Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Swine Flu: A Crisis

The Swine Flu: A Crisis

It's all over the news. The Swine Flu has entered the U.S., and everyone is responding quickly. Here is what has happened already:

-- Over 100 schools have closed.

-- President Obama called on all schools with possible swine flu cases to "strongly consider temporarily closing."

-- Congress approved $1.5 billion in emergency funds.

-- Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that everyone involved in schools needs to "pitch in and do our part to prevent the spread of this flu virus."

-- The Department of Education and the CDC have held conferences to give updates and advice for handling the crisis.

-- WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has raised the alert level to phase 4.

-- Shipments of the drug Tamiflu from the federal stockpile, enough to treat 11 million patients, have been distributed to several states.

-- Dr. Jesse Goodman, of the Food and Drug Administration's swine flu work said,"We're working together at 100 miles an hour."

-- Congress has asked Homeland to consider closing the Mexican border.

Here are the numbers: To date, there have been in total 1,085 documented cases worldwide. Swine flu has been blamed for 26 deaths worldwide, 25 in Mexico and one in the U.S., a two year old boy with underlying health issues.

Updates on the Swine Flu epidemic are all over the papers, T.V., Internet, and radio. You can't avoid it.

This is a crisis and deserves a fast response. Sick children, and the death of even one child, is a great loss. But I am a little confussed. I would like to point out some comparisons.

1) Since the outbreak in the U.S., there have been 279 (reported by C.N.N. as of 5/5/2009) cases of swine flu, and one death. Compare that to the fact that 12,600 families are told their child has cancer each year. That is 35 families every single day of the year.

2) The media tells us that the 279 cases and one death from the swine flu is a "crisis" and "epidemic". But do a Google search on childhood cancer, and you will find the media consistently saying childhood cancer, with 40,000 current cases and 2,500 annual deaths, as "very rare".

3) To protect yourself against the swine flu, you should wash hands, not touch your nose, and cover your mouth. You can even wear gloves and a mask. But there is no protection against childhood cancers. In fact, the cause of most childhood cancers is still unknown.

4) The swine flu produces severe flu symptoms. The effects of cancer are beyond description. So just consider this: Cancer is part of the body, so the treatment is a process of poisoning the child to the brink of death, then pulling back hoping they stabilize, then hitting them again. Over and over and over. Maybe a year, maybe 7 years. The resulting organ failures often cause more complications and deaths than the cancer itself. And then you wait and pray that it all worked. "Remission" only means they think they got. "Relapse" means they were wrong.

5) The government has opened up it's stockpile of flu drugs to fight the crisis. But there is no stockpile of cancer drugs. In fact, it has been 30 years since a new pediatric cancer drug has been developed. A 5 year study by the National Institutes of Health concluded that new drugs for pediatric and adolescent cancers are not being developed because the profit margins are too slim. Therefore mega-doses of adult chemotherapy are administered to children, using a medical assembly line system called protocols. The great need for individualized care is ignored because it is not economically sustainable.

6) Congress has approved $1.5 billion in ADDITIONAL funding to fight the swine flu. With 226 infected people, that is $6 million per person. Childhood cancer received a TOTAL of $30 million. That works out to $750 for each child currently fighting cancer.

So does any of this scare you more than the swine flu? It should. The emergency response to the swine flu has been great. But where is the emergency plan for childhood cancer? And where is the media attention? There is none.

Some might say these are not a fair comparisons. Well, in one way they would be correct. The $1.5 billion for the flu has been paid. The $30 million for childhood cancer was approved, but has never funded. Other issues of greater crisis keep taking priority, such as $120 million to distribute free condoms in 3rd world countries (Yes, really. It's in the stimulus package).

We, friends and families of children with Childhood Cancer, shall not give up on informing the rest of the world about Childhood Cancer.

After reading this, it is heartbreaking to know how little is being done in regards to childhood cancer.

The majority of this post is borrowed from a parent of a child with cancer.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Sherman has discovered bubbles.
Really, they were made just for him.
He was born to pop them.

It doesn't matter how many there are. It's his job to pop every single one.

No matter how high.

No matter how low.

Working to keep the neighborhood safe
from squirrels,
from chipmunks,
from bunnies,
from falling leaves and
from bubbles.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mama Bear's Green Thumb ..... or the lack thereof

Mama Bear is blessed with a green thumb. After reading about the meticulously kept kitchen garden by Pioneer Woman and the beautifully manicured container gardens in urns complete with felines by The Country Doctor's Wife, I felt I simply had to share my horticultural abilities with the world.

