May 2009

Nighttime Haiku for the Sleep Deprived

I ponder: kicks? shoves?
What recourse have I for this?
My snoring husband.

Mi Familia

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April Just Posts for a Just World

Kate has been dealing with diarrhea for almost two weeks. It’s been a pain. She has an incident at school and is home for a day and nothing happens, then she goes back and the whole thing happens again… with an occasional blow out at home that results in floor, clothes, and bed washings. I’ve been able to take her to the doctor for tests, give her fluids, and not for a moment worry about any of it. The inconvenience of it all was in the back of my mind when I read Robin’s post for assistance. My friend, Robin (whom you may remember from her amazing Mama-multitasking) lives and works in Bangladesh. She works for ICDDR, B and recently posted a plea for support for her agency, which is struggling to get re-hydration salts to an impoverished population that will die without them. One of this month’s Just Posts is about poverty in Bangladesh and offers an interesting backdrop to the reality that Robin sees in her work — and what went on in my own head when I thought about how “inconvenient” diarrhea was for our family while others are facing it as a life and death situation.

Also? A package of oral rehydration salts costs about ten cents.

Just a thought. And on to Just Posts.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you to this month’s readers and writers and especially to the new folks who contributed to the April Roundtable… thank you. Be sure to stop by and say hi to my Just Posts Partner, Alejna, too!

April Just Posts:

THANK YOU to April Just Post Readers:


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Currently Playing in Monday Mission

I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of creative, literary fancy-pants-writer way of recounting all the random craziness going on here.  Listing has felt too random, too quick.  Instead, I’m taking a page from Jim Croce, who famously used music to express emotion.  Borrowed, of course, from the Internet’s favorite Helena, TPM with 80s inspiration from Mad.

Here it is, the soundtrack to our lives as of late, 80s style.

— Friday, girls night out at The Bead Shop, followed by drinks and hey, Let’s Dance to the Sultans of Swing, ’cause Girls Just Wanna Have Fun but also, we need to prove that we, Mamas?  Yeah, we still Got the Beat.

— That Sweet Child O’ Mine, Baby Kate, turned 3.  A bunch of our friends came over and we had fun while 13 kids ran around our house, beat a pinata, and screamed “I Want Candy“!

— Tomorrow morning, I’m going to Photograph the Abeona kids for a school fundraiser.

— The social work class I’m teaching starts tomorrow night.  I don’t expect anyone to be Hot for Teacher, but it would be cool to form a Cult of Personality.

— The uncertainty around my parents’ move has us feeling helpless, but I guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues.  Explaining to Will why his Grandparents are moving means a lot of Sad Eyes.

— I got a Visiting Scholar appointment at a big Northeast college which is cool and wonderful and awesome because the folks there took me as What I Am.

— My SMA conference proposal was accepted and I’m Walking on Sunshine that at least an abstract of the dissertation is of interest.

— Next week I go to Boston for the Schweitzer Fellowship.  I have to leave a day early to be there on time because we live In a Big Country.  The program director’s retreat is a 3-day all-day event, yet I am hopeful to have some quiet time to myself to write.  My greatest dream is to have a full, uninterrupted week alone in a place that isn’t my house to work on nothing but my dissertation… Save a Prayer for me.

— Two friends and I have made a walking pact for regular exercise and stuck to it now for over a week.  When I feel like there is too much going on and I can’t manage to get away, I Whip It.  Not that this is helping me look at birthday cake and manage not to Eat It.

— The firehose went from bone dry to full blast, as Paul is Back on the Chain Gang (or maybe the Morning Train?) with several projects and overtime.  Combined with my income and his guarantee of at least 10 weeks more of work, we’re fine.  There is no more Livin’ on a Prayer.  And yes, New Orleans is still tough place to live and work but it’s our American Dream and we love it and there’s no place like it and I Still Believe that it’s worth sacrifice to raise our kids in this amazing place.

This has been a Monday Mission.

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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Last Minute Mother’s Day Idea?

All of Janine King’s MOD DOTS bags are on sale.  I’ve had a J.K. computer bag for several years and love it.  I’ve also given her purses as gifts.  Everything is wonderfully made — and to order!  She personally confirms all sizing for computers.  HIGHLY recommended.

Janine King on Etsy

Janine King’s sale items on Etsy

Arts & Photography

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Mother’s Day Wish

Between the two of us, Paul and I are not big gift-givers.  This probably comes as an extension from me… I came from a family that celebrated holidays on a whim, sitting down to celebrate when we were able instead of when the calendar said we should.  Maybe that defeats the point, but it’s one of those Military family sacrifices and that is what we did.  Now, as an adult, I regularly forget to plan ahead for holidays and don’t particularly mind that there is nothing under the tree for me or that my birthday goes by without fanfare.  It gives me excuse to indulge later… ’cause we didn’t celebrate that thing, you know?

