2019-01-27

Parenting Recommendations 3: Parenting Books

My final post on parenting for the moment: here's a list of postpartum parenting books I've read so far, again sorted by my rating, descending.

The Science of Mom (another evidence-based book for the first year postpartum) is the only top ranked of these for which I have notes:

  • Good review of scientific method, publication
  • Delayed cord clamping 2 min
    • More blood, iron 88% higher iron at 6 months of age and low iron leads to lower test scores this is especially important for breastfed babies because breast milk does not contain much iron
  • Vitamin k shot
    • Get it
    • Initial link to cancer disproven by subsequent research
  • Eye profilaxis
    • Consider delaying until after initial bonding up to one hour
    • babies don't see as well with it so it may inhibit initial bonding
    • could affect microbiome
  • Breastfeeding
    • Benefits primarily during infancy (eg immunoprotecton)
    • possible long term benefits on cognitive development
    • introduce solids 4-6 months (but let baby lead), continuing breastfeeding
    • start with low allergenic foods and gradually introduce foods with greater allergenic potential one at a time
    • avoid cow's milk until one year bc it can lead to iron deficiency
    • Meat good for heme iron but limit liver to a few servings per week to avoid too much vitamin A
    • Egg yolks good for iron and DHA
  • Sleeping
    • Safest place is in the same room but in separate bassinet
    • Expose to natural light during day (even when napping) for first three months to establish circadian rythyms
    • prepare baby for sleep before they become overly tired
    • institute pre-sleep routines
    • self soothing babies are put to bed while awake, not soothed to sleep because falling asleep is a learned skill
    • wait a couple minutes to respond at night; confirm that crying is distress, not baby noises
    • babies use sleep aids; make sure you aren't it
    • use a sleep aid when you're all together to lay the foundation for making the transition to more independent sleep easier
  • Feeding Solids
    • Whole grains have more phytates, which could reduce iron absorption, than refined grains. Soaking grains reduces their phytates.
    • Fruit instead of juice. If juice, dilute it with water and serve in a cup, not a bottle.

Parenting Recommendations 2: Prenatal Books

Each time we became pregnant, I was both elated and scared as it reminded me that I don't know anything about babies! My way of dealing with that anxiety was to read everything I could get my hands on. And since we were cumulatively pregnant much longer than nine months, I managed to read a lot! Some of the books were great, most were OK, and some were downright terrible.

Here are the prenatal books I read sorted by [my] rating, descending. And for the top books, here are my notes, because you may have other things to do than reading all the time! Caveat: these notes are not necessarily complete or good; they reflect what I took out of each book at the time.

Expecting Better (evidence-based analysis of "conventional" prenatal "wisdom"):

  • obese women (before pregnancy) have more pregnancy complications
  • up to 2-3 drinks / week first Tri
  • up to 7 drinks / week rest of term
  • avoid raw milk / raw milk cheeses / queso fresco
  • avoid undercooked meat and deli turkey
  • raw egg fine
  • seek high omega-3 / low mercury fish, e.g. salmon, sardines
  •  6 vomits average per pregnancy
  •  vitamin b6, ginger for nausea
  •  CVS and amniocentesis both safe, but CVS better/earlier
  •  Avoid raising body temperature to 101+ during first trimester
  •  Hair dye is probably fine
  •  Avoid gardening or at least wash hands thoroughly
  •  Gain 25-35 lbs during pregnancy but err on the high side
  •  Regular exercise good but don't go above 90% HR
  •  Kegels good and reduce labor time
  •  Yoga probably good
  •  Sleeping on back probably fine unless you feel faint
  •  Medication - check safefetus.com and stick to A and B class drugs
  •  Bed rest not effective for reducing pre term labor
  •  Cervical effacement in addition to dilation a good indicator of labor readiness
  •  Intermittent fetal monitoring better than continuous during labor
  •  For labor augmentation, break water first then try drugs
  •  Just say no to episiotomy - cutting the vagina
  •  Vitamin k shot after birth is OK
  •  Having a doula is good
  •  Epidural has pros and cons
  •  Drink fluids during labor (including calories like Gatorade)
  •  Induction problematic so make sure fluid levels are measured deepest pocket, while well hydrated, and consider a second test
  •  Clapping effective sugar ineffective for non stress test
  •  Nipple stimulation and membrane sweeping work for inducing labor
  •  Vaginal birth preferred


The Informed Parent (same, evidence-based approach but extending beyond prenatal to the first few years of childhood):

