Tuesday, December 23, 2008

West with the Night

Particularly observant readers may have noticed that the "What I'm Reading" section has referred to West with the Night, by Beryl Markham, for quite awhile. I have been done with the book for quite some time, but I couldn't bring myself to change the book in that section until I wrote something more permanent about it, because it is a book that it seems has never gotten the readership that it deserves. It was basically lost until someone reading Ernest Hemingway's letters in 1982 found mention of it. The mention of the book in Hemingway's letters prompted a Californian named George Gutekunst to dig up the book, and get it re-published in 1983. It may have had a short-lived success then, but I originally came across the book on a bargain table, so I think it is fair to say that it has lapsed back into relative obscurity.

This is a real shame. There is some question about whether Ms. Markham actually wrote the book (see the wikipedia entry for a summary of her life and the controversy about the book's authorship), but there is no question that she led a fascinating life. She grew up in west Africa, became a horse trainer and then a pilot in a time (1920s-30s) when women didn't really do either of these things, and went on to fly a historic solo flight across the Atlantic. The book brings her exploits to life, but also paints a vivid picture of Africa at that time. I remember that it made me want to visit Africa when I first read it, and rereading it had the same effect.

I find Ms. Markham's memoir to be inspiring, not just for the things she did, but also for her no-nonsense and fun-loving attitude toward life, which the writing definitely conveys. The book reminds me that there are fewer limitations on us than we usually imagine there to be. If you haven't read it, I wholeheartedly recommend it.


In other news: I won't be posting for a while, because we're going to be quite busy over the holidays. I hope everyone out there has a Merry Christmas/Happy Hannukah/etc. I'll be back in the new year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Zenbit: Pines to Palms

Look closely at the "palms" on the balcony. They are made of pine tree branches!

Balboa Island, California, USA
November 8, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Perils of Matchmaking, Day Care Edition

I've recommended my day care to several people. Pregnant working women (and working moms who aren't too happy with their current situation) will almost always ask you where your kid goes to day care and whether you like it. I always tell people where we go, and say I do like it, and then answer all the follow up questions as honestly as I can.

Two people who asked me about where we send Pumpkin have ended up at the same day care we use. As far as I know, one is as happy as we are with the place. The other told me today that she is moving her baby as soon as she can find a different day care. I don't think I should tell her story about why on my blog- it is not my story. I will say that when I listened to the story as she told it, I could understand why she was so upset and wanted to move. But I also thought "gee, I think I would have seen these events in a completely different way." If the same things had happened to us when Pumpkin was that age, I don't think I would have even thought about making a change. I don't think it would even have occurred to me that anything might be wrong.

This got me thinking about the match between day care and child, and perhaps more importantly (at least at the younger ages) between day care and parents. Every parent has different things that worry him/her, and no day care can address every possible concern. So when you're interviewing day cares, what you should be trying to do is figure out if the your particular parenting neuroses are well-handled at the day care. Except, you're usually interviewing day cares when you're still pregnant, and you really have no idea what your neuroses will be. (Really, I would never have predicted that I would freak out so much about Pumpkin's eating. Given that our day care requires certain eating-related milestones before a baby moves up to the older infants room, this was a definite mismatch between me and my day care, and it did cause some angst.)

I guess it is a sign of my progress as a working mom that my friend's revelation didn't make me doubt my day care decision. Our day care is a good fit for us, but if it is not a good fit for her and her family, she should definitely find one that is. Or, if she can't find a day care that fits, she should get a nanny, which would give her more control over how things are done.

Still, I feel a strange guilt about this. I feel bad that my friend is going to have to go through the hassle of finding a day care again, when she thought this was done. And I feel bad that the center is having to deal with this obvious mismatch. It is probably creating some stress for the teachers that we really liked. It is sort of like the feeling you get when you try to hook two friends up and they totally don't hit it off.

I've sworn to listen supportively and non-judgmentally to my friend's concerns and her reports of the search for a new day care, but to keep my mouth shut and not offer any advice. Well, maybe I'll tell her to ask carefully about the biting policy....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sanity Savers, Part I

I haven't posted in awhile because we're all sick here. Its just a cold, but its a bad one. Pumpkin has an ear infection, too. She was sent home from day care on Monday because she was crying non-stop. Few things make you feel like a worse mother than a call from day care to come get your daughter because she's been crying non-stop for over an hour and has rivers of snot coming out of her nose.

My Mom came over to take care of Pumpkin today, and Pumpkin seems happy as can be. She did take a 3.5 hour nap, though, so we'll probably have her stay home with "Mimi" tomorrow, too.

The crud that is in Pumpkin's ears is in my sinuses. On Sunday, I had that "my face will pop any moment" sort of sinus pain that used to send me to my Sudafed. I didn't really want to take Sudafed while breastfeeding, though- my sources (more on that later) say it is safe, but it makes me feel really weird and disconnected, and that seems unfair to inflict on Pumpkin.

I asked the after hours pediatrician who diagnosed Pumpkin's ear infection what I could take, and she said anything over the counter would be fine, but it would go into the breastmilk. I wanted more advice, so I turned to my trusty The Nursing Mother's Companion, which helped me through the early, difficult days of breastfeeding, and has answered many questions since. In the back, there is a listing of drugs that one should and shouldn't take while breastfeeding. One of the ones it recommended as safe under the "Colds and Allergies" section was guaifenesin, an expectorant sold over the counter as Mucinex.

I went and bought some and wow!- what a difference. I'm still not well, but I was able to function again within an hour. Thank goodness for Mucinex- and for my The Nursing Mother's Companion!

This got me thinking about things that have been really helpful during my first year and a bit of motherhood. Here's my current list:

  • The Ask Moxie website- good for advice on just about any parenting topic. If Moxie's answer to a question doesn't have what I need, chances are one of the comments does.
  • The Nursing Mother's Companion. I found this book from an excerpt pamphlet that one of my friends mailed to me after she had her baby and was surprised at how hard breastfeeding was. It was my constant companion for the first few months.
  • My Baby Bargains book, which was very helpful when we were trying to figure out what stroller to buy, etc. Now, we have the confidence to go with our own opinions more, but in the early days (and before Pumpkin was born), we wanted some guidance.
I made this a Part I post, because I'm sure I'll think of more things and want to do a part II post soon. In the meantime- what books, sites, products, etc. help keep you sane?

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I don't know whether I think this is a good idea or a horrifying one:

Breast Milk Alcohol Test Kit

Sure, there may be detectable short term changes in a baby's behavior when there is a little alcohol in the breastmilk, but are there long term effects? Is this a brilliant idea to help moms indulge now and then without worrying, or another manifestation of a culture that seems to want moms to subsume all of their needs/wants to the baby's? I don't know.

Even weirder, I found this while poking around the Amazon gift guides section. It was in the section for "Intellectual moms". So do only intellectual moms drink now and then, or is that only intellectual moms worry about it?

And what is an "intellectual mom", anyway?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Day Care Luck

I know I am not making an original observation when I say that many of the ideas about parenting that I had before Pumpkin was born have turned out to be completely wrong. I don't know why I continue to be surprised by the number of things I didn't know, but I do.

Earlier this week, I had lunch with a good friend of mine. She has a job very similar to mine, and has only recently returned to work after having her second baby. As you'd expect, we spent much of our lunch discussing the ups and downs of working motherhood. I mentioned that we are working with Pumpkin again on "no biting"- after a couple of months of no bites at day care, we have started getting bite reports again. We have no idea what has triggered this, but are back to talking to Pumpkin about biting, reading her the Teeth Are Not for Biting book, and playing out the biting scenario and consequences with her baby doll and stuffed bunny. The conversations are slightly more enlightening now, since Pumpkin has more language skills, but we still can't get her to tell us why she bites. She does tell us who she bites, and that she bit on the arm, and "no, no, bite, hurts". She also is responding better to the play scenarios. She's not biting everyday this time around, and seems to know that biting is wrong. So maybe we'll get past this phase faster this time.

