Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ghost writer

"Dogs have owners, cats have staff." — Anonymous

THE CAT'S OUT of the bag. Now you know who's actually been writing this blog all along. That's the Shye girl on my blog — literally! 

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Iowa

"When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain." — Mark TwainNotebook

TONIGHT I volunteered at a phone bank for One Iowa, the organization that seeks to protect marriage equality in Iowa. It's been two years since the law passed allowing same-sex couples equal access to the rights and obligations of marriage that heterosexuals have always enjoyed. The only change in the state as a result of the law that I know of is that more people have been allowed to be happy.

I'd never been to the One Iowa office. I was one of seven volunteers calling to let people know that there will be a party Saturday night, April 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 at the Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines to celebrate the second anniversary of marriage equality. You can be a sponsor for $100 and get two reserved seats. General admission is $35 per person. There will be food, drinks, music, and Zach Wahls will be there to present an award. If you haven't seen the video of Zach testifying at the Iowa state capitol, here's a link. What a credit to his parents and our state.

The demographics of tonight's volunteers may be different than you might have expected; of the seven volunteers, five of us were straight. The bottom line is that there is broad-based support for allowing people who love each other to formally and legally commit to marriage. I'm glad I helped. Thanks, Matty, for inviting me.

PS: There was this great song that Ben Taylor wrote and sang with his dad, James Taylor, at the concert Paul and attended earlier this month at the Civic Center. I really loved it and wanted to share it, but I couldn't find it anywhere, so I emailed Ben's publicist, and he got back to me in like five minutes! Wow, I was impressed. Anyway, that particular song is called Oh Brother and it's not done been recorded yet. It will be released on a new album they hope will be out in September.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Asperger's — autism spectrum

"If I could snap my fingers and be nonautistic, I would not. Autism is part of what I am." — Temple Grandin

I'VE ALWAYS had a keen interest in psychology, personality and how the brain works, and I'm particularly intrigued by research into the autism spectrum. Autism used to be thought of as a yes or no proposition. Now it's understood that there's a broad range from a mild degree of Asperger's syndrome to severely autistic. Simon Baron-Cohen, a highly-regarded researcher from Cambridge University (from his picture, I'd say definitely no relation to Sacha Baron Cohen), developed the Empathizing—Systemizing and Extreme Male Brain theories, and hypothesizes that we all fall somewhere on the continuum from having an extreme female brain to an extreme male brain. 

  • Extreme Type E (for empathy), where empathy is above average but systemizing is challenged
  • Type E, where empathy is better than systemizing
  • Type B (for balanced), where empathy is as good as systemizing.
  • Type S (for systemizing), where systemizing is better than empathy
  • Extreme Type S, where systemizing is above average but empathy is challenged

According to his research, 65% of people with autism spectrum conditions are Extreme Type S, and where anyone falls on the scale has to do with how much testosterone the fetus is exposed to in utero. 

"Scientists at the University of Cambridge found that both boys and girls who are exposed to high levels of testosterone before they are born are more likely than usual to develop traits typical of autism, such as a preference for solitary activities and strong numerical and pattern-recognition skills." From an article in the London Times. Here's a link to it.

And here's a link to Simon Baron-Cohen's website in case you're interested: 

Here are a couple of books I've read that I really liked about people who are somewhere on the Asperger's to autistic spectrum:
  • The Strangest Man, The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmelo 
  • Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's by Tim Page

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Breakfast for dinner

"The art of acting is not to act. Once you show them more, what you show them, in fact is bad acting." Anthony Hopkins

FRIDAY NIGHT I drugged myself with some nighttime cold medicine and conked out until about 3:00 AM, at which time I took more of it and slept until 2:30 Saturday afternoon. My intention was to dose myself into a very long sleep. It worked. Paul tells me I'm sounding better. Now if I just felt that way.

Paul and I had breakfast in bed for dinner Saturday night. It was great fun — hash browns, turkey bacon, waffles, orange juice and hot cocoa. We rented the movie called The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. We were wondering if it could really be as bad as it was reviewed. It is. 

