Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mother to the World

I have always been a bit of a softy. I have a hard time watching some sitcoms, because I don't like to see people (even fictional ones) embarrassed. I cry at all the sappy, predictable times in movies.

Motherhood has only amplified this tendency, particularly when it comes to the suffering of children around the world. The piece on CNN.com about Youssif, a little boy who was attacked and burned while playing outside his home in Iraq, made me cry, really just sit there and cry, when I read it. I kept checking back and was so relieved when I read that he would be getting help. Clearly, this was a dramatic story that touched a lot of people. However, the strength of my reaction surprised me, particularly since I was out of the early "cry at car commercials" phase of motherhood. I remember asking my doctor at my 6 week check up about when my emotions would go back to normal, and not really believing him when he said that they never would, at least not if by "normal" I meant "how I was before I got pregnant". He said something about how parenthood changes your outlook, and I thought "sure, whatever". But now I think he is right. It is not like I had a complete change in outlook, but things that always bothered me now bother me even more.

And of course, there are children suffering all over the world. Just today, I came across a story at the Economist about new research on that shows that giving away bed nets can dramatically decrease the incidence of malaria. One quote really stuck out:

Based on the new results, Dr Kochi reckons that a five-year campaign costing about $10 billion would be enough to bring malaria under control in most of Africa, reducing the death rate to a matter of thousands a year.

$10 billion. Surely we can do that? I think I need to add The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to my charities list for 2008.

The problem, of course, is that there are so many worthy causes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Update on Nightweaning and Dairy

Food and sleep... the two main topics of conversation in our house. As in "how did she eat?" and "how did she sleep?" (Parenthood is very romantic.)

However, there is good news in both categories. On the food front, you may remember that I had gone off dairy again, fearing that she was still having the gas trouble that dairy in my diet caused her during her first 6 months. My doctor tactfully told me, and I already knew, that a dairy sensitivity at 9 months is rare. So we decided to do a "dairy challenge" a few weeks ago. She seemed to pass (i.e., there were no screaming gas incidents), but she also threw up the first night of my dairy fest. We strongly suspected that this had nothing to do with dairy- she was getting a cold, and she tends to throw up from the congestion. (Parenthood is also very glamorous.) But I went back off dairy just in case. We tried again last weekend and I'm happy to report that I am now eating cheese and yogurt, and Pumpkin is showing no signs of minding. This weekend, I may try for ice cream. I really, really miss ice cream.

On the sleep front, the nightweaning is still going really well. Really, really well. Last night, I got her down at about 8 (after 45 minutes of laying her down, having her roll over and sit up, then laying her back down... but that is the topic of another post). She woke up briefly at 8:45 in need of a binky and a pat. And then she slept until 3:15. Without a peep. Hubby and I had set a goal of not nursing her until 2:30, and expected that he would have to spend some time bouncing an annoyed Pumpkin to get her to that time. Imagine my surprise when I woke up at 1:15 and realized that it was Hubby making noise and not Pumpkin! She finally cried at 3:15. I got up and nursed her, and got her back down quickly. She then slept until 5:30. I think she would have slept longer but her diaper was wet. I'll have to start changing her in the middle of the night again. We don't expect such a good night again tonight, but we are thrilled to know that such a night is possible.

Of course, now we are wondering if we could have done this months ago. I am choosing to believe that we would not have been as successful then, that we happened to choose to start nightweaning at the exact time at which Pumpkin was ready for the change. That is my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Working Mum: The Business Trip

When Pumpkin was 6 months old, I had to take a business trip. Being the stress bunny that I am, I stressed out about this and did a lot of googling trying to find out how to manage the logistics of being a nursing mother who is flying across country without her baby. The trip went better than I thought it would, but it was clear afterwards that the information I found online didn't really help me much. This feeling was one of the reasons why I revived my blog and repurposed it from a travel blog to the mishmash it is today. However, I never got around to writing about that business trip. Today, Moxie has a post about business travel when you have kids. There are some great tips in the comments (as always), but they mostly focus on older babies and toddlers. So I'm finally going to write about that business trip, which was almost four months ago now.

The first concern I had was what Pumpkin would eat while I was gone. We had started her on some solids at about 5 months, because she was very curious about what we were doing when we ate and because I knew that this trip was coming up. However, it was clear that most of her calories and nutrients still came from me. We considered using some formula, but she had trouble with dairy in my diet , so we were reluctant to try "normal" formula (which is based on cow's milk) and didn't really want to embark on a grand experiment to find out which formula might work well for her. Therefore, I pumped like crazy. I made a worst case estimate of how many ounces she might drink while I was gone, and left more than that behind. This worked well- she did not drink everything I left.

My next concern was how I would transport my pump and expressed breastmilk while I was flying. I did some searching on the TSA website and was relieved to find that they now allow expressed milk in any quantity in carry on without needing the baby to be along on the trip. Breast pumps are also OK for carry on. I printed out all of this information, in case I ran into a TSA agent who wasn't aware of the rules. In fact, I had no problem transporting the pump or the milk I brought home in carry on, although on both legs of my trip, the TSA agent to whom I declared my pump and milk bellowed out "BREAST PUMP COMING THROUGH!!!" so it is certainly not something to do if you're shy about the fact that you are nursing.

Pumping on the travel day also required that I find my inner brazen lactavist. I had to fly across country, and then drive an hour to my final destination. This made for an 8-10 hour trip, so I was clearly going to need to pump in transit. My first plan was to pump in the airplane bathroom. A sympathetic flight attendant let me use the first class bathroom, but I still felt incredibly guilty occupying such an important resource for 10 whole minutes. Besides, it was cramped and I was petrified we'd hit turbulence that would send me and my pump hurtling into the air.

My next idea was to pump during my layover. I asked at the airport "help desk" about a family room and was told there was no such thing at this airport (O'Hare), so I headed to the bathroom. This was not a great idea, either. Almost all airport bathrooms have automatically flushing toilets now, and it is just not possible to hold still enough for 10 minutes to avoid the flush. So I sat there pumping... whoosh, whoosh, whoosh... FLUSH...whoosh, whoosh, whoosh... FLUSH..... Thankfully, the toilet I was on didn't spurt water when it flushed, or I would have been wet as well as annoyed.

Finally I settled on the one method I was sure I couldn't handle when I started the trip. I had a window seat on my next flight. I took out my large shawl, wrapped it around myself, turned towards the window, and pumped at my seat. This actually worked best. The shawl hid the pump apparatus, so it just looked like I had a black bag on my tray table. The noise of the airplane engines covered the telltale whooshing, and I got to stay safely strapped into my seat comfortable reading my magazine. On the flight back, I didn't even try another method.

