Monday, December 31, 2007

Tying Up Loose Ends

December 31, 2007

I thought I should check in before the year ended and let you know not to worry. We had Christmas, lovely in all its splendor and good cheer. I really wanted to tell you all about it, upload photos, the whole nine yards. I just didn't get around to it. Not lazy, exactly, I just haven't wanted to come inside. And I certainly haven't wanted to sit in front of my computer (oh yeah, and there was the added problem of always finding a queue at my desk, when I actually made time to update--Davis is home for the break and playing an online, live version of Risk between the residential colleges at Rice that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week; Erin now has an active e-mail correspondence with a half dozen friends; and Walter's office is closed for the break, so he has to read the New York Times on my computer every day).

Erin made all of her Christmas presents again this year, mainly at the church gift making workshop, but she did a few on her own at home, including this lovely strawberry pot that she painted for an obviously appreciative Aunt Elisabeth:

This Christmas allowed Erin to act like everyone else in America who has birthday's between her age and Davis's. Annabelle received the video game that simulates air guitar with a fake one (you gotta love the camo pancho over the Christmas pajamas):

The only reason I really updated today though was to tie up the loose ends of the year. For those of you on scan watch, it's time to pump up the action. Erin will have routine scans next Monday. She and I will return Davis back to school on Sunday, and then get set for a full day where we dance the wild scantastic. Somehow, this time, I feel like everything will be copacetic.

For those of you curious about the IVIG infusion Erin had in November. Almost an unqualified success. Why almost? Erin has felt really well, no major or really even minor illness, even when those around her have been stricken. Good weight gain. Healthy appetite. The only problem? The insurance company is dragging its feet on paying the $1700+ bill. I'll get right on that . . .next year. For the results we've had, I might even consider paying the bill without complaining.

We trusted Willie enough to break out a new jigsaw puzzle last night. Last time we had puzzles out, Willie ate selected pieces and chewed through the boxes so that we did not have the completed view to work from. This time we started with a 500 piece one, so we could finish in one night, thus minimizing the risk. It worked, so far.

Erin is scheduled to leave for Fort Worth on Wednesday for a multi day visit with her friend, Clayton Sue and the rest of the awesome Benson family. Walter is leaving for an academic conference on Thursday, leaving Davis and I to knock off our various inter-term projects together.

Now, I best go start celebrating New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last Call

December 23, 2007

Thanks to the many loving folks who took the time to send an e-mail or write a comments about their holiday rituals. I wish I were as creative and interesting as all of you. There is still time to share your holiday remembrance/tradition/celebration so that I can include your story in the booklet for Erin. I will add to the booklet until tomorrow afternoon.

Also, last call for Lunch for Life. We need to send thanks to those of you responsible for decorating Erin's tree with almost 400 ornaments. Depending on whether you used the giving code 24730 or not, your donations have added at least $1000 and perhaps as much as $2000 directly to neuroblastoma research. If you have started to give, but hadn't yet, wed like to encourage you not to wait.

Lunch for Life

If you have been wondering what Erin has been up to, I should probably fill you in. Piano, soccer, and horse back riding have all taken a winter holiday. Is Erin languishing around the house with nothing to do? No, of course not. The weekdays may have slowed down enough to play with friends in the park or out in the woods most days after school, but the weekends have been chocked full. A couple of weekends ago, she helped celebrate Nico's birthday with him, went with Katie Lockett to see A Christmas Carol, then spent the night with her, and on Sunday morning served as liturgist in big church with Nico. Last weekend, we went to Jesse Baxter's ice show (and had the bonus of seeing Heather Jobling skate. . .Wow) on Friday. On Saturday, she spent the night with her buddy Tiffany Reeves (and joined their family at a holiday party and for hay riding at Central Park).

I had to pick up Davis in Houston last Wednesday, so Lizzie Cluff, fresh from a study abroad program in Australia, picked Erin up from school, took her for ice cream and girl talk, and delivered her to the church for bell and choir practice. By the time Erin got home, full of ice cream and good cheer, I think she discovered that she had gotten stronger than Davis over the semester, as this wrestling video demonstrates.