However, it turns out we are lucky that our day care doesn't expel children for biting. My friend listened to my story about Pumpkin, and said she was really glad her eldest had only bit once or twice because several kids have been expelled from her day care for biting, and that the school only gives the parents a week or two to sort the biting out before they expel. Both my friend and I think this policy is unduly harsh- it is very hard for a parent to stop a toddler from biting. I could see expelling a child if the parents weren't taking the issue seriously, if there was some indication that the child needed specialist care, or if there was reason to believe the bites were causing serious harm. None of the bites Pumpkin has ever gotten at day care were bad enough to worry me. They are just little marks on the arm. Her teachers say that the bites she has dished out are similar. Expelling a child who developmentally doesn't yet have the capacity for self control for minor bites seems unfair, particularly if the parents are doing everything they can to solve the problem.

The child is not going to learn from the experience. A toddler is too young to understand why her day care arrangement has changed. But the parents will have a pretty miserable time dealing with the expulsion. Most day cares that take babies under the age of 2 have long waiting lists. The parents of the expelled child would have no option but to hire a nanny, and would probably end up taking at least a week off of work while they found a nanny.

Pumpkin landed in a day care with more lenient policies purely by chance. It did not occur to me to ask about this when we were looking at day cares, and even if I had asked, I don't think I would have realized that the answer I was looking for was the lenient one. If I ever write a book about the things you really need to know to be a working mother, this would definitely be something I'd put in the chapter on choosing day care. This, and the advice about sippy cups.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toddler Yogi

One of the baby induced changes that annoys me the most is the loss of my ability to remember the little details that make day to day life run more smoothly. For instance, as I was walking to my yoga class this afternoon, I realized that I had forgotten to bring a ponytail holder for my hair. Again. So I spent another class pushing hair out of my eyes and, when in an inverted pose, peering through my hair to see what the instructor was doing.

I have mentioned before that I go to very, very gentle yoga class. I like this sort of class because it helps my longstanding computer use related arm injury. This class is gentler than most because many of the students are referred by the hospital next door to help them deal with mobility issues caused by injury, illness, or just age. I think they are all pretty amused to find me in their class- my injury has no obvious outward manifestations, whereas many of them walk with canes. However, even my gentle class with mostly geriatric students challenges me sometimes. I have never been very flexible. When I went to a yoga class with younger, healthier students, I could never do a proper downward facing dog.

Pumpkin, on the other hand, does a pretty good "doggie", as she calls it:

Monday, December 08, 2008


Hubby went to a movie tonight with my sister- they go to movies every now and then because Hubby really likes movies and I don't.

After we waved bye-bye to them, I gave Pumpkin her snack, laughing with her as I imitated her leaning her head on her hand- she looked like such a big girl when she did that! After her bath, I read her stories, and humored her when she wanted to sit by herself in the "big chair" (my rocking chair) and when she pointed at her little rocking chair and directed me to "sit". I pulled the little chair up to the big one, leaned over and read her stories.

She didn't fuss much when it was time to finish reading. When I first said it was time to stop, she went over to her bookshelf and picked out two more books, which I dutifully read with her snuggled onto my lap. Then I put her in her sleep sack and turned out the light. I held her for a few minutes, but then she wanted to nurse. She hadn't nursed after day care today, so I wasn't surprised. After she finished, I held her close and rocked her to sleep.

Tonight, I didn't mind sitting in her darkened room, holding her next to me for the twenty minutes it took her to fall asleep. I probably would have sat there for twenty minutes even if she'd been asleep after five.

Today, in a neighborhood not far from where I live and work, a military jet fell out of the sky onto a house, killing a mother, her baby, the baby's grandmother, and probably her other child as well. When the news first came in, when we knew that the pilot had ejected safely but before we knew about the casualties on the ground, I was struck by the fact that we had looked at a house on the street where the plane crashed and by the fact that the first house we put an offer on was only a few blocks from the crash site. We didn't get that house, and comforted ourselves partly with the thought of the noise from the military jets overhead. We have many friends and coworkers with houses in that neighborhood. In fact, Hubby works with someone whose house is across the street from the crash site, and who was not allowed to go home tonight.

Since we have learned about the casualties on the ground, I have been unable to rid my head of thoughts of the unnamed father of the baby, husband of the mother, and son or son-in-law of the grandmother. He presumably waved good-bye to his family this morning, and went to work. Then, while he was eating his lunch or sitting in some pointless meeting or doing one of the various workday tasks we all do, he lost his family and his home. He didn't know it yet, but it wouldn't be long before the news of the crash spread around his work place. It took less than 5 minutes at my office before almost everyone knew and was online trying to find out the details. He must have realized quickly that his house was near the crash site. Did he recognize his house from the news footage? Did he try to call home and get a dead line? When did he begin to suspect that it was his house, his family that was gone? And how in the world will he pick up the pieces of his life?

This man and his wife had bought a house in a very safe neighborhood, known for its good schools. They'd protected their family from some of the obvious risks, but life is fragile and you can't protect your family from all the risks. We strap our babies into car seats, slather them with sunscreen, and fret about what they eat and whether their baby bottles are made with the wrong plastics. But nothing we do will keep them safe if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of us will see our babies grow into children and then into adults, and will be left wondering where that sweet little toddler who liked to climb into the grown up chairs and who was so hard to get to sleep went. Really, all you can do is try your best to keep them safe while not worrying so much that you forget to appreciate what you have while you have it.

So I was happy to hold Pumpkin tonight, and feel her little head get heavy on my arm as she drifted off to sleep, her fingers still twirling my hair. It is a shame that it takes someone else's tragedy to make me stop and appreciate how precious that weight on my arm and those fingers in my hair are.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Zenbit: Really Tall

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 3, 2006

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do It Yourself Expertise

Ask Moxie had a post earlier this week about the trace amounts of melamine found in a few US formula brands. You can read the CNN story about this, or visit the FDA's page about the Chinese formula melamine contamination, which includes a discussion of the FDA's US testing program.

Some of the comments on Moxie's post got me thinking about the decline of the expert in US culture. Many of the commenters clearly did not trust the FDA when it said that the amounts of melamine found in US formulas was not enough to be a threat to the health of infants drinking the formula. It wasn't always clear whether the commenters thought that the FDA scientists were incompetent or under the influence of industry lobbyists or both. Regardless, it is a sad statement on our society when we won't believe the decisions of the experts we've hired to ensure that our food is safe.

I don't think that our food safety system is set up as well as it could be. Read anything by Marion Nestle if you want an expert's opinion on what is wrong with our system. But I don't think the FDA is turning a blind eye to harmful industrial chemicals in baby formula. In fact, I think this is an example of the system working: a new contaminant turned up in another country, so the FDA tested for it here. Trace amounts were found, and that was publicized, which in and of itself will probably motivate the companies involved to find the source of this trace contamination and remove it- this is a public relations nightmare, if not a public health one. At the same time, the FDA determined that the amounts found were not a threat to human health, and announced that, to try to prevent nervous parents from panicking about what to feed their babies.

Except it didn't work- some parents are still panicking, which is really too bad.

This isn't the only example of this phenomenon. The idea that vaccines somehow cause autism (see this Quackwatch debunking if you want a review of the scientific evidence against this theory) is probably the most pernicious example.

I completely understand parents wanting to be very conservative about exposing their children to potential risks, and I also understand wanting to review the evidence yourself to make yourself comfortable with the decisions you are making. I even understand being angry that any melamine showed up in the formula. It has no business being there. But I don't really understand the complete distrust of the experts when they determined that this wasn't a threat to health. It is like we all want to be the experts. The only problem is that delving into the scientific literature to fully evaluate a controversial subject takes a lot of time, and specialized knowledge of various experimental techniques is usually required. Let's face it- most of us don't have the training, experience, or time to critically review all of the scientific evidence. So we are left making decisions based on news reports and what we read on the internet.

