Friday, August 28, 2009

Another Sad Farewell…


The senator from Massachusetts may be the top news story, but another sad passing has my attention. The last episode of Reading Rainbow airs today.

My kids moved out of its target audience years ago, but I was still depressed to learn that LeVar Burton would no longer lead children on adventures. No more children reviewing books. No more junior book club.

As reported on NPR this morning, the demise has been expected for several years:

the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

John Grant (who is in charge of content at WNED Buffalo, Reading Rainbow's home station) says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that's not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

My daughter discovered this show shortly before her 4th birthday. Field trips and other diversions explored the themes suggested by the book of the episode. Nothing was off-limits; shows explored slavery and parents in prison, as well as animals and farms. Episodes often sent Jen and I traipsing to the library or Barnes & Noble, looking for a book we saw on the show or one with a similar theme.

No, this show was not about how to read; it was about the joy of reading, of losing yourself in another world. As John Grant noted in the NPR interview:

Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read," Grant says. "You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read.

For many children educational television may support those first building blocks of reading- the alphabet and phonics on Sesame Street come to mind. Very few children’s shows encourage reading the way Rainbow did. Even though I had not turned it on in years, I am sad to know it will not be there for my grandchildren (not that I feel old enough to be a grandmother, even though it is biologically feasible at this time).

Guess I will just buy them books.

Rainbow courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Of Cats and Health Care

For the past week I have neglected my blog while providing hospice care to Denver the Wondercat. The big guy finally succumbed to uremia, at home among his loved ones.Cat

People may envy our cat’s death. He lived to the ripe old age of 18 years (about 97 in people-years). He lost his appetite the final 7-10 days of his life. He remained active until the final 4 days when he lost some strength. He was mostly unconscious the final 2 days, but he did not appear to suffer. We left him asleep Sunday night, and he was dead  Monday morning.

If you are an older adult in the US, you may wish to discuss such end-of-life issues with your physician. Would you want dialysis or feeding tubes or other sorts of care? If you don’t talk about it now, it may be left to others later – and you may not get what you want! Your loved ones may want to keep you alive with any treatment possible, or they may wish to withdraw therapies that you would prefer be continued! Efforts were underway to encourage this sort of conversation between physician and patient by actually paying doctors for the time these discussions take. Of course, this provision has now been dropped from the reform bills after being dubbed a “death squad.”

Your doctor will still discuss your wishes with you, even though Medicare does not cover this “luxury item” for the elderly. All of us will die one day, and we should consider our wishes while we can express them. Because we can’t all be as lucky as Denver the Wondercat.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Much Ado About Health Care

Walking from my building to the cafeteria presented obstacles today. Nebraska’s senator Ben Nelson, 6 floors below me, is running a town hall meeting on health care. The auditorium and all overflow rooms filled an hour ago; the line of humanity flows from the front door of the building, under the skywalk (from which I photographed the participants), around the complex, and down the hill.



I am pleased so many people mobilized to discuss health care; I just hope the discussion remains rational, without mention of “death squads” or other nonsense. Police are out in force checking IDs. We are a weapon-free campus, so no sidearms are showing.

I hope the people of this country can come together and guarantee healthcare for everyone. I have patients who have lost coverage when a parent was fired. The parent then gets a new job, but the pre-existing illness will not be covered. I have heard parents talk of divorce so the child can get Medicaid for a major illness. All of this is wrong in a nation with our resources.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Don’t Blame Estrogen

Over at Dr. Isis’ blog there has been much discussion about another blog on “civil argument” in the blogosphere. Isis took exception with some of the issues raised on another blog, and a commenter  to her blog suggested that the good goddess ECyclewas on the rag (OTR). She went on to apologize for her judgment being clouded by blood flowing from her vagina. She goes on to say:

“Then, just when I thought I had cleared enough of the estrogen from my girl brain to understand…”

As a female and a scientist who deals with the onset of puberty, I feel obliged to point out that estrogen cannot be the bad guy during menstruation. As shown in the diagram (which accompanies an article on – click on the diagram to link there) estrogen levels are at their lowest during menstruation!