Erin's class holiday party (which is just an excuse to eat pizza and junk food and have extended recess) happened Friday (apologies to Elaine, but this photo was too cute to leave out).

Davis served as Santa's elf, orchestrating and managing the craft project. I do believe the fifth graders adored him, and I think I saw flashes of teaching excellence as he guided them through their project.

I feel so fortunate that Erin's class has a wonderful, family feel. You know fifth graders they can get mean or snotty to each other in certain circumstances, but these kids in Ms. Kutzenberger's class really have warm spirit.

Erin was surprised to find Aunt Kat and Emma at home (for a scheduled weeklong stay) when she got home from school. I had never really kept track of this, but according to Erin, she had never seen Emma on her first day of a visit, because she always arrived after I had sent Erin to bed. This year they arrived in plenty of time to join us for our planned activity--sledding on Mt. Aggie. Pat and the rest of you rolling in snow, don't laugh at this next picture. Here's how Texans enjoy a white Christmas (the little blob in the middle is Aunt Kat, zooming down the mountain like lightning. The white, of course, is artificial turf):

I don't know if other cancer parents are like I am, but I tend to see little microcosms of Erin's larger struggle with cancer in many commonplace events. Today, Erin served as acolyte during morning worship. During the prelude, Erin, garbed in her alb, walked slowly down the center aisle, holding a candle lighter (is there a special word for this device with a wick on one end and a bell-shaped candle snuffer attached?). She arrived at the Advent wreath and easily lit "hope" and "love." She got to "joy," and it wouldn't catch fire. Erin moved up a step on the chancel to try to see the wick better (causing her to stretch the lighter in front of her to reach the pink candle). It wouldn't light. The prelude music got louder and faster. Everyone in the congregation watched. Her candle lighter lost its flame. She calmly re-lit it on the "hope" candle and tried for "joy" again. No luck. The congregation was now holding its collective breath. The organist approached the climax of the prelude. Erin moved the candle lighter towards the "peace" candle, which quickly caught and flared up, then circled back for one last try at "joy." So much frustration, so many different angles, such a long stretch from the step across to the Advent wreath. The entire sanctuary sat still in its seat. No telling how many prayers were sent up, probably enough to lift the roof. Then "joy" kindled, almost guttered, then blazed. Everyone breathed, and Erin walked off, serious at first (as she had been the whole time), then her face changed expression, from determination to relief to joy. It was hard to tell which shown more brightly, the "joy" candle, Erin, or Erin's mom.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Two More--an Old One and a New One

December 22, 2007

You probably wouldn't recognize our Christmas tree as a Christmas tree if you saw it before we put on the ornaments. When I first met Walter (many moons ago), he was a young assistant professor, batching it on a pretty skimpy salary. That may or may not explain his choice of Christmas tree. He always called it a cowboy Christmas tree and claimed that he was allergic to regular trees in the
pine and juniper families. He would walk out into the fields near his house and chop a yaupon (ilex vomitoria), which he placed in a traditional Christmas tree stand (more on this later) and decorated with fairly traditional ornaments. Once you get used to the idea that your Christmas tree is neither symmetrical nor fully branched out and that it would not smell like a "Christmas tree" unless you put it next to Glade Evergreen air freshener, you can kind of get used to this funkier version. It also explains why we don't put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving. A cut yaupon can last maybe ten days before it drops its leaves and berries.

I don't want you to get the impression, however, that it is all sweet and light with a yaupon "cowboy" Christmas tree. For one thing it took us more years than I care to remember to figure out how to keep it from falling over once we got it into the stand. To me, putting up the tree always meant choosing a day that Walter wasn't likely to be stressed or in a bad mood already, icing down a plentiful amount of beer before hand for the aftermath, and preparing for a lot of whatever the opposite of Christmas cheer is. There are huge logistical problems with using a yaupon as a Christmas tree: the trunk is too slender to fit securely in a tree stand (we would wrap it with a hand towel to make the trunk thicker and use shims to make it fit); the top is heavier than the bottom and the trunk is crooked (we would use bricks on the feet of stand as counterweights and sometimes secure it to the wall with guy wires). We would wrestle with the tree and sweat. If you find one with a thicker trunk, the balance problem grows in proportion. If you find a relatively balanced one, it is likely to be too skinny for the stand.