  • No evidence for benefit of eating placenta
  • Pediatricians: personal experience, beliefs, staying current on literature
    • use online questionnaire (including this book's website) to interview pediatricians
    • AAP (American Academy of Pediatricians)
  • Induction: reduces risk of cesarean birth in late-term pregnancies
  • Augmentation: combination of mechanical (e.g. forceps) and chemical
  • (e.g. oxytocin) may help modestly speed along slow labor but either individually not effective
  • Episiotomy not beneficial, often worse
  • Pain
    • Epidural works; combined spinal epidural (w/ local anesthetic) works faster
    • Epidural associated with more cesarean and intstrumented (e.g. forceps) births
    • Nitrous associated with dizziness, nausea/vomiting
    • Sedatives work but not as well as opioids
    • Immersion in water and relaxation/massage techniques may work
    • Acupuncture associated with fewer interventions and cesarean births
    • Water injection, aromatherapy, biofeedback - insufficient evidence that they work
  • Cesarean
    • slightly higher risk for mom
    • First stage labor: 0.5-0.7 cm dilation / hour (for first time moms - 0.5-1.3 cm/hour for experienced moms)
    • Second stage labor: outcomes good for 3 hours pushing (first time moms - 2 hours experienced moms); labor augmentation like forceps or vacuum => < 3% need cesarean
    • Fetal heart rate: stimulation of fetal scalp, mom position change, amnioinfusion (saline into uterus) may address HR irregularities
    • Induction does not increase risk of cesarean delivery
    • Breech Position: external cephalic version => only 21% need cesarean
    • Big Baby: < 11 lbs (or 9 lbs 14 oz w/ gestational diabetes) => evidence does not support automatic cesarean
  • Circumcision
    • Very few risks, most of which go away in modern medical procedures
    • Benefits reduce risk of penile cancer, reduce rate of STI contraction, reduce rate of UTI
  • Disposable diapers about even with cloth diapers for cradle-to-grave environmental impact - compostable disposables have an edge
  • Breastfeeding
    • Wide variety of better outcomes for children (dose-dependent: the more, the better)
    • Especially when fed at the breast (rather than pumped bottle) as breastmilk composition adapts to baby's nutritional needs
    • Exclusively breastfed babies need Vitamin K (shot) and sometimes iron and Vitamin D (supplement)
    • Premature/underweight babies benefit so much from breast feeding that donated milk is prescribed over formula
    • Up to 24 months of breastfeeding => benefits for the mom; after 24 months is understudied
    • Not all women can breastfeed (primary lactation failure - unable to produce milk at all - vs secondary - something interferes with breastfeeding early on)
    • Baby should breastfeed 8-12 times per 24 hours and should suck at least 10 min on each breast, feeling sleepy afterward
    • Baby should have 6 wet diapers / day and 4 yellow, seedy, cottage cheese-like stools / day
    • 44% of mothers don't get milk w/i 72 hours of birth
    • Nipple pain common in first week but may indicate a problem after that
      • Vasospasm: nipple turns white then blue as blood returns
      • Thrush: yeast infection causing red, sore nipples
      • Clogged ducts: tender lump
      • Mastitis: infection causing red, hot breasts with pea-sized lump
      • Expressed milk helps relieve nipple pain
    • Tongue tie in 3-11% of babies (mostly male) easily addressed with frenotomy (~100% success)
    • D-MER is a condition that causes negative feelings for mom during let-down but passes quickly
    • Low milk supply:
      • Relaxation can help a little
      • Metaclopramide increases prolactin levels for 1.5 oz more breastmilk per feeding but should only be used for 3 weeks
      • Fenugreek (~600mg) helped in a small, poorly documented study
      • Milk thistle helped in a very small study
      • Shatavari helped in a small study
      • Torbangun helped in a small study
    • Moderate caffeine and alcohol probably fine while breast feeding (no need to pump and dump) but we don't know much about marijuana
    • LACTMED is a database of mom medications and their effects on breastfed babies
    • Feed when baby is hungry; little/no evidence of benefits of feeding according to a schedule
  • Feeding
    • Teething usually 4-7 months
    • No evidence that adding complementary foods at 4 months vs 6 months is beneficial (except slightly higher iron levels)
    • One study shows better growth with meat as a complementary food vs cereal
    • Preschoolers told to clean their plates ask for more food even when away from home
    • Children for whom food is offered as a reward are more overweight
    • Screen time associated with weight in children most likely due to mindless eating and advertising of unhealthy foods
    • Inadequate sleep associated with childhood obesity
    • Children who regularly drink sugary drinks are heavier and more likely obese
    • Family meals reduce risk of obesity
    • Portion size and plate size can reduce overeating
    • CAN framework: make healthy food Convenient, Attractive, and Normal
    • Vitamin D deficiency possible if exclusively breastfed - especially if Mom has it
    • Cow's milk promotes vitamin D but inhibits iron; two cups a day seems to be a good balance
    • To address child's resistance to new foods, eat variety of foods while pregnant and repeatedly expose child to new foods without comment, pressure, or urging. Also exclusive breastfeeding to six months helps.
    • Allergies: small risk reduction when introducing potatoes before 4 months, oats before 5 months, meat and wheat before 6 months, rye before 7 months, fish before 8 months, and eggs before 11 months
  • Tdap and flu vaccines recommended for Mom
  • Cdc vaccine schedule recommended for baby
  • Private cord blood banking not likely to be helpful
  • Normal birth weight 5.5-8.8 lbs
  • Get the vitamin k shot
  • Erythromycin not helpful if mother is sti-free
  • Delay cord clamping 2-5 minutes to get lots of iron-rich blood to babies since breast feeding won't get them much iron
  • Mother-baby skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth associated with better breastfeeding outcomes, better mother-baby interactions 1 year later, improved blood sugar levels, decreased crying
  • Either parent may not feel immediately bonded with baby - but fake it till you make it
  • Crying
    • Pain: rapidly escalating to maximum intensity with eyes squeezed shut (repeated like a siren at the highest level)
    • Fear: rapidly escalating to maximum intensity with eyes open
    • Anger: gradually escalating with eyes half closed
  • Soothing:
    • Swaddle