My final concern was how to transport the large volume of milk I expressed during my trip back to my home. I did some internet research, and thought that it would be best to freeze some of it and put it in my checked bag. I read that several bags of frozen milk, packed with a frozen gel pack in an insulated bag would probably make it home still frozen. I also read that most hotels will put the milk in the freezer for you. So I went to the front desk of the hotel I stayed at on the night before my flight home and asked them to put my large ziploc bags full of milk storage bags and my two gel packs in the freezer. They agreed, and I went happily off to bed. I stumbled downstairs at 5 a.m. the next morning , and asked to collect my milk. The nice lady at the desk went away and came back with a stricken look on her face. They'd put the milk in the refrigerator, not the freezer. I had approximately 50 ounces of milk and no way to keep it cold for the trip home.

I was too shocked to do anything but take the milk and head off to catch my flight. Once at the airport, I made a last ditch effort to save the milk. I asked the attendant checking me in if she had any ideas about what I could do. She disappeared into the back and came back with one frozen gel pack, which she gave me. I was so grateful that I almost cried (damn hormones). This enabled me to get half of my milk home safely, which was better than none. However, I kept thinking about all of the ice cream I could have eaten at dinner the night before if I'd known the milk I was going to pump when I got to my hotel would end up being thrown out. (Pumpkin's dairy sensitivity means that I haven't had much ice cream since she was born. I miss ice cream more than anything else I've given up while nursing.)

So, my "lessons learned" from this trip were:
  • Get over your fear and pump in your seat on the plane. Ask for a window seat, use a large shawl, and it will actually be fairly discreet.
  • People who have never tried to pump out enough milk to feed a baby don't have the proper reverence for your breast milk. Try to get a room where you can freeze your gel packs and/or milk yourself rather than relying on the hotel front desk. Next time, I'll stay at a Residence Inn or someplace similar.
  • The business trip wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but I also didn't catch up on my sleep as much as I could have. Next time, I'd leave a little earlier in the day so that I could arrive at my destination in time to get a full night's sleep. This is the proper reward for being away from my baby and putting up with the indignities of traveling while pumping.
I wouldn't change the early flight home, though. I went straight from the airport to pick Pumpkin up at day care. I was so excited that I was actually a bit concerned about whether I should really be driving. I got to the day care center, and saw Pumpkin playing happily through the window. She is always very, very happy when I pick her up at day care, and this day was no exception. The giant grin on her face when she saw me made me forget all about the difficulties I'd had on the trip.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rugged Coastline























Location:
Near Marloes, Wales
Date: May 28, 2003

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Taxonomy of Guilt

I'm a member of a book club, which I credit with getting me reading grown up books again after Pumpkin was born. It reminded me that I needed more intellectually stimulating things to read than Leo Lionni's A Color of His Own (an early favorite of Pumpkin's). January's book was Liars and Saints, by Maile Meloy. One of the themes of the book is guilt and its impact on the family at the center of the story. This got me thinking about the guilt in my life. I think there are several distinct types:

  • Mommy guilt - this is probably the most frequent type of guilt I experience right now. It is due to the disconnect between the idealized Mommy in my brain and the real Mommy that I am. I feel this when I want to go back to bed (or read a book, or do anything else, really) rather than play with Pumpkin. I feel this when I work a little late and get to day care to discover that she's had another bottle rather than waiting for me to nurse her. I really felt it last night when I realized I'd put Pumpkin to bed without her final nursing. (We'd messed with our routine, due to her eating a late dinner. I was supposed to nurse her after her bath, when I usually nurse her before her bath. I completely forgot, read her stories and got her down in her crib (she fell asleep in the crib! Not in my arms!) and left feeling quite pleased with myself, until I realized, while looking at the unusually large volume of milk that I'd pumped out in my before bed pumping, that I'd never nursed her. What kind of mother does that?)
  • Feminist guilt - I feel this guilt due to the disconnect between the idealized career woman and role model for future female scientists/techies in my brain and the real woman that I am. I've been feeling it a lot more frequently since Pumpkin came along. The primary cause of this guilt right now is the fact that my life completely revolves around Pumpkin (which is certainly how my Mommy Guilt thinks it should be) and I haven't been very good about keeping up with the networking/professional society type things I used to do. I can usually stamp this guilt out by reminding myself that feminism was about giving women choices, and that I probably still look like a reasonable role model to the occasional up and coming female scientist I meet. She doesn't know what a wreck my house is (see Homeowner's Guilt, below) or that I think 9 p.m. is a late bedtime. Besides, I remember wishing there were more female scientists with families when I was an up and coming female scientist. It seemed like all the successful women were single, or at least had no kids.
  • Enviro-guilt - this is another common form of guilt in my life right now.
    It is caused by the disconnect between the environmentally friendly lifestyle I feel we should be living and the real life we are living. In fairness, we aren't doing too badly. We have two cars, but one is a Prius. We try to use cloth shopping bags and reusable containers. We recycle religiously. Hubby is spending a lot of time enviro-fitting our house (the current project is putting insulation on the hot water pipes). But there is so much more we want to do. We want to replace our front yard with a low water use garden. We want to set up composting. We could use our gDiapers more. You get the idea.
  • Social guilt - this is closely related to enviro-guilt. It is caused by the disconnect between the things I think I should do for the community and the very little that I actually do. I write checks to charity, and we adopted a family for Christmas. And that's about it. I always think about doing the outreach programs the local chapter of the Association for Women in Science runs. I think I should volunteer at the retirement home down the street. I think we should write bigger checks to more charities. In short, I think we could be better global citizens.
  • Homeowner's guilt - this guilt is caused by the disconnect between the nice, clean, organized, beautiful home I want and the sort of messy, really rather disorganized home we have. This is one of the easiest forms of guilt to ignore, which is why our home office is such a wreck that Pumpkin isn't allowed into it, and why when I lifted the toilet seat to flush Pumpkin's gDiaper tonight I was a bit disgusted by what I saw. (Hubby has confessed to peeing in the dark when he gets up with Pumpkin in the middle of the night. I can't really argue, since I do it, too. I don't think I make quite as much mess.) However, Hubby's boundless energy for home improvement tasks tends to make me feel that I should muster up some more enthusiasm for the items on my homeowner's to do list.
The types of guilt battle for my time and remediating actions, because the things that would assuage different types of guilt are often contradictory. For instance, my Mommy Guilt tells me that I must do whatever it takes to get Pumpkin the naps she needs, but my Enviro-Guilt tells me not to spend an hour and a half driving around in the car, even if it is a Prius. My Feminist Guilt and my Social Guilt think that I should volunteer some time with one of AWIS' outreach programs, but my Mommy Guilt points out that this would undoubtedly cause me to be away from home when Pumpkin "needs" me. My Homeowner's Guilt would like to buy some new furniture, but my Enviro-Guilt thinks we should buy fewer things and my Mommy Guilt points out that we should save the money for Pumpkin's college fund.