For Mother’s Day this year, knowing full well that we’re too crazy right now to have any all-about-Mom plans, I accepted that no one would remember anything.  So I proactively told Paul that I only wanted ONE THING for Mother’s Day… something free requiring absolutely no grand efforts on anyone’s part.

I asked him to Never, Ever, Never Again move clothes that were folded or waiting to be folded from the bed to the floor, dresser top, or any other surface so that he could get into bed.  To simply put away and/or fold and put away clothes and not just push them aside for me to deal with later.  Have I mentioned before that I’m a little neurotic…?  Well, clothes on dressers for days gives me an involuntary twitch.  I can’t help it.

So tonight, when I came to bed roughly an hour after he’d already announced his impending bedtime, I was surprised that he was not in our room.  Then I remembered the laundry I had been working on during bathtime.  On the bed were whites (my least favorite laundry area) — towels, socks, socks, and more socks — to sort and put away.  They were on the bed, not moved to a dresser to await someone else’s effort.  Still there, waiting.

Paul?  Instead of moving them to the bed to climb in and sleep, he honored my request… just not in the manner I’d hoped.

He was sleeping on the floor beside Kate’s bed.

Paul: 1.  Me: 0.

Mi Familia
Special Family Moments

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Happy Birthday, Paul!





What could say ‘I love you’ more than that?

(holding for smart-ass answers)

Happy Birthday, Paul!

Mi Familia

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Eggs in Hiding

About two weeks ago, my friend Magpie posted a recipe for “Eggs in Hiding,” which she had come across while nostalgically flipping through old cookbooks.


1 T. butter
1 can condensed tomato soup
½ pound American cheese, diced
6 hard-cooked eggs
1 cup cereal flakes, crushed

Heat butter and soup in top of double boiler. Add cheese and cook until melted, stirring constantly. Arrange halves of hard-cooked eggs (cut lengthwise) in buttered baking dish. Pour cheese mixture over eggs. Sprinkle with cereal flakes. Brown under broiler. Serves 6.

I know.  Awesome right?

Mag challenged folks to make it.  A few jumped to the challenge in an instant.  Me, well, fast is relative during Jazz Fest season but I managed to think ahead and make preparations over the weekend.  Tonight’s experiment almost failed between the kids stealing cheese while I’m trying to peel eggs, Kate’s diaper explosion and necessary immediate shower, Will coming in covered in mud, and Paul coming in covered in mud AND insulation… all while I’m suppose to be stirring continuously and/or watching a broiler.  But, I pulled it off!

I even took pictures.  (These were taken with one of the point-and-shoot cameras from the Photovoice project — I’m trying to get more familiar with them and the more I use it, the more fantastic a camera I think this is for the price.  But I digress.)

The recipe calls for American, but I used a domestic Cheddar (sounds fancy, huh?)  Also, I used two cans of tomato soup.

I didn’t want leftovers, so I only used 4 eggs.

Here’s the soup and cereal on top.  Will ate the box of corn flakes before I had a chance to make it, so we actually had to go and buy a second box for the recipe.

It’s under the broiler now.  Considering all the running around I did while it was cooking in there, I was surprised it didn’t burn.  Also, the eggs were made Saturday and had been in the fridge since then — but everything was warm through when it came out of the oven.

The finished product!  It had started to brown a tiny bit in the top center.

FINAL REPORT: They loved it!

No, really, they did.  And this is really saying something, as my kids make a point to try to starve themselves at dinner time.  But you don’t have to take my word for it…

Eggs in Hiding from Cold Spaghetti on Vimeo.


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You don’t want to meet the new boy in town.

Jazz Fest has graciously occupied all extraneous space in our lives over the past two weeks, allowing only minimal time for me to feed my inner-epidemiologist with all of the emerging news related to H1N1 flu.  In the mean time, New Orleans has come into the flu pandemic fold with an 8-year old testing positive for H1N1 at a local elementary school. That school has voluntarily decided to shut down for a few days for thorough cleaning and for good reason. Because it’s the smart thing to do, and by relation, I believe the right thing to do.

One confirmed case triggering a three-day school closure does not suggest panic, imminent doom, or apocalypse.  Some may wonder, then, that if there were more confirmed cases, would it be reason for us to panic?  Well, no. There is never a time to panic.

It is, however, a good time to gather up a few smarts.

The mis-information is all over the place, and the backlash from the efforts of public health authorities to minimize disease is complaint topic du jour. I don’t profess to be a flu researcher or an expert on pandemic disease, but I am a public health professional and I get the basics.

