Friday, January 30, 2009

Gratuitously Cute Toddler Story #659

One of the books Pumpkin has been enjoying for the past few months is Silly Sally, by Audrey Wood. For those not familiar with the story: Silly Sally heads to town, walking backwards upside down. On her way, she meets various animals, until she meets a sheep (a silly sheep!) and falls asleep. Then a character called Neddy Buttercup comes along and tickles everyone awake, so that they can continue to town.

Lately, when we get to the pages where Neddy Buttercup is tickling, Pumpkin reaches out and tickles the book. She does this much like she tickles her Daddy- she sort of lightly pinches the pages, while saying "ickle, ickle" in a high-pitched voice and giggling.

It is just about the cutest thing ever.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Plea for Equal Opportunity Cynicism

Another health-related scare is stirring things up in the momosphere. This time, it is trace amounts of mercury in high-frutose corn syrup (HFCS). Note I said "trace amounts". Most of the media reports on this did not, although the levels found really are small.

I posted my opinions on this latest scare on the threads on Mom-101 and Ask Moxie. In short, the study that got everyone all excited, which tested name brand products, reported mercury level in the parts per trillion range. One of the highest levels report was 350 parts per trillion in Quaker Oatmeal on the Go. The FDA reports mercury levels in fish in parts per million, and the EPA regulates mercury levels in drinking water in parts per billion. I took the EPA's reference dose for mercury, set with the safety of pregnant women in mind and considered by some to be among the most stringent standards in the world and calculated how many Oatmeal on the Go bars a 150 lb woman would have to eat to be worried. I came up with 30 bars. That is 30 bars in one day.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to get the mercury out of HFCS. However, the data in this study in no way supported the level of concern expressed in the study sponsor's press release, which was then dutifully repeated by the mainstream press.

I have very little patience for this sort of study. It wraps itself in the cloak of "science", but isn't really science at all. The results were not peer-reviewed. The conclusions were not supported by the data. This study uses scientific tools, but is not science. I suspect the institute that released it (the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy) has an agenda and that the agenda is not to provide American consumers with accurate information about food safety. I think it is wrong to use questionable science to try to induce fear in parents so that they will support that agenda. Do you want me to support the elimination of HFCS from out food chain? Fine. Convince me on the actual merits of that. Don't set up a false bogeyman of mercury poisoning to try to trick me into supporting your goals.

The other thing that bothers me about this sort of story is how quickly people dismiss the FDA and EPA as biased by lobbying from big corporations, but how easily they accept the conclusions of a report from an institute I suspect they had never heard of before. I have written before about this distrust of the government science agencies, and I put the blame partially on the Bush administration's willingness to pick and choose science that suited its policy needs. Now, I'm seeing the same selective science on the political left, too. It is fine to be cynical and demand to see the government's proof that some food additive (or what not) is safe. But you also need to be cynical and demand proof from those people who are claiming it is not safe. If you are not equal opportunity in your cynicism, you are not using science to help you determine your policy opinions. You are letting your policy opinions determine what science you accept. And that is wrong, whether you are George Bush or Greenpeace.

I realize that not everyone has the training in science to critically evaluate all the evidence. This is why I argued that we should let the experts do this work for us. However, if you don't trust the FDA and EPA to do that, you can still evaluate the claims that you read in news reports and on other people's blogs. Here are the steps I follow:

1. Check the source.
Go straight to the original study being cited. First, check that the conclusions the authors state actually match what the news report or blog says. Next, look at the study. It is a bad sign if it has a cover with splashy graphics on it- true scientific studies don't usually have this. Is it published in a peer-reviewed journal? If not, the study has not been reviewed by other scientists, and is less reliable.

Finally, look at who did the study. I usually check to see if it is some place I've heard of. Obviously, if you don't work in biomedical science, this will be a less relevant check. However, studies from academic institutions and institutes whose mission is biomedical research are usually pretty good sources. "Policy institutes" and watchdog groups usually have an agenda, which may or may not include the publication of fair and unbiased studies on the subject at hand. Read what their website says their goals are and think critically.

2. Compare the measurements with those in other scientific literature.
It is troubling if the study is reporting measurements orders of magnitude below the levels other studies say are of concern. Often, a simple Google search will turn up the relevant FDA, EPA, or CDC webpages with the government regulations on the subject. If you don't trust those sources (and in most cases, you should), you can also search the scientific literature directly using PubMed. You will usually be able to read the abstracts of the papers you find. Scientific abstracts aren't like the teasers on the backs of books- they will almost always include the conclusions of the study.

3. Read the conclusions of the report critically
Remember that correlation does not equal causation- i.e., data showing that two things are correlated can not be used as the sole proof that one of the things causes the other.

I know this sounds like a lot of work- it is. Which is why I usually let the experts do it for me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Confessions of an Accidental Co-Sleeper

We never co-slept with Pumpkin much when she was a little baby. Hubby is a sound sleeper, and I always worried a bit about whether he would roll over on her. But more important was the fact that I couldn't sleep well next to her- she was too active, and I am a light sleeper.

But these days, Pumpkin spends several hours every night in our bed. We've stumbled on an unorthodox method of nightweaning. I have decided that I want to start weaning a bit more actively than I have been to date, and since Pumpkin wasn't giving up any nursing session easily, I decided to start with the one that bothers me the most- the middle of the night.