    • Side/stomach
    • Sway
    • Shush (including mom singing)
    • Suck
    • Skin-to-skin (including breastfeeding)
  • Pacifier benefits: pain relief, comfort, slightly lower risk of SIDS
  • Pacifier risks: increased ear infection rate, increased risk of teeth misalignment after 18 months. No evidence pacifiers cause diads to stop breastfeeding sooner or nipple confusion.
  • Sleeping:
    • Mothers who spend awake time in front of screens (computer, TV, etc - phone?) are awake longer than those who don't
    • Infants sleep average 13 hours / day, wake up 3 times / night, tend to transition to more predictable sleep patterns ~3 months
    • Research on bed sharing safety not great - not nearly as categorically unsafe as opponents claim (most studies don't control for other risk factors, e.g. smoking, many blur the lines of what is considered "bed sharing," e.g. including infant deaths on couches, many don't consider whether parents routinely bed share and employ best practices)
    • Increasing bed sharing risk: sofas, smoking, alcohol (or other depressant), multiple kids in bed, excessively tired parents, infant on pillow or blanket, premature infant, bed sharing with anyone other than parent, exclusive formula feeding
    • Reducing bed sharing risk: firm mattress, infant on back without blankets / pillow / mother's clothing, no strangulation hazards nearby, infant can't fall out of bed or get trapped, no smoke / alcohol / drugs, mom is not a heavy or restless sleeper, only mom shares the sleeping surface, infant isn't at risk of overheating
    • Sleep training is effective in ~80% of infants (4 months +) and no adverse long term effects have been found
    • Bed time routines helpful for sleep
    • Mother's emotional availability and responsiveness before bedtime helpful for sleep. Hypothesis: infant's feeling of security at bedtime persists through waking times so infant is more able to self soothe.
  • BPA has a high correlation (and likely causation) with negative biomarkers
  • No cough meds for children under 4 (unless doctor says so); honey (for children over 1) helps symptoms
  • Children's acetaminophen and ibuprofen OK
  • Avoid homeopathic and essential oils
  • Melatonin can help autistic or ADHD children fall asleep with few side effects
  • Keep guns out of the house; at worst, keep them unloaded and locked up. 1 in 3 parents of baby's friends will have guns so ensure they do the same.
  • Children don't learn anything from things on screens until ~24 months old
  • TV negative for children not just directly but also indirectly through less parental interaction
  • Advertising on TV often leads to more childhood obesity
  • TVs in child's bedrooms associated with poorer sleep and greater obesity
  • Media violence is associated with more aggressive children
  • Developmental Milestones
    • 6 months
      • Turns head when hearing name called
      • Briefly sits without support
      • Smiles
      • Plays peek-a-boo
    • 1 year
      • Waves bye-bye
      • Pulls to standing
      • Might say "dada" or "mama"
    • 18 months
      • Follows pointing and also points
      • Uses several words
      • Walks
    • 2 years
      • Uses short phrases
      • Can point to named objects
      • Follows one-step instructions
    • 3 years
      • Uses sentences of 4-5 words
      • Climbs
      • Engages in pretend play
      • Copies parents and peers
  • Reading
    • Infant reading programs don't work
    • Talk to child as early and as much as possible
    • Keep books around and expose early/often
    • Read stories to child; ask open ended questions about the story/characters
  • Discipline
    • Children unable to reason before ~3yo => negative reinforcement ineffective
    • Give attention for positive behavior, praise more effective for already compliant children
    • Withdraw attention for negative behavior
    • Maintain consistent routines
    • Consistent, immediate responses to behavior
    • Model the desired behavior (and not the undesired behavior!)
    • Clear, calm verbalization in age-appropriate language of what child did wrong and what he should have done
    • Help child make choices and understand consequences
    • The stronger the attachment to the parent, the more effective discipline is
    • Effective negative reinforcement:
      • Nonverbal (looks)
      • Verbal (calm and firm, not harsh, which is counterproductive)
      • time out or removing privileges to reinforce the reprimands
        • time out only works if "time in" is something child wants to be part of
        • time out is a removal of privileges, not a punishment (must be done calmly, no shaming)
        • 1 minute too short, 4 minutes effective for children age 3-6
        • some studies suggest a sliding time scale is more effective: time out ends after some time of good behavior; the clock resets with each outburst
    • Corporal punishment associated with 12 negative outcomes and dose-dependent
    • No evidence for long-term positive effects from corporal punishment
  • Toilet training
    • don't rush, shame, or pressure
    • 40-60% of children complete toilet training by age 3
    • Girls usually master it (22 months) younger than boys (25 months)
    • If child masters urination in the toilet but not BM, consider stool softening approaches
  • Childcare
    • Any effects of childcare are modest
    • Family factors (home environment, socioeconomic status, etc.) have 2-3x more effect than childcare
    • Quality of childcare matters a lot
    • Childcare associated with very mild behavioral problems that fade away by 3rd-5th grade
    • Childcare associated with stronger social skills, more self confidence, challenge management, self entertainment, more outgoing, less stress
    • Higher quality childcare with better trained caregivers associated with better performance on standardized tests
    • Daycare centers associated with independence, social skills, and higher test scores from age 2 through 3rd grade
    • Regardless of childcare, least problematic children come from homes with sensitive fathers who encourage independence, mothers who let children decide their own activities, and parents who have a loving / emotionally intimate relationship with each other
    • Families of daycare children lose an additional 13 days of sick leave (over the first 6 months?)
    • These GI, upper respiratory, and ear infections are going to happen whenever the child first begins regularly interacting with other peers.
    • Preschool offers academic benefits to lower class families, not much for upper-middle class families
    • The home learning environment (being read to, exposure to computers, etc.) has a much greater impact on academic success