One time we had successfully gotten the tree up and decorated, when the heater (or maybe air conditioner, since we are in Texas) came on and the air through the vent was enough to upset the delicate balance we had achieved and tumble the tree over, ornaments and all. Another time I remember vividly happened when Davis was still a baby. Our friend Duffy was either living with us or had just come over for the annual curse-fest of Christmas tree night. I had laid a fire in the fireplace to add to the ambiance of the evening and had secured Davis out of harm's way in his high chair to watch, but not interfere. Walter thought he had a better plan this year (I think this is akin to inventing a better mouse trap, much pursued but rarely realized), and we got started. Let me just say that a storm with horrible winds blew up suddenly and somehow caused the chimney to stop drawing. Smoke filled the living room, setting off the smoke detectors (of which, because we were new parents, there were plenty). The wailing smoke detectors launched the dogs into a howling frenzy. The howling dogs and wailing smoke detector startled Davis into shrieks and tears. This all happened just as Walter let go of the eight-foot tree, which torqued under its own weight and toppled to the ground. After that, I honestly thought that Davis would have to grow up opening his presents under a poinsettia or perhaps a sprig of mistletoe.

We did take the next year off from cowboy Christmas trees and bought a live tree (which we set up in the loft to keep Davis from continuously de-nuding it) and that worked okay in the set up, but hit our pocketbook pretty hard. Walter relented the following year, but somehow we had the brilliant idea of moving the location of the tree. Did I say brilliant? Is there a word more superlative than brilliant? If you can think of it, insert it here _______. That year we began with the idea that we would hang our tree with wire from the loft, so that the Christmas tree stand was really just a prop. We could get as large and uneven a tree as we could wanted, tie it up with wire, and secure it to the loft railings where they made a right angle. Since then, it has never fallen down. . .never teetered . . .never even come close. Now our only problem is that Davis and Erin pick the tree, and it's always a gamble whether we can squeeze it through the door.

The other holiday tradition at the Buengers that I want to tell you about began just two years ago, but it is one we hope to keep and expand. Maybe other environmentally conscientious families have figured this out a long time ago, but three Christmases ago, we looked around at the crumpled paper of every color piled in heaps around our living room and decided that throwing away good paper year after year could not be a good thing. We had tried the strategy of opening the gifts carefully and saving the wrapping paper, but that drug out the gift exchange way past bedtime. Davis suggested a solution. He went to a fabric store after Christmas and bought discounted holiday fabric. With me pinning and him sewing, we made what we call "Ho Ho sacks," bags of various sizes with drawstrings. The next year and last year we added to the collection, so we now have between a dozen and two dozen re-usable bags to hold our Christmas gifts. It makes the wrapping faster and the clean up pure joy. Here are some of the ones already under the tree (you can see that we haven't phased out gift wrap and paper gift bags completely, but that is the plan):

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Other Rituals

December 18, 2007

Ordinarily, we would have put up the Christmas tree last night, one week before Christmas Eve, but with Davis still in Houston, procurement of said tree has not yet happened. You will just have to wait until the morrow or perhaps Thursday to learn why the Buengers wait until the last week to put up their tree.

Instead of dusting off the ornaments today, my mom and I went into full-scale production on Chex party mix (or what most uncivilized folks like us call trash). We substitute copious amounts of butter for the usual bacon grease, but on the whole this is not a heart-healthy, or waist-line slimming snacking option. Since every batch has a life of its own, I can't tell you exactly what we do. It involves a turkey roaster, six flat pans of various sizes, a lot of ingredients left off the Atkins diet, a barely warm oven (like 250 degrees), and a ton of patience. Mainly, we mix our favorite naughty snacks in a big turkey baster, cover them with buttery, salty stuff, and then bake them at really low temps for about twenty minutes at a time. Then we take them out of the oven, skroodle them up (which means try to flip the ingredients over without dumping them on the floor), paint them with more buttery, salty stuff and bake them some more. We repeat this over and over and over until we have depleted at least a couple of turkey roaster and filled a comparable volume of Christmas containers and used coffee cans. It helps if you have loud Christmas music playing in the background.

