Friday, November 30, 2007

Heads Up

November 30, 2007

Think of famous partners: Ben and Jerry, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Abbott and Costello, Chet and Erin.

That's right. Chet and Erin. Congressman Chet Edwards and fifth grader Erin Buenger. Their co-teaching about government to the fifth graders at Mary Branch, scheduled for this morning and practiced together not at all, looked like they had worked together for years. The children were engaged the entire time and the real teachers may have had goose bumps watching. I know I did. Even better than the civics lesson, both Erin and Chet got plenty of plugs in for the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act. Two television cameras captured over an hour of tape each, including interviews with Chet and after he left, with Erin, about the bill (as the reporter Kristen Ross put the sound equipment on Erin for the interview, Erin noted--not in a braggy way, but just matter-of-factly--that she knew how to wear the microphone and battery pack because she had been on television before--both with a boom mike and with a clip on). I will post links to the stories once they air. For those of you who live in the Microplex, I think the story will be on Channel 3 at 6:00 today (Friday) and at some point of the Bryan School channel, but I'm not sure when.

Here's the first link: Bryan School District website.

Here's the link to the Channel 3 video. When we get back from the soccer tournament, I'll try to figure out how to get the video rather than a link to the video to display.

Wow! The list of people who made this happen is long. Thanks to Ali Kutzenberger and the fifth grade teachers at Mary Branch, Principal David Ogden, Sandy Ferris from the Bryan District office, Kristen Ross and her camera operators and assistants at KBTX, to Leah Cohen and Phil Shackelford from Chet's office, and most of all to Congressman Chet Edwards for making one girl, in particular, and an entire grade of children supremely happy today.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hope This Cheers You Up

November 28, 2007

You know how it is. Some mornings things don't unfold like you think they should. That happened to me today. I had put off something until the last minute that I need to do before my first class at 9:30, but of course, Erin was doing her impression of slow and slower. I drummed my fingers on the dining room table and re-read the paper, while she took ten minutes to eat two L'il Sizzlers. I went up and brushed my teeth a second time while she moseyed her way through her fruit bowl. I pulled the car next door to transfer the dozen boxes Erin's school needed for their food drive from my mom's car into my van, while she nibbled at her toast. Finally, I gave her the green light on taking her meds, so she could find her shoes and do her bathroom duties in preparation for departure.

I carried her backpack to the car and remembered that the sensor for one of my tires had been lighting up every morning since the cold front came through. I had the idea of topping it off with the air compressor while I waited for Erin. I took a reading with my handy digital air gauge: 30.0 lbs. which explained the electronic warning. Thirty pounds is right on the cusp of where the sensor is activated. I hauled out the air compressor, plugged it in, and gave the right, front tire a big drink of air (aiming at 35 lbs.) I took another reading: 26.5 lbs. Oops. I must not have gotten the device seated. Another try, another reading: 23.0. Once more: oh no, 18.0 lbs.

By now Erin was in the van making noises like, if you don't hurry, mom, I'm going to be late for school. I told her to move her stuff into Walter's car and left everything else just laying around, knowing that I would have to make the round trip, figure out something to do about my tire and how to get the boxes delivered, and race to campus.

By the time I made it home, Walter had found a way to suck seven more pounds of air out of the tire, and now he was running as late as I was. Eventually, we put all of our common sense together with all of our advanced degrees and figured out that someone (named Vickie) had set the regulator of the compressor down to 10 PSI (when she aired up a dozen soccer balls last month) and had not returned it to its regular setting. The physics majors among us knew what was going on as soon as I started the story, and the rest of you had quickly figured out that the air pressure inside the tire had to have been greater than in the compressor tube, or we wouldn't have lost so much air so quickly. We would have probably figured it out when the tire pressure fell below ten pounds and started taking air again.