What's Going On In There (detailed look at prenatal and postpartum neural development)

  • Get purposeful prenatal winter daylight exposure for babies born april-june, who have a higher chance (18% vs 12%) of being very shy
  • First hour skin to skin contact does not seem to have extraordinary bonding benefits
  • Increasing variety of touch stimulation is likely to enhance brain development
  • Loving touch, stimulation, and massage have shown to improve health of infants
  • Bouncing, rocking, carrying stimulates the vestibular system
  • Breast feeding babies smarter than bottle feeding even adjusting for socioeconomic factors
  • Taurine in human breast milk (also in formula) probably helpful for brain and retina nerve development
  • Human breastmilk provides not just the essential fatty acids but also the enzymes with which to break them down
  • Breastfeeding babies prefer (suck longer) variety in tastes that come through breast milk
  • Alcohol still present in breast milk 3 hours after ingestion
  • Brain growth spurt through two years of age => especially important to have adequate fat in diet
  • Visual acuity develops rapidly - from 20/600 vision at birth to 20/20 later. Initially babies can only detect high contrast (e.g. black on white) and only "where" vs "what" but these both change rapidly. The most crucial period of development is 6-12 months so, if there are any visual abnormalities (e.g. crossed eyes or cataracts), get them fixed within the first six months.
  • First two months peripheral vision more developed than direct
  • Binocularity onset happens rapidly between 2 and 5 months as the cortex takes over image processing
  • While vision develops late and matures quickly, hearing matures early and matures gradually.
  • Sounds above 85 dB can damage newborn hearing
  • Newborns don't recognize daddy's voice until a few weeks
  • Up to one year of age, best for baby to hear one thing at a time, not lots of noise
  • Motherese good after high pitch response develops around 3 months
  • Lots of tummy time recommended to develop upper body strength, coordination
  • Walkers don't help walking
  • Holding baby upright to practice walking helps
  • Gentle challenging helps
  • Parenting style matters more than whether a child goes to daycare:
    • Less sensitive mothers trend to have less securely attached infants
    • Attached babies have lower stress response to unfamiliar stimuli
    • Temperament is lower limbic system and is genetically determined while personality is upper limbic system and is experientially determined
    • Parents must strike a balance between smothering attentiveness and fostering independence; children of always-attentive parents are less securely attached than those of parents who intermittently give them space to explore, fall down, etc.
  • Babies distinguish speech (left brain) better with right ear and music (right brain) with left ear
  • Toddler vocabulary usually explodes once they have 50 words
  • Language development contributors
    • Parents who talk to them more
    • More positive feedback (in all areas, not just about language development); corrections not helpful
    • Socioeconomic status of parents (Poor: 600 words a day directed toward baby, working class: 1200 words a day, professional class: 2100 words a day)
    • *Repetition (eg same nursery rhyme) to reinforce neutral pathways
    • Repetition with substitution and expansion
    • books
  • IQ physiology
    • Head circumference correlated 0.14 with iq (born more than 14" average 7 pts higher than born less than 12.75")
    • ‎brain volume correlated 0.35
    • stimulus response time correlated 0.5
  • Prefrontal lobes control wisdom and executive function, not iq
  • High quality Daycare centers generally show better cognitive development than home care
    • Student teacher ratio < 1:5 2yo, 1:7 3yo, 1:10 4yo
    • Not the time for academic focus
  • Iron helpful in second 6 months
  • Breast feeding for a full year
  • Rotate toys in and out weekly to combat habituation
  • Exposure to other people and places associated with higher IQ
  • But guard against overstimulation

