Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Zenbit: Santa Down Under

I've been suffering from a serious lack of Christmas spirit, so I dug up this picture. It is not as good as the flip-flop Christmas tree, but it makes me smile. (Here's another Christmas-related Zenbit).

Location: Burleigh Heads, Australia
Date: January 17, 2006

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm the Reason Our Planet is Doomed

Here is a story that I think explains why we can't just rely on people's good nature to save us from climate change and other environmental problems:

As you might have guessed from the post about our car buying dilemma, Hubby and I are fairly concerned about the environment. We try to consider the environmental impacts of all of our decisions. So, when I was pregnant with Pumpkin, I did some research about diapers. We knew that we'd have to us disposable diapers at day care, but we could use something else at home if that made the most sense. I found an analysis from some academics in Ohio (which of course I cannot find now) that convinced me that in my drought-plagued location, cloth diapers aren't necessarily the best choice. As any new parent can tell you, babies go through a lot of diapers, and that's a lot of laundry, which translates to a lot of water- especially when Pumpkin was little and we lived in an apartment with an old, inefficient shared washer.

My research led me to gDiapers, which I still think are ingenious. They consist of cute cloth "little g" pants, a plastic liner that snaps into the pants, and an insert that you press into the plastic liner. The system works great. They seem to be comfortable for the baby. Pumpkin refuses to wear them anymore- she says they are "too tight"- but I think that is due to her aversion to change more than any actual problem with the diapers. They contain the "poop-splosions" of babyhood far better than disposables. I almost always have to wash the plastic liner after a big poop (but this rinses out easily, and can be washed in with the rest of our laundry), but only rarely have to wash the little g pants. And I can't remember a single time with either Pumpkin or Petunia when the outfit over the diapers got dirty. With disposables, I have to change Petunia out of a poopy outfit several times a week. My only functional quibble is that the baby fusses when wet earlier than with disposables. However, since the wet diapers can be composted (really!) that isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. The poopy diapers are meant to be flushed: you tear open the insert, dump it into the toilet, and swoosh it around with a long plastic stick they give you with your starter kit. This is far easier and less messy than it sounds, and I've never had a problem with the diaper flushing, either here at the house or in our old apartment.

So... why am I struggling to get through the one pack of 40 small size inserts that I bought before Petunia was born? She is about to outgrow the small size, and I still have about 5 inserts left to use. Given the fact that Petunia easily goes through 7-8 diapers in a day, that pack should have lasted about a week. Petunia is 11 weeks old. So one time out of 11, I do the "right" thing. The rest of the time, I put her in a disposable diaper. I do this because I am lazy. The extra work required to use the gDiapers is minimal- I have to "load" the insert into the lined little g pant. When the diaper is used, I have to either flush it or compost it. But that extra little bit of effort over wrapping the diaper around itself and dumping it in the diaper pail is apparently too much for me. Hubby, who is arguably more environmentally conscious than I am, will almost never reach for a gDiaper. Two environmentally sensitive adults who know full well that our actions are suboptimal in terms of the environment can't be bothered to add a a few extra (easy) steps to the diapering routine.

And that is why our planet is doomed.

I will, however, dig the medium size little g pants out of storage and order some appropriately sized inserts. If we get moving and buy the low water use, dual flush toilets we've picked out, I should be able to report back on whether we have any difficulty flushing the inserts with a 1.6 gallon toilet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Vagaries of Toddler Speech

I've got a "real" post brewing for the next time Petunia lets me put her down (maybe sometime in 2010?) but in the meantime... can anyone explain to me why Pumpkin calls the thieving fox in Dora "Swifer" but when she asks me to put Naima (her favorite song on Dreamland, her favorite bedtime CD) on loop, she tells me to make it "repeep"?

