalanche in North America might release 300,000 cubic yards of snow—the equivalent of 20 football fields filled 10 feet (3.3 meters) deep with snow. Wintertime, particularly from December to April, is when most avalanches occur.

Why do hugs and kisses make me feel good?

Human beings communicate through language, a complicated system of vocal symbols that our complex brains allow us to learn after we are born. But we also communicate through our bodies and senses. Our organ of touch is our skin, covering the outside of our bodies. (Nerve endings under the surface of skin give us our sense of touch.) Hugging and kissing are ways to share love and caring through touch. When you were born, well before you knew language and could understand caring words, you were learning about love through your sense of touch. As a newborn, when everything was frighteningly new, you immediately experienced the comfort of touch when you were held in your mother’s arms, feeling the warmth of her body and the beat of her heart, sensations familiar to you when you were inside her womb. You were held close when you first learned about food and about how good it felt to have milk in your empty stomach.

Your parents’ caring hands kept you clean and dressed in dry clothes when you could not yet do those things for yourself. So, from your earliest days, you learned that someone’s touch usually made you feel comfortable and safe. Loving and caring about special people in our lives is a feeling inside that is hard to describe in words. But hugs and kisses make it easy to show that love—and their message is clear. Giving hugs and kisses feels as good as getting them. (Because the lips have an extra supply of nerve endings, kissing is an especially intense way to touch.) The human need to share affection through touch is something we all experience throughout our lives.

Why should I drink lots of water?

All living things need water to survive. Without water, the human body stops working properly. Water makes up more than 50 percent of your body weight and a person cannot survive for more than a few days without it. Water flushes toxins out of your organs, carries nutrients to your cells, and provides a moist environment for ear, nose, and throat tissues.

Water is also in lymph, a fluid that is part of your immune system, which helps you fight off illness. You need water to digest your food, to get rid of waste, and to sweat. Too little water in your body leads to dehydration, and it can make you tired and unable to function. Your body gets water from drinking it, but lots of foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain water too.

How does a search engine work?

Internet search engines are like computerized card catalogs at libraries. Viewed through a Web browser with an Internet connection, they provide a hyperlinked listing of locations on the World Wide Web according to the requested keyword or pattern of words submitted by the searcher. Search engines use computer software called “spiders” or “bots” to search out, inventory, and index Web pages automatically.

The spiders scan each Web page’s content for words and the frequency of words, then stores that information in a database. When the user submits words or terms, the search engine returns a list of sites from the database and ranks them according to the relevancy of the search terms.

How can I get a baby brother instead of a baby sister?

There is no way specific way to place an order for a baby brother or a baby sister. The gender (boy or girl) of a baby is determined by whether the father’s fertilizing sperm has an X or a Y chromosome. An X chromosome will lead to a girl, and a Y to a boy. (Mothers always contribute an X chromosome.) Although scientific methods are available to help parents organize their chromosomes and take advantage of the fact that the “boy” sperm has less DNA than “girl” sperm, they can be expensive and unreliable. One method, called the Shettles method, recommends that if parents want a girl, they should plan to make a baby right around the time of ovulation.

At this time, the egg is as far away as possible from the incoming sperm so the long-distance runners of the sperm world, the X sperm, have a better chance of making it to the egg. For a boy, the method suggests that parents plan to make a baby about two to four days after ovulation. That way, the short-distance sprinting Y sperm can make it to the egg first. Many doctors say that although this method is based in science, it is no guarantee that a couple will have a baby boy or a baby girl.