Saturday, October 31, 2009

A L'il Lobstah for Ya!

Here's one for my family since I haven't been able to send email lately. Gmail has been on the fritz for a few days now. Enjoy! I'll send along better ones as soon as I can =D

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Under the Sea

My most recent finished project is a smallish 'activity' quilt with marine animals hidden under waves. Inside the waves I tucked cellophane so they'd make a crinkle sound when folded down to reveal the hidden animals: a few small fish, a shark, octopus, manatee, turtle, sea lion, jellyfish and a small spotted ray.

For the reverse side I used a soft, fuzzy dark chocolate fabric and between the front and back I put some batting and tacked it down with some free motion quilting. All of the animals are appliqu├ęs from a yard of cotton fabric I found on etsy.

This project was a logistical challenge but it was fun. I first had to figure out the right order to do things so that I wouldn't have seems showing where I didn't want them, i.e. outlines of animals showing through the waves. I appliqued the animals onto the waves first, then sewed them to the fabric and then sewed the sides of the waves together. Once I had those done, I sewed some curved lines to the crests of the waves to hold down the cellophane. I did it freehand and I think in the future if I make another one of these, I'll use a wax pencil to draw the lines first so I have a a guide to follow for more tidy details.

When I had all of the wave details finished, I sewed the waves onto the lighter blue cloth background, then put the layer of batting between it and the brown for the back and started pinning, tucking in folded pieces of ribbon as I went.

All told, this one took me 9-10 hours, or just about as long as the baby's quilt did!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finished my first quilt!

Yesterday I finished the first quilt I've ever made. Bold patterns in black, white and red cloth interest newborns the most, which is why I chose them. It took me a few weeks to find cloth in enough different patterns to make it. Some I bought online through etsy, most are from JoAnn's and a few .. are from Walfart. Each of the 20 squares is different. They are a little over 5 inches square so the entire quilt is not very big, but just big enough for BFN to squirm around and eventually crawl on.

Making a quilt can seem daunting, but it isn't hard — at least not for an easy pattern like this one. I finished it in 3 days, working a few hours at a time and never for more than about three hours at a time thanks to having a very hungry baby around. I broke it into 4 parts:

* cutting the cloth pieces
* pinning pieces and sewing them together as I went
* free motion stitching the top and bottom together
* sewing the binding on

Cutting the cloth pieces was made easy by a cutting mat, rotary cutter and clear plastic ruler/straight edge. This was probably the easiest step. Pinning was tedious, but I pinned and sewed one strip at a time, so the monotony of it was broken up. I pinned and sewed horizontal rows first, alternating short vertical strips of white cloth between patterned blocks. Then I sewed long strips of white cloth between each row.

Before I started pinning I took a snapshot of the patterned blocks that I had arranged on the floor so that I had something to reference just in case I were to jumble it once I started pinning. I never needed it, but I am glad I took it just in case. I really thought about how I wanted the blocks arranged and spent about 20 minutes arranging and rearranging them until they looked right to me. I wanted to keep similar patterns and colors away from each other and also keep a balance of light and dark.

After pinning and sewing came the worst part: laying down and pinning the batting between the top and bottom (black cloth with small Chinese characters in white). There has got to be a better way to do this but I don't know what it is. The first time I pinned them, I ended up with the top taut but the bottom piece wasn't. It looked awful so I unpinned it all except for along the top and then used that as an anchor and smoothed the cloth from the top and bottom as I pinned. It was a pain in the butt but by the time I was done, both top and bottom were equally taut.

I really had no idea what I was doing. I've never taken a quilting class and the last class I had on sewing was during some class resembling 'home ec" that I "took" during high school because it was either that or typing. I think I skipped out on much of it simply because I could get away with it. Home ec was just not my speed; I was always way more interested in math and science. It's amusing that now I would be sewing like crazy! In any case, I think a quilting class or two would probably help. My quilt has flaws, but as Mr. Field Notes reminded me, no one is going to notice but me. The flaws? They have to do with the layers not lining up just right, I think. But, it could also be I missed doing some crucial thing during the next step: free motion stitching.