When I stopped and thought about the guilt I've been feeling, I was a bit surprised by the amount of it. I wasn't even raised Catholic! The guilt easily fades into the background, forming a sort of constant back drop for my life, occasionally prodding me into cleaning the bathroom when I would really rather read my book. Still, I don't think it is doing me any good. I think I should try to let some of it go... hmmm... if I am not careful, I am going to end up with Zen Guilt (the disconnect between the stress-free, live in the moment sort of life I think I should lead, and the crazy, over-planned, sometimes quite stressful life I have)....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nightweaning

Inspired in part by Cinnamon Gurl's hilarious post about her decision to nightwean, we've decided to give it a go ourselves. Actually, we've been trying to do this for some time, but our efforts kept getting interrupted when Pumpkin would get sick and throw up (she is apparently a baby who doesn't like snot in her stomach. Who can blame her?), after which we'd be told to "feed her less volume more frequently", and we'd end up feeding her every two to three hours throughout the night. This would seriously setback out attempts to get her to drop one of her night feedings.

At our 9 month check up with the pediatrician, though, she said we could ignore that advice at nighttime and proceed willy-nilly with nightweaning, even if that means we let her tank up before bed. She suggested the standard "decrease the amount in the feeding" method that we'd been trying all along. We decided to go with the "increase the time before feeding" method I'd read about in one of Moxie's posts instead. We are flabbergasted (and a bit afraid to talk about) how successful this has been. When we started last Friday night, Pumpkin was waking up to eat three times: once around 11 or 12, once around 2 or 3, and once around 5. The last two nights she has only woken up to eat once: at 2ish on Wednesday night and at 3ish last night. During all of this she has had a cold with a nighttime cough. There has been some crying when she wakes up and Daddy won't feed her, but not every night, and not nearly as much as I expected.

I'm positively giddy from getting 4+ hours of sleep so many nights in a row. And I'm furiously knocking on wood hoping I havne't just jinxed us for tonight.

Anyway, if you're thinking about night weaning... consider the "increase the time before feeding" method. I'll post again if (when???) we get her to drop that last feeding. I'll also post on whether she eventually stops waking up at night at all (which seems almost too much to hope for).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Working Mum: Going Back to Work

Moxie has a great discussion on freaking out about pregnancy, motherhood, etc up today. Some of the comments are wonderfully insightful. Reading the comments from other Moms who admit (as I do) that they love to work got me thinking about the working mom experience. I have written before about how glad I am that I went back to work. But I certainly wasn't immune to the fear that I would (a) not be able to handle the work/baby combo or (b) would suddenly morph into a completely different woman and not want to go back to work. There is nothing wrong with (b), of course, but it would have been such a complete break from my prior career focus that it would have been quite disorienting. For better or for worse, a lot of my identity is tied up in my career. Having that change at the same time as I was trying to figure out the whole mommy-identity would have been freaky, to say the least.

My mind was quickly put at ease on (b), but (a) niggled away in the back of my mind for my entire maternity leave. I was finding being a mother a bit on the overwhelming side, how was I going to add working into the mix? Hubby kept telling me not to worry, that work was going to feel like a respite. I was relieved to discover that he was mostly right. However, I did find the first few weeks back more difficult than he did. I don't handle sleep deprivation as well as he does, and I am not drinking caffeine so I couldn't rely on any artificial stimulation to wake me up once I got to my desk (or when I wanted a nap after lunch). Also, I was pumping, and that puts extra demands on your body and extra constraints on your day.

So what do I wish I had known during those first few weeks? In no particular order:
  • Leaving your baby gets easier (for both of you).
  • Drink lots and lots of water. Drink constantly. It took my about a week to figure out that the nasty headaches I had at the end of the day were from dehydration.
  • Eat lots of protein. Even now, if I don't get enough protein, I am extra tired at the end of the day. Feeding a baby takes a lot out of you, and the baby always gets top priority on nutrients.
  • Ditch the guilt. Liking your job is a good thing. Your baby is doing fine with the person/people watching her.
  • Whatever problems/issues come up, you'll find a solution. I had to take a business trip when Pumpkin was 6 months old. We weren't giving her formula since we suspected that she was sensitive to cows milk and hadn't mustered up the energy to try out the hydrolyzed formulas. I freaked out. How would I leave enough milk? How would I pump during the trip? The answers to those questions are a post of their own. My point is that Hubby and I have found a solution to every problem that has come from being a two-career household. (Hubby, of course, told me this would be the case when I was freaking out about the problem du jour. He still has to tell me this sometimes.)
  • Get organized and set up systems to help you remember the important things. Sleep deprivation and the stress of a new routine make you surprisingly forgetful. I'm still working on this one. My main solutions are redundancy and lists. If there is something I might forget at home and I can have an extra one at work, I do. If someone asks me to do something, I write it on a list or put it on my calendar.
Of course, the most important thing is to cut yourself some slack. Being a working mother is not easy, but I think it is definitely worth the effort. However, no one ever said you had to be a working mother with a sparkling clean house or home-cooked meals every night. Let the housework slide and eat more prepared food for awhile. You and your partner will eventually figure out how to balance everything out. We eat home-cooked meals most nights now, but we certainly didn't early on. (Hubby helps out a lot on the home front- I feel we really do share the household chores fairly equally. I realize that I'm very lucky in this regard. That is also the subject of another post.)

Anyone else have any tips/advice/stories to share?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Zenbit: Clearly Paradise


















Location: Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Date: February 23, 2006

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Science of Parenthood: Food Allergies

Caveat: I am not a medical doctor or an immunologist. The contents of this blog post are the results of my own research into food allergies. However, they should not be used in place of your own research and/or advice from your doctor.

Further caveat: I did not do a thorough review of the literature. I relied heavily on a few recent review articles. Not surprisingly, nothing I read contradicted the latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (summarized here).

Food allergies scare me, and I think they scare most other parents, too. They are actually relatively rare- according to the FDA, only 1.5% of adults and 6% of children under 3 suffer from them. However, the consequences, particularly of nut and peanut allergies, can be devastating, so most parents want to do whatever they can to minimize their child's risk of developing these allergies.