Another holiday tradition that's cued up, but hasn't played yet is cookie day. Walter and Erin make applesauce cookies (the recipe makes so many cookies that Christmas is the only time of year I can let them do this recipe, and only then because we have a good chance of giving many of them away). Erin and I will also have another go at Grandmother Thompson's Icebox cookies (do you think Erin even knows what an icebox is?). We made these at Thanksgiving with the idea that we would use some of the rolls for Thanksgiving and save the rest for Christmas. Well, that plan went wrong, mainly because these cookies are so incredibly popular. Since we were down to one remaining roll and were going to have to make up a new batch anyway, we decided to bake up the last 40 or so and take them to the caroling party at the church on Sunday. People kept
sneaking back for seconds and thirds, and Jimmie Homburg said we needed to run the recipe in the Chimes. We may or may not do that, but I can do you one better. Erin's great-grandmother's recipe is now published in the brand new Lunch for Life Cookbook, which you can order online by following the links. The Lunch for Life Cookbook is a collaboration of families of children with neuroblastoma. Over 100 families and celebrities contributed their absolute best recipes to the production of this cookbook. Not only will purchasing this cookbook go along way in aiding our quest for a cure but we believe you will also be receiving some of the best recipes on the planet. All proceeds will go to benefit the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation, a public charity dedicated to finding the cure for neuroblastoma. If you do order today, they will deliver by Christmas, but if there's no rush, wait until tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

When You Least Expect It

December 14, 2007

Thank you for your patience while I finished grading all my final exams and dealt with the detritus the end of the semester inevitably delivers to my doorstep.

Thank you even more for sharing your Christmas memories, stories, and traditions. If you haven't made time, please add yours to the ones I already have. If you don't want to go into a long explanation, just leave me a comment, naming your favorite holiday food, hymn, or television special.

Thank you the most for growing Erin's Giving Tree to 304 ornaments. I can't tell you how proud it makes me, that after all of these years of watching Erin on this journey, you still have heart enough to support the research cause that matters so much to us.

I had to pause today and do some thinking. Typically, I am quick to criticize some aspects of college life and choices large universities, including my employer Texas A&M, make that just don't seem very educational. I have often spoken against our practice of stuffing 300, 400, even 500 students in an auditorium--lecturing to them with power point slides and asking them to bubble in scantrons to see if they remember anything. The way I see it, bubbling in isn't a skill that serves you that well in life after college.

Today, however, rather than railing about the stupidity of enormous classes, I want to tell you about the powerful impact they can have. I suspect, when you are sitting in a room with 549 other students who don't know you and don't care about you, it would be easy to feel disconnected and isolated. The Management 209 and Management 211 students, with the encouragement of their professor, decided they didn't want to feel this way. They made an mind-numbing effort to help children in Child Protective Services have a great Christmas by filling their Christmas wish lists. Using lists filled out by the children themselves, these students bought, wrapped, and delivered five presents each to 98 children in the area. . . and these were not just socks and toothbrushes. My office suite was gift-wrap central, and I saw at least twenty bikes, i-pods, playstations, and loads of fun (and specially requested) stuff. If you thought you had a lot of shopping to do, consider a wish list with 492 gifts. Here is a link to last year's gift drive:

The cool part is that this isn't a one off activity. It actually follows the classes' Thanksgiving food drive that started in October and ran through last month with students collecting canned goods and non-perishables for the local Food Bank. Those students also have a list-serve of students who send cards and notes of encouragement to people who have special needs. Sometimes, this list-serve gets so interested in the person with the special need they do even more. Besides wanting to warm your heart (and eat a little crow for being so critical of large classes), I can make even more of a connection.

Five years ago one of the people who needed something special was Erin. She was on the eighth floor of Texas Children's Hospital in the midst of her first of two stem cell transplants. This is how she looked on December 4, before she started her conditioning chemo. In a few days she looked much frailer, paler, and sicker.