Parenting Recommendations 1

Recently several of our friends have become pregnant for the first time, which has motivated us to send them lots of unsolicited advice. While our suggestions may be worth exactly what they're paying for them, I'm posting them here in case others might find them helpful. In no particular order, here are our first few:

1. We have really enjoyed the Longest Shortest Time podcast. Each episode is someone's story about prenatal, post partum, or parenting wonkiness. Some of the stories are sad, some are joyful, some are traumatic, some are inspiring. Some resonate with our own experiences, some don't. We found them all to help normalize the entire process of becoming parents for us - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

2. I won't claim that men are even on the same playing field as women when it comes to body changes during pregnancy but male partners DO also experience some physiological changes, including increased estrogen production. I found myself putting on weight and decreasing performance in athletic competitions around this time last year. This phenomenon, possibly combined with the psychological impact of less sunlight, led me to feel a little down until I recognized that it could have physiological roots. Something for men to keep that in mind in case they experience something similar.

3. If you are planning to try breastfeeding, go ahead and - long before you are due - schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant for a few days after your delivery date. You can always reschedule if you deliver late (Or early!) or if your baby is already breastfeeding like a champ. However, if breastfeeding isn't coming along as well as you might hope, you will already have the appointment scheduled. Most hospitals include some lactation support in the maternity ward but our lactation consultant at The Women's Birth & Wellness Center was orders of magnitude more helpful. Because she dedicated 90 minutes just to us, she was able to observe a full feed of our baby nursing, try a few different approaches with us, and measure the impact of each. Highly recommended.

4. Classes: NC Women's, where we delivered, offers many of them and we took them all. Here's a brief roundup of some that we took - and, if you aren't in Chapel Hill, there may be similar classes near you.

Childcare Options - this is really about the NC rating system for childcare centers. I was hoping for a bigger picture evaluation of pros/cons of different types of childcare - e.g. in home vs. childcare centers - but it was definitely helpful in navigating the rating system for centers.

Bootcamp for New Dads - As someone who knows nothing about babies, I was hoping for a more hands-on-practice class (This is how you hold a baby, this is how you change a baby, etc.) but this class was a little higher-level. What is the dad's role in pregnancy, delivery, postpartum, etc. Still very helpful, though. A cool feature was that they bring back dads from previous classes and their now 2-4-month-old babies for show/tell and a view from the front lines.