Here is what I can do:

– clarify what pandemic is

– explain why flu is a big deal, and

– provide some background to why things like school closures are important.

The term pandemic describes spread of disease and has nothing to do with severity. Stages of a pandemic tell us where we are in our planning and preparedness – issues like whether we have time to stockpile vaccine (if one is available), if we should consider quarantine, or knowing whether the illness has run it’s course or if the number of new cases are expected to accelerate. So when WHO or the CDC declares a pandemic, they are saying that a new illness has spread across continents. The stages tell us where we should be in our mitigation strategies.

Understanding why flu is a big deal is a bit more complicated. We are all very familiar with seasonal flu. Seasonal flu is threat to individuals with low immunity – particularly young children and the elderly. Our immune systems are building until about age 20 and then begin to develop weaknesses at around age 40. The seasonal flu takes advantage of the developing or weakening immune systems to cause illness. When people die of influenza, the most common reason is actually bacterial: influenza weakens the system and an opportunistic bacteria takes hold. Deaths from pneumonia are therefore sometimes understood as deaths attributed to seasonal influenza. In general, we expect roughly 36,000-40,000 Americans to die each year of seasonal influenza. The exact numbers are a little shaky because every person who dies each year isn’t tested for influenza; causes of death are not so cut and dry. Death certificates reflect this by allowing for a list of factors that lead to death.

Seasonal flu is somewhat predictable in pattern. It worsens in the winter months and is of a repetitive strain of flu that has already been through a population, meaning that there will already be some type of natural immunity. Flu vaccines are made from the best predictions of the type of mutations and strains that will be seen over a flu season. A pandemic flu is one that has not previously been seen and therefore, the population has no naturally immunity (usually this implies a direct animal-to-human transfer).

H1N1 is alarming to the health community because it’s never been seen in this particular genetic composition before.  What was surprising about this particular strain is it’s composition: it holds genes from human, avian, and swine flu viruses. Further, it showed the ability to spread human-to-human through causal contact. Thankfully, the strain is not virulent. However, with each new host (whether mammal or avian) the virus gets another opportunity to mutate.

Mutation is what makes flu such a big deal.  It means that it can change over and over again, keeping whatever characteristics are the most effective at being spread over large numbers of hosts.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people in less time than any other disease before or since.  The 1918 flu was swift and vicious. It claimed the healthiest of people (mortality in the 20-40 age group far exceeded that of other groups who would typically been seen as the most vulnerable) and took them within days, killing them through suffocation as they bled into their lungs. The reports from survivors are gruesome.  The trauma of the event is blamed to be the reason we know so little about it now: because the survivors simply had to force themselves to forget it in order to function. Current estimates are that 50-100 million people died in the pandemic. In the United States, 28% of the population is estimated to have been ill with 500,000 to 675,000 people dying.

Until 2005, we didn’t know what type of virus was contained in the 1918 flu. Now we know it was H1N1 and that it was avian in it’s source. Scientists believe that the 1918 flu struck after several seasons of related flu – flu of the same type that simply needed a few years of mutation in order to acquire the gene characteristics for it cause a pandemic.

Unlike bacteria, viruses are not alive. They are strands of DNA and RNA encased in protective shells that require live cell hosts. Most viruses have a consistent shape, but flu can exist in many shapes. One characteristic shared by all flu viruses are little spears that come up from the surface of the protective shell. There are two type of spears. One is protein called hemagglutinin and the other is an enzyme called neuraminidase. We know of 16 varieties of hemagglutinin and 9 of neuraminidase, and these are how influenza strains are identified… as H1 to H16 and N1 to N9. Until 1997, it was believed that only H1, H2, and H3 could infect humans.

In 1997, children in China who had contact with birds died from flu that was identified at H5N1. Birds all over Asian were culled in an effort to halt bird-to-human spread of disease. Human-to-human spread was very limited, happening only in situations between individuals with direct, care-giving contact. In other words, the virus (while virulent) had not acquired the ability to spread easily and has thus far been containable.

We know that the flu of 1918 and H5N1 have some similar characteristics.  They are both avian viruses, for one.  But the most striking is that they work by turning the immune system against the host provider, causing an inflammatory response.  Hence why they are so efficient in destroying the internal organs of otherwise perfectly healthy people in the prime of life.   However, here is one important difference: as devastating as the 1918 pandemic was, the case fatality rate was thought to be about 5%.  The outbreaks of H5N1 have had case fatality rates of over 50%.  Not even the worst outbreaks of Ebola (at 40% case fatality) can match that terrifying level.

The question that keeps health scientists up at night is when and where H5N1 is going to mix with other strains of flu… ones that have the qualities of being spread through causal contact.  It’s not IF it does this.  It’s WHEN.