I often hear people say that the incidence of food allergies is on the rise, at least in industrialized nations. I thought this, too, but the articles I read during my research indicated that there is no evidence of an increase in food allergies, only of an increase in the more common "hay fever" type allergies (1). It has been noted that people tend to perceive they have food allergies far more often than such allergies can be clinically documented. I think this is because people confuse a food intolerance (such as lactose intolerance) with an actual allergy. The British Medical Journal has a nice article on the difference between allergies and intolerance. True allergies involve an inflammation response. Intolerances often produce stomach upset and gas. For instance, I have written before about how I went off of dairy while Pumpkin was younger. I suspected that she was having trouble with the dairy in my diet due to her episodes of painful gas. However, I doubt she has an actual allergy.

I had several specific questions about food allergies. I don't have time to do a full, comprehensive review of the literature. Therefore, I did the same thing I used to do in graduate school when I wanted to learn about a new field: I relied heavily on review articles (articles summarizing the current state of a field, written by an expert in that field). Here is what I found about my specific questions:

1. Should I have restricted my diet while pregnant?
The evidence does not seem to support this, except perhaps for peanuts. In fact, one study I read about (reviewed in (2)), found that children whose mothers avoided cows' milk and eggs were actually more likely to have an egg intolerance in the short term. There was a study (also reviewed in (2) that shows a possible link between consumption of peanuts while pregnant and later development of peanut allergies in the baby. However, there was a rather important confounding variable: the study also found that peanuts and/or peanut butter were introduced at a younger age in the children with peanut allergies. Furthermore, the study was based on recall, and it is highly likely that mothers whose children went on to develop peanut allergies would remember eating peanuts better than mothers of non-allergic children.

2. Should I restrict my diet while breastfeeding?
The evidence is not strong here, either, unless you have a baby who has already shown signs of a food allergy (in which case you'll have to avoid that food). While it has been shown that the peanut allergen can pass into breast milk, the small study I found documenting this only found peanut allergen in the milk of 11 out of 23 women who consumed peanuts. (3) None of the reviews I read referenced conclusive studies about the impact of eating peanuts while breastfeeding. There are some studies suggestive of a link between maternal peanut-eating and development of peanut allergies in the baby (reviewed in 2), but also studies finding no such link (reviewed in 4).

There are studies indicating that avoiding common allergens (milk, egg, and fish) from the maternal diet can decrease the risk of the baby developing "atopic dermititis" (i.e., allergic eczema), but interestingly, the effect disappears as the children in the study age. At 6 months, there is a significant effect, but by 10 years, there were no significant differences between the children whose mothers ate milk, eggs, and fish and those whose mothers avoided these foods (reviewed in 2).

Most of the studies I read about looked at the impact of maternal diet on atopic dermatitis and asthma, rather than food allergy. I suspect this is at least partially due to the fact that food allergies are more rare.

3. Should I delay feeding my baby certain foods?
There really doesn't seem to be any good evidence on this, except for in the case of supplementing a baby "at high risk of developing atopic disease" (usually defined as a baby in which at least one parent or sibling has atopic disease, see question 4 below) with formula- in that case, there is some evidence that using an extensively hydrolyzed formula is preferable (1, 4).

The best argument I have seen for delaying the introduction of common antigens came from several of the commenters on Ask Moxie's post on this subject: a young baby can't tell you that his or her throat is itchy (a common first symptom of an allergic reaction to food). If you wait until the child is old enough to communicate more effectively, you'll have an easier time figuring out what is going on and treating any problems.

4. Does my family history of allergy/asthma make it more likely that Pumpkin will have a food allergy?
Sadly, yes. All of the reviews and articles I read agreed on this point. There is a strong genetic component to the development of allergies (although it is still not known what genes are involved). She may get lucky and inherit her Daddy's utter lack of allergies, but one depressing study I read about (reviewed in 2) found that all forms of allergic disease are more common in successive generations of a family. This suggests to me that at least some part of the genetic component may show dominant inheritance (i.e., you only need one of your two copies of a gene to be "bad" to show the trait).

5. What other factors might be linked to the development of food allergies?
This was one of the most interesting areas I researched. I was surprised to find that there is a correlation between an allergic mother having a C-section and her baby developing a food allergy, although no link was seen between C-sections and infant food allergies if the mother did not have allergies (reviewed in 1). There is not much you can do about this risk, though, so I just note it as an interesting piece of data.

"High maternal age" was also found to correlate with food allergy (also reviewed in 1), which is also not something I can change at this point, so again, just an interesting piece of data.

One theory I found particularly interesting was that the disturbance of the usual bacterial flora in the intestine by the early use of antibiotics might have a role in the development of allergy. As Bjorksten points out in (1), the flora of the intestine are the largest source of microbial stimulation for the developing immune system. He also references "mounting evidence" that these microbes are required for the development of tolerance to antigens beyond those derived from the bacteria themselves (1). However, a recent study from the Netherlands looked for a link between early exposure to antibiotics (either through direct dosing of the baby or through the breast milk of a mother receiving antibiotics) and food allergy and found no link (5). They did find a link to wheezing, though, and speaking as someone who has suffered a wheezing attack, this is certainly worth avoiding!

Several of the reviews mention a potential role for probiotics (such as Culturelle) in helping to prevent allergies, but indicated that there was no strong evidence on that yet. However, given the study that found a link between early antibiotic use and wheezing, I may look into this further. My pediatrician has already recommended the use of Culturelle in conjunction with any antibiotic course, to minimize the risk of thrush and to help prevent the stomach upset common with antibiotics. Perhaps the Dutch study is indicative of another reason to use probiotics.

Closing Thoughts
Reading all of this suggestive, inconclusive research made me think again about a section in The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. He writes about how our culture has lost its grounding in what foods are "good to think", i.e., that we no longer have a common, cultural set of food preferences like countries such as Japan and Italy do. In the place of cultural guidance, we have turned to science to tell us what to eat. However, as my research on food allergies illustrates, scientific knowledge is by its very nature incomplete. There will always be something more to learn. So relying on science is a crazy-making way to decide what to eat.

I'm a scientist, and I enjoyed my foray into the literature on avoiding food allergies. However, I know that the information I found is not conclusive. Every article I read pointed out that the data were not particularly conclusive and that more research was needed. So we, as parents, are left to make important decisions about what to feed ourselves and our children with incomplete data. The need to make decisions without all of the "facts" is a common theme in parenting. Therefore, I think relying on science is also a crazy-making way to parent. Once again, the data is always incomplete, and there are too many confounding variables to allow science to give us hard and fast answers on most things. We'd probably all be better off if we erred more towards my Hubby's relaxed "she'll be right, mate" attitude about it all. I am certainly trying to tune into my parenting instinct more.