Accupressure for Labor - This was really cool! They demonstrated several different specific accupressure targets/techniques that ostensibly will help with labor. This was a very hands-on class so we got to try things out there on the spot and get help from the instructors. One of the attendees delivered a few hours later so it must have worked!

Sign Language for babies - also really cool! Because babies develop visual and motor skills before developing verbal skills, there is a significant window during which they can't communicate with you verbally but they can via sign language. The class covered the basic theory of baby sign language and then we practiced lots of relevant signs - milk, eat, diaper, change, etc.

4th Trimester - this was great! Each couple had a baby doll with which to practice diaper changing, swaddling, and putting in different types of wrappable carriers. It was a little "OMG watch out for this and don't do that" for my taste but overall was a really helpful three hours.

Infant CPR - this was good. They had mannequins to practice on so it was pretty hands-on. It was a bit longer than it needed to be and it was front-loaded with adult CPR so we were actually kind of rushed at the end for the infant CPR portion.

Breastfeeding - it also was longer than it needed to be as it spent a lot of time selling us on breastfeeding (We're already pretty sold -hence signing up for the class!). Once it got past the selling, though, it was great, providing lots of information on what a good latch should look/feel/sound like, showing videos of the inside of the infant's mouth during breastfeeding, and showing off all the different colors of infant poop as they progress from newborn to infant.

2018-12-10

Enchanted by Ireland 5

On Day 6 in Ireland we ventured into County Kerry, heading toward the coastal village of Dingle. However, as with many things in life, the journey is just as important as the destination! We stopped for gas at a normal-seeming gas station but it turned out to have an amazing bakery inside! So we continued our drive loaded down with donuts, muffins, and breakfast cakes!

En route to Dingle, we traversed Conor Pass, a high mountain pass from which you can see forever East and West. There was a gorgeous waterfall and amazing vistas in both directions. We parked the car and tried to hike up to the highest part for the best view. This was more difficult than anticipated because the sheep that graze these mountains leave poop all over the place and trying to avoid it made us hop around like Qbert! Still, despite that obstacle - and the blustery wind - it was well worth it for the panoramas.



We finally arrived at Dingle, a charming little harbor village. It was bounded on all sides by rolling green hills so it felt very much like the Shire! After walking a big loop around the village, we stopped for a pint at Murphy's Pub. This was the only time all trip I didn't have Guinness. Instead, I drank . . . Murphy's! Before departing, we also took the tour at Dingle Distillery for some "new school" Irish spirits.

En route to the place we would be spending the night, we had to stop for a herd of cattle crossing the road. Cattle in County Kerry? I guess they were the source of all that awesome, grass-fed Kerrygold butter we eat! They seemed very happy - and not at all in a hurry to move out of our way!

Around sunset we finally arrived at Carrauntoohil Eco Farm near Killarney. This was a really cool farm with goats, chickens, cats, and alpaca, offering several yurts and one "cabin" for overnight guests. Katie and I opted for the cabin but it turned out to be just about as rugged as the yurts - basically a small storage container with a bed and some electric outlets! It was fine for our purposes, though so no complaints.

Carrauntoohil was not merely a farm, though; it was an ecofarm, which meant that it recycled rainwater (of which we had a true deluge that night!), used dynamic, organic farming practices, and . . . used compost instead of toilets with plumbing. That's right, I was far away from my fancy, heated toilet seat with built-in bidet; instead I was just sitting on a hole in the ground with a polite reminder to sprinkle sawdust down the hole after I was done! Actually it wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the enormous spiders that occupied the outhouse . . .

For dinner that night we trekked into town to Kate Kearney's Cottage. It was a total tourist trap but was good all the same. After dinner there began live music and dancing but the real treat was hearing Danny Boy played on bagpipes. For a tourist trap, you could do much worse.

We settled in for the night back at the Eco Farm and woke up the following morning to mountains completely shrouded in fog. Whether looking out over vistas spanning miles and miles or ensconced in fog so thick you can barely see the Sun, this country is just so beautiful!

2018-12-07

Honoring Paul Farmer

Today we celebrated the life of a great man. Paul Farmer was a patriot, a public servant, a coach, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, where he was a multi-sport athlete, he spent his military career as an aviator in the US Marine Corps. During a training exercise in the 1970s, he was forced to eject from his aircraft. Despite his parachute failing to open, he managed to land on his feet, breaking his back but saving his life.

During his hospital recovery, he began courting one of the nurses, Kathy, who soon became Mrs. Farmer. They were married 46 years before Paul died, and during the last 26 of those years, they played a very significant role in my life. I learned a great deal from him about sports, food, wine, and life.



