October 2009


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For Halloween this year Everett had two choices of costumes: duck or elephant. The duck costume was not a popular choice,

so we went with the elephant.

During preparations for trick-or-treating Everett had his first chocolate bar, and he enjoyed it so much that for the rest of the night he would hand every piece of candy he received to us and say “open?”. He has now learned to identify candy from seemingly impossible lines of sight, such as an opaque bowl of it on the kitchen counter.

In the month of October we explored more local activities, this time curling and Rummage-a-Rama. The former is something we have known of for a long time, mainly from the Olympics, but it always seemed like some exotic and distant activity, like herding reindeer. It was also something we have heard a fair number of jokes about. When we found that the Wauwatosa Curling Club is just a short walk from our house we decided to visit them for their annual open house. Based on proximity we assumed that curling was something that everyone here did, but as it turns out we don’t know anyone who curls, and from asking around it is clear that we don’t know anyone who knows anyone who curls. Nonetheless there was quite a turnout for the open house and the accompanying open bar (if you have been reading this blog for any amount of time it should not surprise you that the curling club has their own bar). Shown in these photos are Klaus and Sanket, two of the best curlers in my lab.

Rummage-a-Rama is a periodic event held at the Wisconsin Products Pavilion at the state fair park, which is somewhat ironic because most things being sold inside seemed to be made in China. Our friend Marcy gave us a glowing review of it, but as it turns out we don’t need any more rummage.

With regard to curling and the rummage thing: I’m glad we went, and I feel like I got both of these things out of my system. One thing that became evident during both of these events is that Everett’s activity level now precludes us from carrying him around like some kind of travel accessory. A couple years ago during a family match of Dance Dance Revolution, Cress commented that Chris displayed a great economy of motion. As far as we can tell this is not something that Everett inherited. During the last few weeks we have watched an explosion in the speed and range of his mobility. He seems to move with little regard for metabolic efficiency. Quite the contrary, he engages in a lot of high energy, high entropy activities, which is fine as long as we don’t have to chase him around in areas that are not babyproof. It might be possible to create a device that could capture this energy and sell it back to the power company, but I’ll leave this for a future blog entry.

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Today the family is attending the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago. It is Everett’s first scientific conference, though he is not presenting. It is also the first time in a few months that we have shared a hotel room with him. At bedtime we went through his normal ritual and put him in the crib but he cried intensely and I couldn’t bear it so we turned the lights out and laid him on the bed between us, hoping that he would fall asleep and we could return him to his crib. For a few minutes he was quiet and it seemed like it might work. Then I felt a hand on my face, followed by a finger up my nose. Then a voice. “Dada? Hi Dada…birdie? Birdie? Birdie? Birdie? Birdie? Cow…moooooooooooooo! Owl…hoo hoo! Hoo hoo!” I successfully suppressed laughter for a while, but those of you who have tried this know that doing so will only delay the inevitable, and once I started it turned into bed shaking laughs. Then Melissa started laughing because I was, and then Everett sat up and we collectively agreed that this was not going to work. He went back to his crib and we all eventually went to sleep.

During the trip we visited Mari and Eric and Eli in Chicago:

Also during this trip we noticed that Everett started putting his fingers in one or both of his ears while we were talking to him. This could have been an attempt to tune us out, but it turns out that he also does this while he is alone and making his own sounds, so a more likely explanation is that this was his first experiment, during which he was exploring how sound is modulated by opening or closing the ear canal. We might have to wait a while for him to develop the vocabulary to report his conclusions, but one thing that we concluded is that the perennial question “where did I come from” leads to some pretty unsatisfying answers with regard to who children become and the steps they take along the way. Fingers in the ears is just one of many curious things we have watched as he develops. His brain is now a teeming mass of neuroplasticity, a condition we strive to recreate in adults who experience disease or injury, in the hope of duplicating this period of joyful creativity and exuberant exploration but with fewer temper tantrums.

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Fall colors are starting to appear, and this is a sign of many changes: football, preparations for winter and as always Everett’s new interests and preferences.

I hesitate to write too much about football here.  On one hand it is a huge part of living in the Midwest, Wisconsin in particular. On the other hand, it is unlikely that I will provide any new information to those who already follow it, and those who don’t follow it don’t really care about the details.  So I will keep this brief: the big news this week is that Green Bay played the Vikings (or Viqueens as they are known here), and after a career playing for the former, Brett Favre is now playing for their arch nemesis the latter.  One mystery about Wisconsin is why his name is pronounced “Farv” instead of the correct pronunciation “Favré”, but you aren’t going to make any friends here asking questions like that.  Nor will you make friends by saying that it’s too bad Milwaukee doesn’t have a football team, a minor faux pas that Melissa made during one of our interview visits to MCW.  Anyway, we were in Madison a couple weeks ago and saw this t-shirt:


Pretty darn funny.  Other fans were not so kind (the word “Judas” was used quite often).  However, during an informal survey of Green Bay fans in my office, Jan responded “I’m a Green Bay fan but I just love him.  I want him to win for whoever he is playing for”.  Such is Brett’s (or Brent’s) legendary status here.