Why do we trust some blogger whose real name we don't even know over the scientists who have trained in the appropriate subjects and whose job it is to read and evaluate all of the papers, and perhaps even do relevant experiments in their own lab? Maybe it is the general decline in trust in the government that I'm told started with Watergate. Maybe it is the easy availability of so many opinions and authoritative looking sites on the internet. It is probably both of these things. However, I think there is also a general distrust of the "educated elite" that has made its way into our society. I'm not a historian or a political scientist, so I won't try to pinpoint when it started. But I'm pretty sure it has gotten worse under George Bush. Sharon Begley at Newsweek has an excellent article about the impact of the Bush administration on science policies. I think the problem goes beyond just science, and I'm not sure whether President Bush is the symptom or the cause. I just hope that we can reverse the trend. If we don't, good scientists won't want to work for the government- why work for less money than you can make in industry in a job that has diminishing influence and where your best efforts are subjected to distrust and derision? And if the good scientists go elsewhere, we'll really have problems with food and drug safety.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I Share

I have a few posts kicking around in my head, but I'm pretty wiped out tonight, so I'll just give you random stories instead.

We had my cousin's family staying with us over Thanksgiving. Pumpkin liked my cousin and her husband, but was really enamored with their 8 month old "bay-bee!" She wanted to be near the baby most of the time, which was mostly OK- except for when it was the baby's naptime! She did OK with sharing her things with the baby. The first night was a bit rough- she didn't want to let the baby sit in her old high chair (which she hated) or in her booster seat. Luckily, my cousin had brought a Bumbo chair and could feed the baby in that. Pumpkin also wasn't too impressed with the idea that the baby could take a bath in her bathtub. She handled these things better on the second day, and would consent to let the baby sit in the "baby chair" and take a bath in her tub, as long as she could watch.

It was fun to watch the two cousins play. They didn't really play together, but Pumpkin wanted to sit right next to the baby to play. We tried to convince her to share her toys, with limited success. She would announce "I share!" and then steal a toy from the baby. By the end of the visit, though, she was holding her prized phone up to the baby's ear and handing him toys that she had decided he could play with. It was hard to watch my precious little girl steal toys from her cousin (who, for the most part, didn't mind- he is a remarkably easy going baby), but I think she actually handled her first overnight baby visitor very well.


We were all so busy laughing at Pumpkin's complete misunderstanding of the word "share", that we didn't really notice the first part of her toy-stealing pronouncement: I share. She has started to use "I" as well has her name to narrate what she does. This milestone was so subtle that I didn't even notice it happening. Hubby and I now amuse ourselves by trying to understand which events are preceded with the pronoun and which warrant the full name.


We had a houseful of guests on Thanksgiving- my parents; my grandparents; my sister; my cousin, her husband, and her baby; another cousin, his wife, and her parents. As mentioned above, my cousin and her family stayed with us. Then my parents, grandparents and sister came back over on Friday evening for my Grandmother's 85th birthday. It was a lot of activity for Pumpkin, but she handled it pretty well. There was some trouble with the Friday nap, and some crankiness towards bedtime, but she mostly seemed to enjoy all the visitors. In fact, she seemed a bit bereft when they all went away. She kept asking for everyone on Sunday, when our household was reduced back to me, Hubby, and her. Then Hubby had to go pick up some friends at the airport, leaving while she was still taking her nap. She was quite worried when she woke up to find only me. She kept asking for Daddy, almost as if she was afraid that everyone was slowly disappearing on her.

She is still asking after our various guests. I'm not sure what to do to comfort/reassure her.


Remember the shrunken pie crust? The crust and the accompanying pie tasted quite good, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, we didn't eat them on Thanksgiving day, because one of my guests showed up with three pies. There had been a misunderstanding- I thought I said to bring a salad and maybe a pie, and apparently I was understood to say "bring lots of pie!" So my pies stayed in the refrigerator until Friday. I'm really, really glad I didn't throw away the misshapen pie crust and start over!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Zenbit: Beached Sunrise

Location: Ko Ngai, Thailand
February 19, 2006

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Self Punishment

Pumpkin's day care uses time outs when a child does something particularly bad, like bite another child. We've been making limited use of them at home, too, also only for physical violence. When Pumpkin bites or hits one of us, or pulls my hair, and doesn't stop after a couple of warnings, she gets a very short time out. Hubby, who is the one who started using this technique, decided that the time outs would be performed by sitting in front of the dishwasher in our kitchen.

Lately, Pumpkin has started giving herself time outs. This invariably happens when she's pretty wound up during a play session- giggling and hugging and tugging on us. Sometimes, she'll pull my hair or hit Hubby. Even on the first warning, she will sometimes starting talking about sitting and "no, no", and march herself into the kitchen to sit in front of the dishwasher. Hubby and I will just watch her go, and wait for the (rather convincing) fake crying that starts as soon as she sits down. We'll let her sit there for 20 seconds or so, and then go out to pick her up. About half of the times, she'll immediately pull hair or hit again. When this happens, we just try to redirect her to a calmer activity, since time out seems to be part of the game. The other half of the times, she'll go to the person she hurt, sign sorry on that person's chest ("sorry" is a closed fist circled on the chest) and say "sorry". Then she'll kiss it better, and go back to playing. Sometimes, if I'm the person she hurt, she'll also trace tears on my cheeks. This is the sign for "crying", but she uses it to mean "sad".

We're not really sure what this self punishment routine means, or what, if anything, we should do differently. I think I'll go back and reread some of the parts of Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen, to see if I get any ideas.

I do worry that she has inherited my generous capacity for self admonishment. I will often (over) analyze events that didn't go exactly how I wanted, and find things to blame on myself. If only I'd said X...., I'll think, or Why did I do Y??? I have worked hard to control this tendency, particularly in the work place. I have always assumed that this tendency is cultural, or at least learned. Has Pumpkin really learned this already? Could there also be a genetic component? Some gene or combination of genes that makes us more prone to find fault in ourselves? I don't know if that is a liberating thought (its not my fault!) or a terribly depressing thought (there is nothing I can do).

However, while a new little self-critic is in the making, the older one is getting better at going easy on herself. Tonight, I made the crusts for the pumpkin pies we'll have for Thanksgiving. I'll make the fillings tomorrow night. We're going to have 13 people here for Thanksgiving, so I'm making two pies. One of my crusts turned out great- it didn't shrink or crumble. The other crust shrank badly in a few spots, so that the top of the crust almost turns down into the center.

In past years, I might have been tempted to throw away the offending crust and try again. Not this year- I shrugged and moved on to the next task on my list. Maybe my little Zen master is having more success than I thought.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More Ambivalence

I stumbled across a very well-written blog post about the plight of the Big 3 automakers, or more specifically, about the plight of the communities built around them. It is a thought-provoking post.

I wrote earlier about my ambivalent reaction to the financial industry bail out. I am also ambivalent about the calls for the bail out of the car industry, but for different reasons.

Once again, I understand the reasons for a bailout, and I don't really want to see GM and/or Chrysler fail. I wonder how bad our economy is going to get, and I worry about the fate of all of those workers who depend on the car industry in some way to put food on their tables.

But I am still ambivalent, largely because it seems to me that any government money is just going to postpone the inevitable for the American car industry. It seems that the industry needs to go through some painful restructuring and perhaps downsizing before it can be healthy again. I can't figure out whether it would be worth the cost in tax dollars to delay this inevitable restructuring. Would we delay it long enough to allow the general economy to recover, so that the workers who lose their jobs will be able to find other jobs? Maybe we should just take the money and put it directly into programs to help laid off workers, and let the car companies figure out some other way forward without our tax dollars.

I know that my view of layoffs and job security is skewed by the industry I work in. I work in biotech, where it is considered a log run if you last 5 years at a company. Some companies don't even last 5 years. Companies merge, get bought, and just plain go under all the time, even when they have good ideas and competent management. And even if your company is doing OK, you might be laid off because it has decided to change research directions, or needs to conserve cash to extend its "runway" (the amount of time it has before it runs out of money).

Biotech is a risky business, but it is a lot of fun. I love the team atmosphere and the sense that I can make a difference at my company. I have been laid off, and I have watched many, many friends get laid off, too. Most of us were re-employed before our severance check is exhausted, but I have also watched some friends struggle to find the next job. In some ways, this has been a good experience, because it means that Hubby and I have a substantial buffer of savings set aside in boring, safe investments, waiting to tide us over if I lose my job. It means that I am always thinking about what skills I need to add to my resume and what experience I should try to get to make myself more employable.