A couple of weeks later two sisters,
Kalli and Meagan, arrived, fresh from finals laden with stuffed animals and special gifts that their peers at A&M and Blinn had taken the time to buy for Erin. A visit from Santa hadn't cheered her much, Tara Lipinski was okay, but not enough to get out of bed for, the singing FBI agents struck my funny bone and perked me right up, but Erin didn't even budge. Kalli and Maegan with an armload of stuffed animals? That was a different matter to that five year old. She made a quick animal pyramid (note Rosie on the left joining in with her holiday outfit on), and didn't even leave enough room for herself in bed.

I guess we didn't expect it. Just like I don't expect much good to come from large, auditorium classes. Except, sometimes great things happen when we don't expect them.

I don't know why I have to keep learning this lesson. I visit websites everyday, written by parents with sick children. Neil, spends the small slice of free time he has keeping up with emerging research that may have possibilities for neuroblastoma kids. Pat, has rallied his small community to raise thousands of dollars for research, Band of Parents just baked and sold 96,000 cookies to raise money for research. At the same time, Mara and Becky are shaping their words and images through their daughters' websites to reveal the true love and caring that is possible, even in the face of a horrible disease like neuroblastoma.

This holiday season, cherish your loved ones and pay attention. Something life changing could happen when you least expect it. You might even be the one who changes someone else's life.

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.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Crab Soccer--UGH!

October 29, 2007

When I was in junior high, I loved crab soccer. Crab soccer requires an over-sized, over-inflated ball, the hands and feet of all team members on the floor, and their bellies pointed to the ceiling. If you could kick like a Rockette, scramble backwards, forwards, and sideways, or at least if you had enough sense of humor to realize how ridiculous everyone looked, you could really appreciate the game. Now, I hate crab soccer.

No I wasn't recently picked last for the local team.
No, crab soccer hasn't shown up filling air time on ESPN2, scheduled right after adult dodgeball.
No, I don't think crab soccer takes Americans away from "real" soccer.

I hate crab soccer because as soon as the weather changes, and it becomes too chilly to hold P.E. outside, the P.E. coaches at Erin's school bring all the children in to the multi-purpose room and start crab soccer tournaments.

Why, you may ask, is that a problem?

Imagine what happens when forty 10 and 11 years olds wipe their noses (and what ever else you want to imagine) on their palms then place their palms on the P.E. room floor for a rousing game of crab soccer. That's one class of crab soccer players. Now, triple that number to 120 because each class plays three times a week. Now, multiply 120 times fifteen (the number of unique P.E. classes in the school) and spread the yuk that gets wiped to include the detritus on the hands of 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 year olds, too. Add in the lack of hand washing facilities in the P.E. room, and you can see two things clearly: why Erin has been sick twice in the last eight days and why I hate crab soccer.

It is also why I had a rant with (on?) the P.E. coach first thing this morning. Which P.E. coach you may ask? The one whom I met with before school started and in the second week of school about this very issue. The one whom Walter visited with at Open House in late-September about this very issue. The one for whom I bought an industrial-sized bottle of hand sanitizer to use to combat this very problem, with instructions just to mention when he needed more. The one who thanked me graciously and told me he and his assistant coaches really appreciated using the hand sanitizer to keep from getting sick. The one that kept the hand sanitizer hidden from the children.

As a result, last week after rousing games of crab soccer, Erin had a mild brush with a junky virus that left her tired and achy, but not too sick. This weekend, she met squarely with the disease that doesn't let you stray too far from the bathroom. Luckily, it didn't hit until we stopped for lunch on the drive home from the soccer game Saturday, but the last thing you really want to hear when you still have an hour and a half drive time remaining is for your child to announce that she has green diarrhea.

Besides maintaining an umbilical cord distance from the bathroom for the remainder of the weekend, Erin hasn't fared too badly. We did put all activities scheduled for the weekend on hold, so we wouldn't pass on this precious gift. That gave us ample time to catch up on our to-do list around the house and to put the finishing touches on our spooky jack-of-lanterns. This first one is obviously some kind of apparition from the spiritual world.

The second, if you can't easily tell, is the spittin' image of Willie, down to the cocked ear and insanely agile tongue.