I made it to school with the boxes and to work in time to finish my unfinished business, barely. I felt a little off all day until I came up to my desk to do this entry. I found the rough draft of the letter Erin recently wrote at school as a project to support the U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Here is the actual letter, but I will also translate it for you below so that you don't have to squint:

Dear Soldiers,

"Hello!" My name is Erin. I'm a 10 year old girl living in Bryan TX. I was told by my teacher that you needed cheering up. So I told myself I would write about my life which is pretty interesting. Let me begin. When I was 5 years old I was diagnost with a type of cancer cald neuroblastoma which is a solid tomer cancer that happens when one cell starts to not obeay your body. My tomer was about the size of a subway sandwitch [she draws an oval here and says "like this but life size"]. For many months I spent my time in the hospital. Sometimes I had to stay through Christmas. Then, when it seemed like everything was getting better, I relapsed (meaning another tomer had grown), so I went through the process again and a third time too, for yet another tomer had grown. Then on my 9th birthday I went to D.C. to lobby for pediatric cancer funding (meaning money for children's cancer) because the medicine I have to take right know is 30 years old and at first only adults could use it. When I got to D.C. I met our Congress man Chet Edwards and we were best friends immediately. The next time he came to Bryan he invited me to an Aggie football game. I met his family, and we went to the Presidential buffet. There we met former President Bush. Later Chet sent me a flag that flew over the capital on my birthday when I was there. I lobbied again this summer and this time my friend Nico came with me (He will be writing too). Now I am a happy girl, almost normal except for my memories. By the way I'm very interested in politics and when I grow up, I'm going to be the President of the U.S. I hope this cheered you up.

Your Friend,

I have to say that reading over that letter made small potatoes of my not-very-good start to my day. I, too, hope this cheered you up.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Great Visual Aid

November 24, 2007

I warned you. The free time flew out the window. I will now try to recall how this whole journaling thing works. I'll begin with three pics, representing some of the costume changes from 11/15: Erin and Jackson, with Ben Franklin (I couldn't convince the girl sitting behind me that this wasn't the original BF); Erin as ball girl, complete with tornado socks (and no, we are not sponsored by a barber shop); Erin and a bevy of Mystics bundled up at the Aggie game.

Hard to believe that Jackson and Erin are in the same grade with birthdays only months apart.

Erin was officially the first ball girl to handle a loose ball in the 2007 NCAA Women's Soccer tournament

I'm not sure what else to highlight of the last week and a half. Erin's IVIG went off without a hitch, if you don't count the slow start (arrival and scheduled start time: 9:00, actual start time: 11:50, total duration: ten hours). I guess you might say I was out of shape for the treatment world. I used to take ten hour (or longer) days in stride. I would certainly never run out of entertainment items. Last Friday's marathon at St. Joe's found me phoning Elaine at about 3:30, begging her to bring Nico by after his piano lesson because we were still facing another three hours of drip, followed by an hour observation, with not much left to hold Erin's attention.

Beyond that, things went fine. No allergic reaction. Hopefully, a more fully functional immune system.

I do have an unlikely Erin story to report. Erin's teacher asked her, Nico, and Farhan to teach a lesson about government some times in the next couple of weeks. Davis did the same thing when he went to Branch (although as I recall he taught his class about the concept of pi). What would you do if you had to do peer teaching? A little research, probably a poster, maybe a handout? Erin took a different tack. Last Sunday night she wrote her Congressman an email. Here's an excerpt:
Guess what?  My teacher asked me and some of my friends to teach our class
about the government! (voting, the order of succession, how laws are made,
great documents, etc.) We have been looking up facts in the library and
on the internet. I plan to tell the class about the Conquer Childhood Cancer
Act. Did you know that the Senate version passed out of committee last
week. I think the House may get to it in January. My mom said that she
heard people say that President Bush may veto it. I think that may not
happen though, because he had a sister who died of leukemia.