We decided, as we had before, to start moving the time of the first nursing back. We said I wouldn't nurse her before 3 a.m. For the first three nights, she slept past 3, so we didn't have much trouble. On the fourth night, she woke up at 12:30, and as we'd agreed, Hubby went in. She screamed, then settled, then screamed, the settled, then screamed... for twenty minutes. Finally, so tired that I felt sick to my stomach, I stumbled in, thinking I'd nurse her or whatever else was needed to just get to sleep. But when I picked her up, she snuggled in. She whimpered "boppy" (her word for nursing) a couple of times, and then went to sleep. I brought her in to bed with us, and we all slept until morning.

The next three nights, when she woke up at 12:30, I just went in, picked her up, and brought her in to bed with us, and we all slept until morning. Last night, she didn't even wake up until after 4. I was so disoriented from being jolted awake ("Mommy! Mommm-MEEE!") that I was nursing her before I thought about whether it would have been better to try to get her back to sleep without nursing. Oh well, Hubby and I can debate that later.

We won't be debating it tonight, because Pumpkin has come down with the cold Hubby had this weekend, had a very rough day at day care, and wouldn't eat anything for dinner tonight. I think I'll nurse her when she asks for it tonight.

However, when it is time to return to our nightweaning plans, I think we'll stick with our new method. I never would have thought that the easiest way to nightwean our toddler would be to start co-sleeping, but the evidence indicates that this is indeed what we should do. I guess she wants company more than food in the middle of the night these days.

And what about the mismatch between Pumpkin's active sleep style and my light sleeping? I have also stumbled on two tricks to help with that:

1. I settle Pumpkin before I bring her to bed. This sometimes means that I have to sit up rocking her for 5-10 minutes when my brain is screaming for me to just go back to bed, but I have found that if she is pretty much asleep when she comes into bed with us, she will settle into bed peacefully and we'll all sleep. If she is not, she'll spend about 20 minutes fidgeting and playing with my hair before she settles. By this time, I'm quite awake, and I don't get much sleep.

2. I turn my back on her in bed. I did this out of desperation one night (before I'd discovered trick #1), because I just wanted a break from having her little hands grabbing at my face and hair. But the trick makes sense- she wants to play with my hair, and there is far more hair within reach if I have my back to her.

Hubby and I realize that we're probably starting a habit that will be hard for Pumpkin to break. But we've decided that as long as she starts the night in her bed, we're OK with her joining us in our bed for part of the night. After all, it is finally the method that gets everyone the most sleep. And that is what matters the most to us.

I clearly have started taking sleep for granted, because I just updated Pumpkin's book list rather than go to bed. The new books may all eventually make it to the sidebar, but they may not- it depends on how fickle Pumpkin is!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Zenbit: Beautiful, Yet Horrifying

This is a shoe for a bound foot. There is a store in Melaka that still makes them, as collector's items rather than footwear.

Melaka, Malaysia
February 1, 2006

Friday, January 23, 2009

Let it Go

I have a hard time forgetting about arguments that I feel like I've lost. I still remember a discussion in my second year Social Sciences course in college. We were discussing Hobbes and whether people will ever correct an injustice without violence. I argued that the American civil rights movement proved they would. A guy in my class, who clearly knew more about the detailed history of that movement than I did, rebutted that, saying that there was evidence that the threat of violence from one of the student groups was what moved white America to start to redress the wrongs we'd committed against blacks, and that without that threat Martin Luther King's non-violent campaign would not have been successful.

I had no answer for him at the time, but much later it occurred to me that perhaps the women's rights movement would have been a better example. I don't think women threatened anything more violent than the burning of bras.

This argument took place in a class outside of my major almost 17 years ago. But I still remember it, and the counter-argument I should have made. I wonder if this would make my professor happy to know, or if he'd just laugh?

I recognize the inability to just let an argument go as the character flaw that it is, and do my best not to track people down days or weeks after a discussion has ended with my "Yes, but..." arguments.

However, I still have a hard time letting go. Thankfully, I now have a blog and can indulge myself by posting my one-sided arguments here. So, I am going to see if I can purge a discussion we had last night at book club from my mind.

We were discussing The White Tiger, the Man Booker prize winning novel by Aravind Adiga. The book is set in India and essentially starts with the narrator telling you that he murdered his master, and this is how he broke out of being a servant. I think one of the things the book is trying to get us to do is to examine our beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, and also to illuminate the rich world tendency to excuse in developing countries behavior that we would consider immoral if it occurred in our own countries.

We were talking this, and I mentioned the fact that many locals in developing Asian countries (I've never been to developing countries elsewhere, so I can't say if they are the same- I suspect they are) will run scams that attempt to extract the maximum amount of money from visitors from richer countries. I'm not talking about the fact that they undoubtedly start any bargaining session at a much higher price if you are a tourist. I'm talking about things like kitting someone out to look as much as possible like an official from a governmental tourist office, and then positioning that person in front of train ticket counters to attempt to convince tourists to buy train tickets at an extravagant markup.