The final shot features Erin with her two new friends and creations. This must be what Dr. Frankenstein felt like:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Plumbing the Depths of a Ten-Year-Old

October 22, 2007

Erin stayed home from school today. . .almost sick. She had vague symptoms: a little fatigue, slight body and joint aches, almost a headache.
Last year's dance marathon with Mr. Virus and Mr. Infection led me to err on the side of caution. Furthermore, since Walter actually was sick on Friday and Saturday, I figured that the full blossom of symptoms would appear as soon as I left for work. By the time I returned from work in the middle of the afternoon, I discovered I was wrong. True, Erin was no better, but certainly she was no worse either.

She was, however, ready for some mom time. Which brings us to Halloween decorations. I can't really explain why we didn't get the decorations up over the (gorgeous) weekend. But here we were, less than two week, heck, less than ten days until the big holiday, and not a window or wall of our house had anything orange or black stuck to it. So I dragged them out of the attic and found the scotch tape. You see, our Halloween decorations are not the kind that come from the discount store, require electricity, and take up the front yard. When Davis was about two and a half, we started making construction paper monsters and other Halloween-y things and sticking them on the walls and windows. When they started looking a little raggedy from being taped up and pulled down year after year, I took the lot of them to the teacher's office supply store and had them all laminated. Each year, when Erin or Davis made a new creature at school, I added it to the collection. Now we look eerie, floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Here's a view of Erin's window (note bene: every window in the house looks like this, but with a different theme. The theme here is obviously home decorating tips by Peter, Pumpkin Eater.):

Erin also brought home the project she created for social studies last six weeks, where she had to create a continent. Might I introduce the eighth continent: Erionalista (no little ego here).

As long as I am exploring the talents and creations of Erin Buenger, you might as well hear how her thoughts unfolded this week.

Conversation 1 (between Erin and mom):

Erin: "Mom, how old was Davis when he got his own e-mail address?"

You can see where this is going can't you? Erin doesn't have her own e-mail address, and apparently is the only ten-year-old in America who us so dispossessed and cruelly punished.

Mom: "I think he got one when he got to Rice last fall."

Erin (not the answer she wanted to hear): "Oh, that's right back when Davis was a kid, kid's e-mail wasn't invented yet."

Conversation 2 (between Erin and Nico):

(Overheard from the backseat of the car on the way home from children's bells and choir last week. The two of them were discussing another choir member who always acts dramatically when she misses a note.)

Erin: "I don't know why she has to fall down and moan when she misses a note."

Nico: "Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't know why either."

Erin: "Look at me. I've hit so many wrong notes this year, that if you stacked them all up they would reach to Houston."

Conversation 3 (at the breakfast table):

Erin: "Do you remember in the Winnie-the-Pooh story when he eats too much at Rabbit's house and then gets stuck in the door as he's leaving?"

Mom: "Yes, what about it?"

Erin: "So, didn't he get stuck leaving, with his head and arms on the outside and his feet on the inside?"

Mom: "That's the way I remember it."

Erin: "And he had to stay there a long time until he thinned out?"

Mom: "Yes."

Erin: "Well if he was stuck there all that time, where did he go to the bathroom?"

Mom: "I don't think stuffed animals actually go to the bathroom."

Erin: "Then why do they call him Pooh?"

Remember, I'm not skilled enough to make this stuff up.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why Don't I Trust My Own Eyes?

October 16, 2007

I have watched Erin since July, when she had an elevated TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) level in one of her blood labs. TSH isn't something we test very often, so we really didn't have much to compare it to. A consistently high TSH would indicate hypothyroidism (something that would need daily medication, so Erin could grow properly and have enough energy to do the things she wanted to do).

At the time I gave her doctor a "What?-Are-You-Crazy" look, because she knows as well as we all do, that Erin hits the ground running every single day and never shows signs of hypothyroidism (fatigue, sleepiness, weight gain, decreased concentration, etc.). That's when I learned of the condition called subclinical hypothyroidism. Subclinical means you show no clinical signs of disease. It happens when the thyroid may be damaged (How would a thyroid get damaged? Oh, use your imagination. . .perhaps by radiation to the throat, which happens when you have radiation to your total body), but it compensates for the damage by working overtime, putting even more stress on the endocrine system. People with subclinical hypothyroidism can solve most of their problems by taking medicine, but once they start, they usually have to take it for the rest of their lives.