Anyway, I thought to myself we will need a little help to do a good job
teaching the class, and I was going to write and ask your advice. This
morning, my mom told me that you were speaking in College Station on
November 30, so when my mom said you were going to be in town, I thought I
would invite you to come to my school. I know you have a busy schedule, but
I would love to see you and for you to meet more of my friends. Also, you
would be a great visual aid.

By 10:00 the next morning, she had a reply from Chet, and I had a message on my cell phone from his scheduler, Leah Cohen. After a couple of rounds of e-mail exchange between me, the teacher, and Leah, the deal was set. Erin will have her Congressman at her back when she teaches next week.

Since then, we have focused on what the rest of America has had on its play list this week. That's right. . . house cleaning. Partly because I had reports to grade hanging over my head, and partly because I had twenty people planned for Thanksgiving dinner, I spent the bulk of Tuesday cleaning. Much of it was mundane and not worth a mention, but I did clean both refrigerators and all three freezers, consolidating the good and throwing out the bad and ugly. Can you guess how many boxes of rectangular salmon I found niched in various frozen nooks?

If you answered twenty-two boxes, you would win the prize. I felt comforted knowing that if all else failed and we ran out of time to cook the turkey and the giant pork loin we had bought, we could issue each guest a box of rectangular salmon and still have leftovers on Friday.

Having put the cool storage devices in good shape, I ran to Houston (heavy traffic both ways--up hill, but no snow) to pick up Davis and Dillon (look for an update to The Report pretty soon). Since then, the Buengers have had a grand Thanksgiving with much food, relaxation, some games and movies, and of course incessant dish washer loading and unloading. Both Aunt Elisabeth and Aunt Katherine made it to town with their lovely daughters. I wish all of them could have stayed longer, but there is never enough time. Erin doesn't seem to have noticed that the daytime outdoor temperatures have bounced around from 85 to close to 40 over the last couple of days. She has romped it up with the visiting twins Mary Beth and Rachel next door, Clayton Sue from Fort Worth, and Nico, Adam, Samantha, and Pablo. She's made it to the movies twice, around the lake several times, to someone's barn in the country (Can you tell that she's not a first-born? I let her leave for parts unknown, just so that I can grab a couple of hours of unencumbered grading time.), and up and down the road a gazillion times. I have quite a bit more to tell you (along with some decent photos), but in the spirit of balancing grading with blogging, I'll stop now and give you some more later.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Free Time?

November 15, 2007

Oh, the hubris of middle age. When I spotted some free time on the horizon, I should have said nothing, not even a whisper. Certainly, I shouldn't have made an announcement to what passes as the world at our house.

Not counting switching out of and into pajamas, how many costume changes do you make every day? Maybe one if you work out? Today Erin requires three. I didn't figure this out until I woke up this morning.

The fifth graders from Erin's school had a mini-field trip planned for today. They got to see a Ben Franklin impersonator (Is this like an Elvis impersonator only better? Worse?) over at the George Bush Presidential Library. Erin and her buddy Jackson Ross, also had the honor of introducing this event. We knew this ahead of time and had chosen an outfit (skirt, top, vest) that was a cut above the usual school attire so she would be presentable as well as presenting. Thus, my surprise when Erin arrived at the breakfast wearing shorts and a sweatshirt.

It seems that Erin's P.E. class was having some sort of skills test in the hour or so before she left. Obviously, she couldn't perform at her best without the right apparel.

So, what's the big deal? She dresses sloppy, sweats a bit, switches into classier raiment, and calls it good. Except, that's not her only scheduled costume change. At 3:00 this afternoon, Erin and some of her teammates will don their Mystic '97 uniforms (complete with candy cane socks) and serve as balls girls for the University of Texas/Brigham Young soccer match, which kicks off the NCAA tournament. After that game, we'll grab a box lunch and some tickets and head to the stands for the A&M/SFA match.