The ever-adorable Boy Boy.
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Party pix

"The older you get, the fewer slumber parties there are, and I hate that. I liked slumber parties. What happened to them?" — Drew Barrymore 

HERE ARE some pictures from the Helen's Pajama Party held March 22, 2011 at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.

We tagged and sorted and packed.

There were fun things to do besides work.
Mary Menke was Helen's Person of the Year.

Left to right: Mary, Miranda and Chris.

Tina Haase and her husband provided music.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It had to happen

"It is easy to find fault, if one has the disposition." — Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

I SUPPOSE it was inevitable that someone would hate everything at the party. A woman sent me an email tonight complaining that: 

1) She had to pay to attend the party where we packed pajamas for domestic violence shelters, so in her opinion she was paying to work (I'm thinking most everyone else thought of it as a donation)  

2) She had to pay to park in the ramp (hey, she could have parked on the street where it's free)  

3) She had to buy her own glasses of wine (I didn't see anyone twisting her arm to drink) 

4) There wasn't enough pizza (I guessed the best that I could. Last year I had 

way too much and ended up donating $250 worth of pizza to the local homeless shelter)  

5) She would have just as soon listened to CDs instead of live music (I thought it helped make the night special.) 

6) And what were all those kids doing there?!?! 

Hmmm. "Those kids" were children who came with moms who are residents at the CFI Family Violence Shelter in Des Moines. You know, "those people" we serve. 

This is a woman who signs her emails with a religious "Christian" aphorism. I had no difficulty in connecting her face with her email. She flounced around the whole time she was at the event, reeking with her self-perceived sense of privilege and self-righteousness. She's a reminder that religiousness does not as a matter of course make someone generous or kind . . . or prevent them from being mean-spirited. Morality does not have to spring from religion. 

It's been a long time since I read the Dialogues of Plato, but I loved them. (One of my very favorite things is a recording of Sidney Poitier reading excerpts from the Dialogues.) Ancient  Greece was the birthplace of Western ethics, and that was BC

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We came, we packed, we partied

"One frequently only finds out how really beautiful a beautiful woman is after considerable acquaintance with her." — Mark Twain, Innocent Abroad 

WE HELD the actual Helen's Pajama Party party tonight. I don't know for sure how many people were there, but lots! We tagged, folded and packed about 400 pairs of pajamas for Mason City, Des Moines, Dubuque, Sioux City and BurlingtonTina Haase sang and her husband played the guitar. Wow, she's got a great set of pipes! 

Mary Menke is my hero — and Paul. The party absolutely, positively wouldn't have happened without them.

Here's Shye, Miss Adorable. We call her the Luxury Model.
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Monday, March 21, 2011


"No civilization can be perfect until exact quality between man and woman is included." — Mark Twain, Notebook, 1985

NOT LONG before I started writing this blog, I heard an interview with a reporter that was so upsetting that I couldn't listen to it. Now I wish I knew where I heard it so that I could attach a link to it, but I did such a good job of blotting it out that I'm not sure if I heard it on Fresh AirNBC or somewhere else.

Here's the gist of it: In many places of the world, there are roughly 10 times as many orphaned baby girls as boys. In India there's about 1 boy for every 99 girls. In China girls account for about 95% of the orphans. Girls are thought to be of so little value that they're abandoned; the lucky are rescued by an orphanage. Imagine that as the fate of your precious daughter, niece or granddaughter.

In parts of Africa there about 10 times as more boys than girls get treated in hospitals because boys are prized enough that one of the parents will carry him to the hospital if he's ill, whereas they won't take the trouble for a girl. Imagine your adorable little girl dying without medical care for the crime of being female.

Those of us who through luck of the draw have been born into cultures where we are valued and heard have an obligation to work for change on behalf of those who aren't because we have voices and means to do so. How are you making a difference? 