Personally, I don't miss peanuts enough to add them back into my diet at this point. I think there is a lot to be said for the idea of holding off on the foods that are most likely to cause life-threatening allergic reactions (nuts, peanuts, shellfish) until Pumpkin is old enough to be able to indicate to me that something is not right in a manner more expressive than crying. But I certainly won't judge parents who make different decisions. If a kid turns out to have food allergies, I think that is just bad luck, not evidence of a bad parenting decision. And I'll just hope I never have to find out if I truly believe that.

References:
1. Bjorksten, B. Genetic and environmental risk factors for the development of food allergy. 2005. Curr Opin Allergy Clin immunol, 5:249-253. (PubMed)
2. Sicherer, S. The impact of maternal diets during breastfeeding on the prevention of food allergy. 2002. Curr Opin Allergy Clin immunol, 2:207-210. (PubMed)
3. Vadas, P., Wai, Y., Burks, W., Perelman B. Detection of peanut allergen in breast milk of lactating women. 2001. JAMA, 285: 1746-1748. (PubMed)
4. Greer, F.R., et al. Effects of early nutritional interventions on the development of atopic disease in infants and children: The role of maternal dietary, restriction, breastfeeding, timing of introduction of complementary foods, and hydrolyzed formulas. 2008. Pediatrics, 121:183-191. (This is full article on the new AAP recommendations; PubMed)
5. Kummeling, et al. Early life exposure to antibiotics and the subsequent development of eczema, wheeze, and allergc sensitization in the first 2 years of life: the KOALA birth cohort study. 2007. Pediatrics. 119: 225-231. (PubMed)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Growing Up

Today was Pumpkin's 9 month check up. She's gotten so big! The doctor said she is growing just fine, which is a bit surprising considering that she is constantly going through spells of refusing solids, and has a distressing tendency to throw up whenever she gets a cold (this is apparently due to the crud sliding down the back of her throat, and the doctor says it is nothing to worry about, but then, she doesn't have to do my laundry).

Anyway, my little baby is not so little anymore. She can reach the top of the dining room table, and if she stands on tippy-toes, she can peer over it (which is really cute) and whine because she can't reach whatever shiny thing is on it (which is a little less cute, but still rather endearing).

I brought Pumpkin home from her check up, and while I watched her happily play with the DVDs we never have time to watch anymore, I thought about how quickly she is growing up. This will obviously be a recurring thought for the next 2o years or so. But I also thought about how I am growing up. I can't help but chuckle/wince at that last sentence because before Pumpkin was born, I thought I was already grown up. I'd done all the grown up things, like live on my own and hold down a steady job.

I don't know how to say this without sounding insulting to the people who aren't parents but clearly are grown ups*, so I'll just say what I'm thinking. It is my blog, after all, and as far as I know, the only people who read it are also mothers. Motherhood is taking me to a whole new level of grown up, one where I have had to learn how to put my wants (and frankly, several of my needs) on hold for this little creature who is so dependent on me. Really, I never thought I'd need someone else's permission to pee once I left school.

I'm being facetious, but the serious fact remains- motherhood is teaching me skills beyond how to change a diaper on a squirming baby and how to clean vomit off of most surfaces. Pumpkin doesn't always do what I want, and she certainly doesn't listen to logical arguments. (Just tonight, I tried to reason with her about the fact that she was clearly very tired and needed to go to sleep, and not crawl around in her crib, but to no avail.) I'm learning how to handle the fact that there are things I very much want to be able to do (such as get Pumpkin down for naps reliably) that I just can't figure out how to do, no matter how much I study. I'm forced to experiment, but on an ever-changing subject, and not in a controlled manner. There are too many variables, and no way to hold most of them constant.

The things that make me happy are different, too, and I seem to need to relearn that often. I forget how much fun it is to just get down on the floor and play hide and seek or peekaboo with Pumpkin. I try to get chores done rather than play with her during our time at home before Daddy comes home. Of course, she lets me know that I am doing the wrong thing- she crawls over to me and pulls on my pant leg until I pick her up and dance, or come over and play. When I do, I find myself laughing and happy, and can't believe I thought unloading the dishwasher was more important than this. Really, nothing I do is more important than playtime with Pumpkin.

The rules of my life have changed, and I think its time to admit that some of the unsettled feelings I'm having lately are due to growing pains.

*In fact, I'm sure that there are other ways to learn the things I'm learning from parenthood, and that there are other levels of "grown up-ness" that other types of life experiences teach.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Two Unrelated Things

A lot of different blog topics are rolling around in my head tonight, but I will stick with two short and easy ones:

1. I believe that Pumpkin has a new favorite book, Max's First Word, by Rosemary Wells. She still likes Bunny and Me, by Adele Aron Greenspun and Joannie Schwarz, but it is no longer the book she reaches for when presented with a choice. For the longest time, she would reach for Bunny and Me. We never really knew why she loved it. It doesn't have particularly bright colors, but it is visually arresting (at least to an adult, it is impossible to know what Pumpkin really thought of it). It is a cute little story: the "friendship" between a baby and a bunny is introduced, then the bunny hops away. The baby searches for the bunny, and eventually finds the bunny hiding in a basket. Pumpkin likes to pause on the page where the baby reacts to the bunny hopping away. The picture is of a crying baby. She reaches out and touches the baby's face with one of her little fingers for awhile, then she turns the page. Now she is reaching for Max's First Word, but I suspect this will be a short-lived favorite. Already, it has tough competition from Raffi's Baby Beluga. She likes to touch the pictures of the animals in that one.

Anyway, I've updated the "What Pumpkin's Reading" section on the right appropriately.

2. It occurred to me yesterday that Hubby will spend days, sometimes even weeks, researching the purchase of a laptop or other electronic toy. However, if I didn't bring a bunch of baby books into the house, I don't think he'd feel the need to research anything about parenting. Well, he might run a Google search if she did something really unexpected, like break out in purple spots or something.

I, on the other hand, tend to purchase things with little research, but have been known to research parenting decisions to the point of obsession. I am still recovering from my attempt to decide how to introduce solids to Pumpkin based on research. (Start with rice cereal. No! That is too bland and boring. Start with sweet potato! Or avocado! Introduce meat last. No! First! No! Never! Babies must only eat puree until they have teeth. No! Babies should eat finger foods as soon as they can grasp them. No! Let the baby decide what she wants to eat!)

I don't mean to judge Hubby, because, frankly, his parenting instincts are pretty good. And he is certainly the less worried of Pumpkin's two parents. However, if I didn't do research, I would never have found Ask Moxie and all the wonderful advice and comfort that site brings to me. I think there is probably a happy medium between our two approaches. I wonder if we'll eventually reach it?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Digital Navel Gazing

One of the little joys of running a website is checking the logs periodically, to see what search terms are leading people to you. I first discovered this in graduate school, when I created a specialized scientific database/website as part of my thesis work. I was always amused by the occasional odd search that would bring people to my digital door.

