16 April 2014 | 07:51 AM

Baby Science Pros

Yesterday morning Benji did more baby science at the UW’s ILABS. We’re on their list, and at many age milestones (in this case, 20 months) I get a call from somebody at ILABS doing some interesting brain research, asking for a test subject. I say yes every time, as long as I can schedule it around naptime.

A couple months ago (at 18 months, in fact) we went in and did a study on whether babies learn from watching videos on smartphones. In that study, Benji watched a video of a guy “playing” with four lame toys, then received those same toys and interacted with them. The toys were clearly made in-house. He didn’t think much of those toys, but we did get to take home a ball, so that wasn’t a total waste from his perspective.

I recap that study, because in yesterday’s study some of those same toys reappeared. Yesterday, however, the researchers were studying “emotional eavesdropping,” where a toddler watches an interaction between two people. The question was how much of the emotional content the kid picks up on – not an easy thing to measure in 20-month-olds, since they can’t tell you how they feel.

The researchers got around this by having two people have a conversation about a toy, and then giving the toy to the kid. The control group witnessed a neutral reaction, while the test group witnessed an angry/frustrated interaction. Benji was a control, for which I was glad; I’m pretty sure an angry exchange would have disturbed him.

Three of the toys the researchers played with and talked about were ones Benji had already seen in the earlier video study. He clearly remembered how to work them, and actually did much better at manipulating them, I assume because he was older. After we finished I told the researcher that he’d seen them before in that earlier study, and she said it had seemed like he was familiar with the toys. Apparently she noticed the facility with which he operated those unusual toys, and his interaction was different from other kids’. I just hope that prior experience didn’t invalidate his results in this study.

On our way out the door, we happened to see the video researcher, and I mentioned that Benji recognized and remembered the toys from her study. She seemed pleased, but a little concerned about messing up the emotional eavesdropping study. This, I suppose, is the risk of calling the same kid for lots of different studies in the same lab.

Anyway, Benji got to play with wheels in the waiting room and then, afterwards, we wandered around the parking garage rubbing filthy wheels. So not a total loss.

14 April 2014 | 06:39 AM

Feeling Springy

I can tell spring has arrived when:

Big sword fern fiddleheads are well along.

My beloved, transplanted huckleberry bush has new growth. I really, really want it to survive.


Trying to beat back some of the weeds in the rain garden, probably futile. I may have to redefine “weed” to exclude anything that thrives in there.


Ah, the back porch, truly my favorite part of the house. Good for drying laundry, reading in the sun, or (not pictured) eating dinner on nice evenings, among other things.

Also, a sign not of spring but of budding toddler humor:


Situational humor comprises our entire repertoire right now; pouring an imaginary cup of tea over his head, or putting shoes on knees, or giving doggy a diaper. Anything he knows should be some other way, done “wrong” is worth a laugh. I find it refreshing to be able to make jokes and be silly and get any reaction at all.

Another good sign, though also not of spring, was that Ian and I got out for a real date last night, courtesy of Sullivan Babysitting Service. We saw the new Captain America movie (surprisingly serious for an action flick) and had a Seattle Restaurant Week dinner at the Melting Pot (delicious and wonderfully free of screaming, fussing, demanding, and rushing). All-round refreshing to get out on our own and not just to do errands or chores.

11 April 2014 | 06:26 AM

More Cars & Trucks


Yesterday we did a short walk, so I wanted to make sure Benji got to have fun. Thus, I took us to a spot guaranteed to be a winner: the  closest freeway overpass.

Benji helpfully pointed out all the:
- School buses (of which we saw a zillion, often several simultaneously, it being school time)
- UPS trucks (only 2)
- Dump trucks (innumerable, as they’re doing construction on the freeway entrance)
- Delivery trucks of all sizes
- Metro buses (not as many as I’d like to see)

…and, for good measure, also anything else of interest, like horse trailers, motorcycles, etc. There were times Benji couldn’t keep up with all the vehicles and ended up pointing around wildly in all directions.

So I know what we’re doing on grouchy days in the future!

9 April 2014 | 01:47 PM

We Went to the Park…


And Instead of actually playing at the park whine we waited for our friends to arrive, we  followed the silver sound of engines and went up and watched trucks on Highway 522. I had to physically restrain my enthusiastic truck-loving child from dashing into the road to pat all the wheels. Several drivers saw us (how could they not, we were the only pedestrians for probably a mile around) and waved.

After our friends showed up, though, we had lots of fun.



(Note: he never actually went down this slide.)



Oh, and it’s spring! Who knew?

Things are blooming and budding, and we see sunshine occasionally! Hooray!

7 April 2014 | 06:46 AM

Chef Benji in the Kitchen



Here is chef Benji cooking on the cardboard stove at Nana’s house. I drew this with many references to the real one in the kitchen, so it has lots of details. I don’t know if you can tell, but in the top picture, he carefully “turned” the burner knob while making a ticking/whooshing noise quite recognizable to any user of a gas stove.