Addendum added 6/24/15:

I've never found the interview that originally inspired this post, but today I came across a November 19, 2013 UC Berkeley News Center article written by Kathleen Maclay entitled "Report details high costs of Philippine typhoons for families, baby girls"  that precisely illustrates my point. Here's as excerpt:

"Economists found that while officials report roughly 740 deaths on average every year due to typhoon exposure in the Philippines, post-typhoon mortality among baby girls is approximately 15 times higher than that.

Researchers say that the high death rate for girls likely relates to families’ economic constraints and coping strategies long after a typhoon is past. 

The risk of a baby girl dying after a typhoon doubles if she has older sisters in the home, and the risk doubles again if the she has older brothers – suggesting that the competition for resources among siblings may play a key role in these deaths. The researchers did not find a spike in the mortality rates for baby boys, but they uncovered an elevated mortality risk among baby girls that lasts up to two years after a typhoon."

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Actual feedback

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." — Benjamin Franklin 

I RECEIVED an email in response to a post from Beth, who lives in Iowa City and is recovering from a broken hip:

"One of the drawbacks of being immobilzed is that I'm spending so much time reading emails, signing petitions, and reading newspapers regarding all that is going on in the world right now, and strong feelings of helplessness have been washing over me. I strongly believe that as we are less and less able to depend on our government to do the right thing, it's crucial that we stretch our arms as far as they will go and embrace all those we encounter. And as those we encircle are able to extend their reach and work towards the greater good, we WILL make a difference. We will move forward. I have to believe that or I think my heart would break completely. Thanks for sharing. The testimonials . . . I cried when I read them, especially the one from Dubuque. Amazing!"
Feedback from Julie from Huxley: "OMG---your blog is wonderful, smart, sweet, interesting and funny. Keep it up, I'll be reading."

I'm completely thrilled that anyone is reading!

Below a hopeful piece about the evolution of race relations from The The New York Times:

Black and White and Married in the Deep South: A Shifting Image

By Susan Saulny
March 19, 2011

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — For generations here in the deepest South, there had been a great taboo: publicly crossing the color line for love. Less than 45 years ago, marriage between blacks and whites was illegal, and it has been frowned upon for much of the time since.

So when a great job beckoned about an hour’s drive north of the Gulf Coast, Jeffrey Norwood, a black college basketball coach, had reservations. He was in a serious relationship with a woman who was white and Asian.

“You’re thinking about a life in South Mississippi?” his father said in a skeptical voice, recalling days when a black man could face mortal danger just being seen with a woman of another race, regardless of intentions. “Are you sure?”

But on visits to Hattiesburg, the younger Mr. Norwood said he liked what he saw: growing diversity. So he moved, married, and, with his wife, had a baby girl who was counted on the last census as black, white and Asian. Taylor Rae Norwood, 3, is one of thousands of mixed-race children who have made this state home to one of the country’s most rapidly expanding multiracial populations, up 70 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to new data from the Census Bureau.

Sonia Cherail Peeples and Michael Peeples and their two sons.

In the first comprehensive accounting of multiracial Americans since statistics were first collected about them in 2000, reporting from the 2010 census, made public in recent days, shows that the nation’s mixed-race population is growing far more quickly than many demographers had estimated, particularly in the South and parts of the Midwest. That conclusion is based on the bureau’s analysis of 42 states; the data from the remaining eight states will be released this week.

In North Carolina, the mixed-race population doubled. In Georgia, it expanded by more than 80 percent, and by nearly as much in Kentucky and Tennessee. In Indiana, Iowa and South Dakota, the multiracial population increased by about 70 percent.

“Anything over 50 percent is impressive,” said William H. Frey, a sociologist and demographer at the Brookings Institution. “The fact that even states like Mississippi were able to see a large explosion of residents identifying as both black and white tells us something that people would not have predicted 10 or 20 years ago.”