To help nail down the top and bottom layers, quilters can use a special presser foot. It appears to be spring loaded and doesn't press down as hard on the fabric so there is a lot of movement to it. The trick is to move the fabric around in whichever direction you want. You can go forward, side to side and even backward, easily. But, as I was told when I bought it at a quilting shop, "It takes some practice." Ha! Does it ever!

At first I set my machine to the slowest possible speed setting because anything higher and I felt like the fabric was flying all over the place and I couldn't control where the stitches went, but then as I got more comfortable with how it moved and how I could move the fabric, I found the slowest setting wasn't optimal and settled on the middle speed. Even so, it took a lot of concentration to control where the stitches went even though the stitches were free form and not in any particular pattern — just random, wavy lines. This part was definitely the hardest, I thought, and made me think twice about whether to make another quilt.

After free motion quilting the top and bottom pieces, I prepped the binding. I suppose I could have sewn the binding onto the bottom of the quilt and then folded it over and sewed it to the top, but I didn't. Instead, I cut long narrow strips of red cloth and folded it over about 1/4 inch on both long sides and ironed it so it would stay folded. Then I ironed it in half lengthwise so I could tuck the whole piece over the edge of the quilt. I knew I would have some places where the top and bottom binding edges wouldn't match up perfectly and I was fine with having to re-sew or stitch those by hand. In the end, that only happened over about 20 percent of the edge and was easily fixed by gently tugging the part that wasn't sewn down and repinning and resewing. The binding went quickly.

All in all, this quilt took a lot, lot less time than I thought it would. I estimated it would take at least 2 weeks, but I had it finished basically over one weekend and despite numerous interruptions. I am already looking forward to the next one.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My 'Dubious' Dog Bell Plan

For a few months now, I've been battling the problem of what to do about the back door. When I let the newfs out in the morning, I leave the door open just a crack so that it's shut but not latched. They wrestle around outside and some variable amount of time later, they barge back in. Usually, but not always, I notice when they come in and can go shut the door. It's those times I don't notice, when the door has been open for an hour, that I want to solve.

What I need is a simple alarm to alert me that the door is open. A bell on the backdoor is perfect, so at the craft store, I choose the biggest, loudest bell I could find and figured I could hang it on the door nob from a ribbon — except — that would scratch up the door. So, I made a little padded cushion to hang between it and the door. It'll still make a nice clang when they rush in, but it won't scratch the door.

I quilted the cushion using a new free motion presser foot for my sewing machine. I have really limited experience using it, and it takes practice, so I'm inventing all sorts of excuses for using it before I use it on my next project — a quilt for Baby Field Notes (my first quilt). This door bell cushion was a perfect excuse for practice.

It ought to do the trick, and it might have the added benefit of serving as a bell for when they ask to go out. Katy will vocalize to go out, but not Yuki. Instead, she just stares at the door. Sometimes she nudges the nob with her nose, so I'm thinking we might be able to get her to deliberately jingle the bell to ask to go out.

Katy needs none of these tricks. But she's stuck with it. (Notice the slobber hanging off her jowl?)

Katy has these amazingly disgusted looks she shoots at us when she thinks we're being dumb (which is pretty much all the time when she's not sleeping — or eating). She shot me one of her dubious looks when
I told her to wait by the back door after I balanced a treat on the nob. It's her equivalent of the teenager's rolled eyes. You can get a hint of it in the top photo. Perhaps amazingly is too much, but she's got a real skill for looking at us this way when we ask her to do something that's beneath her... like 'waiting' for a treat. Being a trick she learned long ago, it is so juvenile.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Behavior Change through FUN

Can we get people to choose the stairs by making it more fun?

Here's a fun video that illustrates behavior modification:

How could you not take the stairs?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Infant Handedness: Baby Field Notes a Lefty?

A greater preponderance of left-handed U.S. Presidents aside, it has me concerned, a little, that Baby Field Notes might turn out to be a lefty. She's showing what I would call a strong preference for sucking her left hand, moving her left hand more, and holding things longer with her left hand.

The first question I had was whether there's any research to suggest that early hand preference correlates with handedness later. I'm still doing the research, but so far I've turned up some interesting stuff, all published in reputable journals like Developmental Psychobiology and the International Journal of Primatology.