Paul was laid to rest this morning with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a very moving ceremony with scores of troops, a full Marine Corps band, and, of course, a 21-gun salute. The reception at the Navy Officers Club on base was a real joy. A plurality of Paul's Academy company-mates joined us, as did many of his colleagues, and the stories shared were truly worthy of the exceptional life we were celebrating.

Following is a transcript of the remarks I made at the reception:

I'm Bryan Guido Hassin, and I'm Paul Farmer's other son. Those of you with astute powers of observation may note that my last name is not Farmer and that I don't resemble Paul or Kathy or Nick or Jocelyn. Well spotted! No, I wasn't born into the Farmer family. I met Nick in 7th grade, joined his baseball team - coached by Paul, of course - and we began spending a lot of time together. Throughout middle and high school, Nick’s and my friendship grew into a true brotherhood, I played out the rest of my baseball career on teams coached by Paul, and I spent so much time at the Farmers’ house that they began calling me “Son II” while I called them “Mom and Dad II.”

So I’ve spent the vast majority of my life calling Paul Farmer “Dad II” but, when I first met him, I called him "Coach." To paraphrase a movie from around that time that Nick and I both loved, Coach is the name for God in the lips and hearts of young boys. Indeed, as most of us didn’t have a shot at playing professional baseball, our coach’s primary responsibility wasn’t to develop us into top prospects; it was to help us develop into young men.

Coach Farmer took to that responsibility like a fish to water - not by sitting us down and saying, "Here's how to be a man," but rather by example - and what an example he was: a world-traveled, meat-eating, wine connoisseur, fighter pilot, athlete - what a man!

But you never would have known most of that as he didn't wear much on his sleeve. Mr. Farmer conducted himself with a quiet, determined humility, which is what he taught us on the field: keep your head down, work hard, do your best, and you will achieve your goals.

This applied doubly so in the classroom as it did to the baseball field for Mr. Farmer was one of the smartest, most learned men I've ever known. I have fond memories of sitting around his table playing Trivial Pursuit. It wouldn’t have been much fun for him because he knew all the answers. Instead, he relegated himself to asking the questions and giving us clues that were so clever, they could only really be appreciated once the answer was known.

And yes, I include in my list of examples of Mr. Farmer’s intellectual prowess another of my favorite memories: the time he was summarily ejected from one of our baseball games he was coaching for arguing with the umpire. As soon as we returned home, we looked up the rules and, of course, Coach Farmer was right - he was always right. 

While that memory stands out to me because it may be the only time I ever witnessed Mr. Farmer, the consummate officer and gentleman, really get riled up, he wasn't arguing with the umpire because he wanted to win; he was doing so because had strong convictions about what is right. You don't do something to gain some reward or to avoid some penalty; you do it because it is right.

That strong sense of conviction and duty made Dad II one of the most gallant men I have ever known - a true modern day knight. When my Mom I was seriously ill in the hospital, Paul and Kathy visited her regularly and helped her get better. When my wife and I suffered a devastating pregnancy loss, Dad II was among the first to send us the sweetest, most heartfelt note of condolences.

On the surface he could be stoic and reserved, but underneath was a tender heart and a man who was incredibly thoughtful. They say with icebergs you only see the 10% that's above water but the 90% below is what’s really powerful. I find that describes Dad II very well - all the more so because his aviator call sign was Penguin!

You were one of a kind, Paul Farmer, the best of the best. The Force was strong with you in life and it is even stronger with you in death. You leave behind a legacy of a country that thanks you, friends and colleagues who respect you, and a family that loves you. You live on in all of us who remember you and through your lessons which we are now passing on to the next generation.

I'd like to send him off with a slightly adapted poem, the subject of which was near and dear to Paul's heart since practically the day he was born.

Oh somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright.
A band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
Somewhere men are laughing, somewhere children roam.
But there is no joy in Mudville, for Paul Farmer has gone home.

Semper Fi, Penguin.
Semper Fi, Coach Farmer.
Semper Fi, Dad II

2018-11-17

Fantastic Beasts 2 Review

Last night Katie and I went to our first movie in the theater since becoming parents - we're so wild! We didn't love the first Fantastic Beasts film so didn't have very expectations for this one - and that's about what we got. WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!