Census officials were expecting a national multiracial growth rate of about 35 percent since 2000, when seven million people — 2.4 percent of the population — chose more than one race. Officials have not yet announced a national growth rate, but it seems sure to be closer to 50 percent.

The contour and the shade of the change are not uniform. In states like California, Hawaii and Oklahoma, where people of mixed race already made up a significant percentage of the total, the increases were smaller than in places like Mississippi, where there were far fewer mixed-race people to start with. In Hawaii, for instance — where the multiracial group accounts for 23 percent of the population, highest of any state — the growth since 2000 was 23.6 percent.

Also, in Hawaii, the predominant mix is Asian and white and native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, while in Oklahoma, it is American Indian and white. In Mississippi, the most common mix is black and white — historically and today the two groups least likely to intermarry, sociologists say, because of the enduring social and economic distance between them. (It was also against the law until 1967.)

Mississippi led the nation in the growth of mixed marriages for most of the last decade, according to Mr. Frey’s analysis of the American Community Survey. Still, multiracial people are a tiny percentage of the state’s population: 34,000, about 1.1 percent. And many here complain of enduring racial inequities.

There was an uproar last year over comments by Gov. Haley Barbour suggesting that the civil rights era in Mississippi, with its sometimes fatal strife, was not that bad. And some are rankled that the state flag still contains a miniature version of the Confederate battle standard.
Nonetheless, many here also see progress, something akin to “a door opening,” in the words of one resident.

“Racial attitudes are changing,” said Marvin King, a professor of political science at the University of Mississippi who is black, married to a white woman, and the father of a 2-year-old biracial daughter. “Day in, day out, there is certainly not the hostility there was years ago, and I think you see that in that there are more interracial relationships, and people don’t fear those relationships. They don’t have to hide those relationships anymore.”

Mr. Norwood and his wife, Patty Norwood, agreed. “It’s been really smooth here,” said Mr. Norwood, 48, a Hattiesburg resident for 11 years and a men’s basketball coach at William Carey University. He had been most recently coaching at a college in the culturally diverse area of Cajun Louisiana. “I think some people who may not have been comfortable with this in the past have no choice now. I mean, people always told me, the farther south you go, the more racism you’ll feel. But that has not been true.”

Mrs. Norwood, 39, a photographer who is Thai and Chinese on her mother’s side and white on her father’s, added: “I think if people see that you are genuine and in love, and that you are comfortable with yourselves, they are put at ease.”

And unlike in many states, Mississippi’s population has not grown much over the last decade, suggesting to researchers that any change in culture is happening not primarily as a result of newcomers. (Mississippi’s population grew by 3.8 percent since 2000. In contrast, North Carolina’s grew 18.46 percent.)

“North Carolina grew rapidly with Hispanics and blacks and people coming in from out of state and changing things,” Mr. Frey said. “In Mississippi, I think it’s changed from within.”

Changing Identities

The share of the multiracial population under the age of 18 in Mississippi is higher than its share of youth in the general population, suggesting that much of the growth in the mixed-race group can be explained by recent births. But in Mississippi and in other states, some growth may also be a result of older Americans who once identified themselves as black or some other single race expanding the way they think about their identity.

“The reality is that there has been a long history of black and white relationships — they just weren’t public,” said Prof. Matthew Snipp, a demographer in the sociology department at Stanford University. Speaking about the mixed-race offspring of some of those relationships, he added: “People have had an entire decade to think about this since it was first a choice in 2000. Some of these figures are not so much changes as corrections. In a sense, they’re rendering a more accurate portrait of their racial heritage that in the past would have been suppressed.”

Experts say there are some elements, like military service or time spent on a college campus, that lay the groundwork for interracial relationships. With the Camp Shelby military base on its southern side and the University of Southern Mississippi as an anchor, perhaps it is not a surprise that Hattiesburg, a city of about 50,000 residents, and its surrounding counties would show rapid mixed-race growth.