Handedness is associated with brain lateralization and specialization, meaning that the two hemispheres are not exactly alike. The right and left hemispheres execute different functions. For example, most people process language in their left hemispheres. Spatial reasoning, such as mental rotation of objects, is processed in the right hemisphere. Although it's not a perfect relationship, the vast majority of right-handers (90%) process language in their left hemispheres, but only about 70% of left-handers do. A higher proportion of left-handed people process language in the wrong hemisphere, or both hemispheres. It's also said that they are more likely to be dyslexic.

Nonhuman primates are generally not thought to have much language capacity (there are exceptions!). They are also thought to not show much evidence of brain laterality, i.e. their cerebral hemispheres are more symmetrical in function and do not show a left hemisphere specialization for language (there are exceptions!). Furthermore, they are not thought to show a hand preference, i.e. they don't preferentially grasp or manipulate stuff their right hands (there are exceptions with this too!).

What all this means is that other apes don't have the amazing language abilities that humans have because they don't have the brain circuitry specialized for such a complex task and their lack of hand preference is one piece of evidence for that. However, I think that there is plenty of evidence that other apes have some language capacity and that it's likely early human ancestors (6 million years ago) also had language capacity. The human ability to write and recite nursery rhymes didn't just appear out of nowhere, it built upon earlier capabilities.

Left-hand preference may be just one symptom of something gone haywire in brain circuitry regarding language development given the links between the hemisphere dominance, handedness and language processing. In other words, it's not too surprising that more lefties would have language difficulties and I hope that Baby Field Notes doesn't! Language stuff aside, it would make life a lot easier for her to not have to deal with the hassles that lefties encounter.

A good example would be the rotary paper cutter we have. It, like the vast majority of paper cutters, is set up for right handers. The blade is on the right side and the grid and platform to rest the paper on is to the left. For a left handed person to use it, they would have to either operate the blade with their clumsier hand, or, they'd have to hold the paper with their right hand and reach across their right wrist and hand to grasp the arm or blade to cut the paper with their left hand — a recipe ripe for making a mistake and winding up injured.

Speaking of language I find it interesting that the word dexterous, meaning nimble or skillful, comes from the word dexter, which means right. The dexter hand is the right hand. In contrast, left in French is gauche, which in English means clumsy or boorish. Compliments that have a subversive, not so nice element to them are left-handed compliments. I'm just saying, left handers don't just die earlier (as research has found), our whole language schema paints them in a poor light.

However, left handedness/right brain dominance is also associated with being gifted analytically, particularly in mental rotation and three-dimensional problem solving.

In an effort to find out whether early left hand preference is associated with being a lefty, I skimmed a bunch of journal abstracts, and although I haven't yet found an answer, I did learn some other interesting stuff.

At just 5 months gestation, fetuses already show brain lateralization. Using ultrasound imaging, researchers measured the size of both lobes of the brain of around 100 fetuses and found that their left hemispheres were larger than their right hemispheres. Also interesting is that the girls had larger brains.

Fetuses suck their thumbs in utero, no surprise there, but they also show a preference for sucking their right thumb and this can show up as early as 15 weeks of gestation. Also, research on some primate species, including both monkeys and two kinds of apes (bonobos and chimps) has found that they have a nipple preference — left — which is also associated with a preference for turning their heads to the right, which would be toward the left breast when being carried and while suckling. What's noteworthy too, is that nonhuman primates and humans both show a bias for left-handed infant carrying and cradling.

Early on, BFN preferred the right boob, the atypical pattern. I also have a strong preference for carrying her and cradling her in my right arm. Mr. Field Notes does it in the more usual primate fashion — with his left arm — and was the first to observe that I don't. So I guess I am odd and maybe Baby FN is too.

In any case, Baby Field Notes may indeed turn out to be a lefty, and it's not likely I will be able to change that if she is. Handedness is not learned, a plethora of research suggests. Instead, it is "a spontaneous expression of the developing nervous system unaffected by the environment," as Dr. Johanna de Vries put it best.