Hopefully, all of this action today will put Erin into the mood to hang out at the hospital tomorrow. Her IVIG infusion is schedule to start at 9:00 (thanks to both Jesse Parr, our local doc, and Heidi Russell our onc doc for getting this set up here rather than in Houston). If all goes according to plan, we'll be done by mid afternoon and her juiced up immunoglobulin G will get to work straightaway.

I don't expect this to be any more than tedium. Supposedly, if they infuse slowly enough she won't develop a headache or hypertension during the process. I want her in tip top shape for UIL tomorrow. She and Jackson are representing Branch in the district tournament in Number Sense.

So, you can see my alleged free time went poof and vanished. Too much free time is no longer a problem and my estimated completion time for the Proust monstrosity has already been revised to reflect that new reality. Patrick Lacey, Will's Dad, commented on Tuesday's entry that
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov would also make you beg for less free time. Which leads to my next question: what have you read that made you beg for less free time?

On the advocacy side, I have great news (great being a relative term that implies a pinch of progress toward the passage of the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, where up to now there had been no visible progress). The Senate Committee considering the bill discussed it yesterday and passed it on to the full Senate for later consideration. I copy from the CureSearch web site:

The Conquer Childhood Cancer Act was considered in the HELP [Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions] committee and was passed unanimously, without amendment, and after minimal discussion or debate. This brings us closer then ever to passage of this legislation.

During the mark-up, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, one of the bill's sponsors, emphasized to his colleagues on the Committee that parents and advocates have a right to have a voice in how their tax dollars are spent. The childhood cancer community has a powerful and passionate voice and has used it well. Over the past several months thousands of letters have been sent by childhood cancer advocates to their Members of Congress and information about the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act has appeared on hundreds of parent web pages, list servs and blogs. We are grateful for your impassioned, relentless support!

There is still much work to be done and many challenges lie ahead. The bill now needs to either pass by unanimous consent by the full Senate (which is unlikely) or to be voted on by the full Senate. If the latter happens, we will need 60 yes votes in order for the bill to pass the Senate.

Please continue to reach out to those Senators who are not yet co-sponsors to secure their support.

On that last thought, if you still have a Senator(s) not signed on this bill (as I do) the time is ripe to up the pressure. My staff-approved canned response for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison included the line: "Should S. 911 come for consideration before the full Senate, you may be certain that I will keep your views in mind." I will now let her know my views AGAIN, so that she can keep them in mind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Free Time

November 13, 2007

While the Lady Aggies and Davis may still have matches left in their seasons, Erin's Mystic '97 and my SMC team closed the book on our seasons last weekend. At first I thought I'd have to coach Erin's final game with her sitting beside me on the bench.

The previous Saturday, her team had done a miserable job with air balls (in soccer, as opposed to basketball, air balls are not necessarily a bad thing. It just means the ball's trajectory moves through the air rather than along the ground. It also often means that you have to stop the ball, midflight, with some body part other than your foot.). I can't really imagine why smallish children would duck when sharply struck balls zipped towards them rather than directing them down to their feet with their foreheads or maybe even their soft underbellies, but ducking, followed by chasing was the dominant strategy for that game. Anyway, because of that shortcoming in their collective game, Elvis spent time on air balls and heading in practice last Tuesday. At the end of the drill he encouraged them to practice at home. As encouragement, he told them that anyone who couldn't do two consecutive headers, without catching the ball in between would have to do fitness (translation: run repeated sprints) the whole practice on Thursday.

Well, Erin forgot to practice heading on Wednesday, leading to a tearful bedtime on Wednesday night. I reassured her that she could take a ball to school on Thursday and practice at recess and again after school if she needed to. Unfortunately, even after two practice sessions, Erin couldn't bop the ball up in the air twice without catching it. She was in a funk and didn't want to go to practice.

I tried calming words ("I'm sure it will go better once you're out at the field."). No use.

I tried logic ("It's unreasonable to believe that Elvis could actually expect anyone to run sprints for an hour and a half.)." No use.