They are also part of Mississippi’s coastal culture, which has historically been more liberal and outward looking — given the port towns — than the rest of the state. (Harrison County, south of Hattiesburg and home to the Gulf Coast cities of Gulfport and Biloxi, has the highest share of mixed-race residents in the state, according to the 2010 census.)

Sonia Cherail Peeples, who is black, met her husband, Michael Peeples, who is white, in the science building at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2003, when they were both students. Friendship ensued, then a crush. “I never dated a black girl before,” Mr. Peeples confided. His family was “old Mississippi,” living mostly around Jackson. At one time, they ran a luggage company.

Sonia Peeples’s ancestors were longtime Mississippians, too, but they were sharecropping cotton.

The differences in the past did not matter in the present, they both agreed.

“I really never thought twice about it,” Mrs. Peeples, 29, said of dating Michael, 30. “Everyone was open to it and I thought: ‘He has potential. I could marry this guy!’”

And she did. Now they have two boys: Riley, 3, and Gannon, 5, who Mrs. Peeples likes to say are “black, white and just right!” 

“It’s a generational thing,” Mr. Peeples added, noting that his mother has been hot and cold about the relationship over the years, accepting his new family, then sometimes pulling away for a while, only to return, drawn by her grandsons. “I think many older people are set in their ways, but 40 years old or younger, you’ll never get the sense that something’s wrong,” he said.

After college, the couple moved to Denver, but eventually decided to return to Hattiesburg, where Mr. Peeples works at a local dairy.

“I told the Realtor, ‘Don’t put us in a predominantly white or black neighborhood,’ ” Mrs. Peeples recalled. “And sure enough, we have a biracial kid next door.”

According to the census, multiracial people are more likely to live in neighborhoods that have a broad mix of races with a higher share of whites than those who identify as black alone. This suggests they enjoy higher socioeconomic status, Mr. Frey, the demographer, said.

Lingering Tensions

Still, for the Peeples family, there have been some testy moments. There was the time when another parent at Gannon’s school asked if his terrible allergies had something to do with “race mixing.” And there was the hospital worker who treated Mrs. Peeples as though she was trying to snatch a white baby when she took Riley, who had blond curls, out of his crib in the nursery. “This is my baby! He just looks like his dad,” Mrs. Peeples, who has deep brown skin, remembered scolding the woman.

But both Sonia and Michael Peeples are mindful that those few incidents are insignificant in comparison to what previous generations endured.

“I would not have wanted to live in my parents’ or grandparents’ time,” said Mrs. Peeples, a full-time homemaker. “We’re teaching our kids all of it, all their history. My 5-year-old asks, ‘People who looked like you, why did they treat them so bad?’ It’s hard to explain to a biracial child in 2011. In a perfect world, race wouldn’t matter, but that day’s a while off.”

The Norwoods have also experienced minor tensions. A waitress at a restaurant might abruptly decide that she cannot serve their table. Even when they are locked arm in arm, someone might ask incredulously, “Are you together?” Clerks at the supermarket want to ring up their groceries separately.
But there is one place where they know that old thinking patterns are being challenged: at their church.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called Sunday morning church service the most segregated hour in America, but one would not know that at Grace Temple Ministries, the neighborhood church where the Norwoods worship and socialize with other mixed-race families. The pastor is white and the assistant pastor is black, and the creative arts pastor is Latino. During a recent sermon, the congregation’s guiding ethos on social issues was clear: “Let us not be guilty of thinking as the culture and society decides,” said the pastor, Dwayne Higgason.

Unlike the Peepleses, Jeffrey and Patty Norwood did not seek a diverse neighborhood, but found themselves in one anyway. In 2001, they bought the first home built on a developing street before any neighbors had even purchased lots. As houses sprang up, their neighbors turned out to be black families, white families and mixes of the two.

“Between our church and the neighborhood, this is the most diverse place I’ve been,” said Mr. Norwood, a native of Tupelo, Miss. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.”