THE GOOD

  • There are some good visuals, which make seeing this in the theater rewarding.
  • There are some cute and funny creature moments.
  • Johnny Depp and Jude Law are fine in their roles as iconic Wizarding World characters. Neither is really exceptional but they don't really have much to work with either.
  • If tweets using #FantasticBeasts can be believed, the movie seems to be resonating with 17-year-old fangirls, so clearly some people are finding it to be a worthy entry in the franchise.
THE BAD
  • The characters are, for that most part, uninteresting. There are so many of them jam packed into the film that few of them get any development at all. 
  • As a substitute for character development there is a lot of bad, expository dialog. Tell don't show!
  • Even with all the beat-you-over-the-head explanatory dialog, the movie is messy, disjointed, and confusing. It feels like it was stitched together haphazardly instead of edited for a coherent narrative.
  • A number of things that happen in the film - from plot points to character motivations - just don't make any sense.
  • This is sometimes due to inconsistency in the "rules" of magic. The Harry Potter stories took great pains to maintain an internally consistent of the Wizarding World. In these new films it feels like magic is either omnipotent or impotent depending on what the plot calls for at the moment - and seldom in between. As a consequence there is no real tension during any of the pivotal scenes.
  • There are blatant conflicts with established Harry Potter canon.
  • As usual with David Yates, the direction is fine but just kind of paint-by-number.
  • For all of this, the film is, I hate to say, boring.

THE UGLY

  • Like The Hobbit, Fantastic Beasts 2 forces in so many unnecessary references to the previous Harry Potter installments as to detract from the film itself. I mean, really? Dumbledore teaches bogarts the exact same way Lupin (who had a different Defense Against the Dark Arts professor) would go on to teach them 70 years later? *Eye roll* These are more than subtle easter eggs; they're overt, cheap fan service.
  • The Fantastic Beasts series is supposed to expand the Wizarding World but every new character seems to be related to characters we already know. Between this and the preponderance of heavy handed references, it serves to shrink the wizarding world instead.
  • The collective effect is turning the Wizarding World into a soap opera. Who did what now? Oh no he di-idn't! So-and-so had a secret baby with whom? Oh my! Every Wizarding World piece Rowling has written since the Harry Potter novels has relied on these sorts of cheap twists - rather than epic fantasy, it's like we're watching the Jerry Springer show.
The Fantastic Beasts films feel like Rowling wanted to explore what the Wizarding World would be like outside of Britain. She did that a little more thoroughly - although not well - in the first Fantastic Beasts, set in New York. This installment is even more superficial; it is set in Paris but there isn't really any reason for it to be there other than some pretty cinematography. We don't really learn anything about the magic community in France nor do we really meet any French characters of consequence.

I would love to blame Yates but the fault here is really Rowling's. JKR has proven herself to be a fantastic author of British boarding school mystery novels disguised as fantasy but a very mediocre author of stage and film scripts of different genres about the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts. One of Rowling's motivations is noble. I think her very homogeneous Harry Potter novels don't, in hindsight, mesh with her politics and so she is aiming to "set things right" through prequels. That's a very dangerous game, though, and I can't think of many examples besides Tolkien who ever got that right - and it took him decades of careful work to do so.

All that said, I think you have to reserve ultimate judgement on a middle film until its series is complete. Many viewers were not sold on The Empire Strikes Back when it was released and only upon the final resolution of The Return of the Jedi did they see how well Empire set up a tidy conclusion. It is possible that Rowling has a compelling, coherent narrative about Ariana Dumbledore being an Obscurus, Grindelwald taking inspiration from his big fight with the Dumbledores which motivates him to use Credence as a weapon, etc. but it is hard for me to imagine a anything very satisfying at this point - and especially something that doesn't break all the canon from 70 years later. But we shall see!

At the end of the day this is a pretty, messy, boring film that tries to expand the Wizarding World but actually shrinks it. There are some fun moments and it is worth seeing once by any Potterhead but I probably won't see it again.

2018-11-08

Lovett College Turns 50

Our family traveled to Houston for Rice Homecoming last weekend. As always, it was an excellent opportunity to reconnect with our alma mater and see myriad dear friends in a pretty short time. Additionally, any trip to Houston affords us the opportunity to eat our fill of Texas BBQ and Tex Mex! The weather was gorgeous for our 48 hours in town and it was wonderful to return to our old stomping ground.


In addition to attending all the regular Homecoming festivities, this year we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of Lovett College. This included two days of celebration events - both informal and formal - and even a special wine tasting. As Lovett was our home away from home during our university years, this year's additional time spent there felt like a true homecoming.

We will probably have to wait 10 years for the next such celebration but frankly we wouldn't mind if we did it every year - EOL RRF!