October 2007

Pumpkin, Pumpkin! Who’s got the pumpkin?

We carved them on Saturday with my parents. Paul carved the awesome skull on the left, I painted the face on the right (it fell yesterday and got a little messy) and carved the heart. My Mom and Dad helped Will with the “light bright” pumpkin — Dad held the pegs while Will beat them into the pumpkin (along with PapPap’s fingers).
Will’s glowing face, above.

Paul’s awesome skull. We didn’t really have the right tools for this type of carving, but took out some of my craft knives instead. It took awhile. Paul was not interested in doing another pumpkin once this was done.
Initially, I was going to stick with painting the face and putting it on this pumpkin to make a pumpkin snow-man. Little known fact: I am very allergic to the innards of pumpkins and squash… if I dig out the insides with bare hands, they swell up and I break out in horrible hives that take weeks to fully heal. Really, it’s true! So I don’t dig out pumpkins. I did, however, want to try the scraping technique (I wanted to do a more involved pattern but we didn’t get a chance to do another pumpkin). The heart above was my playing around with the technique, which was fun! It’s tricky to get deep enough for the light to show through and not break through the shell. (Paul did a fantastic job!)


Comments (1)


Is that the door?


“Oh, my! You are the CUTEST Robin Hood I’ve ever seen!”
“No, I’m PETER PAN and Katey is TINKER BELL.”

She’s off to Neverland!
“First star on the right, then straight on ’til morning.”

Looking cute, but still needing haircuts. (Kate could have almost been Cousin It for Halloween.)

Pete laments the loss of a hat (a causality of his kissing Kate on the cheek) while Kate sees if she has enough time to destroy Dad’s pumpkin before he can reach her. (She didn’t.)
Happy Halloween!


Comments (0)


What IS it about Halloween?

Our first Halloween in New Orleans came with us full of delight — all three of us wore costumes and sat on the porch sweating (it was a hot, humid night) waiting for the hundreds of trick-or-treaters to descend upon us. A family friend had been surprised at our stocks of candy, “you won’t need them,” he said, “no one trick-or-treats on Halloween in New Orleans.” I thought he was kidding, or just mistaken. I knew there were a ton of kids in our neighborhood, so of course they’d be out.


We were shocked. Just a few kids came by. And even more, most of our neighbors, who on any given night have porch lights and holiday merriness shining through the night, turned off porch lights and tightly sealed their doors. We hesitated going to trick-or-treat, hanging out on porches with a few neighbors who, like us, were spending the night outside.

Except for the Halloween after Katrina, when we went to a Halloween event at Children’s Hospital and wondered whether any children were in town (there were very few, as schools and daycares were not yet open), we have always had candy ready to go. (I later regretted not doing it that year. There were a few kids we saw out on that Halloween and I felt badly not showing our support for them during such a tumultuous time.)

Halloween is (predictably) huge here. More events than one can imagine. Thrills and chills for all ages. Next year, there will even be a Halloween Krewe (Krewe of Boo), who started organizing this year for their 2008 debut. It puzzles me that with such a huge event happening all over the city, that something so strongly connected to the holiday (the trick-or-treat) is not done to a similar scale.

I was going to send a note around to our immediate neighbors, asking them for participation this year — requesting a common 30 minutes where we all could be outside, let our kids walk house to house with a parent, and re-affirm our relationships as neighbors. The fact that we live so close by each other means that we, house to house, share in a special protective force — we are each other’s best protection. The more we use these special kind of neighborhood holidays to be with each other, the stronger a force we can be. I wanted to try to say this and see if we could get some kind of group participation (maybe even convince one of our musical neighbors to play outside for a short while) for a short block-wide trick-or-treat…. but with Kate’s illness (more on this later) and our lack of sleep, and this incredibly work-busy week, it didn’t happen.

So, I ask, what IS it about Halloween in this city???

Is it so much of an “adult” holiday here that the kids celebrate it in school and on weekends and are left at home Halloween night with a babysitter? Is it so much of a party night that everyone is in private homes, partying the night away with no one answering the door? I could sort of see, if you live alone and are ill, or vulnerable in some way, being a little afraid of just opening your door to anyone all night long. But homes with families? I’m just unsure of what it means.

I have heard of at least one very tragic event several years ago on Halloween (a grandparent assaulted while trick-or-treating with his grandchild had words with a dangerous driver, who stopped the car and seriously beat the grandfather). This is enough to bring a little caution to the night. But are there other stories that I don’t know, things that are scary enough to keep people in their homes, locked up tight, until the morning? This IS the country’s most haunted place… so is that the living should just hunker down and let the spirits have the city for the night?