Friday, December 11, 2009

What I Learned Today

Some things I learned today:
  • If I were a stay at home mom, I would eventually scream at Pumpkin "NO! I will not read that book again! I have JUST NOW read it to you five times in a row!"
  • If I were a stay at home mom, there would be far more Dora in my life than I am comfortable having.
  • Petunia may be too easy going for her own good.
At about 10:30, just as I was finally getting myself and Petunia dressed for the day, Pumpkin's day care called and told me that she had a fever. Petunia never did get dressed for the day- we drove up to day care to pick up Pumpkin.

When we got to day care, they told me that they were watching a movie because it was raining. (They couldn't play outside... this is San Diego. No one has decent rain gear for their kids.) Given Pumpkin's issues with their last rainy day movie, they let her pick the movie this time. They probably figured she would pick something she has at home and all would be fine. Of course, she doesn't have any Disney-type movies at home, so she picked the one that she was most curious about- Finding Nemo. She is always pointing at little orange fishes and calling the Nemo. She must have been pretty excited to see a whole movie about Nemo. Unfortunately, it apparently has a shark named Bruce who eats two Nemos and an octopus, and that's not very nice! She had to snuggle with one of her teachers, who noticed she was feeling a bit hot, so took her temperature and discovered a fever.

I shrugged, and decided that I'd try to explain about the movies another day (basically, if there is a plot, it is too scary for Pumpkin). I drove her home, listening to her version of the Nemo movie the entire way. I told her we could watch one of her favorite Noodlebug DVDs when we got home. So, we put the DVD in as soon as we got in the door, and I got out the thermometer to see if I needed to give Pumpkin any Tylenol. I got a normal reading. I tried several times during the day, and she always read normal.

All things considered, the day went well. But I never want to read Big Dog...Little Dog again, and oh my, am I tired. Poor Petunia spent a lot of time laying in her baby gym, smiling and "talking" and either being ignored or being smothered by her adoring big sister, until finally it was time for her usual late afternoon nurse-fest, which is when I had to break out the Dora.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mommy Needs to Recharge

I just gave Pumpkin her bath. She behaved beautifully (an unusual event these days) and objectively, watching her play story time with her bath toys- she put the alligators in time out for biting the bear and the froggie- was pretty darn cute. But I was nowhere near as engaged and playful as I'd have liked to be. By bath time, I'm like Petunia's swing when its batteries are running down. I'm going through the motions, but without the bells and whistles that make it fun. After a full day of caring for Petunia, my mothering battery is running low.

I've been trying to figure out how to recharge that battery during my last few weeks of my maternity leave. (I return to work part time in January, and then full time in February. Working recharges my mothering battery- which is one reason why I'm a happy working mom.) When Pumpkin was this age, my solution was long, hot showers with nice smelling shower gel. Pumpkin would sit in her bouncy chair, and miraculously be fairly content. Sometimes, she would even fall asleep. This practice is getting harder to justify as my region sinks deeper into drought. Also, the bathroom in our house is not big enough to allow me to bring Petunia into it in her bouncy chair and close the door, and the hot shower is less rejuvenating with a cold draft blowing in from the hall.

I've tried to consider my almost daily walks with Petunia to be "battery recharge" time, but I'm not fooling myself. I take those walks to ensure Petunia gets her afternoon nap when she needs it, and to try to make it possible for me to squeeze back into my pre-pregnancy pants.

Blogging helps, but frankly it takes too long. I can't always squeeze in the time when I need it the most. Similarly, I can't quite see how to make room for a regular yoga class yet, although I'm sure that will come with time. Petunia is sleeping really well, but the flip side of that seems to be that she wants to nurse every hour when she's awake, making it hard to schedule an exercise class.

Does anyone have any ideas? What do you do to recharge your batteries? So far, I've been eating cookies, a practice that I'm going to have to stop (or at least scale back) if I don't want to have to buy a completely new wardrobe for my return to work next month.

Monday, December 07, 2009

What Do You Do When They Don't Make What You Want to Buy?