I so didn't want Erin to have to add another set of daily meds to her kit. Frankly, I was prepared to keep her off the meds, unless the doctor made a very compelling case that she needed them. I mean, what's the point of having a beautiful, not over-stressed thyroid if you think you won't have ample opportunity to use it later in life? Her oncologist wasn't terribly worried last summer, but she did suggest scheduling an appointment with an endocrinologist when we came in for scans, just to have a specialist's view point.

So since July, I have watched Erin to see if I could see signs of a struggling thyroid, and since October 2 (after the endocrinology appointment), I've been waiting for the test results that would confirm a thyroid problem.

They came today:

T4,Free(Direct)                   1.12 ng/dL           0.82 - 1.58

TSH 4.415 uIU/mL 0.360 - 5.800

THYROXINE (T4) 6.9 ug/dL 4.5 - 12.0


What a relief! I thought of the punch line to the old joke: "Are you going to believe me, or them lying eyes of yours?

I think I'll stick to my lying eyes.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Big Week

October 12, 2007

  1. Congressman Chet Edwards with his whole family on speaker phone just called and spent fifteen minutes congratulating Erin on her student council election results. What a guy!
  2. Visit this website and view the public service announcements linked there. The message really hit home for me. I know what the road to H-E-double toothpicks is paved with. I read or hear something and INTEND to follow up, do a good deed, write a letter, make a donation. Then the immediacy of my life takes over and I almost follow up, almost do a good deed, almost write a letter, almost make a donation. If this happens to you, too, let me give you a nudge. Here is a link to Han's webpage, where Han's mother has written an bang-up letter to our Senator. Take a look. Then, don't almost write--write.
As a reward for your activism this week, I'll give you a break from my haranguing and share the highlights of Erin's week. If I do, you have to promise not to take your eye off the bigger picture--inundating Senator Hutchison with calls, faxes, letters, and e-mails pushing for her support of the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2007 (see entries on October 8 and September 10 for KBH contact information, description of the bill, and pediatric cancer facts).

The fifth grade trip to Camp Allen exceeded expectations all around: no mosquitoes, mild weather (well, honestly, it was hot with a breeze, but not oppressive), excellent food (at camp? you may ask, but I understand Camp Allen has a well-deserved reputation for serving tasty meals), a crackling camp evening fire with humor geared to 10 year olds, and a copious amounts of free time. When was the last time a school field trip you attended could claim all of those things?

Erin also made a successful bid for student council at her school. Her speech was too funny--long on earnestness and honesty, short on zip, and definitely lacking in sound bites. I don't know exactly what she ended up saying, but it went something like this:

"I wish I could promise that if you elect me to the student council I will get us recess all day, field trips to Disney World, and better food in the cafeteria, but the student council can't do those things. If you elect me, I will listen to you, like Chet Edwards listened to me went I went to Washington, D.C. and work to make our school a better place."

Despite not overpromising anything, she won in a run-off and was exceedingly pleased. Erin also brought home another stellar report card with week, stayed on top of her homework, scored twice during soccer practice last night, and is improving on her Number Sense practice. In addition, she rode horses, sang, rang bells, and played the piano. Mainly, she has just smiled her way through the week. If she can, you should, too.

Now, get back to work, literally ( I have students to teach in about an hour and you have some task or chore at your home or job that you need to attend to), but also in the bidness of cancer advocacy. For motivation, here is a picture of our trip to DC in June when Senator John Cornyn (in the suit at the left) got on board the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act. I sure would like to add a matching one with KBH!

This is a group of Texans who lobbied with us in Washington. Erin didn't want to wear the t-shirt everyone else was wearing because she thought "an outfit would make a better impression." The young man on the far right (with the knee brace) has Ewing's sarcoma. The rest of the group were mainly parents, siblings, and friends of children who had died from cancer and a couple of doctors and nurses who work with pediatric cancer patients. This is what the t-shirts say,

I sentiment we all can agree with.