However, other researchers, such as William Hopkins, point out that behavior can influence brain development, so use of the right hand can theoretically cause the brain to develop asymmetrically. [I think there's some merit to that, but how likely is the preference of right hand use to be just chance?] I think it's more likely hand preference is genetically determined and there's a good chance that no amount of me putting things in Baby Field Notes right hand will change anything if she is indeed a lefty.

My intuition is also that she is likely to be a lefty, given her hand preference now.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

First Date in 3 months!!

I didn't set out to make it a French day, but that's what it became. Leon Le Chameleon, a kids French song I discovered on iTunes, filled the morning air. By dinnertime I was dining in a French restaurant and sipping beaujolais. Afterward, we stopped at a patisserie on the walk home. Not bad for the first date I've had with Mr. FN in three months!

Needless to say, I freaking love love love living in this sleepy corner of the state. When we lived in this town 'the first time,' none of this would have been possible and I am so glad we waited to have a kid, even if that wasn't entirely by choice. We can provide so much more for her than we would have before — not just materially — but culturally, intellectually and emotionally.

The world wide interwebs certainly helps with that. It means I can locate French kids songs about reptiles, download them to my iPod and play them on our home stereo all without spending more than a buck and 5 minutes time. Truly awesome when you think about it. Using Facebook, I can connect with friends who also have babies and even chat with them virtually for free while I am nursing and they are 3,000 miles away. I can read research articles relevant to child physical and social development in peer-reviewed journals without having to actually go to a library. The internet makes all of that possible. Back when we lived here before, none of that would have been possible. Yes, I am a huge fan of the internet. It is truly awesome. and so is actually getting away from the computer to enjoy a night out with my honey, well honeeeeeeeeeeys, now.

The beaujolais wine, yum. I really like having a glass of red wine now and then. I think it's prefectly fine to do so even while nursing so long as you keep it to one glass, have it with a meal and drink it slowly right after nursing the baby and hours before the next breastfeeding session.

Now if I could just walk through the Louvre tomorrow morning...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Coupla' Completed Projects

Yeah baby! I finally bumped off two projects in the time I found while Baby Field Notes slept. One is a red, black and white fabric block with two loop tags and two animal silhouettes. The other is a jungle print diaper changing pad that is padded and closes up with a velcro strap.

Both are not exactly essential items, but they are nice to have. We've had to change junior's pants a number of times on the road and it's not always easy to find a clean, soft place to do it. We have been doing it in the seat of her stroller when we pop out her infant carrier, and that works, but won't be too cool if we are caught without a diaper under her butt. Uh oh — soiled and impossible to wash stroller seat! Yuck. Diaper changing pads solve that problem because they are easy to wash.

Another 'problem' solved by this little project is what to give Baby FN to look at when she has 'alone time' when I need to cook, clean or take care of my business. If she is relaxed and full, I can set her in her crib and she can entertain herself for 10-15 minutes. During that time, she loves to look, well more like stare, at the patterns on the blocks. Although she can't deliberately grasp anything yet, eventually she will and when I rattle the blocks that have bells inside, she perks up. I wish I had bells or something to put inside the block when I made it, so bells are on the list for a visit to the craft store this weekend.

Neither one took very much time, so I am planning to make more to gift to various people I know who have or are expecting babies.

The diaper changing pad cloth with the colorful animals was initially going to be part of her room's curtains, but I changed my mind about the cloth once I decided they clashed with her rug. The changing pad has a layer of quilt batting in the middle and fuzzy, soft brown cloth on the reverse side so it can also be used as a stroller blanket instead. The soft side also has an applique lion taken from some matching cloth I had. I thought it would make that side more cute and more finished. If I had it to do-over, which I certainly do since I have loads more of this fabric, I would add another layer of quilt batting and use dark brown velcro instead of tan.

A corner of Field Notes' room, is for the time being, my work space. She rested on the folded up blue blanket on the floor in front of me while I pinned the cloth. Mr. Field Notes teased her about having to get used to watching her mama do projects. Too true.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Learn to Count Auf Deutsch

While I was looking for a version of "Eins Zwei Polizei" on YouTube, I stumbled on this stop-motion animation that teaches you how to count in German, at least up to funf (5). It's amusing and charming. At the end, the groundhog stacks several pretzels and munches one.