If someone out there has any insight, it would be appreciated. Right now, it seems that the creepiest part of Halloween around here is that homes are so closed toward the holiday.


Comments (5)


Schools, Take Three

On Saturday, Paul and I visited Ecole Bilingue for their Fall Open House. One of my department’s faculty (with whom I’m relatively close) has been involved with the school since it’s opening — her husband, a Board Member, gave us a guided tour of the entire main facility. Wow. It’s a really good school. We really, really, really thought it was fantastic.

We know that Will would do great there. I mean, he’d do fabulously great there. One of his teachers is a juggler Paul knows from Juggling Club (and a male teacher — we think that would be a great influence, too). All of the teachers are fantastic (they are all professional teachers from France who are hired abroad and come to NOLA to teach for a few years). The pre-K, K, and elementary education seems to be quite stellar. If money were no object, there would not be too much more to consider.

The toddler program I was a bit more iffy over. I think this is largely due to the fact that the school is based on the French educational model, where children start school at age 2. So there is sort of a feeling that they just aren’t equipped to handle the varying levels of baby to toddler needs. For example, toddlers have three rooms separated by age levels… but the first class (which begins at 18 months) don’t advance into the next class until they are potty trained. Will wasn’t potty trained until after he was 3 years old… does that mean he would have been in the room with 18 month olds? And what happens if a child regresses back into diapers? Or has a lot of repeated accidents? (Note: Will has had three accidents in the last week… it’s been a rough week.) Hmmm. It makes me wonder about whether or not it would be a good place for Kate? (The teachers seemed fantastic, however. And the parents were thrilled.)

The school is $6,900 a year (Kate, if we decided to keep them at the same school and put her in the toddlers program, would be $400 cheaper for two more years). That cost does not include after hours (school ends at 3:30) or summer programs. Tuition is paid upfront — with extras for tuition insurance (in case you have to unenroll your child mid-year) and more if you want to space out your payments monthly. Paul and I could not pay for it without continuing to work multiple jobs, as we’re currently doing to pay for daycare. Doable, yes… but paying for elementary education is still a major hurdle for me to accept. The school is definitely more diverse than others but does not have the kind of diversity seen in the public schools.

What I love about the school: it combines what I feel is most important about early education. Strong socialization, exposure to multiple languages (it is 100% complete French immersion — the kids are bilingual by 2nd grade), and nurturing environment. The fact that all of the teachers are French and many of the children are also from French families give the school a neat European flare. These are all really important to me. One of the reasons we like living in NOLA is that we have the options for immersion education into other languages. It’s the next best thing to living abroad, which is how we initially thought we would help give our kids the gift of language comprehension. (This has always been a core value for us.) But, in NOLA, you can get language exposure in other schools… just not necessarily as early as Ecole and not necessarily in as small and friendly an environment.

Just one more thing for us to consider. We will continue to look at schools in the next few months (application deadlines are coming soon!)


Comments (2)


Elmo in New Orleans

We found out that Elmo was in town over dinner with friends on Friday night, a few hours before my parents arrived to spend a weekend with us (read: see the kids). Based on that information, our weekend should be pretty obvious. We saw Elmo — LIVE.
Kate spent 95% of the pre-show, show, intermission, second act, and walk to the car in my Dad’s lap. She’s eating a hot dog above as he whistles in her ear. (Aunt Emily: I wanted to point out Kate’s tights just especially for you.)
Kate was pretty jazzed up. We heard the word “Elmo” a lot.
Eventually, the Little Red Menace came out. I was disappointed that the show has no actual real Sesame Street people. Gordon (who, like Oscar, we refer to as “Chrome Dome”) was in town for Boo at the Zoo and we thought maybe he was with the show — so that was a little of a bummer, die hard ‘Street people that we are.
But the show was still quite good (better than The Wiggles, according to my parents) and the kids LOVED it.
Yup. Granna and PapPap bought the kids an Elmo balloon to share… at least for a little while before it untied from Granna’s purse and flew to join a few others at the arena ceiling (which is much higher than it looks).

Here is everybody (the empty seat is mine.) We played musical chairs throughout so that we all could be near the kids. Will sat on my lap for major portions of the show.
In the end, Will told us he liked “Jenny” (the “person” in the show) and he liked Cookie Monster. He also said that we should make an Elmo pumpkin for Kate.


Comments (2)


What if that IS what it’s all about?

The downside of consignment shopping.
Sometimes I cannot resist the $4 splurge on Hokey Pokey Elmo. Will has got the moves down… Kate is just fascinated with figuring out how this moving Elmo works.