I recently checked out the logs for this blog. The Brits definitely have the most interesting searches:

Whoever searched on "New Zealanders are loud" was no doubt disappointed to find my post saying the exact opposite. If that reader thinks Kiwis are loud, he/she should never visit the US.

Someone else wondered "Why do US stalls have gaps?" and was taken to the same post. It offered no insight into why our public toilets are different, so there is another disappointed reader.

I wonder if my post about the impact of norovirus on our holidays convinced the person who typed "I want norovirus" into Google to rethink his or her position?

The Brits may have the largest number of odd searches, but the single most odd search award goes to someone in West Virginia, who was looking for "pumpkin bathroom cockroach blog". I trust he or she was also disappointed in my post on the pests we encountered while traveling.

A few searches might have led people to actual useful information. There were several searches about Easter Island, and I think my trip story about Easter Island will have told the searchers that yes, it is "worth it" and that the snorkeling is not excellent in a traditional sense, but definitely cool. Similarly, my story about French Polynesia will hopefully have spared at least one person from making our mistake of taking the slow ferry between Pape'ete and Moorea.

The most common useful search leads people to the recipe I found for dairy-free brownies.

However, the search that I most hope was useful was from a woman who searched on "feel a failure as a mum". It took her to my post on the benefits of being a working mother, which may or may not have been the best place for her to land. I hope she stayed long enough to discover that other mothers feel the same way, and maybe followed one of the blogroll links out to a site like Ask Moxie. In short, I hope she found some comfort in the Momosphere. I certainly do.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Zenbit: Fat Bird






















Actually, it is just called "Bird". It is by Fernando Botero.

Location: Singapore
Date: January 25, 2006

Friday, January 11, 2008

An Excellent Post

This will be quick, because I just wrote my "real" post for the day, and it is bedtime. However, I was checking in on some of my favorite blogs and noticed this post, which I will come back and read often as I worry about what sort of role model I am for Pumpkin.

Redefining Success

I had planned to write a light-hearted post about some odd search terms that have shown up in my logs. But today kicked my butt, so I think I want to write about that, instead.

Right now, I have every other Friday off from work. I usually keep Pumpkin home from day care, although sometimes I will send her in for the morning and catch up on whatever I'm most behind on- sleep or my chores. Today was a "free Friday", and I kept Pumpkin with me. I had big plans for the day: we'd go to my old breastfeeding support group, and we'd play, and take an awake walk in the afternoon. During her naps, I'd write the aforementioned light-hearted blog post and either nap myself or work on organizing our office.

I hear the experienced Mommies out there laughing. Of course, this is not what happened at all. We got off to a good start- she woke up at 6 a.m. She usually gets ready for her first nap approximately two hours after waking up, so I figured we were on track: she'd go down for her nap between 8 and 8:30, and wake up in time for me to go to support group. (More laughter from the experienced Mommies out there.) She got tired at 8 a.m., but she absolutely refused to go down for her nap. I tried the "read her to sleep" method my Mom used when she was here, but all that did was make me sick of Max's First Word, a book I actually rather like. I tried Hubby's " stick her in her bouncy chair and bounce her to sleep, nevermind the occasional protest" method. She didn't just protest, she screamed and arched her back in an impressive back bend. I tried my old "bounce/rock/plead her to sleep method", but all she wanted to do was pull my hair. Actually, this was what she wanted to do during the other two methods, too. (I hear you say: "So let her pull your hair until she falls asleep", to which I reply "She pulls too hard." Yes, I got through labor and the painful nipples of early breastfeeding, but can't stand to have my hair pulled.)

Finally, at 9 a.m., I put her in her car seat and took her for a drive. She was asleep in about 5 minutes, and as long as I kept driving, she stayed that way. I drove around until 10 a.m., when it was time for support group. I always feel fairly guilty about using the car as a giant pacifier, but at least I had the Prius today. I think I used less than a gallon of gas. This would have sucked a lot less if I'd liked the program on NPR at this time a little more.

We went to support group, where she was universally admired as a beautiful and happy baby. Most people comment on either her big blue eyes or how happy she is when they meet her. I always smile and say thanks, but I can't help but think that it is a bit ironic that a baby who an hour or two earlier was screaming at me and pulling my hair rather than go to sleep is considered so happy. Support group was fun, I caught up with some old friends, and was glad I went. But I stayed too long, and she fell asleep in the car on the way home. This may or may not be the reason that her afternoon nap also required motion.

We ate lunch, played a bit, and then she started acting tired again. So I started the naptime routine again. Again, no dice. I tried for an hour and a half this time, and then finally gave up and took her for a long walk. I strolled around the neighborhood feeling like an abject failure, laughing at myself for having just written a post about how going back to work had made me feel competent again. I certainly didn't feel competent. I felt like a loser Mom who should just leave her baby in day care because they are clearly better able to care for her. I seriously considered giving up my free Fridays, and that made me feel worse. What sort of Mom can't even handle one day alone with her baby every two weeks?

Luckily, when we got home and she woke up from her nap (because she was no longer moving), she was cute and loving and playful. We played peek-a-boo, and hide and seek, and "So Big", which she has modified to include flopping over in my lap so that her head hangs upside down after the "Soooo Big!" part (during this game I discovered that she has a new tooth coming in- one of her two front teeth). She snuggled and looked at books, and then she knocked my block towers over and took her plastic stacking rings off of their pole. In short she was a perfect little baby.

Once again, I had failed to appreciate the lessons in acceptance that Pumpkin was teaching me. I felt like a failure because I had expectations for how Pumpkin should sleep, so that I could do things But of course, my Fridays free aren't supposed to be about doing things. They are supposed to be about spending time with Pumpkin, which I had in fact succeeded in doing. If she needs me to walk her for her nap, so what? I need the exercise, and it was a beautiful day (a fact that my Hubby, the born Zen master, pointed out when I called him in a tizzy during the afternoon nap refusal).

I don't think I'll send Pumpkin to day care instead of keeping her home for our Fridays free, afterall. However, if I could find someone who was willing to come in and bounce her down for her naps, I'd be sorely tempted....

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Working Mum: The Benefits

Being a mother who works outside the home is certainly not easy. Many other bloggers have written far more eloquently than I can about this. See, for example, Mom-101's post about the angst of the working Mom who has to travel. See badmomgoodmom's set of posts about why birthrates might be falling in industrialized nations.