Estrogen rises steadily and peaks just before ovulation, with a secondary rise around day 21 when the body is thinking it might need to sustain a pregnancy. Progesterone has its big peak at that time as well. If pregnant, these hormones remain elevated; if not, they drop off and menstruation ensues.

If people want to ascribe behavioral issues associated with menstruation (AKA OTR syndrome), they cannot really blame female hormones. Perhaps it is the lack of these hormones, their withdrawl, that explains things. Perhaps it is cramps and having to carry around “protection.” Perhaps the men around us are jerks when they know they won’t get any. It is not estrogen mucking up a girly brain!

Perhaps men only see us as “logical” when estrogen peaks at ovulation and we are most likely to have sex… I will leave that exploration to another time.

I would like to point out that estrogen is a really important hormone in the central nervous system. One of the lessons we have learned from knocking-out its receptors in mice is that male neuroendocrine feedback in the brain is estrogen mediated. Seems testosterone is converted to estrogen which then signals in the brain of the male organism.

So the Big E is just as likely to be screwing up his brain as hers.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Update on the D

DSCI0037Denver the Wondercat (AKA The D) celebrated his 18th birthday this summer. He was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease almost 2 years ago, and had done well until recently.

Since we returned from our vacation last week, his appetite has been off. He wants to lap the gravy from the food but not actually eat the meat. Grinding it up in a food processor gets a few more calories in him, as does sneaking in some cooking oil, but we all know things are not going well.CrpAngelCat

He still seems comfortable. He wants to lie in the sun and lick my husband’s aftershave. If my daughter comes to the house, he sleeps in her lap. He knows he is loved.

It’s just a matter of time now…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ode to the Minivan

Last week I tweeted when I got ready to go on vacation. I had managed to get all of the stuff we needed for approximately 1 week of fishing, swimming, and sunning at the lake into the vehicle. We were ready to go. Some in the twitterverse were not impressed by our mode of transportation: a minivan.

MinivanWe own a 2002 Chevy Venture. Unlike the example in the photo, ours is red with the Warner Brothers media package, way cooler than the example shown (even without mountains in the background).

My parents test-drove one of the original passenger vans of the 1970’s. Imagine a delivery van with windows cut out and seats slapped into it. Upper trim lines featured “leatherette” trim. We considered one in seafoam (seasick?) green, but instead purchased a less gas-hungry vehicle when lines began forming at the fuel pumps.

I spent the 1980s in school and training, driving an econo-box. I remember when the first minivans began appearing: built on a car chassis so they handled like a passenger vehicle, but they seated 7 or 8 people without anyone sitting backwards (a la the station wagon). As my own family grew (along with the stuff and friends that come with children), a minivan looked like a wonderful option. We bought one in 1991 after we got our first real jobs and house. One of our vehicles has been a minivan ever since, and we have enjoyed many roadtrips.

We are aware that this vehicle is not considered cool; however, when we looked at SUVs, we could not make the change. Most SUVs hold only 5 people comfortably (unless you go up to the massive models), and achieve about half the mileage we get with the MV (and even less for the bigger ones).

Our “baby” towers over me at 6’1”, nears his 17th birthday, and starts his junior year of high school tomorrow.  In short, our minivan days are numbered. We have completed 125,000 miles with the current van, and we will probably trade it in next year. We do not require a minivan or similar vehicle at this time, and my husband (who drives our bigger vehicle) is beginning to ponder what might replace it. Will a car be sufficient, or should we purchase a cross-over for lake trips?

The minivan will be over soon, gone the way of poodle skirts and the Baby-on-Board sticker. Goodbye to 20 years of a practical vehicle.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Do I Really Look Lost?