I tried a lot of other things.

Finally, I tried guilt. "Erin, you can't just skip practice. People are depending on you. You can't let your team down. You signed up to play soccer. If you don't want to practice, you shouldn't sign up for soccer next season."

To which Erin replied, "That's just it, mom. I signed up for soccer, not for fitness. I want to play soccer, not just run sprints."

To which I replied. . .well I couldn't think of anything to reply (note bene: even though I had no reply, I made Erin go to practice anyway, because I didn't want to bench her for her last game).

Luckily for me, Elvis had a plan. After about fifteen minutes the entire team had successfully headed the ball at least three times in a row, including Erin who mastered that feat no fewer than six times in that fifteen minute period, and no one did fitness.

I'm not sure if that was the key, but the Mystic '97 closed out their season with their only shut out, a 3-0 win that convinced me that they knew something about soccer and maybe even a little bit about handling air balls. Afterwards, we celebrated surviving our inaugural season with a cookout.

One of the dads had offered to cook hamburgers for everyone, and another dad brought a large round pit (think something that might be mistaken for a small UFO on a dark night) to the fields that could handle dozens of burgers at once. I didn't know if anyone had actually taken responsibility for cooking the meat, so I suggested to Walter that he bring his charcoal starting chimney and take charge if it looked like no one else was primed. When everyone gathered at the pavilion after the game, we found the huge pit, full of charcoal, but no fire, no glowing embers, and no browned burgers. I gave Walter the signal, and he trotted to his car. Within minutes he had retrieved the chimney, stuffed one end with charcoal and the other with newspaper, and lit the paper. Worked like a charm (for the risk averse among you, this is positively the quickest, safest, most efficient way to light charcoal).

Worked like a charm, that is, unless you are a risk-loving pyromaniac with body parts to spare. Soon after Walter had the charcoal started, another dad came striding up, laden with the haul from his latest mission. That's right. He had managed to procure two jumbo-sized bottled of lighter fluid, which he proceeded to sprinkle, squirt, spray, dump, and/or jet directly onto the charcoal, causing flames to leap up like the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe in its prime and threaten to shorten sideburns, eye brows, and possibly underarm hair. Several moms looked up from a distance, yawned like they saw things burst into flames at home every single day, commented on the testosterone fest, and returned to noshing chips and chatting. I pointed out that only Walter had had enough sense to back away, and before anyone could comment on his lack of testosterone, I announced to the women seated near me that he had plenty in the testosterone department to spare. No wonder all the soccer moms were eying him the rest of the evening.

Yesterday, I figured out the answer to the question that had popped up several times that evening and the following day: what are you going to do with all your spare time, now that soccer has ended?

You may remember my mother and I are the sole members of the Cypress Road Mother/Daughter Book Club. A couple of years ago, we decided that we had missed a number of great books (or maybe just forgotten them), so we started taking turns picking a "classic" for fun and pleasure. We've read (off the top of my head):

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter
Miguel de Cervante's Don Quixote
Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Virginia Wolfe's Mrs. Dalloway
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
E.M. Forster's A Passage to India
Henry David Thoreau's Walden

and taken a pass at Ovid's Metamorphoses and The Koran.

I finished Walden a few weeks ago and started filling in my bedtime reading with cheap mysteries. It was clearly time to get back to the Mother/Daughter Reading Club. Saturday night, armed with our internet list of great books and some adult bevs for inspiration, we began the process of choosing a new selection. There really isn't a system. We've heard of most of the books on the list, but don't really know much about any of them. My turn to choose, so I laid out three suggestions: St. Augustine's Confessions, Dante's Divine Comedy, and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Proust is a 20th century writer, so we thought we would take it easy on ourselves and choose that one and leave the ancient (or at least extremely old) texts for another day when we felt heartier (I'll bet you former English Lit majors are chortling to yourselves at this point).