I could certainly write a post about the trials and tribulations of working motherhood. I could write about the difficulty of finding time to pump when people book up your day with meetings. (Solution: schedule "meetings" between me and the pump. And sometimes, pump during a teleconference. Thank heavens for the mute button.) I could write about the difficulty of dragging your still hormonal and sleep deprived self back to work after your three month maternity leave. (Solution: I don't know. Just do it and cry about it later.) But I don't want to write that kind of post. I want to write a post about the good parts of being a working Mom.

There are little benefits, like the unbelievably joyful greeting I get when I pick Pumpkin up from day care. She bounces and grins and giggles and grabs my hair and is so happy that everyone in the room smiles. Even the day care workers, who presumably see many similar reunions every day. Nothing else has ever made me feel so loved. If I never left her, I would never get to experience this joy.

The most meaningful benefit to me, though, is one that is hard to admit to, because mothers aren't supposed to need distance from their babies. It is the sense of perspective that going back to work gave me on the difficulties of motherhood. Babies are wonderful things, but they are also frustrating and their care requires a huge amount of energy. When I was at home with Pumpkin, I struggled with her naps (she never really wanted to take them). I struggled with her feeding during the growth spurts. I struggled to keep up with cleaning up the spit up she deposited all over our apartment. I struggled with the feeling that I should be doing more to engage and entertain her. I loved her, and I loved to be with her, but at the same time I struggled. Often, I felt like a failure. Surely, a good mother could get her baby to nap when she was tired. Surely, a good mother would know what to do to optimize her baby's development. I started to feel less than competent.

And then I went back to work three days a week, while Hubby stayed home and took care of Pumpkin. Suddenly, there were days when Pumpkin's naps weren't my problem. Days when I could eat my lunch whenever I was hungry, and go to the bathroom whenever I needed to. There were eight hour stretches where I wasn't always waiting for the next cry demanding I do something for the baby. I regained my sense of competence. I could still do things. I realized that my worth as a person (or even as a mother) wasn't defined by how well Pumpkin napped.

As I have continued to work (I am working almost full time now), the sense of perspective I get from having an identity other than mother is invaluable. If Pumpkin's not sleeping well (and she rarely is), it doesn't make me feel like a complete failure. After all, I am still the successful career woman I was before Pumpkin was born. I go and read Ask Moxie during my lunch break, and remind myself that lots of other babies don't sleep all that well, either. And then I get some work done, so that I can leave work on time and go pick up my bouncing, grinning, giggling baby from day care.

I am sure that stay at home Moms find a way to regain their sense of competence and perspective, and to retain an identity independent from their baby. But for me, going back to work was what did it. As someone else* said, my baby is the most important thing in my life. But she is not the only thing.

*Sorry, I can't remember which of the many excellent bloggers I read said this. I blame the sleep deprivation.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Superpowers

Cara Mama is asking what superpower you'd want. I am too tired to figure that out, so I took the What Would Your Superpower Be? quiz (found courtesy of Grace at badmomgoodmom), and here are my results:

Your Superpower Should Be Mind Reading

You are brilliant, insightful, and intuitive.
You understand people better than they would like to be understood.
Highly sensitive, you are good at putting together seemingly irrelevant details.
You figure out what's going on before anyone knows that anything is going on!

Why you would be a good superhero: You don't care what people think, and you'd do whatever needed to be done

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Feeling even more isolated than you do now


And maybe if I could mindread I could figure out what Pumpkin needs to make her sleep better....

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Zenbit: Rarotonga Sunrise II


















More of the benefits of jetlag. (Click here to see the first in this series.)

Location: Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Date: April 18, 2005

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Furniture Follies

There will be no deep and meaningful post tonight, I'm afraid. Today was too frustrating. Back in September, Hubby and I ordered some new living room furniture- a sofa and two chairs. The sofa arrived after Thanksgiving, delayed by almost four weeks due to a problem with the fabric we had initially chosen (they stopped making it). We had moved our old "sofa", which is a futon, into our guest room for the in-laws to sleep on during their visit, so we sat on lawn chairs at Thanksgiving. Luckily, no one in our family is particularly formal. The new chairs were supposed to arrive around Christmas time. We were broken in by the experience with the sofa, and so weren't surprised when they actually came in this week. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the fabric on them, too. It was completely wrong. We had order brick red chairs and we received mottled beige chairs. Needless to say, we were not pleased.

Hubby had borrowed a friend's small SUV to bring the chairs home (in the biggest rainstorm San Diego has seen in quite sometime- it actually rained all day). After several phone calls with the shop, much conferring and fuming, and a not very successful attempt to just take a Zen attitude toward the whole thing, we have agreed to take some loaner chairs until our chairs come in again, which will be in 8-10 weeks, since they are coming by boat from Italy. They offered to let us keep the beige things while we waited, but we declined. I am sure they would look nice in someone's living room, but they would look horrible in ours. So some red leather chairs will be delivered to us tomorrow.

If you are reading this and do not know us well, you are probably wondering (1) why we didn't just get our money back and go buy some other chairs, (2) why we were willing to wait more than three months for chairs in the first place, and (3) why new parents are importing chairs from Italy. The answer to all of these questions is that my taste and Hubby's taste intersects at expensive European (although the sofa was actually expensive modern American). Either one of us alone can find items we like at Ikea. Together, we can only agree that the Billy is a reasonable bookshelf. Our second favorite chairs from our furniture shopping back in September are actually $200 more per chair and would probably also have to come by boat from Europe. I have resigned myself to extended searches for furniture, and to paying more than is strictly necessary for what we eventually buy. On the bright side, it is all of excellent quality. Everything is microfiber, to help it survive the inevitable abuse from Pumpkin.

While I'm talking about furniture, I have to share one of our success stories: we shopped very hard for the perfect post-baby coffee table to replace the six moving boxes covered with a bath towel that we'd been using since moving into our new house in September. By the time we started the search, Pumpkin was pulling herself up on the boxes with regularity, and clearly loving it. Therefore, one of the requirements for the coffee table was that watching Pumpkin pull herself up on it must not cause me to make that Mommy-gasp sound I make when she does something that scares me. We decided that ottomans were the way to go, but Hubby just didn't like any of the standard oblong ottomans we found. We ended up with three very funky ottoman/bench thingys. They only took four weeks to arrive, which seemed almost like instant gratification to us. Pumpkin was thrilled with our choice, especially once she discovered that we'd actually bought her a tunnel.



As you can see in this second photo, they also make excellent TV guards.


And yes, our TV guard cost more than the TV.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Good Night, Bad Night

I had big plans for a deep and meaningful post about the benefits of working mom-hood, but frankly, I'm too tired to do it. Yes, I recognize the irony in that statement.