Comments (1)


The one where Holly complains about statistical packages and software in general

Big stresses are not what will finally, in the end, drive me to insanity. It will be the culmination of the little things that finally pushes me off the ravine upon whose edge I live so perilously close.

These little things, things that should be easy but somehow aren’t, are most commonly presented in my life in the form of Stupid Programing Issues made in the statistical packages with which I am sometimes called to use for my work. Most of these packages (STATA, SPSS, SAS) are incredible expensive and call for both the privilege of access to them and then climbing the learning curve required to know how to use them. (Understanding what those numbers actually mean is a serious problem within the sciences themselves… poorly trained social, behavioral, and medical scientists, lack of good theory and critical thinking in higher education programs… I could go on, but this rant is about software.)

There is one free package, made by the CDC. It is what statistical software should be in public health: free, amenable to operation in older systems, fairly easy to learn, have access to standard comparisons of health/nutritional indicators. It is commonly used in the field for the reasons listed above. But it is not particularly powerful in analysis. Although it is not hard to manipulate for basic information when you’re set up in it, getting to the point where your data is in the system and correct is difficult — the software is not user friendly. Paul keeps telling me that we should write a grant to fund him making a new package. Something that would offer more statistical power but be a bit more intuitive in its interface. This does not sound like a good idea. If we did this and people found out, I fear our doorstep would be darkened daily by strung-out graduate students seeking vengeance.

And right now, I’m beating my head against the wall because the damn thing won’t read my run files. Don’t get me started on how many times this thing has crashed. It is insisting on a click-by-click dummy entry of things and just making my life really suck. It would take all day to recode half of these variables without a run file. I am ranting only because I decided to chuck the version and download an updated package and need a vent while I wait. I could do these things in STATA so much faster, and have considered changing the data and studying it elsewhere and then loading it back to Epi Info, but I think I need the practice here. I’m trying to write a lab assignment and need to be able to test that these things work before unleashing Master’s students on it (they are already nervous and unsure about the whole “lab” thing).

What is really firing me up is that these are REALLY SIMPLE sort of things I’m struggling with. User error is always a factor, although the same command that works in one second is full of syntax errors in the next. Wa…? Unfortunately, the “HELP” aspects of the software are miserable.

Which brings me to a point: if I am having problems here, in my cushy home, with all the resources around me I need to figure out a solution, how can we rely on this in the field? Shouldn’t a profession like public health, with such important implications in surveillance and data survey, have truly excellent caliber software — free for use — and widely available? And if Epi Info is our current solution to this issue, then for heaven’s sake… why isn’t it available for Mac OS (in the least) or Ubuntu?

Anyone out there a big data geek who knows Epi Info and is ready for some questions???


Comments (3)


Schools, take two.

Some reflections on a recent conversation with a Very Trusted Professor, Mother, and Parent (with experience in private, charter, and public schools in NOLA):

“If I could afford it, I’d put all of my children in private school. It’s not the academics (although I do think they are just a little better in private, they are really comparable with the best public charters) — it is the personal attention. In public schools, your child is a number. If there is a problem, you hear about it on the report card. Not before. There is no specialized attention, nurturing, or shaping the learning towards your child’s needs and interests.”

This really made Paul and I stop and think. Because even though we went to some of the country’s very best public schools, we agreed that we were numbers within them. Private schools offer half of the class size as public schools. She had a real point that is turning us on our heads. We are back into not having any idea what to do with our children. Are we looking at a life of sacrifice to pay for the best schools we can afford? Is this what we should do?


Comments (6)


There went the rain, again

Monday was a wet day in Southeast Louisiana.

Big rains out-performed city pumps, drains stopped up, and water was everywhere. Paul and I had proceeded with the days plans: taking the kids to school (after which Paul picked up a teacher who was stranded), then doing some errands which included getting some birthday provisions for a teacher. The phones/internet went out and we couldn’t work. The city shut down. We had lunch out and realized getting home was going to be very tough… if at all possible. We had several close calls where we were concerned about our car flooding and/or shorting out. We were lucky (and Paul is both smart and a very good driver.)

The day highlighted the vulnerability of this place, how our lives carry more similarities to life in a city in Central or South American than in United States. This is not because this, or any other place, is by itself more vulnerable. It is that the preparedness, ability to cope, and overall infrastructure has been weakened or lessened to the point that we are more vulnerable to crisis in the face of a natural occurrence*. But back to Monday.

After a good half hour of fighting the flood waters, we decided to go back to Abeona (or at least try) as they were forecasting more rain for the evening. We were worried that getting the kids in a few hours could be difficult (or impossible… or maybe impassable) so we went to the school, hung out until the rain had backed off a bit, then took them home. It made for a good afternoon of puddle-jumping. (Note: our street was very dry, and by this time, the rain had stopped and the entire city had practically shut down.)