Growing up in Victoria, Tex., Mrs. Norwood said she was never quite sure what race to mark on forms, and she hardly ever saw people like herself
“I usually went with Asian because I could only check one box,” Mrs. Norwood said. “Our daughter’s life will not be like that. She knows what she is and she’s exposed to a little bit of everything. The times have certainly changed.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The tipping point

"The rain . . . falls upon the just and the unjust alike; a thing which would not happen if I were superintending the rain's affairs. No, I would rain softly and sweetly on the just, but if I caught a sample of the unjust outdoors I would drown him." — Mark Twain, Mark Twain: A Biography, 1912

STRAP IN, this might be a long one. I mentioned in my initial Hey Look post that Paul had been trying for years to coax me into starting a blog. He set one up for me, but I couldn't seem to gather myself enough to write. What did I have to write about anyway? 

He kept encouraging me to at least tell some of the stories about the wacky, weird situations I've found myself in the middle of over the years, but I remained unmotivated. 

Here's how I reached the tipping point and began to write:

I was so proud of Iowa when we became one of the few states in the nation to allow same-sex marriage. Iowa has a long, admirable history of civil rights, and the courageous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to extend the right to marry to gay people was another illustrious moment. Then three of the judges who had been part of the unanimous ruling came up for a retention vote in the November election and were voted out.

It's not that people didn't have the right to vote "no" on retention, it's just their reasons for doing it sucked IMHO.


A) voters didn't grasp the role of the Supreme Court well enough to understand that their decision was limited to whether prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the Iowa Constitution's rules of equal protection under the law.


B) the "no" voters are so stingy of heart that they would deny their fellow citizens full equality. Either thing was really depressing.

I got it into my head to call the Southern Poverty Law Center, the well-respected civil rights organization that tracks hate groups and hate crimes and works to stop them, to ask them whether they include gay-hate in their province. They do, and I made a mental note that when we had a few spare dollars — which we didn't have right then — I would make a small donation.

Fast forward several months. I was having a week where nothing seemed to be going right. I was dissatisfied with myself and the world in general. The only thing I could think of that would cheer me up was to finally make that contribution to the SPLC, whether we could afford it or not. 

It did cheer me up. It also made me eligible to listen to a live conversation between SPLC president, Richard Cohen, and Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project, and from them I learned that the number of hate groups has ballooned 54% to more than 1002 since Barak Obama was elected president. According to their monitoring, "This surge has been fueled by fear of Latino immigration and more recently, by the election of the country's first African-American president and the economic crisis." 

The notion that people are against our duly elected president — not just against him, but actively hate him — because of the amount of pigment in his skin is unfathomable to me. 

Listening to the SPLC conversation was the tipping point. I wanted to rally whoever would give me a listen, or in this case a read, to stand against hate, and supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center whose motto is: "Fighting Hate, Teaching Tolerance, Seeking Justice" seemed like a good place to start. 

Who knew. Turns out I had something to say after all. Here's a link to their website:

Boy Boy and Paul, who fell asleep on the couch reading 
Scientific American. I'm crazy about my loving, extra-smart husband.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And now for some useful advice

"I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself." — Oscar Wilde 

1) IF YOU'RE SICK, do not eat 20 raw baby carrots on an empty stomach because you're too tired and sick to find anything else. They will come right back up the same way they went down, and much more unpleasantly. I learned that two years ago.

2) If you're sick, do not drink an entire tumbler of orange juice on an empty stomach even if it is fresh-squeezed by your loving husband and sounds like the best thing in the entire world because you're dehydrated. It too will come right back up the same way it went down, and much less pleasantly. Learned that two days ago.

Physical state: Continuing to mend.

Mental state: Have you ever noticed that when you get really down on yourself, you can suddenly, inexplicably and in stunning detail, recall every stupid thing you've ever said or done since you were three?!?!? In my case, I mean literally from when I was three! 