I have observed a disturbing trend in stores lately. I walk into SuperTarget, grab my cart, and head off for the first thing I need. Sometimes I go straight there and then decide which size to buy or how many items to purchase. Other times I get distracted along the way by items I didn’t plan to buy (that’s why they have those bright shiny displays).

So I am in the aisle with product #1, and here comes the employee.

“May I help you find something?”

Even as I’m bagging zucchini or taking a box off a shelf, I must appear lost. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue to resist the urge to scream:

“I found what I want, but you’re in my damn way!”

Yesterday, after 4 or 5 employees had accosted me in a period of 10 minutes (in the bread and soup aisles), I suggested politely that this behavior annoyed me. The current helpful associate explained that they were to ask every customer they encountered if they could help them find things.

Now, there are times I can’t find something. I appreciate having help, and I never have trouble finding employees at SuperTarget (or other stores with similar strategy). I shop at SuperTarget instead of Walmart because the store is better organized and staffed. Every few months some shelving area gets rearranged. It slows me down temporarily, but ultimately gets me to notice other products. If someone is offering to assist me every 5 minutes, I am less likely to browse and make unplanned purchases. My husband thinks this is a good thing, but I suspect it is not the ultimate goal of management.

Telling every employee to ask every customer if they need assistance is overkill. I suspect if inquiries were limited to shoppers in main aisles who were not moving along (in other words, looking a bit lost) that the “target audience” could be served. Shoppers who are browsing products or moving quickly through the main aisles (like a cheetah chasing a gazelle, their target in sight) probably do not need the assistance and may resent being slowed in their quest for stuff.

OK, I feel better now. I will quit ranting.

Photo courtesy of

Monday, August 10, 2009

Vacation in Missouri (and Paris and Britain)


I have not posted in a week, as my family was visiting Lake of the Ozarks for a much needed period of fun-in-the-sun. My son is shown at left with one of the bass he caught & released (too small to become a meal).

During this time I have complete the fifth novel in the Aimee Leduc series that I last blogged about (What I’m Reading). My brain then went to Great Britain in the 1920’s with The Language of Bees by Laurie King. For those of you unfamiliar with the Mary Russell series, these sequels to the Sherlock Holmes series match the great detective with a brilliant younger woman who is in every way a match for his brilliance. I am now about half-way through another novel by David Liss, The Devil’s Company. This novel reprises Benjamin Weaver, a Jewish pugilist in England in the 1700’s who becomes a thieftaker, the equivalent of a private detective. This book seems quite timely since the hero finds himself blackmailed into infiltrating the East India Company. The Company is facing a new law that will make wearing their imported inexpensive Indian fabrics illegal in an effort to support local wool and silk industries. While set in the distant past, the debate seems so timely. Some things just never change.

My blog break must end now so that more catch-up work can be pursued. No vacation goes unpunished…

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What I’m Reading


I have worked every day this past week, but my brain has been in Paris… still. I am now reading Murder in the Bastille, the fourth book by Cara Black featuring detective Aimee Leduc.

This time the detective tries to do a good deed when the woman at the next table in a restaurant leaves her cell phone behind. Aimee answers it, and a man begs her to meet him in a passage in the Bastille neighborhood. Remembering what a pain a lost cell phone was, Aimee treks off to return the device, and gets her head bashed in for her efforts. She awakens in the hospital blind; the other woman’s body is found the next day one passage over.

The tables are now turned for she and her partner, Rene, a programmer, student of the martial arts, and little person (dwarf). As the more mobile of the pair, Rene now finds himself interviewing contacts from the dead woman’s phone and attempting to piece together the clues. The scene where he ends up in a dermatology institute to speak with a pathologist is priceless! Aimee is trying to cope with her loss while her attacker tries to finish her off. Of course, she still wears Chanel lipstick and stumbles across potential male companionship along the way!

Book five is already on my iPod’s Kindle reader, and I am going on vacation next week. I may not be posting much, but I will be enjoying a few good books… You should, too!