The animals in our neighborhood are continuing their winter preparations.  Our neighbor Shirley has a raccoon who has lived in her chimney for some time, and no one seems to be able to get rid of him, so we have accepted him as a member of the community.  Our chimney lacks a damper (it probably rusted out years ago) and as winter approaches we are a bit concerned about animals moving in.  The other day Everett was sitting in the living room and started screaming “bird!” over and over.  It turns out that a bird had flown (or fallen) into the chimney and appeared behind the glass doors in our fireplace.  Melissa called me at work to ask my advice, which was to open the doors and windows to the house, then open the fireplace doors and the bird will fly out.  We have two cats who never seem the least bit interested in anything and whose only instinct seems to be sleep, so it did not occur to either of us that they might present a problem.  Everyone was shocked when the bird flew out of the fireplace and Athena immediately pounced on her.  Feathers started flying but the bird somehow got loose and hid under the couch.  Fortunately, after we removed the cats and the couch the bird flew off.


On a related subject, one thing that seems to change every few weeks is Everett’s favorite animal.  For a while it was ducks, then squirrels and chipmunks, and lately he has taken quite an interest in the rabbits that live behind our house.  Strangely, he sees peacocks much more often than rabbits because: 1) the rabbits are somewhat elusive and 2) there are many peacocks who run free at the zoo.

pastedGraphic_1.pdfNonetheless, during many mornings he asks about the rabbits as soon as you enter his room.  And since the bird incident he checks the fireplace quite often and says “birdie?”.  Another thing that changes pretty rapidly is his behavior.  In the last couple days we have watched him begin to pretend play, for example pretending to eat something while saying “num num num”.  He has also started to acknowledge when he is cold and will hand one of us another layer to help him put on.  Lastly, he has begun to formulate multi-step plans to get what he wants.  For example, he will ask me to pick him up and then proceed to grab the phone from my shirt pocket or point at the cookie jar on the counter and ask for one (and another, and another…).


We are finely tuned to short term changes in Everett’s behavior and have begun to speculate about what to expect over the next year.  Will he be a Green Bay fan?  Will he develop a Wisconsin accent?  Will he like cheese curds enough to become nostalgic for them the way that Melissa is for Goetta?  In addition, after thinking about people we have known from childhood through adulthood, we realized that some traits that appeared early on stayed with them the rest of their lives.  And like many parents we watch his behavior and project forward 20 or 30 years.  He seems to like tools; will he be an engineer?  He has quite an arm for chucking food across the dining room; might he be a quarterback?  He loves animals; will he be a veterinarian?  Time will tell which traits will change and which will stay with him.

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Heat Transfer

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Before getting married Chris once told Melissa in a loving, non-judgmental way that she didn’t understand the basic principles of heat transfer. It’s one of those statements that stays around for a long time, possibly forever. Since then heat transfer is a subject that comes up surprisingly often in our house. Despite the exposure, it seems unlikely that Everett understands this subject yet, and even though he tells us when things are hot and cold, we don’t know if he can describe when he himself is too hot or too cold. On a related subject, it is well known among our friends and family that Melissa and I run a bit warm and prefer cooler temperatures. So far Wisconsin has suited us well in this regard. It is also well known that parents will often project their preferences onto their children, at least until that doesn’t work any more. But in this case we don’t think we are projecting: Everett seems to radiate heat and so far doesn’t seem to mind the cold. However, other people seem to mind that we don’t mind. For example, Melissa was at a garage sale last week when a grandmotherly woman wearing sequins decided that Everett was “freezing” and was “going to get a pneumonia”. So she bought him a jacket, put it on him and zipped him up while Melissa was momentarily looking at the toddler clothes. We are not making this up.

Until last month Everett refused to wear anything on his feet without screaming. Fortunately he relented on this point in time to trudge through a muddy pumpkin patch during a cold, gray fall day in Wisconsin. That’s what we were doing this morning during our visit to Jim’s Pumpkin Farm in Germantown where Everett took his first hayride and helped us pick out a pumpkin.

A year ago at this time we were just returning from Switzerland, during which we observed that the locals around Geneva, and perhaps in the surrounding Franco-Swiss region, seemed to overdress their babies. The day we arrived was at the beginning of September and it was a beautiful, warm sunny day, about 75 F. We were in shorts and short sleeves and E was in a summer onesie in his bassinet:

By comparison, every other infant we saw was in polar fleece, blankets and hats. Many had the winter boot attached to their bassinets. We were a little incredulous and asked ourselves “what do these babies wear in the winter?” We have yet to find a good explanation for this behavior – perhaps it is a cultural difference? Please let us know if you have any insights.

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