My industry can be brutal, but it is also quite resilient. I think this resilience comes from the fact that there are many small companies (and a few very big ones), all trying different things and innovating in their own ways, trying to fulfill unmet medical needs (i.e., get a drug on the market). If one company gets in trouble and lays off a lot of people, there are other companies around who might be hiring.

This experience in biotech makes me wonder if what the auto industry needs is to splinter into more companies. Sure, there were synergies and economies of scale from the conglomeration of all those brands. But maybe the industry would be better off if there weren't so many models that look just like other models. Maybe it would be better off if there were some scrappy little "auto-tech" companies coming up with new designs and innovating on production processes. Most of these companies might fail, but some would succeed. And one or two might just change transportation the way Genentech changed medicine. Tesla Motors is one such company. Why aren't there more?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Her Way

'I can't seem to stop posting gratuitously cute toddler stories. It is not that Pumpkin doesn't do infuriating/not so cute things as well, and it is not that I don't have other things I want to post about (for instance, this post on Slashdot, which I should have known better than to read) ... it is just that I am so thoroughly enjoying watching Pumpkin learn new things right now that those other things are getting pushed to the side.

So, without further ado, here is the daily dose of cute:

1. Pumpkin has learned how to tell us to leave her alone and let her do things herself. She says "Mommy, 'way!" as in "Mommy, go away", and pushes my hand away. This weekend, she wanted to go out on her trike, which has a push handle. She hasn't figured out how to pedal yet, but she does a good job of pushing the trike along with her feet. Every now and then, she would hit a bump in the sidewalk that she couldn't get over. I'd push her with the handle to get her over the bump, but she would always turn around, wave me off, and say "Mommy, 'way!" It was a very long walk.

2. Hubby has discovered a trick to get Pumpkin to finish her food when she is dawdling. He asks if he can have some, and starts to take it. She says: "No! Mine! Daddy, 'way!" and rescues her food, then puts it in her mouth.

3. She likes shoes (she gets this from me). She likes to bring us our shoes, and tell us "Mommy shoes" or "Daddy shoes". She has associated tennis shoes with my dad for quite awhile (she brings me my tennis shoes and says "Boppa shoes!"), but just last night she showed us that she knows what kind of shoes my Mom wears, too. My Mom usually brings her moccasins over to wear as slippers around the house. Pumpkin was helping Hubby look through the REI catalog last night, and saw a picture of moccasins, which she pointed to and labeled "Mimi shoes!"

That's enough cute for tonight. I promise I'll try to move on to some other topic soon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Zen Lessons

I've written before about how Pumpkin is my very own Zen master. I am not the best student- I tend to be impatient and not very good at enjoying the moment or accepting things as they are. However, on my way out of day care today, I got a reminder of how far I've come.

Another mother walked past me and Pumpkin on our slow progression across the playground. Pumpkin was walking, holding my hand, and sucking on a sippy cup of water. Every so often, she would stop and tell me about one of the other kids on the playground. A few times, she dropped her water and we had to stop and pick that up. The other mother commented about how it would take us all day to walk out to our car at this rate. I laughed and agreed, but said that I've learned that it doesn't really work to hurry Pumpkin.

As we continued on our slow progression, I was struck by the fact that not so long ago, I would have just picked Pumpkin up to hurry us along. Pumpkin would have yelled and kicked and fought me all the way, and we wouldn't have pulled out of the parking lot any sooner than we did today.

Maybe next I'll learn how to appreciate the time she wants me to spend on the floor, watching her build towers out of Duplo. "Mommy, sit!" she says when I try to move. So I sit, but not with the good grace that a Zen master requires of her students. This grasshopper still has much to learn.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Zenbit: Stellar Toilet

I would love to see the rating guidelines.

Location: Beijing, China
March 17. 2006

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Daily Warm Fuzzy

I defy anyone to watch the after work scene at a day care and not grin and say "awwww" at least once.

If she sees me coming, Pumpkin greets me by running to the gate of the toddler play yard and marching in place while clapping and laughing loudly. Even other parents smile.

When I get inside the yard and pick her up, Pumpkin immediately starts waving bye-bye to her teachers, and telling me that it is time for her after school snack and water. But before we can go, she has to hug her little friends good bye. She always hugs her two best friends, but sometimes, like today, she also hugs the somewhat befuddled other toddlers nearby. And sometimes another toddler comes running up and wants in on the love.

We go inside and have our snack, then walk out past the front desk, through the playground for the bigger kids, out the gates, and to our car. We walk past children of various ages hugging their mommies and daddies. The older ones are talking about their days. The youngest ones are snuggling in close. And the ones in between are chattering in the semi-coherent toddler speak that is so cute and so frustrating. Sometimes someone is throwing a tantrum because they don't really want to stop playing or they don't want to get in their car seat. The other parents smile indulgently. Tantrums are cute when it is not your kid.

The trip to day care to pick up Pumpkin adds at least 30 minutes to my commute. It takes 10 minutes to get to the center, then another 10 minutes to get Pumpkin through our after day care routine and into her car seat. By the time we leave, traffic is heavier than it was when I arrived, and the drive home is through stop-and-go traffic for at least a few exits. But I never want to give up picking her up, even when Hubby offers because some change in the morning routine required me to do drop off. Day care pick up is my favorite part of the day, not because I feel bad about leaving her at day care- she's clearly thriving there- but because the mundane joys I find there remind me what life with kids is all about.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Confessions of a Picky Eater

I am a picky eater. I am a lot more adventurous in my eating than I was when I was a kid, but I am still picky.

If I could just stop being a picky eater, I would. It would make eating out and dining at friends' houses easier. And it would travel even more fun- no more lunches like the one I once had in Tokyo, where we couldn't read the menu, and no one spoke English. So we were reduced to trying to guess what the little plastic meals on display represented. Was that nondescript brown square breaded chicken? Pork? Fish? Or something stranger? Hubby happily pointed at a plastic meal, confident that he would like whatever came out. I was practically paralyzed with fear. I was really very hungry. But what if the plastic meal I pointed at represented something I didn't like?

Given this genetic inheritance, it is not all that surprising that Pumpkin has also turned out to be a picky eater. I obviously want to help her learn to like as many foods as possible from an early age. This desire initially manifested as an interest in Pumpkin's eating habits that bordered on obsession. What should her first food be? When should we introduce finger foods? What finger foods? I googled on these things incessantly.

Of course, this obsession did nothing to improve Pumpkin's eating habits. I eventually realized that I needed to chill out on the subject. I decided to read the book about how to feed your child, Child of Mine, by Ellyn Satter, and follow its advice.

A funny thing happened while I was reading this book, though. I discovered that I actually knew more about how to handle a picky eater than I had initially thought. After all, I had first hand knowledge of what goes on in a picky eater's mind! So I ended up formulating my own plan, based largely on Ellyn Satter's advice, but also incorporating what I know about being a picky eater, and bringing in some thoughts I had while reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

From Ellyn Satter's book, I took the idea that I can't force Pumpkin to eat, and that trying to do so would just set up a contest of wills and turn dinner into an unpleasant experience. I like her mantra that it is the parent's job to decide what to serve and when to serve it, and it is the child's job to decide whether and how much to eat.

From my personal experience about being a picky eater, I took the following things:

1. There are some foods that actually make me gag if I try to eat them. For me, these include iceberg lettuce and beans. In both cases, it is a texture problem. I will not eat these foods, and actually threw up once when the issue was forced.

2. There are some foods that just taste really, really bad. The scientist in me suspects this is due to the particular variants of taste receptors I have. The eater in me just knows that I can't stand peas, and will never like peas, no matter how many times I try them.

3. When I was younger (OK, and even now), I would often dig in my heels and refuse to even try something new if someone made a big fuss about the fact that I didn't want to eat something. I would be particularly stubborn if someone tried to reason with me and make me see that I was just being silly by refusing to try the food. I was (and am) far more likely to try something new if the fact that I am not eating it is just ignored.

Finally, Michael Pollan's discussion of the omnivore's dilemma (our need to figure out what to eat, because our biology does not do it for us) made me think about just how hard it is for a baby to learn what is safe to eat. There are so many things out there that a baby could eat that would have disastrous consequences. It is really sort of amazing that they will eat anything. With this in mind, it is not at all surprising that Pumpkin will ignore a new food the first 5 times it is presented to her, nibble a tiny bit of it and spit it out on the 6th through 10th time, and then finally eat some of it on the 11th try. This is good behavior from an evolutionary standpoint!