The sleep thing is kicking my butt right now. We seem to be alternating good nights and bad nights. On a good night, she sleeps until 1 or so before waking for the first time and then wakes up every two hours or so after that. She eats and goes back to sleep easily, and everything is, well, not good, but bearable. On a bad night, she sleeps until about 10, wakes up screaming for no apparent reason, nurses, screams some more, and then sleeps a bit on Daddy's chest until finally nursing at about 2 or 3 a.m. and going back to sleep easily. We have analyzed every detail we can think of, comparing good nights to bad nights, and we're stumped. We have no idea what causes one night to be a good one and the next one to be a bad one. The only bright side I see to this is that we've decided it is pointless to try any "sleep improvement" techniques since we don't really have a baseline from which to start. So we're just doing whatever it takes to get her back to sleep on the bad nights, and really, that is so much easier and less stressful.

The other sleep thing going on right now is that we're back in a phase where it takes me 3x as long to get her down for the night as it takes Hubby. Hubby can bounce her for a few minutes, put her down sort of awake, hold his hand on her face, and she goes to sleep. If I do that, she arches her back and screams and I have to spend the next 15 minutes letting her pull my hair before she'll even consider closing her eyes again. Needless to say, I think Hubby should have the bedtime duties for the next little bit. Luckily he agrees. The downside is that I have to do the dishes every night now.

Maybe I'll get my deep and meaningful post written tomorrow. I have my fingers crossed for a Good Night....

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Milestones

We had our first poop in the bath tonight. Hubby, who is not so fond of poop clean up in general, was giving her the bath. He held her in a superman-like pose while I cleaned her up and she cried because she had been abruptly removed from her bath. It was pretty funny, actually.

In other news, it occurred to me this week that I have pulled exactly two bona fide all-nighters (which I define as staying up all night to finish something- staying up to the wee hours clubbing or talking to friends doesn't count). Don't be too impressed by the small number of all-nighters I have pulled. I was a science major in college, and staying up all night to study for a quantum mechanics exam is fairly counterproductive. It is far better to go to bed and dream odd dreams about orbitals and wave functions. Also, despite what Pumpkin may think, I really like to sleep. But I digress.

The first all-nighter was the night I printed my PhD thesis. I had to produce 13 good copies, some subset of which had to be on fancy paper (I still have some of this fancy paper. I have moved it across country twice and across town once. I have now taken to printing my Google maps on it. But I digress again). Printer technology wasn't quite as good back then, so to print color figures with captions I first printed the captions on the black and white printer and then ran the page through the color printer to get the figure printed. I had quite a few color figures in my thesis. I was up until 4 a.m. finishing this.

My second all-nighter was the night I gave birth to Pumpkin. That was also "finished" at about 4 a.m.

There is an interesting symmetry there, I think.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Journeys

Visa, MasterCard, and Diners Club apparently screwed their customers on foreign transaction fees between February 1, 1996 and November 8, 2006, and someone got mad enough (or greedy enough) to pursue a class action lawsuit against them. They settled, and sent all of their customers a letter telling us how to get a refund. There are three refund options- a quick $25 if you didn't leave the US much, a moderately painful estimation method for more frequent travels, and a laughably detailed method for the people who keep meticulous records of their expenses going back more than 10 years (i.e., companies). I looked at the forms and chose the middle option, which requires that I estimate the total number of days I spent outside of the US between the relevant dates and answer some questions about how often my travel was for business, leisure, or visiting friends/relatives (which is apparently not leisure).

I pulled out my passports (current and expired), and set about adding up the days. First, I made a list of all of the places I had been, listed here in the random order in which they appear in my passport:
  • Sweden (with a side jaunt to Copenhagen. I don't have a stamp from Denmark. I almost didn't get one in Sweden- I remember having to find a bemused looking customs official to stamp my passport.)
  • Ireland (multiple times, since I used to date an Irish guy)
  • England (multiple times, which would no doubt horrify the Irish ex)
  • New Zealand (multiple times, since I am married to a Kiwi)
  • Canada (only once, but maybe we can go back now that we have a kid. It was considered too domestic for our pre-child travels- my Hubby wanted to save domestic travel for post-child. Sorry Canadians, you can call my Hubby an Aussie in retaliation.)
  • Italy (Rome. And the Vatican City, of course.)
  • Germany (I always forget I've been to Germany, since I really only flew there to meet up with a friend and go on to...)
  • Spain (This trip began on 9/20/01. It was weird to fly then, but we had planned the trip months earlier. I was glad I went, because it really restored my perspective. Also, it is the only foreign trip I have ever taken where I didn't hear a single anti-American comment during the trip. )
  • Switzerland (Another country I hardly count, since we only stopped for a few hours on our way back from Spain)
  • The Cook Islands (One of my favorite places on earth- see the picture on the right for an idea of why. We liked it so much on our first trip that we decided to go back and get married there.)
I also visited Mexico briefly, for a conference in Cabo San Lucas. Amazingly, I haven't been back in many, many years, and Hubby has never been. This is a bit ridiculous given the fact that we live in San Diego. Maybe we should make a New Year's Resolution to rectify this.

And then there was the big trip, listed here in the order in which we visited:
  • Tahiti
  • Chile (Easter Island)
  • New Zealand (Christmas and New Years with the in-laws)
  • Australia (Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney-Brisbane)
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand (which is home to Hubby's new favorite place on Earth, Ko Ngai, pictured on the right)
  • Cambodia (Siam Reap only- I couldn't see getting so close to Angkor Wat and not visiting)
  • China (Beijing-Xian-Three Gorges-Shanghai-Macau-Hong Kong)
  • Japan (Tokyo for a couple of days, because Hubby couldn't see getting so close and not visiting)
Next I searched for all of the exit stamps and/or re-entry to the US stamps, and determined that I had spent 209 days outside of the US before our big trip. The big trip added another 118 days, giving a total of 327 days. That is just shy of 10% of the 3933 days between 2/1/96 and 11/8/06. I was surprised to see such a big number. I had never considered myself particularly well-traveled, probably because I hang out with too many New Zealanders. Kiwis don't just travel- they go live overseas for extended periods, and use that time to visit all of the countries within easy traveling distance (and Kiwis consider quite a lot "easy traveling distance", since their home country is so far from everywhere).

I enjoyed the trip through my memories. I doubt that the next 10 years will hold quite so much international travel. We are on a different sort of journey now! I am sure we will eventually take Pumpkin (and her future sibling, if one appears) out and about. Travel has been such a major part of our lives up to this point, that it would seem wrong to stop now. We feel we have learned a great deal from our travels, and we will certainly want Pumpkin to get a chance to learn her own travel lessons. But first, we have some domestic travel to do....
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