So. Back to our current H1N1. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to be particularly virulent. But how virulent would a flu have to be in order to cripple the medical infrastructure of a community? In a city like New Orleans, with a scarcity of hospital beds, a widespread case of mild flu over that of the expected seasonal flu disease burden could easily become a disaster.  One of the best ways we know to prevent the spread of disease is to limit opportunities for contact — especially within schools.  Particularly in the early days of an outbreak, when we are still trying to understand the etiology of a disease, closing a school due to a confirmed case of the new flu type is a good idea.

It doesn’t mean that anyone is panicking. It doesn’t mean that the health department is going overboard. It means that people are paying attention and acting accordingly.


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Jazz Fest May Day

We’ve lived here for 5 years now and we’ve just figured out Jazz Fest.

Here’s how it works.  You hang out.  You somewhat randomly wander around, meeting up with friends, checking out crafts and tents, getting food, and (of course) hearing music.  If you LET the magic happen, it will.

Here are a few random highlights that show a little of what we saw… I apologize that I did not capture in photographs more of what we did.  I was very busy dancing, listening, talking, eating, laughing… you know, doing.

Here’s Washboard Chaz.

Here’s Beausoliel avec Michael Doucet.  This is a few hours before Paul realized Mr. Doucet was standing directly behind me in the plantain and spinach food line. (You can click here to go and hear “Alligator Purse.”)

Gospel Tent… with typical Jazz Fest magic.  That’s Paul Sanchez in the back (see his black jacket and hat?) and Trombone Shorty.  The tuba?  He’s from Rebirth.  Apparently, they are buddies of the singer and came over to back him up on this bit.  We just happened to be walking by the tent when this started and a random photographer walked up to us to tell us that folks from Rebirth were backing up the singer and it was awesome.  We walked in and were thrilled to… “wait, is that Paul Sanchez?!” … before settling in for awhile.

By the way, if you haven’t heard it, I love Paul Sanchez’s song Sedation…

Friends Ecoee and Melody shared their brass pass… and we enjoyed the refreshing WWOZ tent, impressive fruit spread, and clean bathrooms.

Doc Watson and family.  Yup, THE Doc Watson.

And yes, they did Tennessee Stud.

The tent was PACKED.

We had to get the kids by 5 and with our regular tickets could not be re-admitted.  Instead, we picked up the kids and went back to Ecoee and Melody’s, where we watched Tony Bennett from their front porch.

We tried to impress upon Will the Tony Bennett coolness factor…

This is our view — that’s our white car on the street and a jazz fest flag flying from their porch to the top right.  See the stage, upper right?  That’s Tony in the yellow jacket.

The porch is fantastic for sound.  Things are a little loud when you’re in the field… but right outside?  Perfect, just right.

No, really, it’s him!

There he is, taking his bow.  The show was all standards and it was awesome.  He dedicated “The Good Life” to Britney Spears, which made me feel a little badly for Britney because I thought we were sort of over picking on her.  Ah, well, I guess when you’re Tony Bennett, you decide what’s in and what’s out.

By the way, it’s humid and well into the 80s and the dude was out there for over an hour belting out note after note, sounding JUST like he did 40 years ago.  Amazing.

Once everyone got back from the Fest, we had a great night hanging in the pool and talking while the kids played… without meltdown or fuss… until 10pm.  I can’t think of any stronger magic than that.

Family Life in NOLA

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Where my Donna Reed can’t cut it.

I’ve crossed into a new realm of parenting.

It was there, but I didn’t recognize it until now.

I’m in the midst of planning how to celebrate Kate’s 3rd birthday, which is Saturday.  Kate wants a birthday party and that simple request has melted me into a puddle of whine (no question now where Will gets it from).

But now I get it.  Will’s parties are SO DIFFERENT now.  When he goes to parties, it’s just kids.  Sometimes parents aren’t even there.  Just a bunch of kids.  It’s a real party for kids.

Kate’s age is different.  A party for her is a playdate where parents gather to party.  It’s a very different beast.  With a 3-year old birthday, you’re entertaining two age groups — plus, you’re more likely to have mixed ages of children as other siblings attend.  I’m realizing that it is hard to be simple when you’re worried about making everyone feel welcome and have a good time.

This is putting everything in perspective for me.  I think I would just invite one or two families over for cake, but Kate has been to a lot of birthday parties now and she knows the drill.  She has been asking EVERYDAY if her friends can come over, have cake, and “sing me Happy Birthday”.

Hi, this is my blog! It’s where I whine about annoying things.

Donna Reed would have never been this ridiculous.

(Photo by Will)


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