Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pet-sitting Trauma

It all begins so innocently. I like pets but don't have any of my own. So I say "Sure!" when friends ask me to pet-sit for them. Last week was Spring Break for Red and Rainman, so we offered to take care of the preschool guinea pig for a week. Some of you know that we have a nice history with guinea pigs (Rest in Peace, Ferdinand and Isabella).

Squeaker came to live with us and everyone was loving her furry sweetness, until she began bleeding all over the pee pad towel we used to hold her. Uh-oh. A few frantic phone calls and google searches later, and I learn that no, in fact, it is not normal for female guinea pigs to bleed. Rats.

Waiting at the vet, I feel like a nervous Mom with a sick, furry child. A young woman in scrubs comes out and calls "Squeaker Cosgrove?" In we go. They check her vitals and give her I.V. fluids. It turns out that Squeaks has a possible urinary tract infection (does she not know about wiping front to back after the goes to the bathroom?).

So we spend the week nursing her back to health with antibiotics, fresh veggies and lots of love. As my brother, the doctor, puts it, "That pretty much sums up 90% of modern medicine". Hooray! Squeaker is cured and we return her to nursery school in better shape than she came to us.

We are no strangers to the world of pet-sitting sick, dying, or totally-faking-it pets. In fact, my best advice to those of you who live near me is FIND ANOTHER PET SITTER. We have a knack for bad luck with all creatures, great and small. For more on our spotty record with other people's animals, read my post on svmoms.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Obese Kid Nation: the School Lunch Connection?

Do you know what your kids are eating for lunch at school? I do, but only because they are still young enough that I pack their lunches. But in a few more months, my eldest will be able to eat in the school cafeteria. And what's on offer there is a troubling mishmash of highly processed food and sometimes, a few healthy options.

Since learning that at least 1/4 of our local kids are obese, I've gotten involved in a group that advocates for healthier food in our schools. Partly, I'm doing this for my own kids. I'm also doing it because of all the kids who consider themselves lucky to get a subsidized school lunch and count that free or reduced-price meal as the best one they get all day. And trust me, as a community and as a country, we can and should do better by our kids.

At our local school, concerned parents started a Wellness Committee to work with district officials to get better food at our schools. It has been an uphill battle, despite the fact that district officials seem to agree that our food could be healthier. A combination of tight budgets, bureaucratic inertia, and free food courtesy of the federal government ("commodity food") seems to conspire against serving truly nutritious food. And highly processed food like Hot Pockets and Pizza Sticks (which contain imitation mozzarella, sodium nitrites, preservatives, artificial colors, and partially hydrogenated oils) keep turning up on our lunch menus, despite multiple requests by our group to replace them with healthy options.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a conference call with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack about nutrition in the schools and the Obama administration's policies for a healthier America. A fellow blogger from SVMoms (and Mednauseum) arranged the call. It was eye-opening. Schools in the U.S. provide lunches to 30 million children and breakfast for more than 10 million. Secretary Vilsack pointed out that the federal Childhood Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization this year and that Members of Congress face some tough choices: to increase funds for healthier schools and make cuts elsewhere in the budget, or not.

The Obama administration knows it needs to do better. The Department of Agriculture hired the Institute of Medicine to analyze our school's food. In their report, they noted that the USDA needs to work on:
  • Increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Setting a minimum and maximum level of calories
  • Focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium
All of the above definitely holds true in our little school district. And a few of us at our school have even (gasp!) asked why the schools need to serve chocolate milk. Would it be the worst thing for kids to have plain milk or water with lunch instead of a sugar or corn syrup-laden drink? The grim truth is that even in healthy Santa Clara County, one in four of our kids are obese or overweight. And for adults? Half. For adult males of color? 70%.

When we were talking to Secretary Vilsack, some of the bloggers on the call pushed him about getting healthier commodity (free) food from the USDA. He basically told us that school districts have to push for it and the government will be responsive. So if we want to tackle obesity among our kids, we have our work cut out for us. We have to ask Congress to reauthorize the Childhood Nutrition Act and increase funding and attention to programs that get more fresh fruits and veggies into school lunches. We have to support the First Lady's new initiative "Let's Move" to get kids moving. And at the local level, we have to meet with and work with our school boards and food service providers to push for healthier food at schools.

So just as our kids need to do, we adults need to embrace "Let's Move". Maybe it will also inspire us to "get moving" on improving what we feed our kids and how we help them be healthy.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Roller Disco Night: Go While You Still Can

Last weekend, we rolled back in time to a decade that was much more colorful than the current one. We went to the '70's to be precise. How did we get to that magical decade, you ask? By going with a group of friends to Roller Disco Night at a local skating rink.

Here in Silicon Valley, we have three roller rink options: San Jose Skate, Cal-Skate in Milpitas and Redwood Roller Rink in Redwood City. I had only ever been to San Jose Skate (a.k.a. Aloha Skate). My 3rd-grade birthday party was held there and someone -- you know who you are -- threw up in the car.