Behold my large pink flowers, Latin name humungous pinkus. Planted long ago to cover the west side of our screen porch, these flowers measure 14 inches across. I'm sure there is another name for them. Perhaps someone from Cornell can enlighten us. Or not.

These are our twice fruiting raspberries, now on their second harvest of the summer. I received this plant in 1995, a gift from the 4 year old who lived behind us at that time. Appropriately, this house warming gift arrived in a Dixie cup and was perhaps 2" tall. She didn't warn me that this is actually a weed that grows around these parts. Four year olds are like that. Once one of these hits the soil, it takes over, and you can never get rid of it. Never. Ever. This particular plant is at least twenty feet away from that original Dixie cup. And about five feet into my lawn.

Grapes. We live in grape country. The Finger Lakes region of NY State produces some of the finest wines in the USA. But not from these grapes. These grow wild in my backyard. They are mainly skin and seeds with just a bit of meat to produce a drop of juice.

Like my raspberries, each fall we dig these up, untangle the vines and haul them to the town recycling drop off where we bid our adieus and watch them get turned into mulch. And every spring they find their way home. Perhaps I should just give in and try my hand at making wine? I think there is enough here for a tablespoon or two.

This is my 3 year old sweet cherry tree. Apparently our neighborhood deer also thought it was sweet.

Last but not least, my secret garden. Very carefully planned out for just the right amount of textures and shades of green. Note the wild grape and Virginia creeper meticulously trained to climb the chestnut and red bud trees. This gardenscape holds the piece d'resistance, our water element, which no landscape should be without. Our natural spring fed creek runs through the backyard. After a rain, it can be a rushing 4 foot deep gully, but most of the time there is just a pleasant 2" deep trickle of ice cold refreshment. Just enough water for the deer to wash down the remnants of my cherry tree.

I'd show you my vegetable garden, but the deer got to that too. Have you ever seen tomato topiary?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

September Sunsets

Red in the morning, all should take warning.
Red at night, all will delight.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Day of School

Tomorrow is the first day of school for our district. The buses made a practice run today. All the teachers made their last minute preparations. In my elementary school, the students were given a time to come in, meet their teachers, drop off their school supplies, find their desks, in short, a snapshot of what tomorrow holds.

As an educator, I look forward to seeing all their bright, cheerful faces. As a parent, I also know what this day holds. To hand off your most beloved possession, entrust them to a total stranger, allow them to mold your child -- it's a lesson in faith. Our children are not really our possessions, but they possess our hearts. And I thank every parent for entrusting me with their most adored little one.

The bus no longer stops by our den. Our youngest cub has crossed the stage into a new and exciting chapter of life. We measure our lives in our children. Perhaps that is why I'm so excited to be at the other end of this educational spectrum, to have little ones in my life.

This morning, I found a poem in my folder. As a former "world of business" person, I do so appreciate the perspective of all sides. I recall a conversation with a business man, manager of a pie company, who spouted that education should be run just as a business is run, to be most effective with the taxpayer's dollars. So I asked him, what he did when he received a load of berries that were dented, underdeveloped, or not quite ripe; did he make his pies from them? "Why, no! That would not make very good pies. I'd throw them out or send them back. I pride myself on producing quality." "Well, in public education," I replied, "we don't have the privilege of selecting only the very best kids to educate. We take every child, those who've faced challenges and those who have not developed as quickly, and we nurture them, inspire them, and hopefully turn out minds who continue to love learning all their lives." Education is not like any other business.

What Teachers Make
By Taylor Mali

The dinner guests were sitting around the table
discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain
the problem with education.
He argued:
"What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided
his best option in life was to become a teacher?"

He reminded the other dinner guests that it's true
what they say about teachers:
"Those who can.... do. Those who can't... teach."

To corroborate, he said to another guest:
"You're a teacher, Susan. Be honest. What do you make?"
Susan, who had a reputation of honesty and frankness, replied,
"You want to know what I make?"

"I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face
if the student did not do his or her very best."

"I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence.
I can make parents tremble in fear when I call home."

"You want to know what I make?"

"I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read."

"I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful,
and definitely beautiful over and over and over again,
until they never misspell either one of those words again."