We're in the market for a new car. Sort of. We've been in the market for a new car for well over a year now. The older of our two cars (a 1996 Subaru Outback that Hubby bought used before we were married) has been slowly racking up the repair dollars for the past few years. After each repair, Hubby and I think "we really should be ready to replace this thing in case the next repair is too big to be worth doing."

But we still haven't bought. It isn't that we lack the money to replace this car. We have the money. We've been diligently saving since we last bought a car (replacing the sporty two door I drove pre-kids with a Prius).

The problem is that they don't make the car we want to buy. Here is our wish list of features:
  • At least 30 mpg highway. We're on the green side, we live in a city that has poor public transit, and our job locations pretty much ensure that we're going to each drive solo to work. We need good gas mileage to keep us from feeling too bad about our lifestyle. (And to save the planet, of course. But mostly, its about guilt.)
  • Enough cargo space so that we can haul ourselves, our two kids, and all the stuff we need for the two kids to Arizona to see my parents. We're also looking ahead to the days when we can have hobbies again (and when the kids start having hobbies) and guessing that we'll want some toy-hauling capabilities. The Subaru is great for carrying surfboards. One stroller just about fills the Prius' trunk.
  • I would really like a optional third row of seats.* Or at least a back seat big enough so that an adult can squeeze in there with the two car seats. Kids are in car seats for a long time these days- we have several more years of dual car seats. It would be nice to be able to pick my sister up to join us for a family lunch. When my parents visit, it would be nice if we could all fit in one car for the outings to the zoo, etc.
  • We don't care if the cargo space and the extra seating are mutually exclusive. We don't need to haul a lot of people and a lot of stuff at the same time.
Given this list of features, it is pretty obvious that what we want is a hybrid minivan. Too bad there isn't one available in the US. (Toyota does make one: the Estima, and it gets great reviews. Unfortunately, they do not sell it here. A quick Google search will find you lots of articles by people bemoaning this fact.)

Ford, GM, Chrysler- are you listening? Here is your chance to regain the lead in the minivan market that you invented and get back in the good graces of the coastal environmentalists who hate the SUVs you've been making for so long**. Make a hybrid minivan. Chances are, we'd buy it.

*Hubby would be willing to forgo this feature. He'd be perfectly happy with a full-sized station wagon that got at least 30 mpg. This car does not exist, either. Right now, the Ford Escape hybrid is his front runner for a replacement to the Subaru. However, our current plan is to wait until someone makes the car we want or the Subaru fails and forces us to settle on something else.

**Yes, I know, they only made them because people bought them. Since having kids, I can understand a little better why people buy SUVs. Kids come with a lot of stuff. Perhaps part of the reason the SUVs sold so well was that they solve a real problem. Perhaps some of the people who bought SUVs would have been interested in alternative solutions to that problem that didn't involve driving a gas guzzler. Surely there are other enviromentalist parents out there, who are facing the same need to haul kids and stuff that we are, and are just as unwillingly to ditch their environmentalist principles and just buy an Expedition. Have the car companies even considered that market?

Friday, December 04, 2009

On Newborns

Petunia is two months old now- no longer really a newborn. I had forgotten a lot of things about the newborn stage. I had forgotten how many diapers there are to change and how much laundry there is to do. I had forgotten how mind-numbingly dull I find a lot of the day to day care of an infant to be, particularly during the growth spurts where it seems I do nothing all day except feed her and change her diapers.

But I had also forgotten how snugglely a newborn is, and how impossible it is for me to carry one without kissing her head. I had forgotten how captivating those big eyes are.

Petunia has been smiling for a couple of weeks now, and I love how she positively lights up when she's in a playful mood and I make eye contact with her. Her face breaks into a big grin, she squirms and wiggles, and she gurgles and coos. It is heart-meltingly wonderful.

However, my favorite thing may be this: sometimes, when she is nursing, she starts to make a high-pitched, whiny cry. Her little arms and legs pump feverishly, and she shakes her head from side to side. I've learned that this means that she has a gas bubble, so I move her into an upright position and burp her. Eventually, she lets out a burp that would make a frat boy proud.