I spoke to sister-in-law Tina's sister for a second time in two days and — bearing in mind that I'm completely grateful for and aware that they are so, so lucky to have survived Japan's monster earthquake and tsunami — I learned that their situation is more precarious than I knew. How could it not be.

Tina's place of work was sustained enough damage to no longer operate, and my brother David's part-time job at the bookstore is not resuming anytime soon, and of course classes at the University are no longer taking place. The bottom line is that all three jobs are instantly gone. 

I started to have a garden-variety anxiety attack. (I used to get them pretty often for years and years, except I didn't know that's what they were until I married Paul and he explained them to me.) He evidently had his radar on because I heard my laptop bing just about two minutes into it with an email from him containing a JibJab video he made. It made me laugh and cry — laugh because the video is funny and cry because he's so nice that I'm pretty sure I don't deserve him.

Then I called Virginia, and we had a good, long, weepy talk about prudent ways to help David and Tina, and now I feel pretty well fixed. Turkey burgers and tater tots for supper helped, too. (Paul always said that the best part of a 'tater is the tot.)

Here's a link to his video:

PS: Paul helped me put three Bobby Shew tunes on this post. Although I've heard Paul and his band buddies rave about Bobby for years, I never knew what the big deal about him was, until I heard him — and lucky for me, it was up close and in person — and believe me, then I got it.

Recently the Des Moines Big Band ( played a number I'd heard before and always found so beautiful. Afterward I asked Paul who had written it. Ding, ding, ding — Bobby Shew.

When Bobby was here, I quizzed him about which CD of his I should buy that I would enjoy the most and he recommended Cancaos Do AmorAttached are three tunes from it. As John Hodgman says, "You're welcome."

The great Bobby Shew.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Feverish anxiety

“Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” — George Eliot

MY FEVER broke sometime in the small hours, and I woke up in a sauna of my own making.

I keep having these performance anxiety dreams. The common one — it's amazing how universal this dream or a variation of it is — you're in school and all of a sudden you realize it's the end of the semester, and you haven't been attending a class all term that you have to pass. (When I feel better, I definitely have to tell you the entirely true story of the college chemistry class I took, that's precisely on topic.)

For awhile now, mine has been that I'm teaching a college class. At least I'm supposed to be teaching it, except that I've stopped showing up entirely. It's now a long way through the semester, and my students have had to try to track me down to get me start teaching again. Yikes! That's certainly a literal translation of my fear that I simply haven't been "showing up" in all the areas of my life. Paul's is that he misses the bus for a band gig.

In the meantime until I'm better, here's a lovely story from The The New York Times about the stress and anxiety relief afforded by the company of animals.

Easing the Way in Therapy With the Aid of an Animal

By Jane E. Brody
March 14, 2011

We’ve all seen guide dogs that can direct blind people around obstacles and tell them when it is safe to cross the street. Perhaps you also know of guide dogs for the deaf, which can alert people to a ringing phone, a doorbell or a smoke alarm, or dogs that can warn people with epilepsy of an incipient seizure, giving them time to get to a safe place before they lose consciousness.

Dr. Marty Becker, veterinarian and author (with Danelle Morton) of “The Healing Power of Pets” (Hyperion, 2002), tells of a golden retriever named Dakota, who was able to warn his master, Mike Lingenfelter, that a heart attack was imminent and alert Mr. Lingenfelter to the need to leave a stressful situation and take preventive medication.

“This dog is leading me through life,” Mr. Lingenfelter told Dr. Becker. “All I’m doing is following the dog.”

In recent decades, there have been countless such stories of animals helping to improve and even preserve the lives of children and adults with all manner of diseases and disabilities. Trained dogs are being used to help keep children with autism safe and to break the “freeze” that can afflict people with Parkinson’s disease when they try to walk. And dogs, cats, bunnies and birds are often brought to schools and institutions, as well as to hospitals and nursing homes, where they help to relax and inspire residents and distract patients from their health problems.

But the use of animals to enhance health can go well beyond individual cases and group settings. A growing number of psychotherapists are using therapy animals to facilitate treatment, especially treatment of children with emotional, social and even physical problems.