I got a chance to stop by Barnes & Noble yesterday while Erin was at piano lessons. I found Proust easily enough. What I hadn't realized was that
Remembrance of Things Past was a circular novel, most well-known for its extended length (the first of three volumes exceeds 900 pages and the set weighs in at 7.2 pounds for the paperback edition). I also learned that in the most recent translation the name was changed to more accurately reflect the original. Now it's In Search of Lost Time. What better way to spend my newly found free time than immersed in a search for lost time?

Let me know when it's soccer season again, so I can give up some of this free time.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I'm Overwhelmed

November 9, 2007

I just checked Erin's Giving Tree, and Erin Fans have already decorated with 194 ornaments. This amazes and humbles me! Thank you so much. Lunch for Life is such an awesome way to support research. It is run by families of children with neuroblastoma (and you thought I did a lot with my little cache of spare time). Here's where your lunch money goes:

  • ALL funds raised through "Lunch for Life®" go directly to support neuroblastoma research and initiatives.
  • Funds are dispersed through a grant review process and funding decisions are based on the direction of the CNCF’s Medical Advisory Board. (This board is an independent and organizationally diverse group of neuroblastoma specialists and researchers committed to hastening a cure.)
  • Lunch for Life® is entirely about removing this horrible disease from the face of this earth. It is about speeding up the process.
  • Lunch for Life® is about saving children's lives.
It is simple. We are an organized group of families with children, grandchildren, friends, and relatives afflicted by cancer. Our only goal is to erradicate this disease. Our children may or may not benefit from this research. A cure may not come in time for many of our little warriors. But we can keep other families from walking in our shoes and we can keep other children from entering into the world of neuroblastoma. It is for these reasons that we are committed to finding the cure. We have no desire to fund expensive marketing campaigns. We are committed to finding a cure. It is about the children.

I feel privileged to count you all among Erin's special friends and supporters. If you feel like you can, please give up lunch for Erin
. Do it as a way to kick back and celebrate Veteran's Day. Or wait a couple of weeks and make it part of your Thanksgiving ritual. Do it for Advent or the Festival of Lights or Kwanzaa or as your personal Ramadan. Pick a day. Have a big breakfast. Skip lunch. Send the money to Lunch for Life. Think about doing that once a month. Ask your friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers to join you. If you can't bear the thought of missing a meal, eat and donate anyway.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thanks Texas, Thanks Ted

November 7, 2007

Texans passed Proposition 15 (58-42%) yesterday thus
authorizing up to $3 billion in state general revenue bonds to fund cancer research, prevention, early detection and control programs. Thank you voters! Let the trials begin.

After a nine month wait, Ted Kennedy has scheduled S.911 for consideration in Executive Session of the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee for one week from today (November 14). Thanks Ted! If you haven't written your follow-up letter to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson requesting her support on this legislation, do it now. Tell her the Conquer Childhood Cancer train is about to leave without her.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Erin Needs Your Help

November 5, 2007

We spend a lot of time forgetting that Erin has cancer. We focus on her great grades. We relish watching her make a quick tackle, followed by a splendid turn on the ball to throw the attacker off and start the offense for her team. We revel in the charm of her smile and the radiance that overflows from her eyes. We grin at her wit. I spent a long twenty minutes with her yesterday exploring what college courses she should take to prepare herself to serve as our nation's president, and another long spell staring at a mother spider who had just hatched a host of spider babes.

All these moments help fade the fact that she's ten and been staring cancer in the face more than half her life. . .the fact that relapsed neuroblastoma has no cure (yet).

If you are a Texans and a registered voter, you have the opportunity to help Erin, possibly directly, and certainly indirectly, by voting YES for Proposition 15.

Proposition 15 is a constitutional amendment to establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to:

  • Conduct research to prevent or cure cancer
  • Support existing cancer research efforts in Texas
  • Implement the Texas Cancer Plan, a statewide blueprint for cancer prevention and control

If passed, Prop 15 will authorize up to $3 billion in state general revenue bonds to fund cancer research, prevention, early detection and control programs.