The chef likes to make (paper) fish fried in (imaginary) butter, (imaginary) tea, and car soup, all of which he serves on brightly-colored plastic plates. It looks like when I took these pictures, he also cooked some big plastic Easter egg omelette – yum.

He also likes to “pour” tea from the teapot into cups, and then… Oops! -”spill” the tea onto his head. I encourage this because  I figure better imaginary liquids than real ones. (So far this has worked. I keep wondering when he’ll decide to try this with real liquids.)

4 April 2014 | 10:11 AM

About Depression

Ian and I have been talking about depression lately, about what causes it and how to overcome it. We’re told these days that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and that with the right prescription of drugs (particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs) and therapy (CDC), it’s readily treatable. According to a National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) brief from 2011,

Antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005–2008 and the most frequently used by persons aged 18–44 years. From 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%.

So far, so good.

But at the same time, not so good. Because although doctors do prescribe lots of different SSRIs, the fact remains that 1 in 10 Americans reported struggling with depression 2006 – 2008.

In the last 25 years, the obesity rate has also continued to rise, so today 35% of Americans are obese, an expensive proposition: “The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.” Not only is being overweight or obese terrible for physical health, but a 2010 metastudy in JAMA stated

This meta-analysis confirms a reciprocal link between depression and obesity. Obesity was found to increase the risk of depression, most pronounced among Americans and for clinically diagnosed depression. In addition, depression was found to be predictive of developing obesity.

Several other scholarly articles (here, here) come to the same conclusion, that obesity and depression are linked in a two-way relationship where one can cause the other.

And, finally, the CDC also reports that “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic,” with a 2013 Gallup poll reporting that 40% of Americans get less sleep than recommended. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a 2011 poll that

…found that 43% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on weeknights. More than half (60%) say that they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night (i.e., snoring, waking in the night, waking up too early, or feeling un-refreshed when they get up in the morning.)

About two-thirds (63%) of Americans say their sleep needs are not being met during the week. Most say they need about seven and a half hours of sleep to feel their best, but report getting about six hours and 55 minutes of sleep on average weeknights. About 15% of adults between 19 and 64 and 7% of 13-18 year olds say they sleep less than six hours on weeknights. (Note: This poll also investigated links between technology use and sleep, a fascinating topic but not my current subject.)

The NSF also reports that “Sleep problems are also associated with more severe depressive illness… Evidence suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well.” However, this is complicated: depressive illness can cause sleep disturbance, but it seems sleep disturbance can also cause depression. (Among teenagers, not surprisingly, this 2013 study found that “sleep disturbances were highly related to depressive state and were associated with poorer treatment response in adolescents with depression.”)

In summary, in a period during which antidepressant prescription has increased by 400%, people have also simultaneously continued to both gain weight and lose sleep, both factors linked with depression in a reciprocal way. I suggest that, instead of prescribing drugs right off the bat, doctors work with their depressed patients to effect lifestyle changes to combat depression. Helping patients focus on getting 30 – 60 minutes of exercise daily and 8 hours of sleep per night could be as effective, cheaper, and long-term healthier than taking SSRIs for months or years. I’m not arguing against the use of antidepressants, which certainly have their place (although I’d feel better if we understood how they work), but if improving overall healthiness and restedness can solve a problem, wouldn’t that be better for patients in the long run?

By the way, this isn’t my brilliant idea; The Atlantic Monthly recently reported,

In 1999, a randomized controlled trial showed that depressed adults who took part in aerobic exercise improved as much as those treated with Zoloft. A 2006 meta-analysis of 11 studies bolstered those findings and recommended that physicians counsel their depressed patients to try it. A 2011 study took this conclusion even further: It looked at 127 depressed people who hadn’t experienced relief from SSRIs, a common type of antidepressant, and found that exercise led 30 percent of them into remission—a result that was as good as, or better than, drugs alone.

Seems like it might be worth trying.

2 April 2014 | 05:43 PM

Owwies and Band-Aids

Today I sliced three of my fingers while attempting to open a container of sour cream (this may or may not have been a sign to refrain from eating it). I only noticed a bit later when a painful tugging made me check my fingertips, where I was surprised to see blood.


I left the cuts alone, since slices often heal back together easily. This strategy worked fine until Benji came home. Then my scabs spit open from playing (tough life, I know). I got myself a couple band-aids and, while applying them, explained to my rapt audience that when we get owwies, we sometimes put band-aids on them.

Benji immediately pulled up one of his pant legs and pointed to a bruise on his knee, a legacy of his very fun day at Nana’s. Clear as day, he was telling us that HE had an owwie, and HE wanted a band-aid, too! Fortunately we have some Cars-themed kid band-aids, so we ceremoniously applied one to his injury.


Thus it begins.