Last weekend, we ventured up the peninsula to Redwood Rink, which is truly a time capsule of another era. It has a wooden floor, bumpy in places. The DJ spins classic 70s songs like "Ladies Night". They have a divey snack bar. I laughed more watching my husband and friends roller skate in various disco costumes than I have in a long time. Ever so slowly, at very low speed, I shot the duck.

So if the photo of me in my Farrah Fawcett wig and pink satin jacket aren't inspiration enough to prompt you to go, read my full post about it here:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My unfashionable side: What would Coco say?

Like most Moms who aren't working in a glamorous industry (part-time academia anyone?), attention to fashion is a long-lost memory. But I just finished reading a novel for the svmoms online book club about Coco Chanel called Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky that called to mind why I sometimes love beautiful clothes. And when I say "sometimes," I mean "once in a blue moon". (As I type this, I am wearing hot pink flannel pajama pants with sheep on them and a cotton turtleneck sweater with a mystery stain on the front). But every now and then, I decide I need to look good. I want to look good. So I delve deep into the bowels of my closet and find... something or other.

Reading descriptions of Coco's simple yet elegant style in this novel: her pairing of crisp whites with timeless blacks, recalling her use of beautiful fabric and attention to detail makes me want to own one or two timeless pieces of clothing myself. So maybe for next year's big birthday, I will treat myself to a classy, classic piece of clothing. (And I promise, I won't wear either of them with my pink pajama pants.)

The occasional need for beautiful clothes hit home on my recent birthday. A few weeks ago, my sainted hubby told me he was surprising me for my 39th. He's not a surprise kind of guy, so I was excited. He arranged the sitter (my Mom) and made the reservations. All I had to do was be ready to go around 7 PM on Friday night.

I couldn't remember the last time I had made a major effort with my appearance so I ditched my usual going-out-in-winter look (flouncy silver and black wool skirt, black cardigan and black boots) for my cranberry colored sleeveless dress. When I first brought it home, my hubby dubbed it my Michelle Obama dress because I bought it in Chicago. Plus it's classy and tailored and sleeveless -- a style our First Lady often wears. I put it on for our night out and felt great. And it was a good thing too. Because the surprise was that we went to Manresa for dinner. A place I have longed to go since I first read about it in Switzerland more than five years ago. And Manresa did not disappoint. Oh my. Did it ever not disappoint. We both loved our first amuse bouche (a soft-cooked egg with cream, sherry vinegar and maple syrup) so much that we threatened to order a dozen more and eat them as our first, second and third courses.

Part of what we both loved about Manresa was the casual-elegant yet warm and refined atmosphere. Some of the art on the walls in the restroom consisted of real menus from restaurants in France (presumably where Chef David Kinch used to work?). Looking at them, I was reminded of some of the things I loved about living in France. The wonderful food. The beautiful clothes and sense of style of the residents, the beauty of the vineyards, cycling with friends in the Loire Valley, a lazy trip with my husband and dear friends across Champagne...

It seems that this January, between the novel about Chanel and a transporting evening of eating at Manresa, I've remembered a few things: that I used to live in Europe and even managed to blend in. That I occasionally love to wear beautiful clothes. That I always love a nice glass of champagne. And that taking time with my appearance can elevate my mood and lead to an unforgettable night out.

Note: I received a free copy of the novel Coco Chanel & Ivor Stravinsky as part of the Silicon Valley Moms Group Book Club. This post was inspired by thoughts I had reading the novel, while noting my decidedly unfashionable attire.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pearl Up Ladies! (It's for your health)

Sometimes really horrible things happen to good people. Like Michelle Whitlock, a remarkable woman who is working on a global campaign called “Pearl of Wisdom” to educate and spread the word about cervical cancer. Michelle’s story is shocking. She was abandoned by her mother at age three and helped to raise her siblings while her father struggled with drug and alcohol dependence. She went on to college and a career. But when she was 26 years old, she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer that led to extremely invasive treatments, surgeries, pain and anguish. Years later, she is a survivor, an advocate and very recently, a mother.

But horrible things don’t necessarily have to happen if we are well informed and vigilant. The Pearl of Wisdom campaign aims to prevent more people from getting this disease by informing women – and especially mothers – about the options for avoiding this heartbreaking disease. I participated in a conference call a few weeks ago with Michelle Whitlock and Dr. Marie Savard, a doctor, author and medical contributor to ABC News, in which we learned about cervical cancer, the vaccine that prevents it and the tests we may need to ask for at our OB’s offices.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is caused by "high-risk" types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, about 3 of every 4 adults will have had HPV at some time in their lives. Most HPV infections go away without treatment. Infections that do not go away can cause cells on the cervix to change and become abnormal. Over time, abnormal cells can slowly develop into cervical cancer.

The good news is with proper screening and vaccination, almost every case of cervical cancer can be prevented.