In 2003 the director of the National Cancer Institute stated that we could eliminate cancer suffering and death by 2015. Since that time the Bush administration has cut the NCI budget three consecutive years making the goal unlikely to be reached by that time. The funding level now is less than $5 billion for all cancer research. The amount allocated to children's cancer is less than 5% of that. All of cancer research funding is equivalent to what is spent in Iraq in just a few days and the equivalent amount spent on pediatric cancer research is spent in Iraq in minutes.

If the nation does not view cancer research as a priority, Texans have the opportunity to step into the breach. Did you know that Texas has more children with cancer than Canada does? Can we get some budgeting priorities right? Please vote and encourage others to do so as well.

Even if you don't live in Texas, you can help. Our regular holiday message is GIVE UP YOUR LUNCH FOR ERIN.

Lunch for Life

Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation has launched this year's Lunch for Life. Once again, we are getting into the holiday spirit by asking folks to give up their lunch to help find and fund a cure for neuroblastoma.

Here’s how it works: Each child has his or her own virtual giving tree, and your donations will decorate those trees with ornaments and (ultimately) presents. Every donation you make on Erin's behalf has three effects: 1) her tree receives one ornament for every $5 you donate; 2) every donation generates a Giving Code that gets Erin bonus ornaments if you pass it on to a friend to use; and 3) each ornament creates one entry for that child into our Disney World giveaway. For example, if I give up lunch all week ($5/day) and donate $25 to Erin's tree, she gets 5 ornaments on her tree and 5 contest entries. I also get a Giving Code to pass along. (PLEASE NOTE: Erin's Giving Tree Code is 24730) When a tree is full (500 ornaments), those ornaments transform into a present underneath that tree, and the decoration process begins all over again.

I just visited the link and it took less than a minute to give up my lunch! If you're skeptical, spend some time on the Lunch for Life website. ALL FUNDS raised through Lunch for Life go directly to support neuroblastoma research and initiatives. Erin might not benefit from the research, and it might not save her life, but we hope it will. We want to wipe neuroblastoma off of the face of the earth!

One thing you will notice if you have visited Lunch for Life before, the web page has a new look. More importantly, there are new ways to get involved: in your neighborhood and at work. If you have ever thought about passing it forward, this would be the place to start.

One final word on Erin.

I just received the final blood lab report from Erin's work up last week. Nothing in the CBC was quite as good as last month:

WBC 3,300
ANC 1,700
HGB 11.3
PLT 245,000

but the chemistries were all normal. We also measured quantitative immunoglobulins to see if her body has the ability to mount an immune response if faced with viral or bacterial infection. No real surprise that she measured lower than normal (IGg-511 mg/dL when the reference range is 690-1560 for her age and size). Walter and I are investigating how to get her an infusion (IVIG) that would boost her immune system. In the meantime, don't cough on her, smear your boogers on her, or offer her bons bons that you have already licked. In fact, I think you should get into the habit, when someone sneezes, of saying "Bless you. Sanitize." like the children in Erin's fifth grade class do.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


November 2, 2007

Education researchers have discovered a new correlate to high performance on the TAKS. For you non-Texans TAKS stands for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Public school students in grades 3 through 11 take subject matter tests to demonstrate proficiency in various subject areas. The TAKS is the model for our country's No Child's Left Behind. And what I have never understood is why we would care about a Child's Left Behind and not their Right Behind. I say, it should be Both Behinds or No Behinds, not one or the other.

Butt, I digress.