So, what method did I come up with based on all of these ideas? It is very similar to Ellyn Satter's suggestions, with a few twists:
  • We offer Pumpkin some of whatever we are eating.
  • We make sure there is plenty of some food that we're fairly confident she will eat at every meal. I deviate a bit from Satter's recommendations, here. She recommends making that fall back food bread. It often is in our house. In fact, we always have bread at dinner. But sometimes we make a couple of chicken nuggets or other main course food to offer with our meal, as well.
  • Pumpkin has always been on the small size for her age, so our doctor told us not to limit her access to any food she likes. Therefore, we tend to give her as many crackers (her favorite food) as she wants. She can always have a cracker or two with her meal, just by asking for it.
  • We pick a new food we want to introduce, and offer it frequently over the course of a few weeks. This will often (but not always) lead Pumpkin to eventually try the food. This is how we got chicken nuggets on the menu in the first place. We also successfully introduced tortellini this way. Right now, we're working on corn. We're at the nibble and spit out stage....
  • I look at what Pumpkin likes and try to think of other similar foods that we could introduce to slowly get her used to new tastes and textures. Based on her initial love of crackers, we added dried snap peas and some freeze-dried fruits. Once she clearly liked chicken nuggets, we moved on to little frozen fish sticks (we have a roughly 50% success rate with those).
  • I try to make sure that no one makes a big deal out of what Pumpkin won't eat. If she doesn't want something, she doesn't have to eat it. We are trying to teach her to just leave it on her plate, but right now she just hands it back and says "no".
We've been patient and stuck to this plan, and we have slowly seen the list of Pumpkin-approved foods grow. There are several dinners we can make now that we are fairly confident she will eat. She continues to grow and thrive. And I don't stress about food nearly as much as I used to!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sleeping in the O.C.

I'm sure no one will be surprised that Pumpkin did just fine with her grandparents over the weekend. They have a hilarious video of her dancing with joy, taken about 5 minutes after we left to her wails and anguished cries of "Mommy! Sit!" She even did fine in the middle of the night, allowing herself to be rocked back to sleep on Friday night and actually sleeping through until almost 5 a.m. on Saturday night.

I would be annoyed that she saved all of her good sleep for my parents, but I slept through until 7 a.m. both mornings. Besides, she slept pretty well last night, too- only waking up once to nurse and sleeping until I pulled her shades open at 6:45 (she needed to get ready for day care). I think my Mom could run a lucrative business as a parental get away enabler and baby sleep improver. And then there is the emergency day care she provides....

Anyway, I did pretty well, too. Hubby and I had a nice couple of nights of sleep. Unfortunately the beds in the Hyatt in Irvine are not as comfy as those at the Wyndham in Costa Mesa (site of our last getaway), but I slept well anyway. The room had the requisite TV with cable, and we ended up spending three hours watching Doctor Who episodes on BBC America, which was quite nice. The last time I watched that much TV, I was recovering from a bad case of food poisoning.

We spent part of Saturday wandering around Balboa Island. This is something we've wanted to do since we first saw the car ferry headed over there while we waited to board the ferry on our first trip to Catalina Island, back in 2003. (For those who have never been to Newport Beach, there is a small ferry that holds three cars and some pedestrians and shuttles back and forth between the main part of Newport and Balboa Island. Balboa Island is also accessible via a bridge on the other side of the island.)

Balboa Island has the sort of shops and houses that you'd expect in a wealthy tourist spot with beautiful water views. It also has the Balboa Bar, a hunk of vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles, which sadly looks better than it actually tastes:
(Which is not to say that it tastes bad, just that neither the ice cream nor the chocolate are really the best that they could be.)

The other flaw of the Hyatt in Irvine is that is walking distance to nothing, really. We decided to eat at the restaurant at the hotel so that we could both have a couple of adult beverages. The restaurant was surprisingly good, and had a nice outdoor patio with a fire ring and an acoustic guitar player. The drinks weren't excellent, but they were strong enough to encourage Hubby and me to spend quite a bit of time discussing bars that we'd put on a "Top Ten Bars" list. Hubby argues that this is not a valid list, because bars change so frequently and because so many bars make the list on the strength of their location alone. I argue that the list references bars as they were when you visited them, without concern for later changes, and that while location may be a large component of a top ten bar, it can't propel a mediocre bar to that status. For instance, the bar at the top of the John Hancock building in Chicago has an excellent location, but I don't think anyone would argue that it is a top ten list bar. The bar at the Sydney Opera House, in contrast, has an excellent location and enough other charms to potentially earn a spot on the list (although the surprisingly bad food at the Opera House bar works against it).

Despite the pleasant location and fascinating conversation, we didn't stay up late. And despite the lack of toddler cries, we didn't sleep in particularly late- we were up by 7:30 both days. Still we had a good time. My only regret is that we didn't manage to find a good, greasy, big breakfast either day. On Saturday, we decided to look near UC Irvine, which turns out to be in an even more soulless location than UC San Diego. I had to settle for a breakfast sandwich at a chain bakery. On Sunday, we drove around Tustin and Costa Mesa looking for a likely spot, to no avail. Finally, hunger drove me to stop the search at the Lab "anti-mall" in Costa Mesa. We had breakfast at the cafe there (The Gypsy Den). It wasn't bad, but they only had veggie sausage, and the potatoes suffered from being far too healthy (i.e., not enough butter and salt). Luckily, the corn meal pancakes were good enough to make the entire meal OK. We had a similar problem finding breakfast during our last getaway. Do the people of Orange County not like big greasy American breakfasts? If you live in the O.C., tell me where we should go next time. Because unless Pumpkin suddenly transforms herself into an excellent sleeper, there is sure to be a next time!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Separation Anxiety

We're off for two nights away, courtesy of my parents. I'm nervous- a little bit for how she'll do when I'm not there to nurse her in the middle of the night (this is the first trip since she stopped taking a bottle), but mostly for how I'll do away from my sweet little girl for so long!

I'll post next week and tell you how I did.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Time to get back to gratuitously cute toddler stories! Here is one of my favorite playtime activities right now:

Pumpkin likes to pretend that she is putting her baby dolls to bed. She plops them down on their tummies and wallops, I mean pats them on their backs, all while saying "bay-bee! Night-night!" over and over.

I asked at day care, and this is a popular game there, too. Apparently, they sometimes have three or four toddlers putting their baby dolls to bed at a time.

Recently Pumpkin has added the innovation of covering her sleeping babies with a blanket. She gets one of the flannel receiving blankets we used when she was a baby, and covers a doll. She carefully shakes the blanket out and places it on the baby. The only problem is that she tends to put the blanket on the baby's head. Since the baby is already face-planted into the ground, this looks pretty funny. It really looks like she is trying to smother her doll. However, it is clear that she just means to keep the baby warm.

I've tried to get a picture of this activity, but the picture doesn't really capture how cute it is. Note the little doll feet sticking out from the blanket on the left.

Another favorite playtime activity is playing the keyboard:

The keyboard has auto-fill and auto-percussion features, so she can really get rocking. When she happens to push the right buttons to get a good beat going, she likes to bop along.

And finally, because the bee is so cute, the bee-keeper will overlook how dorky she looks and share this photo:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


The America Pumpkin grows up in will always be one that has elected an African-American president. Even as I watched the swing states click over to Obama, I couldn't quite believe it would happen. Finally, it was the polls closing in my state and the others out here on the west coast that provided the electoral college votes needed to make it real.

Pumpkin came out from her bath just as John McCain was formally conceding. She wanted "up!" so I picked her up and gave her a big hug, and thought about how different her world will be than the one I grew up in. And I thought about how the life story of the first president she will have any chance of remembering will so perfectly demonstrate some of the most important values that I want to teach her: that with hard work, talent, and a little bit of luck, anyone can achieve anything they want, no matter who his or her parents were. That we are all citizens of a wider world, and should be open to learning what that wider world can teach us. That we should always hope for the best in people and not let the cynics hold us back.