If you’ve heard of the vaccine for cervical cancer (Gardasil) but don’t know much about it, it’s time to get informed -- especially if you have a daughter. Because who wouldn’t want to get their child vaccinated against a deadly cancer? The vaccine is both safe and very effective and has been given to 40 million people already. It is recommended to give it to girls before they become sexually active (ages 11-12) and up to age 26. This is a vaccine that prevents the virus that later causes up to 70% of all cervical cancers.

There are steps all women can take to reduce their risk of this disease too. If you are over 30, the next time you go for your annual check-up with your OB, ask whether you have had a test for HPV in addition to your Pap. In some cases, the Pap test misses cervical cancer, but a simple HPV test can detect it.

Lastly, take the pledge to protect yourself against cervical cancer and spread the word to the ladies you love.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Just in time for the holidays! Tech is making me stupid!

My latest post over at Silicon Valley Moms blog seems to have touched a nerve with a lot of people. It's called "Technology is Making Me Stupid" and it's about losing my car -- a friend's car actually -- at the mall and having to call my family to come rescue me.

The craziest thing about this post is that I vowed two weeks ago to stop parking and simultaneously erase from all memory where I put the car. Except that I did it again yesterday. Yesterday! How quickly we forget. So I'm crafting my New Year's resolution early. This year I resolve not to be an idiot about parking my car.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reflections of a public school newbie

My kindergartner has been in public school for fewer than 200 days, and I've already been thoroughly "schooled" in how little I know about elementary education. Having taught at a university for the better part of a decade, I think of myself as an educator. But this fall has taught me that the differences between teaching highly motivated adults at graduate school and teaching 4, 5 and 6 year olds (all in the same class!) are enormous. If adult students are from Mars, kindergartners are from a galaxy far, far away.

I volunteer in my son's class 5-6 times a month. Every time I leave the classroom, I'm in stimulus overdrive. Five cleansing breaths and a brisk walk later, my nerves are only slightly less frayed. The reserves of patience I try to tap into when I work with a challenging kindergartner never seem quite deep enough. The teacher often asks me to work with a boy in class who truly can not sit still, who runs away from the classroom, who won't make eye contact, and who generally says "I can't do it" about every task he faces. I try to teach him to count to five, but it's as if he doesn't know what numbers are. We work on writing his name, but he rarely makes it past the first two letters. After 15 minutes or so, the teacher usually takes over. I go find another table of smiling, wiggly, eager kids to work with. I breathe easier. I smile and help them. I feel useful.

As I leave the classroom, I often wish I had been more creative with the challenging boy. Could I have worked with him longer, if only to give the teacher a longer respite so she could focus on the other kids?

The teachers in my son's classroom are wonderful. Kind, patient, creative -- and they are both female. So are most of the parent volunteers. Sometimes I wonder if the boy I work with would react differently to a man? Would he try harder? Make more of an effort? Perhaps not, but it's interesting to note how few male teachers there are at our school. From my own experiences co-teaching courses with women and men, I know that adult students often respond very differently to male professors than female ones.

Phillip Done is a third-grade teacher at a local Silicon Valley public school. He's one of those beloved teachers who has been teaching for twenty-plus years and has received several national teaching awards. Mr. Done recently published a book of his thoughts about teacherhood called Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind. I just finished reading it for the SVMoms Book Club, and as I read it, I often wished I could be in Mr. Done's classroom. Many of the chapters are light and funny, like the one about gifts in which he talks about "Mug Week" (right before Christmas) when all teachers receive their "#1 Teacher" mugs from their students. Or for the male teachers, their novelty ties that play Christmas carols. (Note to self: perhaps we should just give gift cards to the teachers this year!)

The book's serious chapters shed light on the humanity of a caring, loving teacher. There are tear stains on at least three pages in my copy of the book. Reading about a girl named Rebecca, I was reminded of the boy I try to help in kindergarten.

Rebecca had trouble reading and lacked confidence to read aloud in class. Her mom was in jail and she was being raised by her grandparents. She fought at school and cried because she missed her mom. Worrying about her one night, Mr. Done hit upon the idea of having her read to the dog that comes to school a few times a week with the school secretary. He pitched it to the girl as a way she could help out the secretary, who was too busy to read the Max, the school's beloved golden Lab. After a few weeks of reading with Max, Rebecca's reading and confidence had improved. She chose books that she thought Max would love and got excited to read to him. Wiping away my tears, I kept wondering if there is a similar way that I could help the boy in my son's class. I haven't thought of any yet, but I have resolved to keep trying.

Even though I'm a newbie parent at my son's school, I know how vital it is to have caring, creative, kind teachers for all children. I'm grateful that my son has such a teacher and that great teachers like Mr. Done are sharing their stories so the rest of us can learn a thing or two about how it's done.

Erica also blogs for SVMoms. She received a copy of the book Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind for free as part of the SVMoms Group Book Club. She had hoped to give it to a friend as a Christmas gift but had an incident with some hummus while reading it.