I learned about the research applicable to the Reading TAKS when I recently had a conversation with the learning specialist at Erin's school. Apparently, at each grade level, reading aloud at a particular speed is an uncanny predictor of success on the reading TAKS. Therefore, fluency has become a crucial part of reading preparation at Erin's school. Each student receives a grade-level appropriate passage on Monday. They practice at home reading the passage out loud, and on Friday, they read as much of the passage to their teacher as they can in exactly one minute. The plan is to continue doing this each week through February, so that all the students can become fluent readers. The first Friday, when Erin had finished her minute and recorded her result, she had read 263 words per minute. This was three words more than the chart she was supposed to record her results on could accommodate. (If you want to measure yourself against Erin, take a look at the October 29th entry below. Turn on your stopwatch and read for a minute out loud. If you made it to the word "lack" as in "lack of hand washing facilities" you matched Erin's first effort.)

The next week, she practiced a little more (actually a considerable amount more. Every evening, after dinner when Walter and I sat down to catch up on the events of the day, Erin sat in front of the microwave, time set to twenty minutes and read and re-read the passage at top speed.). At the end of the week, she sipped through 304 words in a minute. That would be the equivalent of reading this entry from the beginning through the word "little" in the first sentence of this paragraph in sixty seconds. That may not seem so difficult to you when you are reading silently, but do it out loud. Listen to yourself. If you could really talk that fast you would have a career as an auctioneer (and not many other opportunities).

So, when I was visiting with the learning specialist about another matter, I asked about fluency. I was pretty sure that I had stumbled upon the unintended consequences of a well-meaning change in the curriculum. What the teachers (and researchers) expected was that having children read out loud would improve their silent reading, giving them a better chance to finish reading passages on standardized tests with enough time to answer the questions posed. What they got was a goal-oriented child, who already reads waaaaaay beyond her grade level, who is also a motor mouth. If you have ever heard Beaker, from the Muppets, talk, you can imagine what Erin sounded like reading out loud at the speed of sound.

When Erin got home this afternoon, she told me she was done with fluency. Her teacher told her she didn't have to do it any more. She was happy about it, but promised that she would start doing it again, if anyone in the fifth grade reached 305 WPM. Whose child is she?

This whole episode cracked me up.

On to Halloween. . .

For years, Erin has wanted matching mother/daughter outfits. This is not really my thing. I'm a business school professor. I wear suits and sports coats. It's my uniform. There are NOT a proliferation of suits and sports coats available for little girls. Erin wears young girl stuff: capris, skorts, you know the gig. Finally, this fall, she made me a deal. She told me she wanted to dress up for Halloween as a Congresswoman, would I help her get a costume, preferably a suit? Plus, she said, if I would buy her a suit, she would wear it for her Christmas outfit, her Easter outfit, and as her dress-up clothes on Sundays. I cratered.

I can actually picture her as my representative or Senator in a couple of decades. Can you? The lapel pins she is wearing is the gold ribbon for support of childhood cancer! She had a grand time, first hanging with her buds, Jesse, the Egyptian pharaoh, Ian, the bumblebee, Nico, the Ketchup bottle, Adam the skeleton, and Shelby, the lady bug.

We met up with the Mystic '97 soccer girls and got more trick or treating in. I don't think Erin actually understands that Halloween is to dramatize your greatest fear (thus a lot of dead guys trick or treating) or embody something beautiful or funny. Erin thinks you Halloween is a dress rehearsal for your later life. She looks ready to serve.

One other thing before I sign off for the night (can you tell that Walter is out of town. . .academic trip to a conference in Richmond, Virginia?), thanks to you the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2007 will receive its Senate markup next week, if all goes according to plan. As of tonight there are 44 Senators and 160 representatives already committed to the bill's passage. If it makes it through committee in both houses (this is where it found its untimely death last year), it will go for a full vote, then to the President for a signature. If it makes it that far, I will call on you again, because this bill is only an authorization bill. If it passes, the Appropriations Committees will have to find funds to make it happen, and that won't be easy.

Check back again soon. Lunch for Life is launching again soon, and as always. I'd like you to give up your lunch for Erin.