"I make them show all their work in math
and hide it all on their final drafts in English."

"I make them understand that if you have the brains,
then follow your heart ...
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you pay them no attention!"

"You know what I make?"

"I make a difference."

"And you? What do you make?"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Adirondack weekend

I had the fortune of spending time this weekend in the Adirondack Mountains, a 6 million acre preserve of mountains and lakes. The park was created in 1882 by the forward thinkers in NY State to guarantee public lands would remain forever wild, forever ours. The park is a huge expanse, greater in size than Yellowstone, the Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon National Parks combined.

Contrary to popular belief, the mountains of the Adirondacks are not old, worn down mountains, but relatively young land masses caused by uplift and carving during the age of glaciers. Below the mountains there is continuous activity, causing them to "grow," continually uplifting. The massive boulders rising to the surface, on land and within the lakes, may be some of the oldest rock in the world, but the mountains themselves are still growing up!

Within the mountains lie over 3,000 clear blue lakes surrounded by evergreens and deciduous trees, whose leaves this late in August are already turning bright shades of red, orange and yellow. We had the pleasure on Saturday afternoon to take a cruise along the 99 miles of shoreline of Raquette Lake. Nowhere have I ever seen cabins and camps like they have in the Adirondacks.
It is such a delight to see the quaint villages in this area. "Downtown" Raquette Lake sits almost in the exact middle of the park and consists of a small library, church, and a handful of businesses that look like they've just stepped out of the 1890s - when most of the "modern" buildings in this town were erected.

If you are looking for a visit to a bygone era of lumberjacks, want to spend a day canoeing in lakes like the Native Americans did, camp in the cool nights under the stars, wake to fishing and the call of loons, or dine with celebrities at the Great Camp Sagamore or with your favorite person by a cold mountain stream - try the Adirondack Mountains!
And if you want to go to church while you're there, you'd better have a boat or brush up on your swimming skills!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Duck Racing at it's Finest

The highlight of our small town summer is the annual Duck Drop. I call it The Duck Race, but race is probably too grand a word for this event.

We live along the Erie Canal. A waterway that was designed for boats pulled by mules. Speed was the great consideration in 1822 when this canal opened a gateway to the Great Lakes. The steam engine had not been invented yet, so the packet boats relied on mule power to make the trip from Albany to Buffalo and back. Speed in 1822 is not quite the 2008 equivalent.

On any given day, sightseers can enjoy dining along the canal. Or riding bicycles along the mule path, now a paved pathway that runs east and west for miles and miles. If you don't have a bike, you can rent one. Or try your hand on the open water renting a canoe, kayak or paddle boat. Although there is a current deep under the water, the placid surface is perfect for the ducks and geese that gather to entertain pedestrians and paddlers alike.

So peaceful are these waters, you can throw a stick in and an hour later still see it floating just a few yards downstream. Thus the term "race" is perhaps an exaggeration for our little event. The only reason the little rubber duckies move the alloted distance in less than 30 minutes is because the canal lock master upstream faithfully discharges a gush of water; he opens the lock at just the precise moment to give a little umph, a bit of a nudge, to hurry the duckies along.

The evening started out with a concert by a local band. A sea of lawn chairs and blankets. A gathering of young and old along the banks of the canal. Picnic baskets were wide open, wine was uncorked, the cheese perfectly sliced. A table sat off to one side where our local Starbucks provided free iced coffee. Could life be any better?

The crowd lined both shores. The air filled with anticipation. A local celebrity/news anchor was in place at the microphone to provide play-by-play and color commentary.

Close to 1,500 ducks were lined up, ready to launch. Ok. Not really lined up. But they were all boxed up, ready to be thrown off the Main Street bridge.

And off they go!

Regardless of which duck won, the real winners are the children in our community. All proceeds from the great duck race go to our Youth Services organization, providing free and confidential counseling to all children in our community. Children faced with challenging situations - facing difficult family relationships, family illness, substance abuse, divorce or just in need of someone to talk to... those children will have a place to go, or someone to come to them. Thanks to a little rubber duck race.

20 minutes later, the lead duck crossed the finish line. Backwards. Sticking his tongue out at the ducks behind. At least that's what I was told. And that duck's sponsor walked away with a $500 prize (for only a $5 investment).

I'm still waiting for my ducks to check in.