Now I am watching John McCain make the sort of concession speech that demonstrates his best aspects, urging his supporters to join with him in working with the next President.

I am watching the multiracial party in Grant Park, and am struck by how different that is from the city I went to college in more than 10 years ago.

I am so very proud of my country tonight. Tonight, we took another step closer to living up to our ideals.

And now I'm going to open a beer and enjoy the moment.

Monday, November 03, 2008

There is Always One

One of the disadvantages of living in California is the proposition-driven style of government. I have 12 state propositions and 5 city propositions to vote on tomorrow, and this isn't even a particularly bad year. I know some people like the idea of getting to weigh in directly on the issues, but I think that is what I pay my legislators to do. I don't have time to do the in depth research and weigh the pros and cons of such a diverse range of issues. I am always scrambling to figure out how I want to vote, which means that I almost always end up voting on the day of the election, rather than using the more convenient vote by mail option.

I've gotten quite cranky about ballot propositions, and tend to favor voting "no" on them just because I don't think this is how government should be done. I particularly lean towards "no" when the proposition wants to carve out a percentage of the state budget and reserve it for some specific purpose. I think that the combination of these earmarks, our goofy tax structure (thanks in part to an earlier proposition on property tax, but you really don't want to get me started on that), and our gridlocked state legislature (due in part to our hopelessly gerrymandered districts- but I really shouldn't get started on that, either) have led my state into fiscal chaos.

I'm less cranky about propositions to decide policy issues, but even those get on my nerves- particularly when I'm asked over and over again about the same issue because some wealthy person or particularly energetic group of voters does not like the answer the people keep giving them. At least these repeat propositions don't require much research. I read them to make sure that they aren't trying anything sneaky, and then vote the same way I did the first time(s) I was asked.

Anyway, even with my general inclination to vote down all propositions, there is always at least one proposition that I can't decide on until I'm walking into the polling booth. This year, it is a local proposition to ban alcohol on our beaches.

I used to live in Pacific Beach, which was party central before the temporary booze ban (enacted after a brawl broke out on Labor Day in 2007). I hated the 4th of July, because my neighborhood was invaded by people from all over Southern California and Arizona, looking to get drunk on a beach. San Diego was the only place in SoCal where drinking on the beach was still legal, so people would drive down from the O.C. and LA. Arizona is really, really hot in July, so people drive over to enjoy our cooler temperatures.

People drank on the beach during any weekend, but holiday weekends were characterized by large groups holding well-lubricated parties. And the 4th of July was the biggest party weekend of them all. I was often amazed by the level of intoxication that some people reached. Hubby and I used to walk down to the bay to watch the fireworks. On our way, we'd always see at least one or two people who literally could not walk straight. The next morning, the beach was transformed into a giant trash heap, with items as big as couches left on the beach after the party was done.

But I also can appreciate the appeal of enjoying a (plastic) glass of wine and watching the sunset. Or of having a few beers with friends during a day at the beach. It bothers me that these things are illegal just because some small number of people can't enjoy their booze responsibly.

I've moved away from the beach, driven inland by the property prices, not the party atmosphere. We took Pumpkin to the beach several times this summer. I didn't give much thought to the booze ban, except for the time the waiter at the restaurant we went to for lunch bemoaned the drop in business that he attributed to the ban. (The restaurant was Guava Beach, and has pretty good food and excellent guavaritas. Hubby and I used to walk down to this restaurant from our home in North PB- this took roughly an hour, and the guavaritas were always worth it.) I suspect high gas prices, which cut down on the number of tourists driving over from Arizona, might be what really drove the drop in business, but I don't really know. No one does.

And none of this is helping me decide how to vote. I guess I'll decide at about 7:45 tomorrow morning, when I go into the booth to fill out my ballot. And I'll be thankful I don't live in San Francisco, where I'd be asked to decide whether or not the police should enforce the laws against prostitution. I suspect those campaign ads were fun to explain to the kids....

Saturday, November 01, 2008


A couple of days ago, I came across a post on a science blog, and wanted to comment on it. I typed in my comment, and without even thinking about it, I typed in "Cloud" as my name, and put the URL to this blog.

Later, I realized that anyone who followed the link from that comment and found this blog would probably be disappointed to find a bunch of posts about baby and toddler sleep issues rather than more science blogging.

I'm not sure if this is a problem or not. I could pick different aliases for different types of blogs. I regularly read science blogs and techie blogs as well as mommyblogs. This would keep everything separate, and would avoid disappointed link followers. However, that solution seems wrong to me. It seems to say that a mommyblogger can't also be a scientist, or a techie, or a foodie, or whatever else.

I've struggled a bit to find my identity now that I'm a mother as well as all the other things I am. It felt like having the baby stripped away, or maybe just obscured, some fundamental things, and that I had to reconstruct my idea of who I am. I'm not the same woman I was before Pumpkin was born. I am less focused on my career (although still dedicated to it), less fit (although I wish this weren't true), and less well traveled (another thing I wish weren't true). But I am also more tolerant of different approaches to life (we all love our kids, right?), more likely to see the joy in little things ("BUH-bbles!"), and I waste far less time watching TV (I don't think I've seen a single Law and Order episode since Pumpkin was born).

I haven't really gotten comfortable in my new identity yet, but I'm not willing to separate the scientist, techie, traveller, etc. from the mommy part of me. So I think I'll keep posting comments on science and techie blogs as Cloud. Sure, this means that some people I know in real life will read this blog and know it is me- I have already heard from a couple of people who have found this blog via one of my comments somewhere and recognized me. That is fine. I don't use my real name because I don't want this blog coming up if a prospective employer searches for me. But I don't make a serious effort to be anonymous, either. There is nothing in this blog that would get me fired, or even seriously embarrass me if a colleague read it. I will claim my sleepless nights, obsessive concern about Pumpkin's eating habits, and sappy joy in her accomplishments along with my love of travel and geeky tendencies. It is all part of me, and it should all be kept together.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sleep, What Else?

Moxie has a post today about sleep, and Cinnamon Gurl, at Write About Here (one of my favorite bloggers) had a post about sleep (or the lack thereof) earlier this week.

I could say that this has gotten me thinking about sleep, but that would be a lie, since I think about sleep a lot. One of the unexpected things about becoming a mommy has been my new appreciation for sleep. I used to almost resent sleep- it was keeping me from doing more interesting things, like sitting in a pub drinking beer and talking with my Hubby until all hours or watching some halfway funny comedian on Comedy Central. You know, the important stuff. Now, I appreciate sleep for the joy that it is. I luxuriate in the rare mornings when Pumpkin lets us sleep in (i.e., until 6:45 or 7). I love a good nap. You get the idea.

Anyway, as anyone who has been reading my blog or talking to me in real life knows, Pumpkin is not the best sleeper. She is not as bad as some, but is nowhere near as good as others. For almost a year, I struggled with this. I tried techniques from books. I scoured websites looking for new ideas. Hubby and I formulated plans and held sleep experiments. We were doing everything "right"- she had an early bedtime, a schedule that we stuck to, low key evenings, she didn't fall asleep nursing etc, etc. But still, Pumpkin did better sometimes, and sometimes worse.

Finally, I gave up. I accepted that Pumpkin will sleep "well" when she is ready to sleep "well". Or she will go off to college and appreciate the extra studying time that her sleep habits provide. Whatever.

I redirected the energy I had been spending searching for a way to make Pumpkin sleep better to thinking of ways to get myself and Hubby more sleep. This is not to say that I don't continue to try new things to improve our sleep situation. I still do that. Recently, I got Pumpkin to start going down into her crib awake by introducing a story that I tell her. I start the story while she's in my arms, and by the end, she's in her crib. Some nights, I have to repeat the story a few times, but most nights I don't have to pick her up again. This has made bedtime much easier, but hasn't noticeably changed the number of nightwakings. We are also considering trying to move her bedtime earlier again, although this seems to be a losing battle- we move it earlier, and she slowly moves it later again. She seems a bit overtired by bath time, though, so I'm considering rejoining the fight. I'm trying to figure out if we can use the upcoming time change to help.