I think I made my point very poorly last night, because everyone argued back that rip offs and scams happen here in the US, too. Of course they do, that wasn't really my point. My point was that when they happen here, we think they are wrong and unethical. So shouldn't we consider such scams wrong and unethical when perpetrated in Thailand or China? If it was not OK for some mortgage brokers to profit from some peoples' lack of understanding of financial instruments by selling them terrible mortgages, why is it OK for someone in Thailand to take advantage of a tourist's lack of understanding of the Thai railway system and profit by selling them marked-up tickets? I would argue that both behaviors are wrong. The latter may be far more understandable, and cause far less harm, but it is still wrong.

When I was traveling in Asia, I generally wasn't too disturbed by the scams we saw happening, and that were attempted on us. We know of at least one time when we were blatantly overcharged for a taxi ride. I accidentally bought a $5 diet Coke in China. We were no doubt ripped off so well at times that we never knew it happened. The fact that the sums of money were relatively small for us and relatively huge for the people benefiting from the scam mitigates the impact, but I don't think it changes the fundamental ethics- it is wrong to cheat people, no matter where you live. If it is not, where do we draw the line? We'd probably all agree that it was wrong for the protagonist of The White Tiger to kill his master. But what about the thousands of situations in between?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ode to Middle Management

Pumpkin slept much better last night than she did the night before. I got one stretch of 4 hours and another stretch of three and a half hours- which is enough to make me feel pretty darn good.

It is a good thing that I had my brain back today, because I only had one purchase requisition left to write. The rest of the day's to do list looked like this:
  • Write [employee's] performance review
  • Write endorsement quote for [vendor who gave us two week's worth of free work last year- and no, this wasn't a quid pro quo]
  • Write my 2009 goals, based on departmental goals we wrote last year and the changes in priorities that have already occurred
This may not look like a very long list, but performance reviews are hard to write and always take me several hours. Also, the person who usually provides desktop support was out sick today, so I was fielding support requests, too. I am not at all qualified to field most desktop support requests, so that is always challenging. I'm getting better as my employee cross-trains me on the finer points of Windows support.

If you are reading this and thinking that it doesn't sound like I do much science- you're right. Sort of. I can't post my exact title without identifying my company, but I can say that anything related to computers at this company rolls up to me. That includes the aforementioned desktop support (mercifully performed most of the time by the employee whose performance review I was writing today), but also scientific informatics (providing tools to store and analyze scientific data) and bioinformatics (using computational tools to research scientific questions). I am also the person who writes IT policies, represents IT and informatics in management meetings, and manages our budget. Management takes about 30% of my time. User support takes about 10% of my time. I spend about 50% of my time on scientific informatics. The remaining 10% is spent on bioinformatics. I don't spend a lot of time on science, but I do spend a lot of time on things that require me to understand other people's science, which is a great situation for me.

Believe it or not, I also enjoy a lot of the management tasks I do. I am good at understanding a company's culture and system and figuring out how to get things done. This is one of the most important things a middle manager does, in my opinion, and I enjoy it, because I enjoy getting things done. This was also one of my strengths as a project manager (which is what I did at the company I worked at before this one).

I fought becoming a manager for a while, thinking that I wasn't really doing anything when I was a project manager- it seemed like I spent my days just telling other people to do their jobs. But then I joined a project that had a brilliant technical lead but no project manager. It was an absolute mess. They couldn't say when they would deliver anything, and were about to have the entire project canceled. This would have been a shame, because it was a good project, producing useful software that was loved by the scientists who used it.

I was able to get them a realistic schedule and keep them on it. I also started doing the progress reports that they were supposed to do, and used those to make the case to the next level of management about why the project should be allowed to continue. That was my epiphany moment when I realized that management can be very important, and that although what I was doing seemed obvious to me, it wasn't obvious to everyone, which is why the project had been floundering. I vaguely remember that there is some quote about how you should find the thing that seems obvious to you but not to most other people, and that is what you are meant to do with your life. I guess technical management is that thing for me. On one hand, it seems a bit sad to think that my calling in life is to be a middle manager. On the other hand, as Hubby points out, the pay is good, and someone has to make sure stuff gets done and the right people get credit for it.

This post has veered seriously off the original course I intended for it. I sat down thinking I would put up today's to do list, and note how I spent my day on words, which was sort of fitting, since I starting my day listening to some very powerful words. Barack Obama sure knows how to give a speech. He eloquently and movingly expressed many things that I agree with. I hope he and the team he has assembled also know how to get things done. I guess I hope that he has some good middle managers!

Monday, January 19, 2009


I got about four hours of sleep last night. Pumpkin was up very frequently from about 11:30 until 2, when I finally managed to hand her off to my Mom (who was visiting, along with one of my aunts) and stumble back to bed.

Hubby and I had gone out to dinner with some friends, and I had gone out to dinner with my sister and the visiting relatives the night before. I think Pumpkin was a little unnerved by the unusual weekend schedule, and was just checking to see if I was there. Which is sweet... but I'm wiped out today.

Things were not helped by the fact that Hubby had a little bit much to drink, so was sleeping more soundly than usual. Therefore, I didn't want to bring Pumpkin to bed with us, which was clearly what she wanted. And he was absolutely useless with the middle of the night wake ups. At one point, he thought he heard Pumpkin say that it was night-night time for Baby (she was actually saying she wanted to go night-night with us), so he got out of bed, went to the living room, picked up her baby doll and brought it in to me. He doesn't remember doing this, so can't enlighten me as to what exactly I was supposed to do with the baby doll and how this would help get Pumpkin back into her crib.

It has been a long time since I had to try to be productive at work on so little sleep. Since I've been getting an extravagant 6 hours of sleep (albeit fragmented) with regularity of late, I have let most of my coping mechanisms slide. I still had my to do list, though, and luckily the top five entries on my list were "write purchase requisition for ." This is fairly easy work, but it needed to get done as soon as possible, so I actually left for the day feeling good about what I had accomplished.

Both of my dinners out this weekend were well worth the consequences, but I do wish I could bottle the way I felt today. I'd give a little bit to the people who raise their eyebrows when I say that we don't go out much- you know, the ones who are thinking that I am a neurotic mother who is subjugating her own wants to the needs of her baby- and let them experience the consequences of those nights out that they think I should have. As for the people who actually dare to say something about how when they have kids they'll still go out every weekend and/or tell me a story about their sister/college friend/dog-walker who has a system of regular date nights- I'd accidentally spill my bottle of sleep deprivation all over them, and hopefully then they'd be too damn tired to say such silly things. I am not subjugating my needs to my baby's when I stay in most nights. I am taking care of my need for sleep. And for what its worth, even though I enjoy going out, I am always a little sorry to miss kissing Pumpkin goodnight!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Musings on Travel

I have an idea for a travel website, which may or may not be unique enough to have a chance of being successful, and may or may not ever percolate high enough up my list of things to spend my time on to actually get done. But I enjoy thinking about travel, and the conceit that I might actually create this website is a convenient excuse to think about the places I've been.

One of the nights this week, I was thinking about my most memorable travel experiences. Earlier this year, I wrote a list of some of the coolest things I've done, which annoyed Hubby because I put koala patting on the list and not snorkeling in Aitutaki. I'll give him that the boat trips in Aitutaki are pretty amazing, so I suppose he has a point. But I really thought getting to touch a koala was cool.

Anyway, Hubby and I were having beers and talking about the places we've been, and what experiences were the best, most memorable, etc. I surprised him again by saying that Kanchanaburi was one of my favorite places we visited in Thailand. This town is not on the coast and is not in the famous north of Thailand. It was wonderfully low key, though, and most tourists stay in floating guesthouses on the river Kwai. I wished we had more time to sit on the deck of our room and enjoy the view.

History buffs (and movie buffs) will have guessed the reason Kanchanaburi is on the tourist map- it is the site of the Bridge on the Kwai. We visited the reconstructed bridge, but that was nowhere near as moving as visiting Hellfire Pass and the accompanying museum. This pass was a particularly difficult section of the infamous Death Railway that the Japanese attempted to build in WWII. This picture doesn't convey the experience of standing in that cutting, knowing that one man died for every railway sleeper laid. The sense of history and the sorrow that the place evoked with minimal memorials makes this one of the most memorable travel experiences I've ever had. It is a very different sort of experience than the others on my list, and a very different sort of experience than provided by the majority of our time in Thailand, but it is the sort of experience that makes the occasional indignities of travel worth the trouble. No book or movie could ever convey the emotion of being there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


When I went to my 6 week postpartum doctor's visit (which was really at 8 weeks, because my doctor was so busy), I asked my doctor when my emotions would return to normal and I would stop getting choked up about everything. I don't remember the first part of the answer, in which he told me when my hormones would return to some semblance of normal. But I clearly remember the second part of the answer, in which he explain that I would probably be a sap for life because having a kid just changes how you react to some things. I remember thinking at the time that he was crazy, but now, twenty-one and a half months after Pumpkin was born, I know he was right.

Lots of things in the news have made me want to hold my baby closer lately, but there is no point listing them because on any given day, there are at least three news stories that make me choke up and want to run and hug Pumpkin. It is a good thing day care is a 15 minute drive away.

I have seriously curtailed my at work news checking because of this. However, I usually check in at lunch time, and invariably, something gets me all choked up. I find that thinking about the cute things Pumpkin does and/or looking at the cute pictures I have of her on my desk helps me get past the wave of sappiness. Today, I was thinking about how much she is talking now, and how darned cute some of what she says is. Here are three of my current favorite Pumpkinisms:

1. When I ask her where something is, or when she wants me to put something in a particular spot, she points to the location and says "right yare!" (right there).

2. She doesn't say "yes", she says "yepf".

3. One of her favorite books right now is Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems. Except she calls it "Fuffle Bunny".

These are the sort of things I wish could always remember, but that I'm sure I'm doomed to forget.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Multiple Identity Revisited

Thank you for your helpful comments about weaning. I like Flea's idea of a party to mark the end of nursing. I think I may need that. Maybe Pumpkin will like it, too!

A while back, I wrote a post about how it feels a bit strange to post on a science blog using the identity I use here on a blog that is mostly about parenting, working motherhood, and other such things. In that post, I said I was going to keep my identity "whole", and not create different aliases for different areas of my life. That is true, but it is also true that I comment much less frequently on the science blogs and Slashdot (the one techie site I read with regularity) than I do here. And, due to the fact that I had an identity on Slashdot that predated this blog, I use a different alias there (datababe72, if you're curious).

I also don't generally post many comments when I'm at work. I consider it part of my job to read Slashdot and a few of the particularly good science blogs and sites- I lead a department and need to keep up with what is going on. But I usually wait until I get home to post comments (except on Ask Moxie- and reading that can in no way be considered part of my job, so I'm not all that consistent in my policy).

So it is a bit unusual that I have gotten involved in a running discussion on In the Pipeline about alternative medicine (you can read Derek's posts here and here, and my summary of my opinion here). It is not really a subject I am passionate about- I have found yoga to be beneficial in my life, but I'm nothing like a true believer. I watched the first thread for a while before I posted anything. I'm not sure why I finally posted. I was annoyed by the arrogance of some of the commenters and the inconsistent refusal to seriously consider the possibility that Qi Gong might actually have some effect beyond just exercise (without citing any conclusive data) while lambasting people who believe in Qi Gong for not having any data. Maybe I just got annoyed enough to have to say something.

But I think I am also getting more comfortable in my identity as a mommy and a scientist and techie. I know, my "about me" section has proclaimed this as my identity for a while, but I've not felt particularly comfortable in it. I feel more comfortable with readers of science blogs following a link to my blog and finding a discussion on weaning. In fact, I think it might be a good thing. Some of my male colleagues, even some with children on their own, seem to have absolutely no idea what is involved in being a working mother. If they learn a little bit about that here, that's great.

And if some young woman follows one of those links and finds a blog that demonstrates that it is possible to be a working mother in science, and even to be reasonably happy about it, that is even better. When I was in graduate school, there were precious few examples of successful women scientists with kids. There still aren't that many examples of women the next level up from where I am who have kids. This made it hard for me to imagine my life as a scientist, and influenced the choices I made about my career. I wish I could go back to that younger, less confident me and tell her how it truly is.

Yes, being a working mother is often very hard. Yes, there are some aspects of certain careers in science that can make it even harder. Yes, there are some changes I think we should make in family policy in this country. However, one of the best things that having a child has taught me is that I am really rather resourceful, and so is my husband. We have found solutions to the problems that have come up, and for the most part, I'm happy with those solutions. I was selling myself short when I thought that I wouldn't be able to combine a successful career in science with a family life. I unnecessarily limited my choices. I'm happy with the career I have now, and wouldn't change anything about my life (well, maybe I'd have the cleaners come more often, and I would love to get more sleep), but I do sometimes wonder what I might have done if I'd truly believed I could do anything I wanted.

And I really, really hope that by the time Pumpkin is making her choices, it doesn't even occur to her that a career she might want to pursue might be incompatible with having a family.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Consider the Alternatives

Derek, over at the Pharma/Chemistry blog In the Pipeline has a post up about a recent Wall Street Journal about the benefits of "integrative medicine". (Here is the original WSJ article.) For the most part, I agree with Derek's post and the more in depth post from another science blogger Orac. However, I found some of the comments, particularly on Derek's post, unnecessarily dismissive of the idea that any "alternative medicines" work. I rarely comment on Derek's blog, but I eventually decided to leave a comment on this post. I've quoted most of that comment here:
I agree that these so-called "alternative medicines" have for the most part not been subjected to sufficient scientific tests, and that many of the studies that have been done are inadequate. I agree that herbs are just impure drugs.

However, it saddens me to see scientists refusing to consider the possibility that some of these therapies work, even if we don't (yet) know why. We scientists should be skeptical of claims but open to learning, or at least getting some new research ideas, from some of these alternative practices. Lumping all "alternative" things together and laughing at them does no one any good.

I know that one anecdote does not equal statistical evidence, but I also know what works in my life. I have a repetitive strain injury that has been treated using "standard" methods- high doses of NSAIDs, steroid shots, physical therapy, etc. These therapies helped, but the injury kept flaring up and I was facing a forced career change. Finally, I tried yoga (I may be the last person in Southern California to try it). One yoga class a week keeps me from relapsing, whereas a battery of physical therapy stretches done 3 times a day did not. Do I believe this is because yoga is tapping into my chakras or some other such thing? No. I don't know why yoga works and the physical therapy stretches didn't. Maybe it's the stress reducing effects of a weekly yoga practice- there is certainly a lot of solid scientific evidence about the negative effects of stress. Maybe the yogis stumbled onto some biomechanically optimal combination of stretches/poses. Too bad studies are unlikely to be done to try to understand what is going on. You can blame the alternative crowd for that, but frankly, if we scientists laugh at the very idea that practitioners of yoga, tai chi, or qi gong are experiencing real benefits and refuse to take seriously anyone who dares to try to investigate this, we bear some of the blame, too.

I am a firm believer in the need for good, well-designed scientific studies to establish the benefits of any treatment. Yoga has helped me, but that does not mean it is a good treatment for other people with similar repetitive strain injuries or asthma (I've also noticed a marked improvement in my asthma since I started doing yoga, to the point that I no longer take maintenance medications). I may have been experiencing a placebo effect (although I doubt it, since I went in fairly skeptical), or there may be something peculiar about my physiology or particular injury that means yoga does something for me that it won't do for other people. Only a randomized trial could sort these things out. I certainly would not advocate for people to disregard their doctor's advice and just go to yoga class. However, I think it is really a shame that careful studies are unlikely to be done, and as I say at the end of my comment on Derek's post, I blame both the alternative medicine practitioners for dismissing the need for studies and scientists who contribute to a climate in which anyone wanting to investigate "alternative medicine" risks being labeled a crackpot.

I have written before about how I am distressed by the fact that many people don't trust the federal scientists who are charged with determining what is and isn't safe. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that people distrust and/or disregard science when things that they have found to be helpful and effective in their life are summarily dismissed by so many scientists. I'm not sure I'd want to listen to a group of people who told me I was gullible or naive for believing in my own experience, either. We scientists in the pharma and biotech industry need to do a much better job of explaining how what we do is different from what manufacturers of herbal and homeopathic remedies do, and why we don't think those remedies are good treatments in most cases.

And we need to be open to the possibility that some of the treatments and approaches labeled as "alternative" might actually be doing something. I won't believe something works without seeing the evidence, so I shouldn't assume something doesn't work without seeing some evidence. Skepticism should go both ways.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Pumpkin (who is now 21.5 months old) is still nursing. I stopped pumping when Pumpkin was 17 months old, but have still been nursing her pretty much whenever she wants it. For the last few months, I've been following the "don't offer, don't refuse" school of weaning. Using this method (and by staying pretty busy during the day on weekends for a few weeks), Pumpkin dropped down to three nursings: first thing in the morning, after work/day care, and in the middle of the night.

I've recently decided that I'd like to try to encourage weaning a bit more quickly. I read some advice in my favorite toddler book (The Mother of All Toddler Books, by Ann Douglas) to start offering alternatives. So now when Pumpkin announces "Boppy!" I offer her milk, or a favored snack, or to read a story. This has helped a little bit, but Pumpkin is often very hard to distract from her intention to nurse. She'll say "Boppy!" and I'll say "Do you want some milk?" and she'll say "Boppy!!" and run off to find the Boppy for me.

The advice I read also suggested that I try to remove the nursing she cared least about first. That seemed to be the after day care nursing, so I started trying to distract her with walks, DVDs, snacks- whatever. Things were going OK, but she still nursed at least 50% of the days. Then we went on vacation, and she completely dropped the nursing at about 5 p.m.- but she started wanting to nurse right before bed.

I decided that after we got back from our Christmas trip to Kauai I would try to get her to skip her morning nursing, since that now seemed to be the one that mattered least. Well, now she wakes up 30-60 minutes before she'll be up for the day and asks to nurse.

So I went from an OK schedule, where the only inconvenient nursing session was the one in the middle of the night, to a pretty annoying schedule, where all three nursing sessions are fairly inconvenient. I've definitely been outsmarted.

Mothers who remember what their toddler was like at ~21 months are probably shaking their heads at my timing- I decided to get serious about weaning smack in the middle of a big fussy/clingy period. Several sources mention the 18-22 month time frame as being a difficult one for toddlers, and we are definitely in the middle of a "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy" phase here. So I think I'll put the active weaning plans on hold for another month.

Now I just need to figure out what my best strategy will be once I decide to try again. Given Pumpkin's tendency to just move her nursing sessions around, I am considering going cold turkey on these final three sessions. I'm not sure Hubby or I can take the extreme grumpiness that is likely to come with that, so I am also thinking about more limited options. I could limit nursing to nighttime, to try to get rid of the morning session, or attempt to fully nightwean again (we had mostly nightweaned at 10 months, but could never get rid of the last nursing, and eventually let that drift back to about 2 a.m).

Advice? Stories? Anything at all to help me figure out what my next move should be? It is embarrassing to be outsmarted by my toddler.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

She Sees Animals

In lieu of a zenbit tonight, I'm going to tell you about Pumpkin's latest "thing", which is amusing me. She has gotten very into animals, perhaps because of the Noodlebug: Animal Friends DVD that she got from her Mimi and Boppa for Christmas. She particularly likes the song about riding the "choo-choo-choo at the zoo-zoo-zoo", and makes me play it over and over.

So, yesterday, my sister and I took her to the zoo. She was very excited about the trip, and as soon as I told her where we were going she started saying "I see aminals!" She had fun at the zoo, and when we met up with Hubby later, she announced "I see aminals!" She has been telling us "I see aminals!" all day.

This is very cute, but I always think "I see dead people" (the line from The Sixth Sense) whenever she says it. Which amuses me to no end.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Small Satisfaction

I didn't get much sleep last night (and I can't even blame it all on Pumpkin- some of it is due to my ill-advised decision to stay up until after 10 talking with Hubby over a beer), so I don't really have the brain power for a real post.

I did take a look at my hit stats, though, and as usual, someone came to my blog because they want to know about to know about toilets, specifically about the gaps in the doors of American toilet stalls. In fact, I have recently noticed that for some toilet stall gap related searches, I'm the first thing on Google. For others, I'm in the top ten. This says more about the lack of explanation for the gaps and how much the gaps bother non-Americans than it does about the profundity of my post.

I am pretty amused to be amongst the world's foremost experts on toilet stall gaps (according to Google), but I get a lot more satisfaction from the other thing I noticed in my latest round of digital navel gazing- my post on my business trip is the third thing Google lists if you search for tips on pumping during business trips. This is gratifying, because my frustration at how hard it was to find useful information as I prepared for that trip is one of the reasons I started posting on this blog again.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sleep, Or Lack Thereof

Pumpkin was sleeping pretty well before the Christmas break- she generally woke up once, nursed, and then went right back to sleep. Once, not long before the break, she even slept through until morning after waking up briefly at about 10 p.m. (and not even nursing).

That has all changed now. She's still generally only waking up once, but it is taking us at least an hour to get her back down. Needless to say, I don't really want to be up for an hour in the middle of the night. It is very frustrating- I'll get her basically asleep, put her in her crib, creep out (our usual routine). She'll sleep for a few minutes, and then wake up screaming. The only way we've been getting her back to sleep is to bring her into bed with us. I have no real problem with this solution- she's gone through phases of needing to be held to sleep before, and it always resolves on its own- except she spends the first 30-45 minutes in our bed snuggled up next to me, playing with my hair. I don't sleep well in this situation.

We're hoping that this particular sleep problem has been caused by some combination of the following:

1. The disruption to her routine associated with travel and sleeping in a new place. She often came into bed with us on our trip, because the pack and play in the rental house looked pretty uncomfortable.

2. Lingering effects of jet lag. She only started waking up at her usual time again on Monday.

3. Emotional upset over the return to day care and the drop in "parent hours" that this means. She had a rough day on Monday (one of my mommy friends at the same day care center dropped her daughter off not long after Hubby dropped off Pumpkin, and said she was standing over to the side, crying, while the teacher was trying to coax her to come play- ouch). She did better yesterday, and was almost back to normal today.

4. Gas. If I've learned anything in the last 21 months, it is that gas is always a possible explanation, and some of her behavior last night supports this theory.

Regardless, we're hoping the problems resolve themselves soon, and that we aren't forced to try to fix them. Our only idea involves Hubby going in (she usually wants me, not Hubby) and us listening to her cry (OK, scream) for Mommy for a while. That doesn't sound like fun, and will mean even less sleep than we're getting now.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Trip Story: Kauai

Back on New Year's Day, when I was griping about the bad parts of our recent trip to Kauai, I promised to come back and tell you some of the good parts. There were lots of good parts, and it was great to see Pumpkin playing with both sets of grandparents, and to watch her get to know her Nonna and Poppa, who live in New Zealand and don't get to visit her nearly as much as my parents, her Mimi and Boppa, who live in Arizona.

Pumpkin was slow to warm up to the gift-opening ritual of Christmas- it was almost as if she thought having all those people around to dote on her was gift enough. But when I finally did get her interested in opening her gifts, she liked what she got. Due to the distance traveled by all the gift-givers (and perhaps the predisposition of our families), she got more books than toys, but she is not old enough yet to think there is anything unusual about that. And she may never think that is unusual- after all, Hubby and I got a lot books, too! She has picked several favorites from her new collection, and they'll start appearing in the "What Pumpkin's Reading" sidebar and on her reading list soon.

Pumpkin was also slow to warm up to the water, having forgotten that she eventually learned to like the water during our visits to the bay this summer. Once again, the third time was the charm, and it wasn't until our third visit to a beach, on our last full day in Kauai, that Pumpkin got in the water and played. One of the reasons I chose Kauai as our destination was the large number of good "baby beaches" (beaches with natural or man-made breakwaters that create calm conditions), and one of the reasons I chose the beach house we stayed at was its proximity to two baby beaches, so I was very happy that she did eventually get in the water. And she had a blast playing with her Mimi once she got in.

One of the other reasons we chose Kauai was the large number of outdoor activities it offers. It has excellent hiking and kayaking, two things Hubby and I liked to do before pumpkin was born but don't do much anymore. We figured that with two sets of grandparents to provide babysitting, we'd get some activities in. In the end, we only went on one hike. It was too windy to kayak most of the time we were there, and we didn't have as much time as we thought we would. The one hike we did was a good one, though. We drove up to the end of Waimea Canyon Road, stopping to enjoy the view along the way. My sister came with us, but Pumpkin stayed back at the beach house with the grandparents.
At the end of the road, we set out for a hike. Our plan was to take the Pihea Trail to the Alaka'i Swamp trail. We never made it to the swamp trail, which was a disappointment to me, because the swamp sounded very interesting. Our guidebook said it is the highest swamp in the world and promised other-worldly scenery. Unfortunately, the Pihea trail was quite muddy, which combined with my less than stellar fitness to slow us down. This photo is from a relatively easy part. It may look like I'm waving my arm in a carefree manner towards the tree, but I am in fact holding on, hoping the tree will help keep me upright:

Also, Hubby bounded up the "optional" side trail to the Pihea Vista before I could stop him. The guidebook warns that this is a tough climb up, and it was, requiring me to use my hands and even my knees on occasion. Any trail that is that hard to get up will almost certainly require some butt-sliding to get down, at least for me. Hubby, who is much more of a mountain goat, had fewer problems. For all of these reasons, it took us much longer than we anticipated to get to the turn off to the swamp trail, and we reluctantly decided to abandon our original plans to go down that trail. I'm glad we did, because I was pretty tired by the time we got back to our car. But I'm still disappointed. The hike was good, but I will add my warning about the Pihea Vista to the warning in any guidebook you look at- sure, the view at the end is beautiful, but you can get pretty much the same view from the far less muddy view point at the parking lot at the trailhead, which is in fact where this picture was taken:

I won't post the picture of my muddy rear end that Hubby helpfully took while I was scrubbing my boots back at the house, but I will post the picture of the boots before the scrubbing:

We stayed in Kapa'a, mostly because I couldn't find a big enough house in sunnier Poipu, and because I had read that the North Shore would be pretty rainy in December. We did drive up to the North Shore a couple of times, and it was indeed rainy. But it was also beautiful. We didn't have the time (and, to be honest, I didn't have the gumption) to hike any of the famous Kalalau trail, but we did drive to the end of the road and visit Ke'e Beach to get a peek at some of the Na Pali coastline. We had to take turns going to look at the beach and the razor sharp cliffs above it, though, because Pumpkin was napping in her car seat, and not even beautiful scenery and a wonderful beach made me want to wake her up. Well, I considered it, but quickly decided against it. Perhaps because we were hurrying to minimize the risk that Pumpkin would wake up and not get her full nap, we didn't actually get very good pictures of this spot, which is a real shame- it was fantastic. I'm sure you can find someone else's wonderful pictures if you search online, though.

We also visited the Kilauea Lighthouse (an extremely picturesque bird sanctuary), ate shaved ice at one of the shops reckoned to be the best on the island (it was good), and relaxed on the balcony of our beach house, looking over the odd concrete patch directly in front of us out to a very nice view of the canal and ocean:

We even found time to go down to Duke's at the Marriott on Kalapaki Beach and have drinks while watching the waves roll in and the other tourists stroll by. (My drink is the ridiculously fruity one with multiple types of rum- Hubby had to drive us home, so stuck with beer, poor guy. I like beer, but I didn't intend to drink it when good fruity drinks were on offer!)

I'm not sure what my favorite part of the vacation was. Maybe it was having that fruity drink in a picturesque location with Hubby, just like we used to do. Maybe it was watching Pumpkin play with the extended family, and getting a chance to catch up with everyone myself. Or maybe it was watching Pumpkin play on the beach and (eventually) in the water. But I know what Pumpkin liked best- the chickens! Kauai has lots of feral chickens and roosters ("Daddy chickens"), and Pumpkin loved to watch them and tell us what they say ("Pok! Pok!" at high decibels). She also liked the nene we saw at the lighthouse. Maybe when she's older she'll have a greater appreciation of the more usual tourist sights.... or maybe she's destined to be a bird-watching tourist, like her Mimi and Boppa. Regardless, it was a good vacation.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Zenbit: Ancient Sunrise

Location: Angkor Wat, near Siam Reap, Cambodia
March 6, 2006

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Bad With the Good

So, we're back from a week in Kauai for Christmas. The time on the island was really nice. But, oh, the transit was rough this time!

The night before we left, Pumpkin woke up at 12:30 and threw up, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night alternating between sleeping in my arms and retching pathetically. When I called Hubby to come help clean up the initial mess, he said "Hmmm. I don't feel so good either." To his credit, he still helped clean up. But he and Pumpkin were both pretty miserable the next morning, and I hadn't really slept much. We almost delayed our trip, until we figured out that the delay would cost us more than $2000. We were flying out of LAX at night, so we left home after "lunch" (I was the only one who really ate) and nervously made our way north. Surprisingly, the flight went well. Pumpkin slept, mostly in my arms, the entire way. (For anyone keeping count, that is two nights in a row where I got very little sleep.)

I have yet to get the bug, but Hubby and/or Pumpkin infected my parents, my sister, and my mother in law. Only my father in law and I were left standing. Amazingly, they all claim the trip was still worth it.

Last night, we flew back to LAX. We somehow managed to book flights that just about ensured we'd be flying with a toddler who didn't get enough of a nap. She screamed a bit, but not nearly as much as I feared at the start of the flight. She didn't want to sit in her seat for this flight, either, though- making the purchase of the seat for her one of the biggest wastes of money of the year. (Note to other parents: unless your child really likes his/her car seat, don't waste your money on a seat for him/her until the airlines make you do it).

We arrived in LA a little before midnight, and proceeded to stand at baggage claim, with sleepy toddler squirming pathetically in my arms, for 1.5 hours before we determined that our bags had decided to spend an extra night in Hawaii. We didn't get to the (airport) hotel we'd booked for the night until after 2. By this time, the sleepy toddler was throwing tantrums if someone looked at her funny. Good times.

However, as we let our GPS navigate us through the thick fog from the place we'd parked our car to the hotel, we were really, really glad that we'd booked the room. Tired, grumpy parents + tired, grumpy toddler + heavy fog + prime hour for drunk drivers <> good time to drive the 2-2.5 hours home to San Diego.

We had a pleasant drive home this morning, in very light traffic.

I'll write more later about the good things that happened in between our two airplane flights. Right now, it is time for bed!