Among the pioneers is Aubrey H. Fine, psychotherapist and professor at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, whose extensive successful use of therapy animals in treating children is documented in “The Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy” (Elsevier/Academic Press, 2010).

As Dr. Fine describes one of his first and most inspiring cases, 5-year-old Diane was brought to him because she recoiled in fright from strangers, and though she spoke at home, she refused to speak to anyone else, including her kindergarten teacher.

A trained therapy dog named Puppy eventually broke the back of her selective mutism. Diane was petting Puppy, smiling and content, when Dr. Fine gave the dog a signal to walk away. Diane was crestfallen, and seeing the girl’s distress, Dr. Fine told her that all she had to do to get the dog back was to say, “Puppy, come.” Softly, the child said, “Puppy, come, please come, Puppy.” That incident became the bridge Dr. Fine needed to help the child overcome her socially disabling problem.

He tells of another troubled child who finally began to speak about being physically abused when Dr. Fine told him that the misshapen therapy animal he was playing with had been rescued from an abusive home where it had been seriously injured. In another case in which a child was told where — and where not — to touch the therapy animal, the child opened up about being inappropriately touched, sexually abused, by a family member.

“Children are more likely to reveal inner thoughts to the therapist because the animal is right next to them and helps them express themselves,” Dr. Fine said in an interview.

In early work in a social skills program for hyperactive children, Dr. Fine found that they could be more easily taught how to behave calmly if allowed to handle his pet gerbil. “I realized this approach can have a tremendous impact in teaching because it helps to change how we relate to other beings,” he said.

Although the field of animal-assisted therapy has grown a lot in the last four decades, experts readily acknowledge that it suffers from a lack of well-designed research that can establish guidelines for safety and effectiveness in various situations. For example, although using dolphins to treat autistic children has received considerable media attention, at least two studies found no evidence of benefit and considerable risk of harm to the animals and to the children, said James A. Griffin of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations insists that members limit service and therapy animals to domestic species trained for the job. And the Delta Society, which provides training programs for the animals, will not certify wild or exotic animals like snakes, ferrets, lizards and wolf-hybrids. However, the Delta Society says it “is constantly expanding the range of species included in the Pet Partners program” when there is adequate research to document the safety of their use.

To help give the field a firmer scientific footing, the Mars company, a leading producer of pet foods, initiated a research partnership with the national institute branch of which Dr. Griffin is deputy director. Among continuing studies:

The effects of therapeutic horseback riding on children and adolescents with autism. If safe and effective, riding is less invasive than medications used to treat common symptoms like irritability and hyperactivity.

A large epidemiological study to document the overall public health effects on children and adolescents of living with dogs and cats.

A study to determine whether therapy animals can help children with behavior disturbances attributed to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder develop better self-regulation, self-esteem and social behavior.

Studies using survey and genetic tools to help select the most effective cats or cat breeds to work with autistic children.

Dr. Griffin acknowledged in an interview how difficult it can be to design a scientifically valid study using animals because “it can’t be a blind study — you know if the patient has a therapy dog.” But he described one recent study in which the patient, a young boy with autism, served as his own control. When he was with the therapy dog, levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the child dropped; the levels rose when the dog was taken away, and dropped again when the dog was returned. The next step would be to coordinate biochemical changes with behavioral effects — is the child calmer and easier to handle when with a therapy animal?

Dr. Fine emphasized the challenges of working with therapy animals as well as documenting its effectiveness. He said, “You can’t just bring in any animal to a therapy setting. The animal has to be very well trained, reliable, obedient and have the right temperament. It can’t be overly anxious or easily startled. And the therapist has to know how to use it as a therapy adjunct, in combination with good psychotherapy. The animal is there to help support what I’m doing, to act as a catalyst and not a distraction. And, of course, animal-assisted interventions have to be safe for everyone involved — the patient and the animal.”

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