Pumpkin is now 18 months old, and has only slept through the night a handful of times. Most nights, she wakes up once or twice. She nurses one of those times, the first time she asks for it. This is usually sometime around 1 or 2 in the morning. Occasionally, she has a bad night (or she's sick) and I end up nursing twice. She sleeps until about 6 a.m. most mornings. Sometimes, she wakes up at 5 and we bring her into bed with us, and then we all sleep until 6 or 6:30. Well, we all try to sleep. She often chooses to snuggle so aggressively that one of us can't sleep. On those mornings, I try to remember that when she is off in college, I will miss those aggressive snuggles.

So, how do I stay sane? Sometimes, it doesn't feel like I am staying sane. But there are several things we do to help keep me from going completely crazy from sleep deprivation:

1. My parents come over periodically and give us a night away. They stay in our house with Pumpkin, and we go sleep in a hotel with enough stars to guarantee a comfy bed. We use Priceline or something similar to find a good deal somewhere in Southern California. These nights also give us a chance to have dinner without interruption, to talk, and to have a drink or two. They are priceless, and we're very thankful for them. In fact, next weekend, we are going away for two whole nights, and we're both really looking forward to it. Amazingly, my parents are looking forward to it, too!

2. If Pumpkin is going through a particularly bad phase, I often find that even when she is asleep, I can't sleep. I lie there waiting for her to wake up. This occasionally leads to a night where she sleeps great and I still get little sleep, which is incredibly annoying. To combat this, I take Tylenol PM. The Tylenol alleviates the aches and pains that I always have (does that mean I'm getting old?) The "PM" is just Benadryl, which is quite safe, even while nursing. Benadryl really knocks me out though- I never could take it as an actual allergy medication. In fact, my ob/gyn told me to take it while I was pregnant, when I was having trouble sleeping. It has its downsides- I wake up very thirsty, and the sleep isn't of the same quality as I get when everyone is sleeping well. But the pluses outweigh the minuses for me.

3. Hubby usually gets up with Pumpkin on the weekends, so that I can sleep another hour or two. If we're both getting up a lot during the night, we trade off weekend sleep in days, but when Pumpkin is in an "only Mommy will do in the middle of the night" phase, I get both weekend days.

4. I try to nap at least one of the two weekend days. However, she has an annoying habit of waking up and needing to be resettled when she naps on the weekends, and she usually decides to wake up about 10 minutes after I fall asleep, whenever that is. If I really, really need a nap, Hubby takes her out for a walk or run in her stroller while I sleep.

And of course, I go to bed early. So it is 9:30 now, and it is bedtime!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Three Cute Things

Pumpkin's saying a lot of cute things right now. She's understanding more and more of what we say (time to start watching what we talk about in front of her!) and is trying out more words. Three of my favorite Pumpkinisms right now are:

1. When she is going somewhere and wants you to come, too, she will point at you and say "and you", which sounds like "A-choo". This gets used a lot when someone tries to duck out of family toothbrushing time.

2. She's known "no" for a long time, but now she knows "yes". She says "ya". It is a very short word, almost clipped. She looks at you earnestly and nods her head while she says it, particularly when she is saying yes to something to which you've just said no. For instance, she'll say "Ee-eee", indicating she wants to watch one of her DVDs on the TV. If I say no, she says "Ee-eee, ya", and nods emphatically while looking at me with her big, blue eyes. It certainly tests my resolve.

3. When she does something well, she will clap her hands and say "Ray!" We're not sure if this is short for "Hooray" or her pronunciation of "Yay".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another of Life's Little Mysteries

I was going to title this post One of Life's Little Mysteries, but the helpful type ahead feature in Blogger alerted me to the fact that I had already written that post.

Today's mystery is also about sleep... I want to know how Pumpkin knows when I have fallen asleep for a nap, and why she always chooses to wake up and need to be resettled into her nap within 10 minutes of that event?

Pumpkin and I are home today because she had a fever last night, and has a sore throat and cough today. She has the cutest little hoarse voice. I feel guilty for thinking it is cute, but I can't help it- it is! She also periodically says "ow" and points at her throat, in case I've forgotten that it is sore.

She is on part three of her nap now. After waking me up, she slept for another 45 minutes, then woke up again. She fell back to sleep on my shoulder, and I took her into the guest room to sleep and lay down with her for awhile. I'd still be there now, but I had to get up and go to the bathroom after about 35 minutes. I feel I need to stay in the guest room with her, though, since this room is not particularly well baby proofed. If she sleeps long enough, I may come back and write a less vacuous post!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Some Good Bits

I had a hard week at work last week, and was feeling completely done by the time we got to our post dinner walk on Friday night. It is getting dark earlier, so we saw the tail end of the sunset as we rounded the corner and headed down the block. It was a beautiful sunset- one of the good things about the Santa Ana winds that bring the risk of fires and completely mess up my allergies is that they blow all the crud in the air out to sea, leaving us with clear skies and beautiful sunsets, This picture doesn't come close to doing the view justice- our camera just wasn't up to the task:

(One of the reasons we bought a house in our neighborhood is that we get beautiful views of Mission Bay and the ocean when we're out walking. Some of our neighbors also have these views from their second stories and/or roof top decks. We do not have a second story and/or roof top deck, and would not have such a spectacular view if we did. But I can still go out for a walk and enjoy the view.)

Around this time, I stopped feeling sorry for myself, and remembered just how lucky I am.

After we stopped admiring the view and rounded the corner, Pumpkin decided to walk ahead with Hubby for awhile. The sight of the two of them walking hand in hand is one of my favorite things right now, partly because Pumpkin refused to hold hands for so long and partly because Pumpkin likes to walk at an almost running pace, so she has no trouble keeping up with Hubby. He's happy to have another fast walker in the family.

Other favorite things right now include:

1. How Pumpkin picks up a book and settles into my lap to read. I love that she loves books, and I love the feeling of her sitting on my folded legs, leaning back into my chest while I read.

2. How Pumpkin holds up her foot and says "wee, wee" in the bath, indicating that she wants me to do the "this little piggy went to market..." thing on her foot. I always have to do both feet, sometimes more than once.

3. The joy that Pumpkin gets in little things, like chasing bubbles.

I've written a couple of other posts of memories and favorite things. I keep saying I'm going
to make Pumpkin a scrapbook. Maybe I'll have time when she is five....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Zenbit: Sunkissed Sisters

Location: Near Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia
January 10, 2006

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Pumpkin's schedule is unpredictable right now. I think this is one of the reasons that I am having such a hard time with sleep deprivation. I never know if she'll wake up at midnight, or not until 1, or even (on really good nights) not until 2. I think I never really get deep sleep because of this.

She has also been messing with her nursing schedule. I've adopted the nursing equivalent of don't ask, don't tell- it is called "don't offer, don't refuse". She seems to be moving towards dropping the first thing in the morning nursing, although that is not yet consistent. She also sometimes asks to nurse (she says "Boppy!") when we get home from work/day care. Tonight, she didn't want to nurse after her walk, but insisted on nursing right before storytime. And of course, she has shown no inclination whatsoever to drop the middle of the night nursing. Don't offer, don't refuse is not as easy as it sounds!

In completely unrelated scheduling news, I have finally broken down and started a Google Calendar for our household. We'll see how it goes. Someone I work with told me that he found a way to send things from his Google calendar to his work calendar. I might work on that next week. I've been holding off on the Google household calendar for so long because the idea of multiple calendars bothers the data geek in me. I want one calendar to rule them all....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yoga Lessons

Some things that went through my mind during yoga class today:

1. I may be the youngest person there, but I'm not the most flexible. I don't twist well! I'd say excessive computer use is aging me, but I've never been particularly flexible.

2. The neck stretches feel really, really good. I should do these every day.

3. I need to send out the agenda for tomorrow's meeting.

4. Wow, my core muscles are weak.

What was supposed to be going through my mind during yoga class:

Nothing. I was supposed to be centered and living in the moment.

I'm not very good at that, but I do keep trying, because I really do think it is the secret to lower stress living.

So this afternoon, when we got home from work/day care, Pumpkin and I snuggled up on the sofa and watched a Signing Time DVD. She likes to me to watch the show with her, but I'm usually busy trying to get things done. Today, I didn't try to unload the dishwasher, or clean the table, or anything else. I just held my sweet little toddler and practiced the signs for colors and fruits. It was nice.

But now? I'm watching a Daily Show while typing a blog entry. I guess I have a way to go on that living in the moment thing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Give Me Back My Cucumbers!

One of my favorite primate behavior studies involves getting two capuchin monkeys to do the same task. If you reward both equally, all is well. If you give one a grape (a superior reward) and the other a cucumber, the one given the cucumber will often refuse the cucumber. If you reward one with a grape for doing nothing, but offer the other a cucumber for returning a token to the researcher, the slighted monkey will often throw its token away in presumed disgust. (If you have access to a subscription to Science, you can read about the research here. Here is a write up in the general press.)

I often think about this research when I'm feeling like life is not fair. I've thought about it while sitting in a line of traffic and watching somebody speed past me to cut in to the front of the line. I've thought about it while pondering the gender pay gap. And I can't help but think about it now while I listen to stories on NPR about the current financial crisis and the escalating attempts to stop it.

For so many years, I have watched other people take risks I would never contemplate to buy homes in my expensive Southern California housing market. Hubby and I kept renting until we had a down payment saved up and could afford a modest home in a neighborhood that met our criteria.

We worked at our mid-level jobs, and didn't really begrudge the executives their high pay. Our jobs pay pretty well, and we figured that we're doing well enough out of the global labor market, so can't really complain that other people, with even scarcer skills, are doing better. Besides, those executives earn the high salaries for the long hours, high stress, hard decisions, and inherent risks in their jobs. You'd certainly have to pay me a lot to be a CEO of even a small company.

I've never even begrudged the government my tax dollars. I don't like to think about the amount I pay, but I believe in government services and a safety net for people who fall on hard times.

Now, each morning when I get in the car, I am treated to a new story about how my tax dollars will be bailing out firms even as their executives continue to draw their big salaries. Or about proposals to rescue people who have more mortgage than they can afford, not because they lost their jobs, but because they used an inherently risky type of mortgage to buy a better house than they could afford. Of course, by "rescue" I don't mean "keep them from starving", but rather "rework their mortgage so that they can stay in the home they couldn't afford".

For years, these people had grapes while I made do with cucumbers. Now they want my cucumbers, too?

I know that we need to fix the financial mess we're in, or no one will have any grapes or cucumbers. I know that finding a way to keep houses from going into foreclosure and banks from going belly up are logical things to do to try to fix this mess. I get all of that, really, I do.

But the monkey in me wants to throw my dwindling supply of cucumbers at someone.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Too Cute Not To Share

I was planning to post a quick zenbit, since it is Sunday night. But then I turned on my camera and saw this:

It was actually cold here last night and this morning, so Hubby put some PJs my parents had given us over Pumpkin's sleeper. I thought she was unbelievably cute when I got up, but couldn't find the camera to take a picture. Hubby took care of it while I was in the shower, but didn't tell me.

Is there anything cuter than a toddler in PJs????

That's My Girl

When I was a child, I was a news junkie. I always watched the nightly news, both local and national. In junior high, I read Newsweek cover to cover every week. According to my parents, I could give my opinion on the energy crisis of the time before I was in elementary school.

I am not as much of a junkie now, but I do still like to keep up with the news. I read the Economist most weeks, although I don't make it cover to cover. And my car radio is almost always tuned to NPR.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when Pumpkin saw a magazine on the floor, pointed to it and said "mama". At first I thought she meant it was my magazine, but she calls me "mommy", not "mama". Then I looked at the cover. It was a picture of Obama.


Those who are interested in Pumpkin's reading habits (hi, Mom!) will have noticed that I updated the "What Pumpkin's Reading" sidebar. I also updated my running Pumpkin's Book List post.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Perks of My Insanely Expensive City

Today, as I drove to Pumpkin's day care, I saw a jumping fish. My drive takes me past Torrey Pines State Beach and along Soledad Creek, which is a marsh/lagoon where it flows into the ocean. It is a beautiful drive. There are usually egrets in the lagoon, and I always enjoy the splashes of bright white among the green and blue of the lagoon. Today, I caught a flash of silver out of the corner of my eye. I looked over just in time to see the fish jump again, and then again. It made me smile, and almost made me not mind that I was about 10-15 minutes late in my evening routine (a colleague had cornered me about one and a half minutes before I was going to leave, and by the time I had resolved his issue, I was 10 minutes late leaving work).

I got to Pumpkin's day care, and was greeted with her usual joyous "Mommy!" and monkey hug (a monkey hug is when she wraps her arms AND her legs around me, and snuggles her head into my shoulder).

It was all down hill from there. Her teacher told me that my sweet little girl had bit four times today, even though she was otherwise in a great mood. Traffic on the freeway was horrible, so I didn't have much time to cuddle with Pumpkin before I had to start dinner. She watched Signing Time on the "eee-eee" for awhile, but then she came out to the kitchen, stuck her hands in the air, and demanded "up". When I said no, she collapsed in a dramatic heap at my feet. By this time, Hubby was home, so he picked her up, and took her kicking and screaming into the living room. Pumpkin wouldn't eat her dinner, insisted on being carried for the majority of her walk, wouldn't get in the bath for me (Hubby eventually took over), insisted on sitting on my lap for her snack, and then squeezed her strawberry all over my pant leg. To top it off, she threw a fit instead of brushing her teeth.

She's asleep now. I'm going to go have a beer with Hubby, and reminisce about the peaceful days when it was light enough to go for a decent stroller walk after dinner and Pumpkin would happily brush her teeth, as long as everyone in the house did, too.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Looking for Correlations

We continue to play sleep roulette. Recent research indicates that a feeling of a lack of control can make people see patterns where none exist. (Click here for the original article in Science.) Our recent nighttime experiences certainly corroborate this conclusion. Hubby and I are desperately looking for a correlation between the quality of Pumpkin's sleep at night and anything. Tonight, I'm hoping that the ease of the evening routine and the quality of the subsequent sleep are inversely related.

Last night, she was a little angel all evening. Sure, she was clingy (we're in a very Mommy-centric phase), but we went through our evening routine with little protest. She went down awake, but only protested briefly before listening to the rest of the story I was telling her and falling asleep. She was asleep by 8:20.

But then she had a horrible night. She was up earlier than usual to nurse, and never really settled back in to sleep in her crib. Hubby ended up sleeping with her for several hours, and I got up and nursed her again at 5 a.m. to get her back down for another hour and a half of sleep (next to me).

Tonight, Hubby hadn't even started reading her bedtime stories at 8:20. Every step of our routine was more challenging. Dinner was OK, but the walk was downright weird. Hubby was planning to stay behind and get the trash out for pick up tomorrow, but Pumpkin and I had barely left our driveway when she decided that Hubby needed to come, too. She charged right back up to the door, calling "Da-dee! Da-dee!" Once she had assembled the entire family for the walk, we set out again. Two doors down, we could hear a baby crying. This completely stopped Pumpkin in her tracks. She kept saying "Bay-bee. Bay-bee. Mommy. Mommy. Some incomprehensible toddler-speak that may have indicated that she wanted Mommy to go make that baby happy. Bay-bee." And then she would make the sign for crying. We tried to pick her up and move her along, but that prompted a tantrum. So I ended up crouching down next to her on the sidewalk, trying to explain that the baby had a mommy, who was going to make the baby happy again. We eventually walked on, but she kept talking about the baby, sometimes making the sign for crying, sometimes saying "happy", but not sounding too convinced that this was true.

We finally got home, and she nursed and had her bath. But then she wanted to play with the empty recycling container and open and close the door to the cupboard where the trash can is stored. Our attempts to deal with this patiently did not work, and she had a full melt down when we finally forced the issue. I had to hold her for several minutes before she would eat her snack, and she would only eat the snack on my lap, not in her chair. We won her back to the table with a lure of a strawberry. She does like a good "brerry". (I can't actually render or imitate how she says "strawberry", but it is my favorite of her words right now.)

It was an exhausting evening! Hopefully, Pumpkin thought so, too, and will sleep better tonight. If not, we'll keep looking for that elusive pattern. We just can't accept that it is not there. At least we now have a scientific study explaining why.