Here's "Eins Zwei Polizei," a really catchy techno song that Mr. Field Notes discovered recently on YouTube. He says it's a traditional bed time song, although this particular song's beat is not exactly soporific! In any case, it combines counting, rhymes and repetition — perfect stuff for kids — and is really catchy.

Click here for "Eins Zwei Polizei."

Alexandra enjoyed listening to it the other night.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Don't talk to your baby! Blackberry instead.

She's just a little monkey at this point anyway.

The guilt trips that new mothers give themselves for not talking or playing enough with their infants is ridiculous — an unwarranted. Take for instance a mother of a 2 month old I know who put a sign up over her TV reminding her to talk to her daughter instead of watching TV while she breastfeeds her. Today I was reminded of this while reading a New York Times opinion piece, 'From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk,' on my iPhone while sitting next to my baby, who was alas, not asleep. While I could have spent the entire time talking to her while I was in the car waiting for Mr. Field Notes to return with a new supply of bulk nuts from the grocery store, I instead chose to read news on my NYT's iPhone app. I admit, I felt a twinge of guilt, but it quickly dissipated.

A 2-month-old is developmentally incapable of attaching meaning to what you say; it's far more important to just interact, which you can certainly do when your baby is in the mood. Babies don't always want to interact with their parents, and they definitely let you know when they are interested. The first sign is that they return or hold eye contact. Sometimes they just want to observe stimuli around them and sad to say it, but your face isn't always the most interesting thing in the room and certainly isn't when you're breastfeeding — then it is 99% about the boob.

When not eating, Baby Field Notes finds the overhead fan appealing. The dark blades stand out in stark contrast to the white ceiling. Ditto for the shelves on the wall. She will look at them, relaxed and attentive, after she's eaten, that is if she's still awake. I rarely talk to her while I feed her. She can't respond back anyways. Bonding over a meal while talking is something reserved for a later developmental stage. There's time enough to talk during other activities (like during diaper changes), so I say, go ahead and Blackberry or iPhone or text or do whatever you do while breastfeeding baby and don't feel guilty about it.

I don't spend much time 'talking' to Baby Field Notes and when do, I often make the sounds an ape would make to her infant — soft oooohs and aaaahs, some high pitched squeals and staccato giggle grunts too — because those are the sounds she responds to. I don't think that's an accident. At this stage, she really is more simian than human. I do speak to her, but I don't always enunciate, e.g. "I wub you," and I don't always use perfect grammer, e.g. "Oh, you so cute, cute, cute, so cute you!" As long as they are exposed to language during the critical period from birth to age 7 or so, children can speak and can acquire perfect grammar and syntax — the hallmarks of language. In fact, studies have shown that this "motherese" language pattern of using short, simplified sentences, repeating words often, and using high pitched intonation is a human universal, probably because it helps in language acquisition.

For some evidence that infants are more simian than human at this early stage of development, one need only look at the shape of their vocal tracts. Apes and adult humans have a noticeably different layout of the larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat) and tongue, as you can see in the diagram that I colored so you can more easily make them out. Compared to other apes, humans have an elongated pharynx (red) and a lower larynx (purple) that is situated below rather than behind the tongue (pink). The image to the right shows the layout of a human infant's vocal tract. You can see that it more closely resembles the nonhuman ape anatomy. As an infant matures, these parts shift toward their final, adult human form — and with it, the ability to make the full range of human sounds. Similar structural changes occur in the infant's developing brain. As the infant's tongue develops more coordination and control, so too do parts of the infant's brain related to speech.

At the tender age of 2 months and for several months more, babies can't understand speech, let alone what the heck you're carrying on about when you name all the random stuff in your field of view (as the woman in the NYT article did). Babies can only judge whether or not you respond in a timely and appropriate fashion to their calls for help — so go ahead and take care of that email, get caught up on those TV shows you enjoy, read that magazine article — and tend to that crying baby by feeding her when she's hungry, changing her diaper when it's wet and saying silly things to make her smile when she's bored. There will be plenty of time later for conversations.