The rains delayed in-coming flights, but only by a few hours — the guest faculty for our course arrived and joined us for dinner and course planning. She even brought Empire Apples, freshly picked, from Michigan! Tuesday’s session went well — complete with students turning in first assignments (that was today’s work.) I am very thankful to have a second Teaching Assistant this term!

*So to those who would compare the horrible crisis of the South California fires to Katrina are just completely off-base; although both are certainly natural disasters, they are completely different in everyway. Katrina itself was a natural disaster, heightened by a man-made disaster (the failure of the levees). The structural and social vulnerabilities here, coupled with the (arguably deliberate) nonresponse of federal resources, created a dire situation. People were not at risk and dying due to the direct impact of a natural disaster, but the influence of a man-made disaster and the exposure which followed. People were left to die trapped in their attics and exposed for days outside emergency shelters, isolated by water and storm debris. In many cases, they left quickly without provisions, food, water, or medicine, or left with only what they could carry. The desperation and fear in this scenario are incomparable to other modern domestic disasters. This is very different than Southern California, which is facing daunting fire and relatively low ratios of home loss compared to that of the home loss due to Katrina and the levee failures (ARC estimated more than 350,000 homes were destroyed in Katrina and the flood; CNN reports approximately 1430 homes destroyed in the California fires, and although those numbers will rise, it is doubtful that they will carry the same percentage of loss seen in New Orleans, who had 80% complete city destruction due to flood waters and significant storm damage and debris in the rest). Additionally, the temporary shelter activities in Southern California are occurring with passable roadways, people in good health who had time to pack for evacuation, staying in climate-controlled shelters with electricity, access to water, and other important resources. (Not to mention entertainment, psychological support, and even masseurs?) Comparing the two is not only impossible, but it implies a slippery slope reflecting the people involved in the scenarios, rather than the overall structure that each disaster occurred within.


Comments (5)


Brushing Away

Just so my friend doesn’t feel that she’s the only 30-something who feels like she is falling apart, I’m writing of my newest aging issue. No, not the back thing. No, not the toe (which is definitely seeming broken, as it is getting worse not better.) One that has been on the horizon for years and one that I dutifully exacerbated in my attempts to thwart it. You know how dentists tell you to brush very gently, in little circles on each tooth, never hard, never “back and forth,” always in little circles? They really aren’t kidding about that.

When you don’t brush in circles, when you rub on your gumline thinking that you need to be “massaging” it (as once recommended by your dentist), and when you do all of this on gums prone to recession due to thin tissue (a heredity thing) and early braces on small teeth (an unfortunate thing), you can do a lot of damage. Apparently, I have.

Months ago, when I saw our dentist, she referred me to a periodontist to check the gum recession on a few teeth. The gingiva over my teeth (that rounded part of tissue) was receding to the point where the bone underneath was visible and possibly eroding away (it’s not tough like enamel.) I’ve known that I had problems with recession since college — a long long time. Back then, I was told to brush at the gum line to massage the gums back down, which is what I thought I was doing. I brushed and flossed the heck out of them. And now, well, now I don’t have much gum left on 7 — yes SEVEN — teeth. All the teeth are in the back of my mouth, since I was most concerned over plaque in these areas and worked the hardest back there.

So on November 7th, I am scheduled first for a tooth scaling and then to have two teeth surgically repaired through a soft tissue graft, where tissue is taken from the roof of my mouth and placed over my receding gums to bulk up the thin tissue and cover up the exposed root. The good news is that I don’t have periodontal disease, although I am currently a good candidate. So the prognosis is good. What is unfortunate is that the surgery is costly, insurance only covers to a certain point, and I’m looking at doing one or two teeth each year for the next 3-4 years (so as to spread out what can be covered by insurance). We are nearing an open enrollment period for benefits and are considering an insurance change and/or getting Aflac as a secondary provider. In the meantime, while we wait for all the teeth to get done, I’ll have scaling (which Paul had done earlier this year) every 12-18 months to clear any exposed root, and three normal cleanings each year.

The periodontist recommendations included: using a toothpaste with a very low RDA (Relative Dentin Abrasivity) which is a measure of how abrasive the paste is on your teeth. Most toothpastes are really abrasive, which can be damaging. (Who knew?) She recommended Biotene Gel with Fluoride (an RDA of 60) and using a toothbrush of very small size with extra soft bristles, which can be special ordered since they are hard to find in stores. Yowza.

So today’s public health announcement: gently brush in circles!


Comments (3)