I almost always greet her burp with a hearty "good job!" or "nice one!" I remember saying similar things to Pumpkin at this age. I do not greet Pumpkin's burps with such enthusiasm now. I guess newbornhood is the only time in life during which your mother will congratulate you on your burps.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

In Defense of 2.5

I'm sure someone warned me about two and a half, but somehow I am still surprised by the tantrums, and the constant "NO!", and the attempts to outsmart us and push bedtime later (I'm ashamed to say that sometimes, she succeeds at this).

Lest we forget the nice things about this age, I present to you a zoo:

This is an early design. More recent designs include more spacious "caves" for all the animals.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Learning from the Wider Community

I don't blog much about my work. This is largely because I am not at liberty to discuss details of my work- I've signed non-disclosure agreements at every job I've had. I can say that one of my areas of interest is the design of databases to store biological data. I don't get to do this much anymore, but at one point, it was my primary job function.

One of the things that drove me batty when I was first learning about databases and how to use them for the data that interested me was the insularity of some of my fellow database designers. They were certain that biological data was so unique that there was nothing they could learn from databases designed in other fields, or from relational database theory. Consequently, they made a lot of entirely avoidable "rookie" mistakes, and designed some disastrous schema. There are some unusual aspects to biological data (the difficulty in uniquely identifying genes and proteins is a big one, but that is not what I want to talk about here). I have on occasion designed a database that flouts some tenet derived from relational database theory. However, I have always done so in full knowledge of the theory and of the trade offs I'm making in my design. I never understood why some of my colleagues didn't want to learn from the wider community. That community couldn't tell me exactly how to design my databases, but I did pick up some useful ideas that I could apply to the particular problems I was facing.

I've been thinking about this as I've read some of the blog threads about combining motherhood and a career in academic science. It seems to me that some people are making a similar mistake- they are certain that a career in academic science is so unique that there is nothing they can learn from working mothers in other fields, even in industrial science. I think there are some fields with unique, or at least highly unusual challenges (for instance, fields that require extensive field work, as Flea pointed out on some of my earlier posts). However, for the most part, an academic position has a lot in common with jobs in other fields. In fact, as one commenter on one of Female Science Professor's posts pointed out, academic positions have some advantages in terms of flexibility. So why not learn from the wider community? It won't tell you exactly how you should balance your work and home life, but you'll probably get some useful ideas. (In fact, as I said on FSP's post, I don't think anyone can provide someone else with an exact blueprint for how to balance their life. There are just too many variables. Does the baby sleep? What sort of job does the partner have? What is your work style? Etc., etc.)

I remain convinced that a lot of the supposedly unique problems with balancing motherhood and a career in science (academic or otherwise) stem from plain, old-fashioned sexism. We do not, after all, hear much about the problems of balancing fatherhood and a career in science. The horrifying thing is that we've internalized it, and young women are limiting themselves, rather than forcing "the patriarchy" or whatever you want to call it to explicitly limit them. I have said before that I wish I could go back and tell my grad school self (who fretted a lot about this sort of thing) that she shouldn't worry. She should act like a man: assume she can have a family and a career. Don't self-limit- if someone wants to limit you, make them do it themselves. I was thrilled to read similar sentiments from an academic scientist in the Fall 2009 edition of the AWIS magazine (sorry, it is not yet available online). In an interview, Dr. Erika Matunis, associate professor in cell biology at Johns Hopkins says:

"I don't think guys ever sit around and worry about whether they should have kids or if that is going to ruin their career, so why should women?"


"Just do the science you love, and follow it. If you have restrictions based on luck, or timing, or geography, accept them and adjust to them- but don't say ahead of time that you're going to limit yourself."

She also identifies two of the same factors for successful work/family balancing that I did in my post on being a happy working mother: quality child care and a fully participating partner.

In the same article, she does say that she thinks her career was affected more by the decision to have children than her husband's was. I hope she attributes that to its true cause: